Should I buy a built-in navigation system or a portable unit?

Is it better to purchase a vehicle with a built-in navigation system, or purchase a GPS unit like a Garmin?

Lauren, Richmond

If you simply want assistance getting around town, then a portable unit is the way to go. In-dash navigation systems often include many features as a package, including DVD capability, an upgraded stereo and sometimes an internal hard drive, and can cost upward of $2,000. A basic portable GPS, meanwhile, can be had for around $300-$400.

Besides the portable unit’s price, its major advantage is being able to move from car to car. Portable units are also becoming just as capable as their in-dash counterparts in terms of features and add-ons, such as real-time traffic and weather updates. If you’re the kind of person who relishes remote start, then the ability to program a portable unit’s destination before actually getting in the car may also give it the edge compared to an in-dash system.

In-dash systems have a usability advantage with larger displays and buttons, as well as the plus of not being able to get misplaced in the abyss between the seats, or stolen during a break-in. Mounting a portable unit can be a pain, as windshield-mounted devices can often be distracting. There are alternatives and auxiliary mounting pieces that can help, but they rarely look properly integrated with the rest of the car’s interior like an in-dash system would.

Each system has its own advantages and disadvantages, so see our resources and articles on GPS to determine which system is right for you.

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Answered by Joe Bruzek on January 31, 2008 in I'm Just Wondering , What Car Should I Buy? , What Does This Mean? | Permalink

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