Tips for Pairing a Cell Phone With Your Car

Use hands-free calling for safer journeys

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that allows the creation of secure local networks, making it perfect for short-range connections between devices like your phone and your car's head unit or your phone and a hands-free Bluetooth car kit or headset.

What Is Bluetooth Pairing?

The process of setting up a Bluetooth network is referred to as "pairing" because the network consists of only one "pair" of devices. Although it is often possible to pair one device to multiple other devices, each connection is secure and unique.

To pair a cellphone to a car stereo, the phone and the head unit must be Bluetooth compatible.

Most car infotainment systems offer Bluetooth connectivity, which allows for seamless hands-free calling. This same functionality is also offered by both aftermarket and OEM Bluetooth car stereos, and you can add it into older systems with a hands-free car kit.

To use your cellphone for hands-free calling, you need:

  • A Bluetooth-enabled cellphone.
  • A Bluetooth-enabled infotainment system or car audio system.
  • The PIN for your infotainment or audio system.

Additionally, it may be helpful to have a phone mount.

Verify That Your Phone Has Bluetooth, and Turn It On

Two people in a car with a cellphone

Hero Images / Getty Images

Pairing a phone to a car audio system varies depending on the phone and the infotainment or audio system's setup. Most of these steps translate in one way or another regardless of what type of phone you have and the car you drive. The first step, in any case, is to make sure that you have the right tools.

The first step to pairing a phone with a car stereo is to verify that your phone has Bluetooth.

Turn on your phone, if it's turned off, and verify that you have Bluetooth. The Bluetooth symbol looks like a capital B overlaid with an X. If you're familiar with runes, it's a bind rune made up of "hagall" and "bjarkan," owing to the Scandinavian origin of the technology. If you see this symbol anywhere in your phone's status area or the menus, your phone probably has Bluetooth.

While going through the menus, make a note of where the "make phone discoverable" and "search for devices" options are. You'll need those in a little while. Most phones remain discoverable for a couple of minutes, though, so you don't have to activate that yet.

If your head unit or phone doesn't have Bluetooth, there are other ways to get Bluetooth in your car.

Infotainment or Audio System Phone Settings

Toyota Camry infotainment settings

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Some vehicles have a button that you can press to start the pairing process, and other vehicles allow you to say a voice command, such as "pair Bluetooth." Other vehicles are complicated in that you must look through the infotainment system. In this case, the next step is to navigate to the telephone settings in the infotainment system menu.

If you can't find a "pair Bluetooth" button, and your car doesn't support voice commands, read the owner's manual to find out how to get your infotainment system or car stereo to pair with your phone.

Search for Your Phone or Set the System to Discoverable

Toyota Camry bluetooth cellphone settings

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

This step is where you'll need to know where the "set to discoverable" and "search for devices" options are on your phone. Depending on your audio or infotainment system's setup, either your car searches for your cellphone or vice versa. In either case, both devices must be ready to search or be found within the same window of two minutes or so.

In this case, navigate to "Bluetooth" in the phone settings menu on the infotainment system to get started. Your infotainment system or Bluetooth car stereo may be slightly different in the particulars, but the basic idea should be the same.

Set to Discoverable or Scan for Devices

Android Bluetooth settings

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

After your car is either looking for your phone or ready to be found, switch to your phone. Since you're dealing with a limited amount of time to complete this step, have your phone in the correct menu. The exact steps depend on how your head unit works.

If the car is looking for your phone, set your phone to "discoverable" so the vehicle can ping your phone, find it, and pair with it.

If your car's head unit itself is set to "discoverable," have your phone "scan for devices." This mode allows it to look for any devices (including your car audio system, wireless keyboards, and other Bluetooth peripherals) in the area available for connection.

The pairing process may not work at first. It could be due to the time constraints and one of the devices giving up before the other is ready to pair, so try a few times before giving up.

There are other reasons that Bluetooth won't pair, from interference to Bluetooth incompatibility. So, don't give up if it doesn't work perfectly the first time.

Select a Bluetooth Device to Pair

Android Bluetooth paired devices list

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

If your phone successfully finds your car's hands-free calling system, it shows up in the list of available devices. In this case, the Toyota Camry's hands-free calling system is called "hands-free" on the list.

After selecting the device, enter a passkey or ​passphrase to pair the devices. Each car comes with a preset passkey, which you can typically find in the user manual. If you don't have the manual, set a passkey from your infotainment system's phone settings menu. And if that doesn't work, your local dealer may be able to provide you with the original passkey.

Many Bluetooth devices use "1234," "1111," and other simple passkeys by default.


Toyota successful Bluetooth connection

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

If you entered the correct passkey, your phone pairs with the hands-free calling system in your car. If it doesn't, repeat the steps you already took and make sure that you put the correct passkey in. Since it's possible to change the default passkey, the default one may not work in some pre-owned vehicles. In that case, pair your phone again after changing the passkey to something else.

Send and Receive Your Calls Hands-Free

Toyota steering wheel controls

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

After pairing your Bluetooth phone with your car, make sure that everything works correctly. Depending on your vehicle's specifics, you can go about that in a couple of ways.

In this Toyota Camry, the buttons on the steering wheel activate and shut down the handsfree calling mode. You can place calls by accessing the phone through the infotainment system touch screen.

Some vehicles have a single button that activates the voice control functionality of the infotainment system. Use this button to place calls, set navigation waypoints, control the radio, and perform other functions.

Other vehicles have always-on voice controls that activate when you issue commands. Others have buttons that activate voice commands on external devices (like the Siri button in GM's Spark.)

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