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 Do you think your sat nav is ‘out of date’?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


It’s not only the latest maps that are out of date. I constantly update my Tomtom speed camera on Tomtom Home yet it still thinks there is a 50 mph speed limit on the A1m near Weatherby and the M1 Nottingham due to roadworks that finished years ago.

Without doubt a waste of money

You can buy the Garmin life time updates for around £55 on Amazon, that’s four updates a year.

I’m just updating my 205WT to a 2390 since I want better traffic and some new features. I’ll grab the free map update that comes with the unit but will wait and see about subscribing. My old unit has started to get annoying on some roads especially new builds (A34/M4 at Newbury) but mostly it’s OK.

Maya says:
13 October 2011

We found the Garmin sat nav we bought last year wasn’t effective in Liverpool as there is so much regeneration going on that constant updating is essential. So I do recommend the lifetime updates especially in cities.

Peter says:
10 November 2011

It might have been £19.80 in February this year but it’s now £44.95. Obviously the news of the economic conditions in Europe haven’t reached planet TomTom yet. This is half the price of an XL at Agros including a free map update.

Could anybody tell me if TomTom Mapshare when down loaded via Home modifies your device maps? And if so, why do you need to buy maps from TomTom when the infomation has been given to them for free?

My house clearly shows on Googlemaps. It was built more than 10 years ago and the road is adopted. Garmin with the latest map still thinks I am in a field.
Both still do not show the motorway link between M74 and M8 south of the river in Glasgow completed at least 6 months ago.
Come on Which, please start being a bit more critical when reviewing these devices and their maps as the companies are conning us all.
The world is not just urban London and the South East

John Lillington says:
19 November 2011

Does anyone else have a so-called “top of the range” built-in SatNav from Renault. I bought my Renault Grand Espace almost two years ago and opted for the most expensive version since it also combined it with a high-spec audio system. The latter is great but the SatNav is pretty disappointing. It was already at least a year out of date when I got it (roads and roundabouts in existence for over a year but not shown) and the greatest failing was the inability to use post codes (probably because French post codes are very general, a whole town in many cases). Frequent messages such as “Incident in 20 Km” rarely turn out to actually exist whereas incidents that did exist were not flagged up.

The cost to update to the latest disc version is around £250 (!!) which, given the existing shortcomings is not an attractive offer. I shall not be updating any time soon and will be a lot more cautious about buying built-in SatNavs in future.

John Marsh says:
22 November 2011

I was given a Garmin for Christmas and duly registered product for guarantee purposes, being just a casual user it was not used until the summer when i was then refused the free map update,i was told by Garmin that the free map update needed to be installed within 3 months of registering which i think is petty.
Sat Navs could be stuck on a shelf for whatever period and its maps be out of date when sold and lets be honest as long as you have the one free update what difference does it make when you download it. Small minded pettiness Garmin.

David Coles says:
25 November 2011

I have a Toyota Avensis with the built in Satnav and I’m generally satisfied with the quality of the navigation support provided. It is most use on holiday in France and I am one who is keen to get updates so that the map is accurate. However, I paid £150 for the official update discs last year and then found that there were three places where I came across “new” roads in two weeks! These road changes were clearly over a year old but had still not been included in the latest maps. Given that Toyota are clearly paying for access to the map data for their new cars how can they justify charging so much for the map updates? There are updates advertised on sites like E-Bay that I suspect are not officially produced copies of the Map DVDs but the lower price is clearly tempting given the poor value of the official updates.
On the topic of the traffic updates (via TMC in the Toyota) we have found them to be generally useful and up to date in France, though most of them on the motorway refer to minor issues involving work at the side of the road that does not cause any traffic problems.

andrew says:
6 January 2012

I use a tom-tom one 3rd edition for work every day. It is full of bug. I can get a route I know well to fastest or shortest and it will still take me the same way? The way the local counsel want you to go. Not the fastest or shortest way. I can save 5 miles on a 25 miles trip as I know the roads? Then there are some parts of the UK that are 10 years old and not on my map at all. Other that changed 10 years and still have the old roads on them. £30 odd a year for a map updates try £5 if it was up to date and I would pay. My dad got a new tom tom for xmass yep still missing lots roads that have been there for 10 year. So I save my money and use my head.

Well as I pickup and deliver cars all over Wales I need an up todate mapping on my Tom Tom 550 Go, You pay good money for a service that is not all its cracked up to be, I complaind to (Teleatlas) four times over two years about round abouts that where not their and ones that where and not yet built giveing them map Refs but they dont take any notice, if you dont pay for the updates and then you do you have to pay for backdated maps so they have you by the short and curlys,

Brook says:
23 January 2012

If you drive in N/W Europe – definitely update!
Two and half year old Tom Tom maps caused us a 45 minute detour on the outskirts of Antwerp which (in combination with a subsequent accident tail-back) made us miss a Channel Tunnel slot in August – 6 hour wait for the next one!
Where we live in NW Germany I am forever seeing signs saying the opposite of the Sat Nav and everytime the Sat Nav is wrong. The design of the ‘clover-leaf’ morotway junctions means exits literally seem to ‘swap sides’ and you can be forced an exit the wrong way quite regulalry.
I do a lot of driving alone and in strange places – upto date nav has become an essential for me – having to go several km to pull off autbahn to consult map is v boring!
But who offers it most cost-effectively???

I recently purchased the latest maps for my TomTom, as the ones on my device were 3 or so years old and missing various roads around Glasgow.

I was utterly appalled at what TomTom call the ‘latest’ maps. The number of errors was astounding.

The TomTom tried to take me along one road in Glasgow city centre that cars haven’t been allowed along for at least 8 years. (Interestingly I’ve seen the police on this road a number of times handing out tickets to cars that do try and use it!)

