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While most town and other urban areas are well signposted and provide little difficulty for navigation, this may not always be the case in rural and less densely populated areas. When driving in such areas, you may find that you are more reliant on maps and compass points for navigation. While many cellphones have built-in maps and GPS apps, they are reliant on cell phone signals to work. So, how do you ensure correct navigation without street signs or a cell phone signal? The answer is to invest in a car compass. This ensures that you are always able to determine your direction of travel, regardless of any external signs. However, there are a wide variety of compasses on the market, many of which are less than suitable for use within a vehicle. So, how do you ensure that you purchase the best car compass for your needs? Our panel of automotive experts has compiled a list of the 10 best car compasses to help point you in the right direction.
The Best Car Compass
The Ritchie Navigation Explorer Compass is versatile and easy to use. It is bracket mounted, which allows the compass to remain at the proper viewing angle, regardless of whether it is mounted on your vehicle’s dash or on the deck of a boat. The fully adjustable compass comes complete with night lighting, making it easy to navigate in low light conditions and has a 2 ¾” direct read dial. The built-in compensators ensure that the compass is easily adjusted for any deviation, while the powerful DirectMotive magnets provide fast heading lock-on. The compass has a scientifically matched Sapphire jewel and hardened steel pivot dial movement for accuracy and durability and a movable sunshade for easier reading in direct sunlight.
2 ¾” (70mm) Direct-Read Dial
12V green night lighting
Sapphire jewel and hardened steel pivot point
Large, easy to read compass dial
Bracket mounting allows for proper viewing angle
Night lighting enables easy navigation in low light
High-quality pivot point offers accuracy and durability
Difficult to calibrate
Limited use in low light as the night lighting is dim
The compact Suunto Clipper L/B Compass is specifically balanced for the northern hemisphere. Measuring just 4 inches wide the compass can be clipped to a range of surfaces including a sleeve, backpack, map edge, or watch strap. The liquid-filled jewel bearing compass has luminous printed cardinal points making it easier to read in low light and a rotating bezel with 10-degree increments. The multifunctional compass is ideal for use in vehicles and can also be used for underwater navigation.
Luminous cardinal points
Rotating bezel with 10-degree increments
Measures 4” in width and 1” in height
Balanced for the northern hemisphere
Compact and easy to attach to a range of surfaces including watch straps and map edges
Luminous cardinal points make it easier to use in low light
Can be used underwater as well as for vehicle navigation
Some reports that it lacks durability
Concerns over the strength of the connection between the compass and the clip
The Richie Navigation Blue Dial Auto Bracket Compass can be attached to almost any surface. The compass works just as effective whether it is attached to a horizontal surface or at an angle, thanks to its reversible bracket and built-in compensators. The compass also features 2-inch direct-reading dials that make reading the compass points easy. The internal green night lighting is designed for easier navigation in low lighting, while its high-temperature composite construction adds to its durability.
Internal green night lighting
Highly visible dials
High-temperature composite construction
- Weight2.4 ounces
The built-in compensators and reversible bracket mean that the compass can be attached to almost any surface regardless of its angle
It is usable in low light due to its internal green lighting
Durability is improved by its high-temperature composite construction
Reports of calibration issues in vehicles
If you are looking for a compass that is easy to attach and can be removed easily, then the VICTOR PRODUCTS INC Suction Cup Mini Compass might be just what you need. The suction cup compass is a free-floating ball that works effectively even over the roughest routes thanks to its liquid dampening, which provides quick settling. The large letters make the compass easy to read from any angle, while the suction cup can be attached to most clean surfaces.
Free-floating compass ball
Large compass point lettering
Suction cup mounting
- Weight1.76 ounces
Suction cup mounting makes the compass easy to attach and to move if needed
The liquid damping helps the ball to settle quickly even on rough terrain
Large lettering makes the compass easy to read from any angle
Some attachment difficulties have been noted
Some reports of inaccurate readings
The Ritchie S-53 Explorer is designed with a low profile so that it sits flush to your dash without the need to cut a hole. The surface mounted compass includes a 12V green nightlight to help with navigation in low light situations. It also features a 2 ¾ inch direct-read dial, making it easy to use. The compass includes built-in compensators and a scientifically matched sapphire jewel and hardened steel pivot dial movement. The moveable sun shield makes it easier to read the dial at any time of day, and the high-temperature composite construction makes the unit strong and durable.
