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Navigation SystemsNotes From The Road

Navigation Systems
By Debbie Murphy/

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?-
Some people have the wait-til-it's-perfected gene. These are folks who may have been on the verge of getting a VCR when DVDs came out, so they're on hold again. These are also the people with glove compartments jam-packed with maps that, if still up-to-date, are seriously frayed around the folds. They're patiently waiting for navigation systems to be perfected. The wait may be over.

While still very much in the realm of automotive option, navigation systems are standard equipment on the more upscale cars and trucks. And these units show enormous improvements over the ones available as little as 10 years ago. With price tags ranging from $600 to $1,500, the aftermarket systems rely on a network of satellites, using the same operating technology as Global Positioning Systems (GPS). The most common consumer GPS devices are hand-held units used beyond paved roadways, providing information for the user to tell where he or she is. Then it's up to him to figure out where he's going and how to get there.
In contrast, navigation systems include map databases and show the user's position in the context of that database. The big plus is that they also, literally, tell you with a computerized voice how to get where you're going, as well as a virtual atlas worth of additional information.
There's no simple litmus test to indicate who needs a navigation system. Obviously, if you have no sense of direction and/or do a lot of driving into unfamiliar territory, a navigation system will pay for itself in terms of frustration and wasted time trying to locate your destination. The more sophisticated systems can tell you if there are delays because of traffic or roadwork and can direct you to the nearest ATM. There is significant value to the wait-til-it's-perfected theory. Over the past few years, the systems have evolved into units that are much easier to operate and require little if any downloading if your travels take you out of your normal stomping grounds. In fact, the navigation system process may be easier to access than that map folded into weird origami shapes in your glove compartment.

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