Best GPS Navigation For Cars: Find Your Way Around With These Top Picks
Drive your way around the world with these top GPS devices for cars
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PUBLISHED ON April 12, 2019
While many motorists rely on their cell phones for navigation, a GPS system is still a very useful tool for travelers. The best car GPS navigation units are developed by experts with a lot of experience in the industry. Unlike smartphones, the best GPS units for cars typically feature large HD displays and several advanced features to help you reach your destination. Continue reading to learn more about the best GPS units for your car.
- Best OverallGarmin DriveSmart 61 NA LMT-SSummarySummaryThis device has a 7-inch display and provides lifetime map updates, voice activation, driver alerts, smart notifications, and Bluetooth capability. It provides WiFi updates and real-time live traffic and parking alerts.ProsProsThe display is clear, bright, and easy to read. It's also accurate, fast, and responsive with no noticeable lag. Directions are easy to follow, and it easily understands verbal commands.ConsConsDownloading updates can take a while, and to use traffic alerts, you need to download an app and pay a monthly subscription fee. It may also ignore easier routes.
- Best ValueGarmin DriveSmart 51 NA LMT-SSummarySummaryThis device has a 5-inch capacitive touch display, free lifetime updates, and real-time services, such as live traffic and live parking. It has Bluetooth calling, WiFi updates, and voice-activated navigation.ProsProsIt gives good directions, is easy to understand, and is fast and accurate. It's simple to update using WiFi, and the traffic finder provides good alternatives for traffic-congested areas.ConsConsTo get traffic updates, you must pair it to your phone or buy an additional cord. Also, it may struggle to understand voice commands, and battery life is short.
- Honorable MentionTomTom GO 520 5-Inch GPS Navigation DeviceSummarySummaryThis GPS has a 5-inch capacitive screen, voice control, live traffic, WiFi connectivity, a smartphone messaging, and hands-free calling. It also learns your driving habits.ProsProsThe interface is easy to use, routing is very good, and traffic updates are accurate. Map updates are simple using the WiFi connection, and it is very customizable.ConsConsThe GPS does not have a battery, and the display can be difficult to see in daylight. Live traffic will not work outside of the region in which you bought the device.
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Benefits of GPS Navigation for a Car
- Have peace of mind. If you're on a trip and you have no idea where you're going, particularly if it’s off the beaten path, the best navigation system will seamlessly get you there. You won't need to use a map or ask for directions.
- Avoid driver distraction. Distracted driving kills thousands of people a year in the United States. Stay safe by using the best voice-activated GPS so you can keep your eyes on the road.
- Wi-Fi and data signals are not required. The best car GPS system works independently and doesn’t require a Wi-Fi signal or data signal to work. If you lose your cell phone signal or don’t have a robust data plan, a GPS unit is a good alternative.
- Conserve your cell phone battery. While it's very common to use a smartphone's map for navigation, the action can quickly drain the power from your phone’s battery.
- Locate nearby amenities. The best GPS units for cars will include not only the route, but also other stops you may like to make during your trip, including restaurants, gas stations, rest areas, and shopping malls.
- Navigate traffic jams. This is particularly important if you’re on a schedule. The best GPS with live traffic will include alerts about roads and highways you may want to avoid, making your trip more pleasant.
Types of GPS for Car
Portable GPS System
The most common types of GPS tracking use cellular and satellite networks. Satellite-based GPS vehicle tracking is more useful in part because it works when cell towers are unavailable. GPS units that are compact are also convenient because you can use them in more than one vehicle.
In-Dash GPS System
In-dash navigation systems are becoming increasingly common in new vehicles. They are no longer restricted to high-end, luxury cars, trucks, and SUVs. They're intended to give you a wide view without distraction. Your vehicle automatically adjusts radio volume and incoming calls. Even though they come preloaded with maps, they can become outdated over time. Also, you can't take the GPS with you, and they're more expensive than portable navigation units.
Several engineers founded Garmin in 1989. The company, which is headquartered in Olathe, Kansas, produces automotive, aviation, marine, fitness, outdoor recreation, and wireless products and is the global leader in GPS navigation technology. One top product is the Garmin Drive 60 USA LM GPS Navigator System.
GPS navigation consumer electronics company Magellan was founded in 1986 and is headquartered in San Dimas, Calif. It's a subsidiary of MiTAC International Corporation, based in Taiwan. One of its top products is the Magellan RM6230SBLUC RoadMate 6230-LMX.
