In my spare time, I’ve been tinkering with GM radios. This is the result of my research, which I’ve written up into this semi-whitepaper to share. In short, this article will tell you everything you need to know about adding a factory USB port to your mid-2000s GM car.
This article is long. I apologize. There’s a lot of info to share and I have to assume all you know about your car’s stereo is where the CD goes. I have tried to summarize the what-you-need-to-know near the bottom.
In what I call the Lutz/Wagoner Era of General Motors, GM did a lot right. One thing they got right was to unify radios across as many cars as possible. Buick’s and Cadillac’s got largely left behind in this process, for several reasons, but for the first time most Chevrolet, Opel, Holden, and Pontiac cars had the same radios shared.
This article applies to Delta, Epsilon, and Kappa-class cars primarily. After reports from others, I’m only recommending 2007 and later model year cars. Some 2006 cars just have a Body Control Module (BCM) that is just too old. Similar-looking radios are in other cars, but are technically different on the inside. This article applies to you if you have one of the following cars (or its platform twins):
Pontiac G6 (2009.5 & 2010 Model Years Only)*
Saturn Ion (2006+ Model Years Only)*
* The G6 did not get the bowtie radio until the 2009.5 & 2010 redesign. Similarly, Ion models before 2006 are a no-go. Earlier models use an older GMLAN and I do not recommend this process for those cars.
To do this modification (adding a USB port radio) you need to have either RPO US8 or US9 on your car. You can confirm this by looking in the glove box at the RPO code label. It’s a silver sticker that lists all the features/options on your car. This is detailed more below.
Why add a USB port radio to my car?
Simple, it works very well if you have a modern iPhone, iPad, iPod touch / iOS 8 device. App audio transmits flawlessly over the USB port. And, some apps will even get on-screen display interactivity, partly thanks to some APIs that Apple opened up for a few app developers.
While today Apple is focused on CarPlay, apps like Pandora and iHeartRadio will let you scroll through the radio interface on the GM USB port radio – even though iOS didn’t really exist when these radios were built. Apple worked hard to “reach back” and support these cars. This makes it more attractive than many aftermarket radios – you get apps that work well and audio that is digital from end-to-end.
Additionally, a USB port radio lets you do stuff with perfect audio fidelity. From plugging in your Android phone, to quickly coping that new song onto a flash drive. Having a USB port on your GM radio gives you tight integration and adds value to your car.
Note that it isn’t totally future-proof. Siri Eyes-free won’t work, for example. Siri will pump through the speakers, but you’ll need to use the iOS device’s microphone and home button to trigger.
What About PAL?
This section is long – basically I don’t suggest using PAL if at all possible. The only benefit to PAL is that it will work with older iPod’s with FireWire in addition to USB-based iOS devices.
GM did offer a kit for cars that did not come with a USB port. It’s called a PAL, or Personal Audio Link. It adds iPod integration to the radio’s in non-USB port cars listed above.
The problem with this kit is two-fold. One, it was designed for use with iPod – it’s old. It is wired to go in the glovebox. The idea is you would stash your $400 iPod in the glovebox and control it using the radio and steering-wheel.
Of course, this is not ideal if you have an iPhone, and want to say, take a phone call. The PAL will not interface with iPhone voice commands, route phone calls, or allow you to use the microphone in the OnStar system (neither will a USB port radio, for that matter). For that, you need a GM Bluetooth integration – which GM will tell you that you can’t do… but you can.
Second, the PALs are very buggy. They were made by a company called Mediatronics, that seemed to have about as many financial issues as GM at the time. They shared some firmware bits with the radio (obviously) but they are very buggy. The first-generation models never got a firmware update, and are temperamental. They crash the radio. They fire up even when an iPod isn’t present.
Additionally, you don’t get a USB port. So Android or flash drives are not usable with PAL. But, since an iPhone 4S or iPod touch with iOS 8 is quite cheap, it’s an option to consider. And yes, PAL works with Lightning port adapters as well as voltage converters. It also will route app audio from iOS 8 apps.
