The 20 Degree Backup Camera

Jan 8, 2017

Yesterday was the coldest day by far in recent memory, with a high temperature of about 24 degrees. But I had made an obligation to an elderly lady with an older Toyota Sienna to get her backup camera working, and considering how heavy my current backlog is, it was an appointment I did not want to break. I had taken a cursory look at it a few weeks ago when I was at her home resolving an unrelated stereo problem, and determined that the camera itself might be defective, but I did not have a spare with me at the time, nor the proper equipment to make a sure diagnosis, nor for that matter enough time to do the work. So yesterday I spent an hour shoveling snow out of my driveway at home, drove the treacherous icy roads to the shop, and spent another hour clearing enough space in my parking lot to park my own car and work on her van, should she turn up at the appointed time.

She did. I advised her that the repair might be time consuming, because the camera had been installed by someone else and I might have to take a lot of interior body parts off to resolve the problem. She was content to wait, with her sister for company, as I proceeded to bundle up in my colder-than-the-coldest-cold attire and began to dismantle the interior of the van. It took about fifteen minutes for my fingertips to begin to freeze. I went inside to thaw them.

I had to removed the panel from the back hatch, and the trim around the back window and the driver side windows and doors to expose the wiring. I found that unlike every other aftermarket backup camera I’ve ever seen, there was no connection at the backup lamp in the rear hatch, even though it was only inches from the camera. Instead, the installer had spliced into the factory wiring in the front driver side footwell. Strange choice, but I confirmed that it was working, in other words that was not the problem. Again I had to retreat from the cold outdoors to thaw my fingertips.

I brought out my spare camera and hooked it up at that point, and connected it to the rear view mirror monitor, confirming that the monitor worked when the vehicle was shifted into reverse. I then hooked up my own monitor to her camera and confirmed that it was not working. I had examined the wiring and found no apparent fault, but it was still possible that there was a break. I cut the wire harness at the back hatch and tested each wire. Apparently there was a break somewhere, but I couldn’t see it. No matter, there was only one choice remaining – install a new wire harness, and by necessity the camera it was designed for. But first, back inside to thaw.

By this time I had spent two hours working on the van, but my customer was patient and understanding. I installed the new camera and wire harness, connecting it to her existing mirror monitor, and it worked like a charm. All that was left was reassembly of the interior trim. As soon as I thawed out my fingers.

In all it took me about three hours to complete the work. I charged her for 2.5, and she was happy to pay and grateful for the work under far less than ideal conditions. Before they left, her sister made an appointment with me to look at her conversion van.

Two Tough Installs

Aug 24, 2016

Two tough installs today – a Jeep Wrangler and a Mercedes C Class. Mercedes is always challenging, the way they’re put together, the hidden surprises … the fake wood grain on the console that likes to crack when you try to get the radio out. The Jeep has speakers in the roll bar, overhead. Not far over, just a couple of inches. Which makes it extra hard to see what you’re doing when you’re changing them out. Add to that, they’re about a quarter inch shy of being standard size. So the aftermarket speakers don’t quite fit the factory mounting holes. You have to drill new ones. Without tearing up the padding.

Six o’clock jumped up on me right as I was finishing the Mercedes. I had to rewire the speakers twice because it had a factory amp (surprise!) and the levels were off whether I used the speaker outputs or the line level preouts. I figured out a solution though, and it sounded great when I was done. I took my time finishing. No choice. I couldn’t have hurried if I tried. Too tired!

Too Much Of a Good Thing

Aug 17, 2016

Yesterday I worked on a 2016 Kia Soul that had been brought to one of my competitors for a major sound overhaul, and they had made a major mess of it. I spent three hours straightening it out, only to find that the 5-channel amp they had installed was damaged, probably due to being improperly wired. Why didn’t the owner bring me the car in the first place? Because I was too busy to get him on my schedule in a timely fashion.

I really, deeply, appreciate the level of trust that the Asheville community has placed in me and on my work. I make mistakes too, believe me, but people know I will stand behind my work 100% of the time, and take care of any detail that isn’t quite right, small or large. As a result, I am consistently booked up two weeks or more in advance, and I have a shop full of unfinished repairs, despite working 55-60 hours a week.

Again, I am so grateful for this community, and for being given credit for my skill and integrity. I regret though that I am not able to provide my services more widely, or in a more timely fashion. Call it “too much of a good thing”. Thank you for being patient with me, I will get to you as quickly as I can. I am led to believe it’s worth the wait.

Tips, Tips, Tips …

Apr 11, 2016

This is the story of three tips.

I never expect or request a tip, I charge a fair price for my expertise and service, and am glad to help with free advice and support when it feels right to me. I am always grateful for the trust and satisfaction my customers express, and therefore I try always to remember to say “thank you for your business”. For me, a tip is really above and beyond, even if just a few dollars. The gesture means as much as the amount.

