GPS navigation systems for cars are becoming quite popular, and there are some basic questions that prospective buyers are asking. One is, should I buy a factory-installed GPS, or an add-on (also known as aftermarket or OEM) unit? Let's look at the arguments for and against each approach:
Factory installed GPS
- A better appearance, as units are built into the dash or located on the instrument panel.
- Theft is generally not an issue (unless they take the whole car!).
- The cost is typically considerably more than an aftermarket unit.
- Getting updated maps may be difficult and expensive.
- Fewer options are available.
- Units cannot be moved from one vehicle to another.
- More choices in terms of features. GPS receivers can be found with integrated MP3 players, iPod support, live traffic reports, live weather reports, satellite radio, and support for hands-free cellphone use. Newer units sporting the SiRFstar III chipset have improved reception.
- The units can be moved to another vehicle. I love the fact that I can fly somewhere and then pop my GPS into a rental car.
- Map updates can be readily acquired and generally cost less than those for factory-installed units.
- Cost is typically less than that of factory installed units, unless you purchase a very high-end system.
- Most companies that primarily make GPS units have been doing this for years. As a result, they have been able to fine-tune the user interface, typically resulting in easy to use, intuitive controls.
- Mounting choices are limited (and the unit must be outside the airbag deployment zone).
- Theft is a serious issue. Even if you take the GPS down, a mounting bracket left on the windshield is a dead give away.
I'm sure that my list of pros and cons is not complete. I haven't seen that many in-dash systems in operation, but I've heard other negative reports. Apparently some factory-installed systems cannot be operated while the vehicle is moving -- a good safety feature perhaps, but not so great if a passenger is operating the GPS! Perhaps this is true of older systems only.
My suggestion? Buy an aftermarket unit, unless you are seriously concerned about theft. Even then, you can always pull down the mount too. And if you do buy a factory-installed unit, test-drive it and find out if map updates are available and how much they cost. It's also worth asking how old the factory installed maps are.
UPDATE: Check out our automotive GPS recommendations
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