Best ways to control your iPhone® or iPod® in the car

A guide to iPod/iPhone and car stereo compatibility


Robert Ferency-Viars

Robert Ferency-Viars is the managing editor for the Crutchfield car A/V learning content, and has been with the company since 1999. A Virginia native from the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he loves spending time with his wonderful wife and sons, listening to music, writing, and playing games with friends. Robert's love for car audio began at 16 when he installed his first car stereo.

More from Robert Ferency-Viars

If you have an iPod or iPhone you'd like to use in your car, and you're not sure how to do it, you're not alone. Adding iPod or iPhone control to almost any vehicle's stereo can be made simple by using a USB port that's "Made for iPod/iPhone" or a vehicle-specific iPod adapter.

Many new aftermarket stereos have iPod and iPhone controls built in, so you don't need anything more than the iPod cable for basic audio control. On the other hand, some stereos require an adapter in order to access the more advanced features of your device. And many factory audio systems that don't include a USB port require an adapter in order to connect your iPod at all.


Why not just use a Bluetooth® connection or auxiliary input?

The iPod Touch and iPhones offer built-in Bluetooth connectivity, and once they're paired with a car radio equipped with Bluetooth, you can stream content between the two for handy wireless convenience. Learn more in our article about getting Bluetooth in the car. But, not all iPod models have Bluetooth, and a Bluetooth connection won't charge your device's battery — in fact, it will drain it faster. And while it has improved over the years, Bluetooth was not designed for sound quality originally, so the audio can sound compressed.

Auxiliary inputs work great for passing an audio signal from your iPod's headphone output to your car stereo. Most car stereos and many factory systems include them, and the sound quality is very good. But again, your device's battery won't be charged. You'll also have no control over your music from the radio, nor will you see any song info on the radio.

Benefits of using a wired iPod or iPhone connection

A USB connection or a wired iPod/iPhone interface offers solid advantages over other connections.

  • Better sound — A USB connection bypasses the DAC (digital to analog converter) in your iOS device and uses the DAC in your new stereo to get the most out of your sound.
  • Music controls — This connection also lets you control your music directly from the controls of the stereo, or in many cases, you can choose to control your music using your iPhone. This makes picking the song or playlist you want much easier. and provides song info on your radio's display.
  • App controls — Many newer stereos let you access specialized apps on your device from the stereo. The most basic of these is Pandora controls that let you access your Pandora account (select your channels, rate songs, skip tracks, etc.). But other stereos have far more advanced app controls, especially if the stereo has a video screen.
  • Power — A USB connection also charges your device's battery.

Type of adapter: Will the regular iPod cable do the job?

The kind of cable or adapter you need depends on the capabilities of the stereo you have in the dash.

USB connection

Stereos that have USB inputs that are "Made for iPod/iPhone" usually only need the standard iPod cable for basic audio control. In these cases, you can use the cable that came with your iPod to connect and control it from the stereo, but it's a good idea to purchase an extra iPod cable to leave in the car. You can also purchase cables of different lengths depending on your application. Check out our assortment of 30-pin iPod dock connector cables or Lightning™-to-USB cables.

USB input on Alpine receiver

A USB port represents the most common connection for an iPod or iPhone.

iPod adapter cables

Some stereos, especially those with video screens, require a special adapter cable in order to get full iPod integration. You might be able to get basic control of the iPod with the regular iPod cable, but in order to see song titles and menus on the stereo's display, access music and navigation apps, and mirror your phone's display on the big screen, you need the special adapter cable. It's best to check out the "Details" section of the receiver you're considering to determine the right iPod adapter for your application.

Pioneer SPH-DA120 AppRadio 4

Some touchscreen radios enable you to see and use many of the apps on your iPhone.

External control interface

Occasionally, an outboard box connects the iPod to the stereo. This is the most common option for adding iPod control to a factory stereo. When this option is available, the adapter box connects to the rear of the stereo, usually to an old factory CD changer port. This box adds a USB connection specifically for your iPod, or it includes an iPod/iPhone dock connector cable.

