5 Ways to Use Bluetooth in Your Car

A few ways Bluetooth has revolutionized the driving experience

Virtually every phone sold today comes with a built-in Bluetooth radio, and an ever-increasing percentage of car infotainment systems, aftermarket head units, and add-on devices also make use of the protocol, leaving us with many ways to use Bluetooth while driving. Here are five of the best ways you can use Bluetooth in your car.

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Make and Receive Phone Calls

Commuter using a cellphone and driving a car
Eric Raptosh Photography / Getty Images

For many years, phone calling was the primary use of Bluetooth in the car. Most factory head units and aftermarket stereos also use Bluetooth to host calls made from your phone. If your car's head unit doesn't support Bluetooth, you can buy a Bluetooth car kit, which adds the wireless functionality you're looking for.

This profile is referred to as the Hands-Free Profile (HFP). Most phones, head units, and many Bluetooth kits with HFP allow you to place and receive calls, dial numbers with voice commands, and access your address book.

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Send and Receive Text Messages

Taxi driver in a suit texting while driving

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Synonymous with "texting," SMS is the primary messaging function for most phone users. While you should never text while driving, it is common to receive texts while driving, which can be distracting. For those times, Bluetooth has a texting workaround that allows users to send and receive texts without taking their eyes off the road.

Many infotainment systems and head units have the Message Access Profile (MAP) Bluetooth functionality. It allows users to display text messages received on your phone. When paired with text-to-speech or speech-to-text functionality, Bluetooth texting allows users to text in a hands-free environment—exactly what's needed while on the road.

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Stream Music Wirelessly

iPhone playing rock music through a Bluetooth connection in car

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If your head unit and phone both support the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), you can wirelessly stream stereo audio to your head unit. This is a great way to listen to any music or audio stored on your phone. You can also use it to stream music and podcasts, provided you have the data allowance or downloaded content ahead of time.

If your phone and the head unit also support the audio/video remote control profile (AVRCP), you can take it a step further and control playback from the head unit. This profile allows some head units to display metadata, like artist names, song titles, and album artwork.

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Pump the Internet Into Your Car

Child with headphones using a digital tablet and watching video in the back seat of car

Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Some infotainment systems and head units come with built-in support for Pandora, Spotify, and other streaming apps. Without pre-downloaded content, however, you'll need wireless data to use them. As long as you're comfortable using data, you can broadcast any audio content from the internet through your car speakers.

One alternative is to use a mobile hotspot instead, but for that, your head unit needs to be Wi-Fi-compatible or work with some other kind of hotspot protocol.

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Diagnose Your Engine Problems

Person on the phone under the hood of broken down car

Sam Edwards / Getty Images

If you have an Android smartphone, you can pull codes, check PIDs, and possibly diagnose your own check engine light—all via an OBD-II Bluetooth adapter. The key to these scan tools is the ELM327 microcontroller. All you do is download a scanner app, plug one of these scan tools into your car's OBD-II connector, and pair it to your phone. Then you can diagnose any check-engine problem—or at least attempt to.

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