Car wifi explained
In this guide
- What is car wifi?
- Can I get wifi in my car
- Can I get wifi in an older car?
- Who provides car wifi deals?
- Frequently asked questions
Car wifi (or in-car wifi) is exactly what it sounds like: a wifi connection for your car while it is on the move. This kind of connectivity is relatively recent when it comes built-in to the vehicle. In this guide we're looking at both built-in wifi and adding wifi to older cars.
Car wifi comes in a number of forms with the manufacturer-fitted SIM-slot and SIM being the most recent. General Motors has offered some form of wireless connectivity in its vehicles since 1996 but in limited forms. Audi began offering unlimited data deals via its own wifi SIMs in several of its models as far back as 2016. Other car makers soon saw the attraction and also jumped on board.
Car wifi is seen as attractive both the business passengers on the move, and also to families with children who need to stave off boredom, and stay in touch with friends, on long journeys. However, old vehicles can also benefit from wifi with a few additions and tricks that we look at in this guide.
What is car wifi?
Car wifi comes in various flavours but none of them is dissimilar to the wifi you get via your phone or tablet via their SIM or data-only SIM. In fact, if you've ever tethered your computer to your phone to use the phone's wifi connection, you'll already be familiar with the way car wifi works.
What happens is that, with new vehicles, your car acts very much like a giant SIM slot. Your manufacturer (every one from Mercedes Benz to Ford these days) will provide you with a built-in SIM card and an app to use with it either from a dashboard box like a GPS or via an app. The car maker will probably also give you free-data period (these vary from a month to three-months) before charging your for data use for a fixed period.
You will also find car wifi options that make use of your existing data or phone+data SIMs. These can either be used with the car's own SIM slot or via a third-party 'hotspot' device that you can purchase separately.
There are also third-party add-ons, that is devices that plug into you car via the cigarette lighter socket, that you can insert your phone or tablet sim into. These 'MiFi' or 'mobile wifi' routers then talk to an app, and also enable your passengers to use the in-car wifi.
With all of these systems, you need to keep in mind that subscription and/or data charges will apply. These will show in the following ways:
- Free period then paid – many car makers have signed deals with internet suppliers to provide car wifi. Your new car (not pre-owned unless the dealership has renewed any wifi deal) will come with a subscription and data-charge free period of a month to three months. After this, there will either be a monthly or annual subscription charge that may contain a fixed amount of data
- Your own phone or tablet supplier's charges – some vehicles that come with built-in wifi systems let you use your own phone or tablet data-SIM for connectivity
- Third-party device charges – you can also buy small mobile wifi (MiFi) routers that come with SIM slots that can take your existing SIM, or come with their own data plans. These plug in via your car's cigarette lighter or USB sockets. Data and subscription charges will be payable
Can I get wifi in my car?
Quite simply, yes, you can. Most car makers are now offering built-in wifi capability in at least one of their new vehicles. In fact, Audi began to do this as early as 2016 in some of its A range cars and Toyota began rolling them out in high-end vehicles by 2019. This, of course, means that pre-owned cars are now available from manufacturers as diverse as Ford and Tesla. So, if you're looking to buy a new or used car, it's worth asking if it comes with built-in wifi capability.
Here are car makers who definitely do offer built-in car wifi and data in the UK currently.
Audi's system is called 'Audi Connect' and looks up with its MMI Infotainment System. The Audi A3 currently offers the best integration of the two systems.
Vauxhall had a system called 'OnStar' as standard in its mod-range Viva cars, but stopped offering it in 2020.
Volvo's On Call system provides a wifi hotspot as well as vehicle tracking, and the ability to keep on eye on your car's basics using the accompanying app. Data charges are, of course, something to keep track of as well. It supports a maximum of eight devices, but Volvo recommends no more than three at the same time due to hardware limitations.
Toyota Wi-Fi Connect lets you turn your vehicle into a hotspot with 4G connectivity that can support up to five devices simultaneously. The first 2GB or 6 months of WiFi is free, but you must pay for the ensuing months. However, it’s available only on select 2020 and later Toyota vehicles.
