Do Bluetooth FM Transmitters Work In Old Cars?

The Bluetooth FM transmitter is one of the most popular ways to add additional audio connectivity to your car.

But do Bluetooth FM transmitters work in old cars? And how old is “too old” when it comes to using one of these handy devices?

While even the most basic of new cars comes with Bluetooth connectivity (allowing you to play back audio and take calls) on older cars you might be very limited in terms of connectivity.

Older cars can have a lot of character and personality, and be great fun to drive – but the lack of connectivity can be a killer when it comes to “daily drivability”.

All the driving enjoyment in the world (or the cheap cost of running and maintenance on a commuter older car) can be spoiled by finding you can’t play back your favourite tunes, in an era where music media like CDs and tape cassettes are long gone. Being stuck in traffic on the commute to work without music – or not being able to take and make calls – can be a right pain the proverbial.

Therefore, if you want to improve your connectivity and audio options in your car, a Bluetooth FM transmitter might be a good option.

But is your car too old for a Bluetooth FM transmitter? In this article we take a closer look at the requirements for using one of these popular devices. By the end of this article, you’ll know whether or not you can use one of these devices in your car.

What You Need To Make A Bluetooth FM Transmitter Work

If you want to know whether a Bluetooth FM transmitter will work in your old car, then there are really only two requirements:

  • Your car needs to have an FM radio. By the end of the 1970s, FM radio was the more popular than AM radio (source). FM car radios first appeared in the early 1950s, although uptake was minimal. In the 1960s FM radio started to become more popular, thanks to changes to FCC regulations over the past decade. In 1964, the FCC ordered that radio stations start to produce original content for FM, as opposed to merely “simulcasting” the content already produced for AM radio. Long story short, what this means for you is that just about any car built any car built since the early 1980s will be able to support a Bluetooth FM transmitter. As long as you have an FM radio, you are in business.
    • If your car has an AM-only radio (as may be the case on vintage classic cars from the early 1970s or prior) then you aren’t going to be able to use an FM transmitter. However, there are some AM radio transmitter units available – but these are definitely not as commonplace or inexpensive as FM transmitters. In our guide to audio playback in older cars we go into more depth on this topic.
    • One other thing to note is that you’ll need to have access to an empty FM radio frequency that the transmitter can broadcast to. An app like ClearFM will help you to find the best frequency if you’re having trouble with this (although bear in mind that the transmitter you buy will also come with instructions as well – it’s best to start first with the manufacturer’s recommendations)
  • You need to be able to power the transmitter. Most of the time this is done via the use of the 12V power outlet in your car, which on many older cars also functions as a cigarette lighter. If you don’t have one of these in your car, then you’ll need to invest in a rechargeable FM transmitter. Read our guide to the best Bluetooth FM transmitters for more information on your options.

As long as you can say “yes” to the two criteria above (your car has an FM radio, and you have a way to power the transmitter) then it should work in your car!

Alternative Options May Be Better

Recently, we put together a guide looking at the best audio playback options for older cars (basically, how can you get more audio functionality/connectivity out of your older vehicle that lacks modern conveniences like Bluetooth/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto) – you can read the full guide here for more information.

However, at a high level, it’s worth considering if a Bluetooth FM transmitter is the right option for your older car.

For example, depending on the age and type of your car, you might have access to options like:

  • AUX input – Many cars made since the early 2000s have an AUX input, sometimes hidden away in a glovebox or other “secret compartment” (check your user manual or search online for your specific make and model). If your car does have an AUX input, then you can use that directly from your phone – possibly via an adapter as many phones no longer have headphone jacks – or you can even invest in an AUX Bluetooth adapter that gives you the ability to wirelessly stream your music/audio with superior quality and reliability to an FM transmitter.
  • Tape deck/cassette player – If your car was made in the 1980s through to the early 2000s, then there is a chance it might have been fitted with a tape deck/cassette adapter. If so, you’re in luck. As we have covered in the past on this site, when looking at cassette adapters vs Bluetooth FM transmitters, the cassette adapter wins almost every time if you just want a simple, reliable way to play music back from your phone or MP3 player. If you have an older car that doesn’t have AUX but does have a cassette player, then we would advise this option every time. Learn more here about the best cassette adapters for cars.

Conclusion – Do Bluetooth FM Transmitters Work In Old Cars?

Yes, the humble Bluetooth FM transmitter does work in old cars – at least most of them that you are likely to be looking at buying and driving.

Provided your car has an FM radio, then it is possible to use an FM transmitter.

In an ideal world, your car will have a 12V outlet (on older cars this is often the cigarette lighter outlet) which can be used to power the transmitter. If you don’t have access to one of these outlets in your car – or you are using it for something else like a Sat Nav system – then you’ll need to look at a battery-powered, rechargeable transmitter. In our experience, the rechargeable-only units (many allow for permanent power or recharging) aren’t as good, but should still be passable for your needs.

If you’d like to learn more about the best Bluetooth FM transmitters, then read our comprehensive review/guide here.

Don’t forget to check out our article on the best way to play back music in an older car – this goes into far more detail on all of your available options. You might think that an FM transmitter is your only option, but there could be other, superior options e.g. using an AUX input or cassette adapter.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below and we will do our best to help you!

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