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Outdated GPS Maps


With lots of people recently purchasing GPS navigation systems for summer travel and outdoor activities, one of the most common questions/complaints we receive is Why are the maps outdated?. Let’s look at the normal flow of information starting with the people who map the roads and ending up at your GPS.

There are two major companies who provide the data for most GPS maps, Tele Atlas and NAVTEQ. Regardless of your GPS manufacturer, chances are good the maps come from one of those two companies. These companies send drivers out on the road every day to map the roads. They are typically equipped in a van with an extremely sensitive GPS receiver and sometimes a few video cameras.

These mappers go out to map roads that have changed positions, new roads, and new residential areas. They also respond to feedback of areas where the data might not be accurate and remap those areas.

Once the mapping companies have mapped a new area or remapped an old area the new maps are loaded into their databases. This happens almost immediately as their databases are constantly being updated with new data. But this data doesn’t make it to your GPS nearly as fast…

Although most of the GPS manufacturers use data from the same companies, what they do with the data is their responsibility. They need to convert the data into their own internal formats. The GPS companies also write the programming for calculating routes which is why different GPS systems often calculate different routes even though they have the same underlying map data.

Once the new data is converted into the proprietary format of the manufacturer it needs to be produced in a format suitable for distribution. CD and DVD media need to be produced for sale. Some companies offer this updated data on a yearly basis, some less often, and there are a few GPS manufacturers who I’ve never seen offering map updates.

So let’s say you receive a new GPS today and you find a part of the map that is out of date. You report back to the GPS manufacturer or mapping company and alert them that part of the map is out of date. The mapping company will then need to schedule a review of that particular area. There are nearly 4 million miles of roads in the USA and these companies map countries all across the world. Therefore it might take them a little while to gather those corrections.

After that it is up to the GPS manufacturer to determine how often they purchase updated map datasets from the mapping companies. As mentioned above sometimes this happens annually and sometimes this happens even less often. So adding up this time can mean that it will take years for map updates to reach your GPS. It can also mean that the GPS you purchase today will likely contain many outdated maps.

It would be nice if this significant delay could be reduced. However it appears this scenario will continue for the near future. Perhaps down the road manufacturers and mapping companies can work out an automated system whereby the the manufacturer will receive updates, the updates get converted into the manufacturer’s proprietary format, and finally changed data offered for download into the GPS receiver.

Unfortunately until that happens you can expect even brand new GPS systems to contain data that is sometimes several years old.

26 Responses

  1. […] In addition, materials we have seen suggest that updated maps can be “pushed” down to the device automatically, possibly helping fix the number one complaint of GPS devices… outdated maps. […]

  2. I know that now one of the companies, Tele Atlas, has come out with a new program called Map Insight which allows you to report map inaccuracies and you are promptly alerted as to when the company has implemented the changes. Great, forward-thinking way to solve the problem of map inaccuracies that GPS users face.

    Conchshells - September 27th, 2006
  3. That is a great point, Conchshells. For those interested, here is a link to Tele Atlas Map Insight. Another interesting use of that program is to see just how current the maps in your GPS are compared to the latest Tele Atlas data. Several times recently I’ve found inaccurate streets in my GPS which has Tele Atlas maps. I’ve gone to the website and found that the corrections have already been made.

    GPS Review - September 27th, 2006
  4. I’ve heard great feedback about this tool as well and how easy it it is to use– it really pinpoints the problem with accurately reflecting changes in the road that are constantly occurring.

    Conchshells - October 6th, 2006
  5. […] Even in those activities it is always a good idea to have a backup to your GPS based navigation or only use GPS as your backup means. Most everyone who has used a GPS for road navigation knows that gps maps can be outdated and provide incorrect information. I’ve read numerous “off-beat” reports citing someone who drove into a stream or onto a closed road because they were too closely following the instructions of their GPS and not paying attention to their surroundings. […]

  6. I was wondering if any one knew if you could use a GPS if the mapping can’t find your home address?

    Don Hoornaert - June 9th, 2007
  7. Yes, you can still use the GPS just fine. If you need to use it to find your way home you can just input the closest available street. When navigating “from” home it will just track your progress until you do get to the nearest mapped street.

    Tim - June 10th, 2007
  8. I just bought a TomTom GO 910, their top of the line model last week. I just returned it tonight and got a full reimbursement. Here’s why. This model includes both North American and European maps for about 600$ (device + maps). After a couple hours of actively getting to know the device and configuring it (updating the application, points of interest, safety cameras, etc) I found out that both maps are outdated. “Fortunately” for me there was a free update (until June 15th) to the North American (U.S. and Canada) map. I downloaded my 1.4 GB update for the North American map and at this point I realized that those maps don’t get updated too often at all. The maps in the original device were labeled version 6.525. The one that I downloaded was version 6.65 but it included 6 million new households and 400000 new road miles. That’s not what I call a minor upgrade. It turns out that the new updated map was much better than the one that was built into the unit. As a side note it still missed a lot of the data that is available from any of the NAVTEQ devices, but that’s a different subject (TomTom has TeleAtlas data not NAVTEQ). So I figured that I could certainly benefit as much from a new updated European map as I did from the North American one. But after communicating with TomTom’s tech support to see if I could get a free update to the European map they responded that it was not in their corporate policy. I then replied back saying that I had just bought the device 2-3 days ago and that I simply could not understand such a policy since I had bought the product brand new at full price from a reputable store. But they maintained their position. So I took the unit back for a refund. I thought it was just ridiculous. Those companies need to change the way they bring their products to market dramatically. ANY GPS device is totally useless without up to date maps. They should probably think about selling the GPS unit separately from the maps and their corresponding subscription based annual map update service. This way anyone buying a GPS unit would then know, in advance, what to expect in terms of overall investment needed to be made in order to have the latest maps and keeping them up to date. But please do not force your brand new customer to buy new maps on the exact day that they buy their GPS device…or they will bring it back for a refund…inevitably.

    Michel Plante - June 11th, 2007
  9. That’s crappy, dude. You’d think that, after shelling out hundreds of dollars, you could get a respectable upgrade. For a brand new device, say up to 6 months, the maps should be free.

    For the rest of us that have had our units for a year or so, the maps should be reasonable in price…say 20 bucks, not 140.

    As cell phone internet is getting cheaper, more and more providers are stepping up to the plate. For example, Mapquest and Google Maps. TomTom will have to think wisely or will go bankrupt. Google keeps offering more and more for free…

    MichaelPsu - October 29th, 2007
  10. On the other hand, I cannot think why TomTom would not let the individual bookmark (create a favorite) for their home based on the GPS coordinates. I use this feature all of the time. The coordinates are just latitude and longitute…

    I would like to see the new TomTom version also note the current elevation and current street. Would also be nice to show the Last and Upcoming Intersections…so when someone asks where you are on the phone, you can tell them without saying “umm, ummm, tomtom says to turn right”…

    I saw a co-worker’s new TomTom with version 7. I like how the exit sign appears in Green and White (similar to the color scheme of most North American exit signs). Good job TomTom!

    And perhaps a trip fact page could note things about your trip…such as the highest and lowest elevations on the route, perhaps a history fact such as “You will be passing through the hometown of X.”…Something like this might help you to plan things to do when you actually visit a city.

    How about adding a restaurant star rating system to assist in choosing, mapping to, and safely arriving at a food joint?

    And in addition, TomTom needs to take note of the law. In several states where U-turns are illegal, TomTom has consistently insisted that I break the law and turn. We’re not in Texas anymore, toto. What it should do is keep taking me in right turns to get back heading the other way. Perhaps the programmers could take this into account so that TomTom truly gives accurate directions, similar to telling you not to turn the wrong way on a one-way street.

    Please pass this all on up further on the food chain. Thanks.

    MichaelPsu - October 29th, 2007
  11. Constantly updating maps is a very labor intensive job and they are very expensive to produce. Those costs are passed along to the GPS manufacturers, who in turn pass it along to their customers. Just be glad you don’t have an in-dash system where map upgrades typically cost $200-$300.

    MapQuest and Google purchase maps from the same companies as those who produce maps for the GPS companies.

    Tim - October 29th, 2007
  12. You can create a bookmark based on your GPS coordinates in TomTom devices. Using TomTom version 7 software you can see the closest intersection name. The issue with turn restrictions is a mapping issue, not a programming issue. In the new version 7 you can report and correct those issues. If not on version 7 you can report the issue to the mapping provider so they are aware of it and can verify the issue and make the necessary corrections.

    Tim - October 29th, 2007
  13. However, they could offer a one time free of charge update immediately upon purchasing a new unit so that the maps on it would be the newest available without attempting to wring out more money out of you for something I already paid.

    M. Lee - November 3rd, 2007
  14. Most of the larger companies are now doing that, either as a written policy (as is the case of the newer TomTom models) or as an unwritten policy where if you call, ask, and supply a receipt they will update you (Garmin sometimes does that).

    Tim - November 3rd, 2007
  15. I disagree. I bought a top of the line TomTom and found their latest maps were not even close to up-to-date, even in large cities. Calling their tech support I got run arounds, bad information, and after more than 6 hours of phone with them, I got their most up-to-date map, which still had major roads of 2-3 years of age missing in ATLANTA.
    I returned my TomTom and got a Garmin, which had all of the listed roads…. but is still far from perfect.

