USB-A vs. USB-C ports: Answering questions you have about your car but forgot to ask

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

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.

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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