Sat navs: Buying sat nav maps

Sat-nav plugged usb

To update your sat nav map, you usually have to connect the sat nav to your computer with a USB cable

Map updates

We may happily keep a paper road atlas in our car for a few years, before replacing it because either some of the pages have fallen out or some clever clogs spilled a mug of coffee onto it at a service station. In any case, they are cheap to replace, well under £5 if you shop around.

You can update the maps on your sat nav too but the main sat nav manufacturers charge quite a lot to do this. They argue that this is because the maps contain a lot of detail, not just updated roads but also comprehensive points of interest information (for example details of petrol stations and restaurants). 

On a standalone sat nav, downloading an updated map to replace an old one costs from about £40, although you can often pay in one go to get updates every time a fresh map is released, usually quarterly. This works out cheaper if you like to always drive with the latest available map installed.

In any case, updating standalone sat nav maps is considerably cheaper than built-in sat navs in cars - these usually cost well over £100 and a trip to the car dealer. On the other hand, map updates are often free on mobile phone sat nav apps.

To add maps you have bought to your standalone sat nav, you usually have to connect your sat nav to your computer and go through a step-by-step download process. The download can sometimes take a few hours depending on the speed of your internet connection and whether you are downloading UK and Ireland only, or Europe too. Sat nav app map updates usually coincide with a software update and are done over the mobile internet. You will usually be notified when an update becomes available.

Are sat nav map updates worth it? Join the conversation.

Caravan road holiday

Sat navs can make driving abroad much easier

Buying maps for different regions

Some sat navs contain maps for UK and Ireland only, whereas other slightly more expensive ones also contain Europe. European maps are usually made up of detailed mapping of Western Europe, with partial coverage of Eastern Europe as well. Sat nav makers' websites usually state which countries their maps cover.

If you are travelling and need a new map for the area you are going to, you can often find the one you need on your sat nav maker's website. You can then pay for and download it from there, or you can buy the map on a memory card and insert it in to the sat nav if your sat nav has a memory card slot.

On the latest sat navs, there is usually enough memory space to store several maps, but if you have an older one there may not be. In this case, when you download your newly purchased map it will replace the map on your device if there is not enough memory on your device to fit them together. You can re-install the original map at any time.

When buying a new map, there will be information on how much memory space it will use, and if you connect your sat nav to your computer, an indication of how much free memory space is on the device. 

Watch our how to program a sat nav video guide.