Eyes on the Road: 7 Android Auto Tips Every Driver Needs

Eyes on the Road: 7 Android Auto Tips Every Driver Needs

Hands-free navigation is a must for drivers. Luckily, smartphones make things easier with apps that display your phone’s operating system on your car’s display. Apple has CarPlay and Google has Android Auto so you can keep your eyes on the road.

For those with an Android device, Android Auto can help you with directions, music, phone calls, and more. For CES 2023, it has been redesigned to make navigation, connectivity and entertainment more accessible.


Android Auto vs. Google Drive Mode

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

Starting with Android 12, those without built-in Android Auto in a car will instead be redirected to driving mode in the Google Maps app when trying to use Android Auto on a phone screen (since the Google Assistant version has also been discontinued).

Because Google Maps is preinstalled on Android devices, you don’t need to download a separate app or use multiple apps to navigate. You can set Driving Mode to start every time you connect your smartphone to your car’s Bluetooth system, or use it by tapping Start in Google Maps whenever you get directions.

Not sure if your vehicle is compatible? Google has a handy summary(Opens in a new window).


1. Play music and podcasts

(Credit: John Bogna)

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


To open additional apps and settings, tap the app launcher icon, which looks like four rectangles in the bottom right corner of the screen. It will launch a menu containing several icons for various applications and features. Touch the car and gear icon to enter the settings. From here, you can adjust driving mode settings, such as whether to receive calls and text messages while on the road. You can also turn on and off messages that are convenient for driving. To get there without touching the screens, just say, “Ok Google, open Assistant settings.”


3. Tell driving mode when to activate

After the initial setup, your phone should automatically connect and run Android Auto via Bluetooth or a wired connection. However, you may not need this automatic connection, for example, if the passenger is trying to play music.

To set the exact start time for Driving Mode, open Assistant Settings, then tap Transport > Driving Mode and set when you want to activate driving mode. You can set Drive Mode to open under one of the following circumstances:

  • When you connect your smartphone to car Bluetooth

  • When you open the Android Auto app

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

Whether you choose to set up the app over a wired or wireless network, Google recommends leaving Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location settings turned on.(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 driving mode main screen, you will see large buttons for send a message and call next to your media application controls. Tap any button to use voice commands, or just tap the microphone icon. You can also say “Hey Google” or use the dedicated voice control button on your steering wheel if you have one.

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Common voice commands include “call [name from Contacts]”, “send a message [Contact]’, or just ‘send a message’. Texts are read aloud, and when you get a call, Google Voice Assistant tells you who is calling and asks if you want to accept or reject the call.

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


5. Use voice commands to drive

Similar to Android Auto, Google Drive mode changes your smartphone’s interface to scroll less and therefore be less distracted. The regular display is replaced by large, easy-to-touch cards that open apps, let Google listen to voice commands, and more. You can enable Drive mode without touching your phone by saying “Ok Google, let’s go” or “Ok Google, go to [destination]”. To learn more about basic voice commands, check out the Google guide.(Opens in a new window) to drive mode.


6. Return home or exit driving mode with a single tap

When you’re in the app launcher, another menu like Settings, or searching for a Spotify playlist, just tap the car icon at the bottom center of the screen to return to the driving mode main screen. To completely exit driving mode, tap the car icon with a crossed line in the upper right corner of the screen.


7. No display? Use a wireless adapter instead

wireless car adapters

(Credit: Eric Griffith)

Android Auto works whether you use it on your phone or on a Bluetooth system. If you have an older car model that does not have Bluetooth, there are wireless adapters that provide Bluetooth connectivity, or devices that look like tablets.(Opens in a new window) which work as an integrated infotainment system. The easiest and cheapest way in this situation is to simply purchase a car mount for your smartphone and use the app that way.

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