Dutch company TomTom was founded in 1991 and is headquartered in Amsterdam, with offices in 30 countries. It concentrates on connected vehicles, smart mobility, and, in the near future, autonomous driving. One of TomTom’s popular products is the TomTom GO 520 5-Inch GPS Navigation Device.
GPS for Car Pricing
- Under $100: There are some GPS devices in this price range, but they tend to be of lower quality and have fewer features, such as traffic information, and may be less user-friendly.
- $100-$250: Models in this price range usually have numerous features, including voice activation, and are very intuitive. They also tend to have larger screens.
- Over $250: The most expensive GPS navigation systems include in-dash units that either come with your vehicle or are an added feature. They can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars.
The best GPS units for cars will have preloaded maps of the United States, allowing you to use the device immediately upon installation. Many will also enable you to download maps for other countries, such as Canada and Mexico. Some even have microSD card slots where you can add even more maps. Preloaded maps are key because they can provide navigation in places that don't have a good signal.
Ease of Use
It doesn't matter how advanced your GPS system is, if you have trouble operating it, then it's useless. One of the top features to consider is ease of use. First, the device needs to provide detailed step-by-step directions. Second, it shouldn't be very hard to input an address. The best GPS device for a car will also have easy-to-read icons and intuitive instructions.
Voice activation is a major feature because it is much quicker to tell a GPS unit where to go versus manually typing in your destination. It can take several minutes to type in an address before you leave the driveway. With the best voice-activated GPS, you can dictate a location while driving.
- 3D Maps: A 3D map feature is particularly beneficial if you drive in large cities or in areas that you are not familiar with. This option creates three-dimensional depictions of landmarks, including bridges and buildings, making them easier for you to notice when you're driving. Many models include this feature.
- Battery Capacity: Sure, you can plug a GPS unit directly into your vehicle's DC power outlet, but what if you need to use that outlet to charge your cell phone or another device? Decent battery capacity is important because it allows you to use the navigation system even when it's unplugged. Some can run on a battery for as long as six hours.
- Route and Lane Assistance: The best voice-activated GPS will audibly tell you what lane you need to be in when you're making a turn or exiting a highway. It will also provide an image on the screen of the action you need to take so you have enough warning to shift into the proper lane.
- Speed Limit Indicator: If you tend to have a lead foot, a speed limit indicator may help you avoid a speeding ticket. A top GPS brand with this function will alert you to your travel speed, as well as the speed limit on the road you are traveling on. A few units will even let you know if you're going too fast.
- Dash Camera: A top GPS brand may include a dash camera. A few even allow 360-degree recording. Dash cams are particularly helpful in providing information during an accident, which will benefit your insurance company. They may also capture some interesting events, such as turkeys crossing the street or your savvy driving abilities as you carve along a country road.
- Screen Size: The screens of GPS units range in size between 3 and 7 inches. The benefit of smaller units is that they are very portable and can easily be stored in a glovebox or door pocket. However, units with larger screens are easier to see when you're driving. In addition, visual alerts can take up as much as one-third of the screen while obscuring other details, which can be problematic on smaller devices.
- Resolution: The best car GPS system will have a screen resolution that's at least 480 x 272 pixels. But if you want a unit that has an even clearer picture, consider purchasing one with a screen that is more than 800 x 480 pixels. The clearer the picture, the easier it is for you to navigate while driving.
Best GPS for Car Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Garmin DriveSmart 61 NA LMT-S
This GPS device features lifetime map updates, voice activation, driver alerts, smart notifications, and Bluetooth capability. The nearly 7-inch capacitive touch display has a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. Used in conjunction with a smartphone app, the device provides real-time live traffic and live parking. It's compatible with Windows XP or newer and Mac OS X 10.4 or later and uses WiFi for software and map updates. It also features FourSquare and TripAdvisor apps.
The display is clear, very bright, and easy to read, even from various angles. It's also accurate, fast, and responsive with no noticeable lag during various operations. Directions are easy to follow, and it easily understands verbal commands. It saves and stores addresses, and the split-screen that appears when a junction is coming up to tell you which lane to use is very helpful.
The rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides only up to one hour of battery life. Also, the snap-on mount can come off when you remove the device from the windshield. You can turn on/off selected alerts (i.e., railroad crossings) audibly, but they still show up on the screen. In addition, downloading updates on the WiFi can take a while, and to use traffic alerts you need to download the app and pay a monthly subscription fee. The device may also ignore easier routes.