TIP #1: I got an email from a person with an Onkyo home theater receiver, wanting to know if I could repair a “no audio” problem with it. I could tell from his description though that this was the notorious “defective processor board” problem that so many Onkyo receivers of the 2010-2015 time period were prone to. I advised him that it would be expensive or even impossible to repair in the field, but that Onkyo was aware of the defect and if he called them and let them know that HE was aware of it, they might provide some suitable remedy even though the unit was out of warranty. He took my advice, and sure enough Onkyo is replacing his stereo at no charge. As a result, this gentleman sent me a bottle of good Sangiovese wine as a tip. I’m not a big drinker, but I know what I like, and I like a good Sangiovese!

TIP #2: One of my “good old customers”, people whom I’ve been doing business with for a long time, has an incredible mansion on the slopes of Mt. Mitchell, which I have visited several times to work on his whole-house stereo and his home theater. He is almost immeasurably wealthy, and has always treated me with kindness and camaraderie. He calls me occasionally for advice about audio and video equipment, most recently to find out how to stream Netflix through his existing system. I explained how it would complicate the operation, and suggested ways to make that less of a learning curve. In the end, he decided it was too much for an octogenarian, but before the conversation was over, he asked me if he could reimburse me in some way for all the advice I had given him, now and in the past. I agreed to his offer and suggested one hour’s charge, but he would not hear of that. He insisted on giving me $100 for my time and knowledge. I demurred, but he was adamant, so finally I accepted with much thanks.

TIP #3: Last Saturday I had two appointments that didn’t show up, and I had two people who came in for service who didn’t have appointments. The second one had a beat up older Monte Carlo with a radio half installed in a somewhat broken trim, and the factory radio plug had been cut out of the car. I agreed to wire it up for him, and suggested replacing the trim, a $15 part. As I was working, he sat in the car and we chatted. I found out he was an Asheville native, grew up in Lee Walker Heights, Asheville’s oldest public housing development, was now a medic in the Army, stationed in Roanoke VA, and his family all still lived here. I finished the work, buttoned up the dash with the new trim around the radio, and charged him 50 bucks for trim and labor. He paid by credit card, then handed me a $20 bill.

I was very pleased and grateful for all three of these tips, but that last one especially.

StereoMan’s Latest Commercial Client


Mar 3, 2016




Delighted to have a relationship with this outstanding local business. (I could say just about the same for each and every one of my commercial clients. Lucky me!)

The folks at Liberty Bikes didn’t have to spend nearly as many $$ as they thought they would. StereoMan knew how to integrate some inexpensive off-the-shelf items with their existing equipment to expand a two-channel stereo to play background music in a 3000sq ft store.

The Gift of Good Will

Amidst all the hustle and the stream of walk-ins and the endless telephone inquiries and an especially difficult installation in a BMW sedan (BMW’s are *never* easy!) today, one customer came to pick up a stereo that I had found nothing wrong with and therefore had only charged my $25 minimum bench charge, and lo and behold he tipped me 20 bucks. “I’m just glad you’re here,” was his only explanation.

It takes at least a dozen impatient grouches and a half dozen more suspicious souls to overcome that one act of good will. And I just don’t get that many of those. “Merry Christmas!” exclaimed my unexpected benefactor. “Merry Christmas to you!” I replied.

It’s Plug and Play!

“It’s plug and play!”

So said Emerald Integrations, the designers of this exotic product for my customer’s Audi Q5, a rear view camera fitted into a replacement rear hatch opener that is a perfect replica of the factory hatch handle. Can I install this? Sure, plug and play, must integrate with the CAN bus I suppose, all I have to do is what . . . take apart the hatch to mount the camera and take apart the dash to plug it in. And then put it all back together.

But it wasn’t plug and play at all.

Like every other rear view camera I’ve ever installed, there was a wire to connect to the backup lamp and there was a wire to connect the module in the dash to the display screen and there was a wire to connect to the vehicle’s accessory 12V line and ground. No problem, I know how to do all that. And I did.

But there was a problem. After I’d gotten everything connected and put the hatch back together (picture me bent over backwards, holding a plastic frame about the size of a bathtub, over my head, aligning and fastening 20 plastic pop fasteners, over and over again, until they were all lined up right and in their respective holes), and fitted the interface in the dash (not a millimeter to spare!), I tested it and the video looked pretty good.

But a couple hours after the customer drove away, he called and informed me that the video had deteriorated to noise and then a blank screen after running the engine for a few minutes. I told him to come back the next day and I’d see if I’d made a mistake.

Well he did, but I hadn’t, as far as I could tell. I did observe the problem though, and it looked to me like a defect in the interface. I suggested he call the mfgr and see what they’d do for him. He emailed me the next day and reported that they told him I shouldn’t have tapped into the windshield wiper fuse for the 12V accessory feed because it was “getting too much power” to the module. Right. And, they told him sometimes the CAN bus caused the interference, and you had to use the backup lamp 12V to signal when the vehicle was in reverse. That sounded more like it. I had him come in the next Sat to have me rewire it that way.

