By on June 4, 2007

satnav2.jpgIt’s hard to believe global positioning satellite (GPS) technology was once the sole purview of the U.S. military. It’s equally difficult to comprehend how James Bond’s first in-car tracking device thrilled pre-pubescent boys. These days, a luxury car without a satellite navigation system is like a luxury car without dual-zone climate control. Still, it’s a pretty pricey item that’s bound to bite you in ass at trade-in. So should you listen to your oleaginous salesman and tick that option box?

The tech market is a fickle mistress. That way cool RAZR phone that cost $500 and a two-year contract is now as precious as a Pet Rock at a garage sale. Ask any hapless fool that made a high-end high tech purchase a couple of weeks before a product refresh hit the market— they know the pain of instant 60 percent depreciation (worse than buying a new Chevy). 

Product cycles for factory-fitted satellite navigation units aren’t quite that rapid, but they ain’t slow neither. Sat nav units' display screens and memory– the highest cost parts– are getting cheaper and better, fast. At the same time, operating systems have moved from CD to DVD to memory chip, while the user interface has progressed from 2D to semi-3D, heading towards “street view” and God knows what else.

If you think that’s been a quick change, handheld sat nav units are evolving twice as quickly. It takes carmakers time to spec, design, test, manufacture, fit, ship and sell new devices– never mind clearing the whole schmeer with legal. Portable GPS manufacturers have fewer technical hurdles and a MUCH smaller bureaucracy. In fact, products from companies like Garmin, Michelin, Maxtech and TomTom (not to mention phone and PDA-based sat navery) are making brand new in-car systems obsolete before they’re even launched.

Thanks to the Original Equipment Manufacturers'' (OEMs') slow tech turnaround, by the time a customer comes to sell a car equipped with a factory-fitted sat nav system, the clever route guidance gizmo is not worth the silicon it’s printed on. Or, if you prefer, somewhere around $500.

That’s the average used car sat nav premium, and that’s not good. Not when you consider that an average built-in sat nav package costs the new car buyer a whopping $2k+ (not including tax). Of course, that’s the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP); the invoice cost is about $400 to $500 less.

That's a decent chunk of change for a hard-pressed salesman or car dealer. Working our way back up the food chain, the in-car sat nav system costs automakers at most a sixth of its MSRP, even with all the frills. So it’s no surprise that carmakers, dealers and salesmen are all pushing built-in sat nav systems on the consumer.

Now that portable sat nav units are making a financial mockery of their car-bound cousins, and  even wealthy new car buyers are shunning built-in GPS units as a money-losing proposition, the car cartels are fighting back in the great tradition of “keep screwing the customer as long as you can.” It’s called bundling.

Fancy a Mark Levinson 14-speaker 330-watt Premium Surround Sound Audio System in your Lexus GS430? Excellent choice! But you can’t have it without satellite navigation, and forking out $4230. Want a rear back-up camera and park distance control radar in your BMW X5? That’ll be the $2600 “Technology Package,” with DVD-based, voice-activated, real-time traffic computing satellite navigation.

There’s a flip side as well. If you JUST want sat nav, plenty of automakers force you to purchase a passel of luxury options before you’re allowed to buy it. The Chevrolet Corvette only offers sat nav on the $5k 3LT trim level, which includes a fancier standard sound system, head-up display, memory package, heated seats, power telescoping steering wheel and universal home transmitter [whew].  

While not as reprehensible as safety option bundling bullying, this sort of “take it or leave what you really want” sat knavery will only continue for so long, as the value of factory-fitted systems continues to plummet and customers get stiffed at trade-in time. 

The practice also faces pressure from the declining cost of sat nav systems, which will make them available in a wide range of mass market motors, which will eliminate sat nav’s “premium” patina. Toyota recently announced it will offer “entry-level” sat nav in some of its models, with a lower resolution screen, without voice activation. 

It’s only a matter of time before factory-fitted satellite navigation will eventually go the way of the FM radio and CD player; it’ll be a low-cost standard feature. Manufacturers are already searching for The Next Big Thing: a new “must have” luxury that commands the same premium. Meanwhile, unless you’re a neat freak who doesn’t like anything stuck to the windshield, leave that sat nav option box unchecked and buy a portable unit.

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60 Comments on “Car Buying Tips: The Truth About Factory-Fitted Satellite Navigation Systems...”


