The best car heads-up displays aren't the first thing you'll think of when it comes to accessorizing your car, but you'd be surprised at how useful they can be. Your car has a wealth of information available while you're driving, but a lot of it is often stuck on some kind of screen beyond your immediate line of sight. A good heads-up display can display it in a spot that doesn't require you to take your eyes off the road.
Some heads-up displays interface with your car's computer, others pull data from your smartphone and the very best can do both. The best part is you don't need a top of the range car either, and many of these HUDs will work still work — even if you've been driving the same old beater since high school. Here are some of our favorites, to help you decide on the best car heads-up display for you.
The best car heads-up displays you can buy
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The Hudway Drive has just about everything you could want from a car heads-up display. It manages to combine data from the car’s OBD port, GPS satellites and your own smartphone. The only thing it doesn’t do is add Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to your car, but that might be asking a little much.
At $279 it is one of the most expensive HUDs on the market. But the amount of information it can put in your face means it’s well worth it. Whether that’s driving speed, engine RPMs, or turn-by-turn directions. Just be aware that the unit itself is rather big, and the fold-down screen might get in the way of your view of the road at times.
Read our full Hudway Drive review
The Pyle PHUD180BD is able to squeeze an impressive amount of information onto its 5.5-inch screen, but even more impressive is how much it can manage with a $67 price tag. Not the cheapest car heads-up display by any stretch, it’s still a brilliant bargain - especially since it can combine OBD and GPS data.
Complete with a display that is as bright as it is large, and the ability to show more than two dozen pieces of automotive information, this is one of the best car heads-up displays money can buy. It may get in the way at certain points, and it lacks phone integration, but for $67 you have to make some compromises.
Read our full Pyle PHUD180OBD review
Another unit that combines GPS and OBD data, the Wiiyoo C1 is a car heads-up display that manages to display loads of data in a visually-appealing format. Though this HUD is designed for people who want more than their dashboard has to offer, with support for data that real gear-heads will get a kick out of. If you ever wanted to know air-to-fuel ratios or turbocharger pressures while you’re driving, this might be the HUD for you.
Sadly there’s no phone integration, and no navigation features to go with it. But you get a HUD with a self-contained projection screen, the ability to scan for and alert you to OBD fault codes, and an absolute smorgasbord of information. Plus, it costs just $56.
Read our full Wiiyii C1 OBD + GPS review
While we certainly could have done without the faux leather finish, the Dagood A8 is still a car heads-up display with a lot of promise. Not only is it inexpensive, it also offers a large 5.5-inch display, bright graphics, and a light sensor to automatically adjust brightness based on the surroundings. It also combines GPS and OBD data to give you a more comprehensive view of everything going on in your car at any given time.
The size does mean the Dagood A8 can get in the way at times, a fact that isn’t helped by the lack of an integrated screen, but not by much. After all, the large display does make it easier to see the on-screen information at a glance - freeing you from potential distractions while you drive. And with a wide range of automotive information to offer, it’s a solid addition to any car’s dashboard.
Read our full Dagood A8 review
Another car heads-up display that pairs the OBD port with GPS satellites, the Akabane A500 can actually do a lot of things other HUDs can not. Not only is it able to show off a bunch of different pieces of information on its screen, performance enthusiasts will be happy to know it has the ability to test braking and acceleration as well. Can that Tesla of yours really hit 0-60 in the advertised times? The Akabane A500 can help you find out, though we don’t recommend testing this on a public road.
The menu settings can be a little confusing, and the 3.5-inch screen isn’t enormous. Still it can show off a lot of useful information mid-drive, and the OBD connectivity means it can detect when faults occur somewhere in the depths of your car. The inexpensive price tag is just an extra bonus.
Read our full Akabane A500 review
If you’re more of an off-roading type, the Autool X95 GPS Slope Meter is a car heads-up display to take into consideration. Using a combination of GPS and its own internal sensors, it can show a lot of the usual information alongside a few specialist data points. Tilt and roll sensors can alert you if your car is getting too close to the point of no return.
While it can’t access OBD data, meaning it lacks a lot of the information other HUDs rely on. That might be enough to turn some people off, especially if you prefer driving on paved highways. Still with a small, light design and a simple to navigate interface, it would be an ideal purchase for certain types of drivers.
Read our full Autool X95 GPS Slope Meter review
What to look for in a car heads-up display
The best heads-up displays present the driver’s choice of the car’s operational parameters in a format that’s easy to see, read and digest at a glance. The advantage to a standalone model is they can often out-perform many of the built-in HUDs available on modern cars with the range of data they can show. On the downside, they can’t integrate into the car’s entertainment or navigation systems.
