Hand pointing towards a touchscreen in a car with certain features highlighted

What is touchscreen technology in cars?

Many new cars have touchscreens in the dashboard that allow you to control lots of functions all in one place. Here, independent motoring expert, Richard Aucock, explains all you need to know about touchscreen technology in cars and how they can be helpful for people with mobility issues.

A big trend in recent years has been the growing popularity of in-car screens. These are known as touchscreens, and you will recognise they operate in a similar way to your mobile phone. They allow car makers to include lots of features in one place, without covering the car’s dashboard with various buttons. 

Almost every new car today has some form of touchscreen in the dashboard. They usually replace the traditional radio unit, providing drivers with a much more colourful and sophisticated control display to play music. 

These setups are also sometimes known as infotainment systems, short for ‘information’ and ‘entertainment’. The word is used because touchscreens allow information systems, such as a sat nav, to be combined with entertainment technology, like the car’s audio system, all in one place. 

Instead of having rows of physical controls, like switches and buttons, on the dashboard, there are menus within the touchscreen that drivers can interact with. This can take a little getting used to, but some owners prefer the cleaner look of a screen, rather than having lots of small, fiddly buttons cluttering the dashboard.

How do in-car touchscreens work? 

Car touchscreens are invariably placed in the centre of the dashboard. They are located so they are easy to reach while driving, without having to stretch your arm too far.

Touchscreen technology works in the same way as a smartphone display. The screen responds to a finger-press or swipe. Instead of just a single page of options, touchscreens allow for multiple menus, greatly expanding the functionality offered by modern cars. You swipe your finger left and right to scroll through them, just like you do on a mobile phone. Many people prefer the convenience of being able to directly touch and interact with the screen. 

Car manufacturers work hard to make these screens easy to use. This is important, as drivers will be operating them while on the move. In-car screens therefore usually have bigger icons and simpler menus than smartphones. You can usually customise the display of these functions to suit your needs, making it a more personalised and comfortable driving experience.

Touchscreen technology is a common feature in electric vehicles (EVs). They will provide the driver with instant access to information about battery status, charging locations and energy usage. 

Did you know?

Touchscreens often offer a reversing camera display. When you engage reverse gear, the touchscreen switches to a live video camera feed from behind the car. This helps you to reverse accurately and safely, with less need to turn around and look behind. This is a helpful feature if you have mobility issues which can make it difficult to turn your body while driving.

How do you use a mobile phone with a touchscreen?

If your car has a touchscreen, it’s often a simple process to pair up the display with your smartphone. Cars have offered Bluetooth connectivity for years, so you can take calls on the move. The latest touchscreens go further, with even more links to modern smartphones. 

There are two systems here, depending on what sort of smartphone you have. If it’s an Apple device, you can connect via Apple CarPlay. If you’re using an Android device, you’ll use Android Auto. Both provide a standardised screen that gives access to many of your phone functions while on the move, including phone calls, sat nav, music, podcasts and more. 

In previous years, you would usually need a cable to plug in your phone and use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. However, modern technology allows ‘wireless’ connectivity, which auto-connects when it detects your phone inside the car. Because the phone isn’t charged through a cable, some systems combine this with a wireless smartphone charging pad on the dashboard.  

Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto supplement the car’s regular infotainment menu, rather than taking over the system entirely. It means owners have the best of both worlds while on the move. 

Motability Scheme partner, the RAC, share how to use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in easy step-by-step guides. 

How can you use your voice to operate a touchscreen?

A growing number of carmakers are adding voice recognition functionality to cars fitted with touchscreens. There are often two ways of activating the voice assistant, either by pressing a button on the steering wheel or saying “hey” followed by the name of the car brand, for example “hey Mercedes”.

Some self-driving EVs use touchscreen to enable you to talk to the car and tell it what to do.  

Many modern systems let you use your voice to set the temperature of the heating, change the radio station and even set the destination for your sat nav. Some go even further, allowing natural voice commands to adjust the settings. For example, saying, “my feet are cold” will blow warm air into the footwells.

These hands-free features can be a great addition to the driving experience for customers with limited mobility, as the voice activation ensures they can operate essential functions with ease and independence. It can also improve the safety of driving conditions, as you will not have to use buttons, or even the touchscreen, while driving.

There are lots of other features in modern cars and EVs that ensure a safer driving experience. Read our top 10 techs for safer driving.

Choose your car

Touchscreens in cars are advancing all the time. It’s important to note that these systems can vary between car models and manufacturers. New features and functionality add excitement to modern cars, as well as improving the driving experience for those with and without limited mobility.  

Next time you visit your local dealer, be sure to ask for a demonstration to see what today’s touchscreen technology is available in your next vehicle with the Motability Scheme.

You can search all the cars available on the Motability Scheme by using the car search tool. If it’s time to renew your lease with the Scheme or if you’re new to the Scheme, find your nearest dealer and book a test drive soon. 

If you’re new to the Motability Scheme, learn how it works or request a free information pack

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