Drivers are reckoned to number between 25% and 50% of radio listeners, which isn’t surprising since listening to the radio can be combined with driving and has no adverse effect on safety.
Increasingly, drivers are listening on DAB radios, which are becoming ever more common in new cars.
The number of radio stations broadcasting digitally has increased significantly with the building of many new DAB transmitters, resulting in the UK having the largest digital radio network in the world and many more digital stations than those on FM and AM bands.
Digital radio offers a greater choice of stations, improved information displays and better sound quality with (in theory at least) less interference and a stronger and more reliable signal.
The latter is particularly important for drivers who, through being on the move, receive variable signal strengths.
What Is DAB Radio?
DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting.
It’s a particular way of broadcasting that uses a digital format, rather than an analogue format like on FM.
DAB signals use a similar digital audio format to MP3s. However, it’s different to streaming audio, and doesn’t use the internet or cost any money to use.
DAB radio allows more radio stations to broadcast within the same area without competing for frequencies, so having a DAB radio means you will have a greater choice of stations.
Which Cars Have DAB Radio?
The good news for new car buyers is that the proportion of models with DAB radios fitted as standard has been steadily growing. The figure has risen from only 7.5% in the last quarter of 2010 to over 87% by the end of 2017, with in-car digital radio listening going up by 20% each year.
All of the ten bestselling models in the UK have DAB radios fitted as standard and nearly all the top manufacturers, such as Ford, Vauxhall, Toyota and Volkswagen, fit DAB radios on most of their new models.
Luxury brands such as BMW tend to have DAB radios across the whole range while others may fit them only on certain models.
Smaller cars and ‘base models’ (cars with the minimum specifications) are generally the ones that miss out and it may be necessary to upgrade from base levels to get the radio you want.
Since many people like to have the latest gadgets when buying a car, a DAB radio will no doubt add to the trade-in or sale value when you come to replace it. It will also futureproof the vehicle against the time when the old analogue system is eventually switched off.
List of Cars with DAB Radio
Here is a non-comprehensive list of some of the UK’s most popular cars that have DAB radio by default:
- Audi – All UK models since April 2013 (source)
- BMW – All UK models since 2013 (source)
- Ford – All UK models since late 2012 (source)
- Mercedes – All C-class models since 2014 (source)
- Mini – All UK models since 2013 (source)
- Nissan Qashqai – UK models since 2014
- Vauxhall Corsa – UK models since 2014
- Volkswagen – All UK models since 2013 (source)
How Do I Know if my Radio Is a DAB Radio?
The easiest way to know if your car has DAB radio is to see if it can pick up any of the following digital-only stations:
- BBC Radio 1Xtra
- BBC Radio 4 Extra
- BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra
- Heart 80s
- Planet Rock
- Virgin Radio UK
These stations are only available on DAB, not AM or FM, so if your car radio picks any of them up, that means its a DAB radio.
You can also check the manual to see if your car has DAB radio.
Do You Need a DAB Radio?
At present, many stations broadcast on both DAB and AM/FM transmissions so listeners with old or new radios are well served. This means you can still listen to AM and FM broadcasts without any problems.
However, the government’s aim is to switch over fully to digital once certain criteria are met:
- 97% of the population can receive national DAB radio services
- 90% can get local DAB radio services
- More than half the population actually listens to digital radio
At present, the target coverage has been met but audience levels haven’t quite reached the required level, so no date for the switchover has been announced.
Once this does occur, however, the old analogue transmissions will be gradually switched off and a non-DAB radio will be increasingly redundant. Drivers will therefore need to ensure that any new car they buy has a DAB radio fitted.
Upgrading Your Car Radio to DAB
A DAB radio will receive both digital and analogue signals, enabling a wide choice of stations. However, an analogue radio is limited to AM and FM stations only and the choice will decrease as the years progress.
There is no date set for the switchover to digital. Even when it is, local stations may remain on FM/AM for some time although national stations will probably become digital-only. Once that occurs, listening choices will be restricted unless you make the switch to DAB. This can be achieved by:
- Replacing the sound system in the car, which may not be possible and could require professional fitting if it is.
- Fitting an adapter that will enable your current system to receive digital radio.
- Plugging your phone into the aux-in system or using Bluetooth to listen to digital radio via your phone, although data usage may be an issue.
- Plugging a portable DAB radio into your car stereo’s aux-in port using an aux-to-aux cable.
If you are looking to buy a new car in the foreseeable future, however, the better option is to ensure you get one with a DAB radio fitted.
Although you’re unlikely to choose a car just because of the availability of DAB, after deciding on the make and model, go for the trim level that includes it.