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Navigating Navigation Technology

GPS Navigation

For most of human history, people have navigated via the sun and stars. This type of navigation gave people a general idea of which direction they were traveling and their general latitude. This allowed navigators from Europe to find America (by mistake) and the rest of the world. And while star navigation was great for the old world, it isn’t generally useful anymore, unless you’re looking for huge hipster cred.

Paper maps came around while people were still navigating via the stars, but it was such a powerful addition to any navigator’s arsenal. Maps are also inexpensive and available at most gas stations, or even printable from your personal computer, with handy directions on how to get you where you are going. Remember MapQuest?

In the past few hundred years, our understanding of the world and technological advancements has given us new ways to get around. Today, we have tools available that can accurately pinpoint your location and tell you exactly how to get where you want to go. With this technology, you have what ancient navigators would consider a magic box that is built inside your horseless carriage and happens to speak to you, instructing you how to get to your destination. You must decide for yourself if it’s really worth the cost for the magic talking box, or if another type is better.

Portable Navigation

Portable GPS Navigation units have come down significantly in price and can be had for as little as $50, so they are usually the cheapest GPS option for people without smartphones. The other nice thing is that you can take your device from one car to another car, or even your bike without worrying about having your expensive phone stolen or lost. Some also let you know about upcoming traffic, dangerous curves, or changes in the speed limit.

The benefits generally stop there. Standalone GPS is just not really necessary anymore with smartphones. There are also a few drawbacks such as visibility. You should mount your GPS somewhere in your field of vision so it is easy to see. However, this may get in the way of your view for driving.

Garmin Drive Portable GPS Navigation

Factory Navigation

Toyota was the first to introduce GPS car navigation, all the way back in 1991. It has been a good idea ever since, with many reasons why a factory supplied navigation system works for you. First of all, it looks like it belongs in the car because it came with the car in the first place. It doesn’t stick out like a portable device stuck on the dash or windshield. The unit will also be covered by the bumper to bumper warranty provided by the manufacturer, which is usually a few years. Most standalone units have shorter warranties. Finally, factory units will also usually connect to the steering wheel controls and sound system of the vehicle to allow for easy use without an additional device.

There are some downsides to factory navigation, though. For instance, it is usually significantly more costly. Many times it is only available in higher trim levels, could cost thousands of dollars more than the base model, with little to no increase in resale value. Even if navigation is available as a standalone option, it is still usually quite expensive at $1000+. Additionally, more often than not, what you see is what you get with a factory GPS unit. By the time you buy the device, it is out of date. As time goes on and more roads and businesses go up, the unit won’t know about them. Many manufacturers offer software updates via a CD or memory card, but that leaves it up to the drivers to get updates made.

Factory GPS Navigation


A majority of adults now have smartphones. Almost every smartphone has at least one navigation app installed. Using the device you already have will cost you nothing from an investment standpoint. Plus, Android and Apple are constantly keeping their navigation apps up to date. This means when a new road is built, your GPS will more than likely know about it soon afterward. Most modern factory head units come with Bluetooth connectivity. This means you can hook up your smartphone to the audio system to receive navigation alerts from your car speakers.

The bad news is that using GPS may devour quite a bit of battery life on your smartphone. Be sure to bring the charger along if you’re going to be navigating for a long period of time.If you don’t have a dedicated mount for the phone, it’ll probably be in your cup holder or in your hand. These locations are not ideal and serve to distract you, in one way or another, from focusing on the road. Beware that nav can use up a good chunk of your data allotment. Also, if you’re in an area without cellular service, it may not work at all.

Cell Phone GPS Navigation

Aftermarket In-Dash Navigation Head Unit

If you choose to buy a GPS head unit, you can pick all the features you want, whereas a factory system doesn’t give you choices. They can be as feature rich or barebones as you want to make them.

The drawback to aftermarket head units don’t always fully integrate with the vehicle as well as a factory system does; for example, the steering wheel controls and voice commands may not work as they did before. Installation of the head unit will also cost money if you don’t know what you’re doing if it’s even possible to install. New vehicles have diverged from the standard sizes for head units lately. This makes it increasingly difficult for aftermarket manufacturers to create something that will work in a wide array of cars, and depending on the vehicle, there may not be any aftermarket head units available to you.

In-Dash Aftermarket GPS NPS Navigation Receiver

Alpine GPS Receiver found on Crutchfield.com

Back the important question: should you opt for the navigation option in your new car? If it is worth it to you to spend more money to not have a separate GPS device, spring for the nav! Otherwise, now you are aware of the other options that are available that may be a fit for you. Head to www.carsforsale.com where you can easily navigate to your next vehicle, no need for GPS, we keep searching simple.

Caroline Rex

She's a graphic designer by trade, but loves writing blog posts on the side. As a closet car fanatic, Caroline enjoy sprinkling knowledge about the unique ins and outs of the underdogs of the auto world. #neonsruletheworld

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