2012 Jeep Wrangler Long Term Road Test


2012 Jeep Wrangler: Adding U-Connect To a Base Radio

September 25, 2012

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The so-called Chrysler RES radio is the base audio unit that came with our 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport. Truly a base radio, it has nothing but a simple AUX jack, and because of that my 4,000-mile trip to Oregon and Moab was a nightmare of tangled cords as I attempted to listen to tracks on my iPhone out on the Lonliest Road in rural Nevada, where few radio signals dare to tread.

Unlike past years the 2012 RES radio has no dormant U-Connect button ready and waiting to be activated by the addition of a U-Connect kit, so previous upgrade kits meant for radios that did have the inactive button won't work with it. And it's not just our 2012 Jeep; '12 versions of the Avenger, Challenger, 200, Compass, Patriot, Durango, Grand Cherokee, Liberty, Ram trucks and the minivans are in the same boat if they have the RES base radio.

A few months back Mopar issued a new U-Connect upgrade kit to offer relief to those wishing to add U-Connect Bluetooth (streaming audio and phone), voice commands and iPod/USB input capability to the RES base radio (w/o U-Connect button) they've already got.

The kit costs $349, and the part number is 82213221 (please verify if you have something other than a 2012 Wrangler). For that you get everything shown above except the USB/iPod cable in the lower right -- that's another $35 (P/N 82212160) because, the thinking goes, not everyone has an iPod or iPhone. That's true, of course, but this interface cable works with USB memory sticks and other USB-connected music players, too.

Anyway, I decided to install this myself. Here's how it went.   

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Some disassembly and reassebly is required, and the upper left garnish that covers the roll bar and a-piller is the place to start. It's held on by two or three bolts and a spring clip.

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Another pair of spring clips hold the A-pillar trim in place. These two pieces are coming off to make way for the microphone cable we'll install later.

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More clips hold the driver's side knee trim panel in place. It's removal is necessary to fish the new wires through.

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The IP surround also needs to come off. Removal of this pocket, which clips on, allows access to one of the screws that holds it in place. Some of you may have power window switches here. They snap in (and out) the same way.

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This small bolt is the target of the previous step.

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The removable dashtop bin hides another bolt that needs to come out.

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Both center AC vents come out next. Fit the straight blade of a small screwdriver into a barely visible hole at 12 o'clock and depress a small tab. This allows the vent to be rotated 10 or 15 degrees counterclockwise, which in turn disengages the vent from four tabs in the dash so it can be pulled straight out.

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At this point it's a matter of pulling back and up against about a half-dozen spring clips, starting gingerly at the bottom and working your way up the sides. But don't forget to remove one more bolt over to the left of the steering wheel before you get too far along.

The whole thing lifts up and out easily once you get to the point shown above.

Note: the pictoral directions in my kit implied the trim surrounding the radio -- the piece that needed to come off to get the radio out -- was a separate piece from the instrument panel bezel. I'm not sure if that was the case in 2007-2011 or not, but as you can see here in 2012 JK it's all one big piece.

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Four obvious bolts hold the radio in, and after they're removed it's time to unplug the main radio harness (left) and antenna lead (right.)

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The glove box door needs to come off next. Open the door, flex the sides in where the limiting stop makes contact as shown above, and open it all the way down.

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With everything apart it's time to start installing stuff, and the first order of business is the microphone that will pick up voice commands and Bluetooth phone conversations. The business end is destined for a spot on the roof just behind the driver's side sun visor, so I string about 3 feet our atop the dash and stuff the connector and the rest of the wire down into the dash through the a-pillar hole.

From there it goes over the top of the A/C vent tube, then down beow the gauge cluster.

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From there it goes under the steering column and gets tie-wrapped to a panel that will be hidden once the knee garnish goes back on.

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The spot I've chosen for the U-Connect button is just a few inches above the spot where the microphone wire passed by. Later I'll stick it to the knee garnish panel that covers the area with double stick foam tape, but for now I have to route the wires and leave enough slack for me to play with the final position later. Since the microphone wire is nearby I decide to run them both together on their route through the dash from this point on. 

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The center A/C nozzle tubes are just the ticket for the tie-wraps I have in mind for the wires. From here it's an easy run over behind the dash to the glove box opening. Now I can go back and finish the mic installation.

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Tape isn't strictly necessary over time, but it keeps the wire where I want it during the installation process so it doesn't get pinched when I snap the A-pillar trim back in place.

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The corner trim piece, now reinstalled, has a gaping hole in it to give access to the mirror mount and a couple of other bolts. It's the perfect place for the microphone wire to pass through. Included strips of double-sided foam tape ultimately hold the mic in place.

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Here I've reinstalled the knee trim garnish and used more double-sided tape to mount the U-Connect button. It didn't stick well the first time out because the surface is slightly curved, so I used two layers of foam-backed double stick tape instead to allow it to tolerate the curve better and stay stuck. Other locations are possible -- there's a couple extra feet of wire coiled up behind the panel.

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At last it's time to play with the main harness. This is the radio end, and it eseentially represents a plug-in splice between the radio and existing chassis harness, with a 6-foot length in between that heads off to the new U-Connect module.

According to the illustrated instructions -- there are no words, just pictures -- the leftmost connector goes into the back of the radio an the rightmost one accepts the old chassis-side connector that used to occupy the radio slot. As for the smaller one in the middle, well, there's a bit of a story that goes along with that.

