You’re driving to a new part of town, trying to make it on time to a meeting, or searching for a restaurant tucked in an out-of-the-way spot. Or it’s after dark—you’ve been on the road all day, or have just flown into an unfamiliar city, and you need to find the hotel.
A global positioning system, or GPS, can be a huge help as it uses satellite technology to find the map you need, plot your route, and guide you step by step with voice instructions and a visual display of the travel route.
The first step in selecting a GPS is to think about your driving habits and how you’ll use the device. Would it be better to have a GPS navigator that’s hard-wired neatly into the dashboard of the car you primarily drive, or a portable one that can be moved from vehicle to vehicle (and taken along on plane trips for the rental car once you land)?
Think also about the size of the device (typically from 3.5 to 7 inches). Select a GPS with a screen that’s big enough you can read it easily (both text and maps), but not so massive that it takes up too much room if mounted on the dashboard.
Also consider your Android or iPhone. Smartphones can serve as GPS devices too, with the right applications. The screen, however, is likely to be smaller than a dedicated GPS, and trickier to read, and a subscription fee for the service may apply.
Keep your GPS useful and usable
Don’t forget to periodically update the map database, as outdated information may become inaccurate. It’s wise to get a protective case in which to store the GPS, for security reasons, to avoid extremes in temperature, and to keep it out of sight (or in the house) when not in use. It’s also smart to keep some paper maps in the car as a backup. As convenient as GPS systems are, occasionally they get the route wrong.
GPS features to look for
Most GPS units allow you to search for “points of interest” such as tourist attractions, gas stations, lodging, or restaurants (often with restaurants divided into types of food). Some also offer the capability for wireless connectivity, which can give the driver more real-time information about traffic jams, detours, and gas prices, although that feature may also come with an extra subscription price.
Many GPS units come with hardware for mounting the device on the dashboard or windshield, but be sure to check the laws in your area—some states don’t allow that kind of mounting. And check the dashboard of your car to make sure there’s an appropriate spot.