What Car Stereos Can and Cannot Play?

What Car Stereos Can and Cannot Play

I think playing music while on the go is something no one wants to compromise.

Unfortunately, having a satisfactory audio system in your vehicle can be expensive. What’s more depressing is having problems playing your desired audio files on the car stereo after investing so much in it. This article saves you from such hassles.


Here I have elaborated on different types of audio format and their connection with car audio systems. In my experience, I have noticed that while some formats are compatible with vehicle sound systems, many aren’t.

But certain experiments taught me how to play even these files as well. And in this article, I will show it all to you.

By the end, you have no problem enjoying your favorite song in every ride.


Formats That Are Compatible with Car Stereos

I am guessing you are looking for formats you can play on your car stereos rather than those you cannot. You can trust me when I say that I know which formats are best compatible with car stereos. I have tested almost all audio formats in cars, and based on my experience, I have enlisted them below.

If these have worked for me, it will work for you as well. So, take a look.

Can Car Stereos Play MP3 or M3A?

Car Stereos Can Play MP3

The most popular music file is MP3. I think what makes it so widely used is its compactness and versatile compatibility. You can probably already guess why this format is on this list.

Yes, M3A (and MP3) are perfectly playable on your car. These types of files are simple and consume less space. Just load them on a USB flash drive and connect them to your vehicle’s head unit (for this, there must be a USB slot in your car stereo). Or you can use a memory card as well if there is an SD card slot.

Right after you install everything, nothing should stop you from playing the songs. It’s like plug-n-play.  

What about MP3 CDs? Well, here I have good news and bad news. The good news is, yes. You can play MP3 CDs on car’s CD reader. Now, the bad news. Most discs nowadays use WAV files because many CD players can only play WAV format. 

What does this all mean? Though it is possible to play MP3 CDs in your car, this might only be true for certain car models. Check the instruction manual to know whether or not your ride can handle MP3 audio files.

But don’t lose hope yet. If your car is incapable of playing MP3 CDs, get yourself a universally compatible head unit. This JVC KD Bluetooth Car Stereo can be a good option for you. 

However, before making any purchase, ask a professional to ensure that such devices are suitable for you.


Can Car Stereos Play WMA?

Car Stereos Can Play WMA

Yeah… yeah… You’ve read that right. WMA or windows media audio is playable on a car stereo. If you are anything like me, you are probably wondering, “How does this work?”

Well, I have done my research and discovered that WMA is not so different from MP3 format. WMA files are compressed in the same way as MP3. The same modification method makes them identical.

And guess what, for this exact reason, WMA functions in the same way as MP3. So, if you know how MP3 is compatible with car stereos, you know why WMA works as well.

Now, you can play this type of file without needing to change the format. It’s just plug-and-play like the traditional MP3.


Can Car Stereos Play AAC?

Car Stereos Can Play AAC

 Was your car made after 2008? If yes, then congratulations! Your four-wheeler can perfectly play AAC files.

AAC (or Advanced Audio Coding) is known for storing digital audio. This file format works great when it comes to storing digital music on any mobile device such as PC and phone. It can be used with the internet as well. What does it all mean?

AAC can be played as long as there is a drive to store the file. This is why when your car stereo has a storage compartment and a digital code reading program, it is considered eligible to play AAC files.

Now you get why I pointed out that your car has to be manufactured after 2008, right?


Can Car Stereos Play WAV?

Car Stereos Can Play WAV

Let’s cut to the chase first. Yes, it is possible to play WAV files on car stereos. WAV is my favorite file type when it comes to playing music in the car. “Why,” you ask? I have plenty of reasons.

Firstly, the WAV format saves lots of space. Its compact file size allows me to pack loads of music all at once. I think you can relate to me on one point.

There are several songs I never listen to, yet I never feel like deleting them as well. But I can’t always enjoy this weird comfort because of space issues.

Fortunately, with WAV files, nothing matters. Save all the songs you want, and enjoy only those that you like.

