Unless you are specifically attuned to the stars more than the average person, finding one’s way towards the true north with just our faulty human eyes is a bit of a hassle, especially when on the road for long periods of time (or during the day). Car compasses, while seemingly an antiquated piece of equipment, can easily help someone find their way on the brightest of days or the cloudiest of nights.
Car compasses are simple. They are compasses that will (generally) latch somehow onto one’s dashboard and provide easy-to-read navigational help, even in areas that might not be in cellular phone signal range. Not all vehicle compasses are made equal, however, and you’re going to want the absolute best quality for your dollar, especially when it comes to getting from point A to point B in an efficient, timely manner. Well, we’re here to help with that.
In this article, we are going to focus on the best dashboard-mounted car compasses out on the market today. Before we dive into that, however, we are going to explain the bare minimum of what you need to know about car compasses before looking at any of these products and making any sort of decision on a purchase.
After making sure you know what to look for before buying your compass, we are going to get straight into the product reviews and soon after we’ll finish the article with an extended buyer’s guide that will further your understanding of just what it is you are looking for when it comes to these kinds of products.
- Car Compasses: What to Consider Before Buying
- Top 7 Best Car Compasses 2020
- 1. Best Overall Pick: Ritchie Navigation Explorer Car Compass
- 2. Best Budget Option: Suunto Clipper Compass
- 3. Best Digital Car Compass: Pyle Universal 3.5" Car HUD
- 4. Best Premium Option: Ritchie Surface Mount Compass
- 5. Best Smart Compass: Pyle Universal Vehicle Smart Display With Compass
- 6. Best Compass with GPS: ACECAR T800 Universal Car HUD With Compass
- 7. Best Heavy Duty Option: Ritchie Navigation X-10-A Auto Bracket Compass
- Guide to Buying The Best Car Compass
- Final Considerations
Car Compasses: What to Consider Before Buying
Alright, here are a few simple points to keep in mind when in the market to purchase a quality car compass product. Remember, this is just a cursory glance on the matter. If you’re looking for some more depth on the subject, be sure to check out our extended buyer’s guide for the real nitty-gritty on the matter.
Car compasses can be fitted to a vehicle in a few different ways. The most common type of fitting out there are suction cups. These are great because they allow your car compass to be positioned anywhere you want inside the vehicle without too much trouble. They are also versatile in that if you need to move the compass for any reason, generally you can find another area that they will fit on easy enough. The only real issue with suction cups is that they can not work so well on overly dirty or oily surfaces.
Adhesive strips are another common fitting choice. These provide a tight and secure fit. However, they come with a fairly extreme downside. Namely, if you desire to move your compass, you’re going to probably have to replace the strips along with it, as they generally are not good for reuse.
The strongest of attachments for car compasses are going to be screwed/bolted on dashboard mounts, however. These are generally seen as secure, leaving little room for the compass to move around your dashboard.
To give you a sense of just how to install a car compass, please check out this helpful video from Tomorrow’s Journey, a YouTube channel dedicated to the RV lifestyle.
Most, if not all car compasses need some form of calibration in order to work properly, and each one is going to have its own nuances to the calibration process. Be sure before you make a purchase that the car compass you plan on getting actually is designed for use in your area of the world.
It’s worth noting that traditional/magnetic car compasses have internal magnets that always prompt them to point north, which makes them extremely efficient when it comes to calibration. Digital car compasses, however, may take a bit longer to calibrate due to the complexity of their inner mechanics. However, they can end up being more accurate in the long run because of this.
It’s important to purchase a compass that is both easy on the eyes and visually pleasing as well. Look for models that illuminate well in the dead of night, large compass letting and brightly-lit numbers and letters. A lot of car compasses are easily movable if there’s any great need to alter the position of the compass in the car, either due to extreme sun glare or any other reason. Mobility is king when it comes to these helpful navigation devices.
How Big Is It?
