How To Connect Your Android Phone To Your Car Audio System

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connect android to car stereoMost of us enjoy music while we’re driving, but often radio doesn’t play the right tunes. At one time the obvious choice would have been a CD, but of course these scratch easily. Fortunately mobile phones with storage space for MP3s is a very good alternative. As long as you have a safe place to mount or place your phone and the necessary range or cable to send a signal to your in-car audio system, you can use an Android phone as your mobile audio entertainment system while in transit.

Four options are possible which will allow you to playback music stored on or streamed via your Android phone to a typical car audio system.

Analogue Cable

Probably the most obvious solution is to use an analogue cable connecting the headphone jack on your phone to the line-in option on your car’s audio system. There are various ways in which this can be done.

For instance, you might have a standard line-in connector mounted on the front of your car audio system, providing easy access. Alternatively you may need to work the connection around the back of the dashboard in order to hook up your phone and enjoy the tunes you have stored on it.

Older audio systems with a cassette tape player will allow you to use a cassette adapter, a small, low-cost device which connects to the headphone jack on an MP3 player or phone allowing you to play music through it and into the car audio system.

Note that when using the analogue option you have two volume control options, that of the audio system and that on your Android phone.

Bluetooth

Many modern car audio systems have Bluetooth as an option for playing music across a short-range wireless network. In order to take advantage of this, begin by activating Bluetooth on the car audio system, making sure that it is discoverable.

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connect android to car stereo

On your Android device, open Settings > Connections > Bluetooth Settings and activate the Bluetooth option. Below this, wait for the screen to update and display your car audio system, selecting it to pair.

The cool thing about Bluetooth is that it will pair automatically in future; the not-so-cool thing is the impact on battery life, resulting in you keeping your phone charged while using it.

USB

Like Bluetooth, some modern car stereos have a USB cable that you can use to connect external storage devices. This enables you to then browse your library of tunes through the car audio system.

connect android to car radio

Hooking up an Android phone in this way is simple. If a USB cable was provided with the audio system then simply connect your phone with a suitable adapter. Otherwise identify the USB port on the device and connect your Android handset.

Once connected your Android phone will need switching to storage mode, so drag down the notification bar and select USB Mass Storage/USB Connection Mode (differs according to release and manufacturer). You will then be able to navigate your Android phone’s library on your car audio system.

Note that this option is no good if you’re planning to stream music from Last.fm, Spotify or Pandora, as it is purely for playing back MP3s stored on your device.

FM Transmitter

connect android to car stereo

Arguably the best option is to use an FM transmitter, although how you achieve this depends on the hardware. Some Android phones come with built-in FM transmitter functionality, in which case you can use this natively or with a free app such as Quick FM Transmitter and then broadcast the MP3 and other audio files on your phone to your car radio.

If this isn’t an option, however, then a low-cost purchase will be required, providing you with a small FM broadcast device that you can connect your phone to via the headphone jack. Typically this will work in a similar manner to the analogue cable solution, although the FM transmitter may require exclusive access to the in-car charger.

Conclusion

Despite the wealth of alternatives for playing music in your car from an Android phone, it is surprising to find that most people tend to opt for the FM transmitter or cassette adapter options. This is typically because they’re unaware of the Bluetooth option (or not impressed with the hit on battery life) or that they drive older cars with cassette players.

The problem with this is that if your car has a digital sound system you’re not getting the best use out of it by relying on the analogue solutions.

What do you think? Have you come across any better options?

Steering Wheel Image Via Shutterstock, USB Cable Image Via Shutterstock, FM Transmitter Image Via Shutterstock

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Comments (15)
  • jorge

    I own a 2007 BMW . i can connect my Samsung galaxy note via Bluetooth but only for phone calls , I cannot stream any music from the phone. Any ideas . thanks, jorge

  • Anna

    I want to be able to play spotify on my car stereo from my android. but, unfortunately, my car stereo was purchased at the time when they were just coming out with the USB ports. So, it only has a USB port. Is it possible at all to use and AUX to USB cord to play sound off the droid? including spotify, navigation, etc?

  • Marty

    I drive an older car, and the only options I have are either FM transmitter or casette adapter. I tried FM transmitter option (via Nokia phone), and the quality was unbearable. I found that this was due to the fact that car aerial was at the back of the car, and if I threw the phone to the back seat it worked better :)

  • Scott

    I enjoy and find value in almost every MakeUseOf article but not this one. I find it hard to believe that most phone users are not already aware of the four options described. I would have much preferred some tip or suggestion that has not been widely discussed. You were on that track when you said “Some Android phones come with built-in FM transmitter” because I did not know that, but then you didn’t list any specific makes or models… how come? And FM transmitters are usually very bad… just read the reviews on Best Buy and Amazon, so if the author actually told us about a good one that works that would have been much more useful. So a thumbs down on this article.

    • Christian Cawley

      Hi Scott

      Thanks for your thoughts. The reason I didn’t cover specific models is that this differs based on specific carrier versions, so accuracy would not have been possible.

      Meanwhile, FM transmitters can prove useful, but it does depend on the local usage of the FM band, rather than a specific model. Dismissing them out of hand isn’t constructive.

      But a thumbs up on your comment :)

  • Piseth

    This is great! Anyway, I have used FM Transmitter for quite sometime but I notice the music is to soft and with less bass so I most of the time switch back to CD so I can enjoy music with great volume and bass.

    Is it the FM Transmitter that makes music such poor? Any suggestion?

    • Saikat Basu

      The problem with poor FM reception in a moving car has to do with external factors really. Interference, both natural and man-made, is the primary cause of degradation.IMHO, it could emanate from the antenna itself. Some antennas available are pre-amplified and the pre-amplification process can produce results ranging from good to bad before the sound comes to the tuner. The pre-amplifier also amplifies everything, even noise.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.