Ford's popular Focus range has the FordPass Connect wifi system. This offers 3G and 4GLTE wifi firstly via a month free-trial and then with a monthly charge. It doesn't allow you to use third-party SIMs however, as you are tied to the FordPass Connect SIM that comes with the system. It supports up to 10 devices at a range of up to 50ft away from your vehicle.
Can I get wifi in an older car?
Yes, you can get wifi for older vehicles. There are a number of options to achieve this, and none of them are too complicated. If you can make use of your mobile phone's data plan then the chances are you can get make use of car wifi. Here are the available options for a car that doesn't come with built-in wifi.
Be aware that as with your phone or tablet, data charges will apply. It should also be clear that you should treat using wifi while driving in the same way as you would using a phone while driving.
- Your own data-SIM – Use your current phone or tablet's data-SIM via your phone or tablet. Sounds obvious but some people simply overlook this
- Your phone as a data hotspot – This method entails buying a separate device, usually called a something like a 'mobile wifi router' or a 'MiFi unit'. These enable you to use your current SIM to provide wifi to you and your passengers
- Third-party device and SIM – As with MiFi or mobile wifi routers that use your current data-SIM, you can also purchase third-party routers that come with their own data deals. This can be useful for budgeting your travel wifi
Who provides car wifi deals?
This is an interesting one because the first answer to this is rather more about what particular car manufacturer, marque and model you favour. This is because you can buy vehicles with wifi built in and data deals tailored to your needs. Therefore the provider is in fact the car maker.
However, if you have an older car that requires additional kit for car wifi, there are quite a few options and deals available right now. You'll find the answers on the specialist Cable.co.uk car wifi deal page.
Frequently asked questions
What's the cheapest car wifi deal?
There are quite a few options and deals available for car wifi right now. Your best coarse of action is to use the comparison tools at the top of this page.
Is car wifi legal?
Yes, car wifi is legal in the sense that you're perfectly entitled to have it fitted or built-in to your car. Your passengers may well thank you for it. Of course, while driving it's not legal to send or receive emails, browse the internet, play video games, or any of the other internet-enable activities you'd do on the couch at home.
Is car wifi expensive?
No, car wifi doesn't have to be expensive. If your new car, or your current vehicle, doesn't already come equipped with car wifi then you can still make use of wifi. This can be achieved via hotspot devices that cost as low as £20 monthly and make use of your existing phone SIM. Be aware though that data charges will apply.
Can I get wifi for my car?
A quick answer is, yes you can. You can either buy a car that comes with built-in wifi (more and more manufacturers are now equipping even mid-range cars with wifi). Or you can retro-fit wifi to older vehicles with inexpensive equipment. Be aware though that additional data charges may apply.
Do I need special kit for car wifi?
If your car comes with built-in wifi, then no you don't. If you've got an older car or a brand of car that doesn't feature car wifi, then you can buy in-car, portable wifi hotspots. These are offered by phone suppliers and third-party manufacturers and enable you to plug in data-only SIM to receive a wifi signal. Be aware though that additional data charges may apply.
Is car wifi fast?
Car wifi speed is dependent on where you are, who your internet provider is, and how you're getting the signal into your car. You can expect average speeds of around 30Mbps but it can go up to 300Mbps in specific areas.
Do I need car wifi?
If you travel as a passenger by car, then yes you probably do want it. Whether it's to send or receive emails, do work or just stave off boredom, car wifi is a benefit. It's possibly even more of a benefit if you have kids and also drive medium to long journeys. Be aware though that additional data charges may apply.
Can I use my car wifi abroad?
Technically, yes. However, this is very much down to your car maker's data deals in Europe and the rest of the world. Check the terms and conditions. If you've opted to use your own data via your phone or tablet SIM, then once again this will be outlined in your Ts&Cs. Additional charges for data will probably apply too.