Fixing the Tribute’s Deficiency

After fixing the Civic’s deficiency back in August, it was time to fix the Tribute’s. Our Mazda Tribute compact SUV—despite some early mechanical problems right after we bought it—has been serving us quite well. But its factory stereo was pretty bad. First off, it was in bad condition. It was missing a button and the LCD would intermittently go all garbled on me. Secondly, it was a factory stereo—it had no audio-in or iPod connection and put out medocre sound. Since I’m now playing around with car repair on my own, I figured that replacing the stereo would be another fun project.

For Christmas, Melissa bought me the Sony CDX-GT420IP head unit from It’s a decent, lower-mid-range head unit with radio receiver, CD player, front AUX input, and—most impressively—an included iPod dock connection cable for direct iPod control from the unit. It also includes a built-in amp, which makes for better sound quality. Plus, coming from Crutchfield, it came with the Mazda Tribute-specific installation instructions, mounting equipment, and wire harness all for free.

So yesterday afternoon I unpacked all of the stuff, got the wire harness all hooked up (using a crimper), and moved out to the Mazda to perform the installation.

Things didn’t go quite as planned though. The ‘DIN tools’ that are supposed to make removing the old unit a breeze did not work as expected . . . or at all, for that matter. I ended up, after a couple hours worth of frustration with the DIN tools, removing the whole dash panel (following the instructions in my Chilton’s guide) and forcing the unit out by manually releasing the holding clips with a couple of screwdrivers. A post-mortem on the factory unit revealed that the clips had been bent out (presumably by Mazda) so that the DIN tools wouldn’t engage them . . . tricky tricky. Nice to know I wasn’t doing anything wrong though; the unit was sabotaged ;-).

Once the old unit was out, the new mounting bracket (with the new head unit already in it) just slid in and clicked into place without problem. The wire harness just plugged into the factory connector. I ran the iPod cable over to the glove box, cleaned up, reconnected the car’s battery, and the new unit worked like a charm! Radio worked fine; iPod played fine; panning the sound right-and-left and front-and-back had everything going to the correct speakers. Success!

So now the Tribute has a radio with a working LCD, higher sound quality, and seamless integration with the iPod. No more tape adaptors and cigarette-lighter-plugs! And I have another automotive victory under my belt.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.