How to Get Satellite Radio in Your Car

satellite in car
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Question: How do I get satellite radio in my car?

I have a new job that involves a lot of driving, and I’m getting bored of listening to the same old radio stations (and same old radio commercials!) day in and day out. How do I get satellite radio in my car and break up the monotony?


Although some new cars come with built-in satellite radio functionality, which makes “adding” satellite radio as simple as flipping a switch, every other situation requires some type of hardware purchase in addition to a monthly subscription.

The best way to go about adding satellite radio to your car will depend on a couple different factors, but the options are pretty well delineated, and figuring it all out isn’t too complicated once you know what those options are.

Step One: The Hardware

Since satellite radio requires a different kind of tuner than your typical AM/FM car radio comes with, the first step in adding satellite radio to any car audio system is to buy some new hardware. In the case of some newer vehicles, you can skip this step. So if your car is relatively new, especially if you bought it used, it’s worth checking to see if the factory radio includes a satellite tuner before you go out and buy any new hardware.

There are two main hardware options you can use to add satellite radio to a car audio system:

  1. Dock and play satellite radios
  2. Dedicated satellite radios

Adding a Dock and Play Satellite Radio

Dock and play devices are great if you’re satisfied with your current head unit, but you want the option to upgrade later (or switch to a completely different car) without buying any new satellite radio hardware.

These units “dock” into your car audio system in order to add a satellite tuner, and they “undock” just as easily, allowing you to use them in your home, office, or another vehicle, any time you want.

Adding a Dedicated Satellite Radio

There are two types of “dedicated” satellite radios that you can run across.

The first is found in OEM car audio systems. If you have a relatively new used car, it may already have a dedicated satellite radio hooked up to the OEM head unit. In that case, you will have to determine whether it is a Sirius or XM unit, and then contact SiriusXM to activate a subscription.

The other type of “dedicated” satellite radio receiver is designed to be seamlessly added to certain "satellite ready" head units. These devices are hard-wired into both the radio and power, so they aren’t portable like dock and play units. However, they have the benefit of being “invisible” upgrades, in that the actual receiver is usually installed underneath a seat, up against the firewall, or even behind the dash, so you get your satellite radio without having to show off any obvious (and easily stolen) hardware.

Step Two: The Subscription

After you’ve obtained the necessary hardware, you’ll have to sign up for a subscription. Unlike terrestrial AM, FM and HD radio, satellite radio isn’t free. It’s sort of like cable or satellite television, in that you select a programming package and pay a monthly fee to access it.

In the United States and Canada, there are three basic types of satellire radio programming packages:

  • Sirius
  • XM

If that seems somewhat confusing, you can chalk it up to the fact that there’s actually just a single satellite radio provider in the United States and Canada: SiriusXM. This provider was formed from the merger of Sirius Radio and XM radio, and both the hardware and the programming remained separate after the merger.

What that means is that you’re limited to Sirius programming if you own a Sirius unit, and you’re limited to XM programming if you own an XM unit. Additionally, some units are cable of receiving a third type of programming referred to as SiriusXM.

Choosing the Best Subscription Service

The best hardware and subscription can vary from one situation to another. If you only ever want to listen to satellite radio in your car, then a dedicated unit will suffice. However, you should go with a dock and play satellite radio if you think that you’d like to be able to listen at home or work. Similarly, the programming packages will each appeal to different people. SiriusXM programming does offer more variety, though, so you may want to consider one of those units if you want to have the widest possible set of options available.

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