How to Customize CarPlay and Unlock Hidden Secrets

Get the most out of CarPlay with these tips

Apple's CarPlay isn't so much an app as it is an interface that allows you to access certain features of your iPhone through your car's infotainment system

If you haven't bought a car in while, the infotainment system is what the radio/stereo has evolved into. CarPlay is becoming a popular feature in new cars, and while it has a familiar screen, it's actually quite easy to customize CarPlay with new apps and rearrange the apps on the screen. CarPlay even has a few hidden tricks up its sleeve.

What Apps Are Available for CarPlay?

Screenshot of CarPlay

CarPlay automatically comes with the Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Podcasts, and Audiobooks apps. This gives you a full range of features that go hand-in-hand with driving, or better yet, go hands-free with driving.

There is also an app for the car itself. This app is usually a steering wheel labeled for the car manufacturer like Kia or Mercedes, and tapping it will take you back to the menu system from the car manufacturer.

But the best part about CarPlay is the ability to customize it with third-party apps. And Apple has made it extremely simple to install these apps: simply download them on your iPhone and they will appear on your CarPlay screen. If you have more than eight apps, you can swipe to the next screen just as you do on your iPhone.

So what apps can you install on CarPlay?

Person driving a car with CarPlay enabled
Lifewire / Kaley McKean
  • Music Apps. Don't worry, you aren't stuck with Apple Music or your iTunes collection. CarPlay supports iTunes alternatives like Spotify, Google Play Music, and Amazon Music. So you can listen to your music no matter where it is located.
  • Radio Apps. You can easily replace your Sirius XM subscription with apps like Slacker Radio and iHeartRadio, which broadcast real radio stations. Pandora is well known for allowing you to create your own custom radio station. Have a favorite local station? Check to see if they have an app. Many radio stations are moving into the app store.
  • PodCast Apps. If you are addicted to podcasts, you aren't limited to the Podcasts app that comes with CarPlay. A few of the most popular podcast apps available are Overcast, Downcast and Pocket Casts.
  • News Apps. There are a few great apps for getting your news fix on your daily commute. Newsbeat Radio is designed with the commuter in mind, delivering a succinct news roundup. Stitcher is a great app that stitches together news and popular podcasts, and's At Bat is a must-have for baseball fans.
  • Audiobooks. In addition to audiobooks available through iBooks, you can also install Amazon's Audible or the popular Audio Books app.

How to Customize the CarPlay Screen

iPhone screenshot
Screenshot of iPhone

You can also customize the CarPlay screen by moving popular third-party apps to the main screen or even hiding some of the default apps. It's actually quite easy, and you can do it anytime on your iPhone -- even when you don't have CarPlay active.

  • First, go into your iPhone's Settings app. This is the app with the gears turning.
  • Next, scroll down and tap General.
  • In the General settings, choose CarPlay
  • You should see your car listed on this screen. Tap your car for settings specific to it.
  • The car settings contain a virtual CarPlay screen. You can move apps around this screen just as you would on an iPhone: tap and hold to 'pick up' an app and keep your finger down on the display while moving it. To drop an app, just lift your finger.
  • You can move an app from one page of apps to another page by dragging it to the very left or right edge of the virtual CarPlay's screen and then pausing while the screen flips to the new page.
  • You can also hide an app by tapping the minus sign on the icon. This moves it to a menu of hidden apps just below the virtual CarPlay screen. You can add it back again by simply tapping it.

Hidden CarPlay Tricks and Secrets

Screenshot of CarPlay

Screenshot of CarPlay

CarPlay is relatively up-front and simple to use. Turning it on is as easy as plugging your iPhone into your car, and the interface is very similar to what we have on our smartphone. But there are a few hidden secrets that are buried within CarPlay.

  • Create a Radio Station. Want to hear more music similar to the song you are listening to through your iTunes collection? Tap the button with the three dots in the Now Playing screen and you will have the option to create a radio station out of the current song.  
  • Find Your Car. This one works with CarPlay or even if you just use Bluetooth to connect your iPhone to your car's infotainment system. A setting for Maps will allow your iPhone to remember where you parked your car. This works through GPS, so if you are in a parking garage, it might not register. But it can be a fantastic time (and feet) saver in a big parking lot. You can turn it on by going to the iPhone's settings app, choosing Maps from the menu and tapping next to Show Parked Location.
  • Take a Screenshot. If you take a screenshot with your iPhone while connected to CarPlay, you will get both a screenshot of your iPhone and a screenshot of your CarPlay display.
  • Avoid a Ticket. This feature can be easy to miss, but while you have the turn-by-turn directions turned on, the speed limit of your current location is displayed on the screen. This doesn't work with every street, but it encompasses most highways.
  • Siri. This one isn't so much a secret as it is a feature that we sometimes forget is available. Of course, using Siri to make phone calls and listening to turn-by-turn directions goes hand-in-hand with CarPlay, but don't forget about all of Siri's other great features. She can read your text messages, you can dictate replies, you can use your voice to send email messages, add events to your calendar and set yourself reminders.