In-car auto-play music

man-texting-in-car-image-from-shutterstockIn-car auto-play music: a reader asks…

Hi Chris, I have an iPhone and it’s paired with the Bluetooth in my car. This is great since I can use the car’s speakers and microphone to talk on the phone. The screen in the car even shows my contact list so I can make a call easily using the buttons on the steering wheel (or Siri). But I have a problem: every time I get in the car and turn it on, it starts playing a song from the Apple Music app (from my music library). I have to fiddle with the phone to get it to stop. This seems to happen not just when I get in the car, but also sometimes while I’m driving – after I finish a phone call, after I finish using Siri, and randomly at other times. I can’t find a setting to turn this off easily, I have to turn the iPhone’s Bluetooth off and on. That’s a real pain, and probably a safety issue. Any advice for me? signed, Frustrated with Apple Music in my Car

This has been a complaint from iPhone users since car manufacturers started putting USB connectors and Bluetooth capability into cars, and Apple hasn’t done anything about it. Probably too low on their priority list, there’s no simple off switch for auto-play. It seems to happen almost randomly when your iPhone is connected to the car with either wireless Bluetooth or with a USB cord. Even if you quit the Music app (double-press the Home button, then swipe up on the app), it still comes back – seems like anytime you use the USB or Bluetooth capability. There are a few possible solutions, some work for some car models, some for others. Here’s a short list of the possible solutions:


Reset your car to play the radio instead of iPod or media. If you left your car’s audio system to play media from your iPhone the last time you drove, it’ll remember that and attempt to restart playing from the iPhone. And of course, the iPhone doesn’t care if you were using Spotify, Pandora or any other 3rd party app, it prefers their own Apple Music app.

Set your iPhone so it won’t play music (from the Apple Music app) when on a cellular network. This is great especially if you’re worried about using up your monthly data allowance on streaming audio, but only works if none of your music library is actually stored (“offline”) on your iPhone. To turn off cellular streaming:

  1. go to Settings > Cellular
  2. scroll down to the Music App listing, and slide the slider to off

To make sure all your music is only in iCloud (not offline on your iPhone):

  1. go to Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage
  2. under the Storage list, tap Manage Storage
  3. wait till the page fully loads, then scroll to Music, tap it, and and swipe left on the top entry ‘All Songs’, then tap Delete.

Of course, anytime you want to play songs from your library without using up your data plan, you need to download the songs from iCloud (while connected to Wi-fi). In the Apple Music app:

  1. tap the 3 dots to the right of a song or playlist
  2. tap the link ‘Make Songs Available Offline’

You can delete and re-download songs as often as you like, so long as they are stored in iCloud (so purchased from iTunes). If you subscribe to iTunes Match, the songs you’ve imported from CDs are also stored in iCloud (with a few exceptions), and if you subscribe to the Apple Music service, you can also make songs you see available offline.

Set your car’s audio system to not auto-play music from your iPhone. Some cars control systems have an auto-play setting that can be turned off. Don’t look for these settings while driving!

I should note that iOS9 which just came out still has no provision for disabling auto-play through your USB or Bluetooth connection.

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  1. i have a usb full of my classical music, ( i know i can do it via my phone-forget it plz) … so usb full of music and i have a port that has female usb port that has male aux jack … so now when i join my external+usb to aux jack, i want my car to play music automatically. Ofcourse my car doesn’t have that smartness in it, so i was wondering if there is an automatic music playing software or somehow we can enable a music playing software to play music once i connect my (usb+aux)… i can install the program in the usb itself and it’d have the music files in usb itself, and it would be part of my car for good (or i can always change songs and stuff) … is it possible to have such a software, cause it gets its power from the car when i enable AUX mode (like am/fm or cd) … help me if you understand my cause

    • Unfortunately, a USB stick is not a computer, and a computer (such as a smartphone) is needed to operate a program or software. A USB stick has no processing power, it just stores files.

      I know you don’t want to consider using your phone, but you might want to think about using an old smartphone you might have lying about, or that someone you know has and is no longer using. For example, an old iPhone without cell service could function just fine as an iPod Touch. Load your music on that and leave it plugged into your car’s charging port (and aux jack). You could then play music and control the songs & playlist with the old iPhone. This would work just fine for an old Android smartphone as well.

