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Live traffic services are destined to be one of the biggest advances in GPS systems. While GPS devices strive to provide the fastest route from point A to B, they generally do so by considering the most optimistic road conditions. “This route will be the fastest assuming there are no traffic delays.” Traffic reporting services aim to change that. But which traffic services are the best in North America, what type of data is available, and how well does it work?

Traffic Data Suppliers

The traffic data suppliers, like traffic.com and INRIX, collect data from road sensors, local departments of transportation, data collected from operators of large fleets of vehicles, and other manual sources such as traffic helicopters and listening to police scanners.

In order for your GPS to report traffic information about your route, you need to be driving on a road which is covered by the traffic data suppliers.

Traffic Delivery Services

reception iconIn North America, there are (currently) three delivery methods. The first way is through a wireless data system like that offered by MSN Direct. They take the traffic data collected by traffic.com and send it over wireless airwaves to a receiver that is either built into your GPS or added as an external antenna.

A second method is via a “silent” transmission over FM radio. In addition to the music you might hear from a radio station, other “silent” signals can be sent over the frequency. A special FM antenna is either built into your GPS or connected as an antenna which listens for those special signals being broadcast over FM radio frequencies.

The final, and least common method is to utilize a data connection from a mobile phone. Your mobile phone connects to the Internet over the phone’s cellular connection, downloads the traffic information, and sends it via Bluetooth to your GPS. Your phone must be in an area covered by your phone’s data plan’s coverage area. This is the method used by the TomTom PLUS services.

Incident Data vs. Flow

There are generally two types of data that can be received about the road network. Incident data and traffic flow data. Incident data refers to information generally about a specific point/event on a road such as an accident or construction work. Flow data is the average speed vehicles are currently traveling on a particular section of road. Having both types of data is obviously better. For example if the road you are on has only incident coverage, and the weather is so bad that traffic is backing up, you might not get any traffic alerts because there might not be a particular accident that is causing the slower traffic.

Combining Data with Delivery

When considering a traffic service for your GPS, you will want to find out two pieces of information ahead of time. (1) Which companies offer traffic data for the roads I want information for. (2) Which companies offer the traffic delivery service in the areas I will be traveling.

So that leaves us with a few different scenarios which will impact if you will be successful in getting live traffic data into your GPS.

  • A) You are in an area where the road network is covered, and you can get a signal. This is the situation you want to be in.
  • B) You are in an area where the road network is covered, but you cannot receive the traffic signal. Live traffic would not work in that spot since it can’t download the data.
  • C) You are in an area where the road network is not covered, but you can receive the traffic signal. In this situation your GPS would always report no traffic for that location.
  • D) You are in an area where the road network is not covered, and you cannot receive the signal. Your GPS won’t be able to download any traffic data, but even if it could it wouldn’t have data from that area.

So where are these locations? Consult the following chart.

MSN Direct Clear Channel
Total Traffic Network
Incident coverage list coverage list coverage list
Flow coverage list coverage map coverage map
coverage map coverage, station list Check your phone carrier

I would take many of the broadcast coverage maps (not the data coverage maps) with a few big grains of salt. I routinely cannot get a signal in many of the areas claimed by the coverage maps. Those maps seem to indicate “best case” scenarios.

Which service goes with which GPS?

Most GPS devices are using the Clear Channel Total Traffic Network solution, down the middle column of the chart. If you are looking to use the TomTom RDS-TMC solution, the NAVIGON traffic system, or any of the Garmin devices that use the FM based traffic, that is where you need to look. Yes, that means that devices from different brands do often use the exact same data from the same traffic service. The differences in those cases come down to presentation. (More on that with graphics further down.)

Some of the Garmin systems use, or can use, the MSN Direct service instead. That system also includes weather forecasts, movie listings, and current fuel prices in addition to the traffic services offered.

If you have a Garmin device and are trying to decide between going the MSN Direct route, or the FM route, first check the appropriate coverage maps. That might make your decision for you. Where I live for example the MSN Direct service doesn’t offer flow data, only incident data. The Clear Channel TTN service offers both flow data and incident data. I can also receive the Clear Channel signal in my area, so it is almost no contest for my area.

Otherwise consider the subscription costs, how much you might use the additional services like movie times from the MSN Direct service, and how often you might travel outside your usual coverage area. In the cases of an apparent “tie”, I’ve found the Clear Channel Total Traffic Network (FM, RDS-TMC) system to provide slightly better data in the areas I’ve tested both of them in.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Generally you will need to purchase a traffic receiver to receive the traffic signal. An increasing number of devices come with an internal traffic receiver built in, but as of this writing those are still rare. For Garmin devices connecting via the Clear Channel, FM solution you will probably need the GTM-20 unless it comes with your device. For the MSN Direct service you will want the Garmin GDB 50 MSN Direct Receiver. TomTom devices connected to the Clear Channel traffic service will want the TomTom RDS-TMC cable, and TomTom devices connected to the TomTom PLUS traffic service will need a compatible mobile phone with a compatible data plan.

What’s the Cost?

Okay, so you’ve found that you live in an area where traffic reporting data (preferably flow data) is available and you live in an area where you can receive the traffic signal. How much does it cost? The cost will vary from device to device and from service to service. But here are some general estimates.

For the FM (Clear Channel) traffic service — Typically if your GPS comes with a traffic receiver, it will also come with a trial subscription. Generally this is a couple of months. After that, you can expect to pay roughly $60/year.

If you purchase the traffic receiver separately from the GPS, it will also typically come with a trial subscription, but instead of a couple of months the initial subscription will generally be for 12 or 15 months. After that time you can also expect to pay about $60/year.

The MSN Direct service typically comes with a 12 month free subscription at the time of purchase. After that you can choose to pay $50 annually, or a one time (lifetime) subscription of $130.

If you go the TomTom PLUS route, and happen to be one of the lucky people with a compatible phone and compatible data plan, don’t forget to factor in the cost of your data plan if you don’t already have one. While the amount of data transfer depends on the refresh rate you set and the amount of time you drive, TomTom estimates that with one hour or usage per day at a five minute refresh rate you will probably use about 2.5 MB of data per month. However with many people already having an unlimited data plan for other uses, this option can make a lot of sense. The traffic subscription itself is about $60 annually.

Why Pay at All?

