How to Remove a Stuck Cassette From a Car Cassette Deck

Driving a vintage car often means getting a cassette deck instead of a CD player or something more modern, but that's not all bad. There's definitely something "retro cool" about cruising around with a genuine mixtape playing, complete with the clunk of the autoreverse kicking in to play the other side. Unfortunately most of those decks are pretty old, which means there's a risk of your tape getting stuck. Prying one out is an old-school technique that's still useful to have in your personal skill set.

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Pry, but Gently

There are a couple of reasons why your tape might get stuck in the car. If you're lucky, it's just because the belts that run the eject mechanism have gotten old and stretched with the passage of time. In that case, your tape will still try to eject, but might need a little bit of help to get itself up and out. You can do that with a long, slender flat-tip screwdriver, or anything of fairly similar shape. Hold down the eject button, and when the tape begins to rise, slide your prying tool underneath it and lift gently. Your tape should pop the rest of the way up so you can remove it.

Apply a Little More Leverage

If your tape stubbornly stays stuck in the tape deck, you'll need to apply a little more leverage. Straighten a long paper clip and form a shallow hook at one end. Try again, and this time as you lift with your screwdriver, reach in with the paper clip and try to catch the open edge of the tape case with it. Give a steady, gentle pull with the wire as you lift, and usually the cassette will slide out. If you can't release the tape this way, there's a very good chance that the tape itself is wound around the tape-playing mechanism. That's more difficult to deal with, and it means you'll need to remove your deck from the dash.

Doing It the Hard Way

Removing your tape player from the car entirely is the only way to fix the problem if your cassette is well and truly stuck in the player. You'll need to consult your owner's manual, or search online, to find out how to do that for your particular vehicle and deck. Even if you can't find the exact make and model, watching a few videos or reading a few articles should give you the information you need. The deck may be mounted into a housing that comes out as one piece, which you'll then have to unscrew from the cassette player. Once the deck is out, you can remove the screws holding it together and take a look inside. It's a good idea to take a picture at each step so you know how to put it back. How you fix things depends on whether the tape is actually stuck in the mechanism.

Extricating Your Tape

If the tape is stuck in the tape deck's workings, you'll need to lift out the cassette first and then carefully unwind the tape from around the capstans and rollers. They're spring-loaded, so you can wiggle them to make a bit of space and extract the tape. The tape itself is no longer playable at this point, because it will usually jam at the same spot where it's now crinkled and stretched. If it's irreplaceable, you can carefully cut out the damaged portion and repair it with splicing tape, but you'll lose that part of the music. If the tape wasn't wound around the capstans, the eject mechanism's belts were probably broken and not stretched after all. You can order replacements online or from your dealer and replace them while you've got the deck out.

Some Useful Maintenance

To keep the deck working happily for several more years, it's a good idea to replace – while you're at it – the belts that run the tape-playing mechanism. You should also clean the rubber rollers and metal capstans and clean the tape heads with head cleaner or pure rubbing alcohol. Give the mechanical parts a drop or two of lubricating oil, being extremely careful not to get any on the tape heads or rollers, and you'll be all set for years to come.

Car Stereo Cassette Adapter

A tape deck isn't always necessarily about the tapes. You can also use a car stereo cassette adapter to play tunes from your iPod or phone on the old tape deck, and those sometimes get stuck too. You can follow the same steps to get one out. If anything, it's a bit easier, because you'll have the adapter's wire to pull on gently as you lever the tape part with your screwdriver. The cassette adapter has no actual tape to get caught in the mechanism, so if it's stuck completely, you'll know the eject belts are broken.