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How do I get Bluetooth® in my car?

Three ways to add BT capability to your vehicle

Bluetooth Logo

Bluetooth technology lets two devices communicate wirelessly with each other. It's most commonly seen in the form of hands-free ear pieces for cell phones and in wireless speaker systems.

By integrating this wireless functionality into your car stereo, you can hear callers' voices over your speakers, see incoming call information on your stereo's display, and make or receive phone calls without touching your phone. Most importantly, you can keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel while talking to callers.

Many Bluetooth devices also make it possible to stream music from a Bluetooth capable phone, tablet, or other device to your car stereo, and soon, you'll also be able to stream video content to your in-dash video receiver.

There are three ways to use your Bluetooth cell phone with your car stereo:

  1. a universal Bluetooth kit that works in any car
  2. a stereo-specific adapter that connects to a Bluetooth ready stereo
  3. a stereo with built-in Bluetooth capability

Option 1: Universal Bluetooth kits

Universal Bluetooth kits work in just about any car, with any car stereo. Some are simple, stand-alone devices with a small speaker and microphone that clip to your sun visor and don't interface with the car stereo at all. These are nice because you can move them from one vehicle to another. The downside is that their use is pretty much limited to hands-free calling.

Other universal kits are wired to the stereo so that the music mutes when calls come in, and the calls play over your car's speakers instead of a tiny stand-alone speaker. Some of these kits also handle music streaming. The downside is that you have to remove the car stereo and connect a few wires in order to install the kit. It's a little more effort, but the result is worth it.

Bluetooth kits

You can find a variety of universal Bluetooth kits. Left to right: the Alpine DCS-BT1, Parrot CK3000 Evolution, and Parrot CK3100.

Bluetooth adapters

Many brands offer an add-on Bluetooth adapter, like this one from Dual.

Option 2: Stereo-specific Bluetooth adapters

A stereo-specific adapter is a hideaway box that connects to a same-brand stereo. Installation typically involves connecting a single cable to the rear of the stereo. Caller info shows up on the stereo's display and you answer and place calls using the stereo's controls. An included microphone clips onto your sun visor or mounts somewhere on the dash, and you hear callers over your stereo speakers.

This is a good option when you already have an aftermarket stereo or are shopping for a new one; just find out if it's compatible with that brand's Bluetooth adapter. You end up with a Bluetooth system that's fully integrated into your car stereo for hands-free phoning. And many of these systems can handle music streaming, too.

Option 3: Stereos with Bluetooth built in

The final option for adding Bluetooth to your car is getting a stereo that has Bluetooth technology built in. You get full control of your phone from your stereo, and you usually get music streaming too, yet you don't have to deal with a hideaway adapter box, so installation is much easier.

JVC Arsenal KD-A735BT

The JVC Arsenal KD-A735BT features built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling, music streaming, and playing the audio from select apps.

Because of Bluetooth's popularity, it can be found in more and more new stereos. That means you won't have to buy the most expensive stereo to get one with this wireless technology. So, if you're buying a new car stereo anyway, keep an eye out for models with built-in Bluetooth capability. (Click here for a list of the current stereos that have Bluetooth capability built in.)

Easy as 1, 2, or 3

Adding Bluetooth technology to your car stereo can be easy. At the very least, Bluetooth makes it easier, safer, — and in a growing number of states, legal — to use the phone when you're in the car. As the applications for Bluetooth technology expand, it'll become even more useful in the car as well.

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