2 ¾” direct reading dial
Compact low-profile design
Internal 12V green light
Sapphire jewel and hardened steel pivot dial movement
- Weight8 ounces
The moveable sun shield and nightlight improve navigation at any time of day
The high-temperature composite construction adds durability and strength to the compass
The Built-in compensators ensure correct navigation regardless of the road surface
Nightlight requires an external power source
Some reports of deviation in navigation due to metal vehicle construction
Size can make it obtrusive in smaller vehicles
If you are looking for a multi-purpose tool for your vehicle, then the Pyle Universal 3.5” Car HUD Multi-Color Windshield Screen Projector Vehicle Speed & GPS compass might be just what you need. The unit displays crucial driving data on the windshield in front of you, allowing you to track direction and speed without taking your eyes off the road. The GPS unit is simple to use and has a plug and play design, so no installation is required. The auto shut off allows it to power on and off when you start or shut down your vehicle. It can switch between Kilometers and miles and features a speed alarm, so your safety is never compromised by going over the speed limit. Its built-in Dual Core processing provides reliable, real time data and is suitable for use in any vehicle.
Displays speed and driving direction on your windshield
Speed warning alarm
Plug and Play design
Dual Core process
- Weight1.44 ounces
Shows speed and direction on the windshield, so you do not have to take your focus off the road
Dual Core process ensures real-time data for speed and direction
Simple to use; only requires plugging into the cigarette lighter and placing on a non-slip mat on the dash
Some reports of directions being quite vague
Difficulties with reading the display in direct sunlight
Some difficulties with calibration
If you are looking for a low-profile compass for your vehicle, then the Ritchie Explorer Compass Dial with Surface Mount might be just what you need. The surface mount allows the compass to sit flush with your dash without the need to cut a hole. The compass is easy to read, thanks to its 2 ¾-inch direct read dial, moveable sunshade, and 12-volt green nightlight. The built-in compensators and a scientifically matched sapphire jewel and hardened steel pivot dial movement ensure that you get exact navigation, even over rough terrain.
Low-profile with surface mount
2 ¾” read dial
12V green nightlight
Sapphire jewel and hardened steel pivot movement
- Weight8 ounces
Compass sits flush to your dash without the need to cut a hole
Easy to read even in low light
Exact navigation even over uneven terrain thanks to its built-in compensators
External power source required for the nightlight
Some difficulties reported with calibration
If you are looking for a smaller compass that does not compromise on quality, then the Ritchie Navigation Supersport Compass might be right for you. The compass remains stable at any speed and is flush mounted with a 4-inch mounting hole. It includes a 3 ¾ inch blue PowerDamp Plus Flat-Card dial with highly visible, extra-large white numerals. The built-in compensators and 45-degree Lubber lines add to the accuracy of your navigation and ensures you can easily adjust for deviation. The compass also has built-in 12V green LED lighting and a moveable sun shield for ease of reading in any light conditions.
Flush fitting black compass
PowerDamp Plus Flat-Card dial
Extra-large white numerals
Built-in 12V green LED lighting
- Weight1.5 pounds
Flush mounting saves space, making it ideal for smaller vehicles
Large numerals are ideal for easy reading
Built-in compensators ensure correct navigation regardless of terrain
Requires you to cut a hole in your dash for proper fitting
More expensive than many comparable compasses
The HR Self-adhesive Automobile Dashboard Compass is small, compact, and easy to fit to the dash of your vehicle. Its size and simplicity mean that it can easily be used on a bike or even while walking. The free-floating ball ensures that you gain the correct orientation regardless of how the unit is fixed.
