/ 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 Do you think your sat nav is ‘out of date’?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.

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I am entirely with you on this one.

With TomTom owning Teleatlas (map provider) this is the only way to ensure that their revenue streams are protected. Nokia own Navteq, yet give out the maps and nav software free with their phones.

For me, I have a good sense of direction, so if a road is closed, or there is a diversion, I can pull over, and replot a route around it.
With TomTom, they are based in the Netherlands (I worked there) and streets are closed frequently to repave, improve drainage etc. There are also very few rat runs or diversions and so having this info in Holland, is well received. In the UK though, this is less relevant as we can use the hills to get our bearings and there are many more diversion options

I will continue to use my old Garmin as it does a job. Occasionally it throws a wobbly, but if I am in any doubt, I get my girlfriend to check on google navigation that I have on my HTC Desire, or I use that exclusively.

I will not pay that price for map updates, it just isn’t worth it. I wonder how this would work where the TomToms are built into cars ie Renault. Do they get map updates for free? or does having a Renault TomTom automatically update the map to ensure another constant stream of revenue?

Updates for integrated SatNavs in cars have to be purchased. Cars at the luxury end of the market are unbelievably expensive – far exceeding the cost of buying a new top of the range Tom Tom or Garmin every year of the car’s life.

We have the Vauxhall factory fit Satnav in both our cars. I’m told that a new CD for them is expensive so we have never replaced them.
The version on the older of our cars does have some road alterations missing – it still insists there is a roundabout at Auchenkilns – and does not show very new housing schemes etc. However, we have never really found it to be a problem. I understand that with housing schemes it can sometimes be a few years before they are likely to be included on any updates anyway as it depends on when the builders ‘hand’ the roads over to the Council.
So I guess I would say – ‘No’ it’s not worth paying out large sums for updates!

Fat Sam, Glos says:
25 February 2011

I haven’t paid for any updates for about 2 years on my TomTom but I probably will when it becomes annoying such as if a whole host of major new roads have been built, which, because of recent cuts, is unlikely. So far it isn’t annoying as there’s enough signage around the odd new road. Then there’s always Google Maps (or TomTom’s own website) on a smartphone if you’re really stuck. Also helps if you possess common sense and a sense of direction. I guess these updates are aimed at the morons of the gene pool who follow their satnav directions into lakes, etc.

In terms of cartography, however, you can’t beat a proper map/atlas to provide that sense of where you are.

John Barker says:
1 March 2011

This is all very well, but if you’re navigationally inept like me (on foot or in the car), you need all the (accurate) help that you can get, especially if you’re a woman on your own (I’m not!) trying to find an unfamiliar location in the dark. I bought the Garmin lifetime updates for my 1490T and the only issue I have is the amount of time (record: 14 hours) that it takes to complete an update.

I’m seriously considering updating the map on my tomtom. I use it a lot for my work and it is a much better navigation device than my Desire HD (at least so far). I’m amazed how many new roundabouts/junctions etc. there are that aren’t on the mapping, and it can get distracting. I want my nav device to get things right all the time or it becomes a problem rather than a solution.
Having said that, I won’t be the one footing the bill…

DaveSuffolk says:
1 March 2011

Worth noting that Tomtom won’t allow you to buy their latest map on it’s own, you have to have the current map before you qualify for the next update. They offer to let you have this at a discount, but in my case to buy the one year subscription (4 updates a year) would have cost over £60 in total and they wouldn’t sell the map any other way. I ended up buying a new satnav which gave me other improvements too and only cost £25 more. It’s a rip-off in my opinion.

Derek Walker says:
1 March 2011

I agree. If you tot up the amount not spent on latest maps in two years or so you can afford a new satnav, latest tech and up to date maps. Also if your old satnav does fail not only will you have paid for the maps but also the replacement of the device. Satnavs are an aid to navigation not replacement for basic common sense.

Definitely – see the people who drive into lakes “because their satnav told them to” 🙂

davesuffolk says:
17 March 2012

when getting sat nav tom tom map upgrades are you saying you cannot upgrade an much older map to the latest,meaning you have to ahve already installed the very latest upgrade before the next upgarde due out?do tom tom do a life upgarde fora set price?please lilly.