    BobOki - April 30th, 2008
  16. We just purchased a Garmin Nuvi 350. When you register the unit, you also get 30 days to download their latest North American maps and Points of Interests. After doing so we hit the road and found major streets approximately 2 years old not on the maps. Some fairly new POI’s about 2 years old not listed. We thought about buying Garmin’s “2009 North American Maps Update”. Then read the many negative reviews on that update on Amazon.com and decided to wait. We now know that if you travel long distances you should not rely solely on your GPS device. We also bring maps and if possible tourbooks. If someone ever develops a product that gives you the latest maps and points of interest, at a reasonable cost, they would fill a great need, be very popular and possibly make a lot of money.

    Anthony - July 14th, 2008
  17. The “2009” maps are based on data that was the most recent compiled as of the second half of 2007. And even as of that time it won’t 100% match reality.

    As for POIs, not all known POIs are included in GPS devices, unlike the goal for the road database. Only a “selection” of the most common POIs are included.

    Tim - July 14th, 2008
  18. I have a Delphi NAV 200 and you can’t even get updates from them. I finally found that I can get them from NAVTEQ for just 100, but that does come on a 2 GB SD card. I was hoping to be able to download right off the internet.

    If you think it is bad having a GPS try to tell you to do a U-turn try using one on a big rig. You can’t find a commercial vehicle GPS except for PC based systems. Those are expensive and have you ever tried to drive with a PC on your dash. Not very practicle.

    JT - August 30th, 2008
  19. Actually, our company will be changing the problem with outdated GPS devices. We collect all the new streets built across the U.S. and Canada and will be supplying GPS Manufactures as well as Mapping companies. The biggest problem is that new developments are not on the map and that it could take 3-5 years to get them there.
    Datamap Intelligence will afford companies to update their maps within a couple of months, rather than a couple of years. Hopefully, with new technology, we will soon be able to deploy our new data directly to a PND device.
    If you would like to discuss this with me further, kindly send an email to joe @ datamapi.com.

    Joe Herskowitz - September 5th, 2008
  20. I’m one of those with an in-dash factory- installed unit from Navteq. The Navteq website quotes $199 to “update” to their latest version which is 2007. Questions: To find a competitive price, does any company sell Navteq updates other than Navteq? To avoid updating to soon, is there any way to find out if another update is about to roll out? Thanks for any help or opinions.

    BAT - September 29th, 2008
  21. BAT, it is typically the GPS company or car company that sells the update, not NAVTEQ. But I know there are some cases of NAVTEQ selling the update directly so that might be correct in your case. You may not have other options.

    Tim - September 30th, 2008
  22. Thanks, Tim. From my research, I know I can purchase the update on-line directly from Navteq. As for your suggestions, I’ll have to dig a bit to find the brand of my factory-installed GPS; but I’ll also check with Ford to see what they can do for me and at what price. My guess is that buying direct from Navteq will be cheaper. Either way, the latest version — 2007 per Navteq — will still put me a couple years OUT of date. C’est la vie.

    BAT - September 30th, 2008
  23. I have had units from Garmin and Magellin both had poor maps (off route messages on the only 100 year old road in Yellowstone), only road in Boca Chica TX shown 1/4 mile from actual road, sending you across TX via Mexico etc. but my 4 year old street in not shown on Google, Yahoo, Mapquest, Magellin or Garmin but is found by Microsoft. Gates should make downloadable maps for all GPS units to force these makers to stay up to date or get out of the business.

    Dennis Eccleston - December 7th, 2008
  24. I share your frustration, I bought the Garmin 350 when it was a year old, and thought one it would operate quickly, pull satellites to system in order to start driving found out later its pretty slow, 2 maps were good, for someone that needs a gps you don’t know better, however I grew up in atlanta and Stewart Ave, hade been change to Metropolitian ave since 1999; and other updated roads in the atlanta area, i bought my unit in 2007. I called them over and over during warranty period and stayed on hold for 2 hours @ a time only get the call hung up on the other end. When getting in touch with them they said i was out of warranty and all maps were the same and sometimes data is a little off by 2- 3 years. my brother the same system as me at the same time and his maps are different. Garmin is not as good as people make it to be. the ease of use, features, etc. is so nice but navigation has to be first and foremost isn’t that why we buy them. If i could get tom tomm mapping into Garmin i would be so happy.

    JOSHUA - February 19th, 2009
  25. I see I am not the only one. Has anybody out there have a Jensen NVX225. The maps are sooo old and as it was bought at Walmart they do not have updates and Jensen doesn’t either. I suppose if the price is over 100 I might be just as well off to get a new one as I only paid just a few bucks more than that. Maybe someone know where updates for this model are available, if so let me know and I will take it from there.

    Edwin - May 8th, 2009
  26. Don’t buy updates for CD or DVD based car navigation. Its a waste of money. I bought one for my Ford SUV from Navteq and I’m pissed. I put my original set back in the system because its more complete and quicker. Keep your originals until you buy a new car.

    John - September 19th, 2010

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