Your smartphone is probably smarter than your in-car system; you have a better choice of music, more up-to-date navigation and all the phone numbers you want to dial.
Connecting that to your car is pretty haphazard, though; it depends on what phone you have and what the car maker put in the infotainment system.
The Car Connectivity Consortium wants to change that uncertainty with MirrorLink.
It's an open standard for connecting your phone to your car, safely, that doesn't rely on proprietary in-car entertainment and information systems.
Can't I already use my phone in any car?
Only for the basics. If there's Bluetooth in your car, you can pair your phone and make calls using the microphone and speakers in the car.
If there's a USB port in your car you can charge your phone and probably play MP3 files, if your phone is set to look like an external drive.
Some cars have specific iPhone integration for playing music.
In-car tech: ultimate guide to infotainment
But if you want to use Last.fm or Spotify, or even a navigation application, you're using the car as a very expensive stand for your phone (except you've probably had to buy a cradle as well) and tapping on a screen that wasn't necessarily designed to be easy to use at 70mph, while ignoring all the controls and displays built into the car itself.
MirrorLink is safer and lets you use a bigger screen on the dashboard – and it still charges your phone.
If your car has a GPS and antenna, MirrorLink uses that instead of the GPS in your phone; the GPS signal from the car will be more accurate (especially as using your phone inside a metal box makes its GPS signal weaker).
And you don't have to plug a speaker cable into the headphone socket to get voice navigation from the car speakers; it all goes over the MirrorLink connection – and the music will mute or pause when there are directions to listen to.
Why is MirrorLink safer to use?
When you connect a MirrorLink-enabled phone to a MirrorLink head unit, the phone switches to a simpler interface that's less likely to distract you and only lets you use a few applications; this is called 'Car Mode'.
On a Nokia handset, that gives you a dialling screen, music player and Nokia Drive with bigger, clearer buttons.
Or you can control the app on your phone from the touchscreen on the MirrorLink head unit on your dashboard and ignore the phone altogether.
You can set up a playlist or plan your route on your phone in advance, and then it's easy to select that once you're driving along, rather than having to remember to do it before you put your hands on the wheel.
How about more apps?
Sure, as long as they're certified and comply with rules about not distracting the driver; Internet radio is an obvious idea and there's a software development kit for creating apps.
Version 2 of MirrorLink is under discussion and that will give apps more information from the car (version 1.1 will let you control apps with buttons on the steering wheel as well as the touchscreen).
We'd like an app that looked up prices, checked the traffic and worked out if driving for half an hour to get cheaper petrol would actually save you money.
Supposing I'm parked or in the passenger seat; is my phone still locked down?
MirrorLink lets the car tell your phone how fast it's going or when the handbrake is on.
Pull over and Direct Access Mode lets you see your phone screen on the bigger MirrorLink screen so you can check your email or search online.
The Sony units have a Passenger App Control Mode that lets a passenger connect an iPhone or iPod touch and play videos or see apps on the touchscreen.
How does it work under the hood?
You don't have to be a mechanic, or know about the UPnP authentication, USB and Bluetooth connection, RTP audio streaming and VNC screen remoting (but if you've ever used RealVNC, it's the same technology).
That's why it's called MirrorLink; the car screen mirrors what's on the screen of the phone it's linked to. (It's also a snappier name than the original 'Terminal Mode', which sounds a bit, well, dangerous, for cars).
Using standard technologies and plugging into the standard OBD-II bus on the car, developing MirrorLink should be fairly fast.
Which cars have MirrorLink in?
So far it's just the Toyota iQ, which has a Panasonic MirrorLink system built into the dashboard as part of Toyota Touch Life.
But Honda, Kia, Peugeot, Ford, Fiat, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Mazda [sponsored link], Renault and Volkswagen are all members of the CCC, and MirrorLink will be one of the options for the 2013 VW Golf in Europe.
QNX recently signed up; a lot of car manufacturers use QNX for in-car systems so that should speed up adoption significantly.
You can also add MirrorLink to existing cars.
Sony, JVC Kenwood and Alpine are the first accessory makers to have MirrorLink head units you can buy and fit to any car that has enough space on the dashboard.
We tried the Alpine model out last year.
When will more cars have MirrorLink?
MirrorLink will become more common in 2013/2014.
Which phone manufacturers are working on MirrorLink?
HTC, LG, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Motorola have all signed up to the CCC.
Nokia is pushing MirrorLink the most so far, putting it in several Symbian Belle and S40 handsets (the 701, 700, 600, 603, N8, E7, C7, X7, and C6-01, as well as the Meego-powered N9).
The MirrorLink app is on the Ovi store.
Samsung has MirrorLink support in some models of the Galaxy SIII and Sony Ericsson showed a prototype interface at CES 2012 with apps for music, navigation, calls, weather, traffic and parking information.
Will MirrorLink come to Windows Phone?
"We're working with the Windows Phone team to get it in," Nokia vice president Christof Hellmis told TechRadar. Don't get too impatient; "both sides are willing and committed to providing MirrorLink to the Windows Phone ecosystem, but it's too early to talk about timing or the exact version of Windows Phone."
What about other phones?
RealVNC has its own VNC Automotive Solution; this supports MirrorLink but also lets you connect iPhone, Blackberry, Symbian S60, Windows Mobile and Android devices; Land Rover, Sony, QNX and other companies have signed up, but that's not as many backers as MirrorLink.
Toyota has an Application Launcher iPhone app for the iQ that lets you use Garmin StreetPilot and some music apps, but it's not using MirrorLink.
Isn't this just like My Ford Sync or the other car connection systems?
Unlike others, MirrorLink works in any car. For example, the Alpine ICS-X8 fits into cars that have the larger 4" by 7" double DIN socket in the console. But MirrorLink is an open standard so you wouldn't have to keep buying the same make of car to use your apps.
And why can't MirrorLink let me drive the car from my phone?
The same reason you don't have to worry about a virus on your phone literally crashing your car.
"There are two worlds inside the car," Hellmis explains. "The internal world where you have the vehicle controls and the electronics supporting that; that's behind five thousand firewalls, it's like getting into Fort Knox. Then there's the multimedia infotainment system and the OBD-II bus you can plug in sensors to diagnose what's wrong with your car. MirrorLink is part of that world; it's not in the inner circle."