Well, that is what at least one GPS company has said in the USA. NAVIGON currently offers a lifetime traffic service based on the Clear Channel Total Traffic Network/INRIX solution. It is also true that there are many free traffic services in Europe. Part of the difference on that side of the Atlantic is that often the data collection and delivery is performed by governments rather than private companies and the data is offered as a public service. In North America most of the work is still being performed by private organizations who (rightfully so) expect to be paid for the work they are performing.

What does it look like on a Garmin?

Garmin GPS Traffic DisplayPictured here is an image of the Garmin display while there is a traffic delay on the route. Note the icon in the lower right showing a three minute delay. When there is no traffic delay, no information is shown on the display. The display doesn’t change if there is, or there is not, traffic information being received. You can however look down at the power adapter and determine from the colored lights on the adapter if traffic information is being received. However this isn’t quite as convenient as having it directly on the display.

Garmin Traffic DetailsSo what if you want to see the details of what is causing that three minute delay? You click on the “:03” icon and it will show you these details. Here we can see that one mile ahead of my current location there is a delay of about three minutes. I can choose to avoid the delay if I wanted to, however in this case routing around it would have taken longer than just accepting the delay.

Garmin Traffic MapThe Garmin Traffic item in the Menu offers a birds eye view of the surrounding area and its traffic information. Here you can see some yellow road just under the exclamation mark icon indicating slower flowing traffic. You can also see other traffic incidents in the area, but none that will be part of my current route. Clicking on the ‘View by Road’ button will send you to the screen shown in the next image.

Garmin Traffic ListYou can also select to view a list of the current surrounding traffic conditions by accessing the ‘Traffic’ item in the Garmin menu. Here you can see a list of traffic reports surrounding my current area. On the route I have selected, there are currently no traffic delays. But you can see there is an area of Route 1A, 28 miles to the East, Northeast of me that there is some really slow traffic. If I knew I might be going on that road on my return trip, that would be something to watch out for.

What does it look like on a TomTom?

TomTom Traffic DisplayThis image shows a typical display of traffic information on a TomTom device. In the upper right corner there is a yellow circle. This means that the GPS currently is not receiving traffic information as I’ve traveled somewhere that the signal can’t be received. Along the right is a bar showing my current location at the bottom, and destination at the top. 3.6 miles ahead there is construction work. Further ahead on my route there is a right lane or exit closed. Neither of these incidents are estimated to slow me down, or a time would be displayed to the left of the incident icon. You can also see on the road view, that there is a traffic icon on the road, just a few feet ahead of my current position. The road also has little yellow arrows on the road indicating heavier traffic. (But in this case not enough to cause a delay on my route.

TomTom Traffic DetailsIn this image you can see a green circle near the top left indicating I’m receiving traffic information live. You can also see that there are three delays on my route which are estimated to account for a whopping 23 minute delay. Each little red circle on the map indicates a particular incident in the area. The two arrow keys allow you to view the details of each incident along your route on a map, as indicated in the next image.

TomTom Traffic Incident DisplayThis image shows the details of an incident along the route. It tells us that 11.1 miles from my current location (or about 11 minutes ahead on the road) that there is bridge maintenance work. The location of the bridge is described, and it shows that the delay is over a 1.2 mile stretch of road and that this delay will put me twenty-three minutes behind schedule. Quite a backup! In reality, as I drove through I was only delayed by about three minutes. This brings up the point that the traffic data isn’t always right. In this case I almost wonder if it was supposed to be a “2-3” minute delay rather than a “23”.

How well does it actually work?

For many people, traffic services haven’t quite reached “prime time”. Often complains surround data that is delivered too late to be actionable, jams that don’t get reported at all, or people who drive the same roads frequently enough to know what the traffic will be like without needing a traffic receiver.

Traffic isn’t all gloom and doom though. If you frequently drive to more urban areas, but not enough to know the local traffic patterns, it can be a big help. The GPS devices will reroute you around traffic if it can find a faster route based upon the estimated delay. Just being mentally prepared for the drive ahead can be a big help too. I think there is also a hidden safety component to having live traffic. On a recent drive an alert came up that there was slow traffic two miles ahead. While I couldn’t avoid the traffic from my current position (and there wasn’t likely a faster route available anyway) I had the advantage of knowing that there was going to be slow traffic ahead and I could prepare for it ahead of time by slowing down and being mentally prepared for what was coming up.

If you are someone who would rather not be in slow traffic altogether, even if a route around without the slow traffic will take you a longer amount of time, the service can be valuable for you too. Most of the devices will still give you an option to route around slower traffic even if that means adding a little bit of time to your route.

101 Responses

  1. Not exactly the same thing, but as I was playing with my new Nuvi 250 by uploading some local speed trap data, I wondered why my GPS doesn’t tell me what the speed *limit* is on the road on which I’m traveling? It knows what road I’m on, why can’t it remind me when I’m in a school or playground zone, for instance – is this information not provided by the providers? Anyone know if this is being done already?

    Paul R. Pival - January 1st, 2008
  2. Speed limit data is displayed in some GPS devices. The new Garmin Nuvi 700 series is a good example of it. However most roads don’t include that data… just the bigger roads like Interstate highways.

    Many devices do include POI data for schools, and those that have the data and offer “proximity alerts” like many of the Garmin and TomTom models would allow you to create an alert whenever you are within a set distance of that type of POI.

    Tim - January 1st, 2008
  3. I purchased the TomTom 920T one week ago, excited about the traffic feature. While the receiver is plugged into the unit, I do get the green dot or the animated arrow in the top right corner, but I have YET to see any “traffic bar” along the side. I work in downtown Portland, Oregon, and have been dismayed three times now to be sitting in gridlock with no traffic flow/incidents showing up on my unit. Does the bar only show up when there is an incident? Or should it be there whenever the receiver is plugged in? After paying an additional $100 for this traffic feature, I’m wondering if it’s ever going to pay off. Help! Thank you.

    Jackie M. - January 17th, 2008
  4. Jackie – Correct, the bar will only show when the downloaded data shows an incident on your route.

    Tim - January 17th, 2008
  5. I am having the same problems as Jackie M. After several calls and long hold time to Tom Tom support I was finally told that the receiver I brought was the wrong one and it should read 5V00-081 or 9V00-081 on the tag of the receiver.I checked the one store that had the receiver and all the units were 4V00-081 which Tom Tom said was for Europe. The strange thing is the box said the part # was 5V00-081. I will be returning the receiver and the GO 920 since the traffic feature was the main reason I purchase it.

    Peter B. - January 18th, 2008
  6. I gave up on the 920. After spending probably 20 hours trying to find ANYTHING on the traffic feature, I found out that the TomTom doesn’t really work with U.S. traffic. Total waste of time.

    I returned it and got a Garmin Nuvi 680 for $100 less, and it works perfectly with traffic and does everything it’s supposed to do.

    I finally realized that trying to work with this TomTom in the U.S. is futile and frustrating beyond belief. From day one it FELT like a European product that was retrofitted to work in the U.S. and not well. (I went through this a few years ago with their Navigator software.) The so called support just takes you in circles. I felt like I was going crazy just trying to learn the most basic things.

    I do miss the remote control, but nothing else. Oh, the packaging was beautiful, but other than that my experience with the TomTom was a complete waste of a lot of time. The minute I turned on the Garmin I felt like I was home again.

    If you spend a lot of time in Europe, the TomTom is probably good. But I felt completely ripped off paying an additional $100 for a supposed traffic receiver that nobody bothered to tell me DOES NOT WORK IN THIS COUNTRY.

    Jackie M. - January 19th, 2008
  7. Jackie, it isn’t correct to say that TomTom traffic doesn’t work in the USA. While you obviously had some technical issues, the TomTom traffic does work in the USA. In fact, TomTom and Garmin both use the exact same FM traffic service. You can view their USA coverage maps here. Like the poster above you, it is possible you received the incorrect traffic receiver.

    I’m not suggesting you should have kept the TomTom by any means, but it is important to make it clear that TomTom does have a traffic service in the USA.

    Tim - January 19th, 2008
  8. The traffic receiver DID pick up a signal, it DID say it was connected and receiving, but it never showed any traffic, even when I was sitting in gridlock. This is in Portland, Oregon. Downtown and surrounding areas. Just because the coverage map says it’s included, doesn’t mean anything. I would love to hear from other TomTom actual users who paid the additional $100 for the traffic receiver and who feel they are getting current traffic alerts.

    I’m not saying they’re not out there, but I would like to hear from them.

    Believe me when I tell you that I WANTED this unit and receiver to work. The design is elegant and I liked what I read. I gave it every benefit of the doubt as I searched and searched and searched for information in the manual and online, but in the end MY experience was “this is a Europe-centric device that was tweaked to hopefully work in the U.S.”

    That’s my perception, that’s my experience. I’d love to hear from others.

    Jackie M. - January 19th, 2008
  9. I am a TomTom user (as well as a user of most other brands as well). I purchased my TomTom devices from store shelves like everyone else. I purchased the receiver for $130 and I have received traffic reports in all of the markets I’ve tested it in. The screenshots in the article above in the section ‘What does it look like on a TomTom?’ are from the Boston area showing the traffic service in action there.

    Tim - January 19th, 2008
  10. Also, what you describe is almost exactly what a couple of other people described to me when they had accidentally purchased the European edition of the traffic receiver. It showed it was connected to the network, but never received any data.

    Tim - January 19th, 2008
  11. Wouldn’t that be odd? Since I bought this device at a retail store in Oregon. The big one, with initals “B.B.”

    All in all, I’m relieved to have a unit now that feels like it was designed for a U.S. customer. It is extemely intuitive and quick. In comparison, I miss the remote control, but the restaurant POIs on the Garmin that are listed by food type make up for some of it. The lack of information on the screen while driving (just tells you arrival time versus current time, ETA, total miles, etc.) is made up for in the mounting device with the power built into it. The traffic receiver is built into the cigarette lighter power cord on the Garmin, which plugs into the mount itself, so you just need to put the unit in the mount and go.

    The TomTom website, as I mentioned earlier, takes you in circles and I could never find the actual answer.

    Anyway, I’m done with TomTom and have moved over to the Garmin, where I will undoubtedly start posting questions to your forum in that category. Thank you for your insights and answers, Tim.

    Jackie M. - January 19th, 2008
  12. To say that we accidentally purchase the European version implied we had a choice. I got recievers from two reputable chain stores and both had to European version and nothing else, why would they sell the European version in the US. Tom Tom suppliers messed things up. Instead of Tom Tom replacing the units with the correct version, we are told to return it to the store and find the the right one however we can. Tom Tom could have simply done that and avoided all the negative feelings to an otherwise good product.

    Peter B - January 19th, 2008
  13. Peter I’m certainly not implying that it was your mistake. Sorry if you interpreted it that way. I wasn’t even referring to you but a couple of other people in the forums, both of which had purchased theirs on eBay.

    Tim - January 19th, 2008
  14. I am about ready to purchase a TOM-TOM 920T. I reside in Europe. After reading several of these comments I am confused about the traffic receiver. Are there two versions – US and European? How do you identify one from the other when ordering? Since the traffic receiver is sold as an accessory I assume the main unit is the same for both the US and Europe. Is this a safe assumption?

    Thank you for your advice. Your forum is very helpful.

    John L. - January 20th, 2008
  15. John, the 920T comes with the traffic receiver, the 920 does not. Yes, there are two versions of the traffic receiver since the European system is different than the North American system. I don’t believe the main unit is *exactly* the same on both continents either, but close.

    Tim - January 20th, 2008
  16. Tim, Jackie, and Peter – I have been reading all your correspondence with some interest. I also just purchased the RDS-TMC receiver on-line. Like Peter, my box also read Art. # 9V00.080 and Part # 5V00.081. The actual cable and the “egg” read 4V00.081. However mine works in the Nashville, TN and Birmingham, AL metro areas. I can not speak for other areas. In corresponding with Tim in another post on this issue, I believe I have the same RDS-TMC receiver that he does. I wonder……did they pack the wrong receiver in the box, or do TMC signals on FM channels vary from city to city? This would be good question for someone that actually has the time to research it. My box was also stamped “US”.
    Makes me wonder just what the heck is going on here??? I have seen 2 pictures published of the RDS-TMC receiver, one has an “egg” at the end, and another (like ours) has an “egg” in the middle of the wire. By your account it sounds like I may have purchased the wrong one. Maybe the TomTom CS Reps don’t know either. I will tell you that before I ordered mine I sent the on-line company a note and stated I wanted to be sure I was sent the US version. Tim, can you find out what is going on and get back with us? Thanks!

    Jeff - January 20th, 2008
  17. Jeff,

    When you say, “mine works in the Nashville, TN and Birmingham, AL metro areas,” does that mean you are picking up a signal? Or is it actually alerting you to incidents and slowdowns? Just curious.

    Mine picked up a signal, and told me all was clear as I was sitting in gridlock. This is on the west Coast, btw.

    Jackie M. - January 20th, 2008
    • All – I have the Tom Tom w Lifetime traffic, purchased from Target for $83 at Christmas, and it works perfectly in Nashville. (I just recently used it in Cleveland and New York without any issues.) It receives a signal, shows the issue, and tells me there is a faster route if available. It worked the first time I plugged it in. The receiver in the egg shaped unit, about 8 inches from the end of the power cord that plus into the GPS unit.

      Mike - January 17th, 2011
  18. Jackie – Yes, I pick up traffic signals on several stations. I know for a fact that the actual “Traffic Bar with icons” will not show up (other than a line) if there is no incident on your actual “keyed” route. So to see it on the main screen, you must have a route keyed. This was trial and error on my part. I mean Point A to B has to be actively programmed by the user. However when I receive any traffic signal at all, it is really fast and furious so to speak. If the incident is not on my programmed route, I can touch the traffic bar Line/Window, and all the traffic icons on the next screen are all highlighted. From there I can view other incidents in the metro area by browsing the map from the traffic window. I can also touch the “Show Traffic on Route” and “Read aloud traffic info” icons. Take note: This is only while you receive actual traffic information, as I understand it. Also the Green Dot does not stay green all the time. The Dot reverts to the arrow quickly and scans other channels on a regular basis when you have it set to tune automatically. I found out that this works great when more than one station is broadcasting traffic info at the same time. That way I see everything in the area. Yes, I do see the traffic in Metro, and do get a full traffic signal. So far I have dodged some bad traffic backups looking at the traffic map, even if it was not on my programmed route. I did update to ver. 7.162 from TomTome home. Maybe that did it? I still wonder if I got the correct receiver though. I sure wish I knew.

    Jeff - January 20th, 2008
  19. This info has beenn vry helpful, but I have a fundemental question. Can you tell me if the traffic reports indicate which side of the road the traffic/accident are on? If I am traveling north on a major road and the accident/traffic is in the south bound lanes, will the GPS still show up as a warning or is it smart enough to tell me it wont affect my route because it is in the oppisite direction? I fret that if I buy one of these it will be reporting traffic and not be able to discern which side of the highway?

    Charles - February 22nd, 2008
  20. Charles, if I was to take your question literally (“which side of the road the traffic/accident are on”) I would say no. But a Northbound Interstate is considered a different road than a Southbound Interstate from the perspective of a GPS and traffic. So the answer to the question is yes, if there is an accident in the Southbound land and you are traveling North your GPS should know about the accident but it should not impact your route as it will be smart enough to know it isn’t on the road you will be on.

    Tim - February 22nd, 2008
  21. Thanks Tim! This makes a lot of sense and you answered my question. We were hearing conflicting stories when we were in the Garmin store in Chicago. The sales dude was trying to steer us to the MSN supplied model as it proivded better traffic reporting and planted this seed in our head about traffic direction detection (as if MSN did it better then the others). Based on all I read here, I think I have decided and will be a ble to make a decision for the Garmin Nuvi and the Clear Choice Total network. Thanks!

    Charles - February 22nd, 2008
  22. Does anyone know how does the traffic flow data and presentation on the TT and the Garmin compare to what Google maps provides on its application for the Blackberry. The Google app does show traffic for my area and it does show clearly the traffic flow rate (red, yellow, or green) for both sides of the road.

    Eric - February 24th, 2008
  23. Yes.

    Tim - February 24th, 2008
  24. Ok, so how does it compare and where does Google get its data from?
    Can I expect equal or better data from a Garmin or TomTom? and can I expect data presentation on these devices to equal or beat what I get on the google maps?

    Eric - February 24th, 2008
  25. Does the traffic information pertain to cities in Arkansas? I didn’t see a dot anywhere in Arkansas. Does this mean that a GPS wouldn’t be helpful in Arkansas?

    DONNA - August 2nd, 2008
  26. Donna, I’m not sure which map(s) you are looking at but I see incident and broadcast coverage in much of Arkansas. GPS will work fine without live traffic data.

    Tim - August 2nd, 2008
  27. Tim, I don’t have a GPS, but I want one. I just want to have accurate, fast data regarding traffic, destinations. I would like to be able to download updated info. from the internet if this is necessary. I already have hands free calling, MP3, etc. on my vehicle. I don’t care about photo capability ….just want good and accurate, up to the minute directions, traffic reports, etc. Which GPS would you recommend?

    DONNA - August 2nd, 2008
  28. I live in the Chicago suburbs and am interested in the upcoming nuvi 265T because of the lifetime traffic. My question is, will the unit reroute me around traffic if it will take less time or does it just alert me and make me select to detour. I would like a detailed explanation of how nuvi traffic works but can not find online.

    Jon - September 4th, 2008
  29. Yes, it will automatically reroute so long as you have not turned off the auto-reroute function.

    Tim - September 4th, 2008
  30. I am new to this. I just purchased a Nuvi 785T and really looking forward to it. I wonder, though, if I would have been better off with the Nuvi 765T. This is in regards to MSN Direct versus Live Traffic. The 765T comes with Live Traffic. The 785T does not have Live Traffic (I don’t think? Does it?) I came across some information that had me thinking that the MSN Direct would slow my nuvi down. Hope this made sense. I just ordered the 785T and do have time to change to the 765T.

    Jackie - November 9th, 2008
  31. Jackie, botht he 785T and the 765T are compatible with the FM, Clear Channel based traffic service. Both of those devices are also compatible with the MSN Direct service. The 765T comes with the FM/Clear Channel based traffic service while 785T comes with the MSN Direct service. Those are the only two services out there for those two devices.

    Tim - November 9th, 2008
  32. Tim, would I need something (785T), like a different receiver if I decided I wanted the FM/Clear Channel instead of the MSN Direct, or would this already be ready to use?

