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.

CarPlay is a popular feature in more than 500 models of new cars produced in the last few years, and while it has a familiar screen, it's easy to customize CarPlay with new apps and rearrange the apps on the screen. CarPlay even has a few hidden tricks up its sleeve.

Information in this article applies to the updated CarPlay in iOS 13.

Which Apps Come With CarPlay?

CarPlay is controllable by Siri voice commands. Using Siri to make phone calls goes hand-in-hand with CarPlay, but don't forget about all of Siri's other great features. She can read your text messages, while you can dictate replies and add events to your calendar. Don't care for Siri? CarPlay is also designed to work with each car's available knobs, buttons, and touch screen.

Person driving a car with CarPlay enabled
Kaley McKean / Lifewire

The CarPlay dashboard comes equipped with the iPhone, Music, Maps, Messages, and Calendar apps, and it supports additional apps you can opt to use with CarPlay. These apps give you a full range of features that go hand-in-hand with driving or—better yet—with hands-free with driving.

There is also an app for the car. This app is usually a steering wheel labeled for the car manufacturer, such as Kia or Mercedes. Tapping it takes you back to the menu system for the car manufacturer.

One of the best parts of CarPlay is the opportunity to customize it. Apple makes it easy to install apps: Select them on your iPhone, and they appear on your CarPlay screen. If you use more than eight apps, you can swipe to the next screen just as you do on your iPhone.

Apps Compatible With CarPlay

So which apps can you install on CarPlay? Among the compatible apps are:

  • Music Apps. You aren't limited to Apple Music. CarPlay supports alternatives such as Spotify, YouTube Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music. You can listen to your music no matter where it is located. You can also stream music from Radio Disney.
  • Radio Apps. Sirius XM Radio, CBS Radio, iHeartRadio, and Pandora allow you to listen to real radio stations or create your own custom radio stations. Have a favorite local station? Check to see if it has an app. Many radio stations are moving into the App Store.
  • PodCast Apps. If you are addicted to podcasts, you aren't limited to Apple's Podcasts app. Some of the podcast player apps available are Overcast, Downcast, and Stitcher.
  • News Apps. There are a few great apps for getting your news fix on your daily commute. NPR One is designed with the commuter in mind. The Stitcher podcast player does double duty as it stitches together news from several publishers, and MLB.com's At Bat is a must-have for baseball fans.
  • Audiobooks. In addition to audiobooks available through iBooks, you can also install the Audible or Audiobooks app.
  • Messaging apps. Whether you prefer Apple's Messages app or WhatsApp Messenger, CarPlay has you covered.
  • Navigation. In addition to Apple Maps, you can use Waze, Google Maps, Sygic, and any of several Japanese-language navigation maps.

How to Customize the CarPlay Screen

You customize the CarPlay screen on the iPhone. It's easy to add and remove apps, and you can do it any time on your iPhone—even when you don't have CarPlay active. Here's how:

  1. Open the iPhone Settings app.

  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap CarPlay.

  4. Select your car for settings specific to it.

  5. Tap Customize.

  6. Use the plus sign (+) or minus sign (-) to add or remove apps.

  7. Tap and drag apps to change the order they appear on the CarPlay screen.

The next time your iPhone connects with CarPlay in your car, the changes transfer.

Hidden CarPlay Tricks and Secrets

Using CarPlay is straightforward. Turning it on is as easy as connecting your iPhone with your car, and the interface is similar to your smartphone. There are a few hidden secrets buried in CarPlay you may not have run across.

Screenshot of CarPlay
Screenshot of CarPlay

The secrets include:

  • Create a radio station when you want to hear more music similar to the song you are listening to. Tap the button with the three dots in the Now Playing screen, and you can create a radio station from the current song.  
  • Find Your Car works with CarPlay or even if you use Bluetooth to connect your iPhone to your car's infotainment system. A setting for Maps allows your iPhone to remember where you parked your car. It 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. Turn it on by going to the iPhone's Settings app, choosing Maps from the menu, and tapping next to Show Parked Location.
  • 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 displays on the screen. It doesn't work with every street, but it encompasses most highways.