When car speakers fail, they are often said to have burned out. This is usually characterized by a sudden and dramatic drop in audio quality, and is usually due to some sort of mechanical or thermal failure in the speaker that is preventing it from working the way it should.

Mechanical speaker failures usually occur when the cone in the speaker is forced to move further than intended, and thermal failures occur when too much power is applied to the speaker and sensitive internal components either melt or burn.

Hammer striking a speaker cone.
Leong Tian Fu / EyeEm / Getty Images

Most of the time, car speakers burn out due to accidents or negligence, such as setting the volume too high and leaving it for too long. However, car speakers can fail due to age, and speakers that were originally made with lower quality materials are more likely to explode under normal use as they age.

Why and how do car speakers blow out?

When someone says that a speaker has burned out, it means that it has failed disastrously. The speaker may not work at all, or it may sound very bad.

In a situation where the car speaker is completely burned out, you usually don’t hear any sound at all. In other cases, you may hear buzzing instead of the music you are trying to listen to. Because there are many reasons why car speakers may stop working it’s important to make sure your speakers are really burned out before you replace them, even if they don’t make any noise at all.

When a car speaker is only partially working, you will usually get sound from it, but the sound will be distorted. You may hear hissing or crackling, static or fuzzy distortion, which may seem especially common in a particular range of sounds, depending on type faulty dynamics .

How to tell if your car speakers are burned out

Car speakers usually fail due to mechanical and thermal issues, but basically anything that damages a speaker to the point where it no longer works properly will essentially blow it up. Since most failures are mechanical or thermal in nature, the best way to avoid speaker failure is to refrain from playing your car audio system at excessive volume.

Here are the main signs that car speakers are burned out:

  1. Distorted sound, hiss and fuzziness .

    If you suspect your speakers are burnt out, turn the volume down to medium and listen for distortion. Listen to a CD or plug in an MP3 player to avoid the static noise associated with FM radio.

    If you hear hissing or blurring, and turning up the volume results in worse distortion, use attenuation and balance to isolate the problematic speaker. In most cases, you will find that one or more speakers have loose or damaged voice coils.

  2. Controls pop out or rattle instead of music .

    If you can’t hear your music at all and instead hear obnoxious sounds like crackling or crackling, that’s a major red flag. Your speakers are almost certainly blown.

  3. Lack of bass, treble or midtones .

    A sudden and dramatic drop in bass is usually a good sign that your speakers are partially burned out. Try using the EQ controls on your car radio, and if you notice a complete lack of bass, treble, or mids, you’ll probably need new speakers.

  4. No vibration from speakers .

    Sometimes this is a sign of completely burned out speakers, but it can also be caused by a wiring problem. Feel the front of your speaker grill when the system is running. If you don’t feel any vibration at all, you need to check if your speaker wires are damaged.

  5. Testing speakers for impedance .

If you have a multimeter and can remove the speaker grilles, you can test the impedance of each speaker. Speakers that are in good working order usually have an impedance of 4 or 8 ohms. If you find that your speakers have very high or even infinite impedance, they are burned out.

What makes car speakers blow?

Mechanical failures in a car speaker system occur when a component called a cone is forced to move in a way it was not intended to. What happens is that the cone moves further than it should, which emphasizes the material. Doing so may cause parts of the speaker to collide with each other or the frame of the speaker, which may result in rupture, breakage, or loosening of components, which may result in permanent damage.

Thermal car speaker failures occur when the speaker receives more power than it can handle. Excess power causes heat to build up, which can soften the adhesive holding some components together. This essentially blows up the speaker, as it will no longer make sound like it used to.

Another danger associated with applying too much power to a car speaker is that the excess power can literally burn or melt the thin wires inside a component called the voice coil. This is one of the most catastrophic failures a blown speaker can have, as you usually don’t get any sound from a speaker with a voice coil damaged in this way.

In both mechanical and thermal failures, the most common causes are accidental or careless operation of the system outside of safety limits. For example, increasing the volume car stereo to the point where you start to hear a rough tone means that the voice coils in your subwoofers may have become detached from the spiders that hold them in place and left the volume as permanent damage can do.

