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Ask AC: Do I need a special cable for Android Auto?

As we trudge through the early days of Android Auto, one question tends to pop up more than others in our Android Auto forums. And that is this:

Do you need a special cable to use Android Auto?

The answer, simply put, is "no."

Any normal data cable should work just fine with Android Auto. Occasionally you'll hear stories of issues with extra-long cords, but I've used any number of microUSB cables that have come with any number of phones, and they all worked fine.

You don't need a special USB cable for Android Auto, but do consider the length.

Currently, however, I'm using a 6-inch cable I got off Amazon and am just leaving the phone in the cup holder. This helps keep me from being tempted to mess with the phone while driving — definitely a good thing. (And contrary to what you might have read, it is possible to dump out of the Android Auto splash screen and use your phone like normal while connected to the car. And that's a really bad idea while driving.)

One caveat here: If you're using one of the new Pioneer head units, make sure the USB cable that runs from the back of the unit through your dash or wherever is connected to USB2. That's the input for Android Auto. USB1 is for Apple's CarPlay.

And that's that, folks.

54 Comments
  • :headdesk: The fact that you had to write this piece makes me sad. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • Definatly!!! I think they just write posts for the heck of writing posts?!
  • If you ever have a question that someone else things is simple, I genuinely hope they aren't as rude as you are. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't think this is simple, it is simple. I honestly think anyone who can't find an answer to a question this basic without emailing a blog probably isn't savvy enough to use the thing they're asking about. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • Again, I hope you never need help with anything. There are some charging bricks that won't charge as fast with a cheap cable as they will with the cable that came with the brick because the cable can't carry enough electricity. It's not a far stretch to assume this wouldn't work with a cheap cable for similar reasons. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Guess you've never been new to something before.
  • I actually was new to USB ports/cables once. You're right it took months of grueling study and training to figure them out, but I got there. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • I'm sorry I don't care who you are that was funny. Posted via the Android Central App
  • When I installed the Pioneer radio in my truck I used a random USB cable and it did not work. Frustrated after checking to make sure that I had the correct USB port, I tried the cable that came with my phone and it worked fine.
  • Some USB cables are charge only, not data cables. they are missing some of the required pins.
  • I don't even know what the frig android auto is Posted via the Android Central App
  • Looks like it was pretty necessary. Forget needing a special cable; judging by the comments, it seems like half the people reading this article didn't know that AA requires a cable at all. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I saw this article and all the responses days ago and I agreed, then I saw this; "you'll also need a compatible microUSB cable such as the Pioneer CD-MU200 cable (or a similar microUSB-to-USB cable) to connect the phone to the receiver" That comes from the description of the Pioneer AVIC-7100NEX on Crutchfield. As long as sites like that have descriptions like that and sites like AC have “Best Browser for your GS6" articles there are going to be people confused as to exactly what will work on and with a particular device.
  • I am moderately well acquainted with phones/cables/computers/etc. I have a Comp Sci degree and am a Software Engineer. But I must admit that I did not run across this article by accident. I searched for it. I think I have been so accustomed with using USB cables for CHARGING, that I have ended up buying several low cost cables that are not DATA CAPABLE. I grabbed about 5 cables from the floor/desk/etc and took out to my car where I had just had and Android Auto Pioneer head unit installed. Only got one of them to work successfully. So, I searched for an explanation. This article hints at the answer - could better call out that many people have unsuspectingly bought crap CHARGE ONLY cables. Anyway, the article was helpful to me - not a no-brainer.
  • The fact that the article is incorrect makes me sad. I purchased a pair of shorter cables with 90 degree bends to replace my 3ft long cable that works fine, but they just caused Android Auto to crash-loop. Those cables will charge the phone without issue, when plugged into laptop or outlet, but no worky with Andoid Auto. Sorry to burst your bubble, lumpkin.
  • My question would be do you need the cable? Meaning is there functionality over, say, bluetooth?
  • Not yet. There's too much data to push to make it feasible right now. Even if you could, I couldn't imagine how quickly the battery would drain. Posted via the Android Central App
  • More and more people are using wireless charging in their cars. We'll have to see if the less powerful charge can put up with the heavy drain, though. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • That doesn't solve the issue of having to push the entire interface. If it even worked over Bluetooth, there could be stutters on the screen and that's not the thing someone needs to deal with while driving. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You're quite right about data throughput. That could be solved by using Bluetooth to initiate and authenticate an ad-hoc WiFi connection. It isn't really much of a hassle to plug in, but I don't think it should be necessary in 2015... I'd really rather people didn't look at a display while driving full stop. But that's a different discussion. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • Android Auto requires a cable right now, and that's part of the reason behind that (other than the amount of data going between devices.
  • Which is my biggest disappointment... I have to much cables in my truck as is. I want a chrome cast in my truck. Posted via the Android Central App