  • avatar

    You could write this piece just about any option. What if you want Nav and not the radio upgrade? In ancient times, everything was an option and cars were ordered by their buyer. I see bundling as a way to limit and simplify the order process. While it does mean we’ll buy options we don’t really want, it also means the car we want has a chance of being found on a dealer lot. I find dealers are more likely to discount inventory than new orders.

    Secretly, I don’t mind getting a few extra toys using the it-came-with-the-package excuse.

  • avatar
    shabster

    I’m guessing that as a general rule, people leasing Corvettes or Acuras, don’t really care about the cost of facory GPS units. We like our bells and whistles.

    I doubt that depreciation is much of a concern either.

    I like the custom look of the factory unit in my Acura. I don’t want an aftermarket unit cluttering up my car’s interior.

  • avatar
    shabster

    I agree with Edspider. Bundling gets you nifty toys that you might not bother ordering as options.

    My RDX with the Tech Package gives me a neat back up camera that I’d never order by itself, but is kinda cool anyway.

  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    There is another plus to using a portable nav system which isn’t mentioned by the author. In researching nav systems, there is a simplicity and ease of use associated with a portable nav system that isn’t trying to be anything other than a nav system.

    The OEM nav systems control the stereo and other functions within the car. I find that the more a gadget tries to cover a multitude of tasks, the harder it becomes to use. A portable nav that isn’t trying to do anything other than nav is a beautiful thing. A portable nav also isn’t sitting in your dash waiting to be stolen either.

  • avatar
    jrlombard

    Yes, you could write it about any option, but factory installed sat-nav systems are obsolete way before that Bose Hi-Fi sound system will be. At the end of five years, let’s face it, all in-car technology is pretty much old hat. But sat-nav is old hat long around 6-months post purchase–sometimes less. I’ve never owned a factory OEM sat-nav system, and that trend isn’t likely to start soon. Part of it is that I’m not easily lost, but I would certainly consider buying a nice aftermarket unit like the Lowrance or the Tom-Tom (which friends have and I have enjoyed using). When you factor in a cost difference of up to 400% over an aftermarket unit, and add in the lack of expandability and upgrades, it’s a no-brainer.

    Unfortunately, the car companies are making me work hard to avoid sat-nav these days. I was able to do the shuffle around it when I bought my last vehicle in 2002 (BMW X5). I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to avoid it again when I spring for my next rig later this year.

  • avatar
    jaydez

    My navigation system cost me $20 and i bought it in 1998. It was Thr Rand McNally US road atlas. It is stil mostly up to date and hasnt depreciated much more than $19 in its lifetime.

    People need to learn how to read maps. I’m sick and tired of taking trips with people (especially my girlfriend) who tell me i need to get a GPS becasue they can’t find where we are on the map.

  • avatar

    Excellent point, Claude.
    I agree. The best way to ruin HVAC, stereos, and navigation is to combine them into one difficult-to-use/expensive-to-replace/impossible-to-repair system that has a million modes, few knobs, and many buttons of similar size.
    One other issue: updating maps on a factory system is not as easy as updating an aftermarket unit.

  • avatar
    mikey

    JAYDEZ Agreed! Sometimes thay even give them away.I know I sound old I am.I’ve had some sort a map in my car since I was 16.
    I just got off gm canadas web site 3100$ and change for the nav/sound system!On a 45k Tahoe, ouch!
    So thats why we have map pockets in cars eh.

  • avatar

    Excellent article, Megan.

    If I’d opted for factory Navi in my ‘06 Civic Coupe, it would have set me back $1,750 (+ tax).

    Asked my wife to buy me a $450 portable (Garmin) unit last Christmas, instead. Which she did. :-)

    One argument for factory NAV I’ve heard is: If you leave the portable NAV unit visible in your car, it’s an easy mark for a thief. Even removing it *and* the windshield (or dash) mount, may leave a ring on the window (or dash) which will tip off some theives. The argument goes that they will see the tell-tale ring, and break into your car looking for the device.

    That said, I agree that portable units are the way to go. At least until these things are so widespread as to cost little as a new-car option.

    Edit: Two features a portable GPS unit offers are the ability to use the thing in more than one car. And, if you find yourself walking around in an unfamiliar city, you can use it to guide you.

