Remember when you were told you had to buy a completely new set of GPS map updates every year to keep your device current? Forget about it. Now you can pay once and get the latest Navteq maps installed in your newer-model GPS as often as you want, for life. No not your life, but the life of the device. Here's the lowdown on the major GPS map update programs, how they work and what they cost.

By far the biggest GPS update program is, not surprisingly, from the dominant player in the GPS market: Garmin. The Garmin nuMaps Lifetime program lets users install the latest Garmin map updates (Navteq City Navigator North America and Europe) whenever they become available, for only slightly more than the price of a single one-time download. The program is compatable with most Garmin products, including nuvi, eTrex, Oregon and Street Pilot. Used to be they had to mail you a disc; now all it takes is a simple (albeit slow) download directly from the internet.

Numaps Lifetime update cards and codes can be purchased from the Garmin store, but they are also available for well below retail price on Amazon. Before proceeding here are just a few important things to keep in mind.

  • Be sure to register your device on the Garmin website, and if it's a slightly older unit make sure you have the latest operating system installed. (Some older and less common units may have problems accepting nuMaps Lifetime updates, Garmin will tell you which ones.)
  • Go to Amazon to purchase the nuMaps Lifetime update. It's just a download code that you will take back to the Garmin website to use--but on Amazon it costs a lot less! Don't panic if you somehow miss or close a window with your download code--while logged in to your Amazon account you can visit your Amazon Software Library and retrieve the code there.Alternatively you can purchase a nuMaps gift card (scratch to reveal download code) and have it sent to someone.
  • Once you're ready to go, hook up your GPS to a computer with a USB cable, and run the Garmin webupdater program to be sure the download will go as smoothly as possible.
  • Now it's time to revisit the Garmin map update site and use your new map code. Note you will need to enter your GPS serial number to activate the code and key the map download to your particular device. You can then choose to download the file directly, or use the Garmin file downloader. Note the additional software key Garmin provides for the specific set of map updates you will be installing.  Once the download is complete, you will have to enter this key to install the upgrade.

Note that older units may have insufficient memory to install all the maps, but with relatively current models there should be no problem!

The Garmin nuMaps download process isn't complicated. Just be patient, use the fastest internet connection you can, and don't expect the process to be done in a few minutes--remember these are really huge files.

Garmin nuMaps Lifetime is now also available for Europe. For other regions only the single most recent set of updates will be available.

There are also one-time "plug and play" Garmin nuMaps North America map updates available on SD card--not to be confused with a download card. For the best current deals on Garmin GPS map updates see below.