Auxiliary Input Mod for 2nd Gen Saab 9-3

David Muir


If you have ever simultaneously owned a second generation Saab 9-3 and an iPod or other portable music player, then you have likely noticed that they do not play nicely together. The head unit has no aux-in port, FM transmitters seem to work more terribly than in other cars, and there is no tape deck for one of those adaptors. When confronting this problem, it seemed that the only solution was replacing the entire head unit. I am now convinced that this is actually a far superior solution to the one presented in this article. I will create a post on this topic in the future and link to it here. That being said, at the time that was more cash than I was willing to spend for this functionality and thought that I would be stuck with CDs for a while. Instead, while searching on Google I came across some possible middle ground. Seth Evan’s website (which seems to no longer exist) described a method for utilizing a hidden feature of the stereo system that I was not even aware existed. Apparently, the stock head unit is capable of connecting with certain types of cell phone cradles and playing the audio through the speakers. This post describes how to do just that. After successfully completing this mod, you will have built an auxiliary input on your 1998-2001 Saab 9-3’s stereo system, to allow you to plug in your iPod or other music player. Additionally, it provides links to other resources which allow you to improve on this project. If you have a similar stereo that you think works the same as this one, and you want to go ahead and try the mod, do it. If it works, I would love to hear about it. Just remember, do this project at your own risk, I cannot be held responsible for your mistakes.

The stereo that is discussed in this guide.

The stereo that is discussed in this guide.

I think that it is important to give credit where credit is due. Seth Evans did 90% of what I am describing here to his car before I had even owned mine. His site has since been taken offline, so I have added some information to this post to fill in the holes. Additionally, I have archived PDF copies of his original site here.

Seth’s Solder Method (unsafe) is the most difficult method for doing this modification. It involves opening the stereo unit and soldering directly onto the circuitry inside. This fried his stereo system though after working and he had to get a new one to which he did the mod below.

Seth Evans’ TEL-1 Method is what originally got me going on creating my version of this mod. Now that I have updated this page, Seth’s page covers a subset of the information presented in this page.

Additionally, I have received an excellent writeup from Mohan Zhang who together with a friend has taken this mod to the next level. He used simple circuitry to regulate the signal coming from the iPod to both optimize the mixed-mono output signal and to preserve the battery life of the iPod while playing music through the stereo. It can be done to any stereo that can also utilize my mod. I strongly encourage you to give Mohan’s method your consideration before beginning this mod. His page assumes a working knowledge of the information presented on this guide. If you decide that you are up for it. I would love to hear how it went, and I am sure that Mohan would as well.

What we will actually be doing:

The second generation Saab 9-3 (1998-2001) is equipped with handsfree telephone capabilities. This system is intended to connect certain Bluetooth devices or cell phone cradles. The audio from the cradle is connected to the cars stereo system to enable the driver to have a speaker phone in the car. These cradles apparently also have the ability to notify the stereo on the event of an incoming call. This is achieved by closing the connection between the Telephone In pin and the ground pin. This causes the stereo to go into telephone mode, muting the radio and CD player, and accepting audio in through the two telephone line out pins. We can enable telephone mode on the stereo by connecting these two wires to a switch. When the connection is made, the system will begin accepting a signal from the line out pins and playing it through the stereo. We will be utilizing this system to install an aux-in jack on the dash that can be selected as the source by a switch also mounted on the dash. There are two types of configurations for the stereo system one of which requires the temporary removal of the stereo head unit to access the back. When we are finished we will have the ability to plug an iPod or other audio device into the dashboard and play music through the stereo system.

Weaknesses of this solution.

Before we proceed, it is important to note that the connection that we are tapping into was designed to handle voice calls. Playing music through this connection will not yield the same quality as your CD player. The bass is minimal, and the difference from the quality of the CD player is discernable. The quality can be described as good, but it doesn’t even approach audiophile type standards. The volume goes loud enough for me, but it is not blaring at the maximum setting. Also, the connection only has one channel, so your system will produce a mixed mono output. This means that you will still hear all of the sound information from both channels, but both channels will be playing through both speakers. All this being said, it is certainly better than being stuck with CD’s, and it is way cheaper than buying a new head unit.

After using this setup for a while, I decided that it would be worthwhile to upgrade my system to an aftermarket stereo which sounds substantially better than the best results I could get from this mod.

