Android Auto works with any modern Samsung or Google phone. It allows you to quickly, safely, and with minimal distraction to use many of your phone’s features while in your vehicle. A recent study conducted by AAA determined that using Android Auto is less distracting than using the native navigation and music apps built into the car. The main benefits are the ability to use the best navigation tools in the world, Google Maps and Waze, along with music in your vehicle. These will be directly integrated into your vehicle’s screens and sound systems. Some apps, like messaging will also work if you allow them to.
Step 1 – Plug In Your Phone
Let’s jump to how to start using Android Auto. Many of the features are so self-explanatory, just connecting the phone to the car will be all most users need to begin taking advantage of Android Auto. The first step is to get your phone charger cable, or cord, and plug it into the phone and then also into one of the USB ports in the car’s console or dashboard. You don’t connect it to the old-fashioned 12-Volt DC power hole (the round one). Rather, you use the larger square end of your cable, called a USB cable. The vehicle needs to be on when you do all of this of course. Your phone will charge while you drive, so don’t worry about depleting your battery while using these apps.
In some vehicles, the USB ports are not all linked to the ability to communicate with Android Auto. So, be patient. There are usually only a couple. It takes a minute to find the right one if the first doesn’t get you started. Let’s also stop here and prepare a bit. When the phone wakes up Android Auto, DO NOT start hitting answers to the questions before reading the rest of this story.
Step 2 – Answer A few Questions On Your Phone
When the USB cable connects at both ends to a phone with Android Auto and a vehicle that offers it, the phone will wake up and recognize it is now being connected to a vehicle with the capability. It is going to display a few questions for you. The first screen will say “Unlock to continue” or “No Thanks.” If you hit "no thanks," you are going to cause yourself unwanted problems. Of course, you tap “Unlock to continue.”
Next, the screen will say, “What do you want to do with Android Auto?” You now tap “Continue.” If you tap "Exit", you are going to cause yourself some problems.
After you do these steps this first time the system will not ask you again. Go slowly and look at every screen carefully this first time. The system may ask you two more questions. They will be “Allow access to contacts?” Answer yes, but if a small box offers itself as the “Do this always” option, check that box first. A second similar access question may follow. Answer yes again. Android Auto is only asking if the system can use the names and phone numbers in your phone to allow you use the hands-free features to call folks and to see who an incoming call is from. The added questions allow the system to use your location data to help you use Google Maps. If you don’t want to use these features, stop here, put on your tinfoil hat, and listen to AM radio.
Step 3 - Use Your Apps
The Android Auto app is really just a hand-shake between your phone and your car. It isn’t the actual navigation app or music app or messaging app. All of the stuff you did above, you only have to do the first time you connect to a new vehicle. After that, it will just work when you plug in. Including reading the story, the whole process should have only taken under 2 minutes. Now, here is where the fun starts.
You can use Google Maps by simply tapping the map function on your phone. Google Maps is a native app on almost all Android phones. You should not have to get it at the Google Play store. Tap it if the screen does not already offer you a small round map icon on the car’s main screen. If you need help using Google Maps find a good tutorial on YouTube to watch. You may also prefer to use Waze navigation. Waze offers more information on speed traps and other warnings for drivers. To get Waze, download it to your phone at the Google Play store. It’s free. Google Maps and Waze can be mute, or it can offer turn by turn spoke directions in addition to the directions that appear on-screen. Some vehicles will even integrate the turn-by turn instructions on the head-up display and in the gauge cluster.
If you have a streaming music service it will likely work well with Android Auto. The most commonly-used music app is Pandora. Pandora is free with commercials but can be commercial-free with a small monthly subscription fee. We love it. You can find it at the Google Play store. You can also use your music that already resides on your phone if you have loaded music to your phone.
When you get a call, it will automagically show who the caller is on the screen. Tap the green button to accept the call, and the red to decline or to end a call. The call will, of course, be hands-free and the music will automagically mute.
You can also have text messages that you receive read to you as they come in. Some vehicles will allow you to reply with simple answers like “yes,” “no,” or “15 Minutes.” Explore the system when you are not driving and find what features you can unlock.
Android Auto is extremely simple to use. Remember, Android Auto is just the way your phone and vehicle link up. It is not the actual apps. If you are frustrated by an app you use, pick another. All Android Auto is doing is enabling their use in the vehicle. One neat bonus feature is that if you connect via Android Auto you don’t have to link your phone with Bluetooth. If you re-enter the vehicle and don’t plug in, the car will recognize your phone. It may ask you once for some permissions, since they are Bluetooth permissions, not Android ones you already said yes to.
One final note: This story is written in February of 2020. As it is typed, GM is launching cordless Android Auto in three new models. BMW is planning to offer cordless Android Auto in all of its 2020 models. So, as time goes on, the cord will not be needed in new vehicles. Hurray!
Here are some common troubleshooting tips:
- Nothing is happening: Is the car on? Is the cable connected properly? Have you tried a different USB port?
- I don’t seem to have Android Auto despite the above steps. Check that your car model actually included Android auto compatibility. Be sure your phone has the app. If you have an older Android phone you may have to get it from the Google Play store (the online app store for Android).
- You own a Volvo, Tesla, or Toyota: Volvo makes its owners download a special app to use Android Auto. Shame on Volvo. Ask your dealer for help. Many Toyota vehicles prior to the 2020 model year did not offer Android Auto. Toyota instead offered a poorly-rated app called Scout nobody liked. Tesla does not offer Android Auto. Elon Musk can’t figure it out.
- If you continue to have difficulty, ask your dealer for help the next time you bring in your car for service.
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and connect with him at Linkedin.