How To Play an iPod or Other Portable MP3 Player Through a Car Stereo

Are you tired of lugging around those CDs back and forth to your car to listen to your favorite music while you drive? Do you get upset when you are in the mood for a certain CD only to find that you left it at home? If you own a portable MP3 player, one way to get a variety of music in your car is to hook it up to play through your car stereo.

Connecting your Player

There are three basic ways to hook up a portable MP3 player in your car stereo - through a cassette tape adapter, FM transmitter, or line out in your car stereo. All have their advantages and disadvantages and all are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up.

Cassette Tape Adapter

A cassette adapter, available for around $10 at most local electronics stores, provides an easy and straightforward method to hook an external device into a car stereo. Simply place the cassette tape in your car's tape player and the other end into the headphone or line out jack on your MP3 player. Make sure that the tape is playing forward and not in auto reverse. Turn on the player and play a song and it should output through your car speakers.

One of the drawbacks of this approach is a reduction in sound quality of the music. Although to the untrained ear, it is hardly noticeable. Also, of course, this approach requires that you have a tape player in your car, which is becoming much less common because of the pervasiveness of CDs.

FM Transmitter

An FM transmitter transmits the audio signal of the device that it is plugged into over a specific FM frequency. An FM stereo then can pick up the sounds as if it were a regular FM broadcast.

In order to get a transmitter to work with your MP3 player, it must be first plugged into the MP3 player's headphone or line out jack. If the transmitter has an on/off button, power it on. Examine the device and figure out the FM station that the output will be broadcast to. Tune it to a radio station that is not in use in your area. Typically, the lowest numbers on the dial are your best bet - 87.1 through 87.9.

The biggest drawback of this device is that it is sometimes hard to find an FM station that is fairly open that can be used by the transmitter. This is especially the case in urban areas. If the station is not clear, it can lead to a lot of static and interruptions in your music. If you live in an urban area, be sure to purchase an FM transmitter that allows you to transmit your signal to any place on the FM dial.

Line Out Through the Stereo

Though less common, another simple way to connect your MP3 player in your car is through a line in jack on your car stereo. Before you get excited though, most dealer shipped cars do not have an input jack in their car stereo. You can buy an aftermarket stereo that has an input, but that can obviously be cost prohibitive. If your car stereo had this feature, there would usually be an 'Aux' input or something similarly named on your stereo. Ask your dealer or consult your car owner's manual if you are not sure if your car stereo has an input jack. If the jack exists, just plug in your MP3 player to it and listen through the appropriate input on your car stereo.

Help on the Way?

It's a wonder that with so much technology being introduced into cars, such as navigation systems and DVD players, that still few cars have the built-in capability to play MP3s seamlessly. However, that trend seems to be changing. Some cars, specifically the new BMW, are being equipped with a built-in doc for an Apple iPod. (You can also buy an adapter after market for about $150US on some of their vehicles.) Also, Alpine also has a $100 iPod interface device which may be used to directly access your iPod from your Alpine car stereo. While these are steps in the right direction, they only work for the iPod player, so you're out of luck for now if you have a different player.

There are also MP3-based hard drive stereos that are available for aftermarket purchase, but many car manufacturers are not yet offering them as an upgrade when you purchase a new car. Some newer cars have CD players that can play MP3 CDs, but you're still stuck carrying around MP3 discs and trying to navigate through the songs on them without any help but a label on the CD itself. So, unfortunately, for the next couple of years unless you want to spend quite a bit of money, your best bet for playing MP3s in your car is to use one of the methods described above.


What is the best car stereo to get? And please tell me how to install it?

Jacob - car sales PA


I have a stereo system in my car by pioneer. It has integrated tape, FM/AM, and 12 disc cd changer in the back. I would like to change the stereo without changing the 12 cd changer in the back. How would i be able to know which car stereo models are compatible with my 12 cd changer in the back?

Thanks and Regards,

When I plug my I-pod touch using my car AUX all I can hear is the music - the vocals are very low. Anyone have any idea why.


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