Map Updates

Our GPS has been telling me for several months now that my map is more than one year old and I should check for updates.  That’s kind of an annoying message to receive when you check and there isn’t an update, and check again the next time you get the same message and there still isn’t an update.

But, guess what?

After about 5 or 6 months of checking there really WAS an update!

I downloaded it, in about 13 minutes.  I remember a couple years ago when we were limited to the speed of our Verizon JetPack and a few gigs per month of bandwidth that it once took me 5 hours to download a map update.  There was nothing wrong with the download, it was just a really big map and a really slow connection.

Still, Spectrum’s internet connection is usually a delight to use. Our GPS is now updated and we’re ready for our next trip — in about a month from now.  

I wonder about the map updates though… The Rand McNally system updates via a stand-alone desktop application.  Once you initialize the update you can view the names of the files being downloaded and see the progress in a typical download thermometer.  This time most of the files I saw being uploaded were about specific attractions — heavily weighted to the East and West Coasts.  Truth be told I don’t know I’ve ever searched for info, or looked at video or images on the GPS in any of those locales.  It might be nicer if that stuff was optional, but hey, all I care about now is that I have a new map.

It just dawned on me that I accomplished something I’ve been struggling with for 5 years, and I did it without thinking.  All the while we were RV’ing I had the RV specific points of interest turned on.  And one of those is a database of Veterinary locations around the country.  That sounds like a really great thing when you think about how many RV’ers there are with pets, and how hard it must be to find good Vet services when you are traveling. The annoying thing, though, is that there are so MANY vets in the database that they clutter the screen when you’re driving and are a distraction. Initially I thought that I could find a software switch to turn them off.  Wrong.  No such option.  You have to turn off ALL of the RV POI icons in order to get rid of the vet icons.  So I lived with them.  However, recently I realized I no longer needed to see campgrounds on my map all the time, or RV dealers, so I turned off the RV POI function and voila!  The Vet icons went bye-bye! Hooray.  Small victories.

On a separate but parallel train of thought the subject of automobile navigation systems comes to the fore.  If you do a lot of traveling and think that an onboard navigation system is going to solve all your problems I suggest you think long and hard about that.

The Subaru we bought came equipped with the Subaru version of a navigation system.  I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but to get other features that I really wanted I had to go that route.  The thing car dealers don’t tell you about — and why would they — they are in the business of selling and maximizing profit along the way — is that car manufacturers aren’t in the business of selling GPS systems.  They are in the business of selling CARS first, and if any kind of GPS system will make a few extra car sales fine, but their goal is to sell more cars, not more GPS units.

Car manufacturers do not update their maps as often; the updates are less complete; and it’s not unusual for the manufacturer to charge significant feels for the the update.  GPS manufacturers need to keep their customers happy, so they update more frequently, usually for the cost of the original unit or some portion thereof — so no added cost once you have committed to “lifetime” maps. They are usually easier to use and more complete.

I’ve been playing around a little bit with the GPS in our Subaru and yes, it works.  Our route from Milwaukee to Los Fresnos via the Subaru system was 40 miles longer than the Rand McNally system, and in a 1600 mile trip that’s not bad, but I did wonder where those miles were!  (Turns out the GPS insisted that we route through Chicago even when it was shorter and faster from our point of departure to route via I-43 and I-39).  The algorithms are tweaked to prefer larger cities.

I have discovered that finding waypoints is much more difficult with the Subaru Starlink system. It’s not just a different metaphor, there are more steps to reach a less likely conclusion.  The database in the Starlink system is much smaller.  And sometimes you have to search for places “near you” instead of being able to search for a definable category, like “tourist attractions” or “golf course” or “hospital”.

Another point of note, the database of roads is far superior in the branded GPS over the automotive navigation system.  Rand McNally has almost all the Forest Service roads in it’s system, and the internal roads for virtually every RV park/campground we’ve ever been in — including Palmdale.  The Subaru will get you to the primary street address, but leave you on the curb knowing nothing about the maze of roads within the RV park, campground, or development.  We were often able to follow our GPS right to our campsite with the Rand McNally — with Starlink the map keeps moving but for what information it provides the driver you might as well be off-roading in the desert.

We knew when we bought the car that the onboard navigation would not replace our GPS and nothing has changed in that regard even after a couple weeks of use.

I haven’t yet put the GPS back onto the mounting disk — I wrote about this a week or so ago.  We aren’t going anywhere that I really need the unit and I’m letting the silicone sealer cure completely, so the disk is just sitting on the dash. When we used the adhesive on the back of the disk it lasted about 5 days before failing — so putting the GPS up on the dash for a half day while we tool around S. Texas won’t tell us anything.  If it’s going to fail it’s going to take a couple or a few days to stress the bond until it fails — so we’ll probably not know if the silicone has done the job until we pick up Kathryn in Galveston on September 8.





4 thoughts on “Map Updates

  1. My Nissan hasn’t been updated in the 5 years I’ve had it, and it shows. Instead of paying the $100+ to update it, I’m thinking about just getting a good dash mount for my phone and a faster charging cable.


    1. Yup…..

      Most of the time we could have used our phone for GPS services but be aware that when you do your broadband usage goes up significantly. When we were on pay-by-the-gigabyte plan for all of our internet use that would have killed us in $$$. Now that we aren’t traveling as much and I have cut our cell phone limits down to 4 gig/month we could not begin to accomplish a long trip using just phones — so for US (and us alone) the GPS still provides the best deal for the need.

      $100 wouldn’t be bad if it was lifetime updates — heck good maps & guides can get you to $100 pretty fast if you travel a lot.

      But, it’s all about what a person ‘needs’ in their life. The priority one places of various battling interests.

      right? 🙂



      1. Luckily we have unlimited data plans. And my husband is urging me (with good reason) to download the maps for the region we are in. We’ll see how it goes. 🙂


  2. You should be good.

    I became very guarded about GPS providers when we were at Highland Ridge last year. It seems that Garmin and Tom-Tom kept sending campers to the Ranger’s Office on the wrong side of the lake all summer long. Our Rand McNally might have had a few other details wrong — over 5 years and every destination we put into it there were only 2 cases where it took us to the wrong address. Once by about 300 feet on the wrong side of the road and once any 1/4 mile. But all of our campgrounds and federal destinations were spot on. I think Google maps comes close to that record — even Google has done me wrong a couple times but hey, it’s only a machine and things do change!

    Anyway…. good luck 🙂


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