Wait! I am not done yet. There is more you need to know about compatibility.

You can play WAV files directly from a flash drive unless your head unit is really old. Yeap, older models are incompatible with WAV files. However, there are a few modifications you can do to play the WAV file in your vehicle.

How do you do that? It’s easy. Just burn the WAV file into a CD-R and play the music from there. Well, yes, I am aware of the problem with this method. You must have a CD slot in your car to utilize this option. Hey, most old model cars have CD drives.

You are all set.


Can Car Stereos Play FLAC?

Car Stereos Can Play FLAC

There is a possibility that you are not familiar with FLAC audio file format. First, let me inform you that FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. It has the benefit of most file types while having more to offer.

Let me make it clear for you.

FLAC is almost the same as MP3. But it’s much better. The high-definition audio of FLAC surely exceeds that of any MP3. However, it takes up a lot more space than MP3.

But the good news is, as it is similar to MP3, it is easily playable on your car stereo. Want to know another good thing? It is always “Free”. The name itself tells you about it. Awesome! Isn’t it?

And with this, our list of audio formats compatible with cars end. However, if you think about it, there are ways of making other types playable on automobiles. The next part is all about that.


Formats That Are Not Compatible with Car Stereos

While it is important to be aware of the file types compatible with car stereos, it can be helpful to know about the formats that don’t go along with the system. Why? Because this way you can play anything on your car.

Wait, What!

Yes, you’ve read that right. Even the files that are not compatible with car stereos can be played with a few changes.

To know what these modifications are, you have to know what (format type) you are dealing with. Got it how I am connecting it all?

Now let’s see what it’s all about.

Car Stereos Can’t Play DVD-R

Car Stereos Can't Play DVD-R

The answer is both a yes and a no. In most cases, the latter one is true. So, what’s going on here!

Most of the modern entertainment systems can read DVD-R. But this isn’t the same with car stereos. Whether your car speaker will play DVD-R files depends on your vehicle’s head unit. All head units don’t have the same reach.

This is why some car speakers can play DVD-R while some can’t. Want to know if your car can handle the task? Contact your car brand company to find out.


Car Stereos Can’t Play MP4

Car Stereos Can't Play MP4

Again, similar to the previous point, MP4 can and cannot be compatible with your car stereo. It all depends on the car’s entertainment system.

Let me clarify.

If your car has a built-in screen, you will not have any problem playing the file. On the other hand, if your car stereo only comprises a speaker, you may not be able to play such files. However, modern cars’ factory sound systems can work with MP4 files.

Do you know why MP4 files behave this way? It’s because they are not meant to function as audio in the first place. This is why most stereo systems have a hard time decoding the formats.

But hey, you can play these files if you want! I have already mentioned how MP4 is playable on many stereos. But if your car doesn’t fall under any of these categories, you can always burn the file in a CD or convert it into an MP3 file easily.

This way, you won’t have any difficulty playing MP4 on car stereo at all. 

Will Car Stereo Play M4A?


Car Stereos Can’t Play MOV

Car Stereos Can't Play MOV

MOV is MP4, but it belongs to Apple. Just think of MOV as the MP4 developed by a different platform.

But while MP4 is a compressed form of video, MOV is unprocessed. Hence, MOV tends to be larger in size and better in quality compared to MP4. 

Now let’s get back to the main point. As you can see, MOV and MP4 are practically the same. You cannot play them on car stereos for the same reason (they are programmed to be videos, and certain car stereos can’t read such files).

At the same time, if you have a screen attached to your car’s entertainment system, you can view and listen to these files.

Similarly, you can burn MOV files on the CD to play it on your car stereo. In most cases, I convert the file into MP3, and then I am done! You can try doing this as well.


Car Stereos Can’t Play WMV

Car Stereos Can't Play WMV

Just like MP4 and MOV, WMV is just another video format. Remember what we discussed about WMA! Well, WMV belongs to the same family. The only difference is, this is a video format while the previous one was audio. To be clearer, if WMA is MP3, then WMV is MP4. You got it, right?

