/ Motoring

DAB radio in cars – high time it was standard

Music equaliser

The switchover to digital radio is fast approaching, so it’s essential the government and carmakers act now to avoid DAB becoming an expensive headache for car owners in the future.

I was delighted to hear last week that the BBC no longer plans to axe its excellent 6 Music digital radio station. It’s a personal favourite in the Headland house – and is greatly missed in my analogue-only car.

It’s also frustrating tuning into the football on 5 Live when I’m driving, with its patchy, scratchy AM quality (when I’ve grown accustomed to the noise-free DAB signal at home). I’m sure I’m not alone. Which raises the question – why haven’t more carmakers embraced DAB already?

DAB in cars by 2013?

Culture minister Ed Vaizey announced last week that the new government is still fully committed to digital radio, stressing that the switchover’s 2015 target date is not set in stone.

But that doesn’t mean the government and carmakers can dawdle. The sooner DAB radios are fitted as standard in new cars, the smaller the problem of converting radios on used cars will be when (or if) switchover finally happens.

Apparently only 1% of UK cars can currently receive digital radio – a tiny proportion, mainly limited to more expensive models (like the Audi A8 and Range Rover). But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has indicated it would be ‘challenging but achievable’ for all new UK cars to have DAB radios by 2013.

It argues that designing new cars takes around four years (hence the ‘challenge’ of 2013). But fitting DAB isn’t about fundamental vehicle changes. It’s about getting a DAB receiver on board and fitting a suitable external aerial for the best reception.

Why DAB’s not a good option

When Pure can offer its ‘Highway’ DAB conversion kit for around £100, it suggests that DAB isn’t too costly for carmakers to build in. And there are plenty of new cars with a DAB tick-box option (usually for between £100 and £500) – so it’s achievable on current production lines.

But the problem is, most car buyers won’t tick the DAB box – it’s just a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have. Which is fair enough, but it’s storing up a massive problem for the used cars of tomorrow.

So I say the government and carmakers need to take this particular choice out of the hands of buyers and make DAB/DAB+ radios standard-fit as soon as possible. The prospect of converting all those old car radios (20-30m of them, the SMMT reckons) makes all of us twitchy, so it’s time for some decisive and swift action.

(And with any luck, we won’t have to put up with Sports Report on AM for too much longer…)

Comments
Member

Since most cars aren't manufactured in the UK, and the rest of Europe's targets for digital radio don't seem to be as forceful, including digital radios as standard in cars may be seen as an extra rather than inclusive.

Member

Marco – would you say right-hand drive is also an 'optional extra'? There are lots of country specific requirements, not least the radio systems themselves: FM frequencies vary according to territory, lighting regulations differ and so on.

Manufacturers have proved it's possible to manufacture cars for different territories, so including a DAB radio module and antenna shouldn't be difficult.

Member

Well yes, but they'd have to be forced into including it as standard. And with the government calling 2015 a soft target, it hardly feels essential. There needs to be pressure, other wise manufactures will just include it as a tick box option (as most things are in cars these days).

Member

They have also proved to offer fewer models because of the cost of special builds for the UK, RHD is a good example. Go buy a Mercedes GLK. Can't find one? Well not in the UK anyway. Or it just could be that no one is designing a decent digital unit for cars that includes an out of date standard like DAB.

Member

I have ten radios in my house. All but one are FM. The DAB radio I own is OK but not noticably better sound than FM. I did own two DABs but gave one away because the battery life was hopeless and I wanted to use it in the bathroom. FM seems to go on for ever. I also have a radio in my Hi Fi. That will be expensive to change, as will the car radio.

Member

But you know the radio that the government will count toward the 50% usage don't you. Those 9 FM sets will be considered "old stock", it's the DAB unit that will count an you will be considered a DAB listener. Tell your MP that you are not if you want to keep FM.

Member

I really don't see the point of DAB, except that I seem to remember the last government sold off the frequencies used by FM (& analogue TV too, presumably).
The quality of FM for BBC R3 and R4 is excellent and any improvement just wouldn't be heard in a vehicle anyway.
Yes, I do have one DAB radio (one that Which? said had very good battery life) but its power consumption is appauling compared to my FM radios, and I don't listen to any of the "extra" stations anyway, only R4 and R3. I'm certainly not looking forward to the switch-off.

Member

Isn't the point of DAB is that there can be loads more stations. The FM waves are limited more severely, meaning there couldn't possibly be the amount of stations as there are on DAB.

Member

You are a DAB listener by the government counting rules. Tell your MP that you are not and keep FM.