In-Car Gaming Has Never Been Easier

Tablets, portables, and Nintendo

If you've thought about adding a video game system to your car or want to bring one on a long road trip to keep the kids entertained, it's easier than you may think. In the past, you had to wire an inverter, install some type of mobile video screen, and then lug around some bulky console.

Today, the mobile and portable gaming options are more diverse than ever, and it's possible to bring along a full-fledged home console in the form of a previous-gen Wii U or current-gen Nintendo Switch.

Mobile and Portable In-Car Gaming

The easiest way to play video games in a car has always been to bring along a handheld gaming system, and that's still a viable option. The Nintendo 3DS and 3DSXL and Nintendo Switch are great portable gaming options that you can take with you on a long road trip.

In addition to traditional portable gaming systems, gaming on smartphones and tablets on the road is growing increasingly popular each year. Although dedicated gamers may decry these platforms as not real gaming, the fact is that a decent tablet or phone can provide hours of entertainment on the road.

3 teens in backseat of car playing games.

Fuse / Getty Images

In-Car Gaming With Real Video Game Systems

In the past, the idea of gaming on the road with anything but a handheld was an unattainable dream. Although it has always been possible to install a 12-volt television, or plug one into an inverter, and also plug a home console into an inverter, the idea wasn't practical.

The combination of a home console and television took up space back when bulky CRT televisions were the order of the day, and that type of power consumption can't rely on a cigarette lighter inverter. The situation is different with the advent of low-profile LED screens, but you still need to consider the size and power requirements of most home video game consoles.

The best options today are the Nintendo Wii U and Switch systems. While the Wii U console is underpowered in comparison to the Xbox One and PS4, it has a couple of things going for it that make it almost perfect for an in-car gaming system. The Switch is more powerful than the Wii U, and it also has a number of things going for it in terms of in-car gaming.

Gaming in Your Car With the Wii U

The first thing that helps the Wii U's case is the unique controller, which contains a touchscreen LCD. Some games use this second screen to display asynchronous information, but it can also be used for off-screen play. That means you can hook up your Wii U in your car and play games without needing a TV.

Aside from the space and size constraints involved in setting up a gaming rig for your car, there's the issue of power. Since the Wii U doesn't use as much power as some other consoles, you can run it off a 12v accessory outlet or cigarette lighter jack.

That means you don't have to worry about how big of an inverter to buy, and you also don't have to go through the trouble of wiring one. Peripheral manufacturers make power supplies designed for this purpose, with one port for a Wii U power cable and another one for a USB cable, which can be used to power a Wii U gamepad or any other USB device.

Gaming in Your Car With the Nintendo Switch

Using a Nintendo Switch in your car is easier than using a Wii U because the Switch is designed as a hybrid home/portable gaming system. Where the Wii U has a gamepad with a built-in screen, the Switch contains all the guts of the game system in the handheld component.

Because it's designed for portable use, the Switch comes with everything you need right out of the box. If you have a video monitor in your car, you can connect your Switch to it via HDMI, and some games support a multiplayer mode with the system's joy-con controllers.

In order to make better use of a Switch in your car, you'll need an inverter to power a cradle for the system or a 12-volt adapter accessory. You can also connect actual controllers to take advantage of multiplayer games that don't support joy-con multiplayer. It's important to keep the Switch clean so you have the best gaming experience.

Drawbacks of Using a Wii U or Nintendo Switch in Your Car

The main drawback of the Wii U or Switch as in-car gaming systems is that you're limited to gaming. Unlike the Xbox One and PS4, the Wii U does not play DVDs or Blu-Ray discs, so you can't watch movies on the road using the Wii U gamepad. The Switch suffers from the same drawback since it doesn't use optical media.

While you can add a mobile hotspot to watch streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, disc-based media is not on the table with either Wii U or Switch.

The other issue with using a Wii U for in-car gaming is that it's a single-player experience. Unlike the Switch, the Wii U doesn't allow you to play multiplayer games without a TV or monitor. The calculus changes if you have a headrest or roof-mounted screen. If that's the case, consider wiring in an inverter and using the home console system of your choice.

Was this page helpful?