Sony AX100 in a Honda Element: Metra Stole My Pants

I put a Sony AX100 in my Element a couple weeks ago, and found a couple of things related to the install to be particularly annoying. Unlike regular annoying stuff, however, it’s actually a result of planning. This experience has only confirmed my belief that the one true way to install any car part is to forsake all installation accessories and simply see what you can find in your garage. Anyway, here’s what I done.

The main thing is that Metra “Element” kit is totally useless for the AX100. This is the kit places like Amazon and Crutchfield suggest fit the Honda and Sony perfectly. Brittle plastic mounts that put the thing way too far back in the dash, and the faceplate doesn’t fit the Sony. Like, genuinely doesn’t fit at all. There is no way that you could think “ehhh, this almost fits”. No.

The thing to do is use the Scosche HA1561TRB faceplate, which fits the AX100 and the Element’s radio surround great, and modify the stock radio’s mounts. Each has two little metal nubbins to grind off, and then the plates will attach to the side of the AX100. For the four screws, use those that came with the Sony. To mount the assembly to the car so that it fits the faceplate correctly, it must be spaced out by 2.8 mm at the top and 5.5-7mm (depending on your height) at the bottom, but then you can attach the AX100 to the same holes on the side as the factory radio. In the picture above you can see that I’ve mounted the Sony so that the bottom lip sticks out more than the top — tiling it “up”, since I’m tall. That’s 7mm. To get it even all around, I’d probably go 5.75mm.  For the spacers I used nylon rod since I had some handy, but you could probably epoxy a few washers together. The standard hardware can be re-used at the top — it has enough thread to get in there — but at the bottom I made new fasteners that are a bit longer, to fit the spacers. M5, .8. The setup fits perfectly, and holds much more solidly than the Metra stuff. Long story short, throw the Metra mounts in the trash, get the Scosche thing, and use a Dremel and a little tap and die set. Metra harness worked fine, though.

You don’t need one of those parking brake bypass things. The parking brake wire can just be grounded. I assume all forum posts saying that you need one of those parking brake bypass things are made by the same people who are selling them for order-of-magnitude markup over parts cost.

If you take out the instrument cluster (which is no problem at all — three minutes!), you can easily run the microphone behind it, so that you can tuck it under the gauge bezels. A little bit of modification of the microphone’s mount is required. I basically cut it down from “clip” to “plate”, right where the U-bend begins. Nice and out of the way. I think having it sitting inside that sort-of-cone helps accuracy a little, too, or at least that was my vague impression from testing out different locations. There’s a nice ground behind the gauges for the parking brake wire, too. Also where I shoved my garage door opener after running an external switch into it.

My AX100 shipped with the 1.02.06 firmware, and the Superdave “no warning screen” and “change bootup image” hacks work (the warning delete firmware must be installed before the boot screen is changed). If you update the unit to the latest firmware from Sony, the Superdave hacks will no longer work. However, I had no issues with 1.02.06, so that was fine. The screen doesn’t seem to be quite pixel-perfect; the new image I threw in there has a circle, which the AX100 stretched out. I just narrowed the layer with the circle in it in Photoshop, running back and forth to the garage to test it out until it looked right.

AX100’s real good. I thought about getting the AX5000, but I’m glad I didn’t. Getting the capacitive touchscreen wouldn’t have been worth giving up the volume knob. Since I commute by bike this was sort of a dumb extravagence, but for weekend trips when I do drive, it’s pretty good. Except that I’m a worrier, so now I’ll be camping while worrying that someone’s down at the trailhead busting out my window to grab the Sony. I know in my heart of hearts that nobody gives a shit about stealing radios anymore, but such is life as a worrier.

Norplex Vanadiated Cookie Injection Int’l

This has to be the laziest thing I’ve ever done. I was sick of my ugly garage door opener sticking to the visor where it would pop off and hit me in the eyebrow every six minutes. However, when you take the case off the battery pops out. So I soldered wires to the internal switch, put the case back on, and VHB’d it under my dashboard with with a switch dangling out.

