Getting your Apple® device in your vehicle
How to connect an iPhone or iPod to your car stereo
Todd Cabell is the Senior Director of E-Commerce at Crutchfield. He drives a 2000 Ford F-150 with an Alpine stereo in the dash, Polk/MOMO speakers, a Rockford Fosgate amplifier, and an MTX Thunderform under the rear seat. He hopes to one day outfit his 1962 Mercury Comet with a worthy sound system as well.
More from Todd Cabell
This installation guide will help you connect your iPod to your existing factory or aftermarket in-dash receiver.
You can also download a pdf of the iPod Installation Guide.
| Tools Needed (depending upon vehicle): |
As with any car audio/video installation, your first step is to disconnect the negative terminal of your car battery to prevent short circuits — check your MasterSheet™ for specific directions on how to disconnect your vehicle's battery.
Three requirements for using an iPod in your car
You need to take three things into account in order to listen to your iPod safely in your car:
1. Signal transfer
You need a way to transfer the audio signal from your iPod to your car stereo and car speakers.
An iPod adapter for a factory stereo.
2. Power supply
Because of the iPod's relatively short battery life, you'll want to have a way to keep your iPod charged while using it in your car. iPod adapters that are wired to your stereo will also charge your iPod — but be sure to check the "Hands-on Research" tab to make sure it'll charge your particular model.
An iPod cigarette lighter power adapter.
3. Car mount
You don't want your iPod sliding around the floor of your vehicle — this is a potential hazard should you have to stop quickly, and will likely result in scratching up your iPod. A secure mount securely displays the iPod.
A Pro.Fit universal iPod mount.
What are the options for your vehicle?
Your options for connecting your iPod to your car stereo depend on a combination of three things: The kind of vehicle, stereo, and iPod that you have.
Signal Transfer: Four ways to play your iPod through your car stereo
There are four different ways to connect your iPod to your car stereo: iPod adapters, auxiliary input adapters, FM modulators, and cassette adapters. Each solution offers a different level of sound quality and installation difficulty, along with different requirements for making the audio connections.
|You will need to remove the factory radio to connect a factory iPod adapter to your car stereo.|
You'll find two types of adapters that are designed specifically for connecting your iPod to your car stereo: factory stereo adapters and brand-name stereo adapters. The former type connects your iPod to the stereo that came with your car, while the latter connects your iPod to a brand-name (or aftermarket) stereo. Either type provides a direct audio connection for the best possible sound quality.
Factory stereo iPod adapters
To connect your iPod with a factory stereo iPod adapter, you will need to access the CD changer port on your factory stereo. Factory stereo CD changer ports are usually located on the rear of the stereo — in which case you will use your Crutchfield MasterSheet™ to remove the factory stereo from the dash to access the port. Some vehicles come with a pre-installed CD changer cable in the trunk — in these vehicles, you will need to disconnect the changer (if installed) and plug the adapter into the cable in the trunk (see photo).
|In some vehicles, the factory CD changer connections are made in the trunk.|
Once you have connected the adapter to the factory stereo CD changer port, simply plug the other end of the cable into your iPod (most factory stereo iPod adapters work only with iPods with a dock connector). Now that you have the iPod connected to your stereo, find a good place to mount the adapter box with self-tapping screws, velcro strips, or zip ties. Good locations include behind the dash, under a seat, or in your glove compartment or center console.
Factory stereo iPod adapters give you control of the iPod from your car stereo — even your steering wheel stereo controls. Most of these adapters will also charge the iPod when connected, so you don't have to worry about running down your batteries or using a cigarette lighter power adapter.
Brand-name stereo iPod adapters
If you have replaced your factory radio with a brand-name car stereo, chances are that the same company that made your stereo offers an adapter that will let you connect and control your iPod from the stereo.
|A brand-name radio iPod adapter connects to your radio's CD changer port and the iPod.|
These adapters will install just like a factory stereo iPod adapter: you will have to remove the stereo from the dash, connect a cable to your CD changer port, and connect another cable to your iPod. Mount the compact hideaway box in a convenient location and secure it with self-tapping screws, velcro strips, or zip ties. Some of these aftermarket iPod adapters will offer a "pass-through" connection, so you can keep your changer or other audio device connected to your stereo in addition to your iPod. Like factory stereo iPod adpaters, aftermarket adapters will charge the iPod when connected.
|Using an auxiliary input to connect your iPod will give you sound quality that is as good as that from an iPod adapter.|
Auxiliary inputs are typically found only on brand-name car radios. However, adapters are available that can convert the CD changer port on the back of a factory or brand-name stereo into an auxiliary input (check your manual or call a Sales Advisor to see if you need an adapter for your stereo).
To connect your iPod to an auxiliary input, run a cable from your iPod's headphone jack to your stereo. If your stereo uses RCA inputs, you will need a mini-jack to RCA adapter; otherwise, you can use a mini-jack to mini-jack cable. If your stereo's aux input is located on the rear panel, remove the stereo from your dash using the instructions in your vehicle's MasterSheet™. It's a good idea to connect an extension cable to the rear auxiliary inputs, and to position the cable's female inputs at an easy-access location in your vehicle, creating a convenient place to plug in your iPod. Then, set your stereo to recognize the new AUX IN connection (if necessary).
Using an auxiliary input to connect your iPod gives you the same high level of sound quality as an iPod adapter. However, an auxiliary input will not provide power to your iPod. If you plan on using your iPod in your car frequently, or for a long trip, you'll want to invest in a cigarette lighter power adapter — most power adapters plug into your iPod's dock connector.
If your factory or brand-name stereo doesn't have changer controls, an auxiliary input, or an available adapter, you can listen to your iPod with an FM modulator (also sometimes called an RF, or radio frequency, modulator). A wireless FM modulator transmits the source signal to your receiver over a standard FM frequency, which you can then tune to on your stereo. A wired FM modulator offers slightly better performance, since it plugs into the stereo's antenna input.
|You can tap power and ground for a wired FM modulator from the car radio wiring harness.||A wired FM modulator connects between the vehicle antenna and your radio.|
Wired FM modulators
To install a wired FM modulator, first find a good mounting location. Keep in mind that you will need to access your factory radio's antenna input, and connect the iPod to the modulator. Common locations include under a seat, behind an interior panel, and in the cavity behind the receiver.
|Use a minijack-to-RCA cable to connect your iPod to the FM modulator.|
FM modulators require a 12-volt connection to a switched (on/off) source. Since you have to remove your radio to get to the antenna input, you'll have easy access to the power and ground wires in your factory radio harness. If you don't want to splice into your factory wires, you can make the power connections at your fuse panel. Look for empty fuse holders and insert fuse taps. You'll also have a black ground wire that must be secured beneath a nearby screw that makes contact with bare metal on the body of the vehicle.
Following the instructions on your Crutchfield MasterSheet™, remove your receiver from the dash and unplug the antenna from the rear of the unit. Plug the vehicle's antenna cable into the antenna input on the FM modulator. Next, run the output of the modulator to your receiver's antenna input (certain vehicles require antenna adapters — use the online Vehicle Selector or call a Sales Advisor to inquire about a specific vehicle). If this leaves slack in your antenna lead, tie it up so it won't fall down and interfere with anything.
Most wired FM modulators accept RCA inputs, so you'll need a minijack to RCA cable to connect your iPod. Once you have connected the iPod, determine which of the available modulation frequencies is least likely to be shared by a strong local radio signal and set it on the hideaway box before you mount the unit (on some models you can change this setting on the fly).
Wireless FM modulators
Wireless FM modulators make it even easier to listen to your iPod, allowing you to make connections without removing your receiver or running extra wires. The trade-off, however, is in sound quality. While wireless modulators are convenient, they are susceptible at times to outside interference and static. Installation is easy — just connect the modulator to your source and plug in its cigarette lighter power adapter. Some iPod accessories even combine a wireless FM modulator, a power adapter, and a mount for your iPod.
|A wireless FM transmitter plugs into the iPod's headphone jack.||A cassette adapter remains a popular way to play an iPod through a car stereo.|
While they're not as common as they once were, wired cassette adapters are still a convenient way to connect your iPod to a cassette-based audio system. In fact, it's a great way to connect an iPod to a rented or leased car, since you don't need to remove the receiver or disturb the installation in any way. A cassette adapter, however, is a less than perfect solution for a permanent installation because it doesn't provide power for your source, won't sound as clear as a direct-wired connection, and clutters your dash with unsightly wires.
With that in mind, connecting a cassette adapter is a relatively simple installation. The cassette unit loads into your receiver and trails a cord with a 1/8" mini-jack plug on the end. Just connect it to your iPod, plug it into the adapter, power it up, and go. Once again, though, we suggest investing in a cigarette lighter power adapter to keep your iPod charged up while you're on the road.
|A battery pack can keep your iPod charged for a long road trip; most car mounts, however, are not designed to accept an iPod with a battery pack.|
If you plan on using your iPod in your car everyday, or are gearing up for a long road trip, you'll want to be sure to have an auxiliary power supply with you. There are two types of power supply accessories for using your iPod in the car. Each connects to your iPod via the dock connector.
- Cigarette lighter power adapters
Pros: A cigarette lighter power adapter provides a steady supply of power to your iPod and charges the internal iPod batteries, so you don't have to worry about running out of juice while you're on the road.
Cons: You have to deal with wires hanging over your dash.
- Backup battery packs
Pros: Whether you have a rechargeable battery pack or one that accepts AA batteries, these backups typically attach directly to your iPod via suction cups or clips. You don't have to worry about wires draped across the dash.
Cons: These provide anywhere from 8 - 20 hours of battery life (depending on the type of iPod you have), but once they are drained, you'll have to replace the batteries or charge it up again. Most iPod car mounts are not designed to accommodate battery packs.
There are several different ways to securely mount your iPod in your car:
|A cupholder mount is a convenient way to secure an iPod in a vehicle.|
- Vehicle-specific mounts
Mounts designed to mount to the dash or center console with a strong adhesive backing or bolts.
- Cup holder mounts
Simply place these in one cup holder and use the suction cup to attach your iPod.
- Flexible gooseneck arms
These may screw into the floor, fit in a cup holder, or even attach to a cigarette lighter power adapter. They allow the most freedom of viewing angle.
If you do not have a good option for mounting your iPod in your car, experiment with placing the iPod in various console pockets or your dashboard. The last thing you want is to place the iPod directly on a seat or the floor, where it can move about freely.