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 Do you think your sat nav is ‘out of date’?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

spaceman says:
13 August 2017

my experience with garmin is a lot better my nuvi 2515 couldnot unlock the maps got garmin to sort it out works fine now they removed corrupt files reinstalled through letting them control my pc at there end in southhampton oh there support line is a Freephone number

Phil Isherwood says:
24 October 2012

The scandal is that some car manufacturers milk their customers for on-board fitted systems. If Garmin can update of £50 why do Nissan charge £125? More annoying is that the map in our new car was already 18 months out of date and when an update was released 5 months later Nissan insist on charging full price to fix sub-standard mapping! There is a lack of competition in map updates for car manufacturer’s fitted systems. Perhaps the EU can insist on removing such monopolies, as not in the consumer’s interest, so that any other company is allowed to supply the sd card maps for our NissanP

Rod Brook says:
5 November 2012

Tomtom and I are now incommunicado. They are not willing to provide any leeway in handling my problem. I must take it or leave it – so I’m leaving it and going back to my AA Road Atlas of UK and Northern Ireland.
At least it is good for swatting flies and providing a table to eat my sandwiches off, which I couldn’t do with my Start (which doesn’t even do that any more)!

Tony Bryant says:
11 January 2013

I am now an ex customer of TomTom. Over the years I have owned four different Sat Navs from them, spending well over a thousand pounds!), and at the beginning I was delighted and impressed. I now use a combination of a good road atlas, consulting Google Earth before departure and/or a map app on my iPhone. Why have I chosen an apparently retrograde step? A combination of reasons:
1) Very poor and slow updating of changes and errors in the database. (It took more than two years to get my home address correct on the map – that was shown more than one kilometer away from its actual location.)
2) Cash Cow attitude to pricing of “updates” that then turn out to have more new errors.
3) Same attitude to the design of the sat navs such that the rechargeable battery, (which eventually dies), can only be replaced at a very high price and requires return to TomTom – ludicrous!
TomTom is not the only bad guy in this market, they seem to all be playing the same game and I suspect will go the way of all poorly run noncompetitive businesses that do not focus their trading on the customer.

Відеозйомка весіль Львів, Київ, Трускавець, Дрогобич says:
24 February 2013

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mike [hull] says:
7 March 2013

I own a toyota avensis 2010 t4 diesel that as a sat nav fitted as standard, nearly 2 years ago we drove through france to Narbonne, then onto Spain. I already had a Garman 3760 sat nav so we used both on our trip. The Garman was better because it gave speed camera locations & instant speed limits on the road i was on. Both got us to our destainations with no problems. I have just purchesed the Garman lifetime map update BUT through Amazon which is £15 app cheaper than buying from Garman because we are doing almost the same trip again this year.

Charlie says:
10 March 2013

I bought a Garmin 2475LT as it had full USA maps as well as Europe, I go to Canada and the USA fairly often. Updating this was a nightmare and I had to contact Garmin three times before I got the update installed. Anyone thinking of getting a 2474LT before going to the USA should get it a few weeks before hand to give themselves time to get it updated. It also takes hours for the map to download.

Pete says:
24 August 2013

I try and update every couple of years. Bear in mind that the councils have billions of pounds to squander so they’ll spend it on unnecessary work, ie building roundabouts where they are not needed or removing roundabouts and replacing them with traffic lights etc. One way streets etc. Rather than repairing pot holes etc. (Another thing they do is put speed bumps on roads next to pot holes that aren’t sorted).

I was recently in Broadstairs and I travelled to Folkstone, the main road between these twons is littered with roundabouts. At one point the SatNav told me to take the 2nd exit off a stoopid little roundabout instead of the first exit (presumably some unnecessary work had been done recently) that took me miles out of my way – I ended up in a big circle.

In conclusion: Map updates are only needed because money is wasted on so called road “improvements”. I wonder how many life saving operations could be carried out instead. Hmmm.

Paul says:
6 November 2013

Any software developers out there, I’ve got an idea for an app – if your satnav is out of date (I neglected to get my one-time update in time from TomTom) how about an app that lists new postcodes registered in last (say) 2 years, and what postcode (or street) is the next one to it? Then you wouldn’t need to worry about getting upgrades!

I don’t understand the economics of satnavs at all. I avoided getting a built-in one for my last car as updates cost £150!! unless you were prepared to buy black market ones from ebay (£30). I bought an 18 month update for my TomTom about 18 months ago on a half price offer at £35. Now I am faced with a one year update for £65 (need to drive in part of Europe I have not been to before). Also, and this is far worse, I need a PC or a Mac in order to update my TomTom and I no longer use one as I can do everything I need using an Android device and a Raspberry Pi for video playing. I think it may be cheaper to use Google Maps even when I factor in buying a European data pass. For me one of the new Android mapping apps seems to be a no brainer, think the days of freestanding satnav are numbered.

john m says:
22 December 2013

Re Garmin 2595 Sat Nav
Does anybody know a good site for micro map for Cyprus. Have been quoted £80 by Garmin which seems too expensive for stand alone..

As stated above don’t need a windows PC except to update TomTom the moment the EU regulate European data charges Google maps is the way to go

Nigel Preece says:
22 February 2014

In 2011 I bought a new Toyota Yaris with a Tom Tom TNS410 on board unit installed. In 2014 the screen unit was stolen (inadvertantly left the car unlocked – my fault !) Contacted Tom Tom for replacement cost – they advised that I had to contact my local Toyota supplier who quoted a price of 1,000/ – POUNDS FOR A REPLACEMENT SCREEN UNIT ! …..needless to say I went out and bought a stand alone Garmin.

Mac says:
17 April 2014

I agree with many of these comments, I have aTom Tom & it was not very good in France, leading us at one point up a dirt road where my motorhome was nearly stuck as it was almost impossible to turn round! And the price of their uploads is outrageous!