Best In-Dash Navigation Systems: Get Where You Need To Go Quickly & Easily
Find your own way with our top picks for the best in-dash navigation systems.
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BY Rebecca Henderson / LAST UPDATED ON March 18, 2021
Sometimes not knowing where you’re going can be a good thing. A little spontaneity never hurt anyone. But when it comes time to get back on the road to civilization, you need a navigation system you can trust. If you need assistance purchasing the best in-dash navigation system you can get, check out our buying guide below.
This is a 6.8-inch multifunctional unit that can be used for navigation, making hands-free calls, or for entertainment.
- Brings select apps on your smartphone closer to your fingertips
- Can charge select Apple and Android devices
- Expandable memory
- Compatible with camera inputs
- During updates, the image might freeze or the unit might restart continuously
- Map updates aren’t free
You can get a decent in-dash navigation system without spending more than $200. This product has a variety of features and functions for a good navigating experience.
- Android users have the ability to mirror their screen to the in-dash navigation system’s screen and vice versa
- 7-inch touchscreen display comes in handy as well
- Though it does support Android features, this product does not include Apple CarPlay compatibility, which could steer some customers away
Boss Audio offers a potent mix of technological capability and simplicity with the touchscreen in-dash navigation system that also keeps you entertained.
- Features a GPS receiver and external GPS antenna
- You can download offline map data
- Comes with several other cool features, including "gesture" control
- Processor is a little slower than some rival brands
- Instructions and radio features aren't very good
- Not compatible with iOS devices
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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of In-Dash Navigation Systems
- Large display. Would you rather work with a map that’s the size of a 3-by-5-inch notecard, or one that’s 8 by 11 inches? Having a GPS navigation system makes a huge difference when it comes to seeing where you are and how to get where you need to be.
- Useable without cell phone service. Navigation systems rely on the vast network of satellites orbiting the planet rather than the various cell towers located around the country. That means you can easily find out where you are even if you aren’t able to call anyone for help.
- Bigger interactive maps. Again, your phone can be a great way to find places on a map. However, the ability to work with a larger screen in the middle of your driving position can make a huge difference when you’re navigating. Some navigation systems even offer features you may not be able to access on your cell phone.
- Combine navigation and music. The best in-dash navigation systems don’t make you choose between knowing where you are and your favorite playlist. Most units integrate audio output with navigation so you can still enjoy listening to music as you make your way towards your destination.
- Removable and replaceable. Installing an in-dash navigation unit doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it forever. Once you know the installation process, removal is simply the reverse. And if you end up selling the vehicle you installed it in, you can just as easily pull it out and put it into your next vehicle.
- Adaptability. While there are some in-dash navigation units out there that are specific to various vehicles of different years, there are just as many universal units that you can adapt to a variety of platforms.
- Good investment. If you are selling your car and don’t want to deal with the hassle of removing your in-dash navigation, simply boost your asking price. The navigation unit will increase the car’s value in a way that’s independent of market trends and other changing values.
Types of In-Dash Navigation Systems
Most of the in-dash navigation systems you’ll find today are touchscreen. After all, most phones and some laptops are touchscreens as well. These types of in-dash navigation systems aren’t necessarily more expensive than others, but they do include fewer buttons. Touchscreen in-dash navigation systems make it easy to navigate both the menu and the map as well.
Some in-dash navigation system manufacturers take the guesswork out of figuring out which product is the best for your vehicle. They market their products as direct OEM replacements that will install directly into the space left behind by your old radio unit. While most OEM replacement in-dash navigation systems simply hook up to the existing wiring harness, some might require more electrical work to fully function.
Double DIN simply means that a unit measures 8 by 4 inches instead of 8 by 2 inches, which is the size of a single DIN. Many radio units installed on newer vehicles are double DIN, as the extra features found on these systems require more space for more components.
Many in-dash systems offer additional features. These features can include audio capabilities such as SiriusXM, an MP3 player, Pandora, Spotify, HD Radio, or the ability to connect to your smartphone and stream music. Higher-end in-dash navigation systems will include a DVD player as well, effectively bundling many of your favorite functions into one product.
Founded in 1938, Pioneer has been an industry leader in the automotive aftermarket accessories niche. If you’re a loyal Pioneer consumer, check out its Double DIN Bluetooth In-Dash DVD/CD/AM/FM Receiver that’s also SiriusXM-ready.
Based out of California, Kenwood was founded in 1961 and has been a driving force ever since. Though it’s priced a bit higher than our three picks, the Kenwood Excelon In-Dash Navigation unit represents what the brand is all about.
Calling California home, Alpine has been serving its customers since 1978. We recommend its Audio/Video/Nav System with SiriusXM Tuner if you prefer Alpine over our top picks.
In-Dash Navigation Pricing
- $100-$250: You should budget around $150 for a decent-quality, in-dash navigation system. Typically, most units around this price include basic radio features and accept CDs as well. Products at this price point also offer customization options.
- $300-$500: Paying more than $300 for an in-dash navigation system will get you more technological options. That means more capabilities for audio input and output as well as different buttons and customization features. If you’re looking for more than a run-of-the-mill in-dash navigation unit, budget around $400 for something you can use long term.
