Abstract The present series of papers summarizes the results of a three-year research project on the realistic simulation of car audio sound in car passenger compartments using a combined Finite Element (FE) and Geometrical Acoustics (GA) approach. The simulations are conducted for the whole audible frequency range with the loudspeakers of the car audio system as the sound sources. The challenges faced during the project relate to fundamental questions regarding the realistic sound field simulation in small enclosures with strong modal and diffraction effects. The paper denoted here as Part I focuses on boundary and source representations in the FE and GA domain and suggests guidelines for a best-possible acquisition of the required data. Since a straight-forward determination of the boundary and source characteristics is mostly hampered by the immense complexity and inhomogeneity of the materials and loudspeaker configurations inside a car compartment, different measurement and calculation methods have been applied to determine the required data and quantify the corresponding uncertainty. The paper clearly points out the strength and weaknesses of the applied methods depending on the considered frequency range and material characteristics. In order to keep the complexity of the FE simulations at a manageable level, all passive boundaries were considered as locally reacting with impedance conditions. Part II of the study applies the obtained data in combined FE-GA room acoustic simulations and compares the simulated room impulse responses (RIR) with corresponding measurement results. In a final step the observed differences in the RIRs are related to the uncertainty and inherent errors in the boundary and source representation.