How is a compact disc like an 8-track cassette? That’s easy: most new cars don’t offer a way for you to play either of them. Bluetooth Audio is standard equipment on even the most modestly priced showroom offerings. Android Audio and Apple CarPlay, two technologies that allow you to control important functions of your phone from a car’s main infotainment screen, are usually included as well. In most cases you’ll just connect your phone to the dashboard with a USB cable and follow the instructions that appear on your phone screen. It’s that simple.
What if you’re not ready to trade in your four-wheeled Old Faithful, but you still want to experience all the best of what modern technology has to offer? Maybe you’re interested in using your phone’s navigation features with your existing car – or maybe you just want to make a responsible choice to be less distracted by your phone’s screen while driving. Good news! Chances are you have some options for getting bluetooth in your car.
Swapping the head unit can change your life
Does your car have a traditional “DIN” or “double-DIN” audio head unit opening? The Internet will tell you for sure with a quick search, but if your car stereo appears to be about 2-1/8” (50mm) height by 7-1/8” (180mm) width, or twice that high with the same width, that’s good news, because you can swap out the “head unit” for something that has all the features of high-end luxury-car sound systems. In some cases, you can get more features than a new vehicle has to offer.
Today’s new stereo head units usually offer Apple CarPlay and Android Audio as standard equipment, allowing you to operate everything from navigation to Spotify right there on a touchscreen without having to look at your phone. The best of them can even do it wirelessly; no need to plug in a USB cable, and your phone can stay in your pocket! A local stereo shop can swap your head unit out in a single day, bringing you seamlessly into the digital age.
Are you still fond of your CD collection? It’s possible to get a new head unit that can play them. Cassettes and 8-tracks, however, are still best left in the basement. Last but not least, some new head units offer a hand-held remote, an important safety feature in older cars where the stereo head unit is hard to reach or at an awkward angle.
No swap? No problem!
Some older cars have stereo systems that were built into the dashboard and can’t be easily changed – BMW and Honda, we’re looking at you in particular! That doesn’t mean you have to lose hope. If your car has an AUX port, there are a few devices that can add Bluetooth connectivity to that port. Just plug them into the AUX port and cigarette lighter, then connect your phone wirelessly.
If your car has Bluetooth, but it doesn’t offer full control of your audio software through the in-dash controls like most new cars do, you might want to try Spotify’s “Car Thing”. This device plugs into the cigarette lighter and mounts a couple of different ways, including being able to mount from the CD slot in your dashboard. (See? We knew it would come in handy!) Once it’s plugged in, you can see and control what’s playing on Spotify through a full-function touchscreen. There’s even a volume knob so you can turn down what’s playing in a hurry. For certain cars of the past decade that have volume buttons or sliders instead of a knob, that’s a great upgrade.
If you have a built-in system from Toyota, GM, Honda, or other major manufacturers, you can also try a wired Bluetooth interface. These are installed behind the dashboard and plug into existing wiring to give you seamless access to phone audio. In most cases you can’t even see them once they’re installed, and all your normal audio controls on the dashboard will continue to work. They’re available for most vehicles built between around 2000 and 2015.
Options for vintage and classic
Believe it or not, there are a few ways to get some modern audio connectivity into cars built as long as fifty years ago. Bluetooth cassette adapters insert into the tape player of your older car and connect to your phone. You won’t get Android Auto or CarPlay, but you should be able to hear navigation instructions. Have a car with an 8-track player? In some cases, you can use those cassette adapters with the old-school cassette-to-8-track adapters that are still available. So if you’re one of those lucky few who paid for full 8-track capability in your 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado, it’s possible for you to hear Siri talking to you through that system.
It’s not just about convenience
Having access to your phone’s modern audio players is great, but it’s about more than just music at your fingertips. Studies have shown that looking at your phone while driving is a significant risk. So even if you live in a state or municipality without aggressive “hands-free” laws, you’ll still be doing yourself, and the people around you on the road, a favor by putting the phone down – and that is music to our ears.
Whether you’re swapping the original head unit for a more modern option or opting for a cassette player adapter to bring bluetooth to your older car, the result will be the same – a modern touch for you to enjoy while you cruise. Your driving experience is important, and so is your beloved vehicle. Make sure you protect your car with the right coverage and the right policy for peace of mind no matter where your driving takes you.