Adding an Aftermarket Navigation System

25 May

GarminYou found the almost perfect used minivan, the only problem is it does not have that built-in navigation system you were hoping for.  Well don’t fear, there are multiple ways you can fix that and add an aftermarket navigation system to your new ride.

Factory Fitted Options

If there was a version of your minivan that came from the factory with navigation, or could have it fitted as a dealer option then this is probably your most integrated way to upgrade.

Going to the dealer to get all of the needed parts or have them fit it for you is also going to be your most expensive.  What you may want to do here is check around your local salvage dealers incase they have come across a wrecked version of your van that has the navigation system fitted, or check online to see if anyone has one for sale in any of the vehicle specific forums after they have upgraded themselves.

The main problems with going this route (other than cost, as this is likely to be the most expensive) is making sure you have all of the required parts, as this is fitted by the manufacturer or dealer there is likely to be lots of small components all around the vehicle rather than everything neatly packaged into a single unit.  You also need to be careful that the system works and is not stolen if you are buying used.

Aftermarket Stereo Upgrade

The next option is to upgrade the stereo on your minivan to a high-end aftermarket on with Navigation built in.

Personally, I would only suggest this option if you really must have the screen built in, and there is no factory upgrade available.  Most of the units in this segment come in what is called a double-din size, this is a squarish box measuring about 7″x4″ to allow enough room for the screen.  Unless your minivan already has an opening that size getting it to fit and look good can involve a lot of custom work, which will cost you either time or money depending on your skillset.

If you are going to go this route, I suggest sticking to established manufacturers of car audio equipment like Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer and Sony.  While there appears to be lots of deals from a multitude of other manufacturers, I wonder how well they will hold up to the vibrations, and heat extremes that come from always being in a vehicle.

Dash Mounted Aftermarket Navigation System

This is where in-car navigation systems started for most of us, Garmins and Tom-Toms suction cupped to the windshield.

While it was assumed that these products would be killed off once the manufacturers started building navigation systems into their vehicles, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As built in navigation is not standard across all models, and is usually charged as an upgrade, and with map updates for some of the older built-in units no longer being available, spending less than $200 on a stand alone unit with lifetime map and traffic updates can look like a bargain.

One of my current favorite units is the Garmin Nuvi 2639LMT it has a six inch touchscreen, lifetime map updates, radio based traffic updates that you receive without needing a subscription of any kind, and a huge database of places and street names, I have yet to fool mine. I find the usability and routing on mine to perform a little better than some of the previous models I have had from other manufacturers which is why I recommend Garmin units.

While most of the units come with a big suction cup to mount the unit to the windshield, I have had mine fall off at some bad moments, si these days I actually use mine with a friction mount, it is just a weighted mount with a non-slip bottom that sits on your dash and holds the GPS unit.

The main advantage to this type of unit is certainly cost, but the downside is that you now have that extra screen stuck to the top of your dash or windshield, for me, the increased functionality and the reduced cost far outway that extra screen, and this is what I have in my vehicle.

Use Your Phone

The final option is to use your phone, with most people these days having a smartphone there is a good chance your phone already has built in navigation software on it, and if it doesn’t there are a whole host of great ones in the App Store.  My current favorite (when I am in someone else’s car) is Wayz (Apple / Android), it provides the map data but relies on the users to add details about accidents, roadwork and other problems, which normally means they get reported a lot quicker than some of the other options.

HippoFor mounting my phone I like a friction mount similar to the one I use for my GPS, but the Hippo Mount makes inserting and removing your phone a lot easier than some of the spring clamp type holders, and seems to hold it just as securely when it is in there.

This is probably the cheapest solution to get started, all you need is some type of phone mount and your existing phone and you are ready to go.  The recent trend of growing screen sizes and phablets makes those devices even more suitable for use as a GPS device, but just about all phone based navigation relies on mobile data to some extent, so if you are using it a lot, and only have a small data allowance you could be in for a big shock at the end of the month.

So what is the best aftermarket navigation system?

All four of the solutions will get you where you want to go easier than trying to follow paper maps, or having to stop and ask for directions.

For some of you the integrated factory look may be important, for me, I am fine with having the extra screen, and the savings in cost as well as not relying on cellular data make the Garmin Nuvi a winner for me.

Hopefully this has helped you work out what is best for you, so you don’t get lost when you take that minivan on its first roadtrip.