Car hacks: how an old iPhone and in-car Wi-Fi gave me free navigation

February 7, 2018

Car hacks are little ways to make your time in a car easier, quicker, smarter, or more convenient. Auto journalists have a few of their own, but we learn a lot of them from readers. Here's one from Jay Lucas.

What follows are his words, lightly edited by The Car Connection for clarity and style.

I recently replaced my wife's old iPhone 5 with an iPhone 8, and I kept the older one for an experiment. We also recently added a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car to the household.

No built-in navigation system is offered on the Bolt EV. Instead, users enter their routes into a mapping app on their smartphones and connect it to the car via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

I find it annoying to take my iPhone out of my pocket and hook it up to the Bolt to get the navigation and music I like, which is required every time I drive.

DON'T MISS: Jay Lucas' 1,300-mile electric car roadtrip

So I took my wife's old iPhone, blanked it entirely, and reloaded it with my own iPhone data. After some thought, I decided not to activate it with a new line under the calling plan offered by my cellphone carrier.

Our Bolt EV has a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, which I already pay for as a separate $15 line on our family plan. The old phone can get access to the Internet via that Wi-Fi, and because it's connected to my Apple iCloud account, it knows my calendar, address book, and music choices.

Better yet, since it's "my phone," it receives texts and phone calls while it's connected to the car via CarPlay and connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

(An AT&T customer-service rep specifically warned me against getting a new number for the phone if I were going to connect it through CarPlay; it confuses things, he said.)

It all works! The little phone stays in the car, and when I hop in, I have CarPlay available on the menu to use it. If I've made plans to visit a friend at a restaurant, the mapping directions have already been transferred from my Apple calendar and entered into the Apple Maps program.

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Many people love Waze, by Google, but I find Apple Maps pretty smart—and much improved over the original version.  Last night, for instance, it routed me around a water-main break that had tied up traffic on the “direct route” to the restaurant. 

My music doesn’t have to be downloaded to the car's iPhone itself, just listed in my Apple Music app, runs under CarPlay as well, although the indexing isn't easy to select while I’m driving. It actually gets a little dangerous to go through nested indexes while moving on the road. 

But, I don’t have to do that; Siri is great, and will pull up any songs or music I may have (among the thousands in my account) on request, either by pressing the “voice” button or by saying “Hey, Siri."

Phone calls themselves work perfectly, and the CarPlay interface reads incoming texts aloud. Without my eyes leaving the road, I can provide a vocal response that it interprets with pretty good accuracy.

In other words, I’m very glad I kept my wife's old iPhone and "gave it" to the car.  It's definitely a convenience.

-- by Jay Lucas, from Alexandria, Virginia.

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