  • i have a chromecast in my truck. all my passengers are amazed by it. i just purchased that $20 Moto G phone to use as a dedicated chromecast remote control in my truck
  • Bluetooth doesn't have the bandwidth but wifi sure does
  • It does work over Bluetooth, partially. The reason why the cable is needed is because you are heavily using your phone when using Android Auto. Imagine if you're using Maps to navigate somewhere. That naturally uses a lot of data, and then add music streaming into that. The reason why you need to plug it in is to keep your phone at its current battery level or higher.
  • It doesn't use Bluetooth? You have to use a cable?
  • No it does not and yes you do. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Holy last decade, Batman. I'll stick with my Ford Sync in my 2012 Mustang.
  • Again, it's pushing an entire interface, not just some data that SYNC uses. Posted via the Android Central App
  • So what? Android Auto is DOA if it requires a cable. That's just stupid. Nobody will pay the ridiculous price for that. Posted via Android Central App
  • Not quite DOA, but yeah cables are a disappointment. Posted via the Android Central App
  • No it's not. Have you never noticed how fast your battery drains when navigating? You want power, and wireless charging is usually not enough while navigating.
  • This will not sell. No need to defend this garbage. I have navigation in my car that requires NO data or phone battery. Posted via Android Central App
  • Congratulations, but not everyone does.  Even some who do prefer the up-to-the-minute info of Google Maps as opposed to the year or two old map data downloaded onto the head unit's navigation module. I stream audio from my phone to my head unit (no Android Auto for me, yet) but I still have the phone plugged in, just so that I don't drain the battery during my 2-3 hours of commute each day. Just because *your* usage means you don't want to use a cable doesn't mean that nobody else should want to.
  • +1 Posted via the HTC One M9
  • Needing to plug in is a PIA. Be nice if Bluetooth or WiFi could get the job done. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It can, there's just a ton of data going over Bluetooth, and it's going to kill your battery very, very quickly. This way you're charging your battery.
  • How is needing to plug in while in your car a pita? Posted via the Android Central App
  • With your usual car smartphone setup Bluetooth gets it done. Leave phone in pocket or purse when making calls, using Pandora, have text messages read aloud, etc. Seems like Android Auto is requiring you to dig the phone out and plug it in. Yes you gain extra features but digging out the phone makes it less convenient. One of great things about wireless connectivity is that you don't need to plug everything in. Hell, even your car "key" needn't come out of your pocket these days. So to me it just seems a bit strange we didn't get a wireless solution for this. Digging out my phone for a 12 minute drive home from work is not a step forward.
  • Bingo. Posted via Android Central App
  • Must be nice. Most days it takes longer than that to drive to grocery store. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You can leave it in your pocket and use bluetooth to your head unit if all you want is the basic shit you can already do. If you want a full video stream going to your head unit running a full interface and even navigation and don't want your battery to rapidly drain then you'll want a cable.
  • A pertinent question, "how do I get this in my car? What card are compatible?" I suppose I could start doing some research. Posted via the Android Central App
  • There are a couple models out now, on Amazon and Best Buy. I'd link to them, but I'm out and about. Just search for Android Auto on Amazon and you'll find it. It should have a car compatibility tool as well Posted via the Android Central App
  • Phil you must be thoroughly enjoying the G4. I'm seeing it in most all of your articles. I can't wait to fire mine up for the first time. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Phil; Thanks for info. What model year and car are you driving testing android auto in? Ian B
  • I am in the market for a new car. Any recommendation with built in Android Auto ?
  • Getting mine installed tomorrow! Can't wait! Thank Phil for the reminder to tell the guys I want the android part wired. Is it possible to have both hooked up? Posted via the Android Central App
  • You mean you have to use a cable?! That's like a babies toy.
  • I don't plug mine in every time but for longer trips where I want traffic data or navigation, I plug my phone in and use a magnet mount. I wanted navigation so android auto fits the bill. I just hope they add a few more apps. Hands free texting works well in my car with steering wheel controls. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Odd that Pioneer breaks down Android Auto and Apple Carplay into two separate USB ports. Wonder what the technical reasoning behind that is.
  • Phil, Is the photo above of your dash setup and usb plug in your dash? I did something similar, but the usb plug i purchased matches your cig lighter, with the little cover and all. i can show you links to the chevy dealership on ebay I bought it from (i have a ford and the two pieces fit). Also, when connected, how do you get the phone off of the Android Auto splashscreen'? thanks!
  • Kind of surprised at all of the "you have to plug it in?" comments.
    This is a minor inconvenience IMO. I also second the suggestion for using a shorter cable. I routed my USB ports to my center console storage and when I used a "standard" cord, it was kind of a pain to get all of that cord and the phone in the storage. With a shorter, coiled Micro USB cord it all goes in cleanly, regardless of the case I have on my phone.
  • Plugging in is a minor inconvenience but also necessary for battery life issued I'd think if. If I drove around all day running Android auto without being plugged in, I wouldn't get 2 hrs out of my phone. Also... Pretty sure that Apple Car Play also requires plugging in so I'd hardly call this a deal breaker. In a few more years, when (if) wireless charging is ubiquitous, perhaps then a cordless interface will become more of a reality. Let's not jump off any bridges here. Android Auto is amazing. I personally can't wait to see the evolution of what is already a fantastic connected car experience.