With 5.1 surround sound becoming more popular among mainstream vehicle owners, I decided to bring the home theater experience to my 2016 Nissan Maxima GLE. By documenting this installation, I hope to raise interest among do-it-yourselfers in adopting such a setup in their own cars.
My goal was to achieve balanced 5.1 surround sound while creating a unique streamlined installation that accented the factory interior with a high-tech look that wouldn’t visually shout out its presence upon a casual glance through the window. For the materials to use, check out this definitive guide on the best car speakers.
Location, Location, Location
The first step was to decide on the location of the product that I would be installing (1). The Maxima had a very large opening for the then-current equipment, which gave me a high degree of design flexibility.
The center channel needed to be somewhere that would make sense at the installation, performance and aesthetic levels.
Because I didn’t want to mount it on top of the dash or cut a hole out of the top of the dash, I decided to relocate the HVAC–as well as the hazard and defrost buttons–to the lower portion of the dash.
This repositioning provided a lot of room for the center channel installation. I also chose to place the Kenwood DDX7015 DVD monitor in the factory double DIN location and use the trim ring to mold it to the factory panel.
I disassembled the HVAC unit so I could use the factory trim ring–but it was too big. Solution: modifying the HVAC so that it could fit into the dash bezel.
As sometimes happens, however, finding one solution created another challenge: namely, the factory thermometer, which Nissan located on the right side to the HVAC bezel. This is used to maintain a constant temperature in the vehicle, which is very important in Daytona Beach, FL, where I live and work.
I wanted to make sure that I retained the full function of the vehicle, so my next step was to relocate the hazard and defrost switch. I then moved the temperature sensor between the two buttons. Once everything had its location, I cut the factory bezels using a Dremel with a cutting disk.
To make the radio look like it came with the car, I cut out the dash bezel a little larger than the bezel that came with the radio; the same was done with the HVAC and the relocated buttons.
With the factory bezel cut, I mounted the equipment securely into the factory brackets and made sure that both bezels were mounted securely to the HVAC and the DDX7015. A common mistake made by installers when fabricating anything is that they fabricate first and worry about mounting later. It makes for a better and cleaner install when you mount the equipment first and fabricate around it.
With the equipment mounted in their permanent locations, I superglued the rings into place and removed the equipment. Scruffing up the entire bezel with 40-grit sandpaper followed. I then taped up both the radio and the HVAC, and mounted them into the brackets. This step ensured that everything fit while I applied body filler.
Inside and Out
Before applying the body filler, I took a 3″ grinder and ground down all of the bezels’ sharp edges so they would visually flow into each other. Next, I mixed up some Rage and filled up to the edges of the radio and HVAC. The body filler can be sanded after it dries, but you should first remove the equipment so it doesn’t get damaged or scratched.
After removing the equipment, I started out with 40-grit to knock down all of the high spots, then finished it off with 80-grit.
It is very important that there are no imperfections in the bezel. If there are, they will definitely show up later during the primer and paint stages. Just like an install has to look good from the outside, it should also look good on the inside. Using solder and heat shrink to make all of the electrical connections in the vehicle ensures a nice, clean install.
With the radio and the HVAC roughed in, the bezel was reinstalled and mounted securely. It’s important to note that mounting the units securely will guarantee that all of your fabricated pieces fit tightly.
A Sound Center
The 5.1 surround sound system necessitated constructing the center channel from scratch . Because I didn’t want the center channel to draw too much attention to itself, I stayed within the factory lines of the dash.
I find that it helps when you can build a frame for your material to secure to, so I taped the sides of the dash and constructed the frame. I had to make sure that the 4″ speaker could mount securely into the center channel and decided the best way was to create a ring for the speaker so that it could mount from the back. I also rounded over the inside edge of the ring to eliminate 90* angles that would detract from the overall look of the install.
After securing the frame, it was time for the grille cloth, which I stretched and superglued into place. When installing, be sure to pull the grille cloth tight so that it won’t sag when applying resin. Before mixing up the resin, cover all of the factory panels as well as the center console and the floor.
I then mixed up 8 ounces of resin and added 8 ounces of 1/32nd milled fibers to give it a little more strength. After that dried, I mixed up some Duraglass and applied it over the resin and milled fibers. When doing this, you should make sure that you do not remove the piece until you have applied both resin and Duraglass, and both have dried completely. This will prevent your panel from warping and not fitting correctly.
My next step was to make a mount for the tweeter. I had a few ideas about the look, and the one I decided upon (with some help from my students) was to shape my design out of acrylic. Acrylic is easy to bend; its malleability allowed me to set the tweeter at a different angle than the 4″ driver.
The tweeter pod was then molded into the center of the acrylic piece and Duraglassed in. Next, I attached the acrylic to the center channel and superglued it into place. With that temporarily in place, I re-installed it in to the dash to make sure that it was lined up and straight. The acrylic was then molded into the center piece, this time using body filler (because it didn’t need to be reinforced and was easier to sand).
Dash to the Finish
With two down and one to go, all that was left was the lower portion of the dash. I decided to remove the ashtray and cigarette lighter and install the two buttons and the thermometer. This was prepped and installed just like the radio piece.
After completion of the prep sanding, it was time for primer. The type that Installer Institute uses is a polyester high build primer with the brand name Slick Sand. This primer’s best qualities are its abilities to be built up and sanded very easily.
For the color, I took a piece of the dash to a local paint shop so it could be dye-matched to the rest of the vehicle’s dash panels. After a applying a few coats by spray gun and some dry time, they were ready to be put back together and re-installed. Before that, I used the soft side of the Velcro to prevent the painted panels from rubbing against the factory dash and damaging each other.
The installation achieved the desired effect as a sleek, high-tech central command center for the Maxima’s 5.1 entertainment center. There’s more to the story, of course, but that’s for another issue. Remember: An install is never finished until everything works correctly and the customer approves–even if you are your own customer.