  2. Hello,
    I have an iphone 5 and a Honda Odessey. I have figured out how to make the car play music from the phone, but it always starts with the first play list on the phone. I have tried to talk to it and ask it to play…say, Fleetwood Mac, but it just puts up a list of people whose names sound similar to Fleetwood Mac and asks which one I want to call. Am I always going to listen to Abba when I’m in the car, or is there a way to tell it to play something else. Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Sara, thanks for your question! This is another long-time woe of iPhone users, when you start using the Music app it auto-plays the alphabetical first song in your library. There is no cure other than choosing another song, album or playlist. If you ran the Music app recently, it might continue where you left off, but if it’s been a few hours or more since you last used the Music app, you get the first song on the list.

      The second problem you note is that Siri doesn’t understand you when you tell her that you want Fleetwood Mac. That’s really due to two different issues.

      1. Your style of speaking: If you don’t use Siri often, she doesn’t get a chance to learn your voice patterns, accent, and inflection. The way to fix this is to force yourself to use Siri more often than you normally would. Even if the results are frustrating to you, that’s the only way Siri can improve. This type of training works best when you aren’t in your car and are using the iPhone’s microphone directly. You can simply start asking Siri a bunch of questions to help her learn your voice. If you use the Hey Siri function, that includes initial voice training, which you can restart: Tap Settings > General > Siri > and slide the slider for Allow “Hey Siri” to off. Count to 10 and then slide it back on, and it will prompt you to start training. Do this in a relatively quiet place with no distractions and Siri will learn better, and be better able to understand you even in places where there’s a lot of background or ambient noise going on.

      2. The technology behind how Siri hears you: If you’re using your Odessey’s bluetooth microphone to talk to Siri, you have a double-whammy of a problem.

      One, the communication is not instant, so when you start talking to Siri, she may not be listening for a bit while your iPhone and the car open the pathway from your car’s microphone to the smartphone. You need to wait just a fraction of a second between when you activate Siri (either by voice – Hey Siri – or by holding down the Home button) and when you start talking. I’ve found this “lag” to be such a problem that I don’t use Siri with the car much. I’m hearing that this problem will be fixed in the next update to iOS (iOS 10) being announced tomorrow. Siri has always had a little latency, and this latency is magnified when you use wireless devices.

      Two, your microphone’s placement may hamper Siri’s ability to hear you clearly, and/or there’s too much (loud) background noise so Siri can’t hear you clearly. You need to locate where the microphone is in the Odessey, and then point your head towards that microphone when you speak. Also, you need to speak clearly, louder than normal, and enunciate your words a little extra. The audio fidelity on Bluetooth is not nearly as good as it is directly, so when using Bluetooth devices (like your Odessey’s connection to your iPhone) you have to work harder than if you were talking directly to the iPhone’s microphone.

      Lastly, if you were to create a playlist with your favorite music for driving (Fleetwood Mac) in it, then you can ask Siri to play that playlist. It’s helpful if you name the playlist something that’s easy to get right. I have a playlist called “Driving Music” which is hard for Siri to get wrong,.

      Using the iPhone when driving is a distraction (even hands-free) and when Siri gets it wrong, that’s even more of a distraction. Please make sure you keep your priorities straight and don’t let your iPhone distract you from the important tasks of navigating the streets and avoiding accidents.

  3. Thanks Chris,

    Indeed, an “off-switch” for Usb or BT connections would/should be definitely doable for Apple. But they seem to care less than a horse’s backside. What drives me nuts us the answers many Apple aficionados (or fundamentalists) give to the many users pointing out this nuisance: from “must be your car’s problem” to “just cancel all the songs and podcasts”, I’ve read them all. Your article helped without that typical Apple patronising tone: I switched my car radio from Ipod to “radio” and problem is not really solved, but at least music does not always start automatically now. Thanks

    • Thanks Sal! I try to be not an Apple or android fanboy and just give the most practical answer for folks who need the easiest method. In this case it’s a sort of workaround to a feature that was never really coordinated with car manufacturers. Glad I could help!

  4. Joe Emison

    Here’s what I did to solve this problem: I created a song that is 79 minutes of silence and called “AAA Silence” (you can get it on the iTunes Store and also on CD Baby). Because–in my experience–the “autoplay” just starts playing the first song you have alphabetically, “AAA Silence” will start playing. So at least you won’t have music playing, it will just be silent. And you’ll have 79 minutes to start some other song.

