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Car Stereo Won’t Turn On With the Ignition – 5 easy fixes

Car Stereo Won't Turn On With the Ignition
Car Stereo Won’t Turn On With the Ignition – Solutions

You’re about to go on a road trip and have queued up all your favorite songs to make the journey even more pleasant.

But when you turn on the ignition, the car radio doesn’t start.

This situation confuses many car owners because all the other electrical systems (interior lights, climate control system, etc.) work fine.

In my experience, it mainly happens due to loose/damaged wired connections, a blown radio fuse, or a failing car radio.

Car Stereo Won’t Turn On With the Ignition – Solutions

In this article, we’ll discuss these causes and their possible solutions.

Check Radio Ground/Power Wire Connections

Check Radio Ground and Power Wire Connections

We’ll first check the radio harness’s power and ground wire connections.

You’ll need to pull the car radio out of the dash area and access the back side of the car radio for this purpose.

Once you have access, you’ll need to identify the constant 12V, ignition, and ground wires. Usually, they’re colored yellow, red, and black, respectively, but it can be different in your vehicle. Therefore, check your owner’s manual to find the correct color scheme for your radio wiring harness.

After identifying these wires, you must test them individually with a multimeter.

Here’s how it goes:

  • Turn off the vehicle and set the multimeter to DC voltage mode.
  • Connect the multimeter’s negative lead to the ground wire connection and the positive lead to the constant 12V wire connection on the radio. This should give you a 12-14V reading.
  • Then keep the negative lead in its place and connect the positive lead to the ignition wire. This should give you a 0V reading, as this wire doesn’t get any power when the ignition is off.
  • Now turn on the ignition while the multimeter leads are still connected.
  • The ignition wire should you a 12-14V reading this time. If the reading is again 0V, the ignition wire is not working and, in turn, causes the radio to turn on.
  • Lastly, we’ll check the ground wire. To do that, you need to perform the tests mentioned above again while connecting the black multimeter probe to a grounding spot (any bare metal) in your car instead of the ground wire.
  • If all the readings are the same, the ground wire works fine. Otherwise, it’s faulty.

Check Fuse

Check Fuse

If the radio wiring works fine, you need to check the fuse.

Most people believe that the only fuses related to car audio are the amplifier’s internal fuse(s) and the inline fuse on the power wire.

But that’s not entirely true, as many car radios also come with an internal fuse.

Like the amp’s internal fuses, this one protects the car radio against electric overload and short circuits. If your car radio has a blank screen and is not responsive, a blown radio fuse can be the culprit.

You’ll have to test it with the multimeter to confirm if that’s indeed the case. That’s because visual inspection is not 100% accurate.

  • Pull the fuse from the radio and connect the multimeter probes on its two ends. 
  • Then set the multimeter to continuity mode. 
  • If you don’t hear any beep sound, the fuse is blown and should be replaced with a new one of the same amperage.

Similarly, you need to check the other radio-related fuses in the fuse box. These fuses will be labeled ‘radio,’ ‘amplifier,’ and ‘antenna.’ They will have different locations depending on the vehicle’s make and year.

Sometimes, two radio fuses will be labeled as ‘radio no. 1’ and ‘radio no. 2’.

Therefore, you’ll need to check the fuse box diagram to identify these fuse.

Check For Car Radio Protect Mode

Radio Protect Mod

Many Car radios come with a protect mode to deter car radio theft. This mode automatically activates when you disconnect/replace the car battery or radio, making it unresponsive.

Instead, you get a blank screen with a message, such as “Protect,” “Code,” or “Enter Code.”

If this happens with your car radio, the only option is to enter the project code. This code can usually be found in the radio’s owner manual or on a sticker on the radio box. You should contact your radio manufacturer if you can’t find this code.

Check Battery

Check Battery

If you turn on the ignition but none of your car’s electrical components turn on (including the radio), the issue is with the battery.

When we turn on the ignition, all electrical systems in a vehicle use the electric power the battery provides to work. Therefore, if the battery is weak or dying, it won’t be able to power those other components, including the radio.

Fortunately, testing a battery is a simple process requiring only a multi-meter.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Turn on the headlights and keep them on for at least two minutes. This will remove any surface charge from the battery.
  • Set the multi-meter to DC Voltage mode at 20V.
  • Connect the multi-meter’s red wire to the positive battery terminal and the black wire to the negative battery terminal. Make sure that both of these terminals are clean and have no corrosion.
  • You should get a 12-14V reading. Anything significantly higher or lower than this range means the battery is not working like usual.

There are two ways you can fix this issue. If the battery is working but drained, you’ll either have to charge it with a car battery charger or jump-start it (with jumper cables or a portable jump starter). On the other hand, if the battery is drained repeatedly, it indicates it’s nearing its end, and the only option left is a replacement.

Check Ignition Switch

Check Ignition Switch

In some rare cases, a faulty ignition switch can cause the radio not to turn on.

The ignition switch is a component that determines the electric flow to different electrical components, depending on their positions. Therefore, if this switch is malfunctioning, it might be unable to power those components, and they will remain shut off.

Since testing this switch is too complicated for DIY, I suggest hiring a mechanic. After inspection, they will let you know whether this switch works or needs to be repaired/replaced.


So these are the primary areas to check if your car stereo is not turning on with the ignition.

If you’ve tried all the above solutions, but the problem still exists, it can be with the radio itself.

That’s especially true if the head unit is older and is from a cheap, b-grade brand (as they have a relatively shorter life span).

Head units fail due to aging, voltage fluctuations, physical damage, or incorrect installation.

I suggest consulting your local dealership in this regard.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Does A Car Stereo Get The Power From?

The car stereo gets power from the battery. It has one power wire that stays turned on constantly and another that turns on when the ignition is turned on.

How Do I Know If My Car Radio Is Getting Power?

To check the radio power, you can test the ignition wire with a multimeter. If the ignition wire gets 12V power while the ignition is turned on, the car radio is getting power. Otherwise, it’s not.

Why won’t my car stereo light up?

In most cases, it happens due to wrong brightness settings on the radio, damaged/malfunctioning dimmer wire, or the damaged LED screen of the car stereo.

Why My Car Stereo Won’t Turn On After Installation?

That’s because you have either matched radio harness wires incorrectly or have poorly set up the ground connection.

Why My Car stereo has power but no display?

It mainly happens if you’ve mistakenly set the brightness level to zero or if your brightness dimmer (physical) is faulty.

Why Won’t Car Radio Turn On After Battery Died?

Many car radios have an anti-theft mode that activates whenever the battery dies. Once you’ve refilled the battery, you can turn the radio back on by entering the passcode for that radio. This code is usually written on the package box that the radio came with.

Miles Walker is the founder and lead reviewer at CarAudioWise. com. With over 20 years of experience in the car audio industry, he is an acknowledged expert on all aspects of car audio technology and installation.

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