How to Get WiFi for Cars


Peter Holslin
Researcher & Writer
Read More
August 03, 2022

Having car WiFi keeps you connected, safer in times of emergencies, and entertained on long drives, road trips, or when you're buzzing about town. Car manufacturers like Chevrolet and Tesla have been adding built-in hotspots to some of their models, but you don't need a brand new car to get WiFi on the road.

So, how do you get that sweet car WiFi? We’ll explain some affordable and effective options. Read on for details on mobile hotspots, in-car hotspots, public WiFi, travel routers, and more.

Use your phone’s mobile WiFi hotspot

Before you invest in new gadgetry or the latest Tesla model, you might try simply switching on your phone’s WiFi hotspot. Most smartphones nowadays come with built-in hotspots that allow for tethering to other devices.

You’ll need the phone, of course, and you’ll also have to be signed onto a phone plan that allows for hotspots and tethering. After that, all you have to do is simply switch on the hotspot and sign into it with other devices—it’s by far the cheapest way to get WiFi in your car (or anywhere else away from home). Just keep an eye on your data usage.

Pro tip
Info

Read our guide on cell phone hotspots for more details on pricing and setup.

Use a public WiFi hotspot (coffee shop, library parking lot, etc.)

Another, even more affordable way to get WiFi in the car is to pull up to the nearest McDonald’s, Starbucks, coffee shop, or public library and connect your device on its public WiFi network. Many businesses offer WiFi for free and sometimes the signal is strong enough that it will allow you access from the parking lot or street.

Public libraries also usually have free WiFi, and some library branches extend their WiFi service to the parking lot so people can access it after business hours.

Of course, this means you and your passengers will have to make a pit stop to get WiFi while on a drive—but you won’t need to get out of the car or buy anything

Use a mobile hotspot device

If you need a reliable WiFi connection regularly on the go, it may be worth investing in a mobile hotspot like a Verizon Jetpack MiFi or NETGEAR AirCard. You can find recommendations for some sweet hotspots in our mobile hotspot guide.

Mobile hotspots work similarly to your phone’s WiFi hotspot, but they are dedicated devices for internet usage, providing a WiFi signal through 4G LTE networks. They work with any mobile device, including laptops, phones, and cameras. They offer equal if not better speeds than your phone, options for more data, and most of them can connect more devices than you would be able to with a phone.

Alcatel’s Link Zone 4G LTE plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter socket through a USB, letting it stay charged at all times. Sprint Drive, which plugs into your car’s OBD-II port, includes features for virtual vehicle maintenance and roadside assistance in addition to a hotspot that connects a maximum of eight devices and the option for a monthly unlimited data plan.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to pay for a monthly plan with a cell carrier in order to use the hotspot—it usually costs somewhere between $20 to $90 for 2–10 GB of data per month.* (You can also add a hotspot onto your unlimited phone plan.)

*Data as of 06/16/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Pro tip: Measure your network coverage.
Info

You’ll want to take a look at the size of the cell network and WiFi capabilities of your hotspot plan. If you’re planning to use the hotspot for a big road trip, you still may end up experiencing dead zones in remote areas where no cell service is available.

 

Use a travel router

A travel router isn’t quite as convenient as a mobile hotspot. It’s not something you can use to access WiFi in a car—you need an Ethernet connection to make it work, and those connections aren’t always readily available.

But a travel router is more affordable than a mobile hotspot, and it comes in handy when you’re making occasional pit stops to use the internet. For example, you can use it while spending the night at a hotel. By plugging directly into the Ethernet port of a hotel’s router or gateway, you can bypass password and payment requirements and build your own network to connect a multitude of devices.

It works kind of like the old hacker practice of wardriving, but for regular folks and without any actual hacking involved!

Here are our four favorite travel routers:

TP link imageRav power imageHootoo imageGL iNet image
RouterTP-Link AC750 Wireless Portable Nano Travel RouterRAVPower FileHubHooToo FileHub GL.iNET GL-MT300N-V2 Wireless Mini Portable Travel Router
Price*$39.99$49.99$39.99$20.49
WiFi bandsDual-band, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHzDual-band, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHzSingle-band, 2.4 GHzSingle-band, 2.4 GHz
Max speed733 Mbps433 Mbps300 Mbps300 Mbps
Get it

Amazon.com Price (as of 6/15/20 10:49 MST). Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Satelliteinternet.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Travel routers also work as portable chargers for mobile devices, range extenders to boost a weak WiFi signal, and cloud-sharing hubs for external hard drives and memory cards. They’re a handy travel tool all around.

Buy a new car

WiFi probably isn’t the number-one reason to justify investing in a new set of wheels. But if you are shopping around for the combustible conveyance of your dreams, go ahead and check to see if the model you’re looking at has a built-in hotspot. It’s quickly becoming a standard feature in many new vehicles.

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FAQ about WiFi for cars

Why get WiFi for your car?

WiFi for cars comes in handy if you spend a ton of time in your car and frequently need an internet connection on the go. Having a built-in hotspot for your car lets you preserve your phone’s data and battery power since you won’t have to use your phone’s hotspot, and it also gives you the option to connect more devices and get faster speeds than you would on a phone hotspot.

You can use WiFi in the car to keep your kids entertained on long drives and road trips, to do work when you’re away from home or the office, and to get in touch with emergency services if your car breaks down or you’re experiencing other difficulties.

How can you get WiFi for your car?

You can get WiFi for your car in a few ways. Here are your options:

  • Use your cell phone’s hotspot feature.
  • Purchase a mobile WiFi hotspot with a monthly data plan.
  • Connect a travel router to an Ethernet source in between drives.
  • Buy a new car with a built-in hotspot (the most expensive option).

What’s the cheapest way to get WiFi in your car?

The cheapest way to get WiFi in your car is by using your cell phone’s hotspot and tethering feature. All you need to set it up is your smartphone (most of which come with built-in hotspots) and a monthly cellular plan that allocates data for hotspots and tethering.

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Peter Holslin
Written by
Peter Holslin