How do You Get Bluetooth for a Car?

Man in car with bluetooth earpiece
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Question: How do you get Bluetooth for a car?

My new phone has Bluetooth, but my car doesn’t. What do I need to do to get Bluetooth for my car, and what can I expect it to do?

Getting Bluetooth in Your Car

Automotive technology tends to lag behind the tech found in most consumer electronics, and people generally replace their cars at a glacial pace in comparison to devices like phones. So when you take those factors into consideration, it's pretty common to run into a situation where your phone supports something like Bluetooth that your car just doesn't.

While Bluetooth connectivity is widely available in new cars, it's actually pretty easy to add at least some level of the same functionality to any car with any head unit. Depending on the route you go with, you may be able to gain access to useful features like hands-free calling, music streaming, or even control your car radio via your phone.

Three Ways You Can Get Bluetooth for a Car

  1. Install a Universal Bluetooth car kit
    • The least expensive option
    • Universal kits are platform agnostic
    • Different kits offer different functionality
  2. Install a vehicle-specific Bluetooth adapter
    • Only available if your head unit is "Bluetooth ready"
    • Allows you to keep your factory radio
    • Usually offers better integration and more features than a universal kit
  3. Upgrade to a Bluetooth car stereo
    • The only way to get full Bluetooth functionality in literally any car
    • More expensive than a Bluetooth car kit
    • Requires you to totally replace your existing radio

    The best way for you to get Bluetooth in your car will depend largely on your budget and what kind of stereo you have in your car. If you have a Bluetooth-ready aftermarket car stereo, then the best (and usually cheapest) way forward is to buy the appropriate stereo-specific adapter. In other cases, a Bluetooth car kit is the cheapest, easiest way to get Bluetooth in your car.

    The most expensive option is to simply upgrade your car stereo.

    Adding a Bluetooth Radio Adapter

    Some head units are “Bluetooth ready” in that while they don’t actually have built-in Bluetooth functionality, you can add it later with a separate peripheral device. These devices typically consist of a small box that contains a Bluetooth radio and other electronics and a wire or wires that you have to plug into your head unit. Installation tends to be a relatively simple operation, although you’ll usually have to remove your head unit to access the adapter port.

    Since these Bluetooth radio adapters aren't universal, you have to buy the exact device that was designed for your car stereo. If your head unit wasn’t designed with a Bluetooth adapter in mind, you’ll have to add Bluetooth to your car in some other way.

    Hands-free Calling and Streaming Music with a Bluetooth Car Kit

    If there isn’t a Bluetooth adapter designed specifically for your head unit, then a universal Bluetooth car kit is another easy, low-cost way that you can add Bluetooth connectivity to your car. There are a lot of options out there, so it’s important to understand the different choices that are available to you. The main types of Bluetooth car kits include:

    • Speakerphones
    • Hands-free calling kits
    • Music streaming kits
    • Combination units

    Bluetooth speakerphones tend to be relatively simple devices that don’t actually interface with your car radio. You basically pair your cell phone to the speakerphone and then use it like a headset that you don’t actually have to wear in your ear. That makes the installation quick and easy, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of neat Bluetooth features.

    The two main features to look for in a Bluetooth car kit are hands-free calling and music streaming. A good Bluetooth car kit will be able to turn down or mute your radio during calls, which is a useful safety feature.

    The ability to wirelessly stream music from your phone, including from Internet radio services like Pandora and Last.FM, is also a nice touch.

    Upgrading to a Bluetooth Car Stereo

    While upgrading to a Bluetooth car stereo isn't a cheap option, it is the only way to add total Bluetooth functionality and connectivity to literally any vehicle. So if you’re on the verge of a sound system overhaul anyway, and you're interested in Bluetooth, then you’ll definitely want to zero in on head units that include that functionality right out of the box.

    Full Bluetooth integration means that your head unit will typically be able to display caller information, song data when you’re streaming music, and may even be able to dial your phone or control apps via a touchscreen interface.

    Aside from the price, the only other downside of upgrading to a Bluetooth car stereo is that it requires you to get rid of your existing radio. So if you really want to keep your factory look, or any special functionality unique to your car, then it's still worth checking into whether a Bluetooth adapter is available.

    If you are thinking about taking the plunge and upgrading to a Bluetooth car stereo, you may want to check out information about the functionality to look for and the upgrade process in general:

    • Hands-Free Calling:
      This is one of the top features available from Bluetooth integration. Hands-free calling allows you to use your phone without actually having to touch it
    • Upgrading your car stereo:
      Upgrading a car stereo can seem daunting, but it isn't that hard if you do some research first
    • Choosing a head unit:
      If you've decided to buy a Bluetooth head unit for your car, that's just the first step. There are a ton of other features and specs you'll also want to consider.
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