Photo of Spotify on a smartphone in a car

8 ways to play Spotify music in your car - no matter how old it is

From cables and Bluetooth, to CarPlay and Android Auto, here's what you need to know

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Gone are the days of loading up a six-disc CD changer or making do with the intermittent radio in your car. With Bluetooth or a USB cable, it's now easier than ever to access almost any music ever made while on the road.

Some modern cars came with a Spotify app pre-installed, ready to be logged into with your account and used just as you would at home or on your smartphone. Other options include streaming from your phone over Bluetooth, plugging in via a USB or auxiliary cable, and using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. For older cars, you can even tune the radio to play music from your smartphone.

Here is everything you need to know about listening to Spotify in your car.

Spotify built-in

Spotify corporate logoThe music service is available as a dedicated app in some new carsSpotify

The simplest way is to use the car's built-in Spotify app. Tesla was one of the first manufacturers to offer this, although it is exclusive to Europe for now. But others have followed suit, with BMW Mini, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo among several automakers, including a Spotify app.

All you have to do here is log in with your existing Spotify credentials, and away you go. No need to pair your smartphone to the car or even plug it in — and because you control Spotify using the car's controls (or voice commands), there are no distractions from reaching for your phone.

In this case, Spotify music is streamed to the car (instead of downloaded and saved locally) and relies on the car's own SIM card and internet connection. Naturally, if you drive through an area with no signal, then Spotify may stop streaming. But because cars often have much larger antennas than smartphones, signal drop-outs are less frequent.

Apple CarPlay

Photo of a car with Apple CarPlayACarPlay lets you interact with Spotify iStock

Apple's answer to the car infotainment system, CarPlay is powered by your iPhone and replaces the car's system with one that looks like iOS. This makes it familiar and easy for Apple fans to navigate, and among the limited selection of apps deemed safe to use while driving, you will find Spotify.

Providing the app is installed on your phone and logged in; you can tap the app in CarPlay and access all of your playlists as normal.

Browsing is limited to an extent, with the CarPlay version of Spotify not offering as much visual interaction as on your phone; this is, of course, to prevent drivers from being distracted.

CarPlay in most cars requires a USB connection with your iPhone, although some newer vehicles offer wireless CarPlay. This is, of course, convenient, but it will drain your phone battery if used for long periods of time. Pick up a car with a Qi wireless phone charger, and you can enjoy the best of both worlds.

Android Auto

Photo of Android Auto car systemAndroid Auto isperiodsver 400 new carsGoogle

Google's answer to CarPlay, Android Auto is powered by your USB-connected smartphone and replaces the car's infotainment system with one reminiscent of Android. Spotify can be used here just as it can with CarPlay; Android Auto runs on all Android phones running version 5.0 Lollipop and later.

Over 400 car models now offer both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — either as standard or as an optional extra — and several aftermarket head units also work with both systems so that you can bring Spotify to an older car that way, too.

Bluetooth or USB

Photo of phone plugged into car USB portAlmost all recent cars can play music from a smartphone over USB or Bluetooth iStock

Most new vehicles today come with Bluetooth support and USB ports. Both of these can be used to connect your smartphone to the car, then have its audio come through the sound system.

When pairing or plugging in, the car will add your phone to its list of audio inputs, DAB radio, and the CD player, if there is one. Pick your phone from this list of inputs, and you can control your Spotify music using the car's buttons.

In this scenario, some cars only allow very simple control of Spotify, with you only being able to play, pause and skip tracks. Changing a playlist or searching for an artist or album can make it tricky.

To help make this easier, Spotify recently rolled out Car View to Android users. Car View serves up a different interface when the Spotify app knows it is sending music to a car, thus making it easier to control your music by tapping your phone and not distracting you from the road ahead.

Remember, while Car View will likely make using Spotify easier and safer, you must adhere to local road laws. In some states and countries, it is an offense to physically interact with your smartphone in any way at all while driving, so you're best off picking a playlist before you set off or having your passenger act as DJ.

Of course, a USB connection will charge your phone while music is being streamed. However, many car USB ports are low-powered and may struggle to add a charge to the battery; instead, especially if the phone is being used intensively to stream music and provide driving directions, the USB port will merely slow down how quickly your battery depletes.

Heat causes a smartphone to charge slowly or stop charging entirely, so using an air vent mount and turning up the climate temperature may prevent your phone from charging.

Auxiliary cable

Photo of car aux and USB socketsAlmost all cars have an aux socket for connecting audio devices iStock

If your car doesn't have Bluetooth or a USB port, you can still bring Spotify with you thanks to the humble auxiliary cable. Most cars built in the last decade have an axillary port (the same size as a headphone jack) into which you can plug a smartphone or other music player.

Once plugged in, your phone's audio will play through the car's speakers. However, the car's buttons and dials (apart from the volume knob) can sometimes not control music playback this way. Instead, you'll have to reach for your phone, which you should only do when it is safe and legal to do so. You could also shout at Siri or the Google Assistant if you like.

Using a cable might not always be convenient. But music quality through a cable is generally higher than through a Blonnection, and the signal cannot be interrupted. This method should also drain your phone battery more slowly than streaming over Bluetooth.

FM transmitter

Imden FM transmitterThis gives your car Bluetooth and Spotify, no matter how old it isImden

If your car doesn't have Bluetooth, USB, or aux input, then you can still get Spotify working - with a bit of help from a 12V FM transmitter like the one pictured above from Imden. Available on Amazon for $15, the device plugs into your car's 12V lighter socket. You can then plug your phone into the device's USB port to charge the battery and connect to the device via Bluetooth.

This sends music from your phone to the device, which then broadcasts it on an FM frequency; tune your car radio to this frequency, and your phone's audio output comes through the car stereo.

Alexa and Google Assistant in the car

Amazon Alexa logoVoice assistants like Alexa are increasingly common ways to control car infotainment systems Amazon

Set to become an increasingly common feature in the coming years, car makers are starting to offer voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. Tapping into your pre-existing accounts for each, these can be used to play music from Spotify (or your streaming music of choice) just like at home.

BMW and Mini are among the first manufacturers to offer Alexa, letting you control music playback by speaking to the Amazon assistant.

You can also bring Alexa to the car via third-party accessories, such as the $37 Roav Viva, and Amazon's own $55 Echo Auto (2nd Gen). Once connected, you can use your voice to control Alexa features like playing music, getting directions, making calls, and more.

As for Google, Polestar will be the first company to build its entire infotainment system on Android. This system will debut on the electric Polestar 2 and provide access to Spotify, which can be controlled with voice commands.

Spotify hardware

Image of Spotify device briefly appeared on the app in 2018 Reddit (FlexinFiesta)

Finally, Spotify was working on its in-car solution. It was called "Car Thing" and was a small, rectangular device that could be mounted on your car's dashboard. It had a touchscreen display, a speaker, and a microphone. You could use Car Thing to control Spotify by touch, voice, or by using the buttons on the device. However, it was discontinued in 2022.

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