- $500 and up: Spending around $500 on an in-dash navigation unit is a bit steep unless you’re going to be using it on a weekly or even daily basis. Brand names often pop up around this price point, and you’ll also enjoy a highly-capable navigation unit that you can depend on.
All vehicles are different, and the same can be said for their stereo units. When purchasing an in-dash navigation unit you want to make sure it is compatible with your car or truck. Some manufacturers will specify that their products are for a certain model and year; however, there are some universal models that will fit most vehicles.
Closely related to compatibility, screen size is critical when it comes to making the most of what you’ve got in your vehicle. Larger screens make it easier to see displayed maps, but you are limited in terms of spacing. Most in-dash navigation systems are anywhere from 6 to 9 inches. Like TV screens, these products are measured by the diagonal.
Each manufacturer has its own combination of knobs, buttons, and dials on their GPS navigation units. The best in-dash navigation systems will be touch- and user-friendly, offering the best feedback possible so you can keep your eyes on the road even as you navigate. User-friendly controls also mean having a touchscreen display, which simplifies basic processes to increase efficiency at a high rate.
- Extra Features. Most in-dash navigation systems include some sort of AM/FM radio feature along with CD and/or USB capabilities. Bluetooth is almost always standard, so you can easily connect your phone and stream music that way. Other features include a DVD player, satellite radio, etc. There may also be an option to hook up a rearview camera and listen to various types of media (such as podcasts and audiobooks).
- Customization. The ability to personalize your in-dash navigation system can be the deciding factor in your purchasing decision. Some units will allow you to change the background screen, much like you can on a laptop computer. Others will give you the capability to save a number of radio stations as presets for both AM and FM stations.
Best In-Dash Navigation Systems Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- If you want to install your in-dash navigation unit on your own, check YouTube for how-to videos. It can be a great reference if you’re not sure where to begin or are experiencing problems and need help troubleshooting.
- Practice using your in-dash navigation unit before taking a long trip. For instance, you can map out directions to a new restaurant and navigate only with the in-dash unit. Work out any issues you may encounter before driving too far.
- The best way to know how much space you’re working with when searching for a new in-dash navigation unit is to remove the current one. Not only will you be able to see what wiring is already there, but you can also check the dimensions for a proper fit. Plus, it’s great practice for putting in the new unit.
- Controls are an often-overlooked component to in-dash navigation systems. For example, do you prefer to change the volume with a knob or buttons? Steering wheel controls can be a simple way to manipulate the navigation system as well if your car is so equipped.
- If you find yourself confused about your location as you drive, pull over on the side of the road where it’s safe to get your bearings. Before you stop, however, you can also take note of the streets you pass. Having a general area in mind when it comes to figuring out where you are will expedite the process of determining where you need to go.
- Car navigation can be much harder when alone. Turn up your car audio so you can hear the directions as they’re called out. When you miss a turn, pullover or make a U-turn when it is safe. The navigation system should pick up in real-time what’s going on and reroute you accordingly.
Q: Do I have to know any wiring to hook up my in-dash navigation?
Yes and no, depending on the manufacturer and the type of navigation receiver you purchase. In most cases, the type of wiring you’ll be required to know should be included in the directions or be available online. You shouldn’t have to rewire a lot of if any, components on the vehicle to install your in-dash navigation system.
Q: Can I buy an in-dash navigation unit and have it professionally installed?
Generally speaking, yes you can, but you should first check with local shops if this is the route you want to take. Dash GPS navigation systems can be complicated and tricky, and if you purchase a brand or type that the shop isn’t familiar with and they install it, you could both be in trouble if something malfunctions.
Q: Do I need an extra battery to power the in-dash navigation unit?
No, you shouldn’t need an extra battery just for the navigation system. If you do plan on outfitting your trunk with subwoofers and such to improve the sound quality in your vehicle, that’s when you might consider adding another battery to the mix. However, navigation systems alone don’t require one.
Q: How do I remove the old unit to install my in-dash navigation?
The best way to learn how to do this is to look it up online. Most videos show people walking you through the process and giving tips along the way.
Q: Does my in-dash navigation system need an internet connection to function?
No, you don’t need wi-fi in order to use your navigation system. Rather than bouncing off cell towers and using that signal, GPS navigation systems use satellites to figure out where you are, even as you’re moving at a high rate of speed.
Q: Will in-dash navigation units respond to steering wheel controls?
Yes, most products that offer this feature will state it within the product details. However, not all dash GPS units offer this feature.
Q: What are all the features I can take advantage of with an in-dash navigation system?
The features list will vary from product to product, but you can expect a variety in each one from hands-free calling to accept your phone calls safely to a DVD receiver and CD player. HDMI and USB input is standard on most products, along with the ability to play other types of digital media. Standard radio tuners are included as well, typically on a high-resolution screen that could include Google functions.
Q: Do all in-dash navigation systems come with a remote control?
Depending on which type of GPS unit you purchase, you may receive a remote control. This is common with products that offer DVD capabilities so that you can easily pause, play, and stop your DVDs on the go.
The Kenwood DNX575S in-Dash Multimedia Receiver with Navigation won our pick for best in-dash navigation system. You get the chance to seamlessly switch between hands-free calling, enjoying quality music, and getting navigation assistance.
Check out the UNITOPSCI 7-inch Touchscreen Double DIN Car Stereo, our budget pick. Knowing where you are and where to go doesn’t have to be expensive.