Definitely have an idea of just how big of a car compass you want or need prior to purchasing. Some compasses are going to be much bulkier than others, and this could be a hindrance if you have a smaller dashboard than normal (which is common in a lot of smaller cars). Additionally, make sure the nighttime illumination isn’t too bothersome or annoying. This is crucial for road safety where even minor distractions at night can lead to major accidents. Know what you can tolerate before purchase!
Ritchie is a name that echoes loudly when it comes to the realm of navigation for both ships as well as automobiles. First off, let’s start with the background of this particular car compass. The incredible thing is, it’s not technically designed for vehicles at all, but more for aquatic vessels such as boats and yachts. Mariners of all kinds require accurate directional information to not only make their trips in an orderly manner but also to come back safe and sound from a long journey. Needless to say, it’s a great product for the road as well!
The Ritchie Explorer is bracket mounted so that means you can put this bad boy anywhere in your vehicle, and it should always stay visible no matter where it’s placed. Not only that, but it will also stay reliably calibrated even in the toughest of terrain conditions.
There’s more to the quality craftsmanship to this compass, however. This product is built strong. The magnets themselves are high-gauss and considered to be some of the best in the industry, reliably pointing towards the magnetic north in any conditions. The pivot section is also made of highly durable steel. The entire system is just absolutely silky and slick in its overall design.
Another great thing about this car compass is, like most Ritchie products it comes complete with a 5-year warranty. So, if you do manage to beat it up to the point of no return, you’ve got a solid five years to send it to Ritchie for a full repair job. You really can’t beat that!
The only real issue that we found with this product is that it can be difficult to see in low lighting conditions at times, but other than that, this is a solid product from a solid brand you can trust, and it earns the top spot on our list.
- Visible compass dial with sizable lettering
- Illumination for night driving
- Versatile steel pivot functionality
- Made from high-quality magnets
- Simple to mount
- Hard to see in low lighting conditions
This is another unique item on this list in that it isn’t specifically a car compass, but can absolutely be utilized as one in a pinch, making it not only one of our best car compass picks but also our best budget option on this list as well.
Unlike many car compasses, this product is quite small at a tiny 4 inches of width. This means it can literally be placed anywhere in your vehicle fairly comfortably. The palm of your hand is even an option in the direst of situations, even!
None of the above matters if the compass itself is of poor quality, however that is most certainly not the case with the Suunto Clipper. This product comes complete with glowing cardinal lettering on the surface of the compass for easy nighttime navigation. It also has a rotating bezel as well.
This is a great buy for someone who wants a solid piece of navigational equipment in their vehicle but doesn’t want to spend a lot of extra money on more advanced compass models that are specifically made for automobiles. Not only that, but you will also find other uses for it beyond the scope of one’s vehicle, as the company is known for making outdoors-related products.
Probably the worst thing we could find with the product is that it’s not structurally that stable compared to other compass models on our list. This isn’t a surprising notion, however, considering it’s made from relatively light materials. But all in all, it’s a solid budget-minded purchase.
- Multi-purpose use for vehicles as well as watercraft
- Illuminated directional points
- Extremely lightweight
- Small enough for most surfaces
- Hardiness/structural concerns
This is a product that can scratch someone’s hi-tech itch for a car compass alternative to your typical traditional models. The Pyle Universal HUD is an extremely varied car utility that not only fulfills the role of a car compass but is also capable of so much more.
The first thing we have to comment on is the gorgeous aesthetics that the HUD device has. Not only does this full-color heads up display showcase the proper direction you are heading in, but it can also show other tidbits such as speed, mileage, and even one’s GPS location. And don’t worry about it being too bright out, the Pyle HUD has an anti-glare design that keeps the individual alert and informed no matter how sun-blasted the landscape might be.
This HUD comes equipped with dual-core processing power, which gives it the hardware muscle needed to make on-the-fly calculations, adjustments, and data updates without breaking a sweat. Such technological complexity must be difficult to set up and use, right? Not at all. The Pyle Universal HUD has complete plug and play functionality; it is ready to go out of the box.