    Jackie - November 9th, 2008
  33. Correct, if you get the 785t which comes with the MSN receiver and wanted to switch to the FM/Clear Channel system you would need to purchase the other traffic receiver.

    Tim - November 9th, 2008
  34. I see posters saying the Garmin 7x5T series has FM/Clear Channel. Garmin is showing these as powered by Navteq rather than Clear Channel. I think Navteq might be the superior of the two, although it is ad-supported.

    Greg - November 18th, 2008
  35. The 7×5 series that come with a traffic receiver in the box use NAVTEQ traffic, however my understanding is that the Clear Channel traffic cable is also compatible with those devices (at an extra cost). Both use FM for transmission of the data.

    Tim - November 18th, 2008
  36. Hi Tim – In your opinion, which is the better traffic service, NAVTEQ or Clear Channel?

    Damani - December 2nd, 2008
  37. Damani – It will really vary from location to location depending on the data providers each traffic aggregator has in each area as well as the signal distribution. What applies in my area might not apply to yours.

    Tim - December 2nd, 2008
  38. I have the new nuvi 755T and it says that it comes with free Navteq traffic for life. Can I also subscribe to ‘Clear Channel’ traffic service for $60/Life? I understand that ‘Clear Channel’ better than Navteq traffic. Do I need to get extra cable if I do subscribe to Clear Channel traffic? Thank you!

    Steve - December 11th, 2008
  39. No. The GTM20 cable works with both NAVTEQ and Clear Channel. I have a c550 with paid Clear C subscription and a Nuvi 765T with free NAVTEQ subscription. Clear Channel is much better in central NJ. I can change the cable between both units. The 765 can get both NAVTEQ and CC, however, the c550 only gets the CC.

    Joe - December 14th, 2008
  40. I just purchased a Garmin 755t. The traffic icon has only appeared twice in a week of driving in the Pittsburgh area for several hours a day. The status led has only turned green for several seconds a couple times. The power led is on all the time. Is this normal that it only receives data so intermittently? or should the led be green any time I am in range of an FM signal.

    Ralph - December 18th, 2008
  41. My nuvi 755t came with free Navteq Traffic, but I have also just purchased a one-time $60 Clear Channel (CC) Traffic subscription as I was told by Garmin that CC has a wider and accurate coverage. I experienced poor or no traffic service in NYC with Navteq. I have yet to test this after subscribing to CC. Does anyone have experience having both Navteq and CC on your 755T. Thanks! Steve

    Steve - December 18th, 2008
  42. I just purchased a Garmin Nuvi 265T with free lifetime traffic. The instructions and website are a little difficult to figure out.

    Exactly how do I sign up for traffic (e.g. after reading above it looks like the Clear Channel is what I select. So I go to the page and it asks for a unit id (is this the serial #?).

    Garmin did not give me any good directions on how to set this up step by step.

    If you could list out a step by step, I will forever be in your debt.

    Thanks a lot for such a cool website, I really appreciate it.

    Brett - December 18th, 2008
  43. I think the 265T comes with NAVTEQ traffic and not Clear Channel Traffic. In either case the initial subscription is typically activated automatically when it starts to receive a signal. Only renewals typically need any intervention.

    Tim - December 18th, 2008
  44. Tim, thank you for the response. It does offer NAVTEQ and Clear Channel.

    I wasn’t sure which one to go with, but was going to try Clear Channel.

    Regarding automatic activation, when powering up the GPS and getting a signal, there is nothing that displays anything about traffic conditions on the menus or anywhere for that matter.

    The website does say that if you have these models you don’t have to sign up for the paid activation, but I am still confused as to how to sign up for free with clear channel lets say and what to do next to get my GPS to communicate with this provider, or if they selected a provider for me, why doesn’t my GPS show something about traffic conditions or give me the option to select info about traffic?

    I’m just confused as to how to make my GPS actually start showing me traffic conditions. There is nothing in the menus on the GPS and the instructions are a bit confusing.

    Brett - December 18th, 2008
  45. Thanks for the response Tim. It actually offers both NAVTEQ and Clear Channel as options that I can choose from for North America on the Garmin traffic website.

    I don’t know which one to choose, i was going to pick Clear Channel.

    If I don’t need any intervention, then I am confused as to why the GPS does not show me anything about traffic or give me the option to look at traffic conditions. I turned it on, got satelite signal and showing local maps, but there is nothing about traffic conditions including traffic flow or accidents or any area where I can request such information be displayed to me.


    Brett - December 18th, 2008
  46. Brett, I’ll stand by my initial comments. Garmin offers multiple traffic services, but not all services are available from all of their traffic receivers. As I’d said before, the 265t comes with the NAVTEQ traffic service. If it didn’t show any traffic conditions then there was either no traffic along your route or you were not within the range of the traffic signal.

    Tim - December 19th, 2008
  47. Tim, I just downloaded a manual from their website because they didn’t include the manual with the GPS. I selected the manual for my 265T which pulls up a manual for the 205 (but i’m assuming the software is very similar).

    Everything seems similar to the manual except their is no traffic icon that pops up on the screen and from tools and settings there is no traffic to select (nowhere in any of the settings is there anything about traffic).

    and as you said, they do say on the manual and website that the traffic should be automatic and that i don’t need to sign up. only the gps should display a green traffic sign when traffic is flowing properly, red when there are problems, but i don’t even get that, so perhaps I am out of range of a traffic signal(although sigalert.com has showings for my area, I am in Los Angeles county, near the 5 freeway and the 14 freeway.

    I am calling tech support tomorrow morning and will try the GPS going further into L.A. to see if perhaps then it will pick up a signal.

    Brett - December 19th, 2008
  48. Brett, Yes, it is a good idea to talk to tech-support. Honestly, even if you have Navteq on the unit, consider going with Clear Channel (CC) with a $60 (Lifetime) subscription which you can have tech-support help you with – as I had problems to activate it on my unit and tech guys helped me through. The CC is much better as I am told. Do ask CC if you can have and run both Navteq and CC concurrently or will they conflict. They told me it is fine, but do ask. My experience with Navteq in NYC is very poor – it did not reflect traffic delays when there was actually 45 min delay at the tunnel and my unit showed ‘green’ all the time before entering the tunnel. I have a 755T unit.

    Steve - December 19th, 2008
  49. Steve, thanks for the feedback. I did get a response from Garmin which I will post below. We have a web site called sigalert which you can go to and see how fast traffic is moving, where accidents are, etc. and often we have bottlenecks that it does not properly reflect, so I am curious if this type of error sometimes affects clear channel and navteq who use similar sources.

    I wrote back Garmin asking about the traffic icon which does not appear on my maps screen (nor is there any traffic section that I can access from any of the menus).

    Garmin wrote me:
    Thank you for contacting Garmin International. I will be happy to assist you with this. To activate traffic all you will need to do is to plug in the cigarette lighter adapter and give the unit about 30-45 minutes to acquire the traffic signal. Which major city are you trying to use this in? Do you a “traffic icon” on the screen with a picture of two cars in it? It will appear on the view map screen. The traffic data will only be for major highways and they will not appear for any routine rush hour traffic. Once I have so more information about this problem I will be able to better diagnose it. Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.

    With Best Regards,

    Adam M

    Product Support Specialist

    Automotive Team

    Garmin International

    Brett - December 19th, 2008
  50. Brett, I tried the Clear Channel (CC) traffic while driving home yesterday in the snow storm. I can only say that the coverage and accuracy was very good. FYI, the CC uses INRIX traffic fusion engine: http://www.inrix.com/realtimeinc.asp
    The free Navteq traffic that came with my unit 755T did not come anywhere close in live coverage/alerts. Personally, I am impressed with subscription to CC.
    You may want to call GARMIN tech-support 1-800-800-1020 (M-F 8am-5pm CT) they are very prompt and can get you going quickly vs email exchanges.
    Good luck and do post again. Thanks! Steve

    Steve - December 20th, 2008
  51. I am very pleased with the traffic feature on the Garmin 265 I received for Christmas. When driving to work in bad weather a few days ago it indicated a delay of 5 minutes. Sure enough, when I got off the highway at my usual exit, the expected arrival time was 5 minutes later than when I started out. Today it indicated a 1 minute delay, well before I got on the highway – so even though I could see traffic was slow, I knew there was no reason to “panic” and try an alternate route. It also showed me construction zones when I drove to another city. Before I got the GPS I thought I’d use it mostly for travel, but with the traffic feature I expect to use it every day.
    I’m in the Cleveland, Ohio area.

    Hilary - January 6th, 2009
    • Mike,
      The CC traffic coverage is by far the best in NY area. Navteq is the worst followed by MSN. I have tried all 3 and have now settled with ClearChannel. I have a nuvi755T.

      Steve - January 7th, 2009
  52. Just a quick question, I’m about to buy a Nuvi255w and I’d like to know if CC is available for use on it. I don’t think it is but I just wanted to ask someone who already has one. Also, does anybody have any experience using the MSN service in the NY metro/ Long Island area? Any info would be appreciated greatly. Thanks.

    Mike - January 7th, 2009
  53. I ended up purchasing a 265 wt, any idea if I can use the cc with it if i purchase the right kit?

    Mike - January 15th, 2009
    • My understanding is that the 265wt is only compatible with the Navteq traffic cable. But I haven’t heard a definitive from someone who has tried.

      Tim - January 15th, 2009
  54. Navteq lifetime traffic comes with the unit, but it is not accurate nor reliable. I prefer the CLEAR CHANNEL (CC) traffic which I use on my nuvi 755T. I had to though purchase special GT-20 car cable to be able to use CC. I am very happy that I did that since CC traffic coverage is far more wider and accurate everywhere that I have used it on the east coast and mid-west.

    Steve - January 16th, 2009
    • Thanks gentlemen. Steve, where did you purchase this GT-20 and who manufactures it? Is it a current model? A quick search of the web didn’t really turn up anything on it…

      Mike - January 16th, 2009
  55. Garmin makes 2 different kinds of GT-20 (010-00544-01; & 010-00544-13). PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOU BUY THE “010-00544-01” AS THIS IS THE ONLY ONE THAT WORKS WITH CLEAR CHANNEL (CC) TRAFFIC. The other model is less money but is not configured to receive CC traffic

    stev - January 16th, 2009
  56. Does anyone have experience with how well CC or MSN work in the Los Angeles area?

    Tom - March 8th, 2009
  57. I just purchased the Garmin Nuvi 265T with free lifetime traffic. I can’t get the green traffic symbol to come up (I drove around for 30 minutes). After checking the settings on traffic, it gave me a unit id# but would not activate my free traffic. It told me to go to garmin.com/fmtraffic, but nowhere does it allow me to enter my id # or get the free traffic service. The website also says if you have this device you don’t need to register it.

    I can’t get through to Garmin for help (they are always closed).

    Any suggestions? Garmin is terrible at explaining how to activate this feature (I don’t want to pay for the MSN one, I just need the free version).

    Thank you for the great website.

    Brett - April 10th, 2009
  58. My 265WT just started working after driving around for awhile, I never put any unit ID’s in or anything like that. Is you unit plugged in or are you operating it on battery power? Traffic won’t work while it’s not plugged in because the antenna is in the power cord. By the way the advertisements are completely unobtrusive and hardly ever pop up….

    Mike - April 13th, 2009
  59. If the data is only for major highways, how are any of these different from what I see on Goole Maps “show traffic” on my blackberry and this is free if you already have a data plan?

    Tom - June 11th, 2009
  60. Can both the GTM20 and GDB50 traffic receivers be used at the same time on the Garmin Nuvi units? No Navtech traffic in area, but there is Clear Channel & MSN

    Eric - June 21st, 2009
    • Eric, there is only a port to connect one receiver at a time.

      Tim - June 23rd, 2009
  61. Just a fast question.. I just bought a garmin nuvi 255wt (yes they do exist) which comes with the traffic receiver. I bought it for a lengthy trip we are planning to take in Aug 09. I live in an area far out of the coverage area (about 500 miles) but as I understand it, all that I have to do is connect the receiver and it will pick up traffic info when it gets into a coverage area with no registration or whatever (I’m talking about the free ad-supported version). Am I correct in assuming this is how it will be? Oh BTW, I do plan on updating everything I can using webupdater as soon as the unit arrives.

    Tony - June 24th, 2009
    • Tony, that is correct.

      Tim - June 24th, 2009
      • thank you for the very fast response

        Tony - June 24th, 2009
  62. I also have the 255wt and it’s telling me I need a subscription code. It told me to go to garmin.com/fmtraffic, but there is nothing there except the subscriptions for sale. I’ve been on hold for over 30 minutes now waiting for them to pick up and tell me where I go to put in the number the unit gave me and get the code the unit is asking for.

    Gene - July 24th, 2009
    • The traffic icon only appears in the menu when you use the charging cable/receiver with your GPS. I made the same mistake as you and touched the “Add” button.. that DOES take you to a screen where it tells you you need to buy a subscription (and it might be where you want to be IF you want to BUY another service) but rest assured that the ad-driven free service IS ACTIVE as soon as you use that extra cable. If you can live with tiny ads, then you don’t NEED anything else and you can forget about that ADD screen.

      Tony - July 25th, 2009
  63. Hello folks,
    I own a Garmin GPS Nuivi 350. I bought a few months ago. I would like to add a traffic receiver to this device. My wife and I are both handicapped and are planning to travel a bit ( go towards Florida) . May be in a couple of months after I recover from my knee problems. I cant drive for too long and need frequent rest breaks. My wife does not drive at all since she is visually impaired.
    What is the best way to go? I noticed that all thes GPS accessories are expensive and want to make sure that I get the big bang for the buck.
    I appreciate your expert help and advice.

    Ravi Nilakantan - July 27th, 2009
    • From a quick peek at the Garmin website I did not see the 350 as one of the compatible models for any of the FM receivers.

      Tony - July 27th, 2009
      • Hi Tony,
        I did find a compatible FM Receiver using garmin.com website.

        Ravi - July 27th, 2009
    • I have a 350 also and I am thinking of upgrading it with the traffic option. How well did it work for you?

      cory - February 17th, 2010
  64. I’m seriously considering getting a TomTom 730T, but cannot get a direct answer from TomTom. My question is if the sound can be routed through my car sound system directly. Their answer is: \The FM Transmitter feature is able to be used for voice instructions, as long as MP3 files are being played.\ I explained that I don’t have either a Bluetooth OR an MP3 player, and have no desire to purchase either. Their reply was: \The remote uses a Bluetooth connection to pair with the device directly. MP3 files, or music, are able to be added to the device. The FM Transmitter is able to play the music files through the car stereo using an FM connection.\
    Good grief! \Yes\ or \No\ would be sufficient. I don’t care about the music files, I only care about the travel instructions! Sooo – can anyone answer this question:
    Can the instructions from the unit and/or the traffic receiver be routed through my car system? (I only have a radio and tapedeck…it’s an old car.)

    Margaret AK - July 30th, 2009
    • If you are looking for a Yes or no answer, the answer is Yes. However there are some caveats to that answer which is what they were trying to indicate. The 730 includes an FM transmitter which you can use, however it only works if you are also playing MP3’s from the GPS. So if you want to use the FM transmitter, you would need to transfer MP3 music files to the GPS. You don’t need an MP3 player, the GPS is handling that part. So if you don’t want to put music files on your GPS then the answer is no.

      Tim - July 31st, 2009
  65. Thank you. That clarifies things…a bit. So: I have to find some MP3 files (where, how, what are they?), load them on the GPS, and play them in order to use the RDS traffic service. Have I got that correct?

    Margaret AK - July 31st, 2009
    • Yes and no. You are correct that you need to MP3 music files playing in order to send the audio from the GPS over to your car radio via the FM transmitter. But the TDS Traffic service doesn’t have anything to do with it. It isn’t necessary for audio, doesn’t require your car radio, etc.

      Tim - July 31st, 2009
      • Thank you, thank you. So I can get the traffic info sound through the GPS, even though I have to set the radio on to an unused FM channel. Right? As I understand it, that would mean that I would not be able to listen to music or news on my trip from NYC to SC (either from the radio, or my tape deck) and be prepared for traffic info. That I would not look forward to. I know I am quite electronic-gadget challenged, so I really appreciate your patience.

        Margaret AK - July 31st, 2009
        • Sort of. The traffic data doesn’t have anything to do with the FM transmitter, audio, nor MP3 music. So in order to get any traffic info you would need to purchase the traffic receiver cable if you don’t have one already.

          Tim - July 31st, 2009
  66. Folks,

    We are about to replace our stolen GPS w/ a new model with traffic capability. We will use the Clear Channel FM service. We will be commuting in the Chicago area. I would be grateful for any make/model recommendatios.

    Eric G - August 3rd, 2009
    • We just picked up a Garmin 760 to replace a stolen 250W. It came with a free 90-day subscription to Clear Channel. I used it for returning through Philadelphia from a camping trip. I correctly identified traffic situations on the Schuykill expressway. I would think it would behave similarly in major metro areas like Chicago. Highly recommended.

      Greg - August 3rd, 2009
  67. I just bought a Nuvi 255 WT (stated on the box)but it has Nuvi 255 W on the device. Although I have the traffic “enabled” I have no icon and no traffic notifications. Should the device have 255 WT on it? or did they put the wrong device (255 W) in the 255 WT box?

    Louis - August 7th, 2009
    • Garmin packages it so that what is stated on the box is the correct place to look for the traffic feature. If it says 255WT on the box that means you got the one with the traffic; on the product itself it will say 255W.

      Karen - December 3rd, 2009
  68. I tested my Garmin 350 nuivi with the traffic receiver GTM12 which I just bought. I am happy to inform you that it works great. I travelled from work at Billerica to Woburn yesterday and the Garmin GPS using the FM receiver guided me home via a different route sensing heavy traffic on 95 North. I tried to outsmart the GPS device by following my own directions after Mall road but found heavy traffic on Lowell street that slowed me down.
    It makes me wonder if the device senses traffic on other streets and not just highway alone.
    I conclude that the GPS device does identify traffic situations.

    Ravi Nilakantan - August 8th, 2009
  69. Does anyone know which is the best traffic receiver for the Washington, DC area – NAVTEQ, Clear Channel, or MSN? I just bought a Garmin Nuvi 1350T that came with the lifetime subscription to NAVTEQ and so far I’m not very impressed with the traffic info.

    Sarah - December 9th, 2009
  70. I have a Garmin Nuvi 265WT with Navteq traffic (lifetime subscription). The unit is fairly new (several months)and it originally showed the traffic icon and alerted me of most traffic (although it did miss a few and sometimes alerted me of traffic when there was none.) Now the traffic icon rarely shows up. When I click on Tools – Settings – Traffic, it prompts me to plug in the receiver (which is already plugged in.) Does this mean that I have a faulty receiver?

    Andrea - December 19th, 2009
  71. First of all, let me say how good it’s been to have stumbled upon this site, and how grateful I am for the information that’s already been shared. Your generosity with your time and expertise is so much appreciated.

    I’m fairly new to the GPS Navigation world, though very interested in all the capabilities it provides. I finally took the plunge this year and bought my wife a gps navigator/unit, something she’d mentioned she really didn’t need, but now, having used it on our last trip (a very familiar one, thus a good test of the unit), the phrase “this is so cool” has been uttered frequently, by both of us.

    After considerable research, I chose the Garmin 265WT, for it’s overall value relative to the features I ranked as most important to us (er, for my wife that is!) So after our first use, I’m mostly impressed but do have a few disappointments.

    First, the good: (1) The Bluetooth worked nicely (I had read some poor reviews about this so was pleasantly surprised) – I wanted ‘you-know-who’ to practice more hands-free cell phone usage. (2) The POI was a pleasant surprise that I hadn’t researched. Often times on long trips we’re wondering where the next gas station, or Wendy’s, is so this will be a great help.

    Some disappointments were: (1) The unit would not recommend our preferred route (on this most recent familiar trip) based on any of the routing criteria (e.g. shortest distance, quickest time, best fuel economy) and was very persistent in encouraging us to take (or double back to) it’s suggested routing. It eventually did figure out our preferred route, after we missed enough turns that it suggested, and changed the routing criteria enough times! (2) We received no traffic information or any indication that the feature was working. On some of the back roads we took, that was expected, but in Charleston SC, I atleast expected to see some evidence of the service. I learned today that NAVTEQ is the free service offered for the 265WT and that Charleston, SC isn’t listed on their website as a covered area. Since free traffic was a key decision maker for the 265WT, for all intents and purposes, this is no longer a 265WT feature, for us, which opens the door to many more GPS navigation choices.

    So finally, the real purpose for my entry here. After using the unit this week, I’ve come up with a short list of features I’d like to have in a GPS navigation instrument that I’ve been unable to find via internet searches. Since they may not even exist in any brand or model, I thought I’d try to limit time wasted by asking any of you with far more experience, whether there’s anything close that might satisfy my needs (wants) below:
    (1) Accurate directions, of course
    (2) POIs (probably can’t live without now that we’ve tasted – I assume all units do this!)
    (3) Bluetooth, for hands-free cell phone use
    (4) Traffic service (free preferred, even with ads, but good coverage at least – sounds like ClearChannel may be the best choice for my area.)
    (5) Ability to select from several routes offered to a certain destination
    (6) Ability to save routes taken, or selected, that we like
    (7) See distances on screen between car and next major intersection
    (8) Create routes on google/mapquest/AAA/GPS Manufacturer’s website (or on unit) and download/save to GPS unit

    Again, I realize many of these capabilities (5-8) may not even exist, but if anyone knows of a unit that offers some of these, it would be very helpful.
    Thanks so much!

    Steve - January 1st, 2010
  72. I recieved a Garmin Nuvi 255WT for my birthday. The traffic worked the first time we plugged it in on the way, but once I registered it with Garmin the traffic notification hasn’t come back up. I also looked under Tools/Settings for the traffic enabler and can’t find it there. Do I need to reset it?

    Erika - April 7th, 2010
  73. If Garmin and Tom Tom use the same traffic navigation system, and both use a cord that has a USB to connect to the device, will that cord work in both units?

    Lorraine - April 20th, 2010
    • No, they will not work.

      Tim - April 20th, 2010
  74. I am trying to decide between a Garmin nuvi 1350 (which is “FM Traffic Compatible”) and a 1350t, which has “FM Traffic Included”). There is a $25 added cost for the “t” version. What does it do and is it worth it????

    thanks very much

    paul - June 2nd, 2010
  75. Paul
    $25 is worth it. You get the receiver and probably a couple months free subscription.

    Greg - June 2nd, 2010
  76. Hello all
    Ok I also need some help I bought the Garmin 1490T I plug it into the cigerette lighter and It doesnt show the FM Emblem in the upper Left corner.
    Here is the question Do i still need to activate the traffic subscription or does it do it on its own like the manual says.
    I am in the Davenport Iowa area and as of yet got to see how the traffic thing works OR if it is working.
    When I go to traffic on the screen it says it is enabled with a check mark.
    But there is also an area that says ADD but I cant find that on the Garmin website
    And the 1490T is supposed to be free service
    Can anyone else possibly explain >

    Darryl - June 24th, 2010
  77. I bought a Garmin Nuvi 255W last year and am considering buying the GTM #25 cable to add the FM traffic feature. I am wondering if this feature is worth the money. I live in the Chicago area.

    Cathy - July 5th, 2010
  78. What GPS with Navteq would you recommend? I took a look at the Navteq and Total Traffic Network websites which both has live traffic on the web page. Navteq appears to be more detailed and accuate with the traffic here in Irvine, CA.

    Do you know the quality of reception for Navteq? I couldn’t find that info.

    Jefferson - August 26th, 2010
  79. Why does TomTom Traffic cost extra? I bought my Tom Tom because it was the best economical GPS on the market now I have to pay for all the extras. What’s up with that?

    Mark - November 12th, 2010
    • Traffic services cost extra because it costs quite a bit of money to deploy road sensors, aggregate traffic data, compile the data into useful reports, and distribute that data over the air.

      Tim - November 12th, 2010
  80. We are being transfered from Indiana to the western suburbs of Chicago. Can anyone please give me a recommendation on a live traffic GPS for the western suburbs of Chicago? I doubt that our local sales people at big box stores know other areas and performance issues.

    Although I know the area fairly well, my wife doesn’t and I want to help her avoid the traffic delays and enjoy our new location.

    Thanks & have a Merry Christmas. See you in Chicago soon!

    Dave - December 5th, 2010

    RICHARD - February 23rd, 2011

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