Before You Buy an IPod or IPhone Car Kit

Apple CarPlay
Apple CarPlay. © CNET
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You bought an iPod or iPhone because you wanted to have your music with you everywhere you go. But if you want to play your music through your car stereo, you'll need some help. 

There is a multitude of products that will pipe your music into your car stereo, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. When you choose an iPod or iPhone car kit, you are choosing between four basic products types: iPhone/iPod FM transmitters, built-in jacks, CarPlay units, and iPod cassette adapters.

IPhone and IPod FM Transmitters

These devices attach to your device's dock connector or Lightning port and broadcast your iPod or iPhone's music to the car stereo on an FM radio channel that you select.

Strengths

  • No wires to mess with
  • High-quality sound
  • Some are GPS-enabled, often making finding a clear station easier
  • Most charge the device while in use
  • Probably the best product for the budget conscious

Weaknesses

  • Prone to interference from other FM signals
  • More expensive than cassette adapters
  • Can be distracting while driving

The Top 11 FM Transmitters | Reviews of iPod FM Transmitters

RELATED: Tips for Using iPod Wireless Car Adapters

Built-in IPod/IPhone Jacks

These audio jacks come pre-installed in some new cars, and can be purchased as options from dealers or added as after-market items. When you have one, a plug is added to your car stereo (or near it) that allows you to run an audio cable from your iPod or iPhone to the jack.

Since the jack is connected to your stereo, the music then plays through it.

Strengths

  • Highest-quality sound among these options
  • No additional accessories to remember

Weaknesses

  • Not available on all cars
  • Doesn't charge the device
  • Expensive – the devices costs hundreds and installation is extra

RELATED: Car Makers That Offer Optional Jacks

CarPlay

While CarPlay is related to the built-in jacks, it's not quite the same thing. CarPlay is Apple's in-car computing platform, which translates the interface of the iPhone and select apps to a car-friendly view that's displayed on in-dash touchscreen information consoles. Some cars come with CarPlay devices or they can be added as aftermarket accessories.

Strengths

  • Full iPhone platform gives access to calling, texting, maps, and more on a big, appealing screen
  • Great sound quality
  • Most can be controlled by touch or via voice using Siri
  • Most charge the device while it's in use

Weaknesses

  • Expensive add-ons. 
  • Only works with iPhone, not other iOS devices or iPods
  • Only a limited set of apps are compatible with CarPlay

RELATED:

IPhone/IPod Cassette Adapter, Brand Name

These iPhone or iPod cassette adapters are inserted into your tape deck and have a line that runs out and is plugged into your device's headphone jack. The music you play is then sent through the headphone jack to the cassette adapter and through to the stereo's speakers.

There are some brand-name cassette adapters that are designed specifically for use with the iPhone/iPod, and generic ones designed for all kinds of audio equipment.

Strengths

  • Designed specifically for iPod and iPhone
  • Styling matches Apple devices
  • Some iPhone/iPod-specific features
  • No FM interference

Weaknesses

  • Requires a tape deck, which not all cars have anymore
  • Acceptable audio quality
  • More expensive than generic adapters

RELATED: How To Get the Best Sound Out of Your iPod Cassette Adapter

IPhone/IPod Cassette Adapter, Generic

These iPhone/iPod cassette adapters are from generic manufacturers and aren't made specifically to work with iPhone or iPods. 

Strengths

  • Lowest price
  • Relatively disposable, so even if they don't work forever, it's not a huge loss

Weaknesses

  • Requires a tape deck, which not all cars have anymore
  • Acceptable audio quality
  • Sometimes low quality, so they can break easily