Another fantastic addition to an already stellar product is its ability to automatically shut off in tandem with your car engine. This is an incredible thing for truly forgetful individuals that may keep you from having to use jumper cables in the middle of nowhere to jump-start your vehicle due to a drained car battery!
Like a lot of digital car compass products, the Pyle Universal HUD can take several minutes to properly calibrate, and sometimes it can lose its bearing depending on many extenuating factors. That’s really just the name of the game with these kinds of products, but their advantage lies in the fact that you don’t have to manually calibrate them yourself. So, if you’re looking for a digital HUD that is multi-faceted and is also a literal “plug it in and go” device, this is definitely the item you want to get.
- Shows direction + speed
- Simple design and installation
- Fast dual-core computing
- Automatically shuts down when you turn off your vehicle's engine
- Calibration can take a few minutes
This is the second Ritchie product on this list… are you starting to see a theme here? Well, there’s a good reason why this particular car compass is here as our best premium option. Like all Ritchie products, the structural quality of this car compass is without question. It’s composed of a durable pivot dial system that is constructed out of the toughest steel.
You’re going to get the same sort of toughness out of this product as you would the Best Overall Pick and even the final product on our list. Ritchie is a company that does not skimp when it comes to the hardiness of their products!
The real reason we consider this product a premium pick is because of the wonderful extras that come built into the compass itself. Within this hardy navigational tool is a 12V green light that is perfect for seeing one’s direction in hard-to-see conditions (including terrible rainstorms).
The compass also comes with a sun shield that is easily manipulated and allows you to see this compass as clear as possible no matter what kind of harsh sun glare you might deal with. When you add all of this on top of the 2.75 inch dial, which is large enough to see easily even in the lowest of lighting conditions without having to squint, this is a great “kitchen sink” option when it comes to a traditional car compass.
One negative thing that can be said about this product, however, is that it is certainly not made for smaller vehicles in mind, as it is rather bulky. Additionally, the light function requires an external power source of some sort, such as a cigarette lighter adapter. This isn’t too much of a big deal, but it puts this compass in a realm beyond your typical traditional car compass variant.
The Ritchie Surface Mount Compass is concrete-strong and able to pretty much be placed anywhere you can imagine safely inside your vehicle and still keep working properly, if you’ve got the car space. If you’re willing to pay a little bit extra for the addition of a movable sun shield and the cozy green night illumination, then this is a solid pick.
- Steel pivot system
- Composed of high-quality gauss magnets
- Retractable sun shield for day/night versatility
- Simple and speedy mounting process
- 5-year warranty
- Bulky design might not make it adequate for some smaller vehicles
- Light requires a power source
This is another HUD car compass system from Pyle as well, but how does it differ from the previous product of theirs on this list? Let’s find out!
This biggest difference with this product is that it is 2.6 inches instead of 3.5, so it’s a little bit smaller, but that ultimately means it ends up being more compact on one’s dashboard. This is a great option for smaller vehicles or individuals that value minimalism above looks.
Like the larger Pyle Universal HUD, this is pretty much an easy to set up peripheral for your vehicle. Mount it, power it up, and it’s ready to do everything you need it to do in just a couple of minutes. You can track the miles per hour you are traveling, the direction you are facing, and it even can alert you if you’re going over the speed limit in the area. To top it all off, the adjustable brightness controls make sure that you have a comfortable viewing atmosphere no matter what external light conditions you might be in.
Like the previous Pyle HUD on the list, this product requires some time to calibrate properly. This isn’t too big of a deal, and we tend to think it’s a decent trade-off for what generally can turn into an exercise in frustration when it comes to calibrating traditional car compasses. While it is not as large as Pyle’s other model, it’s sure to please individuals that want something smaller yet high-quality at the same time.
