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What Is a Car Head-Up Display?

You'll want one of these in your next vehicle.

Heads up display in a new Mercedes-Benz
A Head-Up display can project helpful information inside the windshield for a driver to see. It's not a must-have feature, but if you get one, you'll love it.

Imagine looking up at the windshield of your car or electric vehicle and seeing a small screen projected into the glass displaying your speed or even navigation directions. That’s a head-up display or “HUD,” and it’s slowly becoming available in more vehicles.

With each new release, cars and electric vehicles are getting more advanced, which is why features once reserved for luxury vehicles are more common these days. So, here’s what you need to know about car head-up displays and why you’ll want one in your next car.

How a Car Head-Up Display Works


Many people refer to these as a heads-up, but it’s a “head-up display.” So what is a head-up display? It’s a transparent film in the glass that catches a color image being projected into the windshield, and it presents crucial data to the driver without having to take their eyes off the road.

It’s essential information “floating” in your line of sight, giving navigation arrows, current speed, the direction you’re traveling, lane guidance, infotainment info like music, and other helpful information. What your car HUD displays depends on the year, make, and model, but most typically show the speed, if not more.

For example, in many Lexus models, you’ll see a slew of helpful information while driving. In the video above, Lexus details how some models see the current speed, a compass, RPM, gear selection, or even the distance of adaptive cruise control or automatic braking.

A vehicle head-up display isn’t just informational, either. It’s also a safety feature often available in higher trim levels as part of a safety package.

Most car HUDs are completely customizable too. You should be able to control the brightness, visual options, colors, and some models will even let you change the placement of the information. This is helpful to ensure it’s just below your line of sight and not in your line of sight.

Different HUD Types

Heads up display type in a car.
evgenii mitroshin/Shutterstock.com

While this article is mainly about the built-in HUD available (on select models) from almost all major U.S. car manufacturers, it’s also an add-on accessory. You can buy a car with a head-up display or an aftermarket one with similar functions.

The most common type of head-up display comes standard on the vehicle and projects an image into the windshield glass. This is the most expensive option, but it’s seamless, futuristic, and great to have.

Some manufacturers, like Mazda, Hyundai, and even Ford, offer a more affordable variant that projects the information on a flip-up plastic panel above the instrument cluster. With this system, owners can easily fold down the clear plastic display when it’s not needed, and a cracked windshield may be easier and cheaper to replace. That’s because the glass doesn’t need a film or display built-in.

And finally, the third option is an aftermarket add-on accessory you can buy on Amazon or from automotive stores. A third-party HUD is similar to getting a new stereo or adding a phone mount to your car. They’re easy to install on the dash and plug into the OBD-II port under the steering wheel to gather information, yet still offer plenty to drivers.

Some aftermarket HUDs are nothing more than a small black box and digital display, while others come with a transparent film you can apply to the windshield for an improved experience.

What to Look For in a Head-Up Display

  • Customization: If the HUD comes built into your vehicle, you’ll want one that’s customizable. Then, you can choose what and where it displays, and adjust the brightness.
  • Screen Size: These come in varying screen sizes. From a small 3-inch digital display to large 6-inch screens showing speed, RPM, battery voltage, directions, and more. And while that’s neat, bigger screens take up more space in your view and aren’t for everyone.
  • Pricing: If it’s bundled into a safety package from the manufacturer, it’ll likely be affordable. If you’re paying just for the HUD or getting it as an add-on accessory, you’ll need to decide if it’s worth the investment and if you’ll use it. Third-party add-on HUDs can cost anywhere from $40-$100, while a built-in HUD as an optional upgrade on a car from Lexus, Mercedes, or Toyota could cost upwards of $500+ as a stand-alone upgrade.
  • Features: The features will differ depending on what you buy or how old your vehicle is. Newer cars can transmit RPM, battery levels, fuel consumption, and even engine codes to the HUD. If you don’t want that or can’t use it, look for something more streamlined that simply offers a great MPH readout.
  • Installation: Newer cars have this feature built-in, so installation isn’t a concern. However, it will make replacement windshields more expensive. As for add-on HUD options, make sure it’s easy to mount to your dash and has a simple install process.

Should Your Next Car Have a Head-Up Display?

Mercedes-Benz HUD display

So, should you buy a car with a head-up display or pay extra to get it as a package? That depends on your wants, needs, and budget. Even if you’re not buying a new vehicle, it’s always an add-on option you can get later. If you think of it as a safety feature, it’s a great addition to any vehicle—anything to help drivers keep an eye on the road.

A head-up display in your vehicle is worth considering if it’s not too expensive. As long as you can get it as an add-on accessory or part of a more extensive safety package, I think it’s worth getting.

However, you’ll need to weigh your options when buying it as a stand-alone option on a new car, which can often cost anywhere from $500 to $1,200. It’s not an essential feature, but they’re nice to have. That said, you can enjoy the safety benefits of a HUD without spending thousands on an upgraded trim. So again, choose what’s right for you.

As gas and electric cars get more advanced, so do the safety features. We’re seeing this once high-end luxury option trickle down into more mid-range models, and your next car might have it without a hefty price tag.

Cory Gunther Cory Gunther
Cory Gunther has been writing about phones, Android, cars, and technology in general for over a decade. He's a staff writer for Review Geek covering roundups, EVs, and news. He's previously written for GottaBeMobile, SlashGear, AndroidCentral, and InputMag, and he's written over 9,000 articles. Read Full Bio »