21 best Apple CarPlay apps every driver needs

An photo of Apple CarPly in use
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Apple CarPlay is an invaluable tool for drivers, taking all the best iPhone apps and features and making them safer to use while you’re driving. Whether you want communication, music, podcasts or just need to figure out where to go, CarPlay can put the essential apps front and center. So long as you know which apps actually work with it.

There are a lot of apps out there that work with CarPlay, but not all do, and not all apps that are CarPlay-compatible are worth it. So, to save you that hassle, these are the top Apple CarPlay apps every driver should be using.

Apple Apps

Apple maps logo on iPhone screen

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Your iPhone already has a bunch of Apple apps installed when you take it out of the box, and a lot of them are available on CarPlay when you're driving. While you always have the choice to use third party apps, these cover most of the basics and should prove to be valuable tools out on the road.

Phone: Possibly the one Apple app you'll use the most with CarPlay is the phone app. Phone calls are the best way to communicate with the outside world safely, since it means you can call anyone (or vice versa) and speak to them without the hassle of back-and-forth messages. 

The Phone CarPlay app has access to your full contacts list, favorites, recent calls, voicemail and your keypad. You can even talk to Siri and ask her to make a call for you, so you can keep your eyes on the road and avoid messing about with a touchscreen instead of concentrating.

Messages: If phone calls aren't your style, then Messages can step into help. The Message CarPlay app lets you see all the messages you receive, and tapping them means Siri reads them all out to you — so your eyes don't deviate from the road. You can also ask Siri to send messages to your contacts with nothing more than a voide command.

Apple Music: With more than 100 million songs, curated playlists, original content and access to digital radio stations, Apple Music is a great companion to have in your car. There's even Dolby Atmos spatial audio support if you're lucky enough to have a car  that supports it. The only thing Apple Music doesn't have is Podcasts, which can be found in the Apple Podcasts app. 

Just make sure you have a valid subscription, whether it's Apple Music or the Apple One bundle.

Apple Podcasts: If you're more a fan of podcast hosts over radio DJs, then Apple Podcasts has what you need. You'll be able to listen to your favorite series as well as find new ones thanks to personalized recommendations and top charts in almost every category. Apple Music subscribers will also have access to exclusive premium content.

Audiobooks: This is a version of the Apple Books app on your iPhone, but it cuts out everything with written words in favor of literature that's read to you. Because we all have hectic lives, and that backlog of books isn't getting any smaller, and there's no better time to make progress than when you're stuck in the car. 

Unfortunately there are no subscriptions here, and you'll need to purchase each individual title.

Apple Maps: It had a rocky start but Apple Maps has evolved into one of the best navigation apps around. Better still, you don't need a separate user account, and Siri voice controls are enabled by default. Plus, with the addition of offline navigation with iOS 17, you should be able to find where you need to go no matter what the local cell signal is like.

Music

Spotify logo on a smartphone with headphones next to it

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Spotify: The big name in music streaming offers more than 100 million songs, either with ads or without — depending on whether you're willing to pay to subscribe or not. With personalized recommendations and sharable playlists, it's one of the better options if you'd rather get your music from someone who isn't Apple. There are also audiobooks and podcasts built-in, too.

Tidal: If you're more interested in high-fidelity streaming, then you probably know about Tidal. The idea here is that subscribers get access to music in much higher quality than you would on other platforms, with up to 80 million songs on offer. Tidal also claims to pay better royalties to musicians than its rivals — in case you want to better support your favorite artists. 

YouTube Music: If you have YouTube Premium to escape the never-ending adpocalypse, then you have YouTube Music Premium thrown in as well. That means you don't need to subscribe to Apple or Spotify to listen to some ad-free tunes on your daily commute. Over 100 millions songs are available to listen uninterrupted, offline and while your screen is locked.

VLC: If you're not into subscriptions, streaming and personalized features, then there's always VLC. It's the perfect app for listening to music and other audio files offline, without having to pay for ongoing access. The only downside is that you need to have sourced the files from some other source, be they ripped from CDs or purchased from non-Apple stores.

Navigation

Google Maps

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Google Maps: The biggest name in mobile navigation, and with good reason. Google Maps has just about everything you could want when you're driving. Real time traffic updates, offline navigation and the ability to search for businesses and locations along your route. It even works with Siri voice commands, albeit not quite as sleekly as Apple Maps does out of the box.

Waze: Waze is a popular navigation choice thanks to its uniquely aggressive way of getting you around. The app may not be quite as data rich as Google Maps or Apple Maps, but its popularity stems from the fact will do everything it can to get your ETA as low as physically possible and actively changes your route to avoid as much traffic as it can find.

Podcasts & Audiobooks

Audible

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Audible: Amazon's audiobook service has a lot, especially if you have a subscription. Not only does that get you 1-2 audiobooks per month (depending on your plan), there's also a whole range of free podcasts to download and listen to. Plus-tier subscribers also get access to a library of free audiobooks with their plan, which means you shouldn't be running out of stuff to listen to in the car anytime soon.

Overcast: Overcast is a great platform for those of you with an existing playlist of podcasts you love, but also want to discover some more. The app also feature Smart Boost to skip over silent spots and a Voice Boost feature for consistent sound throughout each episode; there's nothing more frustrating than having a host and guests who whisper interspersed with booming ads. 

Google Play Books: If you're a recent Android convert, you may still have some audiobooks tied to your Google account. Thankfully those are available on iPhone and CarPlay as well. Of course, like Apple Books, you'll be denied access to any print books when you're driving — which is definitely for the best.

Castro: Designed to make it easier to keep on top of your favorite podcasts and new episodes, Castro uses an inbox-style system to deliver new episodes as and when they arrive. From there you set up relevant episodes in your queue, and the app will make its way through them all until you rearrange everything.

Spotify: Spotify isn't just about music; the app offers a huge range of podcasts and audiobooks for you to listen to as well. Podcasts are free to listen to, but audiobooks will require a Premium subscription. 

Weather

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Weather on the Way: Any weather app can give you a forecast for your destination, but what about the weather you’ll experience along the way? Weather on the Way, as the name suggests, can do it.

Not only will weather affect road conditions, it may also change the way you’re driving. If you’re going to drive through a serious patch of rain or snow, you can make sure you’re prepared to handle it all. CarPlay support means you can keep tabs on the upcoming weather as you drive.

MyRadar Weather Radar: This is the kind of app more suited to meteorological nerds with the kind of data you just don't see in a typical weather app. MyRadar shows off high definition radar maps of the weather headed your way, so you can see what you need to be prepared for when you're in your car. It also features alerts for rain and storms, alongside more serious threats like tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes.

Charging and Parking

plugshare ev charging map on iphone

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Plugshare: If you’re an electric car owner, you know there’s going to be a time when you need to hunt down a charger. PlugShare features a map of EV chargers across the United States, offering charging stations from a multitude of different charging companies. It doesn’t have every charger, but if you’re in a pinch you can hunt down a compatible charging station from your center console. It even has a trip planner, just in case your car can’t do that automatically.

SpotHero: Parking can sometimes be a real hassle. But SpotHero is an app that lets you reserve parking in major cities ahead of time. Not only does this mean you know there’s going to be a spot available for you when you arrive, it can work out slightly cheaper that way. The app listing includes parking garages, lots and valets across the U.S., and the fact it’s compatible with CarPlay means you (or your passenger) can sort out a parking spot mid-journey.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.