Have Wi-Fi will travel: How to get Wi-Fi in your car (and is it worth it?)

David Anders
DA
David Anders
Jun 18, 2019
  • Many new cars come with Wi-Fi technology, but you can add Wi-Fi equipment to most vehicles manufactured after 1996.
  • Wi-Fi plans for vehicles start as low as $10 per month and may include unlimited data.
  • Car Wi-Fi is different from a mobile hotspot and is likely to give you a better connection while preserving your mobile data and phone battery.

What has four wheels and Wi-Fi? Possibly your next car. Or, with some new equipment and a Wi-Fi plan, it could be your current car.

We use Wi-Fi almost everywhere, so why not have it in your car as well? Some internet providers and car manufacturers agree and are making connections more accessible to drivers.

If you want Wi-Fi in your car, whether to appease the kids in the backseat or accommodate your associates in the carpool, you have a few options. Here’s what you need to know.

How do you get Wi-Fi in your car?

Many newer model vehicles come with built-in Wi-Fi equipment. But if you aren’t in the market for a new car — or the one you want doesn’t come with the technology — there are a few devices to help you bridge the gap. Finally, once you have a means to receive internet service, whether through a built-in system or add-on equipment, you’ll need a Wi-Fi plan.

What cars have built-in Wi-Fi?

Many manufacturers are adding built-in Wi-Fi equipment to their new vehicles. That’s not to say these vehicles come with Wi-Fi included, but they are service-ready without any additional equipment needed.

Some popular manufacturers that are producing select vehicles with built-in Wi-Fi technology include:

AcuraAudiBMWBuickCadillac
ChevroletChryslerDodgeFordHonda
InfinitiJaguarJeepLand RoverLincoln
MercedesNissanPorscheSubaruVolvo

Not all new vehicles from these manufacturers come with built-in Wi-Fi. If you’re interested in having the technology in your new vehicle, speak with an auto sales professional about the specific models that come with Wi-Fi equipment.

How can I add a Wi-Fi connection to my car?

Built-in Wi-Fi is convenient, but it probably doesn’t warrant buying a new car. However, it’s possible you can still get Wi-Fi in your car; you just need the right equipment.

OBD II devices

Some car Wi-Fi devices, like the AT&T ZTE Mobley™ | 503 or the Verizon Hum OBD reader, plug into your car’s OBD II port. These devices are often available from the service provider and may cost $100 or more.

You may be wondering, what’s an OBD II port and where do I find it? It’s most likely located below your steering column or dash. It’s what mechanics plug into to run vehicle diagnostics, but you can use it to create a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Installed wireless routers

While more expensive than OBD II devices, an installed wireless router will give you a better connection and you won’t have to worry about plugging in anything. Car routers can range from $200 to $600 and should be professionally installed.

What providers offer Wi-Fi service for cars?

Regardless of what equipment you use, you’ll need a mobile plan. Major cellular providers including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon offer Wi-Fi plans specifically for vehicles.

Car Wi-Fi plans

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Car Wi-Fi pricing varies by provider and plan. Additionally, you may need to already have cellular service from a specific provider to be eligible for their service or special pricing.

Pay-as-you-go plans may also be available, which would be ideal for a summer road trip or long drives to visit family over the holidays. With these plans, you pay for an allotted amount of data and use it at your convenience.

Contact your cellular service provider for more information about car Wi-Fi plans and equipment costs.

How is Wi-Fi in your car different than a mobile hotspot?

Most smartphones come equipped with a mobile “hotspot” function and providers offer the service at no extra charge, so why would you need a Wi-Fi connection in your car? There are a few reasons why you might prefer a car Wi-Fi over a mobile hotspot.

  • You’re likely to get a stronger signal. With a mobile hotspot, your phone uses a built-in antenna to receive a signal. With Wi-Fi, your car is essentially the antenna, bettering your chances of receiving a strong, reliable signal.
  • If the car is on, so is your connection. OBD II devices run on your vehicle’s power, so when your vehicle is on, so is your Wi-Fi.
  • It’ll save your phone’s battery… If you’ve used your phone as a mobile hotspot, you know how it can drain your battery. This may not be a big deal if there’s a charger handy, but that basically means no one else gets to charge their phone.
  • …and your mobile plan’s data. Sure, everyone in the office carpool has a smartphone with hotspot capabilities, but who is willing to sacrifice their data so that others can connect? And what happens to the connection when you drop them off at the end of the day?
  • It works with your vehicle. Features like location sharing, driving history and crash response come with Verizon’s Hum device and service. Additionally, select vehicles with built-in Wi-Fi can run diagnostics and software updates remotely, without needing a trip to the dealership.

So, is it worth it?

Right now, Wi-Fi in your car may be worth it in situations where multiple passengers could use the connection either daily or on a trip. But, if you aren’t frequently playing chauffeur or don’t have any big road trips planned, you may not need an in-car Wi-Fi connection.

The next time you buy a new car, however, it’s likely to have Wi-Fi technology built-in, whether you plan on using it or not. As the technology becomes more available, look for cellular service providers to offer more plans and features around Wi-Fi for your vehicle.

Remember to stay safe and secure on the road!

Along with being mindful of the roadway, keep in mind that someone in the next car over may have access to your mobile Wi-Fi connection. Use a VPN or treat your in-car Wi-Fi connection like a public Wi-Fi network. Avoid entering any sensitive information, such as passwords or banking info, while connected. Safe travels!

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