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Bluetooth in the Car

Look, Ma! No hands! Here’s how you can start talking hands-free in your car.

You've likely heard of Bluetooth, the wireless technology that allows cell phones, for example, to connect to other devices in close proximity. When used with headsets or hands-free car kits, this technology offers drivers a convenient and potentially safer way to manage cell conversations while driving. And not only is it more convenient, in some states and localities it may be your only option for talking while driving.

So how can you enjoy Bluetooth hands-free calling in your car? Here's a look at some options:

Headsets

Bluetooth headsets are a simple way to talk hands-free in your car. Generally, headsets offer excellent call quality and simple operation. Since they're physically attached to you, headsets go wherever you do and may be a good solution if you make multiple stops or are constantly in and out of your car. This gives them a unique advantage over other in-car hands-free solutions. Perhaps their biggest downside is that they are battery operated, and thus require you to remember to keep one more device charged.
Speakerphones

Like their name suggests, Bluetooth speakerphones employ built-in speakers and microphones to let you take your cell calls hands free. Relatively small, they usually attach to your car's sun visor like a garage door opener. Power is less of a concern, as most contain built-in rechargeable batteries and can also plug directly into your 12V lighter outlet for powering or charging. Most models feature only a few buttons, which keeps operating them simple. Some offer small screens for displaying caller ID and call status. Models with built-in FM transmitters give you the additional options of hearing your calls through your car stereo over an FM frequency.

Car Kits

Car kits are usually installed (hard-wired) into your vehicle, which offers several advantages. For starters, installed car kits offer an integrated look with no dangling power cords, speakers or microphones. Second, they are typically connected to the vehicle's power, which means you never have to worry about remembering to charge them. They're always—pardon the pun—on call. Another benefit, many car kits can be installed to mute your car's sound system when your phone rings or you initiate a call. Depending on how many incoming calls you get, this can be a huge convenience. Some models also speak caller ID, which lets you keep your eyes on the road while trying to figure out who's calling. Finally, more and more models can wirelessly stream your music from your Stereo Bluetooth-equipped portable music player to your car's audio system. 
Portable Navigation Devices

There's good news if you're also in the market for a GPS navigation device. Many portable navigation devices (PNDs) offer built-in Bluetooth hands-free connections for your cell phone. Like installed car kits, PNDs with built-in Bluetooth use either their built-in speakers or an FM transmitter to play your calls through your car stereo. This convergence translates into added convenience for you, as spoken navigation commands are muted while the phone is in use. Some models also support Stereo Bluetooth music streaming, letting you stream music wirelessly to your car stereo.

In-dash

The final and most integrated option for adding hands-free to your car is a Bluetooth-enabled in-dash stereo. Bluetooth-equipped car stereo "headunits" totally integrate your voice and music streaming from your phone to your car's speakers. Like car kits and PNDs, most units will mute or pause the music when you place or take a call. In-dash models' larger displays or video screens make it easier for you to see the phone number and call status. Custom installation means that in many cases you will be able to use your car's factory steering wheel buttons to operate your phone and audio system as well.

Whether you frequently take calls in the car, or if your state or locality mandates hands-free talking while driving, you’ll definitely want to shop for a Bluetooth hands-free device for your car.  Make sure your phone is Bluetooth-enabled in order to be able to make and receive calls using a hands-free device.  Also keep in mind that if you wish to stream music from your phone or portable music player, both the phone/player and the Bluetooth hands-free device must support the Bluetooth Stereo (A2DP) standard or "profile."  Remember, there's no device that can substitute for common sense to keep you safe on the road. Please use cell phones and hands-free devices with caution.

Safe travels!