Having reliable internet access is essential these days, which is why in-car internet or Wi-Fi is becoming so common. Sure, 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 socket, etc
With network providers shutting down 3G services nationwide, many vehicles with in-car internet are also on the verge of losing it, which means you may need to find a different solution.
And while the easiest way to get internet in your car is to take advantage of manufacturer systems, like OnStar, you can also use the hotspot feature on your smartphone or add Wi-Fi yourself. Here’s what you need to know to have internet in your car.
Take advantage of your car’s built-in Wi-Fi
For starters, many modern vehicles come with Wi-Fi or internet connectivity, and that’s your best bet. These systems are already in place and built in, which means you’ll need to activate them to take advantage of Wi-Fi in your vehicle.
Depending on the car you own, here are some popular options in the United States. The easiest way to get things done is to call the dealer or manufacturer.
Many newer vehicles have access to at least one of these, but with all the different models, years, and makes, it’s hard to figure out what your monthly rate will be. On the plus side, many automakers offer daily, weekly, or monthly passes if desired, perfect for a road trip or family vacation.
Also, many new car buyers get a free trial, often up to 1 year free, so take advantage of it if it’s available. You won’t want to be without it once you see how useful in-car internet can be for maintenance, security or entertainment.
Unfortunately, these services are not offered on all vehicles, and lower trim (base model) cars sometimes do not have them. So even if you have a new car, you may not have access to these services. If so, we have other options detailed below.
Use your phone as a hotspot
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 enabling the hotspot feature in settings. Next, connect your car to your phone’s shared network.
There are a few potential issues with this route. First of all, not all mobile phone plans offer the hotspot feature, and you may have to pay an additional monthly fee to get it. Also, 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 is also worth mentioning that the hotspot feature will drain your battery faster. And yes, you can plug it in with a charge, but combining a hotspot with a charge can make your phone heat up. Also, some car-specific services (like OnStar or diagnostics) won’t work with a smartphone hotspot.
Use a mobile hotspot or OBD-II device
If you don’t want to constantly dig into your phone’s settings to turn on its hotspot, or if you prefer a dedicated internet plan for your car, get a mobile hotspot. Verizon and most carriers offer these little devices, and they’re very useful. A hotspot provides access to the Internet anywhere a phone is located and works mostly the same way.
Access points are small enough to fit in a pocket, purse or glove compartment and are often USB rechargeable. That way it’s always in your car and ready to go. Best of all, 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 your phone running out of battery.
Additionally, some mobile carriers offer Wi-Fi devices that plug into your vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostics (OBD-II) port. Yes, it’s the same connector port when you get a smogged car or diagnostic tests at the mechanic shop.
For example, AT&T offers the Spark, which can turn your car into a smart, internet-connected vehicle with Wi-Fi, connectivity services, and advanced diagnostic tools. T-Mobile offers an OBD-II version of the SyncUP Drive for as little as $10 a month, and Verizon has the Hum X for in-car connected services.
These devices plug into the ODB-II port, turn on automatically when you start the car, provide in-car Wi-Fi, and other useful features, including crash emergency response, roadside assistance, vehicle diagnostics, etc. Some of them limit the number of devices that can connect simultaneously, and it’s not portable like a hotspot, so keep that in mind when choosing.
How fast is Wi-Fi in a car?
If you’re considering adding Wi-Fi or Internet to your car, you’re probably wondering how fast it will be. Unfortunately, internet speeds in cars vary for several different reasons. It may not be as fast as your home internet connection, but it should be fast enough for most tasks.
With car Wi-Fi, you’re in a moving vehicle instead of sitting at home, so speeds may differ. Also, the signal can be blocked a bit by the vehicle’s chassis and its roof, compared to a wireless router that sends a signal throughout your house.
Depending on the carrier, you can expect internet speeds similar to what you get on a smartphone, which is very fast these days. Essentially, it’s fast enough to play your Spotify playlist or allow passengers to stream Netflix.
Access public Wi-Fi from your car
While most people want Wi-Fi in their car for maps, navigation, entertainment, or advanced features like emergency services, you might want to work on a laptop or tablet while you’re away. are 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, etc. Park safely in the parking lot, search for free Wi-Fi and voila.
It’s very different from having and using Wi-Fi in a car while on a road trip, but it’s worth mentioning. So if you want to join a Zoom call or 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 rush.
Ultimately, it all comes down to 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 bit pricey when you’re already paying for internet at home and on your phone.
If you don’t want to fiddle with dongles, dig into phone settings, and want an internet that’s always ready to go, it might be time to upgrade to a shiny new electric truck.