Cars with Wi-Fi

by Lori Straus

When it comes to accessing the Internet in your vehicle, you have three options: use your phone, purchase a car with Wi-Fi capabilities, or use an on-board diagnostic (OBD) device to access Wi-Fi networks. In this blog post, we’ll cover all three options.

Using Individual Devices to Access the Internet from Your Car

This is likely how many people are accessing the Internet when they’re on the road. And with data plans becoming cheaper, it’s not necessarily a bad idea. However, there are situations where this may not be ideal:

  • If anyone is using a device that lacks a data plan, they’ll need to connect it to another device with a data plan via a personal hotspot. This will drain both batteries faster and slow down data transmission. Moreover, this can heat up both devices, which can affect battery longevity.
  • If you’re planning a long drive, this can eat through your data plan.
  • You’d be surprised how fast one YouTube video eats through a data plan. (I’m speaking from experience. And no, kids won’t notice your phone company’s warning texts popping up.)

Cars with Dedicated Wi-Fi

Thankfully this list is growing too fast to write out in a blog post anymore, but many are still built without it. A car with dedicated Wi-Fi functionality is the easiest way to let everyone in your vehicle connect whatever device they would like to use to access the Internet without requiring data plans attached to each device.

To access this feature, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee connected to your cellular plan, and at time of writing, it appears that only Bell offers such a plan. (Rogers closed their SmartDrive plan in 2020, and Telus discontinued selling new subscriptions as of February 16, 2021.)

If you’re debating paying for the service while you simply drive the kids to their evening music or sports lessons once a week, it may not be worth the added cost.

However, if one child frequently waits on the other and has homework to do, for example, Bell’s Wi-Fi system would let your child continue with homework, get in some much-needed R&R time, or let the two of you enjoy a show together.

Accessing Wi-Fi Through an OBD Device

This is a happy medium between using individual devices and purchasing a vehicle that comes with dedicated Wi-Fi. Every car manufactured since 1996 comes with an OBD slot, usually under the steering wheel.

Assuming yours isn’t already in use, you can purchase or rent a device that will plug into it and give you Wi-Fi access via a carrier. Bell offers this for vehicles that don’t come Wi-Fi ready, as do other companies. Then any device in your vehicle can access the Wi-Fi network you’re subscribed to.

To Purchase Wi-Fi Connectivity for My Vehicle or Not?

It really depends on how much time you think you and your family will be spending in your vehicle post-pandemic. Just keep in mind that creating personal hotspots with devices that have data plans not only eats up your data plans faster, it also drains your batteries, which affects their longevity. Again, not an issue if this will be a rare occurrence. But if your vehicle will return to its former “soccer van” or “hockey truck” status, then investigating improved connectivity could be the answer.