How to Upgrade the Car Stereo to Bluetooth? A Complete Guide


Are you still sitting with your old stereo and listening to your CD collection from the 90’s wondering if you should upgrade to Bluetooth?

On the other hand, you may listen and stream all your music and other audio from your phone.

Upgrading your stereo to integrate Bluetooth is a great way to bridge the gap between the two, bringing you and your car stereo into the future. 

You can upgrade your car stereo to Bluetooth using 6 methods. These methods include replacing the stereo (a head unit), purchasing an adapter (receiver), an in-car speakerphone, a Bluetooth FM transmitter, a Bluetooth car kit, or even a Bluetooth car amplifier.

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Let’s take a look at Bluetooth as a whole, what it is, how it has impacted society, and if you should consider upgrading a car to incorporate it. Interestingly enough, there are many options to consider when wanting to upgrade your car stereo to Bluetooth, and I will detail them all for you. 

What is Bluetooth, and how does it work?

We live in a different world nowadays in terms of digital technology and automotive technology, with the lines getting blurred sometimes between the two. 

upgrading car radio to bluetooth

We can undertake many ventures that if you had said 50 years ago, you would be able to do this in your car one-day people would have thought you to be crazy.

  • Bluetooth is one of those technologies, and it could be considered a must-have in your car audio system in today’s world.
  • Bluetooth is a universal wireless standard used for connecting various digital devices. Simply put, in the real world, it is used to eliminate all wires and cables that are used to connect audio devices.
  • Bluetooth transmits data over radio frequencies, and each device is embedded with a transceiver microchip that allows it to connect and communicate with other Bluetooth devices. Since it is based on frequencies, it does not require a direct line of sight, and it can be connected to multiple devices at once. 
  • Bluetooth in a car audio system would allow you to connect a device such as your smartphone to your stereo and will enable you to play music from your smartphone through your car stereo wirelessly. 

What are the benefits of Bluetooth in cars?

As we briefly discussed above, it can sync your smartphone to your car stereo, enabling you to play music from your phone through your stereo. Not only that, but you could stream any form of audio to your car stereo, which could include podcasts and audiobooks.

This would remove the need for tape decks, CD players, and even more recently, USB drives. This means all you would need when you wanted to play audio was your smartphone and the vast amount of audio available to it via its internal memory or the internet.  

Is Bluetooth worth it?

If you consider all the pros that Bluetooth comes with, then it is hands down worth implementing into your car audio system. More so than that, there are many options you can employ to upgrade it into your car stereo system. 

Nowadays, even car amplifiers come with built-in Bluetooth technology allowing you to connect to them wirelessly. This means you do not even need to use a car stereo.

Furthermore, every day new devices and technology are being invented that will improve your quality of life, and probably your car stereo system and Bluetooth is the wireless doorway to it all.

Can I upgrade my car stereo to Bluetooth?

You definitely have the option and the ability to upgrade your car stereo to have Bluetooth capability, and there are many ways in which you can achieve this.

Furthermore, depending on what option you decide to integrate into Bluetooth, the avenues you can pursue are relatively inexpensive. 

Factors to consider before upgrading your car stereo to Bluetooth

Can I add Bluetooth to the vintage car radio?

As you will see below with the options I have collected for your perusal, you are definitely able to add Bluetooth to your vintage car radio.

You do not just need to purchase a brand new head unit because there are several ways in which you can upgrade or instead integrate Bluetooth with your vintage car stereo.

How much does it cost to get Bluetooth fitted in the car?

That all depends on how far you want to go in upgrading your car’s audio system.

If you plan to replace a lot of equipment, such as the entire stereo (the head unit), you may be looking approximately between $30 to $100. You can even get a little fancier than that and opt for an infotainment system with a digital display, which could range in the hundreds of dollars.

If you are not willing to part with your trusty or vintage car stereo, then you are able, as you will see from the list, I have compiled much cheaper options in the form of adapters, FM transmitters, in-car speakers, and so on.

The prices for these Bluetooth upgrades are not high and should not cost you more than $20-$30.

How to install a Bluetooth radio in the car?

Depending on what stereo you have and what you would like to do to your car audio system, there are many avenues you can pursue in implementing Bluetooth into your car stereo system. I have listed six options below for you.

In deciding what option to choose, you need to make a checklist of what you would like to change or keep in your car audio system.

For example:

  • Are you willing to replace your stereo unit (the head unit), or do you want to upgrade your amplifier?
  • Are you happy with your speakers?
  • What is your budget? 

All of these factors and more will come into play when determining the Bluetooth upgrade option you will want to appoint. 

Six options for installing Bluetooth in your car stereo

Upgrading to Bluetooth car radio (the head unit)

If you have decided that you want to part with your old car stereo, then one option would be to replace the entire head unit with a new one with built-in Bluetooth capability.

A few things to consider are that this option will cost you more than the other alternatives however, you can take your pick at the stereo you want and even purchase an infotainment unit.