    The unit I own has a “walkaround” mode, which ignores one-way streets, as they don’t apply when you are travelling by foot. :-)

  • avatar

    Try being a buyer who puts a Diesel engine at the top of your “must have” list. That pretty much removes all the fancy, pricey options right out of the realm of possibility. If your car has a Diesel (and what… maybe 6 models in the US total?) you are lucky to get power windows. Go figure.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    Pros and cons to both IMO. The portable unit is the smart way to go if you don’t mind having something stuck to your dash or window and don’t mind removing it whenever you park. Even if you just leave the suction cup mount on your window you may get your car broken into hoping that the unit is in the glovebox.

    The built in units while costly do normally offer a larger display with integration into the rest of the car system. So you can see songtitle, group, station, etc all on one screen when you don’t have nav and you can have a built in back-up camera (great on my wife’s Odyssey).

    A Nav unit wasn’t offered on my latest trim level (odd seeing as it was the most decked out model/trim) so I’ll be going aftermarket. I had an OEM nav in my previous car so I’m anxious to compare the experience. I will say that while it’s not used a lot it’s kinda like a cell phone used to be, expensive but good to have the security incase you need it.

    Depending on how long you keep your car and the level of integration you want an OEM nav unit might be a good option or might not. Just all depends on how you would use it.

  • avatar
    CellMan

    Not only is there a premium for outclassed and outdated OEM Navigations systems, there are also the extortionate fees demanded for map updates on CD or DVD.

    I recently purchased TomTom software, installed it onto my cellphone and purchased a Bluetooth GPS receiver. All for $300. I’ve got a fully featured hand held Nav system, and can use it while hiking or in any car. Also, I don’t have to print out any Google maps any more for new destinations while traveling on business. Woot!

  • avatar
    mbslk350

    I appreciate my built-in GPS. Portable units have their advantages, but I found the plusses of an integrated unit outweighed the minuses. I don’t care about the depreciation. I buy options to suit my needs and I enjoy them for the time I own the car…which is usually a long time. I don’t buy options with a view to whether the next owner will like them or not.

    And to the guy who commented about diesel engines and manual windows…HUH?

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    Claude,
    Have you tried the system by Acura. Very straightforward, and a bit easier to use than my buddy’s Garmin. That said, it was a total ripoff, and I would never have paid for it if it hadn’t been the very, very end of the model year, and another manual TL had been available without Nav.

  • avatar
    craiggbear

    I agree the depreciated value of a built in Navigation system is substantially less than the new cost. Goody for me because I bought a 1.5 year old, low mileage, off-lease car with Nav for basically the same price as one without (with hard negotiating skills of course). The former owner didn’t care because it was a lease and the cost was buried in the monthly cost.

    As for the obsolescence factor, I disagree. The built in system of ours (Nissan) is quite easy to use, has a good user interface, good image (with Nissan’s birds eye view!) and has proven to be a real benefit for those in our family who use it and are directionally challenged (I mention no names). A portable unit I bought was returned because it was less user friendly, my family will only use this kind of technology if it is built in – not when they realize halfway to somewhere they should have brought it or set it up.

    And the reality is, if we are planning a trip from home, we will likely use Mapquest and print it out. So much for GPS.

  • avatar
    MgoBLUE

    Megan,

    Enjoyed your article. I must admit, I had never thought of the Navi in my TL from a purely financial (depreciation/resale) standpoint. My wife and I like to “buy and hold”…so we get exactly what we want and amortize it over ten years. So being a Midwestern guy in New England, it wasn’t tough to justify the 2K USD to navigate these 300 year old horsepaths.

    I just want to add two things:
    1) My vehicle (TL) without Navi has a truely horrid dashboard (IMHO). The screens on non-navi TL’s look like LCD calculators. Shame on Acura….or maybe….”Brilliant”!
    2) Like others have said, the aftermarket suction cup/scaffolding necessary to hold these things in place are very ugly. I understand the financial analysis makes sense….but in any newer car over (pick an amount, $25K), the aftermarket nav models look plain cheap. I can understand them as add-ons to olders vehicles or less expensive marques that don’t offer OEM sat-nav.

    I know I know…its just my opinion. And I will say that the “walking” feature that somebody mentioned can’t be debated. That is cool! (if you don’t know where you’re walking….or no habla ingles)

    Which marque becomes the first to make sat-nav STANDARD equipment? Lexus? M-B? Hyundai?