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Here's how the harness from the last photo is depicted in the instructions. As you can see the new harness plug goes into the back of the radio (left) and the old chassis-side plug that used to mate with the radio now goes into the socket on the harness (right). As for that third smaller plug, well, it seems pretty clear that it gets taped back out of the way and is unused. Must be for some other application.

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So that's just what I did. After feeding the 6-foot lead to the module through the dash to the glove box area where the module will reside, I plugged everything in as per instructions. New plug into radio (foreground), old harness plug into new receptacle (background) and the "third-wheel" spare connector safely taped out of the way with red electrical tape.

All set. The radio is now ready to bolt back into place after the antenna lead (right) is reconnected. The dash top can be re assembled and screwed back together.

FORWARD TIME SKIP, a la ABC's LOST, TO A POINT IN TIME WHERE THE INSTALLATION IS COMPLETE, COMPLETE WITH RECORD SCRATCH SOUND EFFECT 

The radio can not be properly initialized. We don't yet know why. Hair-pulling ensues.

The dealer tech tries to initialize the module with the Starscan tool but can not make the system work He checks my installation against the instructions and comes to the same conclusion I did: everything looks fine per the illustrations. Note that this U-Connect kit for RES radios that lack a built-in U-Connect button on the radio faceplate is very new. In fact this is the first one he's seen.

A call to someone higher up (a helpful engineer in Michigan) finally clues us both in to the root cause: the illustration in the instructions is incorrect.

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Well, the engineer doesn't say that in so many words. What he says is the small connector needs to be plugged into a previously unused slot in the back of the radio next to the main connector instead of being taped aside and left idle.

Fine, I say, but the illustration depicts something else entirely. That the third plug goes into the radio seems obvious in hindsight; it fits properly and leaves nothing unused behind. But I find it hard to ignore instructions when they're so clear. Admit it guys, the cartoon illustration is wrong.

Hopefully this error will have been corrected by the time you do this project. If not, remember this DIY tale of woe.

WE NOW RETURN YOU TO REGULAR TIME, IN WHICH THE INSTALLATION IS STILL IN PROGRESS

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Here we're working on the other end of that 6-foot cable, the part we fished through the dash and pulled out through the glove box opening. It plugs into the main receptacle in the center of the new U-Connect module.

Down below is the optional $35 iPod/USB cable. As a USB cable it's not strictly for iPods and iPhones -- it'll play songs from USB memory sticks and other USB-connected music players, too. But U-Connect is able to control an iPod that's connected through this cord using voice commands such as "Play Artist Pink Floyd" or "Play Song Sandman," so it's probably worth it if you are an iPodist. At the very least it charges the iPod's battery.

When it's ready, this module will co back into the dash behind the glove box. There's a rigid bracket back there in the dark depths, with just enough space for this to be tie-wrapped in place in such a way that the glove box door will still close.

But a couple more connections need to be made before we can do that.

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The 6-foot length of the main harness contains two offshoots, one for the Bluetooth/voice commands microphone and another for the U-Connect button. They both have positive snap connections, but I wrapped electrical tap around to make them more secure.

OK, now we can stash the module in the dash. But you'll have to imagine this part because I *cough* forgot to take that picture.

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The optional USB cord is designed to live in the glove box when not in use, and it contains a rubber grommet to make the installation look clean. All I need to do is drill a hole, adjust the length I want by the grommet's position then snap it home.

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Even though the USB cable is somewhat thick, the glove box door can easily be closed on it when I want to use it, leaving a little pigtail hanging out. Or I could leave it in the glovebox and let the more slender white iPod cord hang out. Lots of options here.

That's pretty much the last step. It's ready to go to the dealer and have the technician reflash the ECU with his Starscan tool to activate the system.

And therein lies the rub. The hour minimum labor rate they'll likely charge you for that probably covers the full installation as well. You may not, in fact, save a dime going the DIY route. On the other hand, doing it yourself does give you full control over where you put the mic and U-Connect button. Maybe you have an idea for a cool hidden location. Or maybe you're like me and you like the DIY approach because it's fun.

In any event, the resulting performance is pretty damn good. Bluetooth pairing and phone dialing the U-Connect button is easy. The system downloads your phonebook automatically so you can voice dial anyone in your existing contact list. The U-Connect lady's voice is a bit robotic, but you can press on through and make voice calls in one long compound command and get past her. You can say "Call Bob Smith Mobile" instead of plodding through "Phone" then "Dial" followed by "Bob Smith" and finally "mobile."

I've found Bluetooth audio to be quite robust, too. You select it using the "aux" button on the RES base radio after the Bluetooth phone/audio connection self-reconnects itself in the first minute after starting the engine. The music or podcast auto-pauses when a call comes in and auto-resumes when it hangs up.

I have not yet figured out how to manually pause music while listening to the iPod through USB other than by switching to another band, such as FM or AM. This unit came with installation instructions, but no operating instructions. Trial and error has worked well for the most part because the commands are fairly intuitive and standard-issue.

Is it worth it? The price is a bit steep and it's possible to do better -- pricewise -- at someplace like Crutchfield. On the other hand the kit seems to be available for less than MSRP if you shop around the internet.

Even at full price, I like this kit for two reasons: 1) in the end I'm left with a radio and Bluetooth setup that does everything I want but still looks like a base radio that no thief would want -- an important consideration with a soft-top Jeep, and; 2) The Bluetooth and voice commands are fully integrated into the whole -- it works like a factory system.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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