Whether you’re completely new to the world of internet radio, or you’ve been listening on your computer for years, getting Pandora on your car radio is surprisingly easy. In fact, some cars now come with Pandora functionality baked right in. If you don’t already have it (most cars don’t yet), you can buy Aftermarket Car Radios that include Pandora, or you can even use a cell phone that you already carry anyway to add Pandora to just about any car stereo.

The way you end up using to listen to Pandora in your car will depend on the hardware you’re running and if you’re willing to spend any money. Depending on how your mobile data plan is structured, you may also need to accept bandwidth and audio quality.

What is Pandora Radio?

Illustration of a smartphone playing PAndora connected to a car stereo's AUX jack via USB
Lifewire/Nick Reiter

Pandora is an internet radio service that uses an ingenious algorithm to create custom stations that are personalized to your own tastes. The way it works is that you choose one or more songs to act as seeds for a new station, and the algorithm automatically selects other songs it thinks you’ll like. You can then provide feedback on whether a particular song is a good fit, which allows the algorithm to fine-tune the station even further.

While the basic Pandora service is completely free, there are a number of restrictions placed on free accounts. For example, a free Pandora account can only stream a limited number of hours of music each month. Free accounts are also limited in other ways, such as only allowing you to skip a handful of songs every hour .

If you choose to pay the monthly subscription fee, Pandora will let you skip any track you don’t want to listen to without any restrictions. The paid subscription also comes away with an advertisement that free accounts are subject to.

While Pandora started as a browser-based service that required a desktop or laptop computer, it is now available on mobile devices through the official app. This means you can access all desktop playlists through your smartphone or compatible Pandora car stereo.

How does Pandora work on car radio?

The two main ways Pandora works on car radios are still baked car radio apps, or via a smartphone and an auxiliary jack. In both cases, the services rely on a smartphone with an active data connection for the actual music streaming.

Car radios with built-in Pandora functionality by connecting the app on the radio to the app on your smartphone. Depending on the smartphone in question, this connection can be via USB (that is, a physical wire) or Bluetooth. In either case, the connection allows you to control PANDORA through your car stereo, and even steering wheel controls or voice commands in some cases.

When the car radio does not have integrated Pandora functionality, the process is slightly different. You still use a smartphone with the Pandora app to stream your stations, but you cannot control playback via the head unit, voice commands, or steering wheel controls. You also need an auxiliary connector or USB connection, Bluetooth, or some other means to actually transfer audio from your phone to your car stereo.

How to listen to Pandora on your car radio

While the number of car radios that come with the built-in PANDORA app is definitely limited, Pandora claims the functionality is available on over 170 car models. So if you bought your car recently, chances are you already have Pandora’s built-in functionality.

If you’re not sure if your car has the Pandora app, you can find out in your owner’s manual. Pandora also maintains a list of car models and Aftermarket Radios that include integration.

The process for setting up your car Radio up so you can listen to Pandora stations on the road will be slightly different depending on whether your car radio has a built-in app. If your radio has a built-in Pandora app, then all you have to do is open this application, download the corresponding application on your smartphone and log in to your account.

At the bare minimum, connecting the app on your radio to the app on your phone will allow you to stream music and playback controls through the head unit’s controls. If your machine supports it, you’ll also be able to skip tracks, give thumbs or thumbs up to individual songs, change stations and much more.

If your car radio does not have an integrated app, you can still listen to Pandora in your car, but it may be more difficult. Depending on how your car radio is set up, you may be able to use an auxiliary jack, USB, or the unit does not work with any of these options, you can also use an FM transmitter or FM modulator to use Pandora with almost any car radio.

Regardless of how you choose to connect your phone to your car stereo, this method of listening to Pandora on your car radio requires you to control the app directly through your phone. Since there is no real integration with your car radio, you will have to skip tracks, select stations, and do everything else on your phone.

How much data does Pandora Car Radio use?

Since listening to Pandora on your car radio requires a phone with a data connection, using mobile data can be a real problem. Whether your car has Pandora integration, or you choose to connect your phone to your car stereo via an auxiliary jack, your phone will still have data when music is playing.

Some services, such as Spotify, let you pay for accounts to download music at home for offline use. Pandora doesn’t currently offer an option, but the mobile app does take data into account when you’re away from Wi-Fi.

Which basically means Pandora defaults to lower audio quality and smaller file sizes when you’re on a mobile network. You can also use a slightly higher quality setting of 64kbps.

It’s still extremely light in the digital music world, before listening to one hour of Pandora, it will only eat about 28.8MB of data. With this, you can listen to more than an hour every day for a month before cracking the 1GB data plan.

If mobile data usage is a big issue, some carriers offer data plans where content streamed from certain providers is not counted against your limit. So if your provider offers such a plan, or you’re willing to switch, you can listen to as much PANDORA RADO in your car as you like without worrying about going over your data limit.

How does Pandora sound on car radio?

While Pandora’s light bitrate means you can listen to a lot of music without burning all your mobile data, a lower bitrate means lower quality audio. files usually name between 128 and 256 kbps. In both cases, even pandora’s 64 kbps option Pales in comparison.

What this means is that the Pandora will most likely suffer from compression or tristoth audio artifacts. Whether or not you actually notice any of this in practice depends on your sound system and your car’s listening environment.

If you have a high quality car audio system and your car is well insulated against expensive noise, then you will most likely hear the difference between music streamed from Pandora and high quality MP3s burned to CD or loaded onto a flash drive. However, this difference can quickly evaporate. if you’re using a factory audio system and dealing with a lot of road noise.

Since your car doesn’t have the adaptfronts associated with listening to Pandora in your car, the good news is that you can make a decision about whether it’s worth it or not good for your ears. If you decide Audio Steam 64 KBPS just doesn’t sound enough well in your car, you can always choose the higher fidelity option. Just remember that you will either have to upgrade your data plan or Forgo Tooving in favor of a service that offers the ability to download music for offline listening.

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