How to use CarPlay

CarPlay is Apple’s answer to iOS in the car, allowing for easy access to a range of features. There’s a lot that you can do with CarPlay, and here's our CarPlay guide packed with top CarPlay tips, along with how to troubleshoot the most common CarPlay errors when they occur.

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  • carplay connection Connection options
  • amazon cable Buy an additional Lightning cable
  • siri voice activation Voice control using Siri
  • siri directions Use Siri for directions
  • send text using siri Read and send texts using Siri
  • music on carplay Use Siri to browse for music
  • apple music playlist Create and download playlists
  • phone app carplay Use Siri as your receptionist
  • siri general image Siri can tweet, WhatsApp and more
  • third party apps Use unsupported apps with CarPlay
  • siri not responding Siri is slow/unresponsive
  • blank display CarPlay display is blank/off
  • music interrupted Music playback interrupted
  • failed connection Failed Connection to Apple CarPlay
  • More stories
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CarPlay tips: Connection options

Before we jump into what can be done with CarPlay (along with how to fix the most common problems, which starts at slide 11), let’s first talk about the ways to connect your iPhone to CarPlay. The most common way to connect your iPhone to CarPlay is by using a Lightning cable – simply plug it into the USB port in your car.

Newer cars, like the 2017 BMW 5-series, may also offer wireless AirPlay support via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This allows you to access CarPlay without having to fiddle with cables every time you get in and out of your car. 

This won’t work with all cars that feature CarPlay, and if you're unsure, you should take a look at your car’s manual for more information.

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Next Prev carplay connection

Before we jump into what can be done with CarPlay (along with how to fix the most common problems, which starts at slide 11), let’s first talk about the ways to connect your iPhone to CarPlay. The most common way to connect your iPhone to CarPlay is by using a Lightning cable – simply plug it into the USB port in your car.

Newer cars, like the 2017 BMW 5-series, may also offer wireless AirPlay support via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This allows you to access CarPlay without having to fiddle with cables every time you get in and out of your car. 

This won’t work with all cars that feature CarPlay, and if you're unsure, you should take a look at your car’s manual for more information.

 

CarPlay tips: Buy an additional Lightning cable

Before we move on, those using a wired CarPlay connection should probably invest in a separate Lightning cable to leave in the car as remembering to take your existing cable everywhere will quickly become tiresome. We opted for a retractable Lightning cable to keep it as neat as possible, but other options are available too. Whatever you decide, make sure you buy a cable that offers data transfer and not just charging capabilities, as many cheap cables only offer the latter.

 

CarPlay tips: Voice control using Siri

One of the biggest benefits to CarPlay is the ability to use Siri hands-free when driving, and can be done in one of two ways. The simplest way is to use the voice control button on the steering wheel of most, if not all, CarPlay-enabled cars – just hold down the button until you hear the familiar Siri chime, and speak your request.

Those using an aftermarket installation, or those that simply don’t want to hold a button to activate Siri, can use ‘Hey Siri’ on the iPhone to activate the virtual assistant, although results tend to be hit and miss if the environment is loud (car engine, music, etc). It’s also limited to newer iPhones (iPhone 6s and 6s Plus or newer).

 

CarPlay tips: Use Siri for directions

CarPlay features Apple Maps, the ideal SatNav if your car doesn’t feature built-in satellite navigation. While you can manually set up Apple Maps to direct you to your destination, you can also use Siri. Simply activate Siri and say “Take me to 221B Baker Street” or “Find the closest petrol station” and it’ll find the quickest available route for you. It’s also worth adding the addresses in Calendar events and in your Contacts app as it’ll further speed up the process, as you can simply ask Siri to direct you to Fred’s house, or to your next meeting, for example.

Read next: Best satnav apps for iPhone

 

CarPlay tips: Read and send texts using Siri

Siri isn’t just there to get you from point A to B though, as it can also be used to not only dictate new text messages, but to read incoming texts for you, allowing you to keep your eyes on the road. Simply activate Siri, say something like “Send a text to Katie saying I’m on my way now” and it’ll compose the message for you.

For those worrying that Siri will misunderstand you and send something completely different to what you said, don’t worry: Siri will read (not display, for safety purposes) the message to you to confirm before sending it.