USA Spec iPod interface for GM vehicles

This USA Spec interface lets you connect your iPhone to select GM vehicles.

FM modulator and cassette adapter

You may have seen them, or at least heard of them. In older aftermarket or factory car stereos with a cassette player, you can use a cassette adapter with a cable that plugs into the headphone jack of your iPod. An FM modulator works by "broadcasting" your audio over an open FM band on your radio. These provide audio from your portable device; however, this audio isn't the highest quality due to the limitations of cassette playback and FM frequencies. Plus, these setups usually mean more wires hanging out of your dash, your device's battery wouldn't be charged, and controls are limited to the iPod itself.

Functionality: How easy is it to control your iPod from the stereo using USB or an iPod interface?

Now let's discuss the stereo itself. Some receivers work better with iPods than others, and it's not that hard to figure out which ones. Functionality refers to how easy it is to manipulate the iPod's functions from your car stereo.

The stereo's display

Consider a basic display with a single line of text, limited to 8 or 10 characters visible at a time. Song text might scroll across the display. You probably have to switch view settings to see artist name, song title, and playlist, or there might be only numeric designations for playlists. Factory stereos and entry-level aftermarket receivers usually fall into this category.

Two types of stereo displays

Compare that display to one with two or three lines of text that can show you all of the song information at once. Searching for songs and folders is going to be much easier on a display that shows this much detail.

The stereo's controls

Just as the display is important for being able to see what you're doing, having radio controls that are suited for searching and accessing a song library affects iPod control too. Basic stereo controls can mean extra button pushing to make you're way through the song menu to get to the artist and album you want to hear. Stereos with more advanced controls will make it much easier to find the song you want.

Pioneer AVH-4100NEX

This large touchscreen display provides a user-friendly interface to find music on your iPod. Receivers like this are designed with iPod compatibility in mind.

iPod compatibility and shopping for a new stereo

To help find stereos with the right level of iPod/iPhone control, we've included an iPod compatibility filter in the car stereo section of our web site. We update these dynamic filters for evolving technology, but when it comes to iPod and iPhone, you may want to consider features like these depending on your needs:

App Compatible: These stereos give you access to music on your iPhone. On more advanced receivers, like Pioneer's AppRadio, you might get access to many apps that have been tailored to the stereo.

Audio Playback: This option refers to standard audio controls. You can use the stereo to access the audio content stored on your iPod or iPhone. You usually don't need to buy any optional adapters and they tend to give you the best level of control.

CarPlay: Available on select car stereos, this newer feature works with iPhones that use the Lightning™ connector to enable you to use certain phone functions as you drive, but in a manner that'll let you stay focused on the road. These functions include your iPhone's calling, music, mapping, and message applications. Find out more about CarPlay.

iPhone 6 Compatible: These stereos are specifically compatible with the iPhone 6. Certain app and video functions that are readily accessible from older iPhones may not be available through the newer iPhones, or they may require special cables or connections.

Pandora: This is a subset of the stereos in the above iPhone categories that specifically have the ability to control Pandora Internet radio through your iPhone.

Siri Control: Some stereos let you access Siri through the stereo's Bluetooth® connection. It uses the stereo's microphone to let Siri hear you, and Siri's responses are played over the car's speakers.

Video Playback: This option means that the stereo can play video content from your iPod or iPhone. This includes streaming video content, such as YouTube and Netflix. Keep in mind that viewing videos on your car stereo's screen requires that the vehicle be stopped and the parking brake be engaged. This feature usually requires that you purchase a special adapter cable (you can use the standard iPod cable for basic audio controls, just like the "Audio Playback" category above).

Here to help

If you have any questions about how to add iPhone or iPod control to your current stereo, or want help shopping for a new stereo, send us an email, chat with us online, or give us a call. Our Crutchfield advisors are always ready to help.

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  • Annie from Pittsburgh,pa

    Posted on 4/26/2015 11:57:04 AM

    My old iPhone 5s used to display playlist on the screen of my Toyota RAV4 (2014); my new iPhone 6 does not show playlist on the cars screen, do you know anything about this?