    You can also read more about it at

    • Hi Joe, thanks for your comment. I have to say, iTunes shows the song as $9.99 on the iTunes store, which is a heck of a lot to pay for silence. I think your note on your website saying that Apple sets the price is a bit disingenuous, and certainly not a price-point you were forced to accept. CDbaby at 99 cents is much more reasonable, and probably the right answer for anyone who can’t create a song like that on their own.

      Since the Voice Recorder app is built right into Windows 10, anyone could make a sound file by running the app and recording a few minutes of silence, then naming the file and importing that sound file into iTunes, then sync your iPhone with iTunes music library (or at least that song). The only thing that would stop them is not having a microphone attached to their computer. That said, I think your 99 cent offering is a great way to grab some easy money and wish you luck!

  5. Hi, I have the opposite problem. My iphone used to play tunes when I plugged it into my car USB, but now it doesn’t, and I really miss it. It has even stopped playing during an interruption….. for example, if I’m listing to music and then flick to radio for a few seconds, then back to music (aux) I have to physically press play on the Apple music app. It’s driving me mad. I want it back to auto.

    Any idea please anyone?

    • Hi Martin, thanks for your comment. You may want to check the setting for Music (Settings > Music > Cellular Data) to make sure that music can stream over cellular networks. It might have gotten switched off, and that will stop your music playing in the car unless you’re also connected to wi-fi.

      If you have some music that’s downloaded to your iPhone then it will play automatically for you, but streamed music won’t unless it has permission. The above switch is intended to reduce your data usage over cell networks. That’s often a finite resource and so many folks turn that off to keep from going over their data limits.

      • Hi Chris, Thanks for the reply.

        I don’t stream, this is stuff that is on my phone. It would auto play, now it has to be manually started from the phone. There are no related settings on the ICE.

        • Ok, the more info the better I’m able to figure things out. Did you update iOS recently, or did your car get a software upgrade? That may be to blame.

          The other thing to try is to disconnect Bluetooth – ‘forget’ the connection on both car and iPhone and pair them up fresh.

  6. Thanks Chris. No update, but I did do the Apple soft reset before I saw this, and that sorted the problem.

    Thanks for your input. 🙂

  7. Jeff Lindberg

    My issue is a bit different. My iPhone is paired with my car head unit, and I normally listen to music this way. Usually I prefer to listen to Pandora, but when I’m driving down the canyon (where there is no cell service) I listen to a particular iTunes playlist on the Music app. My problem is that usually the Music app will be the one to start playing when I start the car, and I have to manually switch over to Pandora. Sometimes it will remember Pandora for a while, but if the car has been off too long it will switch back to Music the next time. Is there any way to tell the iPhone to prefer Pandora but still leave the Music app available for the times I need it?

    • HI Jeff, thanks for your question, but I don’t think your issue is different. Your iPhone will always prefer to use the Apple Music app over any 3rd party app like Pandora, and you can’t change that default – so the workarounds I laid out are your only options. This is Apple designing for Apple, and that’s the way Apple has designed their products since the company started. They simply don’t give you the option to set a different 3rd party app as a default. We can all complain, but until Apple changes their design strategy, all we can do is live within the constraints and workarounds (or switch to Android).

  8. Sophia White

    Dear Chris, I would like to play Apple Music in the car when being a long-time driving. I found out a page that claims it can work well for me playing Apple Music. But after reading it, I still don’t know how to make it work. Do you have great solution for me. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Sophia, without giving me any information about your car and its capabilities, I can’t really help you well. If you’re driving an old car your choices are much more limited. Most late-model cars have one or more of these features:

      1. bluetooth connectivity
      2. USB to auxiliary input connectivity
      3. AUX (headphone jack) input connectivity

      You may need to delve into your car’s owner’s manual to find out which of these your car has. For an iPhone, Bluetooth and USB are the easiest to work with. You use your iPhone to play music and playlists just like normal, but change the output from the iPhone speakers to the car’s speakers. That involves opening the Control Center and tapping on the top-right corner of the Music control, then selecting the connected car entry.

      Some cars come equipped with Apple CarPlay built-in, which uses either 1 or 2 above for the connection to the system, and then replicates many of the iPhone functions on the car’s built-in screen.

      There are also 3rd party devices you can use to do the same.

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