Why Are Built-In Navigators So Much More Expensive Than Portable Units?

October 7, 2009

Do you remember a time before car navigation systems when people actually used to have to know how to (gasp!) read a map? Are you so young that you don't even know how to read a map? Well, it seems that in the course of a short 10 year period navigators have well and truly killed the map. Just imagine how little Americans are going to know about geography now!

When the in-dash navigation systems were a brand new technology in vehicles like the 1999 Acura TL or similar vintage BMW and Mercedes models they usually cost about $2000. So why on earth has the cost of these in dash units gone up in some cases? Granted, they can tell you if there is traffic up ahead and some can store all the songs from you iPod but then various $200-$400 Garmins (or even the latest iPhone) can do all these things as well.

So, is this just corporate money mongering or is there some reason why in-dash units in new cars are so expensive. There are, of course, the manufacturing problems inherent in having to make two different dashboards for the same car (one with a screen and one without). But just like offering power windows and crank windows this problem is the manufacturers fault for trying to punish its customers for not being able to afford the top line version of a certain vehicle. It is simple logic - when you have to design two different door panels or dashboards your tooling costs are going to skyrocket. That is so wasteful you would think that the Government ran every car company. (Oops, sorry GM.)

But then Mercedes and Audi get around that by putting a screen in all their cars (so they don't have to make two dashboards) and if the customer wants navigation even a dealer can install the hardware. So why are Mercedes and Audi navigators so expensive again? Is it because they both have a scary German sounding man or woman (you can choose) telling you where to go?

So what you need to decide is do you value function over form or form over function. If you are practical minded you will have no problem buying a portable Garmin and tolerating the power cord dangling from it. But if you live your life by the mantra of minimalism by all means buy a built in navigation system. And don't forget to go see your therapist.

Here are some prices for different portable navigation units:
Garmin Nuvi 255 ($115 at Buy.com)
Garmin Nuvi 765T ($277.85 at Buy.com)


These are prices for manufacturer in dash navigation units as reported on their websites:
Acura TL: ($3000) (Must be purchased with Technology Package that adds 400 watt stereo system)

Ford Mustang: ($2195) (Also comes with automatic temperature control)

BMW 3-Series: ($2100)

Audi A3: ($2050) (Comes with iPod compatibility.)

Mini Cooper S: ($2100)

Nissan 370Z: ($1,850)

Suzuki SX4 Crossover: (Free. Yes, I said free. Suzuki just designed a clever and simple flap on top of the dash where they attached a, you guessed it, Garmin navigator. But what is so neat about this is that you dont have to buy your own Garmin and it is already connected to the cars power system so there is no need to deal with unsightly cords. A win/win)

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