From following directions and streaming podcasts to making calls and sending texts, Wi-Fi makes driving more convenient. But not all cars have built-in internet, especially if you drive an older model. There are, however, some quick and easy ways to turn your vehicle into a connected car.
We’ll walk you through answers to some frequently asked questions, including:
• How exactly does Wi-Fi in your car work?
• How is it different from a portable Wi-Fi router?
At Asurion, we not only fix and protect your favorite connected devices, we teach millions of people about their tech, from everything you need to know about Apple® CarPlay® to what’s Matter™ and why it matters for your smart home. Here’s our guide to getting car Wi-Fi access.
How does car Wi-Fi work?
Wi-Fi for your car works in more than one way. If your car comes with built-in Wi-Fi, think of it as a hotspot or local Wi-Fi network connecting various devices to the internet. Like your home router, your car has its own receiver and transmitter, which connects to the internet via a cellular data connection. If your car doesn’t come with built-in Wi-Fi, there are a few different devices on the market that let you add it to your vehicle.
How do I add Wi-Fi to my car?
There’s more than one way to add Wi-Fi access to your car. The right way for you will depend on the devices you already own, how comfortable you are with technology, and how much you want to spend. We’ll walk you through what you need to know about internet access in your car.
Turn your phone into a hotspot
Your smartphone has a feature that turns it into a mobile hotspot, sharing its data signal over Wi-Fi with other devices—including your car. With a hotspot, you can do everything in your vehicle that you do from your wireless network at home, like looking up directions, joining video calls, and streaming music.
Using your mobile phone to create a car Wi-Fi hotspot is the simplest and least expensive way to get Wi-Fi in your car. The feature is straightforward—just turn on your phone’s mobile hotspot, then connect your car to your phone’s shared network.
Keep in mind, turning your phone into a hotspot drains its battery faster. And if you don’t have unlimited data on your phone, taking long drives while using navigation, streaming podcasts, and letting your kids watch movies will eat into your monthly cellular plan.
To learn more, check out our guide to using your iPhone® and Android™ device as a mobile hotspot.
Buy a dedicated mobile hotspot
Another way to get Wi-Fi in your car is a dedicated mobile hotspot. It’s a tiny device—small enough to fit in your pocket or glove compartment—that creates a wireless network wherever it’s located.
Does using a hotspot cost money? Yes, you’ll need a data plan, but using a dedicated mobile hotspot won’t drain your phone’s data and battery. Plus, you can connect multiple devices and use it anywhere—your car, the beach, or the airport.
There are two kinds of portable hotspots: a dongle and a self-contained one. The former plugs into your car via a USB connection, though it must first be set up on a laptop or computer. The latter plugs into a 12v accessory socket for power, has built-in batteries, and is more portable than a dongle, though it’s also more expensive.
Check with your mobile network provider to see if it offers its own brand of mobile hotspots, which can simplify adding them on to your current plan.
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Use an OBD-II device
Another affordable option for bringing Wi-Fi capabilities into your car is to use an OBD-II device. Plug it into the onboard diagnostic port (typically located under the dashboard or beneath the steering wheel column), turn on your car, and—voila—you’re online. While not portable, certain OBD-II Wi-Fi devices also give you extra information, like diagnostic information about your car and data that lets you track the location of your vehicle historically and in real time.
Install a dedicated wireless router
If you’re looking for the strongest possible internet and the most reliable tech, invest in a wireless modem and router specifically for your car. Many models can support up to 20 devices. Keep in mind, this is the most expensive way to get internet into your car, and you may need a pro’s help setting it up.
Can you buy a car with built-in Wi-Fi?
Considering buying a new car? Ask dealers about models that come with built-in Wi-Fi hotspots. These connected vehicles offer a faster, more reliable connection than your phone and should work up to 50 feet away from your car. Plus, there’s no installation necessary, and in-car Wi-Fi lets you connect multiple devices at the same time. Make sure to ask about a free trial as well as the cost of monthly cell phone plan data, and find out what extra services come with the package, like satellite radio and live traffic updates.
Will my car's Wi-Fi work when the engine is turned off?
This issue can get a little tricky depending on your make and model, but generally speaking, as long as your key is turned to the “On” position—or your car is in the “Run” or “Accessory” position—your Wi-Fi hotspot will work. Just as you don’t need the engine to be running for the radio to work, the same goes for internet access. But don’t sit too long like this—you’ll drain your car's battery.
How to get Wi-Fi in my car for free?
If you need to look up directions but you don’t have internet in your car, there is something you can try. Park near a public hotspot, like a coffee shop, mall, or public library, and connect to the internet on your phone. Go to Settings > Wi-Fi, then choose the free network from the list.
While this is the only free way to get online in your car, your connection could be spotty, plus there are security risks to using public Wi-Fi for anything other than scrolling through news and playing free games. If you’re shopping or logging into password-protected accounts, better to wait until you’re on a trusted home network. Or get a virtual private network (VPN) to keep your personal and professional information safe and anonymous.
To learn more, here’s how to stay safe on public Wi-Fi.
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