Is it more affordable to have a portable GPS system in your car or have the dealer install one?

Is a portable navigation system the right choice for you? See more pictures of car gadgets.
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When was the last time you asked for directions? Do you even keep a map in your car? Navigation systems which were once reserved for airplanes and cruise ships are now commonplace in the cars we drive everyday. Even budget cars offer optional (and sometimes standard) factory navigation systems to their buyers. Drivers can also choose from portable navigation systems, turn-by-turn directions from services like OnStar or they may even be able to get directions from their mobile phone. Suddenly, logging onto MapQuest for directions on your home computer doesn't seem so high-tech anymore.

But with all of the options available to drivers, choosing a navigation system can be difficult. While it may be convenient to get directions from a cell phone, most mobile phones can't give audible directions in real time. That means drivers have to read and remember the directions. The safest option for most drivers is to choose a real-time GPS navigation system -- a device that uses the global positioning system to determine where you are and figure out where you need to go. Because the system constantly tracks the vehicle's location, directions are given turn-by-turn, through a speaker system, which allows the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road ahead and their mind focused on driving.


­But, even choosing a GPS can be confusing. When it comes to cars, there are three main GPS navigation system options. You can opt for a factory-installed system on a new car, a dealer-installed system on a new or used vehicle or get a portable device that requires little or no installation.

On the pages ahead, we'll look at which GPS navigation system is the most affordable, and which one makes the most sense for you.


Factory and Dealer GPS Systems

A factory-installed navigation system means that the system is installed as original equipment on the vehicle -- just like a radio or seatbelts. A lot of consumers like this option because it means the system fits seamlessly into the vehicle. It's part of the dashboard and can be controlled without any extra remote controls of add-on switches. But these systems aren't perfect. Since the systems are installed at the factory, and oftentimes the maps are stored on CDs or DVDs, the maps tend to be out of date. Of course, some manufacturers do send customers updated maps. Another point to consider is the high cost of a factory-installed system. They can add anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 to the price of a new vehicle, and remember, you'll only get the newest system and capabilities if you buy a new car. As a final point, these systems usually can't be moved from car-to-car, which means if you have two vehicles, you'll only have a navigation system in one.

Dealer-installed navigation systems use equipment from the auto maker, but installation is handled at the dealership instead of at the factory. The cost depends on the system you select and the cost of labor at the dealership, but generally drivers can expect it to cost a little less than a factory-installed system. It has the same drawbacks as a factory-installed system, as well as a few others. Because these GPS systems are not original equipment, the components may not fit as nicely into the dash as a factory system might. Also, while dealers will likely offer a warranty for their work, having the system installed may void other warranties on the car. It's always a good idea to do a little research on what it would mean for your vehicle's warranty.


Keep reading to see what portable GPS systems have to offer and which system makes the most sense for you.

Portable GPS Systems

Portable GPS systems are the most affordable of the three options, but they don't tend to offer some of the cool features a factory system does, like Automatic Crash Response or Vehicle Diagnostics. Most don't look as nice, either. Since they're portable, they aren't a built-in part of the car's dash. Portable GPS units usually stick to the windshield or dash using a suction cup, or some other similar method. The systems are powered from the car's lighter or power outlet, so the cord normally runs down the dash as well. Portable systems are also at high risk for theft, and they also tend to have smaller displays than factory options. However, these systems cost significantly less than a factory- or dealer-installed system. Some sell for as little as $100 and since they're portable, there are no installation costs either. An added plus to owning a portable system is that, well, it's portable. You can easily move it from car to car.

If affordability is all you care about, then a portable GPS system is the best choice for you. These types of GPS systems are carried at all major electronic stores and are easy to shop for online. However, if you are in the market for a new car and want a clean dash, a large display and lots of high-tech extras, you may be better off with a factory-installed system. Because new car sales have been soft recently, many dealers are offering these systems as no-cost options to buyers, and many drivers like the ability to use the existing controls in the car to run the system, as well as the decreased risk of theft.


When deciding between a portable-, factory- or dealer-installed system, keep in mind that although the factory and dealer systems work and look great, they do little to enhance the resale value of the car. That's because by the time you sell the car, the system will likely be outdated. Negotiate hard for a steep discount if you're leasing the car or planning to keep your new vehicle for only a few years. That way, you won't have to deal with an out-of-date system. If you are planning to keep the car long term, a portable GPS is probably your best bet.­

You can learn more about automotive electronics and other related topics on the next page.


Frequently Answered Questions

Can you have a GPS on your dashboard?
A GPS can be mounted on a dashboard if there is a suitable place to put it and if the driver can see it while driving.
How much does it cost to add navigation to a car?
Generally, the cost ranges from $150 to $450.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Cunningham, Wayne. "Best 5 tech cars." CNET Reviews. Dec. 17, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2009)
  • Delany, John R. "GPS Buying Guide." CNET Reviews. (Jan. 27, 2009)
  • Newman, Rick. "Eight New-Car Features You Don't Need." U.S. News and World Report. April 18, 2007. (Jan. 27, 2009)
  • U.S. News Rankings and Reviews. "Ford Develops OnStar Competitor." Sept. 3, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2009)