On using a Garmin GPS

During our trip to the Picos de Europa, we made the first serious use of our Honda/Garmin GPS, which came free as a “deal” with our used car purchase. I think I now understand why it was free.


Having never used one of these for road navigation before, I was prepared for miraculous things. A GPS unit means no more maps, right? No more peering at tiny village names or highway designations printed right in the crease of the atlas…no more frantic guesses as to which freeway exit is the right one…no more getting lost in cities.

Our first misgiving came just a few kilometers north of Seville, Spain, when the GPS lost our location. We were on a 4-lane freeway, and the Garmin couldn’t find it. Now, we had wisely brought our atlas with us, so we knew exactly where we were, but the Garmin’s performance to that point gave us some concern for any more complicated navigation, such as in cities.

In the end, we learned the following things about our GPS unit:

— its information is outdated

— it can’t produce any output unless you give it very, very specific instructions

— it frequently makes mistakes, big ones, like telling you to take the wrong exit off the freeway

— it is often unaware of one-way streets, and thus will tell you to turn right when doing so will get you killed

— it is completely untrustworthy and incompetent, and can only be used with additional verifying input from a good atlas or Google Maps

— despite its many critical shortcomings, it is utterly convinced of its rightness

Therefore, what could we do but name our device Sarah, after the renowned vice presidential candidate and failed half-term governor?

Here is a typical in-car dialogue on our trip:

Me (driving): Okay, we’re getting off the freeway. Let’s hope Sarah doesn’t screw us up this time.

J (my wife): Well, we’re not actually in a city yet, so maybe she’ll work.

Me: You’re so cute when you’re optimistic.

Sarah: In 1.7 kilometers, turn right.

Me: So far, so good.

[We take the freeway offramp]

Sarah: Enter roundabout and take the first exit.

Me: What the hell? The first exit goes back to the freeway!

J: It’s the second exit, the second one!

Me: What? What? Wait — shit, I’m past it!


[We twirl around the roundabout, looking frantically at all the signs]


[We take the second exit, finally, after pissing off approximately twelve local drivers]

Sarah, calmly: In 800 meters, keep left.

Me: Keep left? But there’s only one lane?

J: There’ll be another lane in 800 meters. That’s what she’s saying.

[800 meters later there is no other lane]

Sarah: Keep left.

Me: What the hell is she talking about? Does she want me to drive up on the sidewalk?


J: Oh, for god’s sake.

Sarah: In 300 meters, turn right, then right again.

Me: Now she wants us to go that way? But our hotel is this way. Isn’t it??

J: (consulting the Google Map she printed out before leaving): Ignore Sarah, go straight. Okay, now turn left at this street up here. No, wait, not this one, the next one!


Sarah: In 70 meters, turn right.

Both of us: Sarah, shut up!

You may think this is an exaggeration, but I assure you it is completely representative of every single time we entered a city. We usually ended up turning Sarah off and depending on our Google Map printouts. Thank heavens J had the foresight to print them out before we left.

Upon returning home, I went to the Garmin web site to download an updated set of maps for Sarah. This procedure took five hours. Look for an accounting of that in a future blog post…

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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6 Responses to On using a Garmin GPS

  1. Kugai says:

    I think you now understand why Jeremy Clarkeson hates most GPS devices.

  2. rleef says:

    Had a GPS on a rental car I was using in Texas. After missing the instructed turn it would give what appeared to be a long sigh before saying recaliculating in a martyred, most put upon voice. It did make being in Texas a little easier…LOL

  3. My cousin hates hers. She yells at it. Yep. RECALCULATING on continuous loop. It’s okay for some people, but most hate them.

  4. UK says:

    I admit that our first Garmin GPS had a few weaknesses. The worst was that it took ages to get a satellite connection. So we either had to wait 5 – 8 minuets before going anywhere or had to have an idea as to the general direction in which we were to travel when we started the car. On account of this rather irritating feature we named the GPS “Ursula” as in a rather strict lady taking our orders in her own good time.

    This spring we got a new Tomtom GPS and I’ve got to tell you that it’s so nice we haven’t even found a nickname for it. Quick satellite connection and precise directions both at home and abroad, no-matter where we go.

    On the other hand I do think that you are right that the need to enter precise direction is irritating – I mean how often do you really have the correct zip code or spelling of a street name for a location abroad ? I would love if someone would add a nice search function to the GPS.

    The best thing though is that my wife – who has limited skills in map reading (her own words) – feels that she can “trust” the new GPS to tell her the route to take.

    Try the updated maps on your GPS or get a TomTom – I’m a big fan!!

  5. Michelle Wainwright says:

    Our Garmin is called Doris (Don’t ask me why.. it just sounded like the kind of name a nagging woman would have)… apologies to any Doris’s reading this ! She is absolutely shite in Portugal. The Ruta del Plata ( from Seville up through Salamanca and north), is a pain in the arse and Doris had me showing like I was in a field the whole route. In this day and age new roads in Europe should be mapped and updated immediately! We never drive to UK without Mappy.com and an Atlas, even though we know the route inside out by now. We bought Doris as we thought it would be handy in cities, but so far haven’t trusted the daft old woman !

  6. jodene says:

    Just the word “Garmin” sets my nerves on edge. We use a handheld for motorcycle road trips. Yes it sends us to non-existent roads. Yes it has mis-numbered exits. Yes, even though we stated we only want to travel on paved roads it insists that we turn right at the dirt road up ahead. I’ve learned to use the GPS as an assist only. But you haven’t screamed “GARMIN SUCKS!” until you’ve used their utterly crap software to create routes for the device. It’s like they decided the internet tech of 2001 worked very fine, thank you, no need to update. And then when you’ve exceeded the 50 routes the GPS can hold in it’s puny little memory, you have to delete them one by one on the device itself, leaving empty little buttons on route list. Route #50 stays #50, leaving #41- #49 empty to scroll through. Garmin cannot be bothered to write code to re-aggregate them into one sequential list. GRRRRR. I hate Garmin.

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