TEL-0 and TEL-1 Configured Cars

The 9-3 comes in two configurations, “Telephone Prepared Cars”, and “Handsfree Prepared Cars”. These two types are referred to as TEL-0 and TEL-1 respectively. These designations refer to the type of connector that is hiding behind your passenger side panel. TEL-0 and TEL-1 do not indicate a difference between two types of stereos, just a difference between two type of telephone connectors. All of these stereos are the same, and therefore all have the same connections. The telephone harness is really just a way to provide easy access to the pins that originate exist on the back of the stereo unit. It is basically an extension cable for the pins we are interested in. In the case of TEL-0, it does not extent all of the connections that we are interested in. We will there for have to access them at their origins on the back of the stereo. This requires the removal of the stereo unit to access the pins on the back. This makes the mod a bit more involved, but it is still pretty straightforward to complete regardless of your connector type. If you are lucky enough to have a TEL-1 configured car you will not have to even touch the stereo unit.

To determine if your car is TEL-0 or TEL-1, you will need to open up the passenger side panel. This requires a star tool. There are two screws, one on the outside and one in the glove box. Once you have done this, remove the side panel. I found this easier if you remove the carpet first. While removing the side panel, you may notice that there is a wire with a big connector on the end attached to the panel. This is what you are looking for. Look around for it, it should be hard to miss.

Tel connector in the side panel.

Tel connector in the side panel

Once you have located the connector, look at the pins inside and compare them with the pin out table. If your connector is missing some pins, then you (like me) have a Saab configured with TEL-0. If there are no missing pins, then you have a TEL-1 configuration and have just simplified your job. All of the connections needed can be made at this harness. If you have TEL-0, then you have a slightly harder job, which involves rerouting some wires off the back of the stereo.

Pinout table

Pinout table comparing TEL-0 and TEL-1

Telephone Connector

This project will require achieving metal to metal contact with some of the pins in the telephone connector. This can be achieved in by purchasing a telephone connector harness that will snap directly into the connector and allow access to each pin through wire leads. More information on this device can be found here: 9-3 Telephone Harness Information Sheet. The Saab OEM part number is 4811329. This number can be used to find a way to buy one. This device seemed too unnecessary to be so pricey, so I went an alternate route and cut the wires from behind the connector and attached to them using wire couplers. One might prefer to purchase the telephone harness if they would like their installation to seem more professional.

TEL-0 Connector

The TEL-0 connector with pins labelled. A TEL-1 would have all of the pins inserted.

Where to mount the switch and RCA jack:

I chose one of the empty button placeholders on my dash as the place to install the switch and the jack. If you have ever removed and examined one of these button holders you know that they have some plastic on the back that keeps them secured to the dash. Since I chose to put both the jack and the switch on one button I ruined some of the plastic on the back. This reduces the ability for the placeholder to remain secure so it sometimes comes out when going over bumps. After seeing Mohan Zhang’s implementation of this mod, I am going to call my implementation deprecated. He chose to use one button for each the switch and the jack. This allowed him to preserve the clips on the back of the button placeholders so they never fall out. To me Mohan’s method for this portion of the mod is superior to mine.

Completed Mod

Using one button placeholder for both components is not the best way. Consider this method deprecated.

Mohan Zhang's Mount

Mohan Zhang's superior mount. Utilizing two button placeholders, one for each the jack and the switch.

Connecting and mounting the switch:

We will now be connecting a switch to pins 4 and 5 to allow us to toggle between telephone mode. I picked up a paddle switch from RadioShack which works perfectly. The model number is 275-648. It has a nice stock black look and blends in with the car. Solder some small, but long wires to the switch and route them to wires that previously connected to the pins 4 and 5. These wires should be black and yellow if your car is like mine. Connect the wires from the switch to your leads from the pins using wire couplers or electrical tape. Make sure you are doing this in such a way that the entire system can be assembled in the way you want it. Taking a moment to visualize and plan right now can save some time and hassle when you try to reassemble your dash. Once you have the switch installed, it should now be able to control the state of your stereo. In one position, the LCD should read “TELEPHONE” in the other, the stereo should be exactly as you have always known it. When the screen reads “TELEPHONE” the stereo is then accepting input through the telephone line pins.

Paddle switch from RadioShake

Paddle switch from RadioShack

Switch mounted on button placeholder.

Switch mounted on button placeholder.

I used a drill to make the holes in the back of the connector. I did this very carefully under the understanding that it would look horrible if I did it incorrectly. My mount turned out pretty well, but I would suggest using a Dremmel tool if possible. This would have simplified the job for me. There is not too much to be said about mounting these other than it requires a bit of patience and a bit of experience working with your hands.

Adding the RCA jack:

Any RCA jack from RadioShack should do the trick. Just make sure that it is a 1/8 inch jack. If you can find a solderless jack, that’s great. The one I used required me to solder to the connectors on the back. This was fairly simple for someone with only minimal soldering experience.

Soldered RCA Jack

RCA jack with wires attached by solder.

