Having reliable internet access is essential these days, which is why in-car internet or Wi-Fi is becoming so common. Of course, some newer cars still don’t have it, and older vehicles certainly don’t, but you can easily add Wi-Fi to your vehicle with a portable hotspot, OBD2 plug, and more.
With network providers shutting down 3G services throughout the nation, many vehicles with in-car internet are about to lose it, too, meaning you may need to find a different solution.
And while the easiest way to get internet in your car is by taking advantage of systems from the manufacturer, like OnStar, you can also use the hotspot function on your smartphone or add Wi-Fi yourself. Here’s what you need to know about getting internet in your car.
For starters, many modern vehicles come equipped with Wi-Fi or internet connectivity, and that’s your best bet. These systems are already in place and built-in, meaning you’ll need to activate them to take advantage of Wi-Fi in your vehicle.
Depending on what car you own, here are a few popular options in the United States. The easiest way to get things going is to call the dealership or manufacturer.
- T-Mobile SyncUP Drive
- OnStar (General Motors, Buick, Chevrolet, and Cadillac)
- Toyota Wi-Fi Connect
- UConnect (Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge)
Many newer vehicles have access to at least one of these, but with all the different models, years, and makes, it’s hard to determine what your monthly fee will be. On the plus side, many car manufacturers offer daily, weekly, or monthly passes if you’d like, perfect for a road trip or family vacation.
Additionally, many new car buyers get a free trial, often up to 1-year free, so take advantage of that if it’s available. You won’t want to go without it once you see how helpful in-car internet can be with maintenance, security, or entertainment.
Unfortunately, these services aren’t offered on all vehicles, and lower trim (base model) cars sometimes don’t have them. So, even if you have a new car, you might not have access to these services. If so, we have other options detailed below.
Many people choose not to pay for the Wi-Fi that comes with their car because they have a smartphone. You’re already paying Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or one of the others for internet access on your phone, and the easiest way to get Wi-Fi in your car is to share your phone’s connection.
All smartphones have a “hotspot” feature that essentially turns it into a Wi-Fi router, just like your home internet. You can share your phone’s connectivity with your vehicle by turning on the hotspot feature in settings. Then, connect your car to your phone’s shared network.
There are a few potential issues with this route. First, not all cell phone plans offer the hotspot function, and you could have to pay an added monthly fee to get it. Additionally, using your phone as a hotspot uses data. If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, streaming music and using navigation in your car could eat up your monthly data allowance.
It’s also worth mentioning that the hotspot function will drain your battery faster. And yes, you can plug it in for a charge, but combining a hotspot with charging can make your phone run hot. Plus, some car-specific services (like OnStar or diagnostics) will not function with a smartphone hotspot.
If you don’t want to constantly fumble through the settings on your phone to turn on its hotspot, or prefer a dedicated internet plan for your car, get a mobile hotspot. Verizon and most carriers offer these little devices, and they’re super helpful. A hotspot gets the internet anywhere a phone does and functions mainly the same way.
Hotspots are small enough to fit in a pocket, purse, or glove box and are often USB-rechargeable. That way, it’s always in your car and ready to go. Better yet, you can take it out of the car and go anywhere, like to the beach and get Wi-Fi, and you won’t have to worry about using up your phone battery.
Additionally, some cell carriers offer Wi-Fi devices that plug into the Onboard Diagnostic port (OBD-II) on your vehicle. Yes, that’s the same connector port for when you get a car smogged or diagnostic tests at the mechanic shop.
For example, AT&T offers the Spark, which can turn your car into an internet-connected smart vehicle with Wi-Fi, connectivity services, and advanced diagnostic tools. T-Mobile offers an OBD-II version of the SyncUP Drive for as low as $10 per month, and Verizon has the Hum X for car-connected services.
These devices plug into the ODB-II port, automatically turn on when you start the car, deliver in-car Wi-Fi, and other helpful features, including emergency crash response, roadside assistance, vehicle diagnostics, and more. Some of these limit how many devices can connect simultaneously, and it’s not portable like a hotspot, so keep that in mind when choosing.
If you’re considering adding Wi-Fi or internet to your car, you’re likely wondering how fast it’ll be. Unfortunately, internet speeds in cars vary for multiple different reasons. It may not be as fast as your home internet, but it should still be fast enough for most tasks.
With car Wi-Fi, you’re in a moving vehicle instead of sitting at home, so the speeds may differ. Additionally, the signal can get blocked a bit from the vehicle’s frame and its roof, compared to a wireless router sending a signal throughout your home.
Depending on the carrier, you can expect internet speeds similar to what you get on a smartphone, which is plenty fast these days. Essentially, it’s fast enough to play your Spotify playlist or let passengers stream Netflix.
While most people want Wi-Fi in their car for maps, navigation, entertainment, or advanced features like emergency services, you may want to get some work done on a laptop or tablet while you’re sitting in a car. If so, you don’t even need Wi-Fi in your vehicle.
You can often connect to free public Wi-Fi offered by restaurants, grocery stores, libraries, schools, Starbucks, and more. Park safely in the parking lot, search for free Wi-Fi, and you’re all set.
This is far different from having and using Wi-Fi in a car on a road trip, but it’s worth mentioning. So, if you want to partake in a Zoom call or do some work from your car, public Wi-Fi options are readily available. Don’t expect fast speeds, and it probably won’t be very secure, so you should probably use a VPN, but it’s better than nothing if you’re in a pinch.
At the end of the day, it all depends on your wants and needs when it comes to getting Wi-Fi or internet access in your car. The built-in options from most manufacturers are great but can get a little pricey when you already pay for internet at home and on your phone.
If you don’t want to mess with dongles, fumble through phone settings, and want internet that’s always ready to go, maybe it’s time to upgrade to a shiny new electric truck.