  • avatar
    shabster

    Even though I wrote two posts in favor of factory GPS, I have to agree with Claud that the factory units are generally more difficult to operate than the after markets units beacuse of them controlling many other functions.

    Still, the factory GPS looks better.

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    Most of the newer units are easily pocketable — more so than a map, even. The theft argument loses a bit of weight there. And some built-in nav systems won’t let you use them while the car is moving, another negative, at least to me.

    I relied on maps for many a year, but after moving to Atlanta, decided a portable unit would be most helpful. Maps don’t tell me where restaurants are, or department stores, or movie theaters, or speed traps (yes, people actually take the time to compile these). And when you’re in a city that has 35 streets named ‘Peachtree’, sometimes it can be a little harder to get around. It’s most handy when traveling, also, for the same reasons.

    RE: leases and depreciation, wait until you have to pay more on your lease b/c the deprecation rate is higher. You may not care about selling the car, but you’ll pay for the depreciation one way or another.

  • avatar
    g4zilla

    Cellman wrote:
    “I recently purchased TomTom software, installed it onto my cellphone and purchased a Bluetooth GPS receiver. All for $300. I’ve got a fully featured hand held Nav system, and can use it while hiking or in any car.”

    Exactly my set-up. And no ugly suction rings and it goes into my pocket when I leave the car.

    Bonus geek points: Use your Bluetooth GPS to connect to your laptop, run software like gps2gex (on a Mac), launch Google Earth, and track your progress on Google Earth as you drive along!

  • avatar
    gakoenig

    I’ve never understood why manufacturers don’t just make the nav systems modular and upgradeable.

  • avatar
    Cowbell

    jaydez and mikey,
    where can I find this 20 dollar map that has street level maps and street indexes of every city in the US?!?

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    If the depreciation hammer for a nav-equipped car is daunting, imagine the financial consequences of it going south after the comprehensive new car warranty matures.

    Most of my travel is to known destinations. On the rare occasion when I’m setting out for parts unknown it takes just a minute to print out a current MapQuest map and directions.

  • avatar
    TreyV

    http://www.eclipse-web.com/avn/avn2210poverviews.html

    $800 from Crutchfield.com Dump your crappy OEM head unit and get a portable and in-dash navigation unit all at the same time.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    My problem with Mapquest is that even though I increase the font size to billboard size so that I can read the notes at a glance, I still believe it’s dangerous without a navigator/copilot.

    Voice prompts would be great, and having a heads-up display of sorts (windshield suction cup) would be a huge improvement. Even though focus is diverted from the road, the road is still very much in peripheral vision in a way it cannot be with a sheet of paper in front of your face.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Megan,
    This is a great article – thanks. I would add one more reason for passing on the OEM NavSys, at least with a BMW 3er – it allows you to avoid iDrive.

    Carmakers are doing a great job of integrating the iPod into their audio systems. I wonder why one of them doesn’t do the same with Garmin.

    Probably the fact that some people are still willing to pay $2K to avoid the indignity of opening a map.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    i have no need for sat-nav. I use maps.

    Maybe if i moved to a new city, maybe, but id probably get it on my mobile phone instead.

    Ya know tho, people around here get cars with 400 hp V8’s, even tho the average speed is like 15 mph everywhere. Perhaps in dash sat-navs are just a fashion accessory. A fool and his (or her) money…

  • avatar
    brettr

    I love my factory sat nav. It’s touch screen, voice guidance, everything I’d want, plus it’s got a bigger screen than any portable I’ve seen out. And (for neilberg) to update I just get the latest DVD and pop that sucker in. Sure, I spent more, but, I don’t have anything sitting on my dash and there are no cables draped all over plugging into my accessory outlets. True, I can’t take it with me, but, I also know how to read a map! ;)

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    I bought a $29.95 map of New Hampshire for a trip last week. It’s impervious to heat, cold, water (more or less) and who would steal it?

  • avatar
    Scott

    I felt the benefit of portable over OEM when I took a business trip and my buddy lent me his Garmin unit for the week. Then I took it with me on vacation. I love being able to switch the unit between cars with no problem (provided you have such a generous friend). No windshield mount; it’s got a floppy weighted base with a rubber skidpad that keeps it planted, ready to be stowed away for safekeeping with no telltales. Refurbished from the manufacturer, it cost a fraction of any OEM setup.