Well he did, and I did, but it didn’t help. The instructions that came with the unit indicated that the programming had to be changed with the supplied remote control (!) but I couldn’t get it to work. We had to jump through several hoops, some of them with flames, to get a tech on the line on a Saturday, but he came through, and as it turned out, the instructions were written wrong. OK, I can deal with that. Once I had the correct process (turn around three times, spit on the ground, throw salt over left shoulder, etc.), I was able to change the program, and voila! the picture still broke down after a minute or two of running the engine.

What else could it be? What else could it be??? Long shot, but I thought maybe, just maybe, it was the vehicle’s backup lamp that was creating the interference. So I disconnected the camera from the lamp and ran an extra wire from the back of the vehicle to the front and connected the camera to . . . yep, that nasty windshield wiper fuse, the one they said was “too powerful”.

Heh. Worked like a champ.

Four New Commercial Clients!

StereoMan is happy to provide background music and PA systems for retail and restaurant settings, as well as communications and entertainment systems for commercial vehicles. Recently StereoMan picked up four new commercial clients, and is happy to provide links to their websites, as they are all local folks whom StereoMan is proud to do business with.




Trout Lily Market is a cozy “artisan” health food store down Fairview way, tucked up next to the Gulf station just before you get to the elementary school. Besides the basic whole foods and nutrient needs, they do paninis and wraps and have a nice outdoor seating area with background music by StereoMan! Added bonus: a fresh seafood shack. Imagine!




It just seems appropriate for the French Broad River Academy to be located in the River Arts District. It’s a private, non-sectarian middle school for boys AND girls, with an emphasis on teamwork, leadership, and confidence building. They give new meaning to the term “college prep”! They have a dozen large vans to provide their students with abundant field trips, and StereoMan is providing audio and video systems for them.




Another health food store! This one’s in Brevard, and answers a desperate need for the significant population of health conscious folks in Transylvania County. It’s a spacious store with the kind of variety and pricing you’d expect in one of the big chains, but it’s locally owned, and operates like a co-op. StereoMan added some new equipment to an existing system and creatively wired the store to provide maximum versatility and musical choices, and that all-important outdoor patio sound!




Last but certainly no less, StereoMan wired the new Biltmore Ave. location for Jim Coleman’s outstanding New York style pizza joint. Jim’s a great guy and if you like pizza (and who doesn’t?), you owe it to yourself to sample his menu. The new store isn’t open yet, but the original Haywood Rd. location is still going strong!

Two Tips

I don’t expect anyone to tip me. But it does happen once in a while. Some days it might even happen twice. Maybe even twice in a row. Today was such a day.

I installed a backup camera in a Honda Ridgeline, and when the owner came to pick it up, he asked me if everything had gone smoothly. Well no, it hadn’t. The interconnect cable that came with the camera had a broken wire in it somewhere, I don’t know where. It took me a while to realize that’s what was wrong (“no signal” was all it said on the monitor), and it was more than a little difficult to remedy because the wiring was already done. I didn’t charge him anything extra for that though. Maybe that’s why he tipped me.

The second one was a 91 Camry that someone had messed with the wiring and so the new radio didn’t work at all once I had it hooked up. But I knew what to do about it, and that old Camry is an easy car to work on. I had quoted the owner $63 to do the install, but it ended up being less because she already had the trim piece and I didn’t use a wiring adapter because the wiring had been messed with. I did charge her for the extra time figuring out what to connect where, but her total still came out to only $55. Maybe that’s why she tipped me.

Some Things, Even I Cannot Do

So this lady calls to see if I can put a stereo in her Subaru, and of course I say yes, I do Subies all the time. (It’s the official car of Asheville, right?) I’m heavily booked right now, but she told me it was replacing a factory stereo with another factory stereo. No problem, I think I can squeeze her in somewhere.

But wait! Her Subie is a 2003 and she’s wanting to put in a 2014. I explain to her that Subaru has changed their wiring in the interim, and the new radio is not compatible with her older wiring. Can’t the wiring be changed? she wants to know. Well maybe it can, but it would require a lot of extra time – so I can’t squeeze her in. And she had told me she was only in town for a limited time. Sorry, says I, but I really can’t help you with that right now.

But she really wants this radio because it has bluetooth. Oh, says I, well did you get a microphone with it? Wait, what? she says, why do I need a microphone? So I explain why, and I explain that she needs a factory microphone, and that it would have to be custom mounted, and it didn’t sound like a good idea to me. I’m sorry says I, but I don’t think I can help you with this.

But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She had already tried Best Buy and they gave her a runaround, and now I was giving her a runaround. I tried to get her to tell me how long she was going to be in town, but she wouldn’t tell me that. I had customers waiting at my counter and I was doing work for another customer, so I told her a third time that I couldn’t help her.

I hate to be rude to people, and I did say I was sorry each time, but clearly she didn’t like it. I hate to disappoint as well, but honestly, there are some things even I cannot do.