Global Positioning System Buying Guide

Tips and insights from experts in the Global Positioning System field

Importance of GPS in Transportation Today

As technology advances, GPS systems become more and more advanced. Most truckers and motorcyclists are now upgrading from systems designed primarily for cars to units designed with larger trucks and motorcyclists in mind. There are many reasons that GPS systems are becoming more important with time, including:

Car with GPS

  • There's less risk of getting lost when you're following guidance from a GPS system. Truck drivers venture into new territory regularly, and getting lost costs valuable time that could lead to missing a drop-off appointment. Motorcyclists and drivers in cars can also save a lot of time and avoid potential risky situations by allowing a GPS unit to keep them on track.
  • Advanced GPS systems help drivers avoid traffic delays. The most sophisticated units deliver real-time alerts when traffic backs up due to an accident or another incident.
  • Drivers can monitor the weather for incoming storms and potentially deadly risks like tornadoes and hurricanes. Think of modern GPS units as the combination of GPS trackers and radios.
  • Advanced truck GPS systems are more precise when creating routes for trucks that may not fit under bridges or may not meet the minimum speed limit on some roads.
  • GPS systems with dash cams make it easier to prove that you weren't at fault in an accident.
  • Truck GPS systems can simplify the process of monitoring and logging driving hours, fuel, truck maintenance and the passing of state lines. Truckers can spend less time on paperwork with these features.

Now that the importance of GPS systems is clear, how do you select the best GPS system for your needs? This depends on many variables, but it starts by understanding the best features offered on modern systems. Keep reading to learn about the most important modern features for trucking and motorcycle GPS systems.

Trucking GPS Systems – Features to Consider

Truck drivers depend on their GPS systems to find the safest and most efficient routes before departing for a run. Routing is more complicated for many professional drivers because they may have multiple stopping points, and they need to plan ahead for rest points that offer truck parking and the amenities important to someone living on the road for days or weeks at a time.

Trucks are also much larger and heavier than standard vehicles, and they're subject to different rules of the road. For instance, trucks are required to drive only in the right lane on some highways and some roads have maximum weight limits that restrict some trucks from travel completely. Further, truck drivers tend to avoid narrow roadways and residential areas whenever possible because turning around and maneuvering a truck is tricky in those areas.

TomTom Trucker 620

Pictured above is the TomTom Trucker 620

Does it now make sense why GPS manufacturers are creating specialized GPS systems for truckers? These units often have the basic features that are found on car GPS units plus advanced features that cater to the needs of professional drivers in much larger, heavier vehicles.

Let's look at some of the best

  • Advanced Routing Features – You can put in the exact dimensions of your truck, your maximum speed capability and your truck's maximum weight limit to generate more precise routes. This information ensures that your route won't include low bridges and other obstacles unique to large, heavy trucks.
  • Route Shaping – This is a feature that allows truck drivers to change their routes by touching the screen of the GPS. Points of interest appear directly on the map screen, and drivers can see what's coming up and change their route as needed.
  • Louder Speaker Volume – Road noise is more intense in a semi-truck than a car. Truckers also have CB radios and other noisemakers with which their GPS systems must compete. This is why the best truck GPS systems have louder speakers.
  • Bluetooth & Voice Recognition – These features work together to ensure that truckers can keep their hands on the wheel while operating their truck, their cellphones and their GPS units. Bluetooth allows the driver to connect a Bluetooth-enabled headset to the GPS system while voice activation allows direct, hands-free communication with the GPS.
  • Map Screen Alerts – Trucker GPS systems provide real-time alerts regarding speed limits, road restrictions and sharp curves. These alerts keep drivers safe, but older GPS systems often make it difficult to see the alerts from the map screen. Advanced systems now display all alerts on the map screen, allowing drivers to see what the alert is without taking their hands or eyes from the road.
  • Smartphone Connections – Manufacturers like Garmin are now providing free apps that allow drivers to connect their smartphones to their GPS units. This allows drivers to field phone calls and messages through the GPS system, and they can answer phone calls with a connected Bluetooth headset. This ensures safety for the driver and other vehicles on the road.
  • Large, Glare-Resistant Screens – Trucking GPS units are mounted on the dashboard of large trucks, and they aren't always close to the driver. This is why systems designed for truckers often have larger screens between five and eight inches. The screens are often made of glass and are more resistant to scratches and sunlight glare than other GPS screens.
  • Magnetic Mounts – Truckers often take their personal GPS systems out of their truck when they return home, which is difficult with units that are connected into the truck with wires. This is why many company drivers without designated trucks look for GPS units with magnetic mounts that are easy to install and remove as needed. The mounts also have built-in chargers to keep the units charged without cigarette lighter attachments.
  • Dash Cams – Many trucking company owners are now installing GPS with dash cams into every truck in their fleets. The cams make it easy to determine who was at fault when there's an accident, which is valuable evidence since truckers are often blamed for accidents.
  • Advanced Points of Interest – The points of interest database in a trucking GPS should include truck stops, rest areas and truck service stations in addition to the standard restaurants and shopping destinations. These databases also help truckers determine which destinations offer truck parking, and some connect with reviews from other drivers. Finding a hot shower or safe place to stop for the night is easier when drivers have this information on hand.
  • Logging Features – Advanced truck GPS systems allow drivers to log their active drive time, miles and fuel as they travel. Some systems also allow owner operators to log maintenance and service tasks to ensure their trucks are properly maintained.
  • Weather & Traffic Updates – You shouldn't have to connect your GPS unit to Wi-Fi or a computer to get weather and traffic updates today. Most trucking GPS systems work like radios, delivering real-time updates to keep truckers informed, on time and safe

Motorcycle GPS Units – Features to Consider

While motorcycle GPS systems are similar to semi-truck GPS units, they're the exact opposite when it comes to routing. Truck drivers tend to stick to main highways and avoid winding, curvy roads that lead nowhere fast, and motorcyclists often want to find those long, winding roads that allow them to just ride for hours.

GPS Mounted on Motorcycle

Pictured above is the Garmin Zumo 396

Whether you enjoy long road trips on your bike or you depend on it for your everyday commute, there are some features that you should look for in a GPS system beyond routing and other basic features:

  • Rugged Monitor Screens – Motorcycle GPS units are designed to withstand rain, intense sunlight and anything else the weather may throw at your bike. They're highly resistant to scratches, cracks, exhaust fumes and glare, ensuring that you can see the map clearly regardless of the conditions around you.
  • Road Condition Warnings – The best motorcycle GPS will give you some warning when a road is about to take a deep turn or otherwise give your riding skills a challenge. This enhances your safety and can prevent an accident when you're traveling unknown roads.
  • File Sharing – Motorcyclists often ride together, and it helps if you can share your GPS route with your entourage. GPX file sharing is a motