LAST UPDATED: April 12, 2019
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 cell phones for navigation, a GPS system is still a 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. Learn more about the best GPS units for your car in the buying guide below.
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Benefits of GPS Navigation for Cars
- Have peace of mind. If you're on a trip and 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 don'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 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 Navigation for Cars
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 the 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, Kan., 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 RoadMate 2240T-LM.
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 Navigation 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.
- $250 and up: 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 Navigation for Cars Reviews & Recommendations 2021
This GPS device features lifetime map updates, voice activation, driver alerts, smart notifications, and Bluetooth capability. The nearly seven-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 Wi-Fi for software and map updates. It also features FourSquare and TripAdvisor apps.
The display is clear, 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 Wi-Fi 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.
The DriveSmart 51 features a 5-inch capacitive touch display, free lifetime updates, and 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 using built-in Wi-Fi 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, and accurate. It also provides good directions. The voice commands make it convenient to use while traveling, and it's simple to update using Wi-Fi. 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.
The TomTom Go has a five-inch capacitive screen, voice control, lifetime traffic and world maps, Wi-Fi connectivity for updates, 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 good, and traffic updates are accurate. The smartphone functionality allows you to receive incoming calls and listen to text messages. In addition, map updates are very easy using a 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.
Another excellent model from Garmin, this GPS navigator features a bright 5-inch display and a simple design. This has detailed maps of both the United States and Canada, so you can have peace of mind even when traveling outside the country. Unlike other GPS navigators, there is no need for a smartphone with this one. It is ready to go right out of the box and comes with a quick start-up manual. It comes with driver alerts and traffic data so that you can avoid construction, roadblocks, or traffic accidents.
Looking to add some interest to your drive? This car GPS comes with The History Channel data to include historic sites, national parks, TripAdvisor travel ratings, and a multitude of Foursquare points of interest. This allows you to take detours and get those fun photos for social media. This car GPS also comes with a vehicle suction cup mount, a power cable for your car, and a USB cable.
However, there are some reported issues of the GPS leading you down longer routes than necessary. There is also outdated information, and it lags in providing directions. It also overheats, so if you live in a very sunny or very warm climate, that could be an issue.
While this is not a known brand for a car GPS, AROVA has developed something reliable that tends to be priced less than other competitors on the market. It has continual free upgrades of the map and currently comes with the latest 2020 version. It has a 7-inch screen and features both 2D and 3D displays. It is touch-sensitive and has a very bright viewing screen so you can see it even during exceptionally sunny days. It can connect directly to your car’s stereo, so you don’t have to rely on the device’s audio by itself. It gives you all the data you would expect and want out of a car GPS navigator, including speed limits, speed camera detection, estimated arrival, detailed directions, and the ability to guide you in over 40 languages. To mount it, it comes with a suction mount, a back bracket, and a USB cable.
In addition to being a GPS, it also can play media for you. This includes movies, e-books, music, and mini games. So you will be able to listen to music and books while driving, or watch a movie and play games during rest times. It contains maps for the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Due to the lower price than some other models, you get fewer features. It also has some functionality issues reported, with lags, poor directions, or the screen freezing.
Carrvas is another relatively unknown brand when it comes to quality car GPS navigation systems, however, they have proven an excellent contender for a top product. Slighter cheaper than others on the market, this GPS comes with all you would expect it to, plus more.
This 7-inch screen comes with the most recent maps for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It is a touch screen and has both a battery and a car charger. If you are driving and unable to touch the screen to set directions, it also has voice operation with multiple simple commands. This isn’t just used for cars, either. It also has capabilities for trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicycles, and ambulances. It will provide you with sharp turn alerts, speed reminders, and speed camera notifications. It also comes with a 90-day money-back guarantee and a lifetime warranty.
However, it does not have a Home button, unlike other models. The mounting bracket it comes with is also not interchangeable for other car GPS units and is only unique to this one.
Another model of Garmin’s means this product is on the more expensive end, even $100 more than our other Honorable Mentions. However, this comes with other various features and a history of reliability.
It features maps for both the United States and Canada. It has all the data-driven features you would expect, such as street names, speed limits, red light cameras, fatigue warnings, and even speed camera alerts. It also uses more real-life directions such as landmarks and buildings to help you find your way. It contains data from Foursquare to give you insight into popular stores, restaurants, and attractions. It features both 2D and 3D map displays to help you navigate the roads. After hours of driving, a feature that you will love is its ability to find and suggest rest stops. The screen can be 5 or 6 inches, depending upon your preference.
However, to find the shortest route, it does take you off main roads and onto rough or difficult “back” roads. This has been a prominent complaint of the system.
The Navruf 7-Inch Portable Car GPS Navigation System is compact and very lightweight, but it packs plenty of helpful benefits. This GPS unit measures 8.35 x 5.87 x 3.11 inches in size, weighs just 1.59 pounds, and offers a 7-inch display. It runs on a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery, and you’ll have free lifetime map updates for the U.S. as well as Canada and Mexico.
Drivers will love the intelligent GPS navigation system that this product uses. It offers turn-by-turn directions, comprehensive voice prompts, and safe driving instructions. If you’re in an unfamiliar area, you’ll really benefit from the exact lane images that show you just where you need to be onscreen as you follow the GPS’s directions. There are also seven different modes — you can use this device in your car, truck, or even RV. It also features pedestrian, bicycle, and ambulance modes.
- 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 Wi-Fi 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?
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 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?
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?
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?
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?
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.