A good sound system can take the stress away from driving and make the journey more fun. Adding subwoofers is one of the most common ways to enhance a car’s audio, but it’s not always a straightforward process.
Subwoofers can be bad for your car if installed unproperly. They can cause unwanted rattles, drain your battery, or in some cases, negatively impact your car’s overall performance. The rattling can also affect your listening experience.
Read on to know more about the potential risks of upgrading your car’s audio system. This article will also cover how to avoid these problems and give guidance on what type of audio upgrade best suits you.
Why Subwoofers Are Bad for Your Car
The main reason subwoofers can be bad for your car is that vehicles usually aren’t designed to hold these kinds of speakers. Subwoofers are heavy, require a lot of electricity, and affect your vehicle’s weight distribution. All of this can result in bad performance and even electrical issues for your car.
The rattling caused by the subwoofer could also damage some parts, besides proving to be very annoying.
But if it’s troublesome to install subwoofers in your car, how come they are so popular in the first place?
Many stock car audio systems do not come with subwoofers as standard equipment. The coaxial or component speakers typically used in cars can leave you wanting when it comes to bass or overall loudness.
Subwoofers produce low-frequency sounds at a louder level, making them a great addition to your car’s audio system. Humans are capable of hearing frequencies between 20Hz to 20kHz. However, sounds produced by subwoofers between the 20Hz-60Hz range allow us to feel the music instead of just hearing it.
The strong bass sound or the thump produced by subwoofers is challenging for conventional speakers to replicate or reproduce, especially at the same level or loudness of subwoofers.
Aside from broadening the frequency range, subwoofers can also take more pounding, which translates to a louder and more enjoyable listening experience with less risk of damaging your other speakers.
But despite the advantages subwoofers have when enhancing your audio, it is also essential to know the potential drawbacks audio upgrades can have on your car.
Vibrations and Rattling
Low-frequency sounds produced by subwoofers cause less strain on our ears than high-frequency sounds. Less ear fatigue makes the listener more prone to increasing the volume.
Increasing the volume or increasing the music’s intensity causes larger sound waves. These sound waves can cause certain parts of our car to vibrate and rattle.
Parts such as door panels, interior trim, and the rearview mirror are most prone to rattling, especially when exposed to the vibrations caused by a subwoofer. The pulses may also cause certain nuts or clips to become loose in some cases.
The effects of constant vibration may eventually lead to poorly fastened interior trim pieces and a noisy cabin filled with rattles. The unwanted noise may even be enough to defeat the purpose of upgrading your car’s audio system altogether.
Your car’s stereo has a built-in amplifier that drives the stock speakers. In most cases, it’s not designed to power an additional subwoofer.
Subwoofers need a lot of power to operate and require an amplifier to supply sufficient power. Depending on their size and power output, some subwoofers may even need a dedicated amplifier to perform optimally.
Amplifiers take care of supplying enough power for subwoofers. However, they also require a lot of energy from your car’s battery under operation.
If your amplifier is taking more power than what your battery receives back from the alternator, it will cause the battery to drain and eventually become flat.
It is crucial to ensure that your car does not go beyond its allowable electrical load to prevent straining your car’s battery.
Payload Capacity and Weight Distribution
Subwoofers, together with an amplifier, its enclosure, and the additional wiring will significantly increase your car’s load. It will also have an impact on your car’s weight distribution.
The additional weight of audio equipment may not be enough to overload your car. Still, you also have to factor in the weight of all the occupants, cargo, or any additional equipment that did not come with the car.
Every vehicle has a maximum allowable payload. This accounts for everything your car carries, including all the occupants. Increasing your car’s load and altering its weight distribution can have a dramatic effect on your car’s performance.
Here is a brief description of how overloading your car can affect its performance:
- Engine Performance. Weight has a significant impact on engine performance. Increasing a vehicle’s weight requires more effort from the engine, which can lead to poor acceleration and slower responsiveness.
- Fuel Efficiency. As you increase the effort your engine has to exert to move the vehicle, you will also affect its fuel consumption. The added weight will translate to a decrease in fuel efficiency.
- Comfort. Adding weight to a vehicle can cause it to squat and limit its suspension travel. The added weight limits your suspension’s upward and downward movement, which results in more uncomfortable driving.
- Braking. Heavier vehicles put more force and strain on the braking system. The added weight will cause the brakes to heat up faster, impacting the distance it can stop a moving vehicle.
- Steering and Handling. Subwoofers and additional audio equipment are usually placed at the back of the car since the trunk or cargo area has enough room for them. Making the rear heavier lessens the amount of contact the front tires have with the ground.
Tips When Upgrading Audio Equipment
An innocent audio upgrade may have severe repercussions for your car. The good news is you can still enjoy trouble-free motoring together with a good sound system if you follow these tips.
Use Proper Insulation and Soundproofing
After upgrading your car’s audio system, the last thing you want to hear is rattles in your cabin each time you turn the volume up. Aside from the unwanted noise made by the vibrations caused by your subwoofer, road noise and other ambient sounds can also spoil what should be a pleasant listening experience.
