Connecting your portable music player to your car stereo

Having your favorite music in a digital format means you can listen to your music practically anywhere, even in your car. And playing your music through your car's built-in stereo system lets everyone riding along share in the fun.

There are three common methods used to play music from portable music players through car stereos:

  • Through a cassette player adapter.

  • By sending a signal to the car's radio using a small FM transmitter.

  • By directly plugging your music player into the car stereo using a built-in audio jack.


  • There’s also a fourth method that, although more indirect, also has some advantages: burning CDs from your digital music collection and playing them in your car’s CD player. The advantage here is that you can play the CDs in all of your other CD players, including different vehicles. The disadvantage is having to burn the CDs themselves. In addition, most online music subscription services place restrictions on burning CDs. But, if the choices listed above aren't available to you, burning your own CDs might be your best option. For more information, see Burn a CD or DVD in Windows Media Player.

Adapting with an adapter

Picture of a cassette adapter for a car stereo
Cassette player adapters work well with older stereos

If your car’s stereo is more than a few years old, it might be able to play cassette tapes. If so, you’re in luck—you can use a simple cassette adapter. It’s a modified cassette tape connected to a wire with a mini earphone jack at the other end. You plug the wire into your portable music player, and insert the modified cassette in your tape player. The adapter converts the MP3 player output into a signal that the tape player can recognize. You can also use these comparatively inexpensive cassette adapters with portable CD players, or any audio device with a standard mini-earphone jack.

Transmitting your signal

Picture of an FM transmitter for a car stereo
FM transmitters send a short signal to your car's FM radio

A popular option for portable music players today is a small FM transmitter, which broadcasts your player’s signal to your car's FM radio using an empty or unused frequency. Some transmitters have a limited number of presets, while others let you choose your own frequency. When driving in or near larger cities that have many radio stations nearby, you might have to adjust the settings frequently to find an empty frequency. Some transmitters also function as battery chargers, which is a nice feature to have. If your choose a transmitter that doesn’t include a charger, you might want to purchase a separate charger that plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter or AC adapter.

Plugging in

Picture of a car stereo with a built-in jack for a music player
Many newer stereos include jacks to directly plug in portable music players

The third option is the most direct: a car stereo that includes an audio jack for connecting your portable music player. More and more new cars include this feature as standard equipment on their car stereos (sometimes, the jack is built into the dash of the car). If your car's stereo does not include a built-in jack, many car stereo manufacturers have products that include this feature. Car stereo stores and installers can also make the modifications for a fee.

A word about power

If you are planning on taking some long road trips, the batteries in your portable music player might need replacing or recharging when you're on the road. Many rechargeable players can be used with chargers that plug into your car’s cigarette lighter or AC adapter. Some FM transmitters double as chargers for specific brands of portable music players. Check with the manufacturer of your player for a compatible charger.

Choosing the right music for the road

Now that you’re connected—what type of music to bring in the car? The music you bring along on a road trip with your friends might be quite different than music to accompany a family outing.

By creating playlists in your media player, you can customize different tunes for different purposes. For advice on how to select music and sync it to your portable music player, see Create the perfect playlist for every occasion.