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How to Add Bluetooth & USB to a Car

As automotive technology continues to evolve, features that were once rare like USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity have become commonplace. By 2015, for example, USB ports were found in more than 83 percent of all cars sold in the United States, and one year later, the percentage of new vehicles with Bluetooth crossed the 90 percent threshold. While that bit of information is good to know if you’re shopping for a modern car or truck, the average age of all vehicles on the road today is 11.6 years.

In terms of the auto industry, that’s a few generations old and while the elderly vehicles can still provide many more years of service, they don’t have the technologies that new-car shoppers now take for granted. Decade-old vehicles aren’t the only vehicles on the road to be missing things USB ports and/or Bluetooth, though. Popular entries like the Toyota Camry midsize sedan only added Bluetooth as a standard feature in 2012, and it would be a few years before those tech resources spread to the compact and subcompact segments. Some popular current-day vehicles, like the Jeep Wrangler, didn’t welcome standard Bluetooth until the all-new 2018 edition.

But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if your current ride, or the one you’re shopping for, is missing either of these connectivity features. All you have to do is connect with the automotive aftermarket.

Can I Add Bluetooth to an Older Car?

Despite the growth of in-car Wi-Fi, Bluetooth remains the go-to connectivity solution for most current vehicles today, thanks in large part to its key benefit: the ability to enable hands-free calling and audio streaming with a compatible smartphone, but without wires. Another important advantage for our purposes is that it can be added to any car of any age.

For instance, many aftermarket suppliers offer universal Bluetooth kits that are similar to the accessory-style and auxiliary-based USB ports mentioned above, and these kits can combine both connectivity features at the same time. There also are complete standalone kits that don’t actually connect with your car at all. These systems, which are small enough to be clipped onto a vehicle’s sun visor, have their own built-in speakers; with that in mind, they’re not the best choice for audiophiles.

A better alternative comes from the aftermarket companies that provide hardware kits specifically designed for certain brands or vehicles. These will require a small amount of wiring work, but the result is Bluetooth connectivity that’s fully integrated with your car’s factory sound system. That said, these brand- and vehicle-specific setups aren’t available for all brands and vehicles, and a new all-in-one audio system can give your car the same clean, cable-free look and integrated functionality. With USB/Bluetooth stereos available for around $70 from the likes of JVC and Kenwood, they do so at a competitive cost, too.

Can I Add a USB Port to an Older Car?

If you want to connect a USB-based device to your car, you’ve got a number of options. The simplest and least expensive is a USB-to-auxiliary adapter, which can be purchased for less than $10 and features a single cable, with an auxiliary connector at one end and a USB plug at the other. For a few more bucks, you also can order an adapter that plugs into your car’s accessory outlet and can transmit audio to your vehicle’s audio system using the FM radio band. Neither, however, will allow you to enjoy all your phone’s different functionalities because it’s still not a true all-digital connection.

In order to get a true all-digital connection in vehicles without auxiliary inputs, we recommend opting for a new audio head unit. This component usually offers consumers with an opportunity to add Bluetooth to their vehicle, while improving the overall user experience.

Can I Use an Auxiliary Input Instead of a USB Port?

Keeping things basic here, an auxiliary input, a USB port and Bluetooth are all ways to connect an external device to a car’s sound system/infotainment system. The auxiliary input, though, is pretty much limited to transmitting analog audio signals. Plugging your phone into your car’s audio system this way is much like plugging in a pair of earbuds, but with the music coming through your vehicle’s speakers, of course.

It’s fine as a quick and cheap method of listening to digital music in an older car, as long as you remember that the analog sound quality won’t be as good as with the full digital connection from a USB port or Bluetooth. It’s also worth mentioning that the new trend in smartphones is to ditch auxiliary inputs entirely, in order to take advantage of the increased popularity of wireless earbuds and headphones. Needless to say, if your phone doesn’t have an auxiliary input, having one for your car won’t help any.

If your car is old enough that it doesn’t have an auxiliary input jack, the best solution, frankly, is to upgrade to an audio system that does. Buying a new head unit for your sound system is the easiest fix to a lot of connectivity issues.

If you have questions about this story, please contact us at Editors@carfax.com