Frugal Shopper: Want To Save Thousands? Skip The Nav System

July 6, 2010
If you're trying to pinch pennies with your next vehicle purchase and not sure about the extra cost of a factory-option in-car nav system, don't get it.

Especially if you don’t intend to splurge and get a completely loaded vehicle, skipping a nav system makes sense. Cross off the requirement that your next vehicle needs a screen-based system, and you'll likely reduce what you pay for your next vehicle by more than just a few dollars a payment. We're talking thousands less.

The reasons? In short, 1) There are plenty of affordable options that are nearly as good; 2) Navigation systems dig deep in your pockets and won’t add much value in the long run; 3) In-dash nav systems are quickly being replaced by smartphone-based systems and, as soon as five years from now, they could become embarrassing ever-present relics.

Affordable plug-and-play options abound

Browse through any big-box electronics store, discount store, or auto-supply store, and you’ll find lots of aftermarket alternatives. Options range from inexpensive, very basic units costing less than $100, to affordable portable units from brands like Garmin, Magellan, or TomTom—some of which announce street names, automatically upgrade, and sell for as little as $100—all the way up to premium units that allow services like Google Search, live traffic and fuel-price data, and Bluetooth hands-free calling, much like an OEM system but at a fraction of the cost.

From my experience with a few of these aftermarket units, they’re plug-and-play simple to use, and address input is often easier than with factory systems. Plus, it’s your choice whether you want to use a simple suction-cup mount, secure dash mount, or console cradle—or whether you want to take it out only for summer road trips or finding your way to that promising weekend estate sale.

CoPilot Live USA

CoPilot Live USA

Have a smartphone already? Less than $5 could get you a nav system

To those who have been keeping tabs, like the reviewers over at CNET, the price of ALK Technologies' CoPilot navigation application for the iPhone has dropped from $35 down to just $4.99.

For less than the price, in most places, of a couple of gallons of regular, you could get turn-by-turn navigation features on your iPhone, including lifetime updates.

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