In-Car Tech

USB-A vs. USB-C ports: Answering questions you have about your car but forgot to ask

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle interior with the new integrated Ultra console. A new LED light feature on the wireless charging system provides information on the charging status: a blue light indicates charging, red a foreign object detected and green signifies charging is complete.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

If you're reading this, it's a safe bet that you own both a car and a smartphone. And, if I'm going to be presumptuous, it's likely that you have your smartphone in your car whenever you're driving somewhere and that you probably want to charge your phone when you're in your car.

But this isn't always an easy endeavor, especially if you have a brand new car. So here's a quick walkthrough of the various USB plugs you might find in your new car — as well as the various plugs you might find on your smartphone.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid The 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid has only USB-A ports up front, alongside a wireless charging pad.The automaker labels these ports with their available charging power.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

The standard rectangular USB that's available in most cars from the past ten years is called the USB-A outlet. It's the one that's particularly frustrating because you'll inevitably try to insert the plug upside down. It's pretty universal, and, depending on your car, will either provide just power or (more likely) will let you play music and other audio through the stereo system.

One thing to note is whether it's a "high-power" port or not. Some newer vehicles will output up to 2.4 amps from their port, while older (or cheaper) cars will provide much less power. It's even possible that, if you're using the GPS on your phone for example, it might not even offer enough power to actually charge up your phone.

The USB-A is the most common and universal plug — but there's something new that you'll be seeing more and more.

Newer vehicles (and newer computers) might have the newest and fanciest USB-C plug. It has rounded edges and is much smaller, more useful, and more powerful than the older USB-A plug.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Adventure The 2020 Toyota RAV4 Adventure hides its AUX ad USB-A ports below a labeled hatch in the center console.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

First, and perhaps most importantly, you'll never insert your cable upside down ever again — it works whichever way you plug it in, which is particularly useful. Second, it's capable of providing much more power to your device, charging it much, much faster than the USB-A port if your car supports it — and some USB-C outlets might even be able to power a laptop.

Regardless of which plug you have in your car, high-quality cables are essential and are extremely cheap. I prefer Anker's Powerline cables, and they come in a huge variety of colors, lengths, and types. If you have an iPhone, you can get a three-foot Anker USB-A to Lightning cable for under $10 each, and a USB-C to Lightning cable for a few dollars more than that. Spare cables are always a nice thing to have, and these are some of the best you can buy.

If you have an Android, things are slightly more complicated because there are a few different possibilities for what plug your phone might have. There are a few options, but double check which plug your phone has before you buy and you'll be prepared for whichever USB port your new car has!

Finally, there are adapters that allow you to go from USB-C to USB-A to use your old cables with the new-fangled outlets on the new car, but they're as much as a replacement cable would be, so you're better off just buying a new, high-quality cable for about ten bucks.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Silvercar by Audi is expanding its rental service to series of new dealerships.

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Audi's in-house vehicle rental service, Silvercar by Audi, is expanding from 26 airports to dealerships nationwide. The addition of 10 dealers allows customers to enjoy Audi vehicles in a more convenient manner.

The program adds another element to the Audi premium experience joining Audi at Your Door, an online communication and vehicle pick-up and delivery service, that was launched in May.

Silvercar by Audi will continue to offer a fleet of premium standard features through the Silvercar mobile app and website. Additionally, service is offered by a Silvercar Mobility Specialist on-site. Contactless Rental will also be available at participating dealerships.

Silvercar is available in 36 locations in the U.S. including Austin, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and San Diego.Photo courtesy of Audi AG

"We've seen and heard from customers that their mobility needs are changing as transportation habits evolve," said Stephan Zeh, Head of Audi Mobility Services. "The addition of Silvercar rentals at dealerships provides a new, convenient way for new and existing customers to enjoy the premium Audi experience in their neighborhood."

Silvercar is seeing growing demand from new and existing customers for local rental options to accommodate regional transportation, longer test drives, flexible short-term transportation, and lease bridges. These new dealership initiatives will service those needs.

Silvercar by Audi at dealership locations launched in late July and currently include 10 Audi dealerships with more to come through the end of 2020. Current locations include:

  • Audi Dallas, TX
  • Audi Seattle, WA
  • Audi Henderson, NV
  • Audi Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Audi Denver, CO
  • Audi Charlotte, NC
  • Audi North Orlando, FL
  • Audi Fletcher Jones, CA
  • Audi Wesley Chapel, FL
  • Audi Exchange Highland Park, IL

Audi at Your Door is currently offered at approximately 95 percent of Audi dealerships across the U.S.

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Today Apple unveiled its latest lineup of new products.

Photo courtesy of Apple

Today's Apple Event hits home on many levels for consumers. Literally. The tech giant is aiming to make everyday life easier and more connected for their customers. Connectivity is extending past the iPhone and iMac, and into your home, your car, and your ears.

Earlier this year, Apple announced a host of changes that would effect Apple Maps, Apple CarPlay, and other components. You can read about iOS 14 updates here, Apple Maps upgrades here, and phone-as-key technology here.

How does today's news effect your car? Let's take a closer look at the products Apple debuted and what we know about them.

Apple HomePod Mini

Apple HomePod Mini

Photo courtesy of Apple

In addition to a slew of features that includes acting as synched surround sound speakers and the ability to handoff entertainment from a variety of apps like iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Amazon, Apple HomePods will be able to send suggestions to Apple CarPlay.

The real-life application of the technology may look a little something like this.

Scenario: You call your spouse and ask them if they need anything while you're out. The spouse asks you to swing by the house of a friend of you child's and pick up the Girl Scout cookies you both forgot you ordered. There's only one problem. You don't know where the kid lives.

Apple's Solution: At home, your spouse has their phone and contacts list connected to the HomePod. Said spouse then asks the HomePod to send the address to Apple CarPlay in the family's BMW 5 Series that you're driving. While in the car, using Siri, you tell Apple CarPlay to navigate you to that address.

There's also an intercom function. This means that you can broadcast from one HomePod to a series of others and Apple CarPlay. Think of this as a modern household intercom system that connects all the elements of your household. Think of how much easier it just got to survey your family to see what they want on their pizza.

Perhaps most importantly, Apple will allow customers to opt-out of allowing Apple to store their recordings.

Wireless iPhone charging

Apple iPhone 12

Photo courtesy of Apple

Apple is making wireless charging its primary method of charging for iPhone 12. The company is already working with Belkin on a new accessories line that includes car mounts and multi-charger docks.

In response to real world user experience, and with an eye toward sustainability, Apple has announced that it will no longer include Lightning headphones or power adapters in iPhone boxes. It's the end of an era, really. This is projected to save 2 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually, the equivalent of removing 450,000 cars from the road each year.

What will the iPhone box include. There will now be a USB-C to Lightning cable. That means that if your car only has USB-A (commonly referred to as USB) ports, you'll need to invest in an adapter if you want to plug in your phone to the car. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with wireless charging, are becoming more popular as a new car offering so if you purchase a new car, you may not have to worry about this issue.

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