In this review we’re looking for two things, the best "cheap gps" for your car, and the best "car GPS under $100". In the past you could combine the two into one review, but with a decent “cheap” car navigation device costing over $100, it’s not possible.
Cheap GPS Navigation Units
Finding the best gps navigator in 2020 is not a difficult process. Its something we have done again, and again across this website. In 2020, we thought the best gps navigation device was the Garmin DriveSmart 55, however finding the best cheap navigator is a whole new ball-game and one that needs some thought.
We love finding cheap car gps units under $100 and over the years we have tested hundreds of different models. Across the internet their hundreds of models that are being released each month that it’s hard to keep up with all the gps models that are on the market and the new models that are being released each week.
The problem with buying a cheap gps unit up until this year you really only had two choice, buy an older brand named model that comes with features that don’t work, or buy a non-brand named gps unit that more than likely will not work.
We have tested hundreds of imports, but the problem with the majority is that they do not work, or only work for a short while until you need either help or map updates, which then causes the whole gps to fall apart.
Best Cheap Car GPS Navigator 2020
Garmin and TomTom are our two top brands and we would recommend that you stick to these brands knowing that you’re buying a gps unit that has been made to last. What’s even better news is that over the last few years, TomTom and Garmin have both made cheap gps units that have been design specifically as gps unit that you can buy today.
TomTom has the GO VIA 1525 and the GO VIA 1625, with the key difference being that the 1525 has a 5-inch screen while the 1625 has a six inch screen. Garmin have the Garmin Drive which started off life as a Garmin 40 a few years ago, however has been developed into its current model, the Garmin Drive 52 and 52 with Traffic.
Sadly, these are new GPS units and while you can get some great discounts across the internet, they’re likely to cost you upwards of $130.
Best Car GPS Under $100
To buy a Car GPS unit for under $100 is not impossible, but it is more difficult. You basically have two options, buy a import that has probably been made in China or buy a slightly older TomTom or Garmin GPS unit.
Personally I would be buying a slightly older TomTom or Garmin as they just work better. I’m yet to find another brand that offers the usability that TomTom or Garmin do, for the same price. Other manufactures just don’t have the experience or the knowledge. Over the year I’ve bought a few, but I could not recommend one on this website. There is nothing that I would put my name to.
Best Cheap GPS Unit
What would I do? If you can stretch your budget to around $140, I would be buying the latest Garmin Drive 52 which is part of Garmin’s 2020 range. Sadly TomTom has not updated its range of GPS units for 2020 and therefore the VIA 1525 and 1625 is the current model which is okay, but the Garmin is better.
If you cannot stretch your budget and need to keep it fixed to less than $100, I would be buying the TomTom VIA 1525M or if possible you might be able to find the VIA 1525TM online. The difference between the two models, the “M” comes with free map updates, while the “TM” comes with traffic updates and free maps updates. The VIA is a decent model, however it’s a 2017 model and therefore don’t expect anything other than directions.
I would also be looking at some of the older Garmin Drive models. In the past we’ve looked at the Garmin Drive 51 which was a 2018 model and comes with a range of options that you will only see of the latest range. If you’re unhappy with a 5-inch GPS unit, you could also look at some of the older Garmin 2697’s that might have been discontinued, but they are still selling online or the TomTom GO’s from a few years ago that again are selling online.
Cheap Car GPS Reviews 2020
Garmin Drive 52
The Garmin 52 comes in two versions, both that have a 5-Inch screen. One of the models has traffic alters, the other doesn’t. Both models come with a 480 x 272 pixels, WQVGA color TFT with white backlight and resistive touch that while not an edge-to-edge design as in the Garmin Drivesmart, is a decent screen that allow you to see your directions.
Directions are also great and very similar to the latest 2020 models. The devices use Garmin’s latest “Real Directions” using landmark guidance and lane assist to help you navigated complicated junctions. If you need to stop along your route, the unit comes as standard with foursquare to provide millions of points of interested and trip-advisor for reviews and ratings should you want to review places to go before you arrive.
Driver alerts are numerous, however what we have really found useful over the last few years is the speed limit indicator that shows speed limits for most major roads in the US and Europe. Prices for the 52 offer fantastic value for money a while you’re going to find it difficult to buy a 52 with or without traffic alerts for less than $100, it’s a great model.
Garmin Drive 51 LM/LMT
The Garmin 51 LM/LMT is Garmin second attempt at building a GPS for your car comes with a basic price tag and actually works.
The range started with a Drive 40 that came with a 4.3 Inch screen and now has the latest version above, the drive 52, however with the 51LM/LMT being a 2018/2019 model, you can now find both versions, for less than $100 online.
The 51 comes in two version, as 5-Inch screen with Traffic alters Via a smartphone app “LMT” and a “LM” version that has free lifetime map updates, but no traffic alters. Obviously the LM version is well below the $100 target, however you can get the traffic version for around the $100 mark.
Other than traffic alters, both models provide your standard Garmin directions, active lane guidance and four-square assisted points of interest. For less than $100, this is a great Car GPS unit.
Garmin Drive 50/40
The first version of Garmin "basic" model was released to the market in two steps, the Drive 40 came out in 2016 and the the Drive 50 with a slightly larger screen, came out in 2017.
Both a decent models, but both has there problems. Both came with duel-orientation screens, however you could not see enough information on the small screens to make it worthwhile.
Also the screens did perform well in low light conditions and therefore were practically useless at night. The Garmin Drive 40 did not offer anything else other than basic directions. That said if you want a basic GPS, then consider the 50 and 40.
TomTom GO Basic
TomTom is at time of writing (February 2020), updating its range of GPS units. Shortly, it’s going to release at TomTom Basic that will come with Free Map updates, Free Traffic Alerts, access to TomTom’s my drive and most importantly, be able to update through Wi-Fi.
Until this model is released in the US, you’re stuck with the TomTom VIA 1525M/1625M which is okay, but not a great model. If you can buy either for less than $100 then it would be worth looking at, but neither are very good, and I would prefer the Gamins above.
The TomTom Start 40 car gps unit is part of TomTom’s improved 2016 range of GPS units for your car that have all been designed to compete with the Garmin units above. The TomTom Start 40 is the bottom of the range of gps device but like the model above, it has been designed as a no thrills gps that will set you back less than $100 whilst at the same time get you from point A to point B.
The 4.3 inch screen and the maps are okay to use and it comes with free lifetime map updates and the interface menu system is pretty easy to use, however what we really hate is the screen. It does not use glass and instead uses a cheap plastic material meaning that it’s virtually impossible to see the screen in direct sunlight and when the sun goes down you need to have the TomTom’s back light on all the time, but this is not possible in the menu system as therefore you end up with a gps that sometime is pitch black and sometimes bright.
If you’re going to buy a TomTom, make sure you head here and buy yourself a sun shade for your unit as you will need it to be able to see your gps in the summer.
The Garmin Nuvi 52LM comes with a large 5-Inch display, fast processor to calculate routes, free lifetime maps updates and over 6 million points of interest to ensure that you want to find something to see or do during you trip you’re GPS unit will have it covered.
The interface is simple to use and whilst it does not come with predictive text, it does come with a number of other features that all work well. The maps are particularly good and given it comes with free updates you can always ensure that you have the latest maps on your unit. When you come to a difficult junction the screen splits in two giving you an graphic image on one side which shows you which lane you should be in to take right turning. The other side of the screen simply carries on showing you directions to your destination. Whilst driving, you can also make use of the split screen by having one side of your unit showing your directions with the other showing useful information such as the speed limit, your current speed and even your time to arrival.
The 52LM also comes with a MicroSD card which allows you to import maps for areas outside the USA, however it does not come with traffic alerts meaning that you will have no idea of what traffic lies ahead of you. This does not really matter if you’re only going to be driving locally, however, if you’re planning on doing some monster drives across states then a GPS unit with traffic alerts is really something that you should invest in.
The TomTom One XLS is a fantastic cheap GPS unit that comes with basic versions of many of the latest GPS technology features that exist on all the new GPS units that are available on the market. The unit comes with a very sharp 4.3 inch display that means that you can easily view maps, routes and driving instructions on your GPS unit.
Once you have decided where you want to go, entering your destination into the GPS unit is very easy given that there is a simple easy-to-use interface and a QWERTY keyboard. Whilst it does not have predictive text, it uses an early version of this which reduces the possibilities for each destination as your choose your letters or numbers. This can very frustrating if the GPS unit does not have the house number that you’re looking for, but in general works well. Destination calculations are very quick and as an added bonus the ONE XLS will even provide you a choice of routes therefore allowing you to choose the one that is right for you based in your thoughts. Maybe you want a scenic route, or one that does not use the highway, this can all be factored in when you choose your route.
Navigation is easy with the system giving you turn-by-turn voice instructions therefore allowing you to not take you eyes off the road. The TomTom One also uses speed sensitive volume which means that as your speed increases so does the volume.
One annoying features of the TomTom One XLS is that it does not come with map updates and instead relies on TomTom’s map share technology which allows other users to make map changes which are then shared with other users to ensure that everyone has up to date maps. It works well, but it's not the best system to use. Traffic updates are available on this model, however this does require a subscription. Other features include fuel costs, compass mode, anti glare screen and access to TomTom home free software where you can update your device or even download celebrity voices.