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If you have a hard time using maps, our articles on map use may help.  If not, and you will be renting a car on vacation, why not consider renting one equipped with a vehicle navigation system?


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Travel Advice - Alternatives to maps: Navigation Systems offered by rental car companies.


Some people have a hard time using maps to navigate. In this article, we focus on the use in-car navigation systems, provided by rental car companies, as an alternative method for solving navigation problems experienced by travelers.

Many rental car companies provide routing assistance beyond a rack of highly generalized maps at the rental counter. Please note that the not all car rental companies or branches of these companies offer in-car units. In addition, you usually can reserve these services in advance.

Several rental car companies feature in-car navigation systems. The in-car navigation system is part of the automobile's original equipment and usually works through a relatively large screen located in the center of the dashboard.  Many devices are speech enabled, allowing you to enter addresses and destination names to initiate your navigation session.

Some rental car companies are now providing portable navigation devices (called Personal Navigation Devices, such as a TomTom or a Garmin) for your use during your travels in their rentals.

Both types of units work in the same manner, although the in-car systems usually offer more options, while the hand-held devices may actually be more up-to date - in terms of map database accuracy.


Both systems automatically locate the vehicle using Global Positioning Systems technology (GPS). GPS finds the car’s location based on positional information broadcast from a cluster of satellites. The GPS coordinates are used to locate the vehicle and position a symbol representing the car on a visual display of a map database.

The navigation system features a small, color display to show the car’s location on a map of the area. As you continue driving, the navigation system updates the position of the car and changes the map on the display to show the car’s new position and surrounding area.

In order to initiate the system, you need to supply the address of your destination (because these units are GPS equipped, the system already knows where you are).  After you enter an address into the system, the device calculates a route connecting the roads and streets between the location of the car and the address of the destination.

The system, then, provides voice cues when you need to maneuver the car to stay on the route connecting the locations. If you miss a turn, the navigation system will repeatedly urge you to return to the correct path. If you fail to do so, the system will calculate a new route to the location, allowing you to continue driving and not have to back track.

The in-car navigation system is a component of the electronic system of the vehicle. The navigation system consists of a display, an on-board navigation computer, a GPS receiver, DVD player, and DVD media containing a map database. More advanced navigation systems contain additional equipment for measuring distance and direction in an effort to locate the vehicle when GPS signals are not available.

Many in-car navigation systems are interlinked with a built in cellular phone to provide access to a call-center that provides assistance when the car is disabled or the driver needs more information than the in-car system can provide.   We think these "safety" services are a very smart way to protect yourself when driving in "new" areas.

We find in-car navigation systems to be quite useful and recommend that you try one out during your next rental. Systems are available in the U.S. and Europe from a broad range of providers. Costs and availability vary, but are in the range of $7 to $15 per day.  If you are taking a long trip, it might be more economical to purchase your own Personal Navigation Device and save the fee charged by the rental car companies.

On a recent trip through Germany, we took our PND.  Of course, the car provided us by AVIS, was equipped with an in-dash system.  As you might suspect, we could not resist staging the battle of the the GPS units and used both while driving.  Both performed well, but the Points of Interest  data base (restaurants, hotels, pharmacies, etc), in the in-dash unit was much better than the one on our PND.  Conversely, the PND had a function that let me know when I was going faster than local speed limits and I found this very useful, since the signs were not always obvious.  In an event, we recommend that you use one type of device or the other when you travel.


If you have difficulty navigating between places while on the road, we present three additional articles on alternatives to maps. One article describes the use of mapping and routing software for the PC (mapping and routing software for the PC). A second article is used to describe Web sites that provide online mapping and routing services (online mapping and routing ). Our final article explains the use of hand-held computers and cells phones to provide mapping and routing ( mapping and routing with handheld devices ).

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