Sat Nav Units and Apps for US Car Hire

USA Car Hire With Sat Nav Options

Hiring a Satellite Navigation unit with your rental costs around £40 per week if booked in advance, or around $15 per day if hired locally.  Our rentals with Thrifty include a Sat Nav.  We wanted to know if Sat Nav apps for smart phones could work just as well, and be cheaper than this for clients who want the additional confidence that a Sat Nav gives.

The essential requirement for the smart phone apps is very simple:

  • The app must work ‘offline’ to avoid data costs

Nice to have features are:

  • Suggested lanes
  • Day to night mode to reduce glare from the screen
  • Posted Speed limits

After looking around at what was available and relevant, and applicable to ios (iPhone/iPad) and android, the choice came down to just three – the exact same three that were recommended when I put out a plea for recommendations on our social media channels.  This means we can combine official ‘details’ with user comments

NavFree USA – cost – nothing!

Nav Free uses Open Street Map Project, which uses updates from users around the country to gather the latest road information and adjust maps.  Therefore there may be occasional errors in the maps – something to consider if you plan to go off the beaten track.  Maps are cached (stored on your phone) for offline use, so they can work without using ‘data’.  Download just the states that you need.  Night mode is available to reduce glare when using at night.  You  can also upgrade to an Ad-free version for just £1.49.  Another upgrade option is Traffic data updates – however, this does use data so this should be checked before your journey using a WiFi connection to avoid data costs whilst you are driving.  This would be a great App to have when you are staying firmly on the beaten track, know roughly where you are heading and perhaps just need a bit of back up.  Our commenter noted:

“The issue we found was that the attractions weren’t listed but when we searched by zipcode it got us there. We probably could’ve solved the attraction issue by finding the parks prior to leaving the UK and pre-loading as favourite destinations.”

CoPilot  (paid version currently is £6.99 for ios, £7.99 for android)

CoPilot provides for two different levels of product.  CoPilot GPS is basic and free.  It allows route planning and editing, but Voice Guidance and turn by turn instructions or speed limits are upgrades within the App.  Or, you could purchase CoPilot Live Premium, which includes a 12 month subscription to Active Traffic.  CoPilot Live also provides lane indicators and real signpost information.  Both versions of CoPilot include a full map of the USA which is stored on your smart phone so no data connection is required to navigate. The live version has night mode and speed limit warnings for primary highways.  A few reviews indicate that toll roads are not highlighted.

Prices for CoPilot Live USA seem to vary between the various ios & android platforms, but when we looked, Google Play was offering the free android CoPilot GPS app with 14 days free use of full voice-guided 3D navigation and ActiveTraffic™. After 14 days you can continue to enjoy free and unlimited access to offline maps, POIs and route planning, or upgrade to unlimited turn-by-turn navigation.  A strategic purchase could give you the benefit of these free facilities for most of your holiday.  One thing to note is that with the free version of CoPilot GPS, you can have maps for only one country for free.  So if you already use CoPilot GPS at home, you would have to purchase USA maps.  These apps provide for a greater level of security and guidance than the NavFree app. Our commenter added:

“CoPilot allows favourite destinations to be added by easting and northing and if you Google, you’ll find some helpful bods have published full lists of Orlando attractions, restaurants etc. on that basis – v handy for programming before you get here.”

TomTom U.S. & Canada

The TomTom app brings familiar TomTom navigation to your smart phone. It is the most expensive of our three apps, at £31.99 in the App Store and £28.99 in Google Play, but this does provide for updates and the latest maps.  Suggested lanes is a useful feature, particularly so as the USA ramps on and off major roads can be on either side of the highway and three lane roads are the norm.  Speed limits of the road you are travelling on  are displayed.  A months subscription to TomTom Traffic could be added for £1.99 – but as this uses data, you would need to check traffic information via a WiFi signal before your trip. Voice guidance and turn by turn instruction are included as are four or more full updates of the maps each year. Toll roads are highlighted.  This might be the best app for heavy use, or big road trips where all the extra facilities – such as Googling from directly within the app (when in a WiFi zone as this uses data) to add a destination to your route might be of greatest assistance.  Our commenter said;

“I’ve got Tom Tom USA, works great for me,  for iPhone, from iTunes as it was on offer £29.99 3 years ago, it gets regular updates, also got it on the iPad. Ideal for the short-sighted!”

Tips for Best Use of your Smart Phone Sat Nav App

  1. These apps work by using the GPS signal from your smart phone, so it must be a new enough version to have the GPS facility.
  2. Turn off Data Roaming!  Whilst these apps will work perfectly well without data, if you don’t turn it off on your phone’s settings, data will be used, and that will bring costly roaming charges.
  3. Turn on Location Services in your phone’s settings so that the app can work.
  4. Use WiFi to plan your route in as much detail as possible and get any traffic updates if you have those enabled, before you start your journey.
  5. Add special destinations or points of interest before you leave home.  This will give you a chance to familiarise yourself with the way the app works.
  6. Program in the address of your first destination from the airport before you fly – this will help that first journey go smoothly!
  7. Plan how you will mount your phone so that you can see the display, or enable voice instructions so that you don’t need to see it.
  8. Take an in-car charger – these navigation apps can eat your battery and you want to save some to take photos when you get to your destination.

Where to mount your Sat Nav in the hire car

Whether you use your smart phone, take your own Sat Nav unit from home or hire one, it is important to think about where you will mount it for easy viewing – some states in the USA have a law preventing ‘non-transparent material’ from being used on the windscreen.  A few states restrict where such items may be placed on the windscreen. Others have no written restrictions as to where a Sat Nav unit or smart phone (or anything else for that matter) can be mounted. Please check the list below to see the restrictions of your destination, but please remember that this is a guide only and you should always consult the desk agent as to the local rules and regulations when you collect your car.

Sat Nav mounting in US Car Rentals