Cheapest way to get audio from my phone to my car speakers?
June 5, 2015 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I have a 2003 VW Passat with no aux in jack. I have been using a cassette adapter to get audio from my phone, but the tape deck has stopped working. (It beeps and says Tape error.) I have tried replacing the cassette adapter but the same thing happens, so I know it is the player.

I don't care a ton about audio quality, but I would like better than the FM transmitters I've heard, which seemed awful the last time I tried one. Cheap, ugly workarounds using duct tape and toothpicks are okay. My phone has Bluetooth but the current head unit does not.

Do I have any good options besides replacing the whole head unit? If not, what are my best options for replacing it cheaply? I'm no electrician, but I'm willing to try doing it myself if that's reasonable.
posted by callmejay to Technology (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I replaced the head unit on our 1995 Honda Accord to get an aux input. The stereo was only $50 and it took me about an hour. I'm no pro, but am pretty handy.
posted by advicepig at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2015

Best answer: If you don't mind opening up the dash and briefly pulling out the radio, you can plug in a cheap Aux In adapter, which goes into the port that would have otherwise been used for the optional CD changer. Here's one on Amazon.
posted by eschatfische at 10:35 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's entirely possible you can add an aux-in jack to your current head unit. Trick will be finding instructions that give you exactly (or close enough) what you need. There are videos like this one that cover VW units so maybe if you can find out the model # of your stereo, you can locate someone that has already done this.

You'll probably need to use a soldering iron and maybe some wire stripping tools, but if you're up to the task it'll be worth the try.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:35 AM on June 5, 2015

I've been using a short-range FM transmitter to do this on my truck (which has a CD player). It sucks when I go out of my usual area and have to find a new open spectrum space, but for my usual driving for that vehicle works fine.
posted by straw at 11:14 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ditto for FM Transmitter, as long as you can find a clean clear channel, the one i have is bluetooth (search GoGroove on amazon) so you can attach any modern iphone/android audio to your car, added bonus is easy to access skip, stop, along with speaker phone capabilities.
posted by edman at 11:28 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had basically the same setup -- phone to a cassette tape, in a really really old car. The tape deck finally died, and I found technology had leapfrogged substantially over this problem. I bought a small bluetooth speaker, stuck it to the dash with one of those suction cup mounting thingummys, and take advantage of the bluetooth on my phone.

I bought the (well, kickstarted) Soen Transit XS for its size and convenience as it's specifically meant to be mounted in this way, and I can easily unscrew it and drop it in my bag rather than leave it in the car, but there are lots of other small speakers that would probably work just as well.
posted by instead of three wishes at 12:09 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

The radio modulator things don't work well here in DC because the airwaves are too crowded. When I adapted my old Honda del Sol for my iPod I had to get a widget that fooled the head unit into thinking there was a CD changer attached. This seems to be the equivalent thing for VW/Audi models in that age range, but it's $65, which is more than the new head unit mentioned above. Pluses: your original head unit probably isn't worth stealing and is maybe a non-standard size, and aux input will be more reliable than any radio tuner or tape deck adapter; minuses: $65 ain't cheap; new head units would possibly plug directly into the phone, maybe even offering control over USB.

Also in my I case I still had the CD changer, so I routed the cables in such a way I could unplug the widget and reconnect the CD changer on the rare occasion I actually wanted to deal with the risk of it jamming and requiring me to remove it from the car to unjam it. Ah, technology.
posted by fedward at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2015

Try disconnecting your battery for a few minutes and see if that solves the tape deck issue. (I had a late-90s Jetta that had all sorts of radio and tape deck problems and error messages - disconnecting the battery solved it every time.)
posted by okayokayigive at 12:38 PM on June 5, 2015

I bought a unit with an aux-in and bluetooth for my 2001 VW and installed it myself (and I had no real idea what I was doing). I ordered from Crutchfield and they sent all of the stuff I needed for my particular car. I think I paid under $200.
posted by jdl at 1:35 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hard wired FM modulators exist. They have much better sound quality than wireless. Just make sure the antenna jack on your car matches the unit that you buy. Adapters are available if try don't.

You'll need to remove the stereo, tap into a power source, mount the unit and run the wire into the passenger area. It shouldn't be too hard and I bet you can find help on a VW forum.
posted by Talk To Me Goose at 2:14 PM on June 5, 2015

2001 Passat owner here. Be super careful if you replace the head unit in your VW. I speak from bitter experience. There is a connection between the factory radio, the wiring harness and the car's computer diagnostic system. If you or an installer simply replace the head unit, the chances are very high you will have a working head unit and non-working computer diagnostic system for the rest of the car. A new head unit will require a new, non-factory wiring harness. Tell your installer you want to keep the original wiring harness, don't let them keep it or throw it out. You will need it if you want to put the factory radio back in, for example to have the car serviced.

Some models of the factory radio have an input for a CD changer. Maybe you can use that input. Also, there are third-party bluetooth receivers for cars, so maybe you can have one of those installed through the CD changer input.
posted by conrad53 at 3:49 PM on June 5, 2015

Seconding the FM modulator path. The cable from the antenna plugs into its back, and the output cable from the modulator plugs into the antenna jack on your head unit. The hardest part might be in figuring out how to remove the head unit yourself without tearing up the dash.
posted by DandyRandy at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2015

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