With the variety of audio entertainment available on your phone, you probably want an easy way to enjoy your music, podcasts, audiobooks, and other content in your car. But what’s the best and easiest way to do so?
Let’s explore your options for playing music from your phone in your car, no matter how old or new it is.
The Universal Option: Bluetooth FM Transmitters
Nearly every modern car has an FM radio and a cigarette lighter/power socket, which you can combine to play your music using an FM transmitter. This is a great option because the devices are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up.
The exact setup varies by device, but these transmitters usually plug into your car outlet (or cigarette lighter in an older car) and connect to your phone via Bluetooth. After setting the device to broadcast on an unused FM station in your area, you can play your phone’s audio through your car stereo by tuning to that station.
Take a look at the best Bluetooth car adapters to find the right option for your needs. This is a great all-around option if your car doesn’t have Bluetooth or an auxiliary port built-in.
However, depending on the number of FM stations in your area and the specific device you buy, audio quality may vary. Music won’t sound as good through an FM transmitter as it does through using some of the other options.
To be clear: it’s not possible to play music through the cigarette lighter in your car alone. While FM adapters plug into this outlet, you can’t play music directly through the lighter port.
For Older Cars: Cassette Adapter
If your car is old enough that it still includes a cassette player, you can make use of that for playing audio from your phone. Cassette adapters are basic devices shaped like a cassette that include an auxiliary audio cable on the outside.
You simply plug the adapter into your cassette player, then connect it to your phone via the attached 3.5mm auxiliary cable. Then play whatever you’d like from your phone, and you’ll hear it through your car’s stereo.
Reviews vary for these, but this Arsvita cassette adapter should work fine, and won’t break the bank.
Compared to FM transmitters, cassette adapters don’t have many advantages. Cassette audio quality isn’t great, and you’ll have an auxiliary wire hanging around your dash. Plus, most phones these days don’t have an AUX port, rendering this option impractical unless you also buy an adapter.
We only recommend using a cassette adapter if your cigarette lighter/power outlet doesn’t work, or if you can’t get a clear signal with an FM transmitter.
For Reliability: Connect Using an Auxiliary Cord
Most modern cars feature a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, either on the stereo unit or underneath it. This allows you to plug in a cable from your device’s headphone port directly into your stereo. From there, simply play any audio on your phone that you’d like to hear through your car.
Auxiliary audio will sound clearer than both the cassette and FM transmitter options. Of course, this won’t work (without an adapter) if your device doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack. But if both your car and phone have a stereo jack, it’s a simple way to play audio without any fuss, as long as you don’t mind a wire.
If you don’t have an auxiliary cord yet, Anker’s auxiliary audio cable should serve you well.
For Convenience: Bluetooth Audio
Even if you don’t have an auxiliary port on your device, newer cars let you play music from your phone thanks to your car’s built-in Bluetooth. Simply connect your phone to your car’s Bluetooth like you would any other device, and you can play media from any apps you like.
Depending on your vehicle, you may be able to control your media using your car’s controls, plus see song information on its display.
Bluetooth is convenient because once paired, your phone will automatically connect to your car for easy streaming. It also has the benefit of allowing hands-free calling, which doesn’t work seamlessly with an auxiliary cable.
However, depending on your car, Bluetooth audio’s quality may be inferior to what you get from an auxiliary cable.
The Best of All Worlds: USB Input
Lots of cars now include a USB port inside, making this the newest way to play music from your phone to your car. Having a USB port in your car allows you to charge your devices without a power socket adapter, or even plug in a USB flash drive for music. But you can also plug your phone in to play music directly.
If your car has a USB port, using it is the best way to play audio to your stereo. Not only does it provide a reliable connection and clear audio, it also charges your device and lets you make hands-free calls.
Of course, you’ll need a spare USB cable for your car to do this (an accessory you should keep in your car at all times). Depending on your phone, this could be an Apple Lightning cable, USB-C cable, or an older micro-USB cord.
USB input is the only option that lets you play music from your phone to car without any form of AUX or Bluetooth. It’s also the only way to use a handy function of your phone that’s built for playing music in the car…
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
A growing number of cars support Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto apps. These allow you to connect your phone to your car’s head unit to access music, navigation, messaging, and more.
Not every car supports them, but if your car does, you should definitely take advantage of these features. Slick interfaces, as well as voice integration with Google Assistant and Siri, make them a joy to use. We’ve covered how to get started with Android Auto as well as how Apple CarPlay works.
Even if your car’s infotainment unit doesn’t support it, you can use Android Auto on your phone’s display. Combined with Bluetooth or a USB cable for audio, this setup offers nearly the same experience as having Android Auto on your head unit. CarPlay has no equivalent for this, unfortunately.
Upgrade to an Aftermarket Stereo Unit
We’ve only covered factory options and simple upgrades here. If you have an older car without built-in USB, Bluetooth, or auxiliary options, and don’t want to use an FM transmitter or cassette adapter, you can replace your entire stereo unit. This will let you use modern options like USB and Bluetooth connections—some even include Android Auto and CarPlay support.
Doing the replacement is a moderately intensive task, not to mention more expensive than anything above. So we don’t recommend it unless you have some experience with that kind of work, and really don’t want to use any of the above options.
If you’re interested in this, Crutchfield is a great website to check out. It guides you through finding stereos that will fit your car, and every purchase includes a detailed setup guide.
What’s the Best Option for Playing Music in Your Car?
The above options all vary in audio quality and convenience. USB and auxiliary connections provide the best audio quality, while the cassette adapter and FM transmitter are the lowest quality but work with the most cars.
Keep in mind that other factors can affect the quality of your phone’s audio in your car. If you have an older car with lousy speakers, you probably won’t be able to tell much difference between an auxiliary cable and FM transmitter. The same goes if your car is especially loud or you drive in noisy areas.
That being said, from best to worst, we recommend the following for playing music in your car using your phone:
- If your car has USB input, use that. Android Auto or Apple CarPlay support is even better, if it’s available in your vehicle.
- Without USB input, use Bluetooth or auxiliary based on your preferences for convenience, hands-free calling, and presence of an audio jack on your phone.
- If your car has no USB, auxiliary, or Bluetooth built-in, use an FM transmitter.
- Only use a cassette adapter if your power socket doesn’t work or FM transmitters aren’t reliable enough.
Start Enjoying Music From Your Phone in Your Car
We’ve covered options for every phone and vehicle to play music from your phone to your car. Once you’ve gotten connected, all you have to do is start the music or other media you want on your phone and let the tunes roll. Just remember to keep your focus on the road while driving.
Once you’re connected, you aren’t limited to just playing music. You can also enjoy hearing directions from navigation apps through your phone’s speakers.
This mega-guide of tips for Google Maps for Android will help you navigate while driving more efficiently than ever.
About The Author