/ Motoring, Technology

Sat nav map updates aren’t worth paying for

Sat nav on map

Do you really need to update your sat nav map as regularly as manufacturers would like you to? They often come with a hefty price tag, but do Britain’s roads change enough to make the spend worthwhile?

TomTom charges £19.80 for a year’s worth of map updates, and Garmin charges £50 for a one-off update or £75 for lifetime European map updates.

So it’s definitely worth asking whether these sat nav updates are actually worth the cost.

How often did you replace your paper atlas?

Think about your old paper atlas. I used to keep mine in the car, and only replaced it when it became tatty and pages began to fall out. I never really worried about small changes to the road network. If I came across an unexpected mini-roundabout or toll road, I figured out a way to get to my destination. In any case, this was a very rare event.

On the other hand, TomTom claims ‘on average 15% of roads change every year.’ This sounded like a lot, so we asked TomTom to explain the figure. They told us that the 15% covers the addition of new roads and, interestingly, changes to existing roads, such as new street signage or points of interest (like a new cinema or petrol station).

Do you notice changes to the roads you drive on? Do you think your sat nav is ‘out of date’? Maybe you live in a modern housing development where new roads and roundabouts have been recently added.

If not, I wouldn’t bother paying for a map update. Especially at the prices manufacturers ask for. And don’t forget the time they take to download and install – it’s probably longer than the time you’ll take figuring out the correct route!

Free sat nav software updates

However, it is worth taking advantage of your sat nav’s ‘latest map guarantee’. Most manufacturers will give you the chance to download the latest map free of charge within a few weeks of turning on your sat nav for the first time.

Since most sat navs will be on sale months after they come out of the factory, it’s worth checking if you have the latest map and downloading if not.

But in my view, paying for map updates every year is probably an unnecessary expense.

Win the Which? homepage! If you want to win four Best Buy products as featured on the Which.co.uk homepage on 25 February, including a Garmin sat nav, visit our competition page.

Graham says:
17 July 2012

Anyone connecting their TomTom to a PC and downloading the recommended QuickGPSfix file during the month of June found (as I did) that on the 1st July their device lost the plot! This was due to buggy files which didn’t take into account the ‘Leap Year Second’ which became active that day. This meant that your device was one second out which translates to around 50 metres west of your actual position due to earth rotation. Driving in built up areas was completely impossible.

The shame is that TomTom’s official response was virtually zero and the problem only came to public knowledge on their forum:


This problem affected thousands of users, some of whom went out and bought new devices. I was almost one of those being well away from home for the weekend and needing the device.

Last month I received my three month map update and – hurray – the new Filton ring road is on. End of joy – the’ve now got the M6 Toll wrong which (apart from it not changing for years) now apparently extends north of Birmingham. This means on travelling from Bristol to Manchester it warns me of ‘Toll Charge’. If I select ‘Avoid’ it takes me off the M6 for a junction or two before returning me to the motorway, all to avoid a toll road which isn’t.

Again this latest annoyance is well documented:

Continue turning out rubbish like this Tom Tom and the writing’s on the wall!

Mike says:
23 July 2012

I bought a Navman s50 in 2009 which, I discovered while on holiday, came with an out of date map installed on DVD. I have tried to up date maps but this model is unsupported. They charge £39 for update to UK Map, which I think is a rip-off. Needless to say I would not buy another dedicated Sat Nav; also now have Android phone with Google Maps and Nav which works really well for nothing!

Robert says:
18 August 2012

I have a 4 year old TomTom One 3rd Edition which I purchased for a trip to France. Just before the journey I downloaded the latest map guarantee. Unfortunately, I found that the latest map was still not up to date in many instances in travelling the length of France to Avignon. It would seem that paying for quarterly updates could be a waste of money if road changes are not implemented promptly.
Also, I was very concerned at errors on roads more close to home. One instance was a junction mapped as a roundabout but was not and never had been. It was possible to plan a route where instructions were to turn right where no turn right existed ( being a left turn for oncoming traffic only). Finally, with just the 1gb capacity, the latest map updates are now too large and have been divided into smaller map zones.
TomTom will have to rethink its map pricing policy and to ensure maps are as up to date as possible. It might be more cost effective to buy a new Satnav every 3 years or so.


I agree. The updates are merely a “cash-cow” for the manufacturers. My last car, registered in 2003, had a built-in Satnav, where DVD disc updates were around £150, although I never bought any. I’d travelled all around the mainland UK using the original disc, up until earlier this year (2012, when I changed the car). Very rarely, I would find the satnav mapping out of date, but never once did I have a problem because of it, and a lot of that involved towing a caravan, so no room for a quick u-turn. Just follow the road signs if the road appears different. Invariably, the road will revert back to the “original” map route. In any event, I always study a route beforehand and never rely on the Satnav alone.

derek donaldson says:
28 September 2012

I recently got a p/t job to supplement my income. The job demanded the use of a satnav which i purchased second hand. Unfortunately the maps were about 6 mths out of date and i nearly died when i went to TomTom’s website to get map update prices. They wanted £90+ to update my satnav! Absolutely outrageous. So much so that i have put it up for sale and will buy a new one with updated maps included,even if it costs more i will not be held to ranson my TomTom or anyone else. They are abusing their position and it’s time that Which! etc exposed them for what they are…..Daylight robbers! Be warned,that when you buy a satnav make sure the updated maps are reasonably priced. Otherwise it will be a false economy.

Graham says:
28 September 2012

Just completed a 150 mile trip on roads around the New Forest and Wilts. My map is supposedly up to date yet there were about 30 instances of the speed limits being wrong. One of the reasons for updating my four-year-old map was to correct what I’d noticed was a large number of these errors. Clearly it was a waste of money.

The other TomTom gripe is that the PC interface ‘TomTom Home’ insists on updating itself on a regular basis. Contrary to statement issued a while ago you have no choice over this. You either update – or you can’t use TomTom Home. Twice this update has screwed other things in Windows, and on most occasions it wipes all your Favourites on completion.

Rod Brook says:
7 October 2012

I got a TomTom Start two years ago. I regularly updated it and backed it up using TomTom home.
I have used the device no more than five times in anger.
Thinking that it might be a good idea, last month (September 2012) I bought a years map upgrade at TomTom’s half price rate.
When attempting to download the new map service my device stopped operating. TomTom Home said that no device was connected to my PC and I could not switch my Start off. After disconnecting and waiting for the battery to discharge, I reconnected to TomTom Home and downloaded the update that I was told I needed. I tried to back up many times, but no joy, it told that my device did not support the ‘Back Up’ function.
I am now in communication with TomTom support(?) who have told me in bad English to remove some files from my computer and try again, and that if I want to send my device away for repair it will cost almost as much as a new one. Also, I will almost certainly not be able to reclaim the £22.48 map update fee.
I think I will give Garmin a try when I have calmed down and saved up!

Badboy says:
7 October 2012

Don’t bother as Garmins map providers are USA based and have not got a clue re Europe,UK let alone its constituent countries. My own house has been built on an adopted road for more than 11 years but no satnav has it listed. In can of course be seen clearly on google maps streetview.
The satnav companies want your money but provide little support. get your route from the net.

Drummer says:
6 September 2013

Don’t buy a Garmin ….they are just as bad.