leaderboard left
leaderboard right
content topleft content topright

Do I Need an SD Card for my GPS?


A common question lately… “Do I need to buy an SD card for my GPS?”. Unfortunately, this question has been prompted by customers who are receiving calls from stores after they place an order for a GPS. The conversation typically starts like this.

“Mr Smith, I noticed you placed an order for an Auto GPS and we are excited to let you know your order will ship soon. But we were wondering if you wanted to include an SD card in your order since your GPS has an SD slot and the card will allow you to use your GPS to the fullest potential.”

When talking about auto GPS devices, the overwhelming majority of GPS users will never need an SD card. Don’t give in to the sales tactic. Even the skimpiest of GPS devices will typically have at least 50 MB to 100 MB of free space left in the internal memory, with many of them offering much more.

Map & App Updates

Maps take up much of the space and while newer map updates are typically larger than the ones they are replacing, it is typically only by a tiny margin. There are some exceptions such as some of the newer TomTom maps are much larger than the older ones due to the inclusion of some additional files necessary to support voice recognition. There are also a few Magellan and Harman Kardon devices that in order to update the application, and SD card is necessary. Those exceptions don’t impact the majority of users, and you can always purchase one later if you find it necessary.


SD Cards can be helpful at times. If you use your GPS as an MP3 player it is often more convenient to load the music onto SD card. And if you frequently switch maps from one country to another it is often easier to put one set of maps on the card so you don’t need to keep replacing the internal memory. Again, that will not be for the majority of users.


Some people think that because they want to load thousands of custom POI files that they will need an SD card. These POI files don’t actually take up much space. For example I have a custom POI file for 10,000 Starbucks locations that takes up less than 500 KB of space. With most GPS devices having at least 50 MB of free space, you would need to add around 200,000 locations before you might run out of space… and many GPS devices will have more free space available than that.

Do I Need it?

So my general advice is that unless you know for certain you will need an SD card…. you probably won’t need an SD card. And if you do, they are easy and cheap to come by.

11 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this! I ordered a GPS online last night and received an email today telling me I had to call to confirm my order. I call and I am greeted with “You bought this great GPS, but you forgot the memory card. You need the memory card to upload new maps and if you don’t have a memory card then you have to send the unit to the manufactorer who will take 2-3 months to upgrade it. Our prices are as follows: 1gb $119, 2gb $149.99,” I cut him off and told him I wasn’t interested. Then I searched around and very easily found 4gb memory cards for $9.99!!! If I hadn’t known better I would have spend over a hundred dollars on something I didn’t even need!! So, thank you for this article.

    Kristin - December 28th, 2008
  2. Have a small service business. Need to store aprrox. 200 addresses on a couple of units. They will be taken from truck to truck.
    I use a mac and would like to transfer contacts from business computer to gps units.
    What is the best product?

    Curt - October 31st, 2009
  3. I have an older model Magellan GPS. It has a lot of good information but also a lot of old Roads, Routes, etc. I’m wondering if I could purchase an updated card with new roads, routes, POI’s, etc????

    Brenda - May 1st, 2010
    • Depends, which model do you have?

      Tim - May 1st, 2010
  4. We’re moving to Europe in July and want to get the maps for our NUVI 205w. Do you recommend just downloading them or purchasing the SD card? Thanks.

    Matt - May 19th, 2010
  5. Re: Garmin TOPO SD card, 24K West; What will happen if I insert it into a Panasonic DMC-T25 Lumix? If I could toggle to the area I’m visiting, the camera would have a dual purpose.

    Claudia - August 6th, 2010
  6. We have downloaded info from GPS but now we need to re-indtall lt. We bought a SD card and just not sure how to do it. Help please. Thank you.

    Nancy Baquera - September 3rd, 2010
  7. dear sir
    i have car blue toth with dvd player system have gps also
    but gps not working there is blank port for gps sd ram >
    what can i do to enable gps system and do i need acard >

    burhanaldin - May 16th, 2011

    ROBERT PAGE - September 24th, 2011
  9. What I think is wrong with Garmin and most other gps devices ; you buy the device with a map from all of Europe.
    Then you buy a live time updater so you can update the new map 2 times a year.
    The problem starts with the updating if you have it connected to the computer to update
    It will tell you that the memory is not big enough so you have to leave some countries out than you have to hand pick the countries that you want to upload.
    So you pay for all off Europe but you end with only a part of Europe and only because the internal memory is to small.
    There is a slot for an sd card but garmins upload software will not reconise this. Maybe they don’t like it if you can down load on the sd card .Who knows you want to sell the sd cards when they are loaded with the full maps on them . But if they don’t like that ; why did they not put a bigger internal memory in them . Maybe if you are an IT expert you could find a way around it. Please tell me if I am wrong. And is there any gps with a big spare memory ? Or one that can download straight on the sd card

    hans - January 5th, 2012

content bottomleft content bottomright