Mobile MP3

Nearly all manufacturers have made entertainment innovations to keep up with their competition, and if you want your new car to pipe in music from your smartphone or MP3 player, there are plenty of options available. This table will help you wade through the jargon and find what audio solution is right for you.

MP3 Options
The following table explains the options available for MP3 connectivity
MP3 OptionHow Common Is It?Description
MP3 CompatibilityNearly all cars from this century with CD players have MP3 compatibility.This standard feature is often confused with the ability to plug in an MP3 player. With MP3 compatibility, you can burn MP3 files onto CDs and they will play on your car CD player. This can come as a nasty surprise to those thinking they will be plugging their MP3 player into an auxiliary input or USB port.
MP3 jackMost new cars come equipped with an auxiliary input jack to connect a music player to your car's stereo.This is the most common form of MP3 connection, and therefore, the most basic. This connects your device directly to the car stereo and doesn't offer the best sound quality.
USB portUSB inputs are increasingly common across all vehicle classes and are a standard feature in many consumer cars.Offers a choice of using flash drives or MP3 devices. This option also charges your device, displays track information while it's connected and allows you to control your MP3 player using the car's stereo controls. Many cars also offer steering-wheel controls or voice commands so you don't have to take your eyes off the road.
In-car multimedia systemsAll the major automakers offer MP3 playback as part of their systems, including Ford (Sync), Chrysler (Uconnect), GM (MyLink) and Toyota (Entune).This system functions as a central hub for your cellphone. In addition to charging through the USB port or connecting wirelessly with Bluetooth, most of these systems allow you to stream music from smartphone apps such as Pandora.
Hard driveCadillac and Infiniti are among the makes that let you store your music right in your car.On-board hard drives can hold thousands of music files. Track information is shown on the display, and files on the drive can be accessed using steering-wheel controls.
Words to the Wise

Even if the car you want doesn't come with a standard MP3 hookup, in many cases one can be ordered as either an option from the factory or as a dealer-installed option.

MP3 jacks don't charge your player, so if you've got a long commute, an in-car charger could be a good investment. These charge the player through the car's cigarette lighter or 12-volt adapter.

Aftermarket Integration

If you own an MP3 player and aren't looking for a new car, there are other solutions. Many companies offer devices that a professional installer or an ambitious, skilled do-it-yourselfer can put in to mimic the MP3 connectivity. In many cases, this will mean buying a new stereo. Once the work is done, though, you'll have a cord that will connect your MP3 player, sync its controls to the car's stereo and charge it all at the same time.

Don't want to spend that kind of money or time? Several devices will attach to your MP3 player and transmit a radio signal to the car's radio. Some of these options also charge the MP3 player. If you drive an older car, another common option connects the MP3 player to a tape-deck adapter. Some users report poor sound quality from the radio transmission or cassette-tape devices, so borrowing a friend's and trying it out beforehand is a good idea.

© Cars.com 9/7/12