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Choosing a sat nav system

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Choosing a sat nav system

Hate being lost or stuck in traffic jams? Satellite navigation – sat nav for short – puts the fun back into driving, by telling you the best route for where you need to go. Garmin, TomTom, Navman or Sony sat nav will get you where you're going.

How sat nav systems work

fuelSat nav systems make use of a network of satellites called GPS. These satellites orbit the Earth in known positions. By comparing the signal from several of these satellites, your sat nav can calculate where it is on the Earth's surface – often to within a few metres.

Sat navs allow you to plan your route in a variety of ways – entering a postcode, address, even a nearby landmark. The sat nav will calculate the shortest route to your destination and guide you every step of the way.

Which type of sat nav is right for me?

Screen size

screen size
Not to scale

Sat navs come in varying sizes, starting at 3.5in. If you think you’ll use it often and that you’ll benefit from a larger screen, you should definitely consider 4.3in or 4.7in.

Larger screens are clearer and make using the touch screen even easier. They also allow you to view a greater area of the map at any one time. As you can see below there are various maps to choose depending on whether you want to use your sat nav in the UK or when you travel abroad.

Mapping type

uk UK and ROI mapping sat navs are ideal for business users, day trips and those who travel regularly domestically. Think about upgrading to a European sat nav as the majority of European mapping sat navs also feature street level mapping of UK and ROI.
Western Europe or Full Europe
Europe Europe mapping sat navs are ideal for those who holiday or travel regularly on the continent. If you travel to Eastern Europe you need Full European mapping.
North America and Canada
America USA and Canada mapping sat navs are pre-loaded with the latest and most accurate maps, these sat navs areideal for those who holiday or travel for business regularly to North America and Canada.


Key features to look out for

traffic sign

Traffic and routing

The traffic function is a great feature that enables the sat nav to re-route your journey should there be a traffic jam or an accident on your route. The sat nav receives traffic updates continuously as you drive and will update your route in seconds to avoid heavy traffic. This saves you wasting time and fuel when stuck in traffic jams and gets you to your destination faster.

safety camera

Safety cameras

With this function a sat nav will alert you in advance to any fixed safety cameras on your route. This gives you greater awareness of the actual speed limit and could stop you picking up a speeding fine. Some sat navs receive camera updates free for life; others require a monthly or annual subscription.

point of interest

Points of interest

Alerts you to local services such as:

  • petrol stations
  • parking
  • cash-points
  • cinemas
  • restaurants
  • hotels

This is great when you’re in a place you don’t know very well. On longer journeys this feature can be used to plan breaks.



Use your sat nav as a hands free kit for your Bluetooth mobile phone. This is a legal, safer and easier way to make and receive calls while you drive.

Remember, using your phone without a hands free device can result in 3 points on your driving licence and anything from a £60 up to £1000 fine. (Department of transport 2008)

Plus some additional features to look for on different models:

Touch screen You can choose options on your sat nav by touching the screen with a finger – easier than a keyboard, especially when you're driving.
2D/3D mapping The sat nav can display both flat 2D maps (as you'd see on a printed road map) and 3D views that look more like the view from your car.
Postcode search Allows you to search for your destination by postcode.
Mapping loaded The type of map on the sat nav system. There are several, such as 21 Euro (which covers most of Europe) and UK/ROI (Britain and Ireland).
Advanced lane guidance Shows which lane to take at junctions so you don’t miss your turning.
Text to speech Speech technology can give you directions, inform you of the latest traffic messages and even read your text messages.
Voice command and control Selected TomTom sat navs can be controlled by using voice commands, from planning a route to making a call.


What to look for when subscribing

tmcTo keep the maps in your sat nav up to date, you'll need a subscription. (Many sat navs offer you several months' free service, after which you pay a small fee per month). It's a small price to pay for having information about new petrol stations, closed or new roads, and speed camera locations at your fingertips.

Traffic updates reach your sat nav in one of two ways. The radio system, called Traffic Messaging Channel (TMC) is usually free, while updates through your mobile phone (connected to your sat nav wirelessly) need a subscription. There's a bonus: some Bluetooth sat navs can help you make hands-free calls or even read your text messages to you!