Do I Really Need GPS Navigation?

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Question: “Do I really need GPS navigation in my car?”

I’ve set some money aside in my budget for a new car radio, but one feature I’m really stuck on is GPS. Some people talk about it like it’s absolutely necessary, but I’m not sure I really see the point. I know the area I live in really well, and I don’t venture out of my comfort zone very often, so the huge sticker price just doesn’t seem worth it. Convince me that I actually need GPS in my car.


Over the course of the last decade, in-car navigation has slowly matured from an expensive (and often inaccurate) novelty into an indispensable tool that grows more and more ubiquitous each day. In-car navigation has never been more accessible, and gaining access to it doesn’t actually have to cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, it’s not only available via expensive head units, you can also find standalone devices that are very reasonably priced, and there are a handful of cell phone apps that can get the job done for a fraction of the cost.

Who Needs GPS Navigation?

I suppose that the most important question here really boils down to, “who needs a GPS navigation system in their car?” Although I’m not familiar with your particular situation, I can outline some of the reasons that people in general might need GPS, which should help you (and any other fence-sitters) make an informed choice.

Off the top of my head, here are some of the top reasons you might enjoy having access to satellite navigation in your car:

  1. You don’t like getting lost.
  2. Getting stuck in traffic sucks.
  3. Time is money (and so is gas), so finding the quickest route is important.

Never Say “I’m Lost” Again

If you really know your hometown (and immediate environs) so well that you never have to look up an address, then getting lost probably isn’t an issue.

There are also a ton of mapping and route-planning resources available on the internet, so you can always look up a tricky or confusing address before you hit the road. However, a good, updated GPS navigation device means never having to say, “I’m lost” again, and that’s pretty valuable.

Who Needs Traffic on the Tens?

Traffic data isn’t a standard feature that’s found in every single GPS navigation device, but it is a feature that can make your commute a whole lot less frustrating. It essentially overlays real-time traffic data on the GPS display, which can allow you to avoid traffic jams before you ever get stuck in them. Some GPS devices can automatically avoid bad traffic via intelligent route-planning that’s designed to find the shortest travel time instead of the shortest physical route.

The Importance of Efficiency and Time

Depending on your priorities, you may value efficiency more than time, or the other way around, but GPS navigation can help you in either case. The main issue is that there are typically a number of different ways to get from point A to point B, and each route has its own unique characteristics. One thing that every GPS system can do is find the shortest path, which can save you a lot of time in aggregate (especially when coupled with integrated traffic data.)

However, some GPS navigation systems provide other options. For instance, systems like Ford’s Eco-Route can take factors like traffic, terrain, and even stop signs and traffic likes into account when planning a route. Rather than finding the shortest or quickest way to get to point B from point A, these systems find the most efficient path. According to Ford, it’s possible to see a 15 percent increase in efficiency (i.e. gas mileage) when using Eco-Route over the long term.

GPS Navigation Options

If you’re interested in a satellite navigation system, but the high price tag is turning you off, then it’s important to note that there are three main ways to get GPS navigation in any car:

  • Navigation head units
  • Standalone GPS devices
  • Cellphone apps

Navigation head units tend to be pretty expensive. So while that is an option if you’re planning on upgrading anyway, and you happen to find one you like, it’s far from the only option. Standalone GPS devices have come down a lot in price over the course of the last decade, and they’ve gotten to the point where you might even save enough money in gas in the first year to pay for a mid-priced unit. They aren’t as clean or integrated as nav radios (or OEM infotainment systems), but they do come with the added benefit of portability, which means you can move them from one car to another—or even use them outside of a car altogether.

The cheapest, easiest way to get satellite navigation in a car is probably always going to be a cellphone app. If you have a modern iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, or Blackberry, there’s a pretty good chance that it has a built-in GPS radio, which means you’re already carrying around all the hardware you need. All you have to do is add an inexpensive cellphone GPS app that can take advantage of that hardware, and you’re good to go.

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