Syncing Your Bluetooth Device to Your Car

In the 10th century, the Viking king Harald Bluetooth united Norway and Denmark and brought his people together under the Christian religion. In 1999, the Bluetooth SIG released a specification that brought together different types of hardware under one short-range wireless communications protocol. Early Bluetooth-enabled devices included headsets and hands-free car kits. For years, the name Bluetooth was practically synonymous with wireless headsets, which are not just convenient, but often required by law if talking on the phone while driving. Today’s Bluetooth car interfaces help you do a lot more than just talk safely though. Syncing your smartphone to your car enables you to accomplish many of your usual tasks through controls designed specifically for use while driving, letting you focus on the road.

Contact and Message Syncing

Phone Book Access Profile, often referred to in specifications as PBAP or PBA, is the latest protocol in the Bluetooth family for synchronizing contacts between devices. Cars and phones that support this standard can sync your address book to enable your in-car hands-free system to match incoming calls to contact names, display caller photos, and retrieve information for name-based voice dialing. Cars can also handle SMS using the Message Access Profile. Supporting devices enable you to browse, send and receive texts from your Bluetooth device; some devices even read incoming texts aloud automatically.

Multimedia Playback

For playing music, you’ll want to ensure your devices support the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, which allows your car to play your music over your car’s stereo system. A2DP also supports the ability to handle audio more intelligently, for instance, to lower music volume during incoming calls. Using A2DP may require you to pair your devices twice, once for hands-free and again for A2DP. Complementing this functionality, the Audio/Video Remote Control Profile handles controlling the playback and passing metadata -- like artist and track info -- between your car and your Bluetooth device.


Most cars, phones and car-kits built after 2010 support all these standards, but may require that you grant additional Bluetooth permissions. Consult your owner’s manuals to verify support for these protocols. Remember that both devices must support a profile or you can’t use it. Your car may support even more control of your mobile phone by enabling you to control supported apps via voice or steering-wheel buttons, as the Ford Sync AppLink, the Toyota Entune, or the BMW ConnectedDrive systems do. Support for these features varies by phone and by phone app, so check compatibility (see Resources) if you’re looking for these features.


Different phones have different methods of granting permissions, but the controls are usually found in a detail view of the paired devices. If, after pairing and granting permission for PBAP, your car can not immediately synchronize the address book, turning your phone’s Bluetooth off and then on again may fix the issue. This could happen at first connection when the car doesn’t try to repeat the address book synchronization after permission has been granted. Turning the phone’s Bluetooth off and on causes the car to re-pair and resync. If problems persist, try removing the pairing from one or both devices and pair them again. If you’re still having problems, look for firmware updates supplied by the manufacturers, which may fix the problem.

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