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Upgrade your car radio cheaply: Android, DAB + and Bluetooth for older vehicles

Infotainment systems have long been standard in new cars: touchscreen devices with navigation, DAB + and wireless interfaces for smartphones. This is different with older motor vehicles, where at best there are knobs, a CD slot and FM radio. But there are numerous ways to bring your own car up to date in terms of music and multimedia. In this guide from the world of cars, we show what is possible. We show other useful car gadgets in the guide dash cam, rear view camera and more: Practical car accessories.

The prerequisite for installing a new car radio with touchscreen is a 2-DIN slot in the center console and a technical understanding of the wiring in the car. If in doubt, the specialist workshop will help. Alternatively, there are moniceivers that fit into a 1-DIN slot and simply extend the display when commissioning. Before buying, you should check whether the moniceiver fits your own car. Information on this can often be found at the manufacturers.

In addition to the classic radio function for VHF, moniceivers also offer DAB + and a Bluetooth interface. If the device supports Android Auto or Apple Carplay, it can show Google Maps or Spotify on the display via the smartphone. To do this, it is connected to the radio using a USB cable. The advantage: This also charges the cell phone at the same time. If the moniceiver already has Android Auto Wireless, wireless communication is possible. The smartphone needs Android 11 for this.

There are also moniceivers with Android as the operating system. This solution can work independently of the mobile phone and is reminiscent of a mixture of Android tablet and car radio. You still need an internet connection and a Google account to set it up. The best way to do this is to create a WiFi hotspot with your own smartphone. In this guide to car accessories, we show you how else to provide internet access in the car.

Before buying, you should pay attention to which Android version is running on the moniceiver. Everything below Android 10 suggests that the hardware could be outdated. These Android moniceivers only react very slowly to touch inputs, which is annoying and can be a dangerous distraction for the driver.

Digital radio offers a number of advantages over classic radio with FM reception. Noise-free sound, numerous public and private channels and wide broadcasting ranges. However, the digital standard for radio receivers is not found in older cars. If you don’t want to grab a new and possibly expensive radio straight away, an adapter for DAB + is an inexpensive retrofit alternative for your car.

DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting. It is a digital standard for terrestrial transmission of digital radio. DAB + uses the MPEG-4 audio codec, while DAB uses MPEG-1. MPEG-4 makes it possible to accommodate more stations on the frequency band, even if the data rate with DAB + at 80 kB per second is lower than with DAB with 128 kB per second.

One of the advantages of DAB + is that it allows several programs per frequency block. In view of the fact that all VHF frequencies have been allocated, this allows for a wider range of programs. DAB + also enables additional information to be sent in the form of text or images. This includes traffic information, news, music, weather maps or program overviews. When traveling long distances, thanks to the greater range, there is no need to search for a new frequency for the desired radio station. In addition, the sound is noise-free and therefore better than that of FM radios.

Owners of an older vehicle do not have to grab a new car radio or moniceiver with DAB + right away. A cheaper alternative are adapters – so-called transceivers. There are three options available for connecting the digital radio receiver to your own car: Via aux-in, Bluetooth or FM transmitter, which transmits the signal to the radio via an adjustable VHF frequency. If you still have a car radio without aux-in or Bluetooth, you can use an FM transmitter as a solution.

If you listen to your music on your mobile phone, you don’t necessarily have to use a moniceiver. A car radio with a Bluetooth interface can also be a solution for playing music from the mobile phone over the radio and making phone calls conveniently as a hands-free device.

If the car radio has no Bluetooth but an audio input with a jack connection, a Bluetooth adapter is connected there. Many DAB + adapters also offer Bluetooth for connection to the smartphone. Some radios also have a USB port. Bluetooth receivers that fit directly into the cigarette lighter and have additional connection options via USB are particularly practical. Some Bluetooth adapters also have a built-in battery. This is simply plugged into the radio’s AUX input.

But what if the radio has no audio input or USB port? Then an FM transmitter is the solution. An FM transmitter picks up the audio signal from the cell phone via Bluetooth and sends it directly to the radio via an ultra-short wave. A usable FM transmitter can be found for as little as 20 euros. For power supply, either an adapter for the cigarette lighter is available or the device can be plugged directly into the cigarette lighter, like the Cocoda T25 Bluetooth FM Transmitter.

We recommend choosing a frequency for the FM transmitter that is not used by regional radio stations in order to avoid interference. If the frequency is set on the FM transmitter, you can now search for it on the FM radio. On longer journeys it may be necessary to change the frequency on the FM transmitter from time to time. Finding a free frequency in metropolitan areas can also be difficult, with interference from other stations while listening to it.

Attention fans of Alexa: With the Echo Auto, Amazon already offers a device specially adapted for motor vehicles. Even while driving, the Echo Auto understands all commands to Alexa perfectly. We show more details on this in our guide about Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri in the car.

Another way to use Alexa services in the car is KitSound Freeplay automotive voice assistant. This is an adapter for the 12 V cigarette lighter in the car with an integrated hands-free system. A double USB port is integrated, one of which is a fast charging connector. The device communicates via Bluetooth with the smartphone, which in turn is connected to the radio via the AUX input. The Freeplay app is required for use.

To prevent cable clutter, shorter USB cables are recommended for cars to connect to the smartphone. If other devices are used in addition to the smartphone, such as an FM transmitter or DAB + adapter, multiple slots for USB and adapters for the cigarette lighter are available. Suitable smartphone holders for the car are also indispensable (guide).

Owners of an older car can also enjoy the touchscreen and smartphone connection and thus Spotify or Google Maps in the vehicle. Common moniceivers connect the radio to the mobile phone via Android Auto or Apple Carplay. If you want to be a little more independent from the smartphone, you can also use a moniceiver with Android as the operating system. If, on the other hand, you want to listen to music from your cell phone in your car, you don’t have to buy a new radio. A Bluetooth adapter or FM transmitter are ideal for this. However, the signal can be disturbed here. Alexa can also be used in the car.

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