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May 20, 2009

Garmin GPS: No More Wrong Turns

GPS
The Garmin nuvi 205,
friend to lost travelers everywhere
.
Photo: garmin.com

by Brook Wilkinson

Summer driving season is almost upon us. Don't own a GPS unit yet? Here's another reason to go out and get one: It'll save you some gas. In fact, a recent study indicated that using a navigation system can be equivalent to increasing your fuel efficiency from 27 mpg to 30 mpg. To be fair, the study was commissioned by NAVTEQ, the "leading global provider of digital map, traffic, and location data." But the point is a fair one: I know that my Garmin nuvi 350 has saved me from many a wrong turn.

Plus, Garmin's new EcoRoute program (which you can download for free from the company's Web site, though you have to own a compatible nuvi model) will help you drive even more efficiently. Its "Less Fuel" route preference takes into account things like the number of stops and speed limits along various routes from point A to point B. It'll also measure your average fuel economy, which is great if you're a hypermiler like me but your car doesn't have a built-in mpg readout.

One thing that worried me about getting a GPS unit was that it'd take the spontaneity out of travel. But it's actually made me more willing to wander off the beaten path these days because I know that I can always find my way back. I even bring it along on my bike; no more sweaty route maps.

The NAVTEQ study also cites an annual savings of $192 in gas, but since the study was carried out in Germany, where gas currently costs more than $6.50 a gallon, I'd be willing to bet that that number is a little inflated when used for the American market. Still, it's a good down payment on the cost of a GPS unit like the Garmin nuvi 205, which retails for $169.

Read on for three tips from Garmin on how to save gas.

1. Remove whatever weight you can from your car--within reason. A lighter car uses less gas. You don't have to get rid of the passenger seat, but do you really need to be carrying around those dumbbells in your trunk?

2. Get rid of the roof rack--it increases wind resistance. At the very least, take your ski rack off in summer, or your bike rack down in winter.

3. Check the tire pressure. That's what a safari guide I had in Tanzania years ago called it when you'd hop out of the Land Rover to, uh, de-hydrate, but what Garmin means is the actual air pressure in your tires. Under-inflated tires will use more fuel; err toward the higher end of the range recommended for your vehicle.

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