What is Apple CarPlay? Find out what this handy driving app can do

What is Apple CarPlay?

New technology is helping people stay connected while they’re on the road without compromising on safety. Using Apple CarPlay, you can access all kinds of driving features without taking your hands off the wheel. Let’s learn more, and find out what you’ll need to get started.

What can Apple CarPlay do?

Apple CarPlay is an app that lets your iPhone connect to the head unit of a compatible car. That’s the display screen where you control your media and sat-nav. You get a stripped-back version of iOS on your car’s screen, letting you access your phone’s features easily and safely.

With Apple CarPlay, you can:

Play music using your favourite app like Spotify or iTunes
Use your phone’s map app as a sat nav, which is usually better than the one in your car
Make phone calls without taking your eyes off the road
Listen to text messages sent via SMS or WhatsApp, and dictate replies as you drive
Use one of the hundreds of compatible third-party apps from the store

What is Apple CarPlay? Find out what this handy driving app can do Apple Maps image featuring Apple Maps iconWhat is Apple CarPlay? Find out what this handy driving app can do Apple Music IconWhat is Apple CarPlay? Find out what this handy driving app can do Apple Messages images featuring the Apple Messaging Icon

As you can see, it’s all about convenience and safety. You shouldn’t use your phone while you drive, so CarPlay gives you easy options to stay connected while you’re on the move.

Is the Apple CarPlay app free?

You can download Apple CarPlay free of charge onto any compatible iPhone. Be aware though, any third-party features which use data will count towards your monthly data allowance. You could end up paying extra to your phone contract provider if you go over.

How to connect your car to Apple CarPlay

It’s really easy to hook your iPhone with Apple CarPlay up to your car’s display. First, either use a lightning-to-USB cable to plug your phone into the car or activate wireless CarPlay by:

1. Put your radio into wireless or Bluetooth mode

2. Press and hold your steering wheel’s voice command button

3. Go to your iPhone’s settings menu, then General > CarPlay

4. Select Available Cars, then your own car from the menu

From there, you can control the app in one of two ways. First, use your car’s inbuilt controls. They might come in the form of a touchscreen or a set of buttons, depending on the make and model of your car.

Alternatively, you can use Siri by either pressing and holding the voice command button on your steering wheel, or the CarPlay icon on your car’s display screen. Either way, wait for the prompt then speak your command.

How does Apple CarPlay work?

Once you’ve activated CarPlay on your phone and car, your phone screen will go blank and transfer over to the vehicle’s display. Don’t worry when this happens, things will go back to normal as soon as you disconnect your phone.

From there, you control things from your car’s display. Apps will be shown to you much the same as on your iPhone, with slight differences depending on your car’s make and model. Apps from Apple themselves get shown first, third-party apps can be seen by swiping across the display.

The number of these third-party apps which are compatible with CarPlay is growing fast. All the big ones like Spotify are here, and even more niche services like Deezer and Tidal are finding wider support.

Apple is constantly improving and expanding CarPlay’s features as iOS evolves. Version 10 let you customise the display and the order in which apps appear, as well as shortcuts to recently used apps. iOS 13 revamped the dashboard and made it way more intuitive to bring up a map.

Why not just use your iPhone in a cradle?

You might be asking yourself what CarPlay brings to the table that you can’t do by just buying a cradle to hold your iPhone while you drive. The main focus of the app is safety, it gives you a much bigger screen than your phone which lets you see directions more clearly.

It’s up to you which option you go for, but CarPlay gives you a lot of quality of life perks that make your daily drive more convenient.

What cars does Apple CarPlay work with?

You’ll find an updated list of Apple CarPlay-compatible cars on Apple’s website. Right now, more than 500 models of cars from over 40 major manufacturers support the app. The car you’re driving right now is likely to work with CarPlay if it’s made by one of these:


Some second-hand cars could have CarPlay compatibility added as an optional extra, depending on the vehicle and the dealer you buy it from. Alternatively, you can add a compatible head unit from manufacturers like:


Check whether the car or radio system you’re using supports wireless CarPlay. If not, you’ll need to connect your phone to the unit physically using an Apple lightning-to-USB cable.

Does it cost extra for my car to be CarPlay compatible?

Nowadays, Apple CarPlay compatibility comes as standard with most newer vehicles. Back in the mid-2010s when the app was newer, you’d pay a subscription fee for CarPlay support. Happily, this extra charge has now been dropped.

What phones are compatible with Apple CarPlay?

To use Apple CarPlay, you’ll obviously need an iPhone. Your phone needs to be running iOS 7.1 or later to support the app, which means most models since the iPhone 5 are good to go. iPads and iPhones with the old 30-pin connectors won’t work with CarPlay.

It’s worth remembering that you’ll need to have Siri set up on your phone. Voice commands are a big part of CarPlay’s appeal, so it’s a good idea to activate that feature in order to get the most out of the app.

If yours is an Android phone, you’ll want to use Android Auto instead of Apple CarPlay, both apps have very similar features. 

We’re committed to hooking you up with the right car, one that has all the features you need for a happy life on the road. Our range of used cars has what you’re looking for, see for yourself.

Take a look at our used cars or continue reading and find out the best satnav apps to take the hassle out of your journeys.


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