- Update 3-11-2013 -
User Larry Z in the comments actually found a replacement auxiliary jack part online. It looks like it’s available for about $3.00. I haven’t bought one of these myself to confirm if it actually works but it definitely looks like the right part. Rather than trying to bend the metal pieces back into shape like I describe in this article, it would probably be a much better and easier solution to just replace the jack. You can find the replacement part here.
When I first bought my 2008 Nissan Altima back in 2009 I used the auxiliary input jack on the stereo all the time. I noticed it was a bit finicky though. It seemed like you could push the stereo plug in most of the way but the final “click” into place was difficult. Eventually (about a year ago) something broke. The sound quality was suddenly terrible and I was only getting the left channel. If I wiggled the jack the right way it would start working again, but even that stopped working after a while. I figured the problem was probably a bad solder joint and wouldn’t be difficult to fix if it wasn’t built into my car. So I stopped using the auxiliary input jack. For a year. Last Monday night I finally decided it was time to fix this problem once and for all. I drove the car down to Eugene Maker Space and pulled into the shop.
Here is a photo of the stereo unit as a whole.
And this was the main problem.
Before taking anything apart, it’s important to disconnect the ground from the battery. This helps prevent any accidental short circuits.
I was able to find some information online about how to remove the stereo. It’s surprisingly simple for the newer Nissan Altimas. In almost a scary way. It made me realize just how easy it would be for someone to steal the stereo if they were so inclined.
The first step was to remove the plastic panel around the air vents. The ideal tool would be a plastic pry bar but I didn’t have one of those. I used a really old Visa gift card to start prying the plastic away, then I used a flat screwdriver for more strength. I used the plastic card to protect the plastic from the hard metal screwdriver. I didn’t want to scratch or dent the plastic panels if I could help it.
I had to pry apart both sides of the panel. At some point I heard some snapping sounds that were quite scary but it seems it is actually perfectly normal. Once I got past those snaps the panel just sort of slid out towards the back of the car. Then I was able to lift it up.
Once the panel was removed, I could see the two phillips screws that hold the stereo bracket in place on top.
Next I had to remove the bottom plastic panel to expose the bottom two screws. This is done much in the same way as the top panel, only I found it to be a bit easier.
Next I covered the shifter area in cloth (lab coat) to protect it from getting scratched when I pulled out the stereo.
Then it was time to remove the screws.
Once all four screws were removed, I was able to pull out the stereo. It actually snapped in around the sides so it took a bit more effort than I anticipated to pull it out.
There were a total of four plugs connected to the unit. One is for the proprietary Nissan antenna connector, one is for the AC controls, and two go to the stereo itself.
The plugs were in there pretty good but after some wiggling and finger strength I got them all out.
Once I had the thing out of the car I had to figure out how to take it apart in order to get to the stereo jack. My first inspection led me to believe I had to remove four torx screws on either side of the unit. It seemed like these were holding the main stereo into the whole assembly and removing them would allow me to slide out the stereo piece to access the audio jack.
I managed to remove the four left side screws, but I ended up stripping out one of the screws on the right side because the torx bit I had didn’t fit perfectly into the screw. Oops. At this point I thought I might have been screwed but further inspection showed that I might not actually have to remove those side screws after all. I decided to remove the top metal panel to get a look inside of the stereo.
Once I got a look inside I was able to see that the audio jack wasn’t actually physically connected to that large unit anyway. The jack is in the small square whole near the top center of the below photo.
I inspected the unit further and decided that the front panel looked like it should be able to come off. I found two small phillips screws on either side holding it on, so I removed them.
Then I realized that there were four more black torx screws holding the front panel to the main metal unit. I didn’t want to risk stripping them out and I couldn’t find the right size bit anywhere in the shop. Luckily we are only two minutes from Harbor Freight! I drove down there (with gaping dashboard) and managed to find some security bits that included the proper sized bit.
So now it was time to remove the torx screws. There were two on the top.
And two on the bottom.
Once all the screws were removed, the plastic was still holding on snug. I looked around and saw that there were some small snaps holding it in place around the edges of the unit. The below photo shows some of the snaps after I pried up the plastic to get it off.
Once all the snaps were pried up, the unit just came apart into three pieces.
This allowed me to get direct access to the solder joints of the audio jack.
Surprisingly, they didn’t look too bad. This made me worry a bit because I was hoping to just fix a solder joint or two and be done with this project. I plugged in the stereo plug and used a continuity tester to see which solder joints corresponded to ground, left, and right channels.
I was able to find the ground and left channels, but not the right. This made sense because the right channel was the one having problems. For the hell of it, I decided to just reflow all of the solder joints and see if it would magically fix the problem. I tested continuity again and got the same result as last time. That indicated to me that the problem was actually inside of the audio jack and not just a solder joint. Time to take this thing apart even further!
First I removed the PCB from the front plastic bezel.
Once I had the PCB separated from the bezel I was able to remove the audio jack. I used some desoldering braid to make quick work of the job.
After inspecting the jack, I saw some snaps on either side that looked like they would allow me to get inside of the actual jack. This was a good sign because if I couldn’t get inside then I was going to have to replace this jack with a duplicate, which I didn’t have.
In the below photograph you can see the metal contacts around the outside of the jack.
I tested continuity again on all of the plug’s pins and still the right channel was not working. I had to figure out which one of the pins went to the right channel and remove it. I just used some pliers to slide out the metal piece.
That tiny piece of metal ended up being the cause of the problem. I think it somehow got bent out of shape and wasn’t making contact properly. I tried a few things to help the problem. First I sanded the edge to get rid of some of the corrosion but that didn’t work. Then I put a small blob of solder on top of the edge to raise it up higher in hopes that it would press against the plug better. That only made it more difficult to push the plug in and resulted in the metal piece bending further. Then I noticed that the inside of the jack looked like it was a bit curved. Like if I pushed in the metal shim it would bend up toward the plug due to the curved design. I removed the solder and tried straightening out the metal shim so it would go further into the jack. This seemed to work. It took a lot of trial and error to find the exact way the shim had to be bent. If it wasn’t bent enough then the stereo plug barely snapped into place and could fall out easily. If it was bent too much then the stereo plug was really difficult to push in and sometimes would even bend the shim back out of the way again. I finally got it into a place that I thought would work for me. A continuity test proved it.
I soldered the jack back onto the PCB and did another continuity test just to be sure it would work. It worked. I put the stereo unit back together and re-inserted it into my car. I hooked up the battery ground cable again and turned on the stereo… It turned on! The buttons all seemed to be working! Now the moment of truth. I plugged my cell phone into the auxiliary input jack and started playing some music. The quality was superb. I got both left and right channels and it sounded so much better than it did before I was blown away. I forgot how good the cell phone audio was supposed to sound coming through the stereo. I screwed the stereo back into the dash and replaced the vent and bottom panels.
A job well done! The stereo got the last laugh though. Removing the power caused it to forget what time it was and also forget all of my saved radio stations. Easy enough to fix. It’s hard to believe all of that work had to be done because of one tiny piece of metal. I’m hoping it won’t get bent again. If it does, I’m going to have to try and just replace that audio jack. I’m keeping my fingers crossed though.