Wavelength Attenuation the Awful Way

The Element has kind of a weird gauge cluster backlight color. Greeney-bluey white. I thought I’d see about making the gauges and dials light up red instead, because I don’t have any real problems to focus on. Fortunately, it was a success despite being conceptually bankrupt.

The gauge cluster comes out in about 30 seconds, which isn’t an exaggeration. A little prying, one screw, a little more prying, and four screws. That was nice. The last time I was inside a gauge cluster it was to fix my Mercedes’ odometer; you had to screw around under the dash for a while, and that thing had a damn oil line going right to the gauge (features like that are why I think of the W123 as the last, best car of the 1960s). Anyway, for the Element cluster you can just use #74 bulbs, incandescent or LED, in the color of yer choice. I tried some LEDs, but I went back to incandescent because the light was a little more even.

Getting into the center console is real easy, too, and once it’s off you can throw another #74 bulb in the shifter. And getting into the HVAC dials and radio is super-easy, too — Philips screws and a little prying. But then the conceptually bankrupt part on my end was that things inside ’em are a little wacky. The HVAC dials use crazy tall bulbs, and the radio uses tiny little weirdo bulbs, so replacing them sounded like a real pain in the ass.

The HVAC knobs and buttons are pretty easy, though, because they used colored filters, which you can replace with Rubylith pretty easily. Obviously it’s best not to replace the dual-color temperature dial filter, although in a poignant critique of my mental acuity these days I didn’t actually think of that until I had already pulled the thingy off.

The radio’s the real dumb part. It uses little those blue guys that go over the bulbs, so I pulled all those off and just covered the light spreader with Rubylith. This was basically an interminable exercise in cutting shapes. In the picture I’m, like, 15% done. It was a real nightmare if you have big dumbass hands like me. I found out that I lost my Exacto knife, so I used woodcarving tools, which probably didn’t help much.

Kind of a pain, but I’m pretty happy with the results (although they’re somewhat obscured by blurrycam). A lot nicer at night. There’s a lot of really long unlit roads to the west of me, so it’s nice to have the red gauges way down low.

Dang

Trying to find something in my disused Photobucket account sucks because I frequently see pictures of my ol’ red Miata and think about what a goddamn idiot I am. I liked the Mercedes a lot, the LE Miata was okay although I didn’t really get attached to it, and the Element is a good car. But what the shit, me in 2010? The dumbest goddamn person ever. One day, little buddy. One day.

Poxatronic

The first step is to wrap it in bacon. That is the key to all the other steps, of which there are none.

My project to replace all plastic panels on a half-plastic car continues apace, as evidenced by this cameraphone picture which drastically underexposes the area in question. They’re actually pretty reasonably-priced. The downside is that by spending a lot of time polishing, removing, and generally looking very closely, I’ve now discovered about four tiny dents I didn’t see before (including one on the metal part of the rear fender), but which have convinced me that, because they were doubtless caused by fellow apartment-parkers, civilization is ending and all remaining bipeds are worthless and destined for the fine mesh screen. But at least I have a new bumper, grill trim, and “bottom silver thing”.

Element OEM Flip Key Modification

I love my Element, but one thing I don’t like is the separate remote and key setup that is identical to that found on the ’97 Civic that one of my exes owned. It takes up a lot of pocket space, and it whacks my knee while I’m driving. So I figured, there had to be a way to get a slightly more modern key with OEM parts — no eBay crap. I figured out this procedure using a few helpful forum threads, but thought I’d write it up here because searching forums is a task that should be reserved only for the hated Fnord, not civilized man.

So, what you need is an ’07-’08 Acura TL flip key (35111-SEP-306 – $60), an Acura RDX remote faceplate (35118-STK-A01 – $10), a spare original key for your car, and an ’04-’11 Element. ’03s use a different system. You can use a $30 Honda Ridgeline key to save some part costs — it’s not a flip key, but it does have the keys and button in one unit so it has many of the same benefits. I’ll also note that if you have an ’07+ Element I believe you can skip all the transponder pill stuff (although I can’t confirm that one way or another). Mine’s an ’05 so I couldn’t.