Even though it’s similar to the other video format we previously discussed, it’s not the same. Some significant differences set them apart. The most important difference for me was its incompatibility with the stereo screen. Sigh!

I know it is disappointing. Yet, even if your car has a screen, it won’t be able to play a WMV file. However, the file can be burned to a CD and can be played on the CD player. It never fails to work.


Car Stereos Can’t Play FLV

Car Stereos Can't Play FLV

FLV or flash videos is just another video format. And similar to them, FLV can be played on your car’s screen. And yes, it can be burned into DVD as well.

I have tried every possible method, and I found converting FLV files to mp3 the least troublesome. While burning into DVD is still an option, that can prove to be a hassle. I mean, why go for a problematic process when converting FLV into MP3 is just a few clicks away!


Car Stereos Can’t Play AVI

Car Stereos Can't Play AVI

At this point, I don’t need to explain the matter of video file format. I won’t bore you again by going into the details as AVI is just yet another MP4.

When I say AVI is another MP4, I might be exaggerating because AVI is never as good as MP4 format. AVI compresses video files by a lot, decreasing the quality to a level that makes you feel nauseating.

But if you need to play it on your car, do what I did with MP4, MOV, or WMV.

This marks the end of this side of car stereos. As you can see, this whole point can be summarized in a single sentence, “video file formats cannot be played on car stereo unless there is a screen in the car, the file is burned in a CD, or the file is converted into the MP3 format”. This is all you need to know to be honest. 


Why These Formats Are Not Compatible with Car Stereos?

Why Formats Are or Are Not Compatible with Car Stereos

Your car stereos are smart enough to recognize different file formats. In our grandfathers’ era, cars had an analog system.

Handling CDs and cassette tapes were very annoying. In contrast to that, modern car stereos can read and play music while taking up minimum space.

Yes, cars can read music. But they can read only a certain type of file. To be more specific, a car stereo can identify only those files that are programmed in the car’s system. You get it where I am heading right?

If there is a format that the car’s stereo is not familiar with, that file will surely be ignored. As a result, such file format will be considered non-playable. Most of the car’s stereos have such programming.

And this is why you can play MP3 but can’t listen to NFTS files in your car.



Car stereo is a big subject. Experts have written thick books on this part of your four-wheeler. Even if I focus only on the formats compatible with this system, it is still a huge topic, impossible to cover in a single article.

This is why, in this section, I will be discussing some important questions I couldn’t include in the article. Take a look, this might help.

Are all stereos compatible with all cars?

In most cases, stereos are tailor-made for particular cars. The shape and designs of these stereos may not fit into other vehicles. However, there are Universal car stereos as well. These stereos fit perfectly with any car. PolarLander can be a good option if you are looking for a universal stereo.


Can you play movies on the car stereo?

Yes, it is possible to play any MP4 or MOV file on car stereo if … if you can fulfill two conditions. Firstly, your car stereo has to have a screen (so obvious!), and the car sound system must be capable of reading MP4/MOV files.

If either of these two points is missing, you won’t be able to play movies on your car stereo.


How much does a good car stereo system cost?

Car stereo system costs vary depending on their compatibility and quality. A stereo particularly made for your car model will cost around $300 to $550.

Though this type of stereo is expensive, its quality is super satisfying. If you are looking for a cheaper option, then you should go for universal stereos. They can cost anything between $120 to $400. 

While they are more affordable (compared to others), their sound production is satisfying as well. Unless you like deafening loud music, it shouldn’t be an issue for you.


My Two Pennies’ Worth on The Topic

If you have paid attention to at least the first half of this article, you are probably aware of the audio formats that run on car stereo like a breeze.

If you have read the other half, you know how to make any audio files playable in your four-wheeler. Overall, handling your vehicle’s audio system should be easy now.

Just keep what I have discussed here in your mind, and don’t forget to enjoy your favorite music.


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