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Best hands-free car kits 2023: Stay safe and legal when you’re calling from the road

Don’t get caught with a phone in your hand while you’re driving. Play it safe with the top Bluetooth hands-free kits

While more and more cars now come with built-in Bluetooth on the stereo, there are still a lot of cars out there that don’t. If your car doesn’t, then a hands-free car kit could save you from disaster – and from trouble with the law. In March 2022 the laws around using mobile phones while in the car were tightened up, doubling down on the tougher penalties that came in during 2019. Before, you broke the law if you used your phone handheld while driving to make or take calls, or send and view messages, but a loophole meant that other uses, such as taking photos or scrolling through your playlist, were still legal.

You can now consider that one closed. The only times when it’s acceptable to have your phone in your hand while driving is when you need to call 999 in an emergency and there’s no safe place to stop, or when you use your phone to pay while you’re driving through a fuel station or fast food drive-through. You can even fall foul of the law for using your phone while stuck in traffic, or for using it while supervising a learner driver. Try it and you could have a £200 fine and six penalty points heading your way.

Best hands-free car kits: At a glance

How to choose the best hands-free car kit for you

What kind of Bluetooth car kit do I need?

That depends on your car and what you want the kit to do. The simplest devices are designed specifically for hands-free calling and clip onto either the sun visor, a spot on the dashboard or a ventilation grill. These are usually powered by an internal battery and work much like a Bluetooth speakerphone, doing the job of a Bluetooth headset, just out loud where everyone can hear.

If you’re looking to stream calls and music through your car’s stereo system, then you’re going to need a device with a built-in microphone and a connection to the stereo. More recent cars and stereo systems may have accessible inputs, like a USB port or a 3.5mm jack, that make the whole business of adding Bluetooth much, much easier.

If you haven’t got a more recent car or stereo, then you need an alternative approach. While you can find kits that connect into an auxiliary port at the back of the stereo – which means getting hands-on, pulling it out and potentially rewiring – most people go for an FM transmitter. This broadcasts audio from your phone to the stereo, and the audio can be clear provided there’s not much interference. The only risk is that others could listen to your calls if they’re close enough and have their radio tuned to the same FM frequency, though the signal is usually too weak for this to happen.

How much do I need to spend?

Less than you might think. While there are some expensive kits available, some of which need professional installation, you can grab yourself a simple Bluetooth car kit for under £40 – and even less.

What should I look for in a Bluetooth hands-free car kit?

Sound quality is the most important thing. If you can’t hear the other person or the sound is shrill and tinny, then you will regret your purchase every time you have a call. However, the mic might be even more important. If the person on the other end of your call can’t hear you clearly or you’re constantly being asked to repeat, then that mic isn’t doing its job. 

Here the form factor plays a major role. Visor-based kits and dashboard kits sit at a level where the mic is reasonably near your mouth – and there’s a lot you can do with more sophisticated microphones – but some car kits sit elsewhere or plug into the lighter socket, which might not be so conveniently placed for taking in your dulcet tones.

Controls and displays are also important. Some kits and devices keep these minimal and super-size the buttons so that you can adjust the volume or take a call quickly, but others are too fiddly to use when you’re out on the road. While caller displays can be handy, you’re probably not going to use them that much while you’re driving. Some Bluetooth kits used to pride themselves on voice dialling features, but now that you can do this effectively for free using Google Assistant or Siri, it’s a feature that’s not really worth paying extra for. It simply won’t be as easy or effective as using the built-in voice assistant, which already has all the contacts info it should need.

Is there anything else to consider?

Automatic switch-off is a great idea – providing it works – not only because you don’t want the kit or device running through its batteries (if battery powered) but because you don’t want your phone constantly connecting to the hands-free kit just because you’re still in range while inside your house. Some of these kits use voice activation, motion detection or the noise of the car door closing to turn on and off, saving you the bother of remembering.

With battery-powered devices, battery life is also important. Some kits will give you 20 hours or more of talk-time and a hundred hours or more of standby, but others may need charging three or four times a week. You don’t want to be out there driving only to find your hands-free kit has run out of puff.

You will find our pick of the best hands-free car kits available below, while at the end of the list there’s a comprehensive buying guide packed with all the information you need to choose the right kit for you.

How we test hands-free car kits

We test hands-free car kits by installing them in a car, connecting them to a smartphone, and making test calls and using voice commands both while stationary and on the road. First, we look at how easy a model is to fit and whether any mounts or cables are well managed – or if they could get in the way of the wheel, gearstick or dashboard controls while you’re driving. We then assess call quality, both for the user and the person on the other end of the call, plus the reliability of the signal and the ease-of-use of any features and controls. Finally, we run tests on battery life and charging times, to see how these might affect your daily use.

READ NEXT: Best satnavs you can buy in 2023

The best hands-free car kits you can buy in 2023

1. Jabra Drive: Best visor kit for making calls

Price when reviewed: £35 | Check price at HalfordsThe Jabra Freeway used to be the hands-free kit to beat for call quality, but now that it’s no longer available the mantle falls to the cheaper Jabra Drive. It’s still a sleek, compact unit that clips on to the driver’s side sun visor, and connects to your phone automatically via Bluetooth once you’ve made the initial connection.

You can have two devices paired to the same kit, which is handy if two of you need to make the occasional call, while the battery charges from a USB connection or the 12V socket and lasts for 20 hours of talk time and up to 30 hours in standby. With built-in noise and echo cancellation, calls are nice and clear in both directions, although you will probably want to use your existing car stereo for music. Easy to use and effective, this is a great way to add hands-free calling to your car.

Key specs – Type: Bluetooth receiver unit; Bluetooth: 3.0; Operating range: 10m; Connection to car stereo: N.A; Power: 12V socket/USB (both included)

Check price at Halfords

2. Avantree Roadtrip: Best hands-free kit for sound and features

Price when reviewed: £60 | Check price at AmazonWith a pair of 3W speakers the Avantree Roadtrip gives you better audio quality than your average hands-free kit, and you can stream music through the built-in FM radio transmitter if you would rather hear it through your car’s audio system. It’s also packed with useful features, including support for Google Assistant and Siri, and multipoint Bluetooth connection for up to two phones at a time. A charge from the USB port or bundled 12V adaptor will see you through 12 hours of active use and up to 800 hours in standby. The motion-activated auto sleep function does a good job of working out when this should be.

Thanks to dual noise-cancelling mics, call quality is excellent, and we also liked the easy-to-find volume knob that you can also press to activate your phone’s assistant. From there, you can make calls through voice commands or ask for info or directions. The Roadtrip is a tad more expensive than your average kit, but the performance and features make it worth the extra. It also looks pretty cool when attached to your driver’s side sun visor.

Key specs – Type: Bluetooth receiver unit; Bluetooth: 5.0; Operating range: 9m; Connection to car stereo: FM; Power: 12V socket/USB (both included)

3. Kinivo BTC480: Best hands-free kit with an AUX-in

Price when reviewed: £34 | Check price at AmazonThis hands-free kit from Kinivo is a simple and cost-effective way of transforming your car’s stereo into a Bluetooth speaker/speakerphone. The device plugs into your stereo via a 3.5mm jack, while the receiver itself sits in a magnetic mount that attaches to your dashboard. It supports multipoint Bluetooth pairing so can be connected to two devices simultaneously and controls couldn’t be simpler, with a central button for playing and pausing audio and accepting/ending calls along with dedicated buttons for track skipping.

The kit also comes with a dual-port USB-A charger as part of the package, providing a handy way to charge your phone or any other devices in your motor that are in need of a top-up.

Key specs – Type: AUX-in Bluetooth receiver unit; Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0; Operating range: Not stated; Connection to car stereo: AUX-in; Power: USB/12V socket (dual USB-A charger supplied)

4. Pioneer MVH-S420BT: Best Bluetooth car stereo unit under £100

Price when reviewed: £90 | Check price at HalfordsThe Pioneer MVH-S420BT is unlike the other entries on this list in that it’s a stereo system offering all of the functionality you could ever want from a hands-free car kit. It needs to be installed into your vehicle’s head unit, which you can do yourself or have done for you (though the fee matches that of the unit itself).

Once in your car, it can operate as an FM radio player, stream music from your phone, double up as a speakerphone while on calls, has a handy USB port to charge devices and there’s even a companion app that supports the use of Amazon Alexa. On top of all of that, the MVH-S420BT features 13-band graphic EQ, allowing you to customise your audio exactly to your preference, and supports the FLAC audio codec so you can enjoy lossless audio tracks to your heart’s content.

Key specs – Type: 1-DIN FM stereo head unit; Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0; Operating range: Not specified; Connection to car stereo: N/A; Power: Powered by the car battery

Check price at Halfords

5. SONRU Bluetooth FM transmitter: Best cheap FM transmitter

Price when reviewed: £14 | Check price at AmazonFor such an affordable car kit, this FM transmitter, which plugs into your 12V socket, offers a lot. You can easily receive hands-free calls, play music from your phone via Bluetooth, a Micro SD card or U disk in MP3, WMA and WAV formats. The transmitter’s dual USB interface even allows you to charge two devices simultaneously should you wish.

On top of all that, there are seven different colour modes to choose from for those that enjoy a bit of extra colour while they’re driving. This small, lightweight transmitter features a very easy to use button layout and is perfect for those wanting simplicity and connectivity on a budget.

Key specs – Type: Bluetooth receiver unit; Bluetooth: 5.0; Operating range: Unknown; Connection to car stereo: FM transmitter; Power: 12V socket

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