Holding your phone or a sat nav while driving is a dangerous distraction and can land you a heavy fine. But most drivers will often find themselves needing to change the music, set up the sat-nav or take an important call while driving. So, the two big mobile operating systems, Android and Apple, have both developed ways to use some of the apps on your smartphone more safely while driving.

These two interfaces, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, are designed to keep you connected, entertained and heading in the right direction, while keeping distractions to a minimum.

They’re different to the infotainment systems provided by the carmakers themselves because the apps you’re used to on your phone can be shown directly on the car’s built-in screen. They also have the added advantage of being updated more regularly, so you’ll be able to use the latest and safest version. 

Here’s our easy guide to using Android Auto.

What is Android Auto?

Android Auto is Google’s in-car infotainment offering. To use it, you’ll need a car that’s compatible with Android Auto and an up-to-date Android phone. You’ll also need to download the free Android Auto app.

It provides a simplified interface that lets you control things like navigation and maps, music streaming, calls and text messages, while on the road.  

You can, for example, tell Google to send a text message from supported apps like WhatsApp or ask it to read you one that you received. You can get updates on your route and hazards in real time. Or you can even set reminders while driving.

There are three main ways to use Android Auto: on your phone itself, or on your in-car display, either using a USB cable or wirelessly.

Is it safe?

It’s designed specifically for drivers, with just the features and functions you might need while on the road. There are larger buttons and simplified menu items to minimise distractions. 

The interface is designed so you use voice commands as much as possible. So, you can say “Hey Google,” and then ask for music, directions, a phone call, or a text message. Better still, you can set a customised ‘do-not-disturb’ message while driving.

America’s AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety judged both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as less distracting to drivers than built-in vehicle infotainment systems, in research published last year. 

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What phone do I need?

Your phone’s operating system version must be Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher. Google recommends using Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) and up to get the best out of the app.

Just remember that, as with any app, using Android Auto will eat into your phone’s data allowance. 

What car do I need?

To connect Android Auto to your car display, you must have a compatible model. There are now over 400 car models that support Android Auto, a number that’s constantly growing. You can check if your car is on the list here. You’ll see that some manufacturers only offer compatibility on a few models, while others, such as BMW, aren’t compatible at all.

If your car isn’t compatible – or it’s too old to support an infotainment system – fear not. You can still use Android Auto’s simplified interface on your phone screen. To do so, you’ll need a smartphone mount for your car and you’ll need to position it to ensure it doesn’t block your view of the road.

To find out more about how to stay safe on the roads, go to Solved.