Fortunately, you can insulate your car from noise and vibrations using sound-deadening materials. These are sheets made primarily of butyl rubber which you can place in areas such as your door panels, headliners, or other places that are prone to vibration.
According to SoundProofable, Dynamat Extreme does a great job in soundproofing. The Dynamat Self-Adhesive Sound Deadener is available on Amazon and has garnered a reputation for being one of the best sound deadeners in the market. Because of this, it falls on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to pricing.
Other brands such as the KILMAT Car Sound Deadening Mat, also on Amazon, also use butyl rubber while remaining affordable, making it a compelling alternative.
Prevent Battery Drain
According to Improve Car Audio, the subwoofer alone will use up more power than all the other speakers put together. In that regard, you need to make sure that your sound system isn’t taking more energy from the battery than it is receiving from the alternator.
Your amplifier’s efficiency rating and its peak power output or RMS are measured in watts and determine the amount of power your sound system consumes. For example, suppose you want to drive two subwoofers using a 2-channel amplifier, rated at 300 watts (RMS) per channel, with an efficiency of 86%. In that case, it will consume 698% watts of power to produce 600 watts.
If your electrical system is running at 13.2 volts, an amplifier will draw out 53 amps of current for it to produce 600 watts of power to drive your speakers, as explained by Best Car Audio.
This may seem complex, but you can refer to the table in Improve Car Audio’s website as a reference. There’s also a table there to determine how big of an amplifier your car’s battery can handle. Just take note of your amplifier’s power rating (RMS) and efficiency, as well as your car battery’s CCA and Ah.
In cases where your amplifier is powerful enough to drain your battery, you can either upgrade your car battery, replace your alternator, or use an audio capacitor. The best option will depend on how you use your audio system.
Upgrading Your Car Battery
If you listen to music with your engine switched off, upgrading your car’s battery is a good option. A battery upgrade can ensure you have enough reserve power to provide your car’s audio system, given how powerful your system is and the amount of time you spend listening to music with the engine off.
Adding Another Battery
You could also increase reserve power by adding a second battery. A second battery will significantly extend the amount of time you can listen to music with the engine switched off.
You need to make sure that both batteries have the same brand, group, and age to ensure that one battery does not compensate for the other.
Note that you will only benefit from upgrading or adding a battery if you listen to music while your car is off.
Replacing Your Alternator
If you spend most of your time listening to music while your car is running, a better option would be to get a high-output alternator. A good indication that you need this is if you find your lights dimming when you turn up the volume.
Alternators have ampere ratings that range from 60 amps to as high as 200 amps. As a general rule, you need 100 amps of current to power 1000 watts. This calculation excludes your vehicle’s base electrical requirements, which you also need to factor in when determining a suitable alternator for your setup.
Using an Audio Capacitor
Capacitors provide temporary storage of electricity, which helps stabilize the voltage.
Using a capacitor is recommended if you experience disruptive electrical issues such as dimming headlights or slowness when rolling your windows up. A capacitor’s ability to discharge and charge quickly helps regulate your car’s voltage, though it’s worth noting that its primary function is to keep your amplifier performance at an optimal level.
Know What Is Right for You
You can avoid many problems associated with enhancing your car’s audio if you keep it moderate. In other words, you need to determine how much of an upgrade you truly need.
The mere fact you’re considering an upgrade means that you want to get more out of your sound system. Before buying a subwoofer, ask yourself what is it exactly that it’s lacking.
Perhaps you don’t need speakers that you can hear a mile away. Buying speakers that have a comprehensive frequency response might be enough to satisfy your ears.
If it’s sound clarity you’re after, you might not even need a subwoofer in the first place. Component speakers offer better clarity and lower distortion, which dramatically enhances your listening experience.
The JBL GTO609C Component Speakers System is available on Amazon and it’s rated as one of the best in the market by Music Critic. These speakers displace more air compared to similarly-sized speakers in their class, which means they have good bass output.
Component speakers don’t require much power and usually work well with a stock head unit. However, if component speakers aren’t enough to satisfy your thirst for bass, then you may want to consider underseat subwoofers.
Using underseat subwoofers is an excellent option for enhancing your sound system’s low-frequency output without compromising on things like space, weight, and battery power.
As the name suggests, you can easily install under-seat subwoofers under your car seats. Active subwoofers will come with built-in amplifiers which have enough power to deliver good bass without demanding too much power.
One of the best under-seat subwoofers you can get is the Kenwood KSC-PSW8 Under-seat Powered Subwoofer, available on amazon. As stated by The Drive, this unit can deliver frequencies between 38Hz to 150Hz and comes with a class-D amplifier, which is ideal for a subwoofer.
Upgrading your car’s audio system can be both exciting and frustrating. The sheer number of options can be pretty overwhelming, not to mention everything that could go wrong.
The best way to narrow down your options is to determine what you want. Even the simplest upgrades can go a long way in enhancing your listening experience.
Most complications arise from going overboard regarding the power and size of the subwoofers and amplifiers you decide to purchase. You can avoid a lot of complexity and headaches by keeping the upgrades moderate.