MP3-capable car stereos have been on the market since 1998. The first MP3 car stereos were do-it-yourself kits that consisted of small PCs that interfaced with existing in-dash receivers. Now, major manufacturers from AIWA to JVC offer a wide variety of in-dash car CD players that play standard music CDs and CD-Rs holding MP3 files.
The current crop of MP3 car stereos cost anywhere from under $50 for a kit that connects your iPod to your car stereo, to $150 for a low-end CD/MP3 player/receiver, to $500 and up for a high-end MP3 player built around a miniature computer and hard drive. These high-end models include remote controls, voice navigation capabilities, full playlist support, and in some cases, the ability to sync files with your PC wirelessly via WiFi. Conversely, some auto makers are intimately tying the iPod to their stereo systems. For example, BMW now offers an iPod option that not only includes an iPod interface cable, but mounts controls for the iPod on the car’s steering wheel and routes all song data to the display on the car’s stereo system.
When buying an MP3 CD player/receiver, look for an auxiliary input—a line-in jack that lets you patch a portable player right into your car’s sound system. Later, when you can afford a 20-GB iPod, you can connect it with a $50 kit and boost your on-the-road library to more than 5,000 songs.
In-dash CD player/receivers can be found at most car stereo stores. These and pricier hard drive–based models ...