The best bit was approaching the Squinty bridge coming from the SECC. The TomTom didn’t take me over the bridge, but instead told me to go all the way around the roundabout doubling back on myself, then take a right turn to go over the bridge. This turn is illegal, and as anyone who knows the area will tell you, is actually physically impossible without either driving over a segment of pavement or driving down the wrong side of the road. The best bit: It has never, ever, been possible to turn right there. So much for these ‘quality checks’ then.

However, the icing on the cake: I submitted a report to TomTom’s map sharing service that the map was incorrect here and that it was in fact possible to turn left. The change was rejected by their mapping team, with no explanation.

In the end, I reported over 10 major errors just in a small area of Glasgow – ranging through pieces of road that were completely missing, roads that had been blocked up for 4+ years but the TomTom still showed as passable to streets marked as one way that weren’t one way.

After some contact with TomTom, they admitted they actually knew about a lot of errors in the maps in Glasgow that one of their customer support staff had documented for them, but that their mapping teams had for the most part not actioned these. I was given a full refund.

I updated my Garmin Nuvi 250 again this week having allowed a few months for them to get the new M74 and M80 changes sorted out but no, still no signs of these key links. Makes me wonder why I bothered paying for an update package. I think I’ll be trying for a refund too

Thanks to all here for these marvellous posts; I needed a good laugh on this dank & dismal morning.

I cannot believe how dependent drivers have become on these devices, especially as some drivers seem to obey the instructions no matter how inane…’Drive into the river says’ the Dalek in your car, Ok says you, then when fished out; ‘it woz the satnav made me do it guvner’.

Now you have been hooked, why pay for unnecessary upgrades, its not as if we live in a vast country….We have some of the best road signage on the planet, and whilst we can delay our journeys by headless meandering, it is very difficult to get truly lost in the UK.

I personally last used one a many years ago, driving a BMW flagship with all the latest tech on board, it told me to do a U turn on the M25. I saw the writing on the wall then.
All you need is a good map, a radio to listen to local traffic news, and the ability to use your brain. This system has worked well for decades, and is still the best way. [see the 4th paragraph of this article].
Plot your route on the map, plot a back up route..then drive listening to local stations as you pass through.

Satnavs will direct you left, right, or forward, but you have no idea where you are or where you are going, you get hypnotised by the voice, stop thinking and obey robotically. I often wonder what would happen if after half an hour of listening to ‘turn right, turn left’ the satnav said ‘ram the car in front’ how many people would do it automatically.

I followed a friend once, he was using his satnav, our journey there was about 150 miles, he followed me back on my mapped route 80miles.

Corofin says:
29 April 2012

Just spent £65 on updating my 3 year old TomTom device to find that the new ring road over Filton airfield, Bristol – which has been there a year and is clearly shown on Google and Bing maps – is missing, as are all the new roads in that area. Complete waste of money.

Regarding TomTom’s choice of routes I find setting my max speed to 55 mph makes it chose more sensible routes. Leaving it at 70 mph results in its obsessive use of motorways. When I return to Bristol from the north it insists on routing me down the M4 and M32 rather than the A38 to save one minute. It adds eight miles to the journey.

A 55 mph setting is also realistic. Leaving Bristol for Manchester gives an original ETA which is very close on arrival. You just cannot do 70mph average on the M5 and M6 (unless it’s 3am).

I have just paid £80.97 for a new TomTom, which is not much more than the cost of your upgrade, Corofin. I remembered the advice of Fat Sam, given over a year ago (see above) and got one with IQ Routes.

After installing the free upgrade maps they are still out of date and my old TomTom is more accurate about the positions of local speed cameras.

petethemet says:
20 May 2012

After encountering a number of road changes recently (especially approaching the Dartford Crossing) I decided that it would be a good idea to purchase a new UK & ROI map for my five year old GO510 TomTom. It has been an invaluable device for several years but I was deeply disappointed by the dismal help offered by their Customer Support. My efforts to download and install the map were repeatedly unsuccessful and their advice required a level of computer skills beyond my own basic knowledge. Had I known this before I started I would have hesitated to attempt the update. I am now faced with trying to obtain a refund from TomTom or my credit card provider. No one will compensate me for the hours spent trying to complete this task, however.

Ian Slade says:
21 May 2012

I entirely agree about upgrades being a waste of money. I finally bought a new France map for my TomTom when I got sick of being sent down roads that were covered over years ago. Trying to navigate through city centres like Rennes is also a nightmare as it was forever telling me to turn down one way streets the wrong way as well as to take turnings that had been built on at least 8 years ago!. After spending around £40 on a new map I found that is was exactly the same here in Brittany as the previous one supplied with the unit. What a con!

Phil Isherwood says:
29 May 2012

I bought a new Nissan Juke in March with the integrated SatNav… a good system but I was apalled to find the map base on the sd card supplied dates back to Mid 2010 – Nissan Customer Service say this is the latest and can make no statement as to how soon a new map base will be available – and the cost will be £104+vat!. Amazing! Supply an outdated product and charge to fix it!

David W says:
11 June 2012

Never mind the updated info re roads, roundabouts, junctions etc. My onboard Satnav in the Insignia has the really annoying habit of being rather user unfriendly; I’d rather the mfr’s do some work on making the system more intelligent. Now I’m not an idiot about to drive into a river, but when my machine is set to ‘fastest’ route rather than shortest or most economical, why oh why did it decide that redirecting me from the small section of A14 N’bound that was closed over to the M1 at Milton Keynes before letting us go any further north instead of a shorter redirection was what we’d need. It was dark and we didn’t know the area so we had to rely on the satnav, but it made a 2 and a half hour journey into a 4 and a half hour journey, and almost doubled the mileage. That’s not intelligent, but without the paper map to refer to at the time, we didn’t know what else we could do.