Driving Sat Nav - Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Arrticle written by beaker_72 on 2022-07-29 to provide some advice on how to use apps like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as alternatives to sat navs in hire cars.

Important note Ė this guide was originally written by someone who has extensive experience of using Android Auto and very little experience of Apple CarPlay. As a result the instructions for Apple users may not be 100% accurate as they are based on information found on the web rather than first hand experience.

If anyone reading this has more experience of Apple CarPlay and sees areas that could be improved or corrected, please go ahead and change them.

What Are They?
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are apps which have been developed with the intention of allowing you to use and control your smartphone while driving. They allow the phone to be integrated with the carís controls so that you can (for example):
  • make calls using the steering wheel buttons
  • use apps such as Spotify to play your music through the carís entertainment system
  • use navigation apps on your phone such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, TomTom, Waze and others
Apps are controlled through the touchscreen on your carís dashboard rather than on the phone itself.

So What?
While this is great if youíre interested in using technology in general, where it becomes really useful for Dibbers is in the area of navigation as it gives you an alternative to taking your own sat nav unit on holiday or paying to hire one.

A lot of smartphone based navigation apps such as Google Maps, Apple Maps and TomTom Go allow you to download maps and save them on your phone so you can access them when off-line. What this means is that you can download those maps before you leave the UK and then use them for navigation when in Orlando without having to pay for a data connection. As long as GPS (which doesnít need data) is enabled on your phone the apps will know where you are and will be able to function as normal.

Ok So If We Decide to Use It, What Apps Are Available?
Offline Navigation
Note that this section only discusses what apps are available that allow you to download maps and navigate without a data connection. It also doesnít talk about features of apps that need a data connection to work (like real-time traffic info).

So first off there are the apps that come ďfreeĒ with Android or Apple Ė specifically Google Maps and Apple Maps respectively.

Google Maps is reasonably good for sat nav purposes and is available on Android and Apple. Itíll get you to where you want to go and can handle things like alternate routes reasonably well. Supposedly Apple Maps is OK-ish but is a bit unsophisticated, especially when compared to Google Maps.

An alternative is TomTom GO. This isnít free (usually costs £19.99 a year to subscribe) which will put a lot of people off but in tests carried out in Orlando by this writer comparing TomTom directly to Google Maps, TomTom was better in terms of quality of instructions and handling changes to the route (for example caused by missing a turn) but the difference was marginal. For most people Google Maps will do perfectly well, however TomTom downloads maps by default which means that as long as youíve set it up in advance to navigate in Florida you should never get caught out by a missing or dodgy data connection.

Connected Navigation
This section has been included because thereís one very popular sat nav app available that works on both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay but which needs a data connection to work properly.

Waze is hugely popular because itís very good at giving you current information about traffic conditions and incidents. This needs a data connection though and as a result Waze hasnít been designed to work without such a connection. There is a workaround to make Waze work offline but itís not recommended if you donít want to have to rely on data or wifi.

When you do have a data connection then the on-line functionality of apps such as Google Maps and TomTom Go will also be available to you in the car. This includes things like traffic information, real-time re-routing and prices at gas stations on your route.

Sounds Great, Let's Go...
Not so fast tiger! Unfortunately while they are widely available now and becoming more so all the time, not all cars come with Android Auto and/or Apple CarPlay installed. The respective manufacturers of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay maintain lists of which cars now support the apps which are available here for Android and here for Apple.

As we donít always know exactly what car weíre going to get when hiring until we turn up at the garage, if youíre in a position to choose the car youíre going to drive away in you can either check whatís available against those lists or just ask the hire company staff which ones do/donít have Android Auto / Apple CarPlay installed. Recent experience has shown that most hire cars come with these apps as standard but we should never assume weíre going to get it, especially if relying on it for navigation.

OK So Weíve Got a Car That Does This Stuff, How Do We Actually Use It?
Right, so the first thing you need to know is that while some (usually higher end) cars allow you to connect to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay using Bluetooth, the vast majority need a USB or Lightning cable to connect the phone to the dashboard. This means you need to have a USB or Lightning cable available when you get in the car.

You also need to ensure youíve already installed the Android Auto or Apple CarPlay app on your smartphone before you try to connect to the car or nothing will happen. If you have an iPhone then youíre going to be using Apple CarPlay which you can install from the App Store. Anything else (like Samsung, Pixel, Sony, OnePlus, Motorola) then youíre looking at Android Auto which you can install from Google Play.

Start the car and then connect your phone to the dashboard. There should be a USB socket somewhere on the dash (usually down low somewhere). Your phone might ask you to start the app, but whatís more likely is that after a few seconds the display on the car dashboard* will then give you the option to start Android Auto / Apple CarPlay.

The first time you do this, it might take anything up to a few minutes to get everything up and running. Look out for messages on your phone about connecting and sharing information and take whatever action the phone asks you to. This might include confirming a number is displayed on your phone which matches one on the dashboard display.

After the first time, the car will usually either just display the button to start the app or automatically start it when you connect your phone.

Once itís all up and running you should see a display similar to this:

Android Auto

Apple CarPlay

To start an app, just press the relevant icon on the dashboard touch screen and it should launch. You can then use either the screen on the dashboard or the screen on your phone to control the app. In many cases, the app wonít let you use your phone screen while the car is moving but using the dashboard screen is normally easier any way.

Voice Controls

You can also control Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with voice controls by pressing the voice button on your steering wheel**. This is as effective as voice controls are in other circumstances and take a bit of trial and error.

Thatís pretty much it to be honest. These apps are pretty straightforward and easy to use. A written guide tends to make them look more complicated than they actually are and the best thing to do is to give them a go. If youíre going to rely on something like this for navigation in Orlando, itís a good idea to get familiar with the app before you go on holiday. You might already have them on your car at home and if so then give them a go. If you donít have them, youíll probably know someone who does and you could always ask them to demonstrate them for you. Or even hire a car for a day that has the app installed and play about with it.
The key thing to remember is that if you donít want to have to rely on a data connection then you must remember to download everything before you leave home. Of course you can also download stuff over WiFi once you get there, but thatís not going to help when youíre sitting in the car in the airport garage wondering how to get to your villa / hotel / condo / igloo.

What to Do Before Returning the Car
There is always a residual concern about leaving personal data in the car system when returning a hire car. This is more of an issue if youíve connected your phone to the car systems by Bluetooth and have used it to make phone calls etc as you might inadvertently transfer your contacts into the carís phone book.

This should be less of a concern when using Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as these apps do all of their work on your phone and they only use the carís dashboard display as an external screen for the phone.

It doesnít hurt to check though and so when you return your hire car you should always make sure the car phone book and any other data has been wiped.

Checklist - What To Do Before Leaving Home
  • Practice using these apps on your own car at home (if installed)
  • Install Android Auto / Apple CarPlay
  • Download maps for Florida
  • Pack a usb / lightning cable


* The display on the dashboard is technically referred to as the ďhead unitĒ.

** Apple users will probably get some kind of message about Siri when they first set up Apple CarPlay in the car. This is because the voice controls are managed by Siri
Return to Page HistoryLast editted by beaker72 on 29-07-2022 12:06

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