Smart digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and the Google Assistant are infinitely helpful entities, at least until you depart the house. Now, it’s possible to access your virtual butler while on the road, too — Alexa is being offered in vehicles. What can Alexa actually do in the car, though, and is it helpful?
Let’s dig in to discover how well it works and whether it adds to the overall driving experience. If you want a primer on using Alexa devices in the home, check out our article all about what Alexa is and how it works, or read our Amazon Echo Show (2nd-gen) review.
For starters, let’s differentiate between the various Alexa products for your car. There is Alexa Built-in, which comes factory-installed in some new vehicles (see which ones here). If you have an older car but still want to get some smarts, you can add Echo Auto as an aftermarket module (learn how to install Alexa in your car). For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on the Built-in version, since it’s more reliable and connected than the add-on version.
Alexa Built-in for your car means you get:
- Navigation: Alexa can get directions to a specific address, business, or point of interest, and it’s designed to work seamlessly with the vehicle’s embedded navigation systems (like OnStar Turn-by-Turn). You can ask for navigation using natural language.
- Media: Ask Alexa to play a specific song, artist, genre, or station, as well as Audible audiobooks or podcasts. Alexa can also switch among radio services like AM/FM and Sirius satellite radio.
- Make calls: If Alexa is paired with your phone, it can use your address book and dial up your friends and family.
- Stay connected: Check the news, add items to an Amazon shopping cart, make grocery lists, jot down reminders, and access Alexa skills.
- Home integration: Ask Alexa to turn on your outdoor smart light bulbs when you pull up, open the garage door, change the temperature on your smart thermostat, or make an announcement (“I need help with the groceries!”) from the car to your home Echo device inside.
- Remote vehicle access: Depending on the car you drive, you can ask Alexa to lock the doors, set off the alarm, and even start the vehicle to get it warmed up or cooled off before you get in. You can also share the vehicle’s location, get info about system status of the car (like fuel level), and even request roadside assistance.
How to set up Alexa Built-in
Anyone who’s ever tried to set the clock on the dashboard knows cars can be frustrating at times. Fortunately, setup for Alexa in the Chevrolet Blazer is simple. First, download and set up your car’s specific app (i.e., myChevrolet, myBuick, myGMC). Once you have that set up, you can connect Alexa:
- Open the Alexa app on your phone or device.
- Enable the skill for your car (i.e., myChevrolet, myBuick, myGMC). You will need to log in to your account with your car’s username and password.
- Set a PIN to help protect access to certain features when using the skill.
How to call on Alexa in the car
To access Alexa in your vehicle, you need to push the Voice Control button on the steering wheel. Unlike when you’re at home, you can’t just call for Alexa by name. This appears to be a safety feature, ensuring the driver remains focused instead of letting other people give Alexa a bunch of commands.
You can ask Alexa to do any number of things specific to your car. Like using Alexa at home, you do need to word your commands carefully so it knows just how to respond.
- “Alexa, ask Chevrolet for help.”
- “Alexa, ask Cadillac to start my car.”
- “Alexa, ask Chevrolet to lock/unlock my car.”
- “Alexa, ask GMC to stop my car.” (Must be parked.)
- “Alexa, ask Buick what vehicles are in my garage.”
- “Alexa, ask Cadillac to secure my garage.”
Cloud connection needed
The Alexa Built-in app requires a connection to the cloud, and new cars that offer this service already have that connectivity built in, often using a 4G LTE monthly auto data plan. Interestingly, in the Chevrolet vehicle we tested, it’s possible to connect your car to a cellular hotspot or even your home Wi-Fi.
A few years ago, many of us probably thought having a voice-controlled digital butler was unnecessary. But now that they exist in so many homes, we’re learning to live with them and take advantage of all they can do. Similarly, we’ve all made it this far on the road without a robot assistant, but having extra hands-free smarts in the car does quickly become comfortable. If you’re buying a new car and it comes with Alexa Built-in, congratulations! You’ll likely find it a helpful way to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
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