- Vivid HUD design
- Universal mounting capabilities make it highly versatile
- Shows direction, speed, time and more
- Based off accurate and up to date GPS maps
- Fast dual-core processing power
- Takes a while to calibrate
- Requires a power source
The ACECAR HUD, like the other digital compass peripherals on this list, is a multi-purpose display device for your vehicle that can display several things, including orientation, miles per hour traveled current top speed, and even things like latitude and longitude. The real highlight of the device, however, is the seamless GPS that integrates with the internal compass to get you to your destination safe and sound.
Probably the most noticeable thing about the ACECAR HUD is its fairly decent size in terms of being a digital heads up display system and compared to the other ones on this list. It’s solidly built and comes with a universal mount that will easily attach itself to every vehicle on the known market.
The biggest issue we had with this product is it might be a little too large for some dashboards. Also, like all digital devices, a solid power source is needed, which can potentially drain your car battery if you forget that it’s plugged in. However, if you’ve got the space and want prime visual quality when it comes to your digital compass needs, this product really can’t be beaten. And with a one-year money-back guarantee, what do you really have to lose?
- Universal mounting system
- HD-level display setup
- Screen is vivid even in direct sunlight
- Minimal, lightweight design
- One year money-back guarantee
- Requires a steady power source
- Too large for smaller vehicle dashboards
Here is yet another product from Ritchie that is made with quality in mind, at least in terms of the structural stability of the compass itself.
The Ritchie X-10-A is automatically eye-catching with its overtly blue design when it comes to the rotating compass portion itself, but as well all know looks aren’t everything. Like may car and boat-related compasses, this can remain stable no matter where it’s placed. So, if you feel the pressing need to put your car compass at an angle for whatever reason, this will still fulfill all of your needs thanks to its high-quality bracket mount and internal compensator systems.
Let’s go back to the aesthetic qualities, however. This compass has a lovely turquoise internal night lighting system that is fantastic for properly traversing long and lonesome highways for miles upon miles in the darkest of conditions.
Don’t be fooled, though… this is a tough product as well, and it was designed with top of the line materials that have been heat-tested to ensure the structural stability of the product in the long term. So, even if this compass happens to fall out of your vehicle by accident, it’s certainly not going to be kicking the bucket.
If you’re near vehicles or other larger metallic items, this compass will consistently react to other magnetic things of varying degrees, making it not only extremely tough to calibrate, but also tough to rely on 100% as well. We found that it mostly depends on the individual and how long they took to calibrate their compass. It’s certainly not a process that should be rushed, however, it has to be said that this particular product doesn’t make it easy at all compared to some of the other products on this list, including our best car compass pick over all (which also happens to be manufactured by Ritchie as well).
With all of that being said, it’s a solidly-made, hardy piece of equipment and if you have any major issues with it, Ritchie will uphold its warranty, which is a generous five years in length.
- Internal compensator mechanisms keep compass steady
- Made in high-temperature conditions making it durable and hardy
- Luminescent and usable in low lighting conditions
- Bracket is reversible and can fit to many different kinds of surfaces
- Five-year warranty
- Difficult to calibrate
- Difficult to mount depending on where you place it
Guide to Buying The Best Car Compass
Here are some more in-depth bits of information that expand more on what we previously covered in our brief buyer’s guide earlier in the article. If you’re still a bit one the edge on some aspects of owning a car compass, we think this section might help inform your purchase in a more detailed way.
Reasons to Use a Car Compass
At first glance, the need for a compass in your car may not be apparent. Here are some reasons you may want to consider installing one in your car before your next trip.
They Are Helpful In a Pinch
While cellular coverage in the United States is pretty decent for a majority of the country, there are still fairly sizable areas in the country where signal is nonexistent. Car compasses help to make sure you are heading in the right direction no matter what.
This is a great help if you’re in more remote areas with terrible to nonexistent cellular phone signals and all you have available is nothing more than a trusty map and your keen sense of direction. Sometimes old-school is the only way!
