How to Play an iPhone Through a Car Radio

Play an iPhone Through a Car RadioA recent inquiry from a friend prompted some investigation worthy of sharing.  A new Apple iPhone 7 coupled with an old Subaru lacking current connectivity ports posed quite a dilemma for his 17 year old daughter.  She wants to play her iPhone through a car radio.  Not so simple in an older car.

Wanting to make it right for his daughter, my friend was about to replace the head unit in his Subaru for hundreds of dollars.  The new head unit would provide her with a traditional interface to play audio from the iPhone and perhaps a little more in terms of interfacing with the device.  Asking for my opinion, I told him there were far less expensive ways to do this.

I always wondered why Apple and other smartphone manufacturers don’t put an FM transmitter in their devices.  It would make this topic so much easier.  Sadly they don’t so here’s some recommendations for how to play an iPhone through a car radio if your car doesn’t have a USB port or audio jack.

Fortunately there are solutions.  Using the headphone jack on your Apple iPhone, there are aftermarket FM transmitters that will send an FM signal signal to unused stations.  Many run off a DC power source, some run off a AA battery.  Get one that uses a DC power source.  Also aim for an FM transmitter than will send a strong signal to your car’s radio as not all are made alike.  Try to find one that is rated to push at least one watt.

The JETech FM Transmitter is an excellent DC powered option for transmitting within your car.  This transmitter has a few features that aren’t found in others.  The transmitter is DC powered and comes with a second outlet to plug your phone into.  I haven’t seen that on other transmitters and that’s what makes this one stand out from the others.  It also features a digital display versus the manual switch found on many others.

Check the frequencies that are available on your radio dial to see what’s free.  Most good transmitters will offer a variety of frequencies and will tell you up front which ones are used.  Here in the New York area, unused frequencies are difficult to find.  There are a few at the top of the FM range.  When transmitting to an already used frequency, you will get mixed results.  One watt competing with 50,000 watts is a losing battle so be sure it’s a vacant frequency before tuning the transmitter.

Before CD Players, there were cassette players and depending upon the age of your car, this might be a viable option to play your iPhone through a car radio (or in this case, the cassette player).  The Insten 3.5mm Universal Car Audio Cassette Adapter for Smartphones hooks your iPhone up to a cassette player.  The included 3.5 mm jack plugs into the headset port.  Naturally, this works on all iPhone models except the iPhone 7 where you need to use the lightning to 3.5 mm adapter.  This accessory slides into your cassette player.  Just press the cassette switch and audio comes out of the car’s speakers.  I have used cassette adapters and they work quite well and are relatively inexpensive.

The last option for consideration is the TaoTronics Bluetooth Receiver.  Naturally this option to play your iPhone through a car radio only works if you have Bluetooth in your car.  My old 2005 Acura MDX had Bluetooth but didn’t have any USB ports making this type of adapter useful for playing an iPhone through a car radio (or in this case the speakers attached to the radio but through the Bluetooth connection).

Lastly, if you only have a single power source in your older car, consider adding a 3-Socket Cigarette Lighter Power Adapter DC Outlet Splitter.  These accessories plug into your power outlet and will power multiple devices.  This particular selection provides 4.8 AMPS of power which is typically sufficient power for two smartphones simultaneously.