Not all car heads-up displays are built equally, however. Not only do they come in all shapes and sizes, there can be a huge range in what information is actually displayed. Some HUDs only repeat what the dashboard shows with items like speed and time, but others go a big step further to offer things like a tachometer and fuel economy.
Many take a bigger leap to show a multitude of items not generally considered pertinent to safe driving, but could still be interesting, nonetheless. These range from turbocharger’s boost pressure to altitude. For the off-roaders among us, some HUD units can even warn the driver when the vehicle is about to tip over.
The rarest options can connect to your smartphone, displaying turn-by-turn navigation, contact information or even text messages. At the very top-end of this spectrum are HUDs that offer Android Auto or Apple CarPlay support, should your car’s not have a compatible infotainment system.
While designs and capabilities vary, the most important part remains its ability to show the data you want to see without taking your eyes off the road. In this regard, size can be a double-edged sword: a big screen can help with large numerals and graphic elements but also can get in the way. For smaller devices, the effect is minimal but it might be harder to read the screen.
Different HUDs offer different screen-types too, either directly showing the data or projecting it onto a reflective screen. The former are generally bigger, but since projections grow over distance the latter can offer a virtual image that can be as large as 10-inches. However projections can be hard to see in bright conditions.
The best projector-based HUDs show that information on a fold-down screen, which offers a clearer picture that beaming it onto your windshield. This also allows the screen to be pushed down when not in use, and clear up your view of the road ahead.
Regardless of which kind of HUD you choose, however, color is also a big help — helping the designer squeeze a lot more information into a small space. Likewise button layout is more important that you might think, with a single-button interface proving awkward to change items and delve into a device’s layered menu structure.
Finally you need to figure out where the HUD is going to get its data and power. Some HUDs utilize your car’s OBD port, which gives them a window into the inner workings of your car — albeit not as much as a dedicated OBD-II scanner might. Meanwhile GPS offers tidbits like drive distance and altitude. However GPS-only devices will need to plug into an alternate power source like your car’s cigarette lighter.
If you’re worried about installing an HUD, don’t be. The current generation of HUDs take minutes to set-up, at most, and the hardest part is often stashing the cable in the gaps in the dashboard. Here, a seemingly small item, like having a flat cable instead of a round one can make it easier to hide. It’s something anyone can do, and the units themselves typically sit on the dashboard using a pad or an adhesive strip for support.
What should you expect to pay for a good HUD?
There are heads-up displays that start at under $20 but these are generally second best. They either have monochrome screens or only display one item, like the car’s speed.
Take the step up to those that cost between $30 and $65 and you’ll be rewarded with one that can show many different items without breaking the bank. The most expensive heads-up display we’ve reviewed costs about $250, but these pricey units are often worth the cost because they’re able to pull in data from a variety of sources: OBD, GPS and your phone.
How we test car heads-up displays
Evaluating heads-up displays involves a two-pronged approach: garage work and over-the-road field testing. It all starts with opening the box and checking out what the device includes. Although most HUDs come with everything you need to get set up. Some also include wire guides, while others lack key elements like the 12-volt car accessory adapter.
Next involves measuring and weighing the main unit, followed by connecting it to our test vehicle — a 2014 Audi A4 AllRoad. After getting it set on the dashboard, the positioning is checked from the driver’s seat and its position fine-tuned. The final points of installation involved checking how much of the windshield is obscured and how difficult it is to snake the cable through dashboard gaps to reach the OBD port or 12-volt outlet.
After firing up the car, we timed how long it took to start up and show data, followed by timing how long it takes to shut down after I switched off the car’s engine. To evaluate the screen, we looked at the data presented for both sharpness and the design of the gauges.
This is followed by checking out the interface and controls. We ran through the unit’s different screen choices, along the way taking notes as to the interface’s efficiency and ease of use. Finally, we go through each of the choices, counting the number of major parameters on display as well as its alarms and alerts.
With everything set, we hit the open road and give each HUD a test drive. Here we’re looking for how intuitive the display format is, whether sunlight washes out the screen and how well the display copes in the dark.The drive also involves a series of speed-up and slow down maneuvers to see if the HUD is able to keep up.
Many of the HUDs have specialty features, which were also tested out on the road. These included using the text display function on some, the inclinometer on others and trying out the turn-by-turn directions where it’s offered.
Once you've picked a heads-up display for your car, make sure to check out some other important automotive essentials. Both the best automotive emergency kits and the best dash cams will be there in case of emergencies, albeit for very different reasons. Meanwhile the best OBD-II scanners will help you diagnose any problems your car faces, and whether you can fix them without a costly trip to a mechanic.