  • Dave Delamere from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/27/2015 9:24:10 AM

    Annie, while we know lots about the radios we sell, we generally don't have any information on how factory radios behave with smartphones. Your best bet is to check directly with Toyota about the compatibility of your iPhone 6.

  • Terry from United States

    Posted on 5/29/2015 12:30:29 AM

    Hello, own a car that has a Alpine CDA-9856 installed. I am considering installing a new receiver. I do not wish to modify any existing wiring. Are my existing connections "universal" or are the connectors of replacement units brand specific? And if they are brand specific, are the current Alpine units compatible?

  • Dave Delamere from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/29/2015 11:32:48 AM

    Terry, receiver wiring harnesses are specific to the receiver manufacturer. Even then, they can sometimes change their wiring configuration over the years. But in researching your Alpine's wiring configuration, it appears that several current Alpine receivers we carry offer the same configuration. You may want to contact one of our Advisors to confirm your Alpine receiver choice.

  • Kenny

    Posted on 6/12/2015 8:46:50 PM

    Will any brand of ipod direct cable fit a pyle radio?

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/16/2015 4:52:18 PM

    Kenny, we don't carry Pyle, so I don't know what will or won't work with them. But of the brands we carry, the iPod cables are all brand-specific, so Pyle is probably the same. That said, I've never actually tried a different brand iPod adapter with a stereo, so...who knows?

  • Dave from Annapolis

    Posted on 7/14/2015 5:36:22 PM

    I have been using my IPOD NANO in my 2014 Jeep Grande Cherokee. Suddenly it stopped playing music but the screen in the Jeep shows the songs and cover as I change channels. I have tried the Nano in other vehicles with the same music but screen in vehicle shows that music is playing. Any ideas on what is wrong and how to fix it? Thanks

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/15/2015 8:59:01 AM

    Dave, by trying the iPod with multiple stereos, it would appear that you've isolated the problem to the iPod itself, or the cable(s) you're using. With any luck, it's just the cable(s). Try swapping the cable(s) out for another one, and if you still get the same results, give Apple a call. They may be familiar with the issue.

  • helene from hollywood, fl

    Posted on 7/28/2015 2:33:19 PM

    Are the old cd to usb adapters still available? I want to connect an old ipod Touch to my auto stereo system through the cd player. There is no USB port in my audio system. The car is 11 years old. Minimal expense is desired

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/28/2015 2:48:51 PM

    Helene, we do have a number of adapters that integrate older model iPods for use with select factory radios. Be sure to enter your vehicle information when prompted. However, if your factory radio has an AUX input, that would be the easiest, cheapest way to go. Simply plug your iPod into the AUX input using a mini-to-mini stereo cable.

  • Jacque B from Loveland, CO

    Posted on 7/28/2015 11:30:03 PM

    We just purchased a camper trailer that has a BOSS receiver in it but when I plug in the USB CORD hooked to my iPhone 6+ and try to play music via The "Beat" mp3 app or anything in the music section of my iPhone it says USBER but I have no indication in anything of what that means or how to fix it. Help!!!

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/29/2015 9:00:01 AM

    Jacque, your best bet is to contact BOSS directly. Also, take a look at their support page. You may be able to find a downloadable manual for that particular receiver that could tell you what that code means.

  • Ed Clark from Williamsburg, VA

    Posted on 8/19/2015 11:47:31 PM

    I have a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a USB port. When I plug in the i pod, nothing happens. I don't see a setting on the in dash radio to select the USB input. Any suggestions?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/20/2015 10:33:12 AM

    Ed, a look at the 2014 Jeep Cherokee manual tells me that iPod control via USB supports Mini, 4G, Photo, Nano, 5G iPod, and iPhone devices. It may be that you need to update your iPod with latest Apple software to ensure compatibility with your vehicle.

  • Delfin Sumcad from Jersey City

    Posted on 8/23/2015 10:56:04 AM

    Hello, I have a Pioneer DEH-2100IB and I use a 1st Gen ipod touch with it. It works great and very satisfied. My only concern is my ipod has long been deemed obsolete by apple and most of the apps does not work anymore. I am afraid it will cease to function in the near future. Can my head unit function with the new ipod touch? Note: the connecting terminal on the ipod end will be smaller. Thanks!!!

