How to Listen to an iPod in a Car

Without upgrading your head unit

What to Know

  • Easiest: Connect iPod via USB, Auxiliary input, Bluetooth, or iPod Direct control.
  • Cheapest: Car cassette adapter: Connect adapter to iPod audio jack > place adapter tape into tape deck.
  • FM Transmitter: Connect to iPod via Bluetooth/audio jack > tune to open FM frequency > tune radio to same frequency.

This article explains various methods you can use to listen to your iPod in your car.

USB, Aux, Bluetooth, Direct Control (The Easiest Option)

The easiest way to listen to an iPod, iPhone, or iPad in a car is to use a USB or auxiliary input, Bluetooth connection, or iPod Direct control. But if your car doesn't have any of those connections, you'll have to get creative.

Depending on the head unit you have, there are three options you can look at to use your iOS device: a car cassette adapter, an FM broadcaster, or an FM modulator. These are all viable options, and they essentially add a temporary aux input to your sound system. Still, the best one for your situation depends on a couple of factors.

The way to connect an iPod to a radio in the car.

Car Cassette Adapter (The Cheapest Option)

A car cassette adapter is the easiest and least expensive way to listen to an iOS device in a car without aux. This is only an option if the head unit has a tape player, and that's increasingly rare.

While these adapters were originally designed with CD players in mind, they also work with any media or MP3 player with a 3.5mm audio jack. (If you have an iPhone 7 or later, you'll need a Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter.) They work by tricking the heads in a tape deck into thinking they're reading a tape, so the audio signal is transmitted from the adapter to the tape heads. That provides decent audio quality, especially for the price.

Car cassette adapters are also easy to use. There's no installation involved since you stick a tape in the tape deck and plug it into the audio jack on your iPod.

FM Transmitter (The Universal Option)

If you have a head unit that was built in the last 20 years, it's almost a guarantee that you can use an FM transmitter to listen to any MP3 player in your car. In the rare occurrence that your car (or truck) has an AM-only head unit, and it doesn't include a tape deck, consider upgrading.

FM transmitters are like pint-sized radio stations in that they broadcast on the same frequency range that an FM radio is designed to pick up. They're also easy to use, although they don't work as well in big cities as they do in rural areas.

To set up an FM transmitter, hook it up to your iPod (usually via Bluetooth pairing or the earbud jack) and then tune it to an open FM frequency. You then tune the radio to that same frequency, and the music on your iPod will come through the head unit just like a radio station.

FM Modulator (The Semi-Permanent Option)

Of the three options outlined here, an FM modulator is the only one that requires you to pull out the head unit and do some wiring. These gadgets work sort of like FM transmitters, but they skip the wireless transmission thing.

Instead, you wire an FM modulator between the head unit and the antenna. That typically results in better audio quality than you see from an FM transmitter with less chance of interference. It's also a cleaner installation since the modulator can be installed under or behind the dash. Plus, you can tuck the audio input out of the way.

What's the Best Option for Listening to an iPod in a Car Without USB, Aux, or Bluetooth?

There's no single best option for anyone with an iPod or iPhone and a head unit that lacks an auxiliary, Bluetooth, or USB input. Still, it is relatively easy to pick out the best one based on your situation.

If your head unit has a tape deck and you want a quick solution that just works, a car cassette adapter is what you're looking for. If you don't have a tape deck and you don't want to mess with (semi) permanent wiring, consider an FM transmitter. On the other hand, an FM modulator is the best choice if you live in an area with a crowded FM dial or you want a cleaner, more permanent solution to your problem.

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