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Is Car Wi-Fi Worth It?

A phone connected to vehicle wifi
Nikola Stanisic/Shutterstock.com

Car internet systems are becoming more common by the day, and once your free trial expires, you may be asking yourself if car Wi-Fi is worth the price. It’s important to know how it works, how it differs from sharing your phone’s connection, how fast your car’s internet will be, and what to expect before paying up.

There are several benefits to having Wi-Fi in your car. Many people think of it as a connection for tablets and laptops on a road trip, but that’s just one of many benefits. Here are the basics and what you need to know.

How In-Car Internet Works

Getting Wi-Fi in your car is similar to using Wi-Fi at home, and you connect the same way with a Wi-Fi name and password. The only difference is your car uses a cellular signal like your smartphone. Homes have an internet receiver that transmits to nearby devices through a router, and a car does the same. So while your house likely uses a dedicated ISP, often with hardwired cables, vehicles connect to the internet through a cellular data connection.

Keep in mind that a car Wi-Fi router won’t be as powerful as the one you use at home, but they’re more than strong enough to send out a signal to surrounding devices.

You can get internet from your vehicle while sitting in the back seat or at a park bench as long as you’re close enough to the car. Many systems can transmit the internet up to 30 feet away.

How Much is In-Car Internet?

Tesla interior and display

Most new cars come with a free trial for internet connectivity because many people realize how great it is once they’ve had it for a few months and end up buying it. Without a trial, most would skip it and use a phone hotspot instead.

Thankfully, the price of in-car internet is relatively affordable, although it varies based on vehicle type, internet speeds, and the features you want or need.

Car internet typically runs between $10-$50 per month. For one of our staff members, her Subaru was around $35 a month for unlimited data with 4G LTE speeds. Most vehicles support the latest dual-band technology, plus allow several devices to connect at a time. Optionally, you can get more affordable in-car internet if you don’t need unlimited data.

Depending on the manufacturer, you may be able to buy weekly, monthly, or yearly internet plans. Adding in-car internet for a week during a family road trip, for example, is a great idea. Plus, did you know you don’t even need a new car to get Wi-Fi? Some brands like AT&T offer add-on modules.

How Fast is In-Car Internet?

The speed of your car internet will vary due to several different reasons, and it may not reach the same internet speeds you get at home. For one, you’re in a moving vehicle instead of sitting at a desk or the couch, plus the signal gets blocked a bit by the vehicle frame and roof. That said, expect speeds similar to a smartphone while you’re in a moving vehicle.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a car receiver and router probably won’t be as powerful as the one in your home. They’re smaller and aren’t connected to a wall outlet with unlimited power. Instead, it’ll offer a combination of speed and performance without putting too much strain on the electrical system and battery.

It’s Not Just For Laptops and Tablets

Features of BMW's connectivity suite

Streaming Netflix on a tablet in the backseat is perfect for traveling with kids, and having in-car internet could certainly make getting work done on the go easier. However, those are just a few of the many benefits available.

Most people think of car internet as a means of entertainment, but it’s much more than that these days. A prime example is Tesla, which uses an internet connection to stream TV to passengers, play games, sing karaoke, or issue updates and fixes for recalls.

Many new vehicles come with an entire suite of connectivity features and services. Some of those include connected parking, built-in maps that are constantly updated, digital car keys, emergency services, or work alongside GPS tracking.

And we can’t forget about the remote over-the-air software updates. As cars get smarter and go all-electric, we’re seeing more and more brands take advantage of always having power and internet. No one wants to get a recall and have to take a day off work, drive to the dealership, wait forever, and eventually get their car fixed.

These days, many automotive manufacturers can push updates, new features, or patch recall notices directly to the vehicle in a software update while you stay at home.

Is Car Wi-Fi Worth It?

A vehicle dashboard offering updates over wifi

Car Wi-Fi is absolutely worth the money. As we said above, having internet or Wi-Fi in your car is good for more than just entertainment on laptops or tablets. Being able to get over-the-air software updates for recalls, upgrades, or new features on the latest Tesla, and more importantly, emergency services support makes it totally worth it.

Having a subscription to in-car Wi-Fi is perfect for personal and business use, navigation, keeping your eyes on the road instead of a phone, software upgrades, maintenance, and even reliability. These days there are more reasons to have it than ever before, and we see more with each new car that comes out.

We’ve also noticed that the internet in some cars can get a signal when our phones can’t. This is because the cellular data receiver in a vehicle is bigger than the tiny one inside your phone and may be able to pull a signal while you’re in a remote location, on an outdoor adventure, or traveling and need directions.

As you can see, multiple reasons can justify spending a little extra money each month to get in-car internet. Especially when you can get daily, weekly, or monthly plans. Ultimately though, it’s up to you and your family whether it’s worth it or not.

Cory Gunther Cory Gunther
Cory Gunther has been writing about phones, Android, cars, and technology in general for over a decade. He's a staff writer for Review Geek covering roundups, EVs, and news. He's previously written for GottaBeMobile, SlashGear, AndroidCentral, and InputMag, and he's written over 9,000 articles. Read Full Bio »