iPod Cassette Adapter Auto-Reverses; Seven Dead at Farmer’s Market

Try to appreciate that life usually looks very different through someone else’s eyes and experiences. “What is it with these idiots and ‘road rage’?” I used to think. “It’s pretty freaking sad if someone cuts you off in traffic and you can’t simply deal with it.”

And then I got my first iPod cassette adapter.

It worked great for a good long while, but then some crucial atom inside either the adapter or my car’s tape deck decayed. Once every half an hour or so, I can count on my podcast or musical reverie being interrupted by the clk-CLK of the deck’s auto-reverse feature and then…silence.

“…Which is why, when the data was finally tabulated, the worldwide scientific community reached a terrifying but incontrovertible conclusion: By the year 2012…”


(Ihnatko reaches over and taps the “Tuning” button to manually re-reverse the playback head)

“…including most mammalian life on the planet. But the effect would actually leave many parts of the planet unscathed. If you live in…”


(Ihnatko reaches over again. He taps the button with greater force and impatience this time)

“…during the last break, Debbie here admitted to having a huge, girl/boy type of crush on her favorite technology columnist. I don’t know if he even listens to this podcast, but she has some photos she’d like to send him privately, if you get my meaning. So if you’re listening, Mr…oh, I just know I’m not going to pronounce this correctly…”


And at this point, I’m punching the button with the knuckles of my fist and yelling “Gawd-DAMMIT!!!

(No voting on this one: hands-down the chewiest and most satisfying of all curses.)

Which would actually be quite an appropriate reaction if denial of personalized naked pictures were involved. But I find this error so annoying that I’m sometimes even shouting during, say, an NPR program about the decline of the Sudanese tradition of sock-puzzles. That ain’t healthy.

It’s endlessly infuriating and infinitely frustrating. In general, I mean. The worst possible feature for any piece of technology is one that makes decisions on your behalf, which often gets those decisions wrong, and which can’t be turned off or adjusted.

“Just. Do. Nothing!” I keep seething to the tape deck. “Don’t make any decisions of any kind. Do nothing, and you will be working perfectly!!!

This type of problem keeps rearing its head over and over again. There’s the presentation program that automatically snaps items to a center grid whenever you drag something anywhere close to it. The photo organizer that won’t let you crop a photo with any precision, because every time you drag the selection rectangle into a certain section of airspace, a floating “filmstrip” window that you never use and can’t disable fades into view, obscuring your vision. You could set the clock on a new component manually in about eight seconds…but no, the machine would rather spend ten minutes trying and fail to set itself automatically via radio.

And so, the hunt is finally on for some sort of hardwired car solution for my iPod and iPhone. FM transmitters? Good idea, but unfortunately I live in that rare part of the country where FM radio stations are still being operated. Most FM adapters can’t even deliver clean iPod audio in my driveway. Those few that can get clobbered by a nearby station within the first two miles.

It’s probably going to come down to having a new radio put in…one with an MP3 input jack. I’ve avoided this up until now, because I happen to drive a fine automobile that’s well within the means of a freelance journalist in this economy who works out of his house and doesn’t need to commute anywhere in the morning.

IE, it’s a bit of a beater. A $200 radio wouldn’t double the value of the car, but the percentage increase might actually be in the double digits.

Nonetheless, it’s time. I fear that if I let this sad state of affairs continue, the day will come when I’m delivering the live version of this blog post to a police officer while my vehicle is idling in the town common’s new drive-through gazebo.

20 thoughts on “iPod Cassette Adapter Auto-Reverses; Seven Dead at Farmer’s Market

  1. Andre

    Have you tried retracting your antenna while using an FM adapter? That might cut down on the reception of the surrounding stations.

    Since we like switching between the iPod and the radio we simply gave up and bought a new $150 car radio with an AUX port. Problem solved.

