How to Find a Radio Code to Unlock Your Car Stereo

October 4, 2017

You go to start up your car only to find the radio won't work and is flashing an obnoxious "CODE" message. What does this mean and how can you do to fix it? We are here to help!

What is a Car Radio Code?

This "CODE" that your stereo is requesting is a short string of numbers used as a theft deterrent in some radio head units. In some units, if they are disconnected from power they will simply lose all their memory used for preset information and will just have to be reconfigured once power is reestablished. Other units require you to enter a code to reset the radio once it has been disconnected from power or removed from the vehicle.

The idea is to function as an added layer of security to deter someone from stealing the radio out of the vehicle, but can also affect car owners who simply need a battery replacement or were swapping out their stereo. Most units that have this feature require a code that is specific to not only the make and model of the car, but also the manufacturer of the radio itself.

car radioCar radio / Image source

How do I find my car radio code?

There are a number of ways to find the code specific to your make, model, and radio manufacturer. The easiest ways involve using resources provided by the auto maker or the manufacturer for your stereo (user's manual or website). You could also contact your local dealership or service center.

Finally, there are a number of online databases that can provide your code but the credibility and required fees of these providers can vary, therefore it is recommended that you try the other methods first. Below, we explain some of the considerations you should make when trying to obtain your stereo's code.

1. Check the Owner's Manual for radio code information

The easiest and first place you should check is your car's owner's manual. This is your go-to for information about your specific vehicle but the caveat is that it would probably be a thief's first place to look, so some car manufacturers do not include it here.

However, some user's manuals will have a section for you to write the codes down so if you have a used vehicle, perhaps the previous owner may have recorded this information. Alternatively, if you purchased an after-market radio unit, check the user's manual for your equipment as that may contain the code as well.

2. Get a code from the car maker or radio manufacturer's website

The next-best place to look to find your stereo code is on your car maker's website. Some auto companies will have an online database or inquiry system where you can input your car's year, make, model, and VIN number and you can either retrieve your code instantly or have it emailed to you.

Popular manufacturers that have an online inquiry system for retrieving codes are Acura, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Volvo. Another place to check is the website of the radio manufacturer. They may have a similar database for finding your code as an auto company, however, some manufacturers will ask you to input the specific serial number from your car radio in addition to the VIN number. This would require you to have to physically remove the radio from your car's dashboard in order to find the serial number.

3. Ask a local dealership or service center

If you are not able to locate the code on your own, the next option is to reach out to your auto maker's local dealership and speak to the servicing department, or the place where you purchased your radio if it was installed after market. An official licensed dealership will request your car's year/make/model, VIN number, and possibly the serial number on the actual radio. If you purchased your radio after market, authorized dealers and installers like Best Buy may be able to provide you with the code for your specific unit.

4. Check an online databases or third-party services

If you cannot locate your code through any of the above methods, the last resort is to try to retrieve it using a third-party source. There are a number of websites that tout their extensive database of stereo codes spanning multiple car makes/models and radio manufacturers. Some of these allow the user to gain the code instantly or via email after communicating with a representative. 

Some websites are free to gain this information for more common and newer models, while some websites offer this information for a fee. It is best to fully research and be vigilant of the credibility of these third-party services before transacting with them.

I found my radio code. Now what?

Once you have retrieved the correct code for your unit it is fairly easy to input the code. You will have to input the code using either the tuner and volume knobs, or using the buttons, dependent on your specific radio unit.  It is important to know how to input the code correctly, because if the code is entered incorrectly a certain number of times, the system will lockdown - another layer of security to deter theft. If the system locks down completely, you will have to reset it, often consisting of disconnecting the power and waiting for a certain amount of time before you have an opportunity to enter the code again.

About the Author

John Gower is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

1 User Comment

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By , April 17, 2018
I got my code. Stereo still won't play.Would it be my amp?