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Majority of consumers confused over ‘lifetime’ sat nav support

Manufacturer and customer definitions of lifetime map and software updates can differ wildly

A survey of Which? members has revealed that 60% incorrectly believe that ‘lifetime’ updates for sat navs means that the manufacturer will make up-to-date software and maps available for the lifetime of the device.

However, the definition of ‘lifetime’ support according to manufacturers can be very different. This was highlighted when TomTom recently removed support for older devices sold with lifetime updates.

At the time, the sat nav giant clarified its position on lifetime updates, saying: ‘Lifetime means the useful life of the device, i.e. the period of time TomTom supports your device with updates, services, content or accessories. A device will have reached the end of its life when none of these are available anymore.’

Sat nav reviews – read in-depth reviews of all the models we’ve tested.

Essentially, then, in the case of TomTom devices, lifetime support ends when the brand decides it no long makes commercial sense. However, for owners, it means being lumbered with a sat nav that can no longer be updated, and will become increasingly less useful as the maps get more and more out of date.

Rival sat nav manufacturer Garmin takes a similar approach to lifetime updates. A statement on its website says that customers with a lifetime subscription will receive updates ‘when and as such updates are made available on the Garmin website during the useful life of the compatible Garmin product or as long as Garmin receives map data from a third-party supplier, whichever is shorter.’

Don’t forget to update your sat nav

It goes on to define a product’s ‘useful life’ as: ‘the period during which the product (a) has sufficient memory capacity and other required technical capabilities to utilize current map data and (b) is capable of operating as intended without major repairs. A product will be deemed to be out of service and its useful life to be ended if no updates have been downloaded for such product for a period of 24 months or more.’

We contacted Garmin to clarify whether a customer would lose access to updates for a new device if they neglected to perform an update for 24 months. A company spokesperson stated that inactive accounts are frozen after this time for data protection purposes, but all you’d need to do if affected is contact Garmin to get access to lifetime updates reinstated. However, as with TomTom, there’s nothing that can be done if it determines your device is too old to support.

Despite the approach taken by manufacturers, free up-to-date maps is a critical factor among Which? members when looking for a new sat nav device, according to our survey of 1,452 members in April 2018. Our research has highlighted that 75% consider it to be the most important aspect when choosing a new device, with accurate traffic re-routing information coming a close second.

What can you do if a manufacturer drops support for your device?

If yours is an older device, there’s little you can do to continue receiving map and software updates. In such cases it may be worth considering a smartphone sat nav app, which is not only cheaper (or free) to download, but most from major names such as Google and Waze are accessed via a data connection and therefore are always up to date.

However, if you’ve recently bought a portable sat nav that’s already become obsolete, it may constitute a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and also the Consumer Rights Act.

If you’ve been affected by losing lifetime product support and would like more information on your rights as a consumer, head to our consumer rights guide to faulty products.

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