Best Value: Garmin DriveSmart 51 NA LMT-S
The DriveSmart 51 features a 5-inch capacitive touch display, free lifetime updates, as well as real-time services, such as live traffic and select live parking, which can be used with a free smartphone link app. You can download software and map updates with built-in WiFi or with Windows XP or newer and Mac OS X 10.4 or later. It has Bluetooth calling and voice-activated navigation. Battery life is one hour.
The unit is easy to understand, fast, loud, accurate and gives good directions. The voice commands make it convenient to use while traveling, and it's simple to update using WiFi. The traffic finder works great and provides good alternatives for traffic-congested areas; however, to use that feature, you must link the GPS to your smartphone or spend extra money for a GTM 60 power-cord/receiver.
The voice control can be a little finicky, and the device sometimes has trouble understanding commands. Also, the on-screen warnings are small and can be difficult to read, especially in bright sunlight. The battery life is very short. In addition, the curve alert warning is superfluous and can be bothersome.
Honorable Mention: TomTom GO 520 5-Inch GPS Navigation Device
The TomTom Go has a 5-inch capacitive screen, voice control, lifetime traffic and world maps, WiFi connectivity for updates, a smartphone messaging, and hands-free calling. It's compatible with Siri and Google Now. It also learns your driving habits and predicts when you're likely to drive to frequent destinations.
The TomTom Go has a nice HD screen and a useful split-screen for lane change assistance when a complex intersection is ahead. The interface is easy to use, routing is very good, and traffic updates are accurate. The smartphone functionality allows you to receive incoming calls and listen to text messages without searching for your cell phone. In addition, map updates are very easy using the Wi-Fi connection. It is also very customizable. For example, turning on or off voice commands or specific alerts is easy.
One problem with the device is that it does not have an internal battery and can only be used while plugged in. Also, the display can be difficult to see in daylight due to glare. The live traffic will not work outside of the region in which you bought the device, i.e., a device purchased in the United States won't get live traffic updates in Europe.
- If you're searching for the best affordable GPS for the car, try to avoid the cheapest selection. Budget systems tend to have resistive-touch screens, challenging interfaces, and smaller screens overall.
- If you have a device with WiFi and Bluetooth capability, make sure to turn them off when you’re not using them because they consume more battery power.
- Be aware of default settings that avoid toll roads. You may end up driving dozens or hundreds of extra miles to reach your destination.
- Before taking it on the road, make sure to update your maps and software either through WiFi or your computer. Also, completely charge the battery.
- Do not leave the device in the sun during hot, summer months. Anything with a battery or screen can overheat over an extended period of time. The battery could lose capacity or worse, explode.
- Some models provide red light and speed camera locations in certain areas, which alert you when you approach a reported speed or red light camera.
- Some devices have built-in apps that allow you to design a custom route that will take you to your destination, rather than using a route the device designs.
Q: Do GPS units come in other languages besides English?
A: Many GPS devices have several language options, allowing users to change from English to German, Chinese, Spanish or Arabic, for example. You can also download maps for other countries, but there may be a fee.
Q: Can you use a GPS device as an odometer and speedometer?
A: A GPS device should be used as a navigational aid and should not be expected to provide precise measurement of speed or distance. These factors can vary depending on the accuracy of the GPS position at the time of use.
Q: Can a GPS device map a 2,800-mile route from New York City to Los Angeles?
A: Many devices should be able to handle a trip that long. However, it will depend on your route settings and any stops you program into it. If the device cannot calculate the entire route, you should separate it into smaller segments.
Q: When should I update my GPS device?
A: Most GPS units should be ready to use right out of the box. However, even if they’re relatively current, there will likely be updates available.
Q: Does the GPS unit drain the car battery when the car is off?
A: It depends on your vehicle. Some accessory ports remain on when the vehicle's ignition is turned off. A GPS device may slightly drain your battery if you keep the device plugged in and don’t use your vehicle.
Q: Do GPS units have SD memory card slots?
A: Some of them feature a microSD card slot on the device. Generally, you can use a card that is up to 64 GB, which can store information such as updated maps.
Our pick for the best GPS for a car is the Garmin DriveSmart 61 NA LMT-S. The device is accurate, fast, and responsive with a clear, bright, and easy-to-read display.
For a less expensive option, consider the Garmin DriveSmart 51 NA LMT-S.