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iPod Q&A - Revised October 5, 2008

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How can I connect my iPod to my car stereo?

Many options are available to connect your iPod to your car stereo. Back on September 7, 2005, Apple reported that approximately 30% of new cars sold in the US in 2006 would offer seamless integration with the iPod, and that number has been steadily increasing since then. In 2008, Apple heralded that "over 90 percent of new cars sold in the United States have an option for iPod connectivity".

As a result, third-party solutions have become less and less necessary for those lucky enough to be able to afford new or newer cars. Regardless, a round up of options still may be useful for those with older vehicles and/or limited budgets.

Auxiliary Line-In Options

For car stereos with auxiliary line-in, you can connect the iPod to the stereo using "an extension cable with 3.5 mm stereo connectors on each end." For iPod 3rd Gen models and later (those with dock connectors), Belkin offers such an extension cable along with a cigarette lighter adapter to charge the iPod.

If your car stereo does not offer an auxiliary line-in connection, one reader mentioned a company called RCA Input (later called Peripheral Electronics and no longer in business) that offered a product that plugs directly into the factory stereo CD changer. This enables many newer cars to have auxiliary input for around US$80 (it may be cheaper now, the company does not list pricing on the website). The same company also offers a unit that allows one to control any iPod with a dock connector directly from the car stereo, while it simultaneously charges the iPod.

Mini-Plug to Tape Adapter Options

If you have a car stereo with a cassette player, you can purchase a simple mini-plug to tape adapter that plugs into the iPod's headphone jack and the cassette deck. Just about every electronics manufacturer offers such an adapter. Quality will be fairly low, but it probably will be good enough for most users with older cars (those with cassette players). At less than US$10, you cannot beat the price. In particular, PlaylistMag (no longer online) found the AVB Cassette Adapter for iPod to be a standout because of a convenient retractable cable design, and it costs US$7.

Many readers have written to express disappointment with FM transmitters, which "broadcast" music from your iPod to the car stereo, but they do work well for some. In particular, those who live in areas where the spectrum is relatively uncluttered by radio stations likely are to find the category most appealing. Those who live in large cities, where dozens or hundreds of stations are available, may find that FM transmitters do not work well or at all.

FM Transmitter Options

Many companies offer FM transmitters, some that derive power from the iPod, some that are powered by batteries, and others that are powered through the car's cigarette lighter and charge the iPod at the same time. Some use the wired remote jack (not available on the iPod 5th Gen, iPod nano, or subsequent models) and others use the iPod dock connector (available starting with the iPod 3rd Gen). You likely will want to evaluate several and see which one, if any, meets your needs. A great place to start is an archive of the now defunct PlayListMag's round up of 30 different iPod FM transmitters.

As the size and connectivity of different iPod models vary, if you decide on an FM transmitter, please be sure to confirm that the particular one of interest is compatible with your iPod.

iLounge provides dozens of additional reviews of iPod car audio products that you may wish to read through.

With so many options available, it is hoped that one of these methods to connect your iPod to a car stereo will be right for you.

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