This is where things get a bit more involved for TEL-0 configurations. As you can see from the pinout chart above, pins 7 and 8 will be accepting the audio signal. For TEL-1 cars, the wires of interest can be found behind in the telephone connector. Clip the wires behind the pins If you have a TEL-1 configured system, you will notice that the telephone harness has no connections on these pins. Skip to the next section at this point if you have a TEL-0 configured system. Then return back here once you have wire leads coming from the telephone line out pins.

Now that you have wire leads coming from the stereo unit (either through the telephone connector or using the method described below), it you can now connect the jack. We will connect the wires that you soldered to the back of the RCA jack to the telephone line out wires. Make sure you are doing this in such a way that the entire system can be assembled in the way you want it. Taking a moment to visualize and plan right now can save some time and hassle when you try to reassemble your dash. Connect pin 8 (blue/white wire on telephone conenctor) to the ground pin of the RCA jack. Connect both other pins on the jack to pin 8 (grey/white wire on telephone connector). I made these connections happen using wire couplers.

A wiring diagram from Seth Evans' site to graphically explain the connections being made.

A wiring diagram from Seth Evans' site to graphically explain the connections being made.

Connecting to pins 7 and 8 on the back of the stereo (TEL-0 only):

To do this we are first going to have to remove the stereo head unit. This is a fairly simple process. You will need four metal rods that will fit into the four holes on the sides of your stereo. I used small screwdrivers, you can use coat hangers or things of similar thickness. Then use a larger screwdriver to pry out the stereo. It won’t come too easily, but don’t break anything if its not coming.

Removing the stereo.

Tiny screwdrivers unlocking the stereo and allowing it to be pried out.

Prying the stereo out after unlocking it. Be careful.

Prying the stereo out after unlocking it. Be careful.

Once you have removed the stereo unit, disconnected the cables from the back and take a look at where they were connected. My stereo had a label on it explaining the functionality of each pin. This label is pictured below. The two pins we are interested in are the farthest left and up. They also are pictured and labeled below. You could also tap the TEL MUTE pin and GND pin here if you prefer this approach. The telephone connector just makes these pins more accessible. I have heard from people who do not have telephone connectors. This is the way for them to complete this mod successfully. Just follow the instructions for connecting to the TEL GND and TEL IN pins and repeat them for the TEL MUTE AND GND, but connect these to the switch as described above.

Stereo input diagram.

Diagram of the pins on the back of the stereo indicating the functionality of each.

Origin of the pins.

Origin of the pins in the telephone connector. The two interesting pins are labelled.

If you look at the cables that plug into the back of the stereo, you will notice that there are no connections being made on the TEL GND and TEL IN pins. Your job is to figure out your ideal way to make solid connections to these pins. The best way that I could come up with is to feed wires into the back of the connector and bring them out the front. This way, when I plugged in the connector the wires would make contact with the pins. This worked for me, how you choose to do it is up to you.

The back of the connector before modification. Note the missing pins.

The back of the connector before modification. Note the missing pins.

Feeding the wires into the back of the connector to make connections with the pins.

Feeding the wires into the back of the connector to make connections with the pins.

I mentally explored some other possible methods of achieving connection to these pins before settling on this one. You could get some sort of female versions of these pins or some other type of wire connector that would work for example a female spade connector. I also toyed with the idea that I could maybe move some of the unnecessary pins such as the pins that correspond with pins 1, 2, and 5 on the telephone connector to locations corresponding to the line out pins, but I could not get them out. For fear of damaging something, I abandoned this idea. If you have any information about going this route, particularly a description of a method to move connectors from one slot to another I would love to add it here. If you take this route, be careful to make sure that you are removing the correct pins. If you go ahead and use my method, make sure that your wire isn’t brushing up against any other pins when you plug in the connector, because this could lead to interference, or even a short.

The wires coming out of the front of the connector after being inserted.

The wires coming out of the front of the connector after being inserted.

A closeup of the connector right before I reconnected it to the stereo.

A closeup of the connector right before I reconnected it to the stereo.

Reconnect the connectors to the back of the stereo head unit. You can now use your wire leads as described above. You can assume that they duplicate the functionality of the wire leads that TEL-1 users so easily were able to access. Connect them to the jack as descried above.

Testing it out and finishing up:

Now that the jack and switch are wired up, it is time to test it out. If you used the TEL-0 method, carefully reinsert the stereo into the dash. For testing purposes, do not lock the stereo all the way back into the dash until you are sure everything works. Get a male to male 1/8′ inch cable. Connect one end into your jack and one end into your iPod. Flip the switch, put on your favorite victory tune, make sure the volume is up, and savor your moment of triumph over the proprietary stereo system. Reassemble everything as it should be, close up the side panel and admire your work. You now have the ability to play your entire iPod library in your 9-3. Hell yeah. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about preforming this modification. I will be happy to help.

The final job with the iPod successfully playing.

The final job with the iPod successfully playing.

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