Despite the popularity of smartphone apps, people still buy car GPS systems because smartphone apps come with two major issues: data connection and data collection. The former is subject to network coverage (good luck trying to navigate around a forest) and the latter to privacy issues (have you been keeping up with the news lately?).
Also, GPS units don’t have any annoying interruptions from texts, have a better interface and more detailed maps, among many other things.
If you’re on a tight budget (as many of us are), you may be worried you can’t get a GPS system that will meet your needs. But put your mind at ease – there are many fantastic GPS systems you can get for less than $100.
- Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Car GPS Systems
- Best Cheap Car GPS Systems Under $100
- 1. Best Overall GPS: Garmin Drive 61
- 2. Easiest to Mount: TomTom Via 1525M
- 3. Best Premium GPS: Garmin Drive 52
- 4. Best Budget GPS: Garmin Drive 50 LMT
- 5. Best Smartphone Integration: Garmin DriveSmart 50 LMT
- 6. Most Impressive Screen: LTTRBX GPS Navigation for Car
- 7. Best for Truckers: OHREX Truck GPS Navigator
- Guide to Buying the Best Car Navigation Systems
- A GPS System Doesn’t Have to Cost a Fortune
Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Car GPS Systems
The core concept behind a car GPS is this: a navigation system making use of satellite imagery to provide an illustrated route to the driver requesting one. There are (at the time of writing this article) 31 GPS satellites orbiting Earth working in tandem to relay signals to your device.
The quality of a GPS system depends on how well it interprets and displays this information, as well as the criteria listed below.
The screen size and resolution should be good enough for a glance or two, while driving, to let you understand what is displayed on the screen. On average, you’ll want a screen sized between 5 or 6 inches – large enough to see easily but small enough to not obstruct the road.
Of course, the main point of a GPS is to get you where you want to go. Text-to-speech directions, customizable routes, and automatic recalculation abilities can help you on your way.
While driving, getting heads-ups of potential issues makes your commute much more convenient and saves you a lot of time. Some of these real-time updates to look for include:
- Traffic Reports: Notifications about longer commute time due to traffic jams/ construction work/etc.
- Lane assistance: Lets you know what lane to switch to for upcoming turns and exits.
- Turn-by-turn directions: Audial and visual prompts let you know when and where to make a turn.
The mapping software depends on the following:
- Areas covered: All the GPS units featured in this list have maps that cover everything from the lower 48 to Canada to all of North America.
- Points-Of-Interest features: Locations and services such as gas stations, cafes, watering holes, and grocery stores, among many other things.
- Lifetime map updates: This feature keeps the map routes and details up to date indefinitely. It also adds new roads and destinations to your GPS database, while also fixing errors in street names, traffic directions, and points of interest.
Some extras can help make your commute easier, such as Bluetooth, WiFi and voice command.
For even more tips on what makes a great GPS system, check out our more thorough guide below.
Now that you know what to look for, let’s dive into the 7 best GPS systems under $100.
Note: Some of these products are refurbished but the quality is as good as new (you wouldn’t know if you weren’t told ahead of time). If you’re skeptical, all of these products are covered by various warranty policies, so you can feel safe trying them out.
Best Cheap Car GPS Systems Under $100
The Garmin Drive 61 features a touchscreen measuring 6.1” diagonally with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, on a dual-orientation, color TFT LCD. The result is a very, very fine-looking screen. It can be viewed either in landscape or portrait orientation.
The programming behind the Drive products makes the text-to-speech directions sound less like they’re coming from navigation devices and more like a bunch of friends you’re dropping off in an area they know very well. You get a, “Turn right at Allegheny Avenue,” instead of an, “In 300 yards, turn right,” courtesy of the Real Directions feature.
You also get lane assistance – a godsend when driving in an unfamiliar area. For example, the GPS unit says, “In 520 feet, be in either of the two right lanes, then turn right at the stoplight.” Instead of a much more ambiguous, “Turn right in 520 feet,” in a monotonous tone that’s typical of many GPS units.
You can choose a customized route based on how you want to get where you’re going, with the help of features such as the Route Avoidance. The Direct Access feature simplifies navigation by suggesting a less-crowded place within a destination that is a crowded area, such as a shopping mall.
However, you do not get real-time traffic updates, which can be a bummer in cities with lots of traffic (looking at you, L.A.). If that’s important to you, consider the Garmin DriveSmart 50 LMT.
The Drive 61 comes with a vast array of detailed maps for the lower 49 states and Canadian roads (for the latter, you’ll have to pay slightly extra). These can be updated for up to 4 times a year at no cost. You can choose to view the map from a single 3D map view or double 2D map views.
A ridiculously extensive list of POIs is present within the database of the Drive 61, courtesy of Foursquare. These POIs come with ratings and reviews by other people on everything from hotels to bodegas to watering holes to cafes on your route via TripAdvisor. You can also add your own customized POIs.*Although refurbished, this product works and looks like new and is backed by the 90-day Amazon Renewed Guarantee Policy.
The TomTom Via 1525M features a 5” screen with a brilliant display, boasting a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels with an anti-glare coating. That being said, the touchscreen is slow to react, and you’ll find yourself having to type each letter twice sometimes.
The TomTom Via 1525M also features text-to-speech directions, albeit not with the personalized tone from the Garmin Drive Series, like in the Garmin Drive 61.
Akin to the “Lane Assistance” feature in the Garmin GPS units, the TomTom Via 1525M features Advanced Lane Guidance that utilizes split-screen lane guidance to relay directions with much better clarity.
However, the device features no traffic updates.
The Via comes with loaded maps for all of North America, including all 50 states of the US and Canada and Mexico. You can download additional maps/upgrades on the 1525M through MyDriveConnect on your computer. That being said, it takes an obnoxiously long amount of time for each upgrade (at least 3 hours).
The map database also comes with millions of POIs, typical of all quality GPS systems.
One of the best parts about the Via 1525M is the mount. The suction cup is very easy to use – all you have to do is rotate the cup base a little while placed on a flat, smooth surface, and it sticks instantly. Conversely, you can remove the suction cup by rotating the base in a counter-clockwise direction. It stays firmly stuck for a long time, regardless of the temperature.
The Garmin DriveSmart 52 features a 5’0” touchscreen with a resolution of 480 x 272 pixels, with 2D and 3D views. Not exactly “watching Avatar at an IMAX theater” quality, but it does pretty well for a basic GPS. It also features day and night modes. If you’re looking for an outstanding screen, you may prefer the LTTRBX GPS Navigation for Car.
The Drive 52 comes with multiple premium navigation features. It allows you to set your own customized routes based on how long, how much, and what you want to see when you ride. Text-to-speech offers directions in a manner that’s very easy to understand, from Garmin Real Directions. It provides automatic recalculation of your routes for you ahead of time, if there are traffic delays.
Its lane assist features a realistic illustration of an upcoming junction with brightly colored arrows showing the way. And speed limit indicators, and alerts for sharp curves, school zones, red lights and speed cameras help keep you safe.
The Drive 52 comes with detailed preloaded maps of all 50 states of the US and Canada that you can view in both 2D and 3D. The maps also receives free updates (up to 4 times a year) over the lifetime of the GPS unit.
One of the best parts about the Drive 52 is the database featuring points-of-interest from the History Channel and the National Park Directory, in addition to those already present in Foursquare.
The former features pictures and descriptions of historical monuments, parks, historic sites, and museums while the latter features turn-by-turn directions to national parks, including information and directions to campgrounds, visitor centers, picnic areas, and trailheads. But be careful if you’re heading something extremely balmly, since it can overheat in particularly hot weather.*Although refurbished, this product works and looks like new and is backed by the 90-day Amazon Renewed Guarantee Policy.
The screen display of the Drive 50 LMT features a color TFT touchscreen with a 5” screen size and a resolution of 480 x 272 pixels. The screen can be viewed either in landscape mode or in portrait mode. You get to view the device in both 2D and 3D views.
Courtesy of the Garmin Traffic, this GPS provides you with real-time traffic reports every 5 minutes, from the information provided by the traffic-RDS by NAVTEQ, a geographic information system provider that is now owned by Nokia. Real Directions Landmark Guidance keeps you on track. There are detailed preloaded maps (for this model, all roads in the US) with more than adequate detail for the average user. And alerts for upcoming areas such as school zones, rail crossing and animal crossings ahead of time keep you prepared.
Lane assistance and speed limit indicator for most American roads are especially welcome features in a budget model. Plus, you can plan a trip with multiple destinations and rest stops with Trip Planner. You can have the device do the normal route calculation between all the interim destinations, or you can manually set your preference for the route in between.
The Garmin Drive 50 US comes with preloaded maps for all lower- 49 American roads, which can be viewed in both 2D and 3D. The Direct Access feature helps you find your way to specific points at select malls, airports, and universities.
There is a database with millions of POIs that encapsulates everything from hotels to watering holes to movie theaters and is constantly updated by Foursquare.
Free lifetime map updates (of the maps already preloaded) for download up to 4 times a year make sure you’re always up to date.