If you do go the PAL route – get the second-generation unit for these cars 22754163 rather than the first-generation (19166154 or 19201522, depending on the model of your car).
No promises, but the second-gen unit will likely work with your car, and work much better too. Any other GM PAL part number (that I’m aware of) applies to some other car (as in, Class 2 data bus vehicle) – like the Corvette C6 or a GM SUV.
Another nice feature of the second-gen PAL is that it has an additional RCA audio out set of jacks on the side. This is nice because you can more easily add an aftermarket Bluetooth integration. Using a cheap third-party A2DP microphone kit, you can have it paired to your car… and the car will then automatically switch from iPod mode for music, to the Bluetooth link for an incoming call. You just have to route the A2DP adapter and microphone somewhere appropriate in the car.
Still though, I only suggest PAL if you cannot add a USB port radio to your car. It requires the same amount of teardown and the same amount of effort (if not a little more) to install an inferior product. Only go with a PAL if you can’t do the USB radio – and that’s true sometimes, see below for more.
Why not use an aftermarket radio?
Simple – they cause problems. GM cars today are very advanced. OnStar is the biggest feature you may lose (though some do have a GMLAN adapter to work properly). Really, the reason I avoid them is that people run into power-drain and other issues.
If you’re going to get an aftermarket radio, it’ll cost a lot more. Adding a GM USB Port radio will cost you under $150 in parts. It’s one single part. It doesn’t involve speaker re-wiring, and it works with the amplifier and speakers in your car perfectly – if done properly. It’s pre-tuned, pre-calibrated, in other words.
Finally, resale value. When I see aftermarket stereos, I get concerned. Every time I’ve bought one, something was done improperly or corner-cutting and I would have been happier had they just left the speakers alone. All about that bass? In my book, it means more trouble.
I think aftermarket radios for mid-2000s cars will become a lot more compelling when CarPlay and Android Auto enter the mix. But that may be a few years before I seriously recommend one.
Getting started – know what you’ve got.
GM cars listed at the start of this article had one of four radios – U1C, US8, US9, and UUI. The easiest way to check is to look at the RPO code sticker in your glovebox. It will have one of those four.
The USB radio bears the GM RPO code UUI. That’s the radio we’re going to upgrade to!
If you have a U1C radio, then I have some bad news for you – you got the wrong one. On Ion, the U1C means you have cheaper speakers that aren’t tuned to the more premium radios. You may get by on the Saturn Sky or Aura – I’ve heard that some of their U1C setups did use the same speakers as the US8 radio.
If you have a U1C in an Ion, you can upgrade very cheaply your speakers and get a massive music improvement. Wreckers typically have the 2-wire speakers for dirt cheap, and everyone that has upgraded the GM speakers has had massive improvement – for far less than the cost of an aftermarket stereo setup.
US8 typically had the “uplevel” six speaker system, which is in-between U1C and US9/UUI. It has two-wire speakers and typically a six-speaker configuration lacking the rear two speakers. Also the Monsoon amplifier is not present.
US9 cars typically had the Monsoon 8-speaker system, but not always. UUI radios almost always had the Monsoon 8-speaker system, except in some cases on fleet orders or when GM was low on parts. This is because half the UUI radios will only work on Monsoon 8-speaker systems (I’ll tell you how to get the right UUI radio in the next section).
Another important aside – if you have a US8 radio, you may have a Monsoon amplifier that is sitting unused. The manufacturing plants were sometimes under pressure to churn out cars quickly, so they affixed Monsoon amplifiers to cars even before the interior was configured. That means you may have a Monsoon amp sitting in your car, that’s simply disconnected. Seriously! I’ve seen it.
You can hook that up and use it even without the additional speakers sometimes – especially if the wiring harness is present. That all said, I wouldn’t bother deploying a Monsoon if you don’t have one already.
The tale of two UUI’s (Well, More Like 15)
This section has the most important bit that I discovered… through trial and error.