    And try to get a detour around traffic or construction (or find a decent restaurant) with a $30 road map. Without taking your hands off the wheel…much.

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    Great review and timely topic too. I had a built in system with my Honda Accord. It was great and I learned to really like having it. When I traded earlier this year though I did not look for a nav system in my next car for the very reason that you point out here. The cost of the system is now unrealistic compared to the cost of one of the portable units, plus the cost of updating the system in the Honda was $295. That’s half the cost of a new portable system.

  • avatar
    red60r

    My Volvo came with a built-in nav system, along with a $2k addition to the sticker. After a couple of long-distance trips, I had learned that its OEM Navteq data base was ridiculously deficient in coverage. Some areas were so poorly represented that large parts of cities were missing, even though they were around since before 1900. I kept picking on both Volvo and Navteq about the problem, pointing out that MS Streets & Trips, Garmin, and Magellan software all had far more complete road data and cost over $100 less for the map discs. I finally got a free refresh of the 2004 data DVD with its “improved” ($200) 2005 version. Still lots of the same blank areas. I kept on digging at them until Volvo/Navteq came out with a 2-DVD 2006 update that actually had most of the roads everyone else knew about. I still had to pay for it, but at least it had something resembling useful national (USA) coverage. In some ways units like the Garmin Nuvi have better features, but the built-in is more secure and has a much bigger screen. Controls are on the back of the steering wheel, but it’s really a bad idea to be fiddling with the display at 80 mph, no matter which unit you’ve got.

  • avatar
    CellMan

    @Megan: You comment on Peachtree in Atlanta made me laugh out loud.

    Before I had my portal Nav solution, I only had a Google map printed of the route from my hotel to the office. One very late night after dropping colleagues off at their various hotels, I became completely disoriented by the sheer madness of Peachtree roads everywhere. I was completely baffled and it took me over an hour before I was able to find my way back to the hotel.

    Fun times!

  • avatar
    AGR

    Navigation systems have evolved and improved in the last 7-8 years, and are standard in most luxury cars, with the option price lowered dramatically from what it was a few years ago.

    Initially they are great, and very useful since there is usually someone that has a poor sense of direction.

    When customers realise that navigation CD’s become obsolete after 12 to 18 months, and cost 300 to 400 suddenly the enthusuiasm for the Navi is dampened.

    Other customers find it annoying to have an “electronic nanny” telling them when to turn, and what to do. If there customer is alone in the car, reprogramming a Navi can become a dangerous distraction.

    The customers that are used to maps, feel “insecure” with following directions from a Navi and having no clue where they are going.

    The biggest competitor to maps and navigation systems is Google Maps and Mapquest, and its free.

    the time it takes to program a Navi in the driveway(to not be distracted), Google found the destination and printed out directions to get there. While the Navi will spoon feed directions as you go, “bear to the right, prepare to turn right 150 meters, turn next right 50 meters, turn right (missed the turn) recalculating directions, make a U turn.

  • avatar
    AGR

    On vehicles where the Navi is still an option packaged with a few other options.

    What would make sense is to have a “centralised Blue Tooth” connection, the industry calls them “pucks” and you can operate the cell phone, and it should be easy to operate a portable Navi.

    This would be too simple, not propriatery enough to make money for manufacturers.

  • avatar
    LastResort

    Subaru, especially in the recently reviewed Legacy GT, has been an offender. Want a Turbo Legacy? You’re getting leather. Want Navigation? you’d better get it with the car, because the factory HU is integrated with the HVAC, and there is currently no options for addressing this. Hell go look at the Subaru model list for the Legacy

    Legacy 2.5i Special Edition
    Legacy 2.5i Limited
    Legacy 2.5 GT Limited
    Legacy 2.5 GT spec.b

    How silly is that? All models are some pseudo exclusive package.

  • avatar
    nino

    Navigation systems in cars are one of the 5 most overrated options.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    It’s funny, I was just debating this topic with a friend. While navi is a bane now, the question becomes what happens to a car without it when it is standard later on. To me, I feel that it is worse to get a car with navi if you own it. While you do pay a price premium if you lease, at least you aren’t stuck with ancient technology. I’d rather buy newer portables every so often than be stuck with obselete tech. Additionally, when my stock head unit breaks, I get a newer aftermarket unit. When the aftermarket has reasonable replacements, I’ll pick one up. While I have played a friends and the gizmo factor is cool, I just can’t get the fact of being stuck with anitquated tech for years out of my head. I keep picturing my old desktop being integrated into my house.

