How to Find a Radio Code to Unlock Your Car Stereo

October 30, 2018

If your battery recently died, or had to be disconnected during a car repair, it might stop working and instead flash an obnoxious "CODE" message the next time you drive it. What does this mean and how can you fix it? 

This code is a short string of numbers used as a theft deterrent in some car stereos. The idea is to function as an added layer of security to deter someone from stealing the radio, but can also affect car owners who simply need a battery replacement or were swapping out their stereo. 

How do I find my car radio code?

There are a number of ways to find the code specific to your car and radio manufacturer. Let's look at them.

1. Check the owner's manual for radio code information

The first place you should check is your car's owner's manual. This is your go-to for information about your vehicle — but it would probably be a thief's first place to look, too, so some car manufacturers don't include it here. Instead, it might be on a separate card or booklet.

However, some user's manuals will have a section where you can write information down, so if you have a used vehicle, perhaps the previous owner may have recorded the code here. Alternatively, if you purchased an after-market radio unit, check its user's manual.

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

The next place to look is on your carmaker's website. The following companies have an online database or inquiry system where you can input your car's year, make, model and VIN number and either retrieve your code instantly or have it emailed to you:

Another place to check is the website of the radio manufacturer. They may have a similar database for finding your code, but may ask you to input the serial number from your car radio in addition to the VIN number. This would require you to physically remove the radio from your car's dashboard in order to find the serial number. If you're not comfortable doing that, you might want to take it to a professional.

3. Ask a local dealership or service center

If you can't find the code on your own, the next option is to reach out to your automaker's local dealership and speak to the servicing department. An official dealership will request your car's year, make, model, VIN number and possibly the serial number on the radio. Some dealerships might be able to give you the code over the phone, but others will ask you to make an appointment to bring the car in so they can fix it themselves.

If you purchased your radio after market, authorized dealers and installers may be able to provide you with the code. If not, they may be able to reset it for you.

4. Check online databases or third-party services

If these methods don't work, the last resort is to try to retrieve it using a third-party source. Several websites tout their databases of stereo codes for many car models and radio manufacturers. Some of these allow the user to gain the code instantly or via email. 

Some websites offer this for free, while others will charge a fee. Do a little research on the credibility of these third-party services before working with them.

I found my radio code — now what?

Once you have the code, it's fairly easy to input it. You will have to enter the code using either the tuner and volume knobs, or using the preset buttons, depending on your radio. 

It's important to know how to input the code correctly, because if the code is entered incorrectly a certain number of times, the system will lock down. If it shuts you out completely, you'll likely have to disconnect the battery and wait for a certain amount of time before you can try 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.