Here's how to hack CarPlay into a Tesla or F-150

·2-min read

Want to make your old vehicle feel newer? Add a new stereo. Twenty years ago, that would involve ripping out the stock radio and sliding in a new Pioneer head unit and maybe a pair of subwoofers. This time around, it means hacking a new UI onto the stock operating system.

Last week, I added CarPlay to my 2016 Ford F-150. This hack required one piece of hardware and about three minutes. All I had to do was swap the 2016 USB port with a 2017 USB port. CarPlay was immediately available in the Sync 3 system thanks to a 2017 update. Have a Tesla? It's a bit more work.

Essentially the hack involves tricking the Tesla into thinking it's running an Android tablet, allowing it to host Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. To do so requires two Raspberry Pis and some software. Detailed instructions are available here on the Tesla Android Project site.

CarPlay and Android Auto say the quiet part: in-car infotainment systems still suck. Some are better than others, but most are still lacking in user interactions. CarPlay and Android Auto are better, but still not perfect. However, they do an excellent job of giving the driver safe access to relevant information on their devices for the most part.

There are a handful of aftermarket devices that support CarPlay. The best route is often an OEM upgrade that adds functionality within the standard in-vehicle system. Sometimes, like with my F-150, this is a trivial upgrade, but other times, it's expensive, requiring a dealership to swap costly control systems. Different solutions come from third parties like Sony or Pioneer and need owners to swap out the stock radio with a new one. If that's not an option, a handful of dash-mounted screens offer CarPlay as a supplemental service -- these are cute, but offer a sub-standard experience in my experience.

Tesla has been a key holdout against CarPlay. It's logical, in a way, as Tesla vehicles use one screen to control everything in the car, and there's likely hesitation toward allowing another user interface on the only screen. But other manufacturers have made it work. Volvo, like Tesla, has giant screens in place of dedicated buttons for the radio and climate controls. Drivers can still use CarPlay and access vehicle control systems. The same thing in RAM trucks -- there's a massive, center-mounted screen that controls everything in the truck, but CarPlay still works. Until (or if) Tesla officially supports CarPlay, there's always the hack linked here.

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