bluetooth for older cars

Using Bluetooth for older cars

On the Road 4 min read

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 these days. 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 often included as well. In most cases you can just connect your phone and follow the instructions that appear on your phone screen. To get Bluetooth for older cars, however, you’ll likely have to purchase extra equipment.

Can you add Bluetooth to an older car?

In many cases, you can add Bluetooth to an older car by updating your older car’s audio system to integrate modern audio capabilities. Maybe you’ve worked hard on restoring a classic car but want to include the best of today’s audio technology. Like many auto accessories, there’s a wide range of styles, price ranges, and capabilities for these devices.

Bluetooth options for older cars

If you bought a used car without Bluetooth or if you’re wondering how to get Bluetooth for your older car, there are a few ways to do it. Which route you take depends on what your car is already equipped with and what you’re hoping to get.

Here are three common Bluetooth options for older cars:

1. Updating the audio head unit

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 inches (50 mm) high by 7-1/8 inches (180 mm) wide, 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. Finally, 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.

Note: This head unit replacement can be considered a car modification — learn about insuring modified cars.

2. Using the AUX port

Some older cars have stereo systems that were built into the dashboard and can’t be easily changed. This applies to many BMW and Honda models in particular. But if your car has an AUX port, a few devices can add Bluetooth connectivity to that port. Just plug them into the AUX port and cigarette lighter, and 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.

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 approximately between 2000 and 2015.

3. Using a cassette adapter

Believe it or not, there are a few ways to get some modern audio connectivity into cars built as many as 50 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 audio from your phone, like music and 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 got full 8-track capability, it’s possible for you to hear Siri talking to you through that system.

Staying safe on the road in an older car with Bluetooth

Having access to your phone’s modern audio players provides great entertainment value, but a Bluetooth system will also give you hands-free capabilities — essential for driving these days. It’s dangerous to take your eyes off the road to operate or look at your phone, and depending on your jurisdiction, it may even be illegal.

Whatever audio upgrades you make to your ride, make sure that you’re covered in case of accidents or theft. Learn more about auto insurance.

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