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/24/2015 10:06:26 AM

    Delfin, unfortunately, your stereo will not work with a new iPod. However, if you don't mind purchasing an older generation iPod, you'll still be able to use the iPod control feature on your stereo. Check out the Details tab for your stereo for a full compatibility list.

  • Tom Guckenberg from Gainesville, VA

    Posted on 8/30/2015 2:35:44 PM

    I have a 2009 VW EOS sedan that that the old style Ipod 30 pin male connector where you can plug an old style ipod that plugs in just fine. Problem is that you always need to unplug it and take it out to slect new songs. If I could find a 30 pin male to 30 pin female, we could connect the cable and leave it more accessable without unplugging it each time. Any idea if something exists like that? Or the other option is to get a 30 pin female to a new iphone connector for my 5/6 phone.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/31/2015 11:58:44 AM

    Tom, here is a list of the iPod cables. I believe you're talking about extending your current iPod cable, but perhaps a longer cable could work just as well.

  • Jojo Dalisay from Philippines

    Posted on 8/31/2015 8:20:05 PM

    i Bought the CD -IU201V cable. This cable did not work with my IPhone 4S. It would work with an IPod but not my IPhone. Did not find out cable would not work until after a paid installation. Caused extreme amount of money, time and frustration. Pros: Nothing. Did not work Cons: Everything. Did not work

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/1/2015 12:45:15 PM

    Jojo, if you're using it with one of the specified, compatible Pioneer multimedia receivers, it should work with your iPhone 4S. If you don't have one of those receivers, then you probably need a different iPod adapter cable. You can look up your receiver on our site to see which adapter works with it. We make this information available under the Details tab as well as the Owner's Manual in most cases. Otherwise, check with your installer to see if they have any recommendations.

  • Marilou from Rowlett TX

    Posted on 9/4/2015 3:32:23 PM

    I need help. I have an iPod classic, and a 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser. I used to have an audio cable and lost it. I promise you, it was shorter on one end that the other. The longer part went into the iPod and the shorter end went into the accessory jack on the car. Everybody thinks I'm crazy, that they would be the same length, but I PROMISE YOU! the end that went into the accessory jack was shorter. It looks like 3.5mm is the standard, which is the proper length to go into the iPod, but I cannot find a cable that has a shorter jack on the other end. It's not thicker or thinner, just shorter. No, there isn't something broken off in the accessory jack in the car. I had a cable that worked, that was shorter on one end and longer on the other, and lost it. Can you help?!? Have been to Radio Shack, the dealership, stereo stores and have had no luck.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/4/2015 3:58:19 PM

    Marilou, I'm not familiar with the cable you're describing. However, a mini-to-mini cable will give you a wired connection from your iPod to you FJ Cruiser's AUX input. You will be able to play audio just as you did with your previous cable.

  • Bob Runge from Carol Stream

    Posted on 9/6/2015 12:44:19 PM

    Plugged my iPhone 5 into USB port on my in dash radio got message devise not recognized. How do I get radio to recognize devise?

  • cat from LA

    Posted on 9/6/2015 7:05:19 PM

    My iPhone used to play through the car radio via a jack. Even though I have selected the auxiliary mode and turned up the volume on both the phone and the speakers nothing works. Thanks. C

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/8/2015 1:49:03 PM

    Bob, if you're referring to your factory receiver, you could contact your dealership, but most likely, if it doesn't recognize your phone, there's nothing you can do. Upgrading to an aftermarket stereo, however, is a great way to integrate your smartphone. Give us a call for options.

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/8/2015 2:15:42 PM

    Cat, if you can rule out the iPhone as the problem by listening to audio through headphones, then try using a different cable to connect your iPhone and stereo. If the problem persists, then you know the trouble lies with the stereo. Give us a call, and we can help you choose a new stereo for your vehicle.

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