GM had two part suppliers for its UUI (USB port) radio – Delphi and Panasonic. In general, Delphi did a much better job than Panasonic. Higher quality knobs and buttons, better overall build quality.
Except in firmware. Panasonic’s from my testing will detect if you don’t have a Monsoon amp – saving you a lot of trouble if you don’t have the Monsoon speaker system.
Good time to note – the radios are color-schemed. So there are something like 15 different UUI radio part numbers. A Delphi and a Panasonic, plus one for each color scheme (Chevy, Pontiac, Saturn, etc all had different LED colors – Blue, Red, and Amber, respectively).
Try to buy the one that matches your car, but I encourage you to go with the Delphi if you have Monsoon and a Panasonic if you do not have Monsoon.
Some UUI radio’s are drying up in supply. There are no more UUI radios on the market for the Saturn Sky, even used. GM is sold out too. They are quite rare, and command quite a premium.
Where to find a UUI radio? Well, GM is an expensive first start. They still have UUI radios for most cars – and you won’t have to pay your dealership to VIN-recode it (see next section)… so it may actually be a wash in terms of cost.
Next step is eBay, where you’ll definitely be able to find a UUI radio, but again – you probably want the one that color-matches your car’s interior. I suggest car-part.com for that. They will let you search for UUI radios, but you may have to input a 2009+ model for your car. Most of car-part.com’s suppliers are dismantlers, so be sure to confirm that the radio isn’t covered in eight layers of dust with the vendor you wind up buying from. You can get a UUI radio for around $130 going this route.
Oh, and don’t buy a UUI radio from a GM SUV or truck. The USB port on those was routed via the GMLAN to the armrest- you need it on the radio faceplate.
Now, I’m sure you’re asking the big question – How can I tell a Delphi radio apart from a Panasonic radio? After all, the Panasonic UUI radios work with both 6-speaker and 8-speaker cars, whereas the Delphi radios have better build quality… but only work with the 8-speaker Monsoon setups.
Thanks to feedback from a forum member (credited in the update history), there’s an easy way to tell. If the USB port is to the left of the giant power button, then it’s a Delphi-bult radio. If the USB port is to the far right of the power button, then it was built by Panasonic.
Okay, my brain hurts reading all of this. What of all the above do I need to know?
I assure you sorting all this out hurt even more. In sum, if you have RPO US8 or US9 on one of the cars listed in the top of the article, you can do this modification.
If you have a Monsoon amplifier, you can use just about any UUI radio with a USB port on it.
If you don’t have a Monsoon amplifier, you will need to get a UUI radio made by Panasonic with a USB port on it.
Panasonic-built radios have the USB port to the right of the power button. Delphi units have the USB port to the left of the giant power button. If the radio doesn’t have a USB port on it, don’t buy it, even if it has a UUI model (those are for SUVs/Trucks).
Keep in mind that each GM brand has a different color scheme. I decided to mix them up for fun, now my Pontiac G6 has a radio with Saturn’s amber LED colors.
I also saved $100 compared to Panasonic-built radios with a Pontiac color scheme (those are quite rare).
Setting it up.
Getting the UUI radio installed is as simple as following the replacement teardown for your car. YouTube has step-by-steps for nearly all these cars.
If you bought a used radio, the radio will not start until you get it unlocked (recoded to the VIN of your car). You have to go to a dealership for that. They will charge anywhere from $25 to $150 to do this. It only takes five minutes with a GM Tech 2 service tool. I would walk away from any dealer that wants more than $75 to do it… they’re overcharging. Try to get them down to $25. It literally takes five minutes.
I have upgraded my 2009.5 Pontiac G6 from a US8 radio (without Monsoon) to a Panasonic-built UUI radio from a Saturn Aura. Also my Saturn Sky’s US9 radio (with Monsoon) recently failed and is about to be upgraded with a UUI radio from a Pontiac Solstice. Good luck!
Update: Article has been updated to better ID Panasonic-built GM radios from Delphi-built ones. Thanks to this poster for that tidbit.