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Having Trouble Pairing a Phone To Your Car? You Are Not Alone

Infotainment is now the leading cause of initial quality defects according to experts. The most commonly reported problem won’t be much of a surprise to anyone struggling to connect a phone.

In its latest Initial Quality Study (IQS), J.D. Power & Associates found that the most common quality defect reported by new vehicle owners was difficulty pairing a phone to the vehicle. Fully one-quarter of all quality defects reported by new owners are infotainment-related. Interestingly, though the quality of new vehicles remains at historic highs, some aspects of infotainment are getting worse with regard to new owner troubles, not better.

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About the Study
The IQS was fielded from February through July 2021 and is now in its 35th year. J.D. Power based this study on answers to its questionnaires from 110,827 purchasers and lessees of new 2021 model-year vehicles who were surveyed early in the ownership period. The study is based on a lengthy multi-hundred-question battery organized into nine vehicle categories (infotainment; features, controls and displays; exterior; driving assistance; interior; powertrain; seats; driving experience; and climate). The survey and study are designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate the identification of problems and drive product improvement. If anything was learned from this study it is that phone pairing is a problem for many new owners.

Infotainment Problems Worsen
The study found that pairing a phone to the Android Auto or Apple CarPlay system in a new vehicle is vexing to new owners. “Owners want wireless connectivity, and the industry has responded,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. “However, this has created a bigger technical challenge for both automakers and tech companies. Automakers generally are the ones facing the wrath of owners, but this is definitely a shared problem. Owners don’t care who’s at fault—they just want their phone and their vehicle to talk to each other.”

The top complaint this year is Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, which J.D. Power says worsens significantly. Fully six of the top 10 problems across the industry are infotainment-related.

Limited Owner Experience With Infotainment Is an Issue
One problem with phone pairing is that it is done so rarely. We vehicle testers can easily forget that many vehicle owners do this only one time during the ownership of the vehicle. And that connection may actually be done for them by a dealer associate. Since nobody reads an owner’s manual for anything anymore, how to connect a phone to a car can seem downright mysterious.

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USB port image by John GorehamHow To Connect Your Phone To Your Car
At Torque News we test multiple vehicles each week. One of the first steps in testing a new vehicle is to “pair” or “connect” the infotainment system to our phones. To do so, we find the proper USB port first. Some USB ports are for power only. You will see an icon indicating which type of USB you are trying to plug into. We then look at our phone. For example, we paired a new 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L to a Samsung Galaxy (Android) phone this morning. We simply connected the cables and the phone paired instantly. All we needed to do was to tap “next” on our phone and then “allow.” Done. However, to a phone user unfamiliar with these two menu prompts, the two steps might seem confusing.

One can also pair using BlueTooth, though that is becoming the old-school method of connecting phones. It only offers limited functionality and restricts the things that the user can see on the vehicle infotainment screen.

What Do Do If You Can’t Connect Your Phone To Your Car
If you are having trouble pairing your phone to the car, we suggest that you phone your dealer for a walk-through. Before you call, ask yourself one question; “Do I know how to pair this phone to anything?” If you answer “no” to that, you don't have a problem pairing your phone to your vehicle, you have a problem understanding how your phone works.

Begin by watching a Youtube Video (like this one) on how to pair your phone to BlueTooth or one on how to pair your device to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay (like this one). These may give you a better understanding of how the process will work. Don’t know how to use Youtube? You don’t have a phone or a car problem.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin