Dear Car Talk:
I received a letter stating that I can now update the factory GPS in my 2015 Ford Explorer. I was under the impression that a factory-installed GPS would automatically update itself.
Should I pay the $150 for the update, or am I being scammed? -- Thom
Yes, and yes.
Yes, you should probably update it, and yes, you're being scammed.
Most factory-installed GPS systems do not update themselves. We're starting to see more over-the-air updating now, but it wasn't around when you bought your 2015 Explorer.
And since you probably spent $1,000 for the navigation system, you'd think they would update it for free, right?
Mmm ... no.
Now, not a lot changes in terms of roads. They tend to stay put. But things do change slowly over time. Roads get rerouted or changed for safety, streets get renamed, bridges get replaced, traffic patterns are modified.
So, if you use the navigation system often, and drive a lot in unfamiliar places, then it's probably worth updating every four or five years.
Here's a good test: If you're following your navigation instructions, and you suddenly find yourself being passed by a sailboat, it's time for an update.
It can be a pain in the butt to do the update yourself. It's not always user-friendly. If your Ford dealer is willing to install the update for you for $150, that's not a bad price. We've seen much worse (Hello, Honda!).
If you're not wedded to the built-in GPS, then you have the opportunity to switch over to a superior mapping system that's completely free -- unless you count them knowing everything about your every movement as a form of payment.
We're talking about Google Maps, which is available, and constantly updated, on any smartphone. It's easiest to use if your car has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which mirrors your phone's screen on your car's screen.
But even if you don't have that technology, you can come close with a good phone holder that puts the phone high up in your line of sight while you're driving, so you're not taking your eyes off the road to look down at it. There are some pretty good phone holders that clip to your air vents, and others whose base sits in your cup holder, with a long gooseneck to bring the phone up to eye level.
In our experience, Google Maps is up to date, easy to use and factors the most accurate traffic conditions into its navigation instructions.
The choice is yours, Thom. But one way or another, it might be time for an update.