/ Motoring, Technology

Driven mad by paying for regular sat nav map updates?

Would you rather pay once for a sat nav with lifetime map updates, buy a sat nav and then pay for regular map updates, or buy a new cheap model every couple of years?

Many models in Garmin’s latest sat nav range come with a lifetime of map and traffic updates. This is indicated by the ‘LMT’ at the end of the name, like the Nüvi 2455LMT. Models with ‘LT’ at the end come with a subscription to lifetime traffic updates and not maps, and there are versions without free lifetime updates too.

Garmin is unique in offering lifetime updates. Its nearest rival, TomTom, doesn’t offer them, but it does offer a 90-day ‘latest map guarantee’ so you can download the latest map within three months of purchase.

Still, premium sat navs which include update and service subscriptions don’t come cheap. And though many of us consider our gadgets an investment, many of us replace our sat navs every couple of years and often it’s just because we want the latest maps (and features).

The lifespan of sat navs

My colleague Rob Hull has talked about the expense of updates to sat navs built into cars before, but should standalone sat navs be regarded as a short-term investment only? Should we really accept that they have a limited life span?

I ask because a map update can cost anything from around 25% to a whopping 75% of the price you pay for the sat nav itself.

TomTom’s cheapest new sat nav is around £100 with UK and Ireland mapping, or £120 with European mapping. Its premium model costs around £270, but it comes with TomTom’s Live Services, such as traffic and speed camera warnings.

But once you start adding maps and services you might find your cheaper £100 sat nav is no longer the bargain you thought it was. A yearly subscription to TomTom’s Map Update Service will cost you £74.95. And that’s just the maps – you’ll have to pay £47.50 if you want to add a year’s subscription to its Live Services.

Is it worth paying 75% of the price you paid for a cheap model to update the maps? If you were willing to pay £25 more you could get a new model including the latest maps, features and a new warranty! What’s more, you can sell your previous sat nav to recoup some of the cost.

Do you pay for sat nav updates?

Of course, not everyone updates their maps – indeed, you may find you can get yourself from A to B without a regular update. And while some sat navs include a feature to share and download map corrections, it’s only useful if you know about and use it regularly. Still, out of date sat navs can get you lost. So, if you drive a lot, it’s a good idea to check your route before you go – but should you really have to when you’ve bought into the convenience of a sat nav?

Do you mind having to pay for sat nav map updates? Or should manufacturers stop charging (or at least make them more affordable)?

What do you think about paying for sat nav map updates?

It’s wrong – all sat navs should come with free lifetime map updates (57%, 307 Votes)

I'm not sure - it depends on how expensive the updates are (23%, 121 Votes)

I can get by without sat nav updates anyway (18%, 94 Votes)

It’s fine – I don’t mind paying for map updates (3%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 546

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Tim R says:
21 August 2012

I wouldn’t object to paying a reasonable amount, but I do think that the TomTom updates are somewhat overpriced (I can’t comment on other makers). Also, why can’t I just buy a single map update when I want it, rather than having to pay for a years subscription? I live in Cornwall and, to be honest, the roads around here don’t change that often!

I have a TomTom with ‘Live services’, so, as you rightly say, keeping it updated (maps+services) would cost £122.45 per year, which seems, frankly, ridiculous as it didn’t cost much more than that new! If the updates were more reasonably priced and flexible, I would probably get them updated; as it is both map updates and live services have expired, and I don’t intend renewing either.

Given that my current car has built-in sat nav (non-OEM but compatible update DVD cost £25 online) and both mine and my wife’s phones have Google maps/navigation (not perfect but very good and very free!), we are seriously wondering if it’s even worth keeping the TomTom for her occasional use.

I think people in the sat-nav industry need to be very careful that cheap/free alternatives don’t completely undermine their existing business model – don’t be like the music industry, get in front of the new technologies and develop new business models rather than trying to maintain the status quo and complaining that it’s not fair!


Rather than pay silly money for a sat nav in my new car, I have decided to us a cheaper portable unit and updat it in about three years’ time. I am not worried that the maps are a bit out of date and I can think of better ways of spending money. The portable sat nav is also useful for finding my way round town when walking, since I don’t have a smartphone.


Hi wavechange. I think your approach is quite common – buy cheap and update in a few years’ time. Although, some people make the mistake of buying cheap thinking it won’t cost much to add maps or find their sat nav doesn’t have live services, for example buying a cheaper UK & ROI model only to discover that adding a European map could cost £40-70 extra, whereas the difference in price of a model variant with European maps pre-installed is often only £20 more.

The walking mode on some of the sat navs is pretty good and it’s a good way to get the most out of your sat nav – even if you have a smartphone, you’ve the benefit of not draining your phone battery if you’re out and about on a bit more of a jaunt!

Which model are you using at the moment? Is it fairly portable? (4.3-inch is a good size.)


I bought a TomTom XXL for £89, complete with western European maps. It was on offer and cheaper than the UK model. With its 5 inch screen it’s good in the car but a bit on the large size for the pocket. I bought this to replace my TomTom XL, which disappeared after being used in a friend’s car. This is smaller (about 4 inch) and more convenient to carry when walking.

One drawback of portable sat navs is having to plug them in after after a couple of hours’ use. I usually charge mine up in the house so that I only have to plug it in if I’m on a long journey.

Kelvin says:
31 August 2015

…or you could ask someone for directions…nice and cheap and you might meet some nice people too.

Phil says:
22 August 2012

This is a con surely? Does a Sat Nav device really need updating every year? It’s not as if the government are engaged in a massive programme of road building and upgrading. I suppose speed limits might change but then there are road signs.

Mantequilla says:
23 August 2012

I haven’t updated my satnav since I bought it a few years ago. If you roughly know where you are going and can follow signs, it’s pointless. My satnav can get me roughly to the right destination, new roads are generally just bypasses and/or new estates so if you have a little bit of spatial awareness, you don’t have to pay for these extortionate updates.


Tim, you make some very good points – particularly about the current approach model of sat nav manufacturers and how it may affect their longevity (although Garmin now offer models with ‘lifetime updates’ variants amongst their 2012 range). TomTom’s Map Update service costs £74.95 for one year and delivers a new map every three months, but it’s limited to the map you already own; if you added a USA map to a UK & ROI or Europe model, you’d only be able to use the service to update one map. LIVE services aren’t included.

There are benefits to dedicated sat navs, but sat nav apps are improving, although opinion on their own apps – some of which we’ve tested – varies. Garmin, Navigon and TomTom’s apps aren’t free, they aren’t cheap, and even then there are still features that you have to pay extra for if you want them. With key features continually being added to the free Google Maps and with other free navigation apps available, sat nav manufacturers shouldn’t get complacent.