The Digital Age is well underway in 2019. Modern cars generally benefit from onboard infotainment systems, displayed using a handy screen and intuitive controls, which works via USB connection. However, not everyone has the luxury of these systems – either you’ve got an older car, or your new car is one of those that simply don’t come fitted with it.
However, do not despair, as there are still ways to get your favourite music, essential directions and all-important messages through to you safely. Depending on which OS (Operating System) that your phone uses, there are ways to get your older car to communicate with your phone and get the functionality that you’re missing. We’re going to focus on the most common phone systems – Android and Apple iOS. Sorry Windows, but I prefer you on my desk rather than in my hand.
If you’re an Android user and have a compatible handset, then you will benefit from Android Auto. This interface will use the wonderfully intuitive Google Assistant to connect you and the various elements of your phone – calls, navigation, text messages and music – with your car.
You will ideally need to purchase a Bluetooth FM Transmitter – this will connect to your phone via Bluetooth and play your phone’s audio through your radio on a specific frequency, shown as matching numbers on your transmitter and radio – and a suitable phone mount for use in your car.
Bluetooth FM Transmitters are readily available online and in most car accessory shops. Amazon.co.uk’s top pick would be this unit from FirstE: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/FirstE-Bluetooth-Transmitter-Wireless-Handsfree-HK203update/dp/B07BF52BY7/ref=sr_1_10?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1551700068&sr=1-10&keywords=bluetooth+fm+transmitter
With the advances in technology and high-demand to replicate new car functionality in older cars, these devices have noticeably dropped in price over the past few years.
Good phone mounts for car use are so widespread, as all phone accessories are, that it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Again, these are readily available online, or in car-related shops and the vast majority of phone shops.
To help you sort through the hundreds of variations and options, here’s Amazon.co.uk’s top choice from Mpow: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Mpow-Windscreen-Universal-Windshield-Dashboard-Black/dp/B016MIBFES/ref=sr_1_5?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1551700321&sr=1-5&keywords=car+mount+phone+holder
Once you’ve got your equipment together, you’ll need to set up Android Auto on your phone using the following steps:
- Install Android Auto on your phone from the Google Play Store
- Plug your Bluetooth FM Transmitter into your car – usually in the cigarette lighter socket but check the instructions for details.
- Launch the Android Auto app on your phone and tap the Menu icon in the top left corner.
- Then tap Settings
- Scroll down and turn on “Use Bluetooth”
- Then select “Auto Launch” and turn it on – this will tell your phone to connect via Bluetooth whenever you launch Android Auto.
- Then, scroll down the list of devices to find your Bluetooth FM Transmitter and select that – this will tell your phone to automatically connect to that device when you open Android Auto, as long as the transmitter is on.
Once you’ve setup Android Auto in this way, you will be able to use Google Assistant – in all of its voice recognition glory – to control a lot of the features of your phone and enhance your driving experience.
For the iPhone owners amongst you, you will have access to Apple CarPlay. This overlay uses our dear friend, Siri, to keep you connected whilst on the road.
Apple CarPlay is compatible with much newer vehicles only, via USB connection. The full list can be found here: https://www.apple.com/ios/carplay/available-models/
For older cars, you will need to get a new head unit, complete with screen, which will replace your stereo and fit into the same space that you radio occupies. Most standard radios are single-DIN in size – this is approximately 180mm wide x 50mm high.
Most aftermarket head units are double-DIN (180mm wide x 100.3mm high), such as this Kenwood DMX-7017DABS from Halfords.co.uk: https://www.halfords.com/technology/car-audio/dab-car-stereos/kenwood-dmx-7017dabs-carplay-android-auto-car-stereo?request_type=bestseller, but there are single-DIN units where the screen slides out of the space where you would usually find the disc tray.
Prices for head units are generally in excess of £300, with professional fitting – highly recommended – usually included.
Once you have made the necessary adaptations to your vehicle, you can simply plug your phone in using a USB cable or via Bluetooth and the new hardware will handle the rest.
If you’re still struggling, here’s a helpful How-To video for you:
Apple CarPlay vs Android Auto
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two systems: