You own an old car you love but wish it had modern infotainment options like navigation, Bluetooth audio, and hands-free calling. Here’s how to do it for under $30.
One of the biggest advancements in automotive technology over the past decade has been the propagation of phone-based in-vehicle infotainment. As our lives grow more closely integrated with our devices, we expect them to interface with our vehicles. There are real benefits to this in terms of safety, cost, and functionality. Almost every new vehicle we test today can seamlessly show the Google Maps or Waze navigation from your phone on the main screen. The audio system plays your phone-based MP3 files or streaming media from Pandora or Stitcher. And the vehicles work seamlessly and “hands-free” for accepting calls. The problem for those shopping used, or who own an older vehicle, is that none of this stuff works. But it can. And quite simply and inexpensively.
Adding Bluetooth and power
The first step to making your older vehicle’s infotainment system work as well as a newer one starts with power and Bluetooth. Your old car may only have a 12Vdc “cigarette lighter”-type plug in the front. Buy yourself a device that will plug into that hole. What you want are two things. First, power in the form of a USB female outlet. Second, an FM Bluetooth transmitter. There are many devices available that will offer you both. We purchased and tested one online for $16. It has a five-star rating and 125 reviews.
This device will pair to your phone using Bluetooth. You can watch a YouTube video on how to pair your particular phone to other Bluetooth-enabled devices if you have not used it in the past. It is very simple. In our testing, the device paired up instantly to our iPhone X. The device then transmits the information from your phone to the car’s FM radio receiver. You select an unused station frequency and then tell the device to broadcast to that. Your phone’s music and the phone audio then play through the car’s speakers. It worked seamlessly and instantly in our test vehicle, a 2006 Honda Accord. The multi-function knob in the middle and the “scroll left and right” buttons are all you need to do many useful things, like accept an incoming call, advance to the next audio track, and the like. We found it very intuitive to use.
If you look at the top of the little device (which is about the size of a thumb), you will see there are two USB power ports. Use the one that works best with your phone’s cable. The one labeled QC 3.0 is for newer devices that support quick-charge. The one on the left is for all devices. Power is important because if you are on a long drive and using multiple apps, say Google Maps and Pandora, your phone’s battery will need to be charged. The always-on Google Maps screen uses up some juice. On short trips, you won’t need to connect any power cord at all.
If you own and use a smartphone, you are aware that Google Maps, Apple Maps and Waze navigation apps are fantastic. They offer features such as real-time traffic, intelligent re-routing around traffic while en route, and many other functions that only some of the new vehicles we test offer. Waze will even tell you where large potholes are ahead of you and if the police ahead have set up a revenue generation station (speed trap). If you have used a Garmin or other portable device you will be familiar with how these ones work. We like the “speak the location” function on Google. We also like that if you open the app, it will suggest locations it thinks you may be headed, like “home,” “work,” or wherever you went recently. There is no need to assign these as locations. Your phone knows where you have been and it automagically knows where you are most likely going next.
Your phone needs a holder though. We bought one for $10 online. We bought it based on good ratings and it held our iPhone and also a Samsung S9 we tried in it. The bottom is tacky and will stay put on your dash without any velcro or other adhesives. Its sole purpose is to hold the phone in an area that allows you to see the directions and minimize the time your eyes are off the road ahead. The audible directions will play via your speakers (using your nifty Bluetooth setup) or you can opt to have them muted or play via the device itself. There are endless phone cradles you can opt for. We have used ones like this in multiple vehicles and like the poor-man’s head-up display it offers. Augment your setup with a power cord that fits the system well, or you can wire-tie the extra cord length if the one you own is longer than needed for this setup.
An older vehicle need not burden you with lousy infotainment options. You already own your phone. The stuff to make it work seamlessly with your car won’t cost you much and is very simple to install.
Note: BestRide and its staff received no free products or payment from any retailer or manufacturer for the publication of this story.