Tech Talk: Don’t let the music stop just because you’re in the car

Modern car stereos double as hands-free phone callers and iPod docks
Modern car stereos double as hands-free phone callers and iPod docks
Have your say

MOST of us these days keep our music collections on our phones or iPods, not on stacks of CDs. Which is fine until you try to get them to play in the car.

Car stereos (or in-car entertainment units, as the motor industry likes to call them) have moved up a gear in sophistication, offering charging docks for portable devices and even wireless stereo music streaming through the car’s loudspeakers. But unless your vehicle is new and top-of-the-range you’re unlikely to see any of that. An autochanger in the boot may be the best your motor can manage.

However, you can upgrade your listening experience without an expensive trip to the car showroom. Replacement car stereos are much easier to fit than they used to be: there’s a standard wiring harness on the back and the most you will need is a simple plastic adapter. These are expensive in the shops but can be had for just pennies on eBay.

If you do decide on a new unit, choose one with Bluetooth connectivity. This lets you make hands-free phone calls and play music from your phone or iPod through the car stereo, without wires. But check the small print: Bluetooth comes in different flavours, and cheaper models will handle only phone calls, not music. Be sure, too, that you have a charging cable in your lighter socket, as Bluetooth can flatten your phone’s battery before you’ve left your driveway.

A small AUX socket on the front of your car stereo is another way to play music on the move – all you need is an audio lead from there to the headphone socket on your device. A USB socket is even better, letting you play and pause your phone or iPod from the car’s controls and charge it at the same time.

You don’t necessarily need a new stereo to do any of this; you can buy adapters that plug into your phone and transmit its output to your existing unit via short-range FM radio. All you need do is tune your radio into the right frequency. But don’t be tempted by the cheapest products – the sound quality is akin to trying to pick up Radio Caroline on a crystal set.

If your existing car stereo has an AUX socket but nothing else, you can add hands-free calling and USB charging by way of a £35 adapter from Belkin. A microphone is concealed in a rubber ring which sticks to the windscreen, and cables go from there into your stereo, phone and lighter socket. It’s untidy but functional – and much less fuss than swapping CDs every 45 minutes.