If you're looking for a reliable car GPS that won't break the bank, experts and owners recommend Garmin's base models: Few frills, but they're dead-on accurate in tests. The Garmin nuvi 42 (Est. $110) is just about as basic as they come -- and that's just the way owners at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com like it. It's a customer favorite there, and Rich Owings at GPSTracklog.com agrees. "Highly recommended ... This is a basic navigator, but it has all the features most people will need."
The nuvi 42 boasts a bright, easy-to-use, 4.3-inch touch screen and the same millions of preloaded points of interest as top-of-the-line Garmin auto GPS devices. It's fast, speaks directions aloud, and it will even tell you what lane to be in at an upcoming junction.
What does the nuvi 42 lack? Unlike pricier car GPS systems, it can't receive traffic alerts -- so it can't steer you clear of road work and traffic jams. It won't automatically sort multiple destinations (day care, dry cleaners, Chinese takeout) into one efficient route. This GPS lacks Bluetooth, so you can't pair it with your phone to make hands-free calls. You can't command it with your voice -- an extra that's not only convenient, but also counts as a keep-your-hands-on-the-wheel safety feature, experts say.
A smart step up is the Garmin nuvi 42LM (Est. $130) , which adds free map updates for the life of the unit (the nuvi 42 charges $50 per update). Garmin also offers the Garmin nuvi 44 (Est. $125) and Garmin nuvi 44LM (Est. $150) , with Alaska and Canada maps (the nuvi 42 series has the lower 49 states only).
TomTom's base model, the TomTom Start 50 (Est. $95) , trails the Garmin nuvi 42 in reviews. The TomTom does boast a bigger 5-inch screen, but navigation is hit-or-miss: Some experts and owners find the Start 50 to be problem-free, but others complain that the TomTom is terribly slow and not always accurate. "Unfortunately, actual performance wasn't up to snuff, even for a budget device," says Jamie Lendino at PCMag.com. "I'd rather steer you toward something just a bit more expensive that works better."