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Considering the different types of functions and features that many aftermarket stereo head units on the market currently have, it’s easy to want to upgrade your car’s stock radio. Connecting the aftermarket radio is typically pretty easy; however, the hard part is getting the car’s steering wheel controls to connect to the new head unit. Don’t fret. It is possible; here’s how to do it.

What are steering wheel audio controls?

A woman driving her Suzuki Swift.
A woman driving her Suzuki Swift. | Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The steering wheel audio controls are just as they sound; they are the buttons on the steering wheel that control the radio volume, tuning, and presets. Many drivers find these controls to be very convenient as they negate the need to look down at the radio or hunt for the correct button to press. After memorizing the car’s steering wheel audio controls, the driver can control most of their basic audio needs with the tip of a finger (or thumb).

Some steering wheel controls also include buttons to connect to the car’s Bluetooth system. In that case, the driver can answer and hang up calls via the steering wheel controls as well.

Upgrading your car’s audio system while keeping the steering wheel controls

2018 Honda Civic Steering wheel audio controls.
2018 Honda Civic Steering wheel audio controls. | via Getty Images

While your car’s steering wheel audio controls are a luxury, the real headache can come when you want to connect them to an aftermarket radio. While you can definitely forgo the steering wheel controls altogether, you’ll be glad if you can make them functional instead.

In order to do so, Lifewire recommends purchasing a steering wheel control adapter to make everything work together. However, not all steering wheel control adapters are created equal.

Choosing the right steering wheel audio controls adapter is important

While you might think that every aftermarket radio head unit out there is compatible with every steering wheel control adapter, that’s not the case. Lifewire advises buyers to check whether the head unit that they are planning to install is compatible with a steering wheel adapter. In order to find that out, you will need to look at the list of features that the head unit has and see if SWI – or steering wheel input – is one of them.

Since different cars have different types of steering wheel audio controls, there are also a few different types of inputs that head units can have:

  • SWI-JS: This stands for “Steering wheel input – Jensen and Sony,” which is meant for Jensen and Sony head units.
  • SWI-JACK: This means the steering wheel inputs are compatible with JVC, Alpine, Clarion, and Kenwood head units, in addition to a few others.
  • SWI-X: This denotes a universal connection for different head units.

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If you’re tech-savvy enough to install an aftermarket radio head unit into your car, then you can most likely figure out how to incorporate the steering wheel audio controls adapter into the system.

However, if you don’t think that you installed the radio and adapter correctly, then we recommend having a qualified car stereo shop do it for you. After all, being able to use your car’s steering wheel audio controls is a luxury, but it can be a pain if they don’t work correctly.