    Nino, what are the other four?

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I have built in Navigation in both of our main family cars, an ’03 Accord and an ’06 TSX. None of the portable units offer nice large screens nor do they integate nicely into the dashboard or the steering wheel mounted controls. With the TSX Navigation is the only option.

    Financially the aftermarket portables are a cheaper way to get the function, but don’t dismiss a well designed integrated unit until you have used one for a time. The Alpine supplied units in the Honda/Acura lineup are some of the best.

    I was a big time Navigation system skeptic, but now I am a believer. Two years ago a family member had an accident and we stepped in to help out for two weeks. Taking their kids to music lessons, running errands, doing whatever was needed to help out in a city 900 miles from our home. The in car Navigation system was an absolute tresure in that situation. We use it all the time when going to unfamiliar destinations or quickly rerouting around traffic accidents. I suspect that the author has never spent a significant amount of time using a really good integrated navigation system before writing this article.

    Finally, not all OEM systems are of equal quality. The Volvo one I looked at was really horrible as have been the GM systems. The current Toyota one is quite good as are the Honda/Acura ones. The VW Passat’s system was very hard to use when we tested it out.

    Ten years from now this things will be as common place as a CD player/MP3 integration. Toyota has also gone the extra mile and integrated a backup camera into the Navigation screen on many models. Considering how bad the rear visibility is from many modern vehicles there is much to be said for the value of a backup camera.

    Don’t knock ’em if you haven’t really tried ’em. Paper maps and even Mapquest don’t come close to the utility of a good navigation system, integrated or portable.

  • avatar

    I am old fashioned and I was a Mapquest guy. Recently I rented a car from Hertz with their Hertz branded Nav system. I am sold on it now. If you are traveling in a town (and a state) you are totally unfamiliar with the systems are fantastic. However if you rarely travel far from home then they are unneeded. When in Tampa (home) I simply use mapquest since I know all the referenced main roads its quick and easy.

  • avatar
    healinginfluence

    I understand the economic argument behind portable units. But portable units are ugly attached with a suction cup to the dashboard. Yes the technology becomes outdated quickly but many people now lease cars for three years or so and turn them in and lease another one. And the technology the car comes with is reasonable for 3 years or so.

    My car is over six years old. I don’t have a GPS unit and would like one but don’t want to drive around with a unit attached to my windsheild. The ultimate for me would be a pocket sized GPS unit with a voice loud enough to hear.

  • avatar
    labrat

    In the past, I have usually opted for well equipped vehicles. However, I purposely went for the base model of our new Acadia and got just a few select useful options (XM, Remote start). My reason for this was to purposely avoid the factory nav system. 99% of the time, I know where I’m going. The few times I don’t, I’ll prepare ahead of time with a map or directions from mapquest. I’ve never been lost in recent memory. In addition to the $2k or so I’ve saved, I also avoided the daily annoyance of having to scroll through several menus to change the radio station. Isn’t technology supposed to make our lives simpler? If my position ever changes, It’s Garmin 4 me.

    On a similar note, what about those rear seat entertainment systems for an additional $2k? Same waste. I bought Labrat Jr an $80 portable DVD player and he’s totally happy. And also, he can carry it in the house to finish the movie.

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten

    As a recent purchaser of a portable nav system, the following two observations surprised me.

    I thought I’d prefer a factory system, bigger screen, better integration, etc, but thought they were over priced. However, a surprising (to me) positive feature of the portable “suction-cup-to-the-dash” solution is that the thing is closer to your line of sight, so you don’t have to look down at the console to see the map. Makes a big difference in usability, and you don’t have to rely as much on the voice prompts if you don’t like them. And the smaller screen is less of an issue than I expected.

    Second, even though around your hometown you know your way around, the system i purchased has the guidance details that I tend to forget. For example, in Michigan, a left turn can be either a straight-up left turn, or the so-called “Michigan left”, through the intersection, then u-turn then right turn, or right turn then u-turn then straight thru. Or, in some cases, a quarter of a cloverleaf ramp. If you don’t know which is coming up (and signage can be an issue around here) you don’t know whether to be in the left or right lane for the turn until it’s too late. My nav system tells you way ahead of time, and at least so far has been 100% accurate.

