I wouldn’t call standalone GPS units “disposable”… but nowadays you can buy entry-level Garmin car units for as little as $89.99, and refurbished units can be had for as little as $59.95. This makes paying $49.99 for a map upgrade seem like a losing proposition. $50 didn’t seem like much back when a GPS cost $700. But now that you can buy a whole new (refurbished) unit for only $10 more than a map upgrade… why bother?
If you’re still rocking a Garmin GPS unit, you might not know that updating the maps for free is amazingly easy. I would never, ever recommend that you put an illegally hacked map on your GPS. But if you were the kind of person who isn’t opposed to that, all you need is some spare time, a computer, a Bittorrent client, a USB mini B cable and, most likely, a small (2 to 8GB) SD card.
And although I would never, ever do this to my own GPS, I could, theoretically, report that Method 2, Part A on the linked page works like a charm on Nuvi 260W units. (see updates below)
Theoretically, of course.
Yeah, I have GPS on my smartphone. And it works well, too. But if I use my phone as a GPS driving aid, I can actually watch the battery drain. And I don’t have a windshield mount for my phone, either. So I’ll keep using the Garmin for the foreseeable future.
UPDATE (01/25/2016): I thought standalone GPS systems were all but dead, but looking at my site logs today, I found that 20+ people visit this page every day. I decided to take a look at this article, and found that the haklabs page I linked to in an earlier version of this post is completely gone. So I thought I’d elaborate a bit for people who still need instructions.
The first thing you need to do is connect your GPS to your computer via USB cable and go to Garmin’s site. I actually recommend using Internet Explorer for this, because you’re going to need to install an ActiveX plug-in (Garmin’s site supports Chrome and Firefox, too, but you’ll need to restart those before continuing). Create an account on Garmin’s site if you haven’t already. Then login to the site, attach your GPS to the USB cable and click the “Update” link. You will be prompted to install an ActiveX plug-in, which will search for your GPS and report its software and map version info to Garmin’s site.
UPDATE (09/07/2016): Thanks to jimcofer.com reader Joe, who pointed out that Garmin has retired their web browser plug-ins and has a new app you can use to update your unit: Garmin Express. So if you want to update your Garmin’s OS before updating the map, click the link, download and install Garmin Express, connect the GPS to your computer via USB and start Express. Thanks, Joe! 🙂
UPDATE (02/24/2017): I just wanted to mention that the Garmin Express app comes with an auto-start feature. Unless you’re managing a fleet of cars and update Garmins constantly, there’s no reason to have Garmin Express start when your computer boots up. In modern version of Windows, you can disable this from starting by opening Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC), clicking the Startup tab, and right-clicking on “Garmin Express Tray” and choosing “Disable”. For older versions of Windows, click Start > Run then type MSCONFIG and press ENTER.
If there is a software update, go ahead and install it. Always install the software updates; they’re free and add new features and fix bugs. Also, if you have an old (very old) Garmin and you’ve never updated the software on it, an update might enable support for SDHC cards, which is the format most SD cards use these days.
Next, you’ll need to go to a certain PIRATE website, located in a BAY of some sort, and search for “Garmin North America” (or “Garmin Europe” if that’s how you swing). You will get many results: look for the one with the most recent map; this is currently 2017.10 (Garmin names maps by year and version, so “2015.20” would be the second version released in 2015). Download the file as one normally would.
Once the file is downloaded, you have to decide what to do with it.
If you have an older Garmin, you likely won’t have enough storage space available to store it internally. If this is the case, insert the SD card into a card reader on your computer, format it as FAT32 (if necessary) and create a folder called “Garmin” in the root of the drive. Then copy the map file – gmapsupp.img – into the Garmin folder. When that’s done, eject the card, put it in your GPS, turn it on, and go to Settings > Maps where you can select the new map.
If your Garmin does have enough free space to hold the new map, you’re probably going to want to connect the GPS to your computer via USB and copy the existing “gmapprom.img” to your computer (it’s always good to have a backup). Next, delete the gmapprom.img file on your GPS, rename the downloaded gmapsupp.img file to gmapprom.img, and copy it to the same folder on your GPS. When that’s done, unplug the GPS, power-cycle it and make sure the map is correct.
Either method works if you have enough storage space. But I prefer the SD card method, as this is easily reversible, especially if you’re away from the computer: just turn the GPS off, remove the SD card from the GPS, and power it back on. The unit should default back to the previous (internal) map.