Turn an Android Phone Into an Infotainment System

Who needs an expensive system when you have an old smartphone?

What to Know

  • First, get an old Android phone, an ELM 327 scan device, and an FM modulator or head unit with an aux input.
  • Then, download an ODB-II interface app and use it to pair your phone to the scanning device.
  • Download additional navigation or entertainment apps to add functionality to your setup.

This article explains how to turn an Android phone into an infotainment center for your car so you can play music and videos and hear turn-by-turn navigation through your car's speakers. This method was tested on the HTC Dream (G1), one of the oldest Android phones in existence, so it's likely to work on many others.

What You Need

To complete this project, you need:

  • An old Android phone you aren't using anymore.
  • A Bluetooth or WiFi ELM 327 scan tool device.
  • An FM modulator or transmitter or a head unit with an aux input.
  • A mount to hold your phone in place.
  • An OBD-II interface app.
  • Navigation and entertainment apps.

How to Turn an Android Phone into an Infotainment System

Once you've gathered your materials, follow these steps to connect your Android phone to your car.

  1. Locate the ODB-II connector in your vehicle. Most OBD-II connectors are very easy to locate. The specifications state that the connector must be within two feet of the steering wheel, so most are within that vicinity.

    The first place to look is under the dash to the left or right of the steering column. You may find the connector right up front or mounted back near the firewall.

    An OBD-II connector
    Most OBD-II connectors are right out in the open, but you'll occasionally have to search a little.

    Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

  2. Plug in the ODB-II interface. If the connector is in an awkward place, you may need to buy a low-profile interface device. Many connectors are near the driver’s knees or legs, so an interface device that’s too long may get in the way.

    In cases where you feel that you may kick the device when getting in and out of the car, it is essential to go with a low-profile device rather than accidentally damaging your OBD-II connector.

    OBD-II connectors have a design that prevents you from plugging anything into them upside down. You can still bend the pins in your interface by forcing it, though, so ensure that you have it appropriately oriented before you push it into place.

    Bluetooth OBD-II interface
    You can't plug the interface in upside down, but you might bend the pins if you try.

    Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

  3. Install the Android interface software. Many OBD-II interface apps are available, so you should be able to find one that will work with your specific hardware and version of Android. Torque is a popular option that offers a free “lite” version that’s useful for just testing your system.

    You may also want to try out a free version first to make sure that the app will run on your phone and connect to your ELM 327 device. Unfortunately, even if the Google Play store says that an app will run on your phone, you may find that it refuses to pair with your scan tool.

    G1 running Torque
    There are a lot of free apps available, but you might want to start with the free version of Torque to make sure your Bluetooth interface works.

    Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

  4. Pair your phone with the ELM 327 scanner. If you’re using a Bluetooth interface device, you’ll have to pair it with your phone. Pairing sometimes fails, which typically indicates an issue with the interface device. In that case, you may have to obtain a new unit.

  5. Once you've paired the Android to your scanner, you'll be able to access all sorts of important information from your vehicle's onboard computer.

  6. Set up your FM transmitter or auxiliary cable. If your head unit has an auxiliary input, then you can use your Android phone to play music through that interface. However, it’s also possible to do the same thing with an inexpensive FM transmitter or an FM modulator. You can also use a USB connection if your head unit has one.

    Many Bluetooth car kits achieve this same primary type of functionality, and you may be able to use your Android phone for hands-free calling if it still has an active voice plan.

    An FM transmitter plugged into an Android phone
    If your head unit doesn't have any audio inputs, an FM transmitter will typically get the job done.

    Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

  7. Install other apps. If you have an active data connection on your phone or a mobile hotspot, you can turn it into a proper infotainment system. You can then monitor your vehicle through the OBD-II interface, play music, use a free GPS navigation app for turn-by-turn directions, and almost endless other functionality through other apps.

    The result won't match the kind of functionality you get out of a fancy new OEM infotainment system, but you can get fairly close without spending a lot of money.

    A phone running an outdated version of Android might not be able to run some of the latest diagnostic and entertainment software.

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