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How to use Apple CarPlay

Information displays are a boon to driving. They can support music playback from multiple sources, display information about the car, show an incoming call’s number, and more. Apple CarPlay complements these displays by adding navigation, audio streaming services, news, and other features installed directly on a connected iPhone. Even better, CarPlay is free as long as the information panel supports it — no subscription required.

Thankfully, configuring and using CarPlay is extremely easy. In most cases, it requires a physical USB connection between a car and an iPhone. However, users should streamline the interface before hitting the long road so they’re not frantically swiping and tapping the screen while driving. Here’s how to use Apple CarPlay.

Further Reading

Connecting to Apple CarPlay

Image used with permission by copyright holder

If the vehicle’s infotainment system has the ability to run Apple CarPlay, getting started is easy.

Wired connections

Step 1: While Listen for “Hey Siri” is likely toggled on by default, be sure that the Allow Siri When Locked setting is toggled on, too. Open the Settings app and tap Siri & Search to access this setting.

Step 2: Start the vehicle and wait for the information display to load its default interface.

Step 3: Connect an iPhone to the vehicle via a USB cable. Your vehicle may have several USB ports, so read the owner’s manual to find out which one you should use for CarPlay. It typically has a CarPlay or smartphone icon on or near the port cap.

Step 4: What appears next depends on the car model. Your infotainment screen should display a message asking if you would like to enable CarPlay, and a similar message may appear on your iPhone. This will enable you to use CarPlay while your phone is locked and stored safely in the vehicle.

That’s it for setting up a wired connection, but there may be a few extra steps required in some cases. Depending on your vehicle, the infotainment system may require you to enable CarPlay in a settings menu. Some systems have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto turned off by default, but the process to enable the services is usually quick and painless.

Wireless connections

Some cars support wireless Apple CarPlay. Depending on the display model, this connection may need either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, or both simultaneously.

On the Bluetooth front, connections can use Miracast to send the CarPlay information to the display. Without Miracast, the voice-control button merely handles Siri-based queries via Bluetooth without displaying the familiar Apple interface on the screen.

On cars with Wi-Fi, the information screen requires an access point component so the iPhone can send the same data directly to the screen. In other words, the iPhone would connect to the car just like it would with a local network router. Without this access point component, a car’s Wi-Fi can only connect to other networks like any other device.

That said, check the car’s manual to see what type of Wi-Fi it has. However, because wireless CarPlay is extremely new, the instructions on how to connect depend on the car and display model. Still, the Siri aspect is easy to set up:

Step 1: Enable Bluetooth on both devices

Step 2: Press and hold the voice-command button on the steering wheel.

Step 3: On the iPhone, open the Settings app and tap General followed by CarPlay.

Step 4: Tap the discovered car to pair the two devices.

If the vehicle doesn’t appear, try toggling Bluetooth off and on. If that still doesn’t work, consult your owner’s manual to find out if there are additional steps required.

Finally, if the vehicle doesn’t support wireless CarPlay, there are plenty of third-party adapters, like the CarPlay2Air, that can plug into the USB port. There’s still a physical connection, but not for the iPhone.

Controlling Apple CarPlay

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With the iPhone connected, the vehicle’s infotainment screen will either list CarPlay on the main menu — replacing Smartphone Connection — or fully switch over to the CarPlay interface. It resembles a small iPad screen.

Most current in-car displays support touch input. The typical swipe and tap will scroll, open, and close apps as usual. Displays with multi-touch support allow for pinch-to-zoom so users can get a closer look at all the local restaurants when navigating with Apple Maps, for instance.

Depending on the vehicle, there may be an option to use Siri and voice commands to control CarPlay. This is possible with and without a USB connection. Simply press and hold the voice-command button on the steering wheel and the similar “ding ding” blasts through the car’s speakers. Just speak the command.

Configuring the home screen

Just like on an iPhone, apps can be moved and deleted to streamline the home screen. Here’s how:

Step 1: Open the Settings app and tap General.

Step 2: Tap CarPlay.

Step 3: Tap the paired vehicle.

Step 4: Tap Customize.

Step 5: To remove an app, tap the red “minus” button followed by the red Remove button. It’s not uninstalled but instead placed under More Apps.

Step 5: To add an app, tap the green “plus” button next to any app under More Apps.

Step 6: To rearrange the order, tap and hold the three-line “hamburger” button to the right of each app and drag it up or down.

When the iPhone reconnects, CarPlay should display the new app layout.

Unfortunately, there are times when things don’t work as expected. In these cases, there are a few options. You can troubleshoot by performing basic actions such as unplugging and re-plugging the iPhone, turning off your vehicle and turning it back on, checking settings, and more.

Apple offers several resources to help you, located here. Keep in mind that some issues may require assistance from your vehicle’s dealer service center.

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Chris Teague
I cover automobiles and tech to find the stories and information that really matter. My background in technology consulting…
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