How Garmin Updates Work

Benefits of Garmin Updates

You'll never miss a Starbucks with the latest Garmin map update.
Associated Press/Paul Sakuma

Perhaps the work and cost associated with Garmin updates seems a bit ridiculous to you. After all, didn't you already buy the device so you wouldn't get lost? Shouldn't it be accurate for more than a few years? To answer that question, it's worth reviewing how your Garmin works. When the Garmin receives satellite signals about your location, it's only provided with your global positioning, not where you are in relation to a street grid. To the GPS satellites, it's irrelevant whether you're traveling down a one-way street; you're merely a speck moving in relation to your last known position.

To maximize the directional feature of a Garmin, however, you'll need an accurate map. Many things serve to make maps obsolete in a short period of time. The names of streets may change. Highway exits could close to accommodate roadway construction. New traffic laws may permit actions such as left turns during peak travel times. Gas stations, ATMs and fast food chains may open at a new location, while other restaurants, hotels and shops are forced to close. If you really do want to use your GPS to find the nearest Italian restaurant and the quickest way to get there, then Garmin map updates are essential.


It's easy to imagine the consequences of an out-of-date Garmin: You're driving around, looking for that left-hand turn you're supposed to make, only to find out that an entire city block has been converted to a parking garage. Even if you're not in a hurry, that would be frustrating, but think of the tension if you're trying to make a doctor's appointment or job interview. Imagine the time and gas you'd waste during a vacation if the friendly electronic voice emanating from your Garmin couldn't locate your hotel.

If you use a Garmin only sporadically, then it's possible that you don't need every single map update. But if you rely on your Garmin to get you around, particularly in unfamiliar locales, then regular map updates ensure that you're on the right path. After all, you wouldn't send visitors out to explore your hometown with a map from the 1850s; with the amount of construction that happens every day, driving with an out-of-date Garmin would be much the same.

For more on GPS and other cool car gadgets, see the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Ellison, Craig. "Garmin Promises Lifetime Map Updates." PC Magazine. Jan. 7, 2009. (Feb. 2, 2009),2817,2337958,00.asp
  • Garmin Web site. (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • "How to Install Garmin's Map Update 2009: A Step-by-Step Guide." GPS Magazine. May 19, 2008. (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • Navteq Web site. (Feb. 2, 2009)
  • Peters, Jeremy W. "Marching Digital Maps to America's Ever-Changing Roads." New York Times. July 9, 2006. (Feb. 2, 2009)