Loudness isn’t the only thing that wows speakers

Although simple volume up too high and leaving it there for a long time is the most common cause of overheating speakers, there are also many technical reasons. If the sound system is not designed correctly, it can also increase the likelihood that the speakers will burn out at some point.

Amplifier clipping, physical damage to the speaker, and a number of other causes can also cause kick.

Clipping is a problem that is sometimes seen in car audio systems that include dedicated amplifier . This problem occurs when the amplifier is overdriven and the top and bottom of the audio signal is literally cut off. If clipping occurs, it is actually possible to damage loudspeakers that are designed to handle more power than an amplifier even designed to output, as the truncated waveform results in too much power delivered to the loudspeaker over time.

Physical damage usually occurs when a speaker is installed carelessly or when protective grilles are loose and not replaced immediately. Without any protective coating, it is very easy to damage the speaker by piercing or tearing the cone, as they are relatively delicate. If any of your car speakers don’t have covers and the speakers aren’t damaged yet, it might be a good idea to cover them up right away.

Car speakers can also simply fail due to age and normal use. This is especially true for OEM speakers, which are usually made from low quality materials compared to higher end aftermarket speakers.

How do you tell if your car speakers are blown?

Sometimes it’s easy to tell that your speakers are blown, and sometimes it’s much more difficult, and a lot depends on exactly how they blew. For example, if you have burnt speakers due to burning voice coils, this is fairly easy to diagnose.

If you’re not getting any sound from a loudspeaker that you suspect has worked, one way to be sure is to check for continuity. You do this by removing the speaker grille, door panel, or any other component that you need to pull to gain access to the speaker. Disconnect the speaker wires, and then check for continuity between the two speaker terminals. If the multimeter shows no continuity, it means the speaker is burned out.

In most other cases, the only way to tell if a car speaker is burned out is to listen and then rule out other possibilities . This can be tricky if you don’t have a trained ear, so you’ll want to start with some wide range music that you’re fairly familiar with. Anything that heavily affects low or high frequencies and skips one end of the spectrum or the other can make it difficult to understand what is happening.

With familiar music playing at a reasonable volume, you need to check out the equalizer controls if you have them. They should all be set to neutral levels for this type of diagnosis, even if you don’t normally like to listen to your own music. For example, if your head unit has bass and treble controls, they should generally be set to 12 o’clock.

The reason you’ll want to use the music you’re familiar with and use the default EQ settings is because a big part of listening to a burnt speaker is to find out if your speakers are suffering from lack of range. This can be difficult if your ears aren’t really trained to recognize missing registers, and easier if you know the song inside or out. If you feel that something is «missing», then it may be a blown speaker.

In addition to hearing from lack of range, you may also hear distortion, static, rattling, and other noises. While distortion is not a sure sign of a burned out speaker, it usually indicates that something is wrong somewhere along the line.

Once you feel like you’ve heard something out of the ordinary, you can isolate the blasted speaker by fiddling with the balance and attenuation settings on your head unit. By adjusting the balance and damping to focus specifically on the speaker or speakers in each of the four corners of your car, you can usually narrow things down a lot.

What to do with Blown Car speakers

While it’s certainly possible to repair a car speaker, it’s usually not worth it. Repairs are generally expensive compared to buying a new speaker, although there are some exceptions, especially if you’re comfortable doing the repairs yourself.

For example, a dent in a speaker cone can often be repaired if you are careful, and small tears can be repaired with even a little work. The sound quality may not match the one you used to exit the speaker, but this type of do-it-yourself repair is cheaper than replacing the blow block.

Blown voice coils are more difficult and expensive to handle, especially if you choose to pay someone to repair it. If you’re comfortable doing it yourself, you can purchase recone kits for some of your speakers, which include a new cone, voice coil, spider, dust cap, and gasket.

If you decide to replace your blow molding equipment, it is important to choose new car speakers, and also look at what may have blown them up in the first place. For example, if your car has a third-party audio system, you can make sure that the head unit, amplifier, and speakers play well together.

If you have a stock sound system, then you should be safe upgrading blown speakers with aftermarket replacements. New speakers should work very well as long as you keep the volume low enough to avoid distortion.

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