These units could even be integrated with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. 

If you’d like to know more about Apple CarPlay, then check out this article.

An infotainment unit will typically have an LCD screen, and depending on the space you have available in your dashboard, you could choose either a single Din or Double Din unit.

Furthermore, the other alternatives in the list require connectors, adapters, and wires, but if you choose to upgrade your entire car stereo, then the need for any additional cables will be negated. 

Which are the best Bluetooth car radios?

There are many head units on the market that support Bluetooth technology, but when I changed my stereo just over a year ago, I picked Pioneer AVH-W4400NEX because of the Bluetooth CarPlay abilitiesToday after a year, I can tell this was one of the best decisions in my life, and I would not replace this head unit with anything else.

I remember installation was quick and easy. The radio was running after less than an hour, and it still plays today.

My iPhone automatically found the receiver within a fraction of the second and paired on the first setup. Once I had it set up, each time I enter the car, it connects automatically and resume audio where I left off previously. This is amazing, especially when I listen to Audio Books. 

This receiver is a double-din unit with a large 7-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 800 by 480. After installing my Pioneer, I realized that it supports not only wireless CarPlay but also wireless Android Auto, which was a nice surprise.

There are a few physical controls along the unit’s bottom to navigate the dash screen and control volume and other minor controls.

A convenient feature is the shortcut bar on the bottom of the screen, which you can customize with several of your favorite shortcuts, such as Sirius XM, USB audio, etc.

On the screen, you can have displayed vehicle information, like tire pressures, or which doors were open. Gauges also show RPM, current speed, RPM, fuel level.

Below is a short video that explains all features which you will get with Pioneer AWH-W4400NEX.

As soon I installed this Bluetooth stereo, I decided to remove more wires from my car and bought a wireless phone charger, iOttie iTap

Bluetooth car adapter (receiver)

Suppose you are deciding you want to keep your car stereo system as is, and would like to implement Bluetooth in the easiest way possible. In that case, a Bluetooth car adapter (receiver) is the most common way to do this, and it is the most inexpensive.

These are slightly different from Bluetooth car kits, which I will explain further down in the article.

A Bluetooth adapter is a small device that will plug into your car stereo 3.5mm input jack (also known as the auxiliary in). This device will work by connecting your smartphone to it via Bluetooth and stream music; then, it will send the audio to the car stereo. 

Due to the ever car stereo being different and every car, Bluetooth adapters come in various models (configurations), and these are:

Battery-powered

In terms of a battery-powered adapter, you would need to replace the batteries every time the adapter ran flat. This could be problematic if you are frequently in your car. 

USB powered

USB-powered adapters would be a better option, but only if your car stereo supports a USB connection. You could purchase a car charger and run a USB cable from here into your Bluetooth adapter, and many people choose this option. 

One thing to note about it, though, is that it negates the wireless quality that you are trying to implement in the first place with Bluetooth. 

Another variation of the USB-powered Bluetooth receiver is that the actual adapter functions similarly to a flash drive (The USB connection is the source of data transfer and the PowerPoint).

In this instance, no wire would be required, and you would experience a hands-free situation. 

12v-powered

12V-powered adapters are technically the same as USB-powered adapters, but instead of charging through a USB port, they will have a dedicated power socket.

These adapters will come with the power supply usually being implemented into a car charger once again. 

Rechargeable

Adapters that are rechargeable are an excellent option to try. They will work similarly to a cellphone where you charge them before using them, and they will have a certain amount of battery life.

This keeps and stays true to the concept of integrating into a complete wireless car audio system. 

Before I changed my stereo to a new one with integrated Bluetooth, I was using for quite a long time Mpow BH129 receiver, and I have to say it was working perfectly. I was especially happy with a long-lasting battery life that was really handy during long-distance trips. 

Mpow BH129 is still available on Amazon, and if you are looking for something reliable yet simple, check the recent price.  

Should I use a car Bluetooth adapter for my stereo?

The option of considering a Bluetooth adapter is a very viable one. They are super inexpensive and work very well. Adapters even outperform Bluetooth FM transmitters concerning signal quality and audio quality.

Besides the fact they outperform FM transmitters, this would be your only viable option if you want to keep your current or vintage car stereo besides using an FM transmitter. 

Dedicated in-car speakerphone

In another scenario where you want to keep your car audio system intact, a dedicated in-car speakerphone will be a viable option for you. This is also true if your stereo is older and doesn’t have a USB port or a 3.5mm input jack. 

All you need to do is to choose the in-car speakerphone you prefer and then mount it into your car. Most speakerphones are built with systems that allow you to mount them onto the dash, the sun visors, or between the driver and passenger seat where the cup holders and stick shift are. 

Some speakerphones give you the option of allowing you to use digital assistants such as Alexia, Google Assitant, and Siri if you have an Apple device.

