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Create a Powerful Digital Cockpit with an iPad on Your Car Dashboard

DIY, Guides, Other  /   /  By Daniel Gray

Sure, it’s easy enough to mount your iPhone to your car dashboard, but small screens are hard to see while you’re driving. On the other hand, a tablet like an iPad offers bigger displays while opening up a world of possibility for connectivity and custom driving apps. Mounting an iPad on your car’s dash can serve as an economical alternative to pricey in-dash units, which often don’t offer as much functionality.

> Find custom mounting kits to fit your iPad

Check out our three favorite things you can do with a big and beautiful iPad tablet carefully mounted on your car’s dashboard.

1. Build a Set of Custom Digital Gauges

Have you ever wanted a comprehensive set of gauges for your car—well beyond what the carmaker provided? Piece of cake: plug a wireless dongle accessory into the onboard diagnostics port under the steering wheel and fire up AutoMeter’s DashLink (which comes with the dongle) or the standalone Torque app. Voila! You can now monitor temperatures, oil pressure, turbo boost, and fuel economy—or time your acceleration to 60 mph. If the info is in your car’s computer, you can probably display it on the dash.

What gauges do you dream about mounting on your car dashboard? It’s all possible by integrating an iPad on your dash and using an app like Dashlink. There are dozens of backup cameras—and related kits and accessories—for your car available on eBay. With an iPad mounted on the dash, you have a big screen to see what’s going on.

What gauges do you dream about putting on your dashboard? It’s all possible by integrating a tablet on your dash and using an app like Dashlink.

Car backup camera

There are dozens of backup cameras available on eBay. With an iPad on the dash, you have a big screen to see what’s going on.

2. Back Up Safely with a Rear View Camera

Pearl RearVision’s wireless kit is the fastest way to mount a backup camera to your car—which can be displayed on the tablet’s big screen. The RearVision kit installs in approximately 15 minutes with two cameras (for day and night vision) mounted in a solar-powered license-plate frame holder. Most aftermarket head units have an RCA video input for a wired backup camera. High-end units may have two units to accommodate a front view camera.

 3. Slash Your Fuel Costs

Fuel prices can vary by 50 cents a gallon from one side of town to the other. Use your tablet to run apps or visit websites like GasBuddy to find the least expensive filling stations. Take it one step further with mobile apps like Dash and Automatic that help you develop a more fuel-efficient driving style. If you drive a lot, you can save hundreds of dollars every year by finding the best prices on fuel and working on Fred Astaire foot movements for optimal efficiency.


These three suggestions are just the beginning for what’s possible with a tablet in clear view from the driver’s seat. There are dozens of worthwhile car-related apps that take on a new life when displayed via a large dashboard-mounted iPad or other tablet.  In addition to maps from Google and Apple, take a spin with crowd-sourced navigation from Waze or find the tastiest food on your route with Yelp. On your way there, rock out in your car with easy-to-read music apps, such as Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio. Many of these apps are free.

Advice About Mounting

Phone mounts are okay for phones, but safety dictates a more secure setup for a tablet.

Phone mounts are okay for phones, but safety dictates a more secure setup for a tablet.

Phone mounts are okay for phones and small devices, but safety dictates a more secure setup for an iPad or even an iPad mini.

There are a number of kits that mount an iPad on a dashboard. The down-and-dirty common method, at an affordable price, is to use a beefy phone holder. This accessory might be fast and easy to fit in the short run, but it’s not the cleanest or safest approach.

Tablets are significantly heavier than smartphones. To avoid the device from becoming an airborne hazard, the iPad-mounting mechanism must be securely fitted to the car and the tablet itself must be rock-solid within the mount. The most secure mounts are bolted down—rather than stuck on. Unfortunately, many of the more secure mounts are, well, ugly. With a little commitment, you can seamlessly blend an iPad into the dashboard as if it was originally mounted that way.

One of your most important decisions is the size of the iPad to mount in your car. A full-size iPad might create some razzle-dazzle on your dash, but can be overwhelming. Consider the iPad mini, which is well-proportioned for most applications and easy on the wallet as well. Factory-installed “double DIN” dashboard units are 8 x 4 inches, with touchscreen displays typically measuring less than seven inches. That’s a generous size, about the same as the iPad mini 4’s high-resolution Retina display, which is 7.9 inches tall.

Custom Mounting Solutions

The slickest dashboard integrations for an iPad or iPad mini are highly customized custom fabrications that perfectly match dashboard bezels. Go for it—if you have the expertise to mold a tablet display into a vehicle’s dash. But if that’s not in your wheelhouse, affordable aftermarket solutions for mounting the device are starting to arrive on eBay.

AutoMeter’s DashLink (formerly Dash Command) running on a Nexus 7 tablet in a prototype mount fabricated from heavy-gauge plastic (with a generous application of duct tape).

AutoMeter’s DashLink (formerly Dash Command) running on a Nexus 7 tablet in a prototype mount fabricated from heavy-gauge plastic (with a generous application of duct tape).

For example, there’s Angry Off Road’s iPad mini mount for the 2011-2016 Jeep JK and JK Unlimited. Angry Off Road’s unit installs directly on the dashboard—directly over the stock radio with a single screw. The audio feed runs into the stock radio via an audio cable or through Bluetooth (if the original radio supports it). The iPad mini is held securely within the mount and easily removed when the vehicle is parked.

Angry Off Road’s iPad mini mount for late-model Jeeps.

Angry Off Road’s iPad mini mount for late-model Jeeps.

eBay Motors offers a growing number of universal table mounts for slick and seamless integration.

eBay Motors offers a growing number of universal table mounts for slick and seamless integration.

Fifield Fabrications of Brea, Calif. manufactures universal tablet mounting kits as well as custom dash bezels for specific models, including the Ford F-150, Toyota Tacoma, Chrysler 300, Honda Civic, and Dodge Charger. These universal kits are designed to accommodate the iPad mini, iPad Air, iPad PRO, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and Nexus 7.

A Warning: Avoid Driver Distraction

Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz commonly integrate their multimedia screens strategically placed high on the dashboard. It’s a safety issue. A high mounting position puts the mobile device in the line of sight. You’ll want to keep that in mind as you consider mounting solutions or a stand for your iPad. You should mount the iPad or other tablet in a location that doesn’t force you to take your eyes far off the road.

Glare can also be an issue for tablets or touchscreen dashboard units in older cars. (High-end units are more resistant to glare.) In most cases, you can solve the problem by slightly tilting the tablet or tweaking the screen settings.

About the Author

Daniel Gray is a best-selling tech author and video maker. He is also the road-test editor at Autobytel and the creative force behind MPGomatic.com. Dan has had the good fortune to own a string of notable Hondas, including a CRX Si and a trio of S2000s. His legendary beater 1999 Civic HX coupe, a.k.a. “Slambo,” is a rolling experiment in hardware-store aerodynamics.

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