Self-adhesive dashboard compass
Small and compact
- BrandHR Imotion
- Weight2.88 ounces
Easy to fix
Can be used in any vehicle including on bikes
Free-floating ball means that it can be fixed at any angle
Cannot be calibrated
No light or luminosity
Easily affected by metal/magnets in vehicles
The COOLBUY PARK LED Light Pivoting Compass is easily attached to your dash with an adjustable mounting bracket. The compass can be used in a range of vehicles as well on boats and bikes. It includes visible lubber lines for easy navigation and is made from high-quality corrosion-resistant materials that are also environmentally friendly. The compass is precision engineered and responses quickly to changes in direction.
Adjustable mounting bracket
Visible lubber lines
- BrandCOOLBUY PARK
- Weight4 ounces
Easy to attach to any surface with the adjustable bracket
Can be used in a wide range of vehicles
Made from environmentally friendly materials
Loses accuracy in contact with or close to metal
Concerns of durability
Difficult to calibrate
Best Car Compass Buying Guide & FAQ
One of the many difficulties related to finding the best compass for your car is the interaction between the compass and your vehicle. Metals and magnets can affect the workings of a compass and therefore, negatively affect its accuracy. An inaccurate compass can leave you completely lost, particularly if you happen to be driving off-road with no visible or at least recognizable landmarks. In this part of the buying guide, our panel of experts look at car compasses in more detail to help you make the right decision for your needs. We explore what you need to consider when buying a car compass, the benefits of a dashboard compass, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about car compasses.
What to Consider When Buying a Car Compass
Suitability is one of the key considerations when purchasing a car compass for your vehicle; however, it is not the only consideration. Budget, fit, size, calibration, and ease of use are also as important.
It is important to set out how much you want to spend on a compass for your car. Compasses can range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, and while the very cheapest are not likely to be very durable or accurate over the longer term, more expensive does not always mean better.
Consider how much you want to spend against what you want to gain from the compass. If you want one with additional features such as a digital display, night lighting, and built-in compensators, then you are going to need to be willing to pay more than if you want a simple floating ball with a suction cup base.
Consider the quality of the materials that are used in the construction of the compass as well as its features. A more expensive compass that is made from durable materials, fits well to your dash without moving, and above all is shielded from the metal and magnetic components of your vehicle is more likely to be worth the higher price that you may need to pay.
There are numerous ways in which a car compass can be fitted to your vehicle. Suction cup fittings are one of the most common. This type of fitting allows your compass to be secured in place and moved when needed, either to be placed in a different vehicle or for storage when the vehicle is not in use. One downside of a suction cup fitting is that it can be affected by dirt, dust, and moisture; all of which can make the fitting less secure.
Adhesive strips are another common mounting aid. Once in place, these are difficult to remove, and new strips will be required in most cases if you remove the compass and try to reset it. Mounts can also be screwed to your dashboard; giving a more permanent attachment. Finally, there are flush fitting mounts that require you to cut a hole in your dash for the compass to sit into. The main benefit of this type of mount is the security of the fit. You can be assured that the compass isn’t going to move, slide, or otherwise fall off your dash. Such fittings also give a much lower profile to your compass, meaning that they are less obtrusive and take up less space. However, greater care needs to be taken with this type of fitting. Once you have cut the hole, repositioning the compass is difficult and will leave an unsightly hole in your dashboard.
Car compasses vary widely in size. If you purchase one that is too small, then you risk not being able to read it easily while you are driving. This could lead to a lack of attention being paid to the road in front of you. If it is too big for your dash, then it could fit poorly and get in the way. If the compass has a nightlight and is too big, you could find that this too interferes with your driving. Consider diameter and height measurements before making your final purchasing decision.
In order to work correctly, most car compasses need to be calibrated; some are easier than others. Take note of how to calibrate the compass, the possible interferences that you need to be aware of and ensure that the compass is designed to work in your hemisphere. Once calibrated, your compass should be accurate; however, it is worth looking for a compass that is free-floating or has built-in stabilizers. These features allow the compass to correct itself if it is jostled while going over uneven terrain or after taking several quick turns in direction. You do not want to have to wait while your compass keeps up with you.
