Android Auto Wireless: What It Is and How To Use It

A phone and head unit running Android Auto Wireless.

Nakhorn Yuangkratoke / EyeEm

Android auto is an app that makes your phone easier, and safer, to use when you're driving. It also lets you connect your phone to compatible touchscreen car radios. This is primarily accomplished by connecting your phone to your car with a USB cable, but Android Auto Wireless allows you to make that connection without the cable.

The main benefit of Android Auto Wireless is that you don't need to plug and unplug your phone every single time you go anywhere. If you're planning on a longer trip, or your phone needs a charge, you can plug it in. Otherwise, Android Auto Wireless can automatically connect your phone to your car radio as soon as you get in your vehicle.

How Does Android Auto Wireless Work?

Most connections between phones and car radios use Bluetooth. This is how most hands-free calling implementations work, and you can also stream music over Bluetooth. However, Bluetooth connections don't have the bandwidth required by Android Auto Wireless.

Android Auto on a mobile phone, yellow wi-fi symbol, and an in-car dash system

In order to achieve a wireless connection between your phone and your car, Android Auto Wireless taps into the Wi-Fi functionality of your phone and your car radio. That means it only works with vehicles that have Wi-Fi functionality.

Compatibility is further limited to specific car radios and phones that are designed to work with the system.

When a compatible phone is paired to a compatible car radio, Android Auto Wireless works exactly like the wired version, just without wires. Your phone does all the heavy lifting, the information is displayed on your touchscreen car radio, and things like driving directions and answers that you ask Google Assistant are all played through the car speakers.

What Do You Need to Use Android Auto Wirelessly?

If you want to use Android Auto wirelessly, you need two things: a compatible car radio that has built-in Wi-Fi, and a compatible Android phone. Most head units that work with Android Auto, and most phones that are capable of running Android Auto, can't use the wireless functionality.

Google Pixel phones.

Here's what you need to start using Android Auto Wireless:

  • A compatible head unit - Your car radio, or head unit, needs to be capable of running Android Auto. It also needs to have Wi-Fi, and it needs to be certified to use its Wi-Fi connection in this manner.
  • A compatible phone - Your Android phone needs to be running Android 8.0 Oreo or newer, and even that doesn't guarantee that it will work. All Pixel phones, the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, and select non-Google phones work with Android Auto Wireless.

How to Use Android Auto Wireless

If both your phone and your car are capable of using Android Auto Wireless, here's how to set it up:

  1. Connect your phone to your car radio with a USB cable.
  2. Follow the on-screen prompts to complete the initial setup procedure.
  3. Disconnect the USB cable.
  4. The next time you get in your car, Android Auto Wireless will automatically connect your phone to your car radio.

Can Other Phones and Head Units Use Android Auto Wirelessly?

While Android Auto is available in any car on your phone, and it's capable of integrating with a lot of aftermarket and original equipment car radios, the wireless compatibility is much more limited. If your phone, or your car radio, doesn't support Android Auto Wireless, all you can do is wait for an update that may or may not come.

The equipment required to use Android Auto Wireless in incompatible vehicles.

Advanced users can use Android Auto Wireless with almost any head unit that's capable of running Android Auto, but it takes a lot of extra work. This is an unofficial method discovered by an Android enthusiast, so it isn't supported by Google.

To use this method, you need:

  • An Android TV stick
  • A USB cable
  • A head unit that can run Android Auto

The basic idea is that the Android TV stick acts as a Wi-Fi antenna for the car radio, which allows you to connect wirelessly with your phone. It's a lot more complicated than that, and it requires a lot of tinkering that most users will be uncomfortable with, but it is an option for anyone who has the necessary experience and expertise.