  2. Mikeal

    Watch the sales flyers on sunday. I guarantee you’ll be able to get one installed for about 129. Being the handy sort, I bought a cheapo on clearance at the big bullseye for $80, and slapped it in in about 15 minutes. No probs since, except for needing to replace my iPod to stereo cable (http://www.google.com/products?client=safari&rls=en-us&q=ipod+dock+to+rca+cable&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&um=1) . Watch for the RCA inputs – if you get on of the aforementioned cables, you’ll save wear and tear on the headphone jack, and have better sound to boot.

  3. Jes


    Put a ‘cap’ on that kind of passion before it gets the best of you.
    Go, replace the unit. Cars and their parts do not last forever. Nothing on this earth does.
    What’s going to happen when your iPhone starts to act like a Palm Tungsten 3 and no longer syncs, let alone hold your data?

    It’s a podcast, go listen to it again and take the appropriate steps to contact the young lady and have a meal.
    Use that beautiful brain G-D gave you (and yes, I am voting on this one. stop taking His name in vain. even in your writing we’re held accountable).

  4. Clinky

    I had this problem with my cassette adapter. I think it’s because the vestigial sprockets in the adapter start sticking, causing the tape deck to think you’re at the end of the tape. I bought a new adapter for $20 and it’s worked fine since.

    Oh, and there is no goddamn God.

  5. pupdog

    I gave up on the adapters, and went the new head-unit route. My best advice is to check the closeouts and clearances at Crutchfield (and their Outlet section as well). I bought the previous year’s $200 list unit for about $70. They’ll give you all the instructions to install it, and if you spend more than $130, the faceplate and wiring harness as well (i bought mine separate, was only about $20). Although with our current weather in this part of the country, either find a friend with a heated garage, or wait til the spring thaw…

  6. Ihnatko Post author

    Yup, at the moment I’m pricing new…”head units,” as people seem to call them these days. I haven’t bought one of these since my very first car as a teen, which didn’t even have a tape deck. Suffice to say that all I look for in car audio is a left speaker and a right speaker and some way to patch in a portable audio device.

    In fact, I was already checking out Crutchfield…I think I actually bought my other radio from them 20 years ago…!

  7. Ihnatko Post author

    I’m just done buying these things…I think this was my third. Particularly when even the cheap ones have USB support and other cool things.

  8. Ihnatko Post author

    …And Clinky? Please be nice to other posters. I actually enjoy the “God or No God?” question, and I’m hoping that some future posts spark some mutually-satisfying discussion. But there are already way too many places on the Web where the atheists can’t see a mention of God or religion without having a go at the believers, or where the believers can’t see a Dawkins quote in someone’s .sig without calling the guy out as an arrogant jerk.

    Jes – I mean no disrespect when I write “God.” But that’s just part of my natural lingo so it’s going to keep coming up.

  9. Marc Lip

    I just went through similar this weekend. I didn’t realize just how much I had depended on my ipod/adapter to get me to and fro my office. I ended up biting the bullet and having a car stereo dealer put a aux line in my existing stereo. Apparently, most units that have a CD changer in them can be configured so you can run a line directly to your ipod. The bonus is that it charges the ipod and you get a useless one line text display with song information. And for that, I paid 200 bucks. I felt almost ashamed to pay that much, and I probably could have been shopped around for cheaper, but like I said – I’ve gotten quite accustomed to having my Ipod in my car. In fact, the two days that I had to listen to FM radio, 3 out of the 5 radio station presets had changed formats. Shows you how long it’s been since I listened to broadcast music.

  10. Clinky

    Ack. Did I say that? My “God” comment came out harsher than I intended. It seems that in trying to reply to a not-being-able-to-let-something-slide responder, I became one myself. Apologies.

  11. Ihnatko Post author

    I’m flattered that you think I’m in the sort of financial league where my car’s antenna is retractable. :)

    I’m a bit disappointed; I remember coming across one or two “in-dash” FM interfaces — a little box that hooks into the antenna input and which so overpowers all competing signals at that range that it always works — but apparently if anyone ever made those things, they got their knuckles rapped pretty hard by the FCC.

  12. Alex

    Well if your car is a clunker anyways, and if you don’t listen to radio (ever) you could always unscrew the antenna and just remove it entirely to try that, but I really would recommend a new head unit with the input; I bought a cheap one two years ago when I started driving for my car which only had a tape deck and got it to play CDs, not even knowing it had a 3.5mm jack. Since then, I played about three CDs in it, discovered the port, and have given my iPod many hours of listening.

    Even a cheap head unit will do a fine and dandy job, and it is a great experience to listen to.

  13. Tim

    A friend of mine did some digging and was able to score an aftermarket line-in 1/4″ stereo plug that was designed to fit right into his existing radio and cost a fraction of what a new radio might. He now ipods wherever he drives with no fuss and no muss.

  14. Okasa

    I don’t know what kind of car you drive, but I found a document online on how to disable the auto-reverse on the factory tape deck in my new beetle. It involved removing the unit and soldering a contact or removing a solder, (can’t remember). Good luck, Andy.

  15. laanba

    I just went through this recently as well, but with an FM transmitter instead of cassette tape. I’m a mega planner and I plan to get an iPhone in the next few months. I didn’t think that the FM transmitter would be a good idea. So I got a new stereo. I had planned on just getting the auxiliary input, but ended up getting the iPod controller so the iPod sits in my inbox.

    After using this I realize that I probably won’t use my iPhone in my car, but keep using my perfectly fine 3rd generation iPod until it doesn’t work anymore. It’s still going strong.

    And I have to tell you that I wonder to myself EVERY DAY, why I waited so long to do this. All those years of fiddling with bad reception (and even for a brief time batteries!). The radio search functions are a little annoying and I’ll have a better idea in the future if I ever replace a car stereo again what features I want, but this is miles and miles above my previous experience. Every day I wonder what took me so long.

  16. FlipSide

    laanba is right on the money. I postponed getting a new car stereo for years. Finally broke down and got a cheap one with a input jack last spring from Circuit City. The amount of benefit from just plugging into the line-in versus FM transmitters, cassette adapters, or whatever is so amazingly large it’s not even funny. Get a new stereo my friend, you won’t regret it.

  17. jfab

    Ihnatko, assuming you’ve moved on to something that works for you and your ipod in your car, but in case you still want to use your ipod cassette adapter, here’s what worked for me.

    I had the same problem with my ipod cassette adapter working with the factory-installed cassette player in my ’97 Accord. Sometimes the adapter worked fine, sometimes it would continually reject the cassette adapter. Noticed that the two middle wheels in the adapter would turn one way, and would not be able to turn the reverse way. If you look at the bottom of the cassette adapter, instead of seeing brown audio tape like you would in a regular cassette, you’ll see a rounded metal rectangle in the middle; to the side of that piece you should see a little cog with a rubber band (my rubber band in my belkin cassette adapter was black) around it. I opened up the cassette adapter, removed the cog with the rubber band completely from the cassette, closed it up and it works great. I would suggest a rubber-band-cog-ectomy for anyone who has problems with the cassette adapter in their (older) car.

  18. Ted

    In any gadgets with music I prefer using the ones with fm transmitters, because it is always good to hear brand new hit musics not only from the ones you have downloaded but also you will not be bored to hear the same thing again shuffling from your gadgets.

  19. Doug

    I jUST had the same issue – exactly the same – with a 1997 Volvo that has a decent, difficult-to-replace premium factory sound system. I did jfab’s rubber-band-cog-ectomy…and it works perfectly! I can’t believe it. Thanks, jfab!!!

  20. l3ulldozer

    I tried jfab’s rubber band removal after my 96 toyota camry kept spitting out a few different adapters, even a new one that worked fine for the first 30 min. Taking out the rubber band worked for 2 min then the car started spitting the tape back out again.
    I’ve been using Phillips and none seem to work…then tried my dad’s Sony cassette adapter and it worked just fine. Still get the grinding noise…but not the auto reverse that has been a pain in my ass. Crazy part is those same Phillips that don’t work in my car work just fine in my truck 2004 f-150. At least these things are cheap…I’m started to accumulate quite the collection.

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