How Bluetooth Car Stereos Work

Buying a Bluetooth Car Stereo

Audi is one of several carmakers whose newer car models often come Bluetooth-enabled.
Audi is one of several carmakers whose newer car models often come Bluetooth-enabled.
Photo Courtesy of Audi

­Many new vehicles come with Bluetooth-enabled stereos straight from the factory, but you can also purchase specific or universal adapters if your car isn't one of them. The universal adapters are more likely to have limited functions, while the stereo-specific ones offer a broader range of features. Stereos that have Bluetooth built in tend to be the most advanced, as we read on the last page, often with full phone control, streaming music capabilities and more.

There are a couple of considerations you'll want to keep in mind, though. Some cars have stereos that are more challenging to substitute out than others. For example, if your vehicle has a climate control system or other key feature linked through the stereo, you might want to reconsider yanking it out. Those who are slightly less tech-savvy should also make sure the Bluetooth car stereo they have their eye on is one they can actually operate efficiently. Hands-free capabilities aren't much of a benefit if you spend all your time fiddling with the controls trying to make everything work properly.

On a similar note, it's also a good idea to thoroughly check the features on your Bluetooth car stereo to make sure it has all the functions you want. Nothing worse than taking an expensive new acquisition out for a test drive only to find it only gets half the job done. Although Bluetooth is a universal technology, there can be some hang-ups if you try using newer Bluetooth devices with older ones, so it's smart to verify everything in your electronics landscape will get along before making any purchases. Security might also be an issue. Many models feature some modicum of theft protection, whether the ability to remove the face of the stereo or flip it around to make it more low key.

One concern with using Bluetooth technology is the possibility of being hacked. If you'll recall from the first page of this article, Bluetooth operates on radio waves, and hackers can use this to their advantage to interfere remotely in a number of different ways. They can potentially steal passwords, and they can also reportedly communicate with a passing Bluetooth network.

This particular hack, known as the Car Whisperer, allows someone to listen in to a Bluetooth network set in a vehicle -- whether a phone call or a simple conversation between driver and passenger -- and even participate in that conversation if they choose. A nonprofit organization called the Trifinite Group tested the Car Whisperer phenomenon, and they proved that unprotected devices are at risk should a hacker be in the vicinity -- although with some simple equipment, the vicinity can cover a much larger range than Bluetooth networks traditionally encompass. Plus, if the hacker was following his or her unknowing target in a vehicle, the eavesdropping could become even more serious. Strong password encryption and other security measures are steps manufacturers and users can take to help diffuse the threat.

On the next page, you'll find links related to Bluetooth, Blackberry and other phone technologies

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