Most drivers got their first taste of nav systems through popular portable devices from makers like Garmin, Tom Tom and Magellan. These hand-helds come with a “maps for life” feature that lets their owners connect online and download updates any time they want, for free. Many smartphone nav apps also silently update their maps continually. So when those drivers graduate to a ride with built-in factory navigation, they’re understandably expecting the same kind of service and map updates that their humble little hand-helds offered.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. The love affair between some vehicle buyers and their factory nav systems can hit a roadblock when the time comes to get a new map download, which is necessary for continued service.
Integrated nav systems, which are part of the infotainment system in the car, usually offer turn-by-turn directions, as well as verbal reminders and can even recommend the best route to a destination, taking into account fuel efficiency, traffic, construction and more. These systems are designed to work seamlessly with the rest of the vehicle and offer a clean, high-tech look. They aren’t cheap, however, with prices starting at $500 in some vehicles and rising to more than $4,000 in some luxury models.
As far as a monthly fee for these systems, it depends on whether the manufacturer is offering a subscription service with them or not. Oftentimes the monthly fees are for real-time traffic reports that include information about construction zones, delays and congestion in an area as well as businesses like restaurants or gas stations. They’re sometimes tied into the phone so that this information can be viewed by drivers through their phones, and may also offer features like hands-free calling, weather forecasts and streaming audio.
Some standalone nav systems can be connected to the internet, which makes them able to automatically update themselves, but this can also be expensive, especially as it requires lots of storage space and uses up cellular data on your phone. Some of these standalone nav systems can also be used with your smartphone via Android Auto or Apple Carplay, but these options require an app installation, which means that you’ll need to take up the space on your device with unnecessary apps and potentially pay extra for a data plan.
One company that’s pushing a subscription model for its in-car navigation systems is Tesla, which charges customers to continue with the standard connectivity package after eight years. The paid premium package adds live traffic visualization, an internet browser, video streaming and the brand’s incredibly useful Sentry Mode. As these kinds of automotive subscription services become more prevalent, drivers should consider carefully whether their pros outweigh the cons before committing to an integrated nav system. If the latter is in your future, you should also consider asking to see the system in person when you test drive a vehicle. This way, you can make sure that it has all the features you want before making a commitment.