  • avatar
    nino

    Nino, what are the other four?

    In my opinion (for what it’s worth)

    Sat/Nav systems

    Satellite Radio

    4 Wheel Drive

    In-Car Entertainment Systems, especially any of those that can get you e-mail

    “Special Editions” of any model.

    Added to Sat/Nav, I would include OnStar.

  • avatar
    jdv

    My 2000 BMW 540 has an obsolete CD-ROM based nav system, but I love it, and would never do without again. We haul our kids to sports fields all over the state, a nav system has been a godsend.

    I don’t want an aftermarket unit. Makes things cluttered, and is another reason for someone to try to break into my car. In fact, I wish my radar detector was built in rather than window mount. My previous car had that (and it cost me 5x as much) but now I miss it.

    You could argue that we don’t need air-conditioning either, that a rolled down window can do the trick. And that’s true. But for some it;s worth paying more to get what you want. And I like mine built in. :)

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    Those who say “use a map” should try driving in or around Boston. I thought a map was more than enough before I moved here. A map doesn’t really help when
    1) 1/2 the streets (and 90% of the major streets you would like to use as a reference) have no sign indicating what they are called
    2) The same street will have a different name just a few blocks away, and a different street will have the same name as another street just a few blocks away
    3) (This is the most important) There is NOWHERE to pull over and look at a map
    4) There is absolutely no logic to the layout of the streets

    This city sucks! I need a nav system ASAP

  • avatar
    Dan

    One thing readers here are missing: built-in NAV systems can (should) get telemetry information from the steering wheel and the speedometer. That means, even if you’re in a tunnel and can’t see any GPS satellites, your nav system can still guess where you are. My 2005 Acura TL does exactly this, and it’s a nice thing when you’re driving in a downtown area or something.

    I’ll echo other comments here about the occasional but incredible value of having a nav system. Still, the cost savings of the portable units is hard to ignore.

  • avatar
    NickR

    This article obliquely raises a subject that occurred to me the other day. I saw a white Charger, totally unadorned. It even had dog dish hubcaps. I assume it was a cop car. I wonder if it would be possible to reprise the Roadrunner theme (not just slapping the name on something totally inappropriate, e.g., the idiocy of calling a pick up truck ‘Daytona’). First, how much could a car company decontent a car? Second, with a modern production line is that even feasible? And three, would there really be a market? I’d be happy to get a stripped down HemiCharger, I’d forego everything except power steering and brakes.

  • avatar
    jolo

    thetopdog:
    June 5th, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Those who say “use a map” should try driving in or around Boston…This city sucks! I need a nav system ASAP

    It is that way because it’s hundreds of years old and the streets and property lines were set up when horse were basic transportation. As you are aware of, as I was when I lived in New England, they expect people to just know where you’re going and where you’ve been. And you’re right, a nav system is extrememly helpful all over NE.

  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    Even for those of you who love your OEM in-dask units, there is a better alternative: aftermarket in-dash nav systems. The cost of most OEM nav systems will get you the top of the line aftermarket nav/stereo units.

    Take the top of the line Pioneer system, which has a 30 gig HD to store all your music as well as add-on like a back-up camera. You get far more for your money.

  • avatar
    brettr

    As Claude just pointed out, the new after market in dash systems are nice, but, when we bought my wife’s car, they’re weren’t many choices and they were all at least as expensive as the factory system. It’s only been in the last year or so (my perception here) that I’ve started to see built-in in dash nav systems on the after market that are better than the OEM systems and at a better price point. In regards to someone’s statement about “god forbid you need to have the OEm system serviced after your warranty expires” I already plan on just replacing it with a good aftermarket system (we tend to keep our cars for a good long time). In fact, I’m getting ready to relocate the computer in my ‘95 BMW 325i so I can fit a double-din aftermarket nav system.

  • avatar
    kph

    Cellman wrote:
    “I recently purchased TomTom software, installed it onto my cellphone and purchased a Bluetooth GPS receiver. All for $300. I’ve got a fully featured hand held Nav system, and can use it while hiking or in any car.”

    This is the route to follow. In another year or two, when this technology matures, it could make all other systems obsolete.

