Before Buying, Test-Drive a GPS Unit
Most portable GPS devices work well right out of the box. Yet even though prices have come down, they're not cheap, and you should give your system a thorough check to make sure it's right for you. While most retailers don't exactly offer "test drives," you can try out a GPS unit for a few days after you buy it and usually return it if you're not happy. Five tips for testing, and owning, a system:
Flip the switch—several times. A big frustration with many units is how long they take to sync with satellites and get an initial fix on your location. So when testing a new system, turn it off and on several times as you drive around. Leave it off for a while before turning it on again, to see how long it takes to find the satellites it needs. If you're not happy, return it. More expensive models typically do better but not always.
Find the obstacles. If you sometimes drive near hills, mountains, or tall buildings, test your system around them. Monitor the unit closely to see whether it's holding on to the satellite signal. Again, turn the device off and on as you drive, timing that initial search for satellites.
Check the routes. See how well your new receiver finds your favorite shortcuts. You can drive to a familiar spot with the unit on and see if it finds your shortcuts or merely sticks to the main roads. Or sit at home and enter a destination that should take you through known shortcuts. Today's models will display the device's preferred route, turn by turn, either as text or as a graphical "flyover" so you can see just how smart your new GPS is—or isn't.
Hold on to your paper maps. While GPS devices are remarkably accurate, it's still smart to have a backup, in case you lose satellite linkage, the digital maps are outdated, or the system locks up. Plus, for a general orientation, a large paper map provides a lot more context and detail than a 4-inch screen.
Take it with you. Portable GPS devices are easy prey for thieves, who've been known to look for the telltale circle left on your windshield by the suction cups that hold the receiver in place. Police recommend you take the unit with you out of the car.