One I can recommend is Jabra Tour Speakerphone. This small device makes driving really comfortable and when placed on the sun visor, all conversations are extremely clear. You can talk for several hours without thinking about charging it.

Jabra Tour is a perfect solution for an actual hands-free wireless experience. 

Bluetooth FM transmitter

In another instance where you don’t want to upgrade your car stereo or your stereo doesn’t have a USB input or auxiliary input jack, a very suitable alternative would be to purchase a Bluetooth FM transmitter.

These Bluetooth devices come built and looking like a car charger, except they would have a Bluetooth display and control panel integrated into them. 

You can connect and stream your audio to this device, and it would broadcast over an open FM frequency. All you need to do is tune your stereo to the correct frequency that you set on the FM transmitter, and you will be able to hear the audio that you are streaming. 

One thing to note is that the previous version of FM transmitters suffered from weak signals and lousy static, not to mention low audio quality. However, these devices have been improved and have come a long way, and are definitely worth a look.

Worth considering is especially Nulaxy FM Transmitter. It is cheaper than a USB adapter. In addition to the wireless calls, it offers features like three ways of listening to music or monitoring the car battery’s condition.

Bluetooth car kit

A Bluetooth car kit is a suped-up version of a Bluetooth receiver. This option will need you to plug the receiver into the 3.5mm jack input on your stereo.

What makes this different from a regular receiver is that it also has an additional remote panel that needs to be powered by a car charger, which gives the adapter added functionality.

This remote panel will mount to your dashboard, and the car charger will also power the adapter and send data from the remote panel to the receiver.   

With this additional remote panel, you will have basic functionality that includes start and stop functions, in addition to next (fast-forward) and previous (rewind) controls.

You can also find some Bluetooth car kits with microphones and hence voice recognition. This means you can integrate digital assistants with them and have a truly hands-free experience.

Besign BK01 is an excellent option if you want to keep your existing stereo, but you want more functionality than an entry-level Bluetooth adapter or FM transmitter. 

Bluetooth car amplifiers

Suppose you are looking to upgrade your car audio system and want to purchase a new amplifier but not a new head unit (stereo). You may want to look at buying a car amplifier with integrated Bluetooth. 

The difference is that instead of streaming to your stereo, you can stream straight to the amplifier. This solution also has a significant benefit when you want to upgrade your sound system and keep your current stereo. 

I know that choosing the right amplifier can be overwhelming, but if I were buying one with Bluetooth, without thinking twice my choice would be Lanzar HTG558BT.

It is simply amazing!!! It has bridgeable 6 channels that can work with either 4 or 2 ohms, so if you have 4-ohm speakers and a 2-ohm subwoofer (or more), this amplifier will do the job perfectly.

Most importantly though, you can stream your favorite tracks from any Bluetooth device and all of that for such a low price. This Lanzar is a bargain of the Century.   

If you are unsure if you need an amplifier in your car, check out my article How To Choose A Car Amplifier For Speakers. I detail in this article all the pros of adding an amplifier to your car audio system. 

Can I install and upgrade to these Bluetooth devices myself, or do I need a professional

The six options we described here for you will not require you to seek a professional’s help or take your car into a car audio shop to get fitted, except for the Bluetooth amplifier. 

All these devices (except the amplifier) are essentially plug-and-play devices, and they have unique features like auto-connect. You will not require any previous knowledge of Bluetooth, adapters, car kits, stereo systems, and so on to be able to upgrade your car audio system with these devices.

Regarding the amplifier, if you have no car audio experience, I recommend having it installed by a professional. Installation of the amplifier is not complicated. However it can be tricky, and there are many factors that you need to consider, such as speakers, power, wire gauge, placement, grounding, additional devices like a DSP, and much more.

Conclusion

Bluetooth is a wireless technology used in almost every situation in everyday life, making things more seamless, comfortable, and enjoyable. 

It has become the standard go-to wireless technology across the board. It is implemented everywhere, from wireless keyboards and mice to headphones and earphones, to Bluetooth speakers, computers, TVs, laptops, and used in your smartphone.

Bluetooth is now even implemented in car audio systems and has actually been around for quite some time. You can choose many options when wanting to upgrade your car audio system to integrate Bluetooth, and these options support many scenarios depending on your preference and required equipment.

This means you have a choice and the flexibility in how you want your car audio setup to be:

  • Do you want an adapter or a new head unit?
  • Do you want additional speakers that can also act as a hands-free kit?
  • Do you want an amplifier for better sound quality that also features Bluetooth? 

Whatever you decide to do, keep or upgrade, there will be a Bluetooth option that will suit your needs and your car audio system.

Furthermore, all of these options are relatively cheap and will not break your wallet. So for a better listening and more functional experience, upgrade your car stereo to Bluetooth asap. 

Martin

Welcome to ImproveCarAudio! I am Martin, and I love to write about everything related to car sound systems. I strive to provide the most accurate and helpful information about car audio through extensive research, as well as my experience with car audio installations.

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