They are Multi-Faceted
Many car compass models don’t just show your vehicle’s physical orientation, but they also can have other key information displayed on them, such as latitude, longitude, miles-per-hour speed, and other interesting measurements and data that it is taking while you are on the road. Some even work in tandem with sophisticated satellite technology to provide top-notch, by the second data on all of the above, and much more.
They Look Slick
This depends on the kind of car compass you buy in the end, ultimately. However, a lot of these products actually can end up making one’s vehicle look a lot snazzier in the long run. Many car compass designs have a touch of the regal to them, with elegant design attributes to them. Some of them even provide lovely nighttime glow aesthetics, which any cyberpunk enthusiast might be able to appreciate!
Hands-Free Directional Assistance
Car compasses, when calibrated properly, always point true. The very best products will give you a hand-free directional awareness that will keep you from having to fumble around with external devices such as smartphones, GPS units and other bothersome things like that. This is an obvious positive when your focus should be on the road.
Now that we’ve got some tantalizing glimpses into why you should consider purchasing a car compass, let’s speed right on into the reviews!
Car Compass Types: An Overview
Before purchasing a car compass, it’s a good idea to see what kinds are out there, and which ones represent you, your goals, or even your personality. Here are the two main types of car compasses.
Easy the most common of all compass types on the market. These simply point to the magnetic north at all times, though at times they can be off due to magnetic interference issues, especially when mounted in a vehicle and surrounded by electronics. These types of car compasses are generally screwed into or bolted on the dashboard of a vehicle in some form or fashion, and are usually considered more durable because they have fewer breakable components.
These types of car compasses do not rely on magnetic fields, nor are they altered in any way by things that can normally affect traditional compasses (such as iron, and other metals). Not only are they lighter in weight, but they are also generally compact by design and don’t have to be bolted onto the dashboard, making them easy for fast storage if you’re concerned about leaving such an expensive piece of equipment in your vehicle. They also generally come with more data indicators such as altitude, time zone clock, latitude and longitude, overall speed, and many more options.
How To Calibrate a Car Compass
This is a very basic, non-brand specific guide to car compass calibration. Be sure to consult your user’s manual that comes with your compass, as the information in that particular document can provide additional nuance to these generalized instructions provided here. For the most part, however, compasses require the same sort of adjustment process for a proper and accurate reading.
- First and foremost, place the compass in the place you want it to stay, whether on the dashboard or somewhere else. It is absolutely crucial, however, that you keep it in this position for the calibration process. Do not fix the compass in place at this point and time, as you may need to make adjustments later.
- Choose two landmarks as a baseline, the one you start your trip at, and the one that is the ultimate destination.
- Make sure both of these landmarks are within five to ten degrees of the north median line on your compass. The 5-10 degrees gives you some wiggle room while calibrating while still giving you a close to an accurate reading.
- Drive slowly towards the landmark you designated while adjusting the compass accordingly so it reads correctly.
- When you’re satisfied that you’re seeing good results, safely put your vehicle in reverse towards the starting landmark, making adjustments as you go and always staying within that 5-10 degree area on the compass, but as close as you can to absolute north.
- Keep on doing these steps until the desired calibration has taken place. It may take a few tries.
- Once you are satisfied with the calibration, fix the compass in place with whatever mechanisms your model comes with (suction cups, bolts, adhesive strips).
We hope this has been an informative article on what many would consider a somewhat niche subject matter in the world of automobiles. It may seem like something as simple as a dashboard-mounted compass might be antiquated and rather useless in today’s society, especially with the advent of embedded GPS technology in cellular phones and even pre-installed in some vehicles! However, there’s still a fairly large section of the United States where cellular signal is spotty at best, and nonexistent at worst. Car compasses help us to find our way in the dark, so to speak.
If you didn’t see a product on our list that stood out for you, or if you’re still trying to come to a decision on which of these products you might want to consider getting down the line, please take another look at our short buyer’s guide as well as our more in-depth extended buyer’s guide before settling in on a particular choice.