There’s the beginning. The first step is to cut open the old, donor key. The easiest way is to run a Dremel around the edge of the plastic and peel the halves apart. You’re after the transponder pill, which is in a white plastic housing. This is what the car’s immobilizer talks to.

The pill is easy to pull out. Do so and set it aside.

The next step is to replace the TL key’s “pill” (more of a “rectangle thing”) with your original one. Unscrew the Philips-head on the bottom (the only visible screw) and pull the faceplate unit. Set it aside — we’ll come back to it.

Once that’s done, pull the cover around the key flip button off. It’s held on by two clips and an adhesive. The clips aren’t very fragile, but be careful of scratching the part of the housing you’re using for leverage as the plastic is a bit soft. After that, you can see a cover with three Philips screws. Undo those, but be careful — there’s a clock spring pushing off that cover, see? So release the tension gently, and remember how it goes in.

Now, take out the key unit, and flip it over. There’s a little plastic cover; pry it open from the inside, and the immobilizer chip thingy is visible. It’s tough to get out; my solution was to use a very thin bit and drill it out from the other side. Then you’ve got both of them out. The job now is to get the pill from your old key in the space previously occupied by the new key’s transponder. I widened the hole using a very small file, but you could use your Dremel. Put a bit of epoxy or glue in there to make sure it stays put.

The next step is optional, although I found it necessary because the TL key looks way too much like a face. It’s got that trunk release button, right? And that’s useless with the Element. So, get your RDX faceplate out.

This will be pretty self-explanatory. Pry the TL remote unit open from the back; the front part that carries the buttons and electronics will separate from the back, which carries the battery. Then, pry the front “button carrier” unit open; you can see that it’s held together by four clips — note its rubber weather-sealing. The two halves will separate, and if you’re like me the buttons will fly everywhere. Go find them.

You can guess what’s coming now — cut off the nose.

Reassembly goes in reverse. Make sure the light comes on when you push the buttons, then take it and the rest of your keys to the Honda shop. Have them cut it and so on, and you’re golden.

When you get it back, the “unlock” button will probably not work even when the key is paired to the car. That’s okay — just press both the “lock” and “unlock” buttons at once, to set the key’s memory function (which the Element can’t use, of course). Then the button works just fine.

Kolocranp

“Boxcar” Stalvepolp was the foremost collector of porcine megalodonical oil paintings in this hemisphere, which is almost certainly the best hemisphere. And those take up a good bit of cubic foots.

 

Cubicrans

I picked up a ScanGauge E, and fortunately the Element has a really top-shelf place to put it, especially if you are like me and are driven to rage by exposed wires.

The space behind that panel is occupied by nothing, so it’s a really simple matter to drill through and mount the ScanGauge. The cable run is really basic, too, as it’s just a straight shot over-and-up from the OBD port. Do excuse my use of Velcro straps and twist ties; I didn’t want to zip tie the cable down until I was sure it was a good location that didn’t rattle or anything.

The only problem is that the Element is a little stingy with the data, and doesn’t report fuel-flow information. So the ScanGauge’s MPG information is pretty far-off until it’s had a few tanks of gas run through the car to allow for calibration (it uses other sensors, like throttle position and MAF, to estimate MPG). I guess it’ll be a month or so until it reports worthwhile economy data. This is the reason I canceled my Automatic order; that thing doesn’t allow for calibration, and would be generally useless.

It’s pretty nifty otherwise, though. I was a little disdainful of the ScanGauge because of the thick, old-fashioned design and the high price, but on any level other than the superficial it really does seem a lot more well thought-through than alternatives like the UltraGauge. I guess my next step is to break out the Dremel and sink the ScanGauge into the panel. I think I’d need to come up with some sort of bezel to hold it, though (or take the ScanGauge apart and see if I could repurpose its own), since the location in the Element would be pretty tricky to do any actual work on.