Bluetooth In Your Car Not Working? Here's Why, and What to Do About It (2023)

Bluetooth In Your Car Not Working? Here's Why, and What to Do About It (1)

Bluetooth is a popular wireless technology that lets two devices communicate with each other across short distances. For today’s drivers, the most important Bluetooth connection is the one between their car and their smartphones. Thanks to Bluetooth technology, you can make hands-free phone calls and stream music from your phone through your car’s infotainment system. Newer vehicles also offer a Bluetooth connection for smartphone integration apps like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, eliminating the need to use a USB connecting cable.

In an ideal world, your phone would connect to your car through Bluetooth automatically and seamlessly, each and every time you got into your vehicle. Unfortunately, the technology does not always function as it should.

There can be many reasons why your Bluetooth is not working. Fixing it can be somewhere between very simple and extremely complex. Once you understand how your Bluetooth works and how to fix it, you can be back on the road with your smartphone connected to your car in the safest possible way.

Here’s our guide to Bluetooth problems, their causes, and how to fix them.

First, a brief history of Bluetooth

Bluetooth was first developed in 1989. It was named after King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, an Old Norse ruler who brought several incompatible Danish tribes together to form one united kingdom during the late tenth century. Naming the new technology Bluetooth was based on an analogy that it would be able to unite different devices, allowing them to communicate with each other.

The first Bluetooth device available to consumers was a hands-free mobile headset that was released in 1999. It was followed in 2001 by the first Bluetooth-equipped cellphone and the first Bluetooth-equipped laptop computer. Next came the development of a Bluetooth system that would allow a cellphone to connect wirelessly to a vehicle.

Motorola later became the first major cellphone manufacturer to add Bluetooth to its devices, greatly increasing the market penetration of this technology and boosting the sales of early Bluetooth-enabled accessories like wireless earphones. Today, billions of electronic devices that use Bluetooth to communicate with each other are produced each year.

How your Bluetooth works

Bluetooth operates at frequencies between 2.4 and 2.48 GHz, in a short-range radio frequency band. Bluetooth uses technology known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum, transmitting data packets over one of 79 separate Bluetooth channels. The good news is that the many versions of Bluetooth are backwards compatible, so older devices should usually be able to communicate with newer ones.

Bluetooth uses two related processes to connect devices: bonding and pairing. A bond is usually created when a user interacts with a device to request, for example, that their car’s infotainment system pair with their smartphone. Once that the pairing is complete, this forms a bond that allows the two devices to connect in the future without repeating the pairing process. The bond can be removed at any time by the user.

Reasons your Bluetooth isn't working

For your Bluetooth to work properly, both the hardware and the software in both devices you wish to connect must be functioning. Most Bluetooth problems come down to a fault in one or more of these four systems:

Your phone’s hardwareYour phone’s software, or operating systemYour car’s infotainment system hardwareYour car’s infotainment system software, or operating system

There are also some other issues that can affect how well your Bluetooth works, and we will cover them below.

Let’s rule out the obvious…

Before we get into the more technical aspects of your potential Bluetooth problems, let’s start with a simple checklist that may solve your connectivity issues easily and quickly:

  1. Are your phone and car’s infotainment system both powered on? (They should be)
  2. Do your phone and your car both have Bluetooth? (They should)
  3. Are your phone and car compatible? (They should be – check your car’s owner’s manual)
  4. Is Bluetooth turned on in both your phone and your car? (It should be)
  5. Is your phone set on airplane mode and/or power saving mode? (If so, turn them both off)
  6. Does your phone have at least a 50% charge, or is it plugged into your vehicle to charge? (You need one or the other)
  7. Is your phone within 30 feet of your car’s infotainment system (Bluetooth works only at short range, but this is not normally a problem inside a passenger vehicle)

If you have gone through this list and your Bluetooth is still not working, there is probably something more complicated going on. Let’s continue…

Advanced Bluetooth diagnostics

Here are more troubleshooting tips you can try if your Bluetooth system is giving you headaches:

Pairing problems:

You may have difficulty in getting your phone to pair with your car’s infotainment system.

Solution A: You must first know how the pairing process works for the devices you are trying to connect. Some devices may require you to enter a code. Check the manuals or user guides for both devices to find this information, or search online.

Solution B: Next, you must activate the car’s pairing mode. Once that your phone’s Bluetooth is turned on, your car’s infotainment system should be able to discover its presence and connect with it. Your car’s infotainment system manual can guide you through this.

Solution C: If you are unsuccessfully trying to pair a new phone to a car that you have had for a while, it could be that your old phone is still connected to your car’s infotainment system. This can confuse your car’s system as it tries to connect. Simply access your car’s infotainment system to view the list of devices that the car has previously recognized and delete any old devices that are no longer being used. Try pairing your new phone again and see if that works.

Solution D: Finally, if a device that you have previously paired to your car is suddenly not being recognized, you may need to start over. Find the list of devices that your car has recognized and delete them all. Now do the same for your phone. Now re-pair the two devices so that they connect with each other.

Solution E: If all else fails, it’s time to try the time-tested advice from tech support, “turn it off, then turn it back on.” Do this with both your phone and your car, then try pairing the devices. A shutdown and restart may solve your Bluetooth pairing problems.

Interference problems:

Because many devices use the same part of the radio spectrum as Bluetooth, radio interference can affect the functioning of Bluetooth connections. Powerful Wi-Fi hotspots, found in increasing numbers of vehicles, use the Bluetooth frequencies and can overwhelm the much weaker Bluetooth connection between your phone and your car.

Solution: Turn off the Wi-Fi hotspot in your car if you have one. If you are using your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, turn that function off. Remove other potential sources of interference from your vehicle, such as garage door openers, AC inverters, and any other wireless devices. Once you have successfully paired your phone with your car, you can turn your Wi-Fi hotspot back on and return the other items to your car.

Software problems:

Many Bluetooth problems can be caused by devices that are not running the current versions of their operating systems’ software. This applies to both your phone and your car’s infotainment system. Software updates fix previous bugs and allow improved compatibility between older and newer Bluetooth devices.

Solution: Check your phone’s settings to verify that software updates are being downloaded automatically. This will assure you of having the latest, best-functioning version at all times. If you can’t do this, manually download and install the latest software.

Next, determine whether your car’s infotainment system is in need of a software update. Check the manufacturer’s website or call the company’s toll-free customer service number to see whether your vehicle needs an update. Depending on your specific infotainment system, the process may require a visit to the dealer’s service department or an internet download to a memory card that goes into the dashboard. If you’re lucky, your car may accept over-the-air updates, which can be done remotely by the manufacturer while the car is parked.

Other solutions that may or may not work:

There can be times when trying to fix electronic problems seems like some type of occult magic. In that spirit, here are some additional suggestions that might improve the quality of your Bluetooth connection. Hey, they couldn’t hurt!

  • Move your phone to a different position and see if the connection quality improves
  • Close all of the phone apps you are not using
  • Turn your phone’s volume up to 100%
  • If you can’t pair your phone while the car is moving, stop the car, shift into Park, and try again.

Can I drive without Bluetooth?

In most cases, you absolutely can!

Use a USB cable: On newer vehicles that have a built-in USB jack, you may be able to connect your phone with a USB cable. This should let you control it with your infotainment system’s controls. If your phone and car both have the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto apps, using the USB cable should let you access and control your phone through the app in the infotainment system.

Use a 3.5mm AUX cable: If your car stereo or infotainment system has an AUX jack for an external input, you can connect your phone using a cable with 3.5mm plugs on each end (if the phone has an earphone jack) to play music, podcasts, and other audio content from your phone through your car’s speakers. Note: With the AUX cable and the cassette adapter option below, you will be able to hear incoming phone calls, but you will have to use your phone’s microphone or speakerphone mode to respond to callers.

Use a cassette adapter: If you have an older car without an AUX jack but with a cassette player, you can use a cassette adapter. The adapter goes in your cassette slot and comes with a 3.5mm cable that plugs into the earphone jack on your phone. This will work in a similar way to the AUX cable to bring music, etc. from your phone to the speakers in your vehicle.

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