- Ease of use
The purpose of having a car compass is to make navigation easier. If you have a compass that is hard to read, then this is not going to happen. Look for features that make the compass easy to use. This might include nighttime illumination, large compass point lettering, luminous or fluorescent lettering or numerals. Some compasses include a moveable sunshade to help reduce glare; others are capable of being mounted at any angle so that you can put them in the position that is most convenient for you.
Benefits of a Dashboard Compass
Having a compass in your vehicle allows you to navigate more precisely in areas without signage or a reliable GPS signal. However, traditional compasses are not designed or built to withstand the magnetic effects of your vehicle or to be used within metal surrounds, which can also affect a compass’ accuracy.
Dashboard compasses are specifically designed to be used with vehicles. They are built to withstand the rigors of driving as well as the issues of being placed within a moving metal enclosure. Compasses that are designed for your dashboard are also designed to stay put. They come with fittings that ensure that they attach firmly to your dashboard, reducing the risk of them sliding around or becoming a projectile should you need to stop suddenly.
Dashboard compasses are also designed to be easy to read while you are driving. This means that you do not need to take your hands off the wheel or your attention off the road to check your heading or position.
Best Car Compass FAQ:
Q: What is an auto compass?
A: An auto compass is a compass that is designed to work within your vehicle. It will comprise of the compass itself and a mount or other means of fixing the compass to the dashboard of your vehicle. It is important to choose a compass that can be fitted to your dash to stop it from moving around and to ensure accurate readings regardless of the terrain.
Q: How does a dashboard compass work?
A: How your dashboard compass works will depend on the type of compass you purchase. A magnetic compass is comprised of a lightweight, small magnet that pivots on a near frictionless point. One end of the needle is marked to indicate North; the area surrounding the compass will usually have numerical markings allowing to determine degrees away from North. These are not the best types of compass for your vehicle.
More commonly found in vehicles are floating compasses or ball compasses. In this type of compass, the ball or needle floats freely on a liquid, usually a light oil. The needle or ball then rotates to indicate North depending on magnetic attraction.
Digital compasses are more complex in their design. Such compasses use magnetic sensor technology that can sense differences in the earth’s magnetic field electronically. It can sense the difference between the earth’s magnetic field and other magnetic disturbances, such as that created by the electrical systems in your vehicle.
Q: How do I adjust a car compass?
A: The exact steps that you need to take to adjust your car compass will depend on the make and model of the compass. Refer to the manufacturer’s guide to ensure that you take the right steps for your specific compass. The principle behind the adjustments is the same with all compasses; to ensure that they read accurately within their given environment. If you have chosen a Ritchie car compass, then making these adjustments is simple.
- Find the two adjusting rods with slotted ends
- Place the compass in its intended position but do not fix in place.
- Select a course using two easily identifiable landmarks that are within 10 degrees of the North/South line
- Keep the marks lined up and move along the selected course.
- Move the compensators until the compass reads correctly.
- Reverse away from the marks, keeping the points lined up. If there is a discrepancy this time, move the compass itself until it is aligned.
- Repeat these steps until any discrepancy is removed and then fix the compass in place in its final position.
Our Top Pick
Our top pick is the Ritchie Navigation Explorer Compass. This is one of the best compasses because it is versatile and easy to use. It is bracket mounted, which allows the compass to remain at the proper viewing angle, regardless of whether it is mounted on your vehicle’s dash or on the deck of a boat. The compass comes complete with light lighting, making it easy to navigate in low light conditions and has a 2 ¾” direct read dial. The built-in compensators ensure that the compass is easily adjusted for any deviation, while the powerful DirectMotive magnets provide fast heading lock-on. The compass has a scientifically matched Sapphire jewel and hardened steel pivot dial movement for accuracy and durability and a movable sunshade for easier reading in direct sunlight.
- How Compasses Work - HowStuffWorks