If you've ever used a wireless headset, transferred files over the air, or tethered your phone to your computer, you've utilized a wonderful technology known as Bluetooth. Invented by Dutch electrical engineer Jaap Haartsen in 1994, Bluetooth has completely revolutionized the way we link our devices, and it's utilized on everything from PC peripherals and digital cameras to smart TVs. You can even buy Bluetooth forks to track your eating habits, something that would surely surprise Haartsen.
Bluetooth migrated toward the automotive industry in 2001, and while car manufacturers and drivers welcomed the change, it left those with older vehicles feeling a bit left out. Thankfully, adding Bluetooth is one of several ways to bring your old car into the 21st century, and we're here to show you exactly how to do it.
Before we get into the methods of adding Bluetooth to your car, let's go over some of the advantages of the technology. The most obvious is it permits hands-free calling by tethering your mobile phone to your vehicle's speakers. Simply say, "Call Dad" into your microphone, and Bluetooth does the rest. Similarly, you can view your contacts list, calendar, and even draft texts using voice commands, which keeps your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
The other main advantage of Bluetooth has to do with music, as you can easily stream Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, or another service of your choice from your phone to your car's stereo. Audiobooks and podcasts are easily accessible as well, making your commute all the more enjoyable.
In addition to all that, GPS navigation becomes a snap with Bluetooth. Instead of learning your car's built-in system, which can be slow and unintuitive compared to mobile versions, link your cell phone to your vehicle and hear crystal clear directions directly from your sound system. You can even enlist the help of smart assistants like Alexa or Siri, just in case you need extra information about where you're going.
How to install Bluetooth on your car
There are many methods to integrate Bluetooth tech with your ride. Here are the most common and effective ways to do it.
Universal standalone systems: A universal system is by the far the easiest way to add Bluetooth to your car. These standalone products include a speaker and microphone, so they don't need to integrate with your stereo at all. Clip them to an air vent or sun visor, link them to your phone, and you're good to go. Due to their simplicity, universal Bluetooth systems don't offer the audio quality of other systems, and some features like streaming music aren't always available. These range in price from $15 to $30.
FM transmitters: Like universal standalone systems, FM transmitters offer an inexpensive and easy way to add Bluetooth to your daily commute. They don't require AUX inputs either -- just a radio receiver -- which makes them great for older cars. The transmitter plugs into your cigarette lighter and broadcasts an FM signal, so all you have to do is link your phone and tune your radio. Hands-free calling and music streaming are available here, but you may need to adjust your transmitter and radio to find the best signal. Expect to pay $15 to $20 for these.
Bluetooth AUX receivers: As its name suggests, a Bluetooth AUX receiver plugs into your vehicle's AUX input and seamlessly links your mobile to your stereo system. It's similar to an FM transmitter but simpler, with the only catch being you need an AUX input, so some older vehicles aren't compatible. Most of these cost less than $20.
Vehicle-specific adapters: Vehicle-specific Bluetooth adapters are more complicated than our other options, but they offer distinct advantages. For one, they allow you to keep the look of your car's stock stereo system without the clutter of adapters, and they offer the best possible audio quality for your ride. They require more labor than our other choices though, such as removing the head unit, installing a mic, and rewiring as necessary. But when it's all said and done, you'll be able to make and answer calls, stream music, and use other features cleanly through your factory system. Expect to pay between $50 and $100 for these.
Aftermarket stereo systems: If you're looking to completely revamp the audio functionality of your vehicle, consider purchasing a new car stereo. Also called head units, these allow you to utilize Bluetooth, unique navigation systems, vehicle-specific apps, and smartphone integration features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. They require labor to install, but they include the widest array of features of any Bluetooth system. Prices start around $50 for basic units, but more advanced systems can cost upwards of several hundred dollars.
If you decide to install Bluetooth in your vehicle, make sure you have the tools to make it worthwhile. Here are our recommendations.
A phone mount: These keep your phone out of your lap or cup holder and allow you to mount it cleanly on your dashboard for greater ease of use.
An audio installer tool kit: These handy tools aren't necessarily made for audio installs, but there's no better option for removing dash panels, trim, and molding without damaging your vehicle.
A wire cutter/stripper tool: If you're installing a new head unit, rewiring your factory one, or dabbling in other electronic work, consider one of these.
Andrew Hard is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.