 

CarPlay tips: Use Siri to browse for music

Apple, of course, offers Apple Music support via CarPlay by using the data connection from your iPhone. This means that you have access to the entire Apple Music library from your car, and can activate Siri and give it commands like “Play my driving playlist” or “Play the latest Adele album”.

 

CarPlay tips: Create and download playlists

While you can play anything from Apple Music when using CarPlay, it’s worth noting that streaming music will eat up your data, and we suggest creating car-specific playlists before driving and making them available offline when connected to Wi-Fi. It’s also a good backup to have, especially when driving in areas that have spotty 3G/4G reception, as no connection to the internet = no music to sing along (badly) to.

Read next: Best iPhone accessories

 

CarPlay tips: Use Siri as your receptionist

Siri can also help you make calls on the go without distracting you from the road. Simply say “Call David” or “return my last call” and Siri will handle the rest. In fact, you can even get it to play back recent voicemails if you ask it to. Of course, these options are also available via the CarPlay dashboard in the Phone app, but it’s not recommended that you interact with the touchscreen while driving.

 

CarPlay tips: Siri can tweet, WhatsApp and more

Siri isn’t restricted to only understanding commands based on apps installed in CarPlay, and will also be able to perform tasks like sending WhatsApp messages, tweeting and answering questions like “How tall is Big Ben?” while on the go if your iPhone is running iOS 10. Almost anything that Siri can do on your iPhone can be done via CarPlay, so ask away.

 

CarPlay tips: Use unsupported apps with CarPlay

While we definitely don’t recommend using this tip to play games or perform other distracting tasks while driving, there is a way to use unsupported apps via CarPlay, although it’s a little awkward. Let’s say you want to use an unsupported Podcast app, or you prefer Google Maps or Waze to Apple Maps, the first step is to open the app on your iPhone when connected to CarPlay.

While the app won’t appear in your CarPlay unit like with supported apps, it should still provide audio playback. That should be enough for music player apps, but for those wanting to use SatNav, there’s an additional step: invest in an iPhone holder for the car, and place it somewhere appropriate in your car.  

Read next: Best in-car iPhone mounts and holders

 

CarPlay troubleshooting guide: Siri is slow/unresponsive

Okay, now we’ve given you a few tips and tricks to get the most out of CarPlay, let’s talk about what to do when it goes wrong. One of the most common issues that CarPlay owners report is that Siri becomes extremely slow, and even unresponsive at times. Now, while it should automatically inform you of this when it is the case, users should be aware that Siri can only be used when there’s an active internet connection. That means if you’re somewhere with limited or no smartphone reception, or if you’ve run out of data on your contract, you won’t be able to use Siri while on the go.

 

CarPlay troubleshooting guide: CarPlay display is blank/off

Another common issue that users report is a blank/unresponsive in-car display when they plug their iPhone into the car to be used with CarPlay. Now while this could be a sign of a bigger problem with the unit itself, it’s worth trying a few things first before you call your car’s manufacturer. First off, restart your iPhone and try plugging it in again. If that doesn’t work, try using another USB port if possible, or using a different Lightning cable in case the one you’re using is damaged.

Of course, it could also be due to the firmware of the car itself, especially if it happened around the time of a new CarPlay software release. To update the car’s firmware, consult your manual.

 

CarPlay troubleshooting guide: Music playback interrupted

If your music playback is randomly interrupted, it may be due to poor cellular reception in the area as streaming music requires an active internet connection. As mentioned before, we recommend creating playlists and downloading them for offline use when connected to Wi-Fi to help avoid this issue.

 

CarPlay troubleshooting guide: Failed Connection to Apple CarPlay

What if you plug your iPhone into your car and a message along the lines of “Failed Connection to Apple CarPlay” appears on-screen? The first question is: which device are you using? Only iPhone 5 and newer are compatible with CarPlay, meaning iPhone 4s (and older) users are out of luck. If it’s not your phone, then check the cable – it might not support data transfer, a required feature for a wired CarPlay connection.

If it’s not any of those, then one last thing to check before calling your car’s manufacturer is whether CarPlay is restricted on the iPhone. Simply head to Settings > General > Restrictions > CarPlay and if it’s toggled on, toggle off the CarPlay restrictions and try again.

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