How to Add Satellite Radio to an Older Car

Does anyone really listen to satellite radio anymore? Actually, according to Statista, there were around 34.4 million Sirius XM satellite subscribers as of the third quarter of 2020. And while that doesn’t mean that every subscriber actually makes use of their satellite radio function, it’s safe to say that there are millions that actually do. And if you’re not one of them because you own an older car that doesn’t have that function, then here’s how to add satellite radio to your trusty car.

What is satellite radio?

Satellite radio is a service that works when a signal is sent from a radio ground base station to a satellite that’s orbiting Earth. The signal is then bounced back to special receivers that are located in cars or homes. Almost every new car on the road today has a satellite radio function – in addition to the normal AM and FM stations – in order to receive the signal, however, older cars might not.

a pair of satellite radios
Two new XM Satellite Radio products, the Inno by Pioneer (L) and Helix by Samsung, are displayed at the International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Photo Illustration by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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Add a satellite receiver

If your car’s radio is old, but you don’t want to replace it, then the easiest and cheapest way to get a satellite signal is to add a dedicated satellite receiver to it. While they look a little clunky, the benefit of adding a satellite receiver is that they are typically inexpensive to buy and only need to be plugged in and mounted to the dash for a complete installation. Most receivers will plug straight into your car’s 12-volt outlet for power and will connect to your radio via an FM transmitter to transmit the signal to your radio.

However, just note that the FM signal could be weak and is prone to breaking up while you’re driving due to any interference. Just think of it like an old TV with “rabbit ear” antennas.

Onyx Plus Sirius XM receiver
Onyx Plus Sirius XM receiver | Sirius XM

AUX adapter kit

Another option for adding satellite radio to your car is through the auxiliary input jack if your car happens to have one. By going with this method, you will still have to purchase a satellite receiver, which will plug into your 12-volt outlet for power, but it will then be connected to your radio via the aux jack. The benefit to this option is that you’ll get a clearer signal than an FM transmitter, however, you will have two cords to deal with instead of just one.

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Factory-adapted satellite radio kit

If you’re looking for a cleaner installation, then you can also go with a satellite radio kit that works with your car’s factory radio. VAIS Technology currently sells kits for various automakers that plug into the USB port and can even be hidden behind the dashboard. The result is a much nicer installation and a clearer sound than the last two options.

A JVC single-DIN head unit
A JVC single-DIN head unit | Crutchfield

Buy an aftermarket radio with the satellite function

In the case that you decide to replace the whole radio altogether, then you can always check out online retailers like Crutchfield for an aftermarket radio that will fit your car. Most radios in the aftermarket today come with a satellite radio antenna, which will give you a great sound and easy-to-use functionality. What’s even better is that you can typically buy them for around $100 to $200.