The Garmin DriveSmart 50 features a 5” TFT touchscreen with a resolution of 480 x 272 pixels and white backlight. The resistive touchscreen can be viewed either horizontally or vertically and features a pinch-to-zoom display.
The DriveSmart 50 LMT is a fusion of the best features of the Drive series and some of the most important functions of your smartphone.
From the Drive series, it has the following features: Real Directions Landmark Guidance, alerts for caution areas such as school zones and rail crossings, lane assistance, live traffic updates, automatic recalculation of your routes ahead of time (which can be slow at times), and a speed limit indicator.
The DriveSmart 50 LMT comes with preloaded maps (with exhaustive detail) for the USA, Canada, and Mexico. These maps can be viewed in both 2D and 3D. Like other Drive units, it comes with lifetime map updates too.
It also has a search field that retrieves all relevant POIs with the assistance of Foursquare. The Direct Access feature also provides door-to-door directions to destinations within select malls, airports, and universities.
The defining characteristic of the Drive Smart series is the ability to pair your GPS unit with your smartphone over Bluetooth (through the Garmin Smartphone Link app for iPhone and Android). This makes your GPS incredibly convenient to use, by letting you do the following:
- Voice-activated navigation: You can operate your GPS unit for the entirety of your trip with your hands on the wheel. Just say “voice command” to activate it.
- You can answer incoming calls and texts and tend to on-screen calendar reminders and app updates.
The inclusion of built-in WiFi also means you get automatic map updates every time you’re near a WiFi network, as opposed to having to hook it up to a computer every time.*Although refurbished, this product works and looks like new and is backed by the 90-day Amazon Renewed Guarantee Policy.
The size of this GPS is going to make you do a double-take. Although the 7” display makes the LTTRBX seem like a tablet masquerading as a GPS unit, it’s not. The TFT touchscreen also has a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, and the perfect combination of size and clarity results in a brilliant display.
Alert for upcoming areas such as school zones, rail crossing and animal crossings ahead of time make sure you’re never caught off guard. As do the other units on this list, the LTTRBX comes with text-to-speech directions. However, the timing for these directions when relayed is sometimes inappropriate and often inconsistent (you may get a “turn left” prompt at a distance anywhere from 100 feet to a half-mile before you have to turn left).
There is a pseudo lane assistance feature present in the form of a multi-lane highway that can, however, be confusing at times. A speed limit indicator helps keep you safe.
The routes the GPS calculates for you are generally correct, but sometimes you may find yourself given directions to take unnecessarily longer routes or driving on roads that aren’t exactly fun to drive on despite having a highway to your destination.
The LTTRBX comes with preloaded maps for 101 regions covering almost all of commutable North America.
Map updates for the LTTRBX can be availed by email request once-a-year, which is infrequent. The fact that the LTTRBX doesn’t have an online guide doesn’t help you either. However, there is a lot of map clarity and the street names and directions are generally accurate.
It also has a database containing millions of POIs, postal code and street names.
The screen size of the OHREX GPS is 7 inches with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, making for a really fine display, on par with the LTTRBX GPS.
Turn-by-turn directions and street names are broadcast through the speaker, as well as
driver alerts to let you know about upcoming danger zones. It’s lane assist feature lets you know what lanes to merge into ahead of time.
It also plans your route to save the most time, and it offers a speed camera detection feature. However, the GPS does not feature any traffic updates, and many times, the directions relayed are wrong.
The OHREX GPS features comprehensive maps of the USA and other countries that you can receive free downloads of via e-mail. The database also contains a gigantic list of postcodes, addresses, and coordinates, in addition to points-of-interest.
However, you cannot use a Mac computer to operate maps update, as the system is only compatible with Windows.
Still have questions about buying a GPS system for your car? We’ve got you covered!
Why Do I Need a Car GPS System?
First and foremost, GPS systems make it simpler to get where you need to be, without relying on maps, directions, or memory. Beyond this, they can make your drive more convenient, quicker, or even safer by avoiding traffic and other hazards. This last point is one to take extremely seriously: road injuries are one of the leading causes of death in the world.
This is why safety experts around the world have been working toward creating products that improve the safety of human beings who need to get places in a fast-paced world that only keeps going faster. Some of these products, like GPS systems, end up becoming revolutionary – and the standard for all safety-conscious drivers.
Is a GPS System Expensive?
The best GPS suited to you is one that is as much a part of your car as your driving wheel or rearview mirror is. Don’t look at it as a car “accessory”. You want to get a GPS unit that you can see owning for at least a couple of years.
