GPS Volume 3: finding the best navigation system for your car


Advance Auto PartsThe third and final installment of our ongoing series on GPS systems.

Choosing a GPS device can be confusing. When it comes to cars, there are four main GPS navigation system options. There are:

• factory-installed systems on new cars
• dealer-installed systems on new or used cars
• add-on in-dash GPS navigation systems that replace current equipment
• portable GPS devices that are relatively cheap and easy to move from car to car

As with most technology, the best GPS navigation systems keep improving and having more bells and whistles added. Features available now include convenient touch-screen options, street maps that are three dimensional and in full color, hands-free operation, long-life battery backups and much more.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the GPS systems.

1)   Let’s look first at GPS navigation systems that are offered as standard or optional equipment on new cars. These tend to look the nicest, as they are built into the dash, typically with larger screens, which helps with convenience and visibility.

Disadvantages include the fact that these dealer-installed systems can be more expensive and, when ready to upgrade, you must purchase the upgrades from the dealer rather than downloading them by computer. (On the other hand, upgrades are typically part of the car’s warranty and so they are covered for a longer period.) Finally, you can’t take the GPS system from one car and use it in another.

2)   You can also have your local dealer install a system purchased from the auto maker. With this option, you can basically expect the same advantages and disadvantages as a factory-installed system. However, since they aren’t factory original equipment, the components may not look as pristine in the dashboard and the warranty by the dealer probably will be shorter than the factory warranty.

3)   You can also have a GPS navigation system added to your vehicle in place of the original radio. These are nice for RVs, as you can choose a large screen and include a radio, CD player, DVD player and more in the system. These are not easy to install, though, and typically require an outside antenna.

4)   Portable GPS systems are more affordable than the other three options, and can be easily moved from car to car. This is the system of choice if you tend to rent or lease cars (leased cars typically can’t be modified).  It’s also great if you want to share one unit among family members owning different vehicles.

These units don’t typically offer advanced features. They are generally not as sharp looking as the factory systems are, as they are designed to stick on the dash or the windshield. Because they are powered from the car’s power outlet or cigarette lighter, you’ll have a cord hanging loose. In addition, the screens will be smaller and they will also be more prone to theft.

Brands of GPS Systems

Five brands of systems command the most market share; here are a few details about each:


This brand boasts the largest presence, with 50%-plus of market share. In addition to automotive units, the company makes marine and aviation units.


Magellan is one of the pioneers in the field, creating one of the first commercially viable systems. Plus, this California company provides Hertz with the system used in their rental cars.


This brand offers both budget and full-featured, full-price units.


Nextar is newer than the other brands but is steadily carving its own niche in the GPS industry.


TomTom positions itself as the biggest supplier of GPS units, selling them in 30 nations plus on the Internet.

Editor’s note: Discover more about the history of GPS devices and find out more about what GPS devices can do for you.

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