Eyes on the Road: 7 Android Auto tips every driver needs

Hands-free navigation is a must for drivers. Fortunately, smartphones make it easy with apps that mirror the phone’s operating system to your car’s display. Apple has CarPlaywhile Google has Android Auto to help you keep your eyes on the road.

For those with one Android device, Android Auto can help you with directions, music, phone calls and more. At CES 2023 it is got a makeover to make options for navigation, communication and entertainment more accessible.


Android Auto vs. Google driving mode

Google has more than one driving assistant feature. Android Auto(Opens in a new window) is a standalone app and Google’s GPS navigation assistant for devices running Android 6-11. You can connect to your vehicle via USB or Bluetooth to use Android Auto, but the phone screen version no longer works.

Starting with Android 12those who don’t have built-in Android Auto functionality in their car will instead be directed to driving mode in the Google Maps app when you try to use Android Auto on a phone screen (since the Google Assistant version has been discontinued also).

Since Google Maps comes preinstalled on Android devices, you don’t need to download a standalone app or use multiple apps for navigation. You can configure the driving mode to start when you connect a smartphone to your car’s Bluetooth system, or use the mode by tapping Start in Google Maps when you get directions.

Not sure if your car is compatible? Google has one handy overview(Opens in a new window).


1. Play music and podcasts

spotify in driving mode

(Credit: John Bogna)

If you like some tunes or a podcast while driving you can call up apps like Spotify when using Android Auto or Google Driving Mode. With Drive mode open, the home screen displays your most recently used media app along with some simple controls. Depending on the type of system your phone is connected to, Drive mode may integrate with features such as audio controls on the steering wheel. Or say “Hey Google, play the latest episode of [podcast name].”


To access additional apps and settings, tap the app launcher icon that looks like four boxes in the bottom right corner of the screen. A menu opens with different icons for different apps and functions. Tap the icon with a car and a gear on it to open Settings. From here you can configure Drive mode options such as accepting calls and texts while on the go. You can also enable and disable driver friendly messages. To get there without tapping through screens, just say, “Hey Google, open Assistant Settings.”


3. Tell the driving mode when to activate it

After an initial setup, your phone should connect and launch Android Auto automatically via Bluetooth or a wired connection. However, you may not want that automatic connection, for example if the passenger tries to play music.

To configure exactly when driving mode starts, open Assistant settings and tap Transport > Driving Mode and set when you want to activate Drive mode. You can configure Drive mode to open under any of the following conditions:

  • When you connect your smartphone to a car’s Bluetooth

  • When you open the Android Auto app

  • When your phone detects driving (the sensors detect that you are moving very fast)

Whether you choose to set up the app wired or wireless, Google recommends that you keep the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location settings Excited(Opens in a new window) for the most accurate results.


4. Call or send messages

phone call with google assistant

(Credit: John Bogna)

On the Drive mode home screen, you’ll see large buttons for Send a message and Bells next to your media app controls. Tap one of the buttons to use voice commands or just tap the microphone icon. You can also say “Hey Google” or use the dedicated voice command button on your steering wheel if you have one.

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Common voice commands include “call [name from Contacts]”” send message to [Contact],” or just “send message.” Texts are read aloud, and when you get a call, Google’s voice assistant will say who’s calling and ask if you want to accept or decline.

Android Auto is compatible with messaging apps other than Messenger, such as WhatsApp and Skype, so that those messages can also be read aloud.


5. Use voice commands to drive

Like Android Auto, Google’s Drive mode changes your smartphone’s interface for less scrolling and therefore fewer distractions. The usual screen has been replaced by large, easy-to-tap cards that open apps, let Google listen for voice commands, and more. You can activate Drive mode without touching your phone by saying “Hey Google, let’s go driving” or “Hey Google, navigate to [destination].” For more information about standard voice commands, visit Google’s guide(Opens in a new window) to driving mode.


6. Return home or exit driving mode with one tap

When you’re in the app’s home menu, another menu like Settings, or searching Spotify for a playlist, just tap the car icon in the bottom center of your screen to return to the driving mode home screen. To exit driving mode completely, tap on the car icon with a line through it in the top right corner of the screen.


7. No display? Instead, use a wireless adapter

wireless car adapters

(Credit: Eric Griffith)

Android Auto works whether you use it on a phone or Bluetooth system. If your car is an older model that doesn’t have Bluetooth, there are wireless adapters that offer Bluetooth connectivity or tablet-like devices(Opens in a new window) which work as a built-in infotainment system. The easiest and cheapest route in this situation would be to just have one assemble car for your smartphone and use the app that way.

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