DaveSuffolk says:
17 March 2012

Lilly you seem to have put my screen name on your post. Anyway, regarding the maps, yes, that was my experience that I could not buy the newest maps without upgrading to the current ones first, so in effect I would have paid twice (albeit TomTom were offering a discount on the current maps so in total it was ‘only’ £60. Don’t know about the lifetime upgrade, but if it’s more than half the cost of a new Satnav I wouldn’t buy it.

xanadutheblue says:
15 January 2015

This is interesting… I bought a Tomtom XXL from Tesco because I got a hefty £45 on special offer off the standard price, and it has the feature I really wanted – a warning about unintentionally breaking a speed limit. (I’ve never been fined, but I figured it was just a matter of time…)

I can’t remember why I never got round to downloading the latest map during the 3 months Tomtom allows before it charges you a hefty fee. When I think about it, I’m annoyed with myself, but in practise, what difference does it really make to a rural motorist like me? The local roads don’t change, and aren’t likely to. I enjoy map reading and always have the appropriate OS map with me, but I buy these maps in car boot sales… these maps don’t change much. If I’m going farther afield, on main roads, not country lanes, the latest road atlas only costs £2. I keep the update in the car, and the replaced atlas in the house for planning journeys in advance – I can’t remember getting lost because I planned a journey with the older atlas…

In spite of my paper map-reading, at times I do rely on the sat nav for navigating away from home. I can’t recollect getting lost, but I do remember one surreal experience – the sat nav told me I was driving to Newark over a series of fields (I could see I was on a brand new road) and suggested turning left onto each minor road that crossed it – a flying leap onto a bridge!

This was a few years ago, but the high price has never tempted me to update the Tomtom maps because of my initial mistake. I’m relieved to discover they are not worth the money before I part with it!

BTW, I did get a speed camera warning, and check the speedo to realise I was doing 33 mph in a 30mph limit, so I slowed down in time and the Tomtom has justified itself! 🙂

Sorry to voice a different view but as an ex-airforce pilot I like to have the latest info. My Garmin nuvi 1310T was greatly confused while going past Bedford towards the M1 at Christmas time because the road had been improved and she(!) thought I was right off track! The lifetime update was offered ten days ago when I connected the Sat Nav to the website and the update took only a few minutes to complete. ( I am on Virgin Media Broadband).
Lots of things change, speed limits, major roundabouts and it’s nice not to have arguements with the other half – we can blame either the Sat nav or the operator or the driver.
Thefee for a life time update service is £74.99 which is not bad considering the cost of a tank full of diesel is over £60 and you have used that up in a few hundred miles. Notwithstanding the above I believe that I did contact Which with a view to putting update prices in their reviews. The cost of updating my Garmin I3 Pilot was one factor which prompted me to upgrade to the 1310T obtainable only from Currys. The T bit worked well the other night when the M1wasblocked near the junction with the M18. Pity it was dark as we travelled along roads we had not used since the A1 and M1 were built.

So long live Sat nav and keep the updates coming however minor they seem to be.

I have finally succumbed and updated my Tom Tom Go300 map for £40.00. It sounds a lot but it is the first update in eight years. I decided on the update when it started telling me to take the next right on the A1(M) and then could not navigate the junction with the M62. This was due to a new section of road. New to me and my TomTom that is. This works out a £5.00 a year.

danant says:
1 March 2011

I initially paid for TomTom map updates for 2010 but have this year decided not to pay for any more as they are completely unreliable.
I am a taxi driver and therefore when going to areas I don’t know very well a sat nav can frequently be very useful in finding roads you don’t know, however most of those locally to me are on the new housing estates (when i say new I mean upto 6 years old) yet most of these are still not on the latest update I got in Q3 last year!! Also when we travel to other areas of the country that we know well we are also finding many mini-roundabouts not on the TomTom but on the road and also roundabouts on the TomTom but not on the roads anymore, again some of these changes to the road layout happened upto 4 or 5 years ago!
When I took this issue up with TomTom they fobbed me off with details of quality checks they have to carry out before releasing updates (do these really take years!!) and told me to update my TomTom myself with changes as I drive along – good safety advice there!!!

