What is Android Auto?

What is Android Auto and how does it work? Here’s everything you need to know about Android Auto

By BuyaCar team November 20, 2023

Our smartphones are one of our most important daily tools. We use them to stay connected to one another through phone calls and instant messages, listen to music, use satellite navigation and access the internet wherever we go. However, using your phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and illegal. Drivers risk losing concentration when using their phone behind the wheel of a car, putting themselves and others in great danger.

It makes sense, then, that smartphone manufacturers such as Google have enabled their phones to connect with the infotainment systems onboard modern cars. Cars with Android Auto allow drivers to access their phones using the vehicle's existing buttons and microphones whilst staying focused on driving.

Android Auto works by connecting your Google phone to the car either wirelessly using Bluetooth or via a cable. Drivers who use an Apple phone can use a similar feature called CarPlay. You will then be able to control phone calls, messages and other apps including music and maps via your dashboard display, voice controls or buttons on the steering wheel.

If your car doesn’t come with sat-nav as standard but includes Android Auto, you don’t need to change your car or pay to get an aftermarket system fitted - your smartphone already has the functionality and Android Auto can help you get the most from it. This means that even cheap cars can have a fully updated sat-nav system with live traffic information - just check and make sure your phone is compatible and you have enough mobile data.

Android Auto will update itself regularly, meaning all the traffic information it displays will be up-to-date, including information about any road closures or new layouts. Even if your car’s interior is starting to date a little bit, you can rest assured that your Android Auto information is.

Manufacturers have recognised Android Auto as an integral feature for modern drivers, so you’ll find it in plenty of models from the past few years. So if you're an Android phone user looking for your next car, getting one with Android Auto is something you might be interested in.

Is Android Auto compatible with my car?

The majority of new cars now include Android Auto as standard, but this is not universal. It’s worth checking whether any specific cars you're considering include Android Auto before you purchase - especially if you're looking towards the budget end of a model range. Some entry-level models may not have Android Auto, for instance, but the next trim level up could potentially include it.

Alternatively, tech brands like Pioneer and Kenwood are now producing aftermarket head units that support the technology, so you might instead consider fitting one of these systems if you're set on a particular model without Android Auto included or have an older car.

Phones that use the Android operating system include Samsung, Google, Nokia, Xiaomi, Sony and OnePlus.

What if it isn’t compatible?

Don't worry, because in November 2016 Google, which owns Android, began rolling out Android Auto 2.0. This updated system is compatible with any car and doesn't require a built-in screen - perfect if you are driving an older car.

Instead, you put your phone (it must be running Android operating system 5.0 or later) in a cradle and its screen becomes your entertainment screen in the car.

What are Android Auto’s advantages?

The best thing about Android Auto is that you can bring the apps you use every day into the car with you - for free. So if you want your favourite Spotify playlist on the go, it's right there waiting for you. Gone are the days when you had to put up with the music selection of radio DJs.

Seeing as it’s owned by Google, you'll also be able to make use of Google Maps, which will often be more useful than the standard sat-nav built into your car's media system - if it has one at all. You'll have access to all your search history, meaning finding places you've been to recently should be a doddle.

You won't be able to make use of every app installed on your phone, but having things like games available would be obviously inappropriate while driving. If your phone is compatible with voice control you’ll be able to control the system by talking out loud, meaning you won’t need to take your hands away from the wheel. You’ll also have all of your notifications read out loud to you, including messages and emails. Yet another useful function to ensure your attention is not distracted from the road.

What’s it not so good at?

Android Auto can be a little buggy at times. Having too many applications open at once can cause the computer to slow down and possibly crash, requiring you to restart the car to rectify it.

Also be aware that anyone running with restricted data access on their monthly contracts will want to be aware of how much they use their phones when they aren't connected to Wi-Fi. Some newer and more sophisticated cars are fitted with their own Wi-Fi hotspots, so that's less of a problem if you have the money to spend.

Finally, most manufacturers offer Android Auto as a no-cost standard feature on their new cars, but it’s worth double-checking with the dealer when you’re looking to buy your next car. If you are buying a used car, it's worth keeping an eye out for models where the original owner paid for it as an option. Find one of these and you could get a suitable car with Android Auto for less than going for a model with a higher specification level.