    Perhaps what may be more helpful is better interfacing between mobile devices and the in-dash screen. It would just serve as a monitor in that sense.

  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    brettr:

    The very best nav/stereo in-dash systems can cost as much as OEM sytems, but if you don’t want/need everything plus the kitchen sink, they are far cheaper. You can get what you want and not have to pay for what you don’t.

    The two big downsides are irregular holes in the dash which will not accommodate AM units without fabrication and the loss of other system connectivity/useless buttons on your steering wheel.

  • avatar
    Mark A

    mgoBLUE: Which marque becomes the first to make sat-nav STANDARD equipment? Lexus? M-B? Hyundai?

    I heard GM is rolling out OnStar Turn-By-Turn Navigation as standard equipment on most models next year.

    Also, re: the modular comment. My e38 BMW 7 series had lots of plug-n-play modularity for the nav, radio, bluetooth, etc.

  • avatar
    Hippo

    The part they don’t tell you is that all these fancy expensive systems are virtually useless in the back country.

    While in the city it’s hard to beat one of the little Garmin units, the ultimate back country nav system is a ruggerized laptop loaded with all the National Geographic 7.5 min topo maps and interfaced with a GPS antenna and software.

    Not that you need it but it makes clients feel good when they can see on a screen where they are. LOL.

  • avatar
    dwford

    While I agree that some of the older systems sucked, and would deter a used car buyer from the vehicle (the old cd based Lincoln system comes to mind), the newer dvd based systems with removable dvd are easily upgraded with a new dvd. As long as the interface is well designed to begin with, the system shouldn’t be a negative in a used vehicle.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    I got my first GPS in 1999 after a trip to the Black Rock Desert left me confused as to my actual location. Since then I haven’t been without one.

    However, my big gripe with the factory systems is that where they integrate the stereo and climate controls they make it virtually impossible to upgrade the sound system (intentionally, I think.) And while I haven’t heard of this happening, I would be seriously worried about the “single point failure” aspect: i.e. I could live with a non-functioning GPS, but if it also took out the climate control and the radio, I’d be a little bit pissed.

    I also ride a motorcycle which is why I prefer my handheld unit, that I can transfer between the truck and the bike, or even carry on foot.

    Final point, IMO a GPS or even a computer mapping system can never fully replace paper maps. Paper maps are excellent for planning because they often show details that electronic maps omit.

  • avatar
    almoore

    Megan,
    I couldn’t disagree with you more. I’ve used handheld GPS systems and am now on the 4G of OEM systems and there is absolutely no comparison. The handhelds are tinker toys compared to the OEM’s. Don’t take my word for it, take your Tom Tom toy, or your favorite flavor, on a test drive in a Chrysler with a MyGig radio. You’ll see the difference in the level of sophistication. You’re getting ten times the system in the MyGig at about four or five times the price.

  • avatar
    almoore

    Maps in my older OEM systems were upgraded via CD. I think that the newer systems are upgraded via satellite.

  • avatar
    Voice of Sweden

    chuckgoolsbee:
    June 4th, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Try being a buyer who puts a Diesel engine at the top of your “must have” list. That pretty much removes all the fancy, pricey options right out of the realm of possibility. If your car has a Diesel (and what… maybe 6 models in the US total?) you are lucky to get power windows. Go figure.

    Is it really that bad in the US? I could order a 745d (300 hp (din) and 700 Nm) with about any option possible. But then I don’t think diesels belong in cities even with particle filter.

  • avatar
    blautens

    I’ve used several Garmins (including the excellent Nuvi 650), several OEM navs (albeit mostly the Denso OEM nav in my Lexus RX330), and the very interesting iGuidance running on my Cingular 8125 (using my just plain AMAZING Holux GPSlim 236 bluetooth GPS receiver).

    They all have positives and negatives. I certainly think the Lexus/Denso nav is excellent and very well integrated (there are still separate controls for radio and climate) and don’t regret purchasing it whatsoever. The OEM NAV in certain GM vehicles that doesn’t allow you to play a CD while using the NAV because the NAV disc takes up the sole optical slot – well, it’s the poster boy for stupid.

    I would not, however, consider traveling without some sort of nav system. It’s just plain silly. Add ons are too cheap, and the safety and convenience of having one is too much to ignore, regardless of the format.

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