Sunday, March 18, 2012

GPS for your car: Factory-installed or aftermarket unit?

GPS navigation systems for cars are becoming quite popular, and there are some basic questions that  prospective buyers are asking. One is, should I buy a factory-installed GPS, or an add-on (also known as aftermarket or OEM) unit? Let’s look at the arguments for and against each approach:

Factory installed GPS


  • A better appearance, as units are built into the dash or located on the instrument panel.
  • Theft is generally not an issue (unless they take the whole car!).


  • The cost is typically considerably more than an aftermarket unit.
  • Getting updated maps may be difficult and expensive.
  • Fewer options are available.
  • Units cannot be moved from one vehicle to another.

Aftermarket GPS


  • More choices in terms of features. GPS receivers can be found with integrated MP3 players, iPod support, live traffic reports, live weather reports, satellite radio, and support for hands-free cellphone use. Newer units sporting the SiRFstar III chipset have improved reception.
  • The units can be moved to another vehicle. I love the fact that I can fly somewhere and then pop my GPS into a rental car.
  • Map updates can be readily acquired and generally cost less than those for factory-installed units.
  • Cost is typically less than that of factory installed units, unless you purchase a very high-end system.
  • Most companies that primarily make GPS units have been doing this for years. As a result, they have been able to fine-tune the user interface, typically resulting in easy to use, intuitive controls.


  • Mounting choices are limited (and the unit must be outside the airbag deployment zone).
  • Theft is a serious issue. Even if you take the GPS down, a mounting bracket left on the windshield is a dead give away.


I’m sure that my list of pros and cons is not complete. I haven’t seen that many in-dash systems in operation, but I’ve heard other negative reports. Apparently some factory-installed systems cannot be operated while the vehicle is moving — a good safety feature perhaps, but not so great if a passenger is operating the GPS! Perhaps this is true of older systems only.

My suggestion? Buy an aftermarket unit, unless you are seriously concerned about theft. Even then, you can always pull down the mount too. And if you do buy a factory-installed unit, test-drive it and find out if map updates are available and how much they cost. It’s also worth asking how old the factory installed maps are.

UPDATE: Check out our automotive GPS recommendations

Technorati tags: GPS

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. I vote for Aftermarket auto GPS systems with both hands, since I have 2 cars and I use one GPS device for both. It may not look good attached at the top of the dash, but it sure is handy and easy to update.

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  3. Rick Nelson says:

    Another consideration in the Factory vs. Aftermarket GPS is the cost of repair for the factory units. I have a 2004 Acura with Factory GPS; I love the GPS unit and nice, big screen, or at least I did until it quit working! It was no longer under warranty (I drive a lot), and the dealers do not repair the GPS units, they just replace them…for the small sum of $3800.00 for the unit plus $200.00 labor (and that’s just for the DVD unit in the trunk!) After MANY phone calls to Acura’s customer support I found out there was a repair program that would allow the Acura dealer to remove the GPS unit and send it in to Alpine for repair (they make the unit for Acura). When I talked to the Service Manager at the Acura dealer about this, he said there was no such program! Well, after a few more phone calls, I convinced Acura Customer Service to contact the dealer and inform them about the program. I thought I was finally getting somewhere, but when I called the dealer (again), the Service Manager acknowledged that the repair program exists, but refused to use it because he had “bad experiences” with past repair programs throught Acura! All this trouble from the dealer I purchased the car from! Anyway, after calling a number of other Acura dealers in my area, I found one that was willing to send my unit in for repair. The “2 to 3 week” turn-around time quoted by Alpine turned in to 6 weeks (the navi wasn’t working anyway so having the unit removed and sent out for repair made little difference). Finally after 6 weeks the repaired unit was re-installed, only to fail before I left the dealer’s parking lot (kept giving a DVD disk reading error, even with a new disk!) The unit was pulled back out and sent back to Alpine for repair. Finally after 5 more weeks the unit ws re-installed and has worked ever since (it’s been about 5 months now). The good news is the entire ordeal ended up costing $500.00 instead of the $4000.00 the first dealer wanted to charge me! I wonder why a $2000.00 option on a new car would cost $4000.00 to replace, and that doesn’t even include the touch screen in the dash! One other thing to consider is that the Factory GPS units usually tie other functions in to them; on my Acura I lost the ability to control some of the climate control and audio functions in my car when the Navi quit working. After all that, I have decided I will go aftermarket from now on even though I hate to give up the bigger Factory screen. If an aftermaket unit fails, I can easily replace it for A LOT LESS MONEY, and won’t have to go for 3 months without GPS, radio station presets, and fan/vent controls!

  4. Wow, talk about a cautionary tale! Thanks for taking the time to share that. I think built-in navigation is going to go the way of built-in cell phones.

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  6. I would always go for a factory installed GPS and it is more acurate and long lasting

  7. More accurate? I doubt that. Long lasting? Sure, if you mean it’s less likely to get stolen. But no if you’re talking about obsolescence.

  8. Stephen D says:

    One small point in favour of ‘built-in’ systems is that they usually have a distance sensor that can detect how far the car has travelled even when the satellite signal is not available (eg in tunnels or heavily built-up areas). They should continue to be accurate in these situations.
    I think some may also have gyroscopes to detect changing direction when the GPS signal is not avaiable, but i am less certain about that.
    Otherwise, my portable unit is much more useful to me than a built-in one.

  9. There’s really only 1 advantage to the factory installed ones, they look better.

  10. I personally prefer an after market unit. I don’t trust factory installed things very often. Plus, an after market unit comes with many more customizable options.

  11. A big advantage to a factory installed one is they usually work without a GPS signal, using compass and vehicle speed. Inside a parking garage? Tall buildings? No problem. A portable nav system becomes a dead weight without a GPS signal.

  12. Some PNDs do have this feature, but really…how often is it a issue?

  13. I would go with the portable unit for a couple reasons not mentioned. The protable units can be taken along when walking around a big city when placed in “walk mode”. You’ll never get lost and you will have a list of all of the landmarks and restaurants at your fingertips. New features are being added to portable units all of the time. I like the new preferred lane feature where it shows the lane to be in for an upcoming exit. You’ll like that one in heavy traffic versus waiting until the last minute and finding that you are in the wrong lane in five o’clock traffic. Finally, you could get at least four portable units for the cost of one OEM unit. Give the older units to your children. College kids love free stuff from Mom and Dad. Focus on the word “free”. Lifetime map updates can be had for $50 or so versus a $200 for a single OEM map update CD. A GPS is not something you use every day so why not put the money in creature comforts like satellite radio, leather seats, model upgrade, etc. that you do use every day.

  14. The problem with factory fitted GPS units is that they are [often?] bloody awful to operate and use. It works but is a pain. Not friendly and a constant annoyance after using the add on Garmin in my previous vehicle. Lacks the GIS features, speed alerts you name it, and there are also update issues that I didn’t have before. If it worked like a proper unit it would be good but opoerating wise its about 15 years old. Any one that asks about my new car first gets told how crappy the GPS is. The rest of it is good.

  15. Definitely aftermarket to go. You spent a little money and you have a choice to upgrade if you wish later. Factory GPS units are so boring and they have limited features. After market units are feature rich . Look in to the android units these days ( and see how good they are.

    I have a Nissan and installed one of these units and love it.

    Thanks for the post.

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