Chilternphil says:
1 March 2011

I took the plunge and updated Garmin maps because I had experienced a number of “off road” presentations i.e. I’m on tarmac but the Gamin thinks I’m crossing fields. Norfolk, A1 in Yorkshire, M1- A6 in Bedforshire, M4 J12 for example. So there are some roads that change radically; and if something is offering me a route, and as it has a decent problem avoidance system using the RDS, then it is worth having the new mapping to give it and me the best chance. Yes £75 is, in some sense, a lot for lifetime mapping (especially at my age) as I was brought up on, and enjoy owning maps as well. But have you seen how little bruising lotion you can buy for £75 when you argue with your partner about where you should be instead of are?

Also in Buckinghamshire, the pothole capital of some apparent third world country, the council spends its road budget on changing the speed limits on every road it can; often several times per road. So I am hopeful that the Garmin will try and keep up to date with the changes; so far they are at least an update behind and have never understood that the A404 goes under the A4 despite trying to tell them.

I had a Garmin. They charged the same price for map updates for the UK only as they did for the whole of Europe. But at least they’re cheaper on Amazon than buying direct. Anyway. I was having real problems getting traffic data, and they had me reset my sat nav several times, and replaced it and the cable six times!! But now I find out that they only supply traffic data on ‘motorways and major A routes’ – so, living in central London, there was no point in buying the traffic cable in the first place!

terry says:
2 March 2011

i bought updates for life for my garmin nuve 310 all ok but not transfurable if you buy a later/larger sat nav so only for the life of my sat nav not for my lifetime!!!

I might be wrong, but I seem to recall that the cost of TomTom’s update service is about the same as buying a new map every three years or so. So, assuming you don’t want your map to be years out of date, you might as well pay for the update service.

However, I still find junctions that, say, changed from crossroads to roundabouts years ago still showing as crossroads. If you’re paying for updates, you do expect them to be up to date.

I disagree. Councils change one-ways systems and close roads whenever they feel inclined to screw up the traffic flow even more than it is now. Junctions are constantly changed at traffic planners’ will. And when major road works are planned, the Sat Nav updates will find a better route for the duration of the disruption.

Users provide feedback for errors with locations so there are constant updates, even though some may be trivial.

Either you buy a SatNav to find the best routes or you buy a map and use the Internet to find out about road works before you set off.

I guess that you are probably still using your dad’s 1955 AA handbook for navigation?

If you are concerned about the cost of updates, get Google Maps on an Android device and use it for free.

Mike says:
3 March 2011

I tend to agree with the comments that updating maps every year is probably a waste of money unless of course you cover vast swathes of unknown parts of the country every week in which case there is probably some merit in owning the latest maps. I have on occasions found that where some roads have been changed e.g. from an A road to a B road, together with junctions / road layouts, that it can become somewhat confusing as the satnav will appear to be taking you down a minor road rather than the major one you were expecting. Also changes to one way systems are not uncommon!

Steve says:
5 March 2011

I am just coming to the end of an offer of 6 map updates for the price of 4 from TomTom and have to say that I would not do it again.
Apart from the fact that when roads do change it is not that difficult to get back on track I have found that the so called updates are not that up to date. We spent 3 weeks on mainland Europe last Sept and drove approximately 3,000 miles and I lost count of the number of occasions when my Satnav did not have a new roundabout or new road on it.
I will in future wait a few years before updating or until the unit expires and I have to replace it.

I don’t use TomTom sat nav much, so I expect to replace it rather than update it when necessary. It still removes the stress of driving and getting lost on unfamiliar roads and I don’t have to glance at a map when I should be concentrating on driving safely. My sat nav seems obsessed with taking me through citty centres, so I would happily pay for an upgrade for a more intelligent solution.

What was really disappointing was that additional information (e.g addresses of doctors) and speed cameras was years out of date when I bough my sat nav.

fat sam says:
5 March 2011

get a TomTom with IQ Routes. It calculates the fastest route (if that’s an option you want) based on the time of day and day of week. It gets this from data it receives from TomTom Live users and transmitters placed on the vehicles of several organisations with large fleets of vehicles (such as recovery vehicles and travel companies)

Thanks. That was an expensive option when I bought my sat nav but I can see the advantage.

just wondering says:
20 May 2011

I have lived in my house for 2.5 yrs now and my road STILL doesn’t appear on ANY satnav except for navfree which I have on my iphone .. very surprised Garmin or Tomtom or even Google earth haven’t updated to include the new development yet unless they are waiting until it is fully finished which could be another 2 years yet! Ridiculous!