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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The EQXX Concept features a crazy driving range.

Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz is putting its century-plus of automotive experience into building electric cars, and the results are impressive. The EQS is an electric flagship with great range, and the automaker has unveiled several concepts to show its future plans. The Vision EQXX concept debuted today as an ultra-efficient luxury EV with astonishing range numbers.

Mercedes-Benz EQXX Concept Mercedes focused on efficiency over power with the car. Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes' focus with the EQXX is efficiency over power, as it says the car is its most efficient it has ever made. The EQXX uses less than 10 kWh per 100 kilometers (around 62 miles), which equates to 620 miles on a single charge. The battery was designed with tech and knowledge from Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team, especially when it comes to size and weight. The EQXX's battery pack is 50 percent smaller by volume and 30 percent lighter than the pack in the EQS, which already featured astonishing efficiency.

The car's impressive range comes at the expense of horsepower, which in this case means just 201 ponies from the EQXX's electric drivetrain. Mercedes says that the system is capable of delivering up to 95 percent energy efficiency - an impressive figure for power delivery to the wheels. Extremely efficient gas powertrains only achieve around 30 percent efficiency and a human long-distance runner can hit around 50 percent.

Mercedes-Benz EQXX Concept The EQXX is impressively slippery, which improves its range.

The EQXX is a slippery car, too, and with a drag coefficient of just 0.17, the car cuts through the air with ease. The typical EV uses up to two-thirds of its battery capacity just to push through the air, so the EQXX's aerodynamics is a big part of its efficiency. The other big part is Mercedes' thermal management system, which uses shutters and cooling plates to maintain an ideal battery and electric drive unit temperature. The plates allow the EQXX to gain about 12 miles of range in its most aerodynamic mode.

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What was your best car-related experience this year?

Chris Teague

This year has been a lot of things, but it hasn't been boring. Even if we focus only on the car world, there's plenty to talk about, from microchip-related new vehicle shortages to the wave of new electric vehicles hitting the market. That leaves us with a question for all of you: What was the best or most memorable car moment for you in 2021? I'll get the conversation started.

Porsche Cayenne GTS My SoCal Cayenne śaw snow for the first time in its nearly 200k-mile life last week.Chris Teague

I'd spent a good portion of 2021 wanting a new-old car to drive when I wasn't testing a new vehicle. That's harder than you'd think for someone who thinks, talks, and writes about cars all day, because there are so many interesting, risky, and downright funky options out there in every price range. The added headache for me was that I'd chosen to shop for a "fun" car in one of the most volatile car markets ever seen. Even the extremely high-mileage "untouchable" European cars I wanted to buy were commanding ridiculous prices.

After a solid few months of waffling between various rattletrap Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Audi S/RS cars, I landed on an option that had escaped me before: The Porsche Cayenne. First-generation Cayennes are a real bargain now, but the 955/957 (Porsche's internal code for the SUVs) can experience major problems that occur with or without regular maintenance and care. I was determined to buy one, and wasn't overly concerned about mileage, as long as I could count the number of owners on one hand. There was a beautiful 2009 Cayenne GTS with 90,000 miles but nine owners, a gorgeous 2004 Cayenne Turbo with a concerning engine tick, and many more just like them. Finally, I decided to risky-click a 196,000-mile Cayenne GTS in Southern California. It had one owner and one dealer-owner for a month or two prior to sale, its condition looked decent in photos, and I was able to negotiate a reasonable enough price that shipping it from San Diego to Maine wasn't a huge problem.

Porsche Cayenne GTS The pics look great, but hands-on tells another story.Chris Teague

I had two traveling Euro mechanics check the car out, and both confirmed that it was well-worn but mechanically sound, so I jumped. Ten days later, on a snowy, icy, dark Maine afternoon, the Cayenne arrived. Cosmetically, there were a few things the dealer and mechanics failed to mention, but overall, it looked good. The SUV passed Maine safety and emissions testing without problem, got a new set of Michelins, and I was on my way.

Porsche Cayenne GTS I'm in danger, but thankfully this should be a reasonable fix.Chris Teague

A few days of driving revealed what I was really in for. A check engine light revealed a camshaft position sensor error and the Cayenne displayed a nasty vibration at idle. A new sensor and motor mounts, and I'm on my way. I'll update you as more things break or miraculously work, but I want to hear your memories from 2021.

Email me at chris@automotivemap.com, and I will compile the best and most interesting stories for a story on New Year's Day. May you all have a wonderful 2022.

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