How to Format a USB Thumb Drive for Your Car: A Solution to a Nagging Problem

I drive a Honda Fit (2009 Sport model), and love the USB connector in the dash. Not being an iPod owner, I use it to connect a thumb drive that is big enough to hold as much music as I can stand. There were a few obstacles to getting this just right, however, and I thought I would write about the process here in case anyone else who had issues and like me is a not a super tech-nerd but can handle some hackerish tasks. Gere’s how to format a USB thumb drive for cars, the way I figured it out:

First, the problems:

  • The Fit (and possibly other cars) are picky about formatting: I needed to format my disk in “FAT32,” but on my Windows 7 lap top with a 64GB drive, that option doesn’t show up, only NTFS and exFAT. When I tried to use a drive formatted with either of those options, the car would not read it.

  • The car stereo would not display all of the folders: I discovered that if you have more than 700 folders, too bad (it’s easy to have that much music on 64GB. The car would read the first 699. You could play any track in random mode (I realized this when Velvet Underground tracks played even though I could not find the folder), but you couldn’t go select the tracks manually.
  • Folders would not appear in any logical order: Actually, it’s perfectly logical for folders to appear in the order you placed them on the disc, but that doesn’t help you when you have scores of folders you might like in alphabetical order. The tags in the MP3 files don’t always help, either, especially if you have a single folder for one artist drawing from several albums.

So, on to the solutions.

  • Limiting Folders: That was a simple matter of being more efficient in how I copied music on to the USB drive, creating one folder for each artist (for the most part), and  then finding away to arrange the files in order (next). That got me well under the manageable number of folders.
  • Rename the Song Files: The forum poster pointed me to an MP3 re-tagging utility. It turned out to be pretty easy to use. I renamed the files (once copied to the USB stick, never touching my originals) to display the album name first to group albums together within artist folders, then track #, then name. The images below show the process for renaming one of my albums, but you could do the whole shebang in one stroke. One thing I could not figure out was the code for shortening album titles so I could cram more info into the short car stereo display (the example in the post didn’t work for me), but otherwise it worked well.

  • On to sorting the files: The forum post pointed to this file sorting utility, which overwrote the default ordering (folders pop up on car display by date modified) by letting you order them as you wish. I, of course, chose alphabetical. The example below shows me adding a single folder (Nick Cave”) and putting it in its proper place.

Now, I can find any file by artist, rather than searching through jhundreds of artist and album folders in seemingly random order. Plus, when I add new purchases, I can slip them into the proper findable order as well. It was a bit of picking to find the process, but now that I have it it is reasonably easy. I hope this helps anyone else out there looking for a similar solution.

54 Comments

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  1. Jim

    Frank,

    I just bought a 2017 Honda Civic and will describe in my next post how I solved my own USB drive problems. But first I want to answer your question.

    What file format are you using when you download music from your Mac to the USB drive? My manual says the Civic will play (from a USB drive) sound files in either MP3, WMA, or AAC format. A footnote after “AAC” says, “Only AAC files recorded with iTunes are playable on this unit.” I don’t use iTunes myself (and I don’t have a Mac), but I am thinking that if you can use iTunes to transfer music from your Mac to AAC files on the USB drive, it might work.

  2. Jim

    Problem Solved: 2017 Honda Civic Does Not Recognize USB Drive

    Doug, thank you so much! I have spent some time on other websites, but only yours solved my problem.

    Only after I committed to buy a new 2017 Honda Civic did I realize it did not have a CD player. Because the Owner’s Manual does not make it clear that there is no way to use a portable CD player or driver with this car, I wasted a lot of time researching that approach.

    Then I bought a 64-GB Transcend JetFlash 820G USB 3.0 flash drive. I reformatted it to NTFS, just in case I might someday want to store a huge file on it. Then I transferred a few tracks, plugged it into my car, and found it was not recognized.

    I tried reformatting it to exFAT, the only other option Windows 7 seemed to offer. Some discussion on other sites suggested I might need to use FAT32, but I was not sure how to do that. One person had called Honda tech support and had been told that they did not recommend anything larger than 64 GB, but someone else said they had had success with a 128-GB Samsung drive. Pretty confusing, so far.

    But you, Doug, made it clear I needed to use FAT32 and showed how to do it. The only problem was that Windows 7 will not format a volume larger than 32 GB to FAT32. But I found that another program which I already had on my computer, the free version of Paragon Partition Manager 2014, would format a larger volume in FAT32. I reformatted the drive and copied back my music, plugged the drive into my car, and it immediately started playing! And the sound quality was so much better than anything I had experienced over the car radio, whether FM or SiriusXM! (I am using WMA Lossless set for Best Quality [470–940 kbps]).

    The Honda Owner’s Manual states which file formats work, but it is nothing about needing to use the FAT32 file system on the USB drive.

    BTW the folder tree of the drive is displayed with the same structure as in Windows.

    I am going to send these comments to Honda—hoping they will update their Owner’s Manual.

    Thanks again.

  3. Gilbert Collins

    I had the same problems that you guys were having too, but, the trouble is I have a new problem that I can’t figure out.

    I have a Honda Fit Sports model and I use FAT 32 as the format for the file structures. Here is the problem.

    My files will play fine when I format then on my new Windows 10 computer. BUT, when I used fat 32 formatted on a Mac computer the card always says ‘unsupported’. I’m fairly sure this is a new problem.

    I called Mac support but they can’t really help me because the files play fine on the mac and are recognized by the mac computer.

    The common denominator seems to be the Honda Fit. Does this sound correct??

  4. Enid Crunthrostle

    Yes, the same thing happens when I try to play material saved to FAT32 storage media in my Jazz (a.k.a. “Fit” in the JDM market), I also run a Mac (MBP A1278) and run Mint natively on it as Mac OS or the previous OSX are hopeless with formatting storage drives properly so that they’re recognised on cars such as the small Honda we both own.

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