Often, a higher price generally correlates with higher quality. However, not everyone always has the budget for a more expensive GPS system. Thankfully, there are many options on the market that offer safety and convenience while being a fantastic value, like the Garmin Drive 50 LMT. You can also consider a higher-end model refurbished, to get more premium features at a lower cost.
What Is GPS?
GPS – short for global positioning system – is a network of satellites orbiting Earth. From their position 12,000 miles above the surface, they send signals repeatedly which are intercepted by a GPS receiver. The GPS system can then determine how far away the satellite is (and what your location is as a result) by analyzing how long it took that signal to arrive.
What Should I Look for in a GPS System?
When selecting the best GPS system for your car, keep these factors in mind:
The size of your screen should be neither so small that you have to strain your eyes to check directions mid-driving, nor so large that it ends up claiming way too much real estate on your windshield and blocking a part of your view.
For cars of sizes ranging from coupes to SUVs, a GPS unit with a size of either 5” inches or 6” inches is ideal. 6” screens are better due to higher clarity, but they also cost more.
Larger vehicles such as RVs and trucks are better suited to GPS units ranging from a size of 7” to 9” inches, like the one featured in OHREX GPS.
The resolution of your screen is just as important as its size and is one of the definitive indicators of the clarity of your screen. A screen with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels is going to look significantly better than one with 480 x 272 pixels.
If you went through the product descriptions of all these devices in detail, you would have noticed either of the words “TFT” or “LCD” preceding the word “screen”.
LCD, which most of you have a vague idea about, stands for Liquid Crystal Display. LCD is a catch-all term for all basic screens.
TFT, on the other hand, is a special, optimized type of LCD. Standing for thin-film transistor, all the pixels on the screen are illuminated individually, resulting in a display that is sharper and brighter than generic LCD screens.
It is imperative that the GPS on your screen displays your location in real-time with precise accuracy.
All of us, at least once in our lives, have missed a turn and ended up being punished with the chore of knowingly driving in the wrong direction for 10 minutes while muttering words that our proofreaders won’t let us type.
With a GPS, your position is determined based upon signals broadcasted by various GPS satellites and how your unit receives them. This is why you experience signal delays near tall buildings and forests. There are a myriad of factors affecting GPS accuracy, but for the most part, this can be mitigated with better receivers.
Real-time updates alert you about stuff you should know while driving to your destination. Driving as in the present participle – these updates are relayed to you in real-time. As you can probably tell, the timing of the information relayed is just as important as the information relayed.
The timing for these updates must be implemented in two ways:
- Appropriately ahead of time/distance. (“In 200 meters, turn left,” as opposed to, “Turn left in 50 meters.”)
- With consistency. (If the device takes 5 seconds to say, “turn left in 300 meters”, it should not take 5 seconds to say “turn left in 50 meters”)
Real-time updates can be relayed through the following methods:
- Text-to-speech voice prompts from the GPS that tells you about things you should know ahead of time, so you don’t have to check the display screen while driving.
- Lifetime map updates that update the details of the maps in your device to keep up with new constructions and alterations.
- Automatic route recalculation to avoid heavy traffic or to set an alternative route with the shortest distance to your destination.
- Lane assistance lets you know ahead of time what lane of the road you should merge into when exiting a highway or approaching an intersection. This is a boon if you’re riding in an area you’re unfamiliar with.
- Speed limit indications.
- Alerts that warn you about dangerous zones like hairpin curves or railroad crossings ahead of time.
Level of Map Detail
While GPS units already come with preloaded maps (especially for a particular country or region), the best ones have a much higher level of detail pertinent to your destination and the route you take to your destination.
One subset of these details is points-of-interest features. These are presented in the form of a database of locations and services such as gas stations, cafes, watering holes, and food outlets, among many other things.
Another feature that is often overlooked by those buying their first GPS units is lifetime map updates. If present, this feature keeps the map routes and details up to date with all the changes incurred for an indefinite period of time. This dramatically lengthens the lifetime of your GPS device. Map updates don’t just add new roads and destinations to your GPS database, but also fix errors in street names, traffic directions, and points of interest.
Bluetooth: Bluetooth pairing with your phone enables you to answer calls and texts and tend to notifications from other apps on your phone like the calendar app.
WiFi: GPS units with WiFi can download and upgrade maps from the internet directly, which saves a LOT of time.
Camera: For visibility purposes to aid with the traffic updates, as well as aiding you in functions such as parking.
A GPS System Doesn’t Have to Cost a Fortune
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice a great GPS system. By following our advice, you can choose a GPS that’s reliable, accurate, convenient – and affordable.
With the right GPS system for you, the road becomes even more inviting. Wherever you dream of going, these systems can get you there.