These instructions are for cars that have an FM radio, but otherwise limited options for listening to music. I wanted to invisibly incorporate an mp3 player that plays through my car's speakers, which I did using a hidden FM modulator that connects to an mp3 player small enough to fit in the ashtray.
MP3 player that fits in your ashtray
A wired FM modulator
A cable with dual-RCA to 3.5mm stereo plug
Whatever is needed to remove your radio and install the FM modulator (probably a screwdriver, wire cutter/strippers, electrical tape)
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Step 1: Install an FM Modulator
I installed an FM modulator that hides behind the control panel and connects directly to the antenna and power, as opposed to one that hangs down from the cigarette lighter. I just followed the installation instructions that came with it. FM modulators of this type have an on-off switch for the antenna, which I put in a discreet place below the steering wheel.
My 97 Ford Escort is weird, and required a special tool made from a coathanger to remove the radio. Since all cars are different, I won't discuss how to install the modulator. Generally speaking, though, you'll probably need a screwdriver, some wire cutters/strippers, and electrical tape. It may or may not be easy.
Step 2: Pull a Stereo Cable From the Modulator Through the Ashtray
There are two RCA jacks that come out of the modulator. I extended these with a cable that adapts the RCA jacks to a 3.5mm stereo plug. The stereo plug was then pulled through the opening for the ashtray.
Step 3: Modify Ashtray
I modified the ashtray slightly, to allow the cable to fit through the back, and to fit an mp3 player. I made these modifications easily with a small hacksaw and a pair of pliers. To cut out the square opening in back of the ashtray, I made several parallel cuts, then snapped the pieces off.
Step 4: Plug in the MP3 Player and Put the Ashtray Back In
That's it. Here are a few comments, though..
The player I used (irock ezmp3) uses sd cards for memory. Given the minimalist interface, it'll be difficult to manage a lot of music on a single card. I plan to save music on multiple small-memory sd cards, maybe with a few albums each, and just keep the cards in a Sucrets tin.
Using an FM modulator to listen to a $20 mp3 player is definitely low-end. It sounds pretty good, though.