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Automobile Gps Systems - How to Get the Most Out of Your Automobile's GPS System

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It seems like the venerable paper map is becoming a relic of a simpler, less technological era. Many drivers still rely on printed road maps to reach their destinations, but just as many have given up on the unwieldy things and switched to the digital option. Automobile GPS systems may make navigation a breeze, and most users don’t even look back at their once indispensable paper maps, but it still a good idea to keep a physical map on hand and know how to use it to navigate.

Now, global positioning technology has been around since the 1960s, when the space race was putting lots of satellites into orbit and governments were looking for ways to use them. It revolutionized naval navigation, but it would be many years before that satellite technology was made available for general civilian use. Today, it is extremely widespread.

It’s so widespread, in fact, that automobile GPS navigation is included in many new car models. GM, for example, has OnStar, which integrates GPS navigation, emergency services and security into the car itself. Such services are of course not available to every car owner, but dedicated automobile GPS systems are readily available. And compared to just five or ten years ago, prices have dropped by quite a bit; no doubt they will fall even more in the near future.

With prices commonly falling in the $100 to $200 dollar range, or even lower if you’re willing to do some shopping around, there is really very little reason not to invest in an automobile GPS system. However, all GPS systems are not created equal, and there are a few tips to remember when the time comes to choose your unit.

- Vocalized directions. Pretty much any automobile GPS navigation device will display a map telling you where you need to turn, but spoken directions will allow you to keep your eyes on the road. Automobile GPS systems often come with a variety of different voices from which to choose, and many of them support other languages.

- Think about size and space. The more complex systems are more user-friendly, but they take up more space and installation can be a hassle. Inexpensive models often plug into the cigarette lighter and offer more mounting possibilities, enabling you to easily transfer it to a different vehicle, but there may be a trade-off in terms of screen size and visibility.

Generally, the bigger the screen, the easier it will be to view and use. However, battery life will probably be shorter with a large screen. Unlike GPS systems designed for camping and hiking, which trade fancy features for portability and battery life, automobile GPS systems are intended to have a more constant power source.

- Try out some different display models at the electronics store to get a feel for the different interfaces used by different manufacturers. Ideally, you want a system that offers numerous ways to find your destination. You can search by address, by intersection, or by selecting from a list of saved favorites. Also, try to get a unit that has information on nearby points of interest. When visiting an unfamiliar city, it can be quite convenient to find the nearest branch of your bank without having to search for a phone book.

- Don’t let your automobile GPS system distract you from the road. Mount it on the windshield where you can see both, and wait until you’re stopped to play around with it. Some models will even lock you out of the main menu while moving, but this can usually be disabled if, for example, your passenger wants to find something.

- Remember that automobile GPS navigation does have its flaws, so a regular map makes a handy backup. Map data may not be completely up-to-date, so check with the manufacturer for any updates. Also, GPS units tend to route you along the biggest major roads whenever possible. This may not always be the quickest route once traffic enters the equation, so don’t depend on them for shortcuts. Finally, always keep your eyes open and use common sense. It’s not unheard of for drivers to get stuck because “the GPS says there’s a road there,” but in reality the “road” is a muddy, backwoods track unfit for any vehicle less than a Humvee.

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