Why Burned CDs Don't Work in Your Car

A few factors can be at fault

A burned CD might not work in your car's CD player for a few reasons, all related to the media type (for example, CD-R, CD-RW, or DVD-R), music format, burn method, and the head unit's capabilities. Some head units are touchier than others, and some recognize a limited set of file types. You might be able to burn CDs that play in your car by switching the type of media you use, the brand or type of CDs, or the file type.

burned cd

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Choose the Right Burnable Media

The two types of burnable CDs are CD-Rs, which can be written to one time, and CD-RWs, which can be written to multiple times. CD-Rs are usually the better choice for finicky head units. This was a bigger issue in the past than it is today, and it's more likely to be the cause of the problem if the head unit is old.

Certain CD-R music discs include special disc application flags that allow you to use them in standalone CD recorders. They aren't necessary when burning music with a computer. In some cases, manufacturers put "for music" labels on lower-quality discs, which can introduce additional issues.

Choose the Appropriate Burning Method

You can burn music files in two formats: as audio CDs or as data CDs.

Burn as an Audio CD

This method involves converting the audio files into the CDA format. The result is similar to an audio CD that you might buy from a store and is limited to about the same playtime.

Burn as a Data CD

This method transfers the files to a CD untouched. The resulting CD contains MP3s, WMAs, AACs, or whatever other formats your songs were in. Because the files are unchanged, you can fit more songs on a data CD than an audio CD.

Head Unit Limitations

Today, most head units can play a variety of digital music formats, but that wasn't always the case. An old CD player might play only audio CDs. If it can play digital music files, these might be limited to MP3s. However, to play music from a data CD, the head unit must include an appropriate DAC (digital audio converter), and car audio DACs are not universal.

Although many CD car stereos throughout the years could decode and play digital music, even the latest CD head units often have limitations. Check your car stereo's literature before you burn data CDs. In most cases, the files that a head unit supports are listed on the box and sometimes printed on the head unit. For example, if the head unit says it plays MP3 and WMA, make sure the songs you burn to CD are in one of those formats.

Inferior and Defective CD-R Media

If you used the proper burning method and media for the head unit but still have problems, you might have a bad batch of CD-Rs. Try the CDs that you burned in a couple of head units. The media is probably fine if it works on your computer, but if it doesn’t work in multiple head units with similar specs, this might be the problem.

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