How to listen to MP3 files in your car

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Last week I talked about how to convert MP3 files to an audio CD so you could listen to them in your car.  I didn’t want to overwhelm you with too much information at once, so here is the rest of the story – there are other options for listening to music or audiobooks in your car, and you don’t even have to buy CDs.

car audio

For all of these options, I am going to assume you already have the MP3 files downloaded to your portable device.

Option 1:  Use an FM transmitter
This is pretty easy.  All you need is your MP3 player (any brand will work) and an FM transmitter.  The transmitter will look something like this (this one is only $4.83 plus shipping over at Amazon):

FM Transmitter

As you can see, the device plugs into the cigarette lighter for power.  One end of the short cable plugs into the transmitter, and the other end connects to the headphone jack of your MP3 player.  Get the transmitter station tuned to the same station as your car stereo, and you have your MP3 audio playing through your car speakers.  This one even comes with a remote.  The sound is not quite as pure as a CD playing, but for most people it is fine and this method will work with virtually any car stereo.

Option 2: Analog connection to stereo
This one requires that your car stereo have an auxiliary input jack. If yours does, this is an easy connection.  You just need a short patch cable with 3.5 mm male plugs on each end.  One goes in your MP3 player, and the other goes into the car stereo.

Option 3: Bluetooth pairing
This one is most commonly used when playing music or other audio files stored on your smartphone, such as Android or iPhone.  It’s a little more complex and requires that your car stereo has Bluetooth audio streaming capability.  Here’s a video that shows how to pair a phone with a Bluetooth system on a Cadillac Escalade (I know, not everyone has an Escalade, but it will give you an idea of what things are possible):

Option 4: USB connection
Some cars now come with a USB port in order to connect storage devices (such as your phone, MP3 player, or flash drive).  If your car has this, you can connect your phone or audio device to the car stereo just like you would connect it to your computer – using that USB cable.  One end of the cable is a regular USB, the other end is mini-USB (that’s the end that plugs into your device).  Here is a video explaining the USB connection to an Android phone:

Do you use any of these methods? Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

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Dick Miller
May 2nd, 2011

I have been using an FM transmitter for over a year now. Works great. However. I first purchased the one you pictured from Google (for under $7 including shipping) but found that it was not very sturdy and the wire connections broke easily. I recommend that you get one that costs a bit more and should be of higher quality and last longer.


Jon McKeone
May 2nd, 2011

I can attest to the benefit of Option 1. Not only is it beneficial to use of an MP3 player but also works well if you travel with a netbook or laptop.

Jenn K.
May 2nd, 2011

I use what I think would fall under Option 2, the ‘analog’ category – it looks just like a cassette and plugs directly into the tape deck, with an outside wire the connects to the media device. The sound can be a little distorted, but for only $15 it was well worth the investment to be able to listen to my iPod in an otherwise relatively low-tech vehicle! 🙂

Bryce L. Tomlinson
June 26th, 2011

THanks so much for featuring my video to show option #4 — I really appreciate it.