While running some errands, the infotainment system in the BMW I was driving told me to turn down a road that didn’t exist. Of course, I was confused. Clearly, the factory navigation was confused too. But the car I was driving wasn’t even a year old and the road change wasn’t recent. How could this be?
When using apps like Google Maps or Waze for navigation on a smartphone, you’re getting the latest map and POI (points-of-interest) data. That’s not the case with in-car navigation systems. Sure, companies like BMW offer free over-the-air (OTA) updates but, based upon my experience, the updates come far too slowly. Yes, there are ways to integrate your smartphone into a car—Apple CarPlay and Android Auto—but most of these systems aren’t yet as good or fully cohesive compared to a factory setup. So I decided to dig into the procedure for updating the map and POI database for factory navigation systems with a selection of manufacturers.
As noted, BMW offers no-charge OTA updates—regional map data sent via 4G—for three years. The company breaks down the U.S. into 13 regions and only one region is updated, not the complete national map database. In theory, one free national map update is available at the dealer but you need to push for this as not all BMW dealers are aware of this setup. Once the three years are up (or if you want a second national map update sooner), updates cost around $200 from the dealer.
My wife’s 2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon was built in July of 2017 and shipped from the factory with map database ‘2017-1’ (the first of four updates in 2017). The car automatically updated to 2017-2 but that didn’t happen until March of 2018 and it was just the regional update (Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois). The rest of the database was still stuck at 2017-1. Map update 2018-1 was released in March of 2018 but BMW was still pushing out the older 2017-2 regional updates via OTA at that time.
Audi’s setup is a bit more complicated but does offer some further control and update options for the customer. As long as you have Audi Connect PRIME ($199 for six months or $499 for 18 months), vehicles can get 3-5 free OTA map updates (both national and regional updates), depending on the build date for the vehicle. These updates usually come out twice a year. You can also update the map database at no charge without an Audi Connect PRIME subscription. This is done via the My Audi website by downloading the map updates to an SD card and then uploading the information to the car via that SD card. The same number of updates applies—three to five free updates, depending on the build date of the car. Once those free updates are finished, you can work with your Audi dealership to purchase future updates.
The Mercedes-Benz setup is quite simple but can’t be done by the owner. Updates are free via a visit to the Mercedes dealership for three years. After that, maps updates each cost around $250.
Map updates cost about $160 each and can be ordered online.
With apologies to Cadillac, Volvo has the Cadillac of setups. The company offers “lifetime” (“at least until 2025”) free map updates via USB. This is done via a rather slick website. The site informs you exactly when the latest map update was released and notes the latest version so you can compare that to what’s currently loaded into your vehicle. The page also tells you the file size for the download, so you know exactly what size USB drive is needed. Additionally, you’re able to choose between a full national update or a smaller regional update. You can also download free voice control and Gracenote (music database) updates. As an added bonus, Volvo includes free INRIX (4G) live traffic as part of Volvo Cloud and there’s no current timeline for that no-charge feature to end (other companies offer free live traffic too but not with the timeline of Volvo). Owners can also have their map database updated at Volvo dealerships during no-charge software updates (though some dealers may charge for the labor for the map update).
Overall, it’s clear Volvo has the best arrangement when it comes to updating factory map databases. Given the fact that nearly everybody has a smartphone in their pocket, it’s important for car manufacturers to get with the program if they expect owners to keep paying extra for factory navigation systems. All car companies should offer customers free USB map updates via a download from a website or handle it at no extra charge when a car is serviced at the dealership. It’s yet another way to keep the customer returning to the dealership versus going to independent garages.