Bluetooth Technology in Cars: How Does It Work?

Subaru Levorg GT-S 2.0

If there's one thing that truly innovative technologies have in common, it's that they tend to make the leap from their niche industry to a wider market. Such has been the case for Bluetooth technology. Originally conceived for mobile devices, it can now be found in every major end-use market category, including communications, consumer, industrial, medical, computer, military, and of course, automotive.

The introduction of Bluetooth in cars has led to a whole new world of convenience for owners, allowing hands-free operation of their mobile device so that they can perform functions--such as making or taking a call or accessing the phone's contact list--without their hands leaving the wheel.

While Bluetooth is great and all, one can't help but wonder how exactly the technology works, and what makes it different from other wireless technologies like Wi-Fi. For those of you who have been asking these and other questions, we provide some answers below.

What is Bluetooth and how does it work?

Bluetooth is basically a type of radiowave communication technology mainly designed for short distances. As a standard for exchanging data, it can be used to transfer photos, link a wireless mouse to a laptop, etc. In the automotive world, Bluetooth is generally used to hook up a cellphone to the car's infotainment system so you can operate your phone's apps and drive safely at the same time. Electronic devices with Bluetooth capabilities have built-in radio transmitters and receivers so they can send and receive wireless signals from other compatible gadgets.

Bluetooth gadgets are able to detect and connect with one another. They don't interfere with other wireless applications because they take exclusive use of one of 79 different frequencies. Two communicating Bluetooth devices pick one of these frequencies at random and constantly shift to other frequencies thousands of times a second to reduce the risk of interference and to keep the communication secure.

In contrast, while Bluetooth is primarily used to connect devices without using cables, WiFi provides high-speed access to the internet. So the main difference between the two stems mainly from what they link to and how they are used.

Bluetooth features in cars

While Bluetooth has become the automotive industry's standard for hands-free phone technology, compatibility and features may vary from one device to another. Some of the most common Bluetooth features available in cars today include:

Steering wheel buttons – linking your phone to your car's steering wheel buttons let you answer or make a call without removing your hands from the wheel.

Voice-activated controls – many Bluetooth systems in cars let you initiate a call with your voice. Instead of pressing numbers on a screen, you can simply blurt out a name in your address book. This lets you keep your eyes on the road.

Audio streaming – many Bluetooth devices nowadays let you stream music from a compatible device to the car's infotainment system.

Programmed text messaging – advanced Bluetooth devices can now read an incoming text for you via an on-board personal assistant. Some systems can send programmed text responses such as "Can't talk right now" or "Driving, will call later," while others let you dictate your replies via voice recognition.

Navigation – the latest Bluetooth features make use of WiFi-connected capabilities of smartphones and apps such as Waze or Google Maps for navigation.

Charging – another recently added feature, some cars can now charge a cellphone via Bluetooth.

Bluetooth capabilities used to be exclusive to high-end cars, but the technology has since trickled down, and now some entry cars have them. There are even aftermarket accessories that allow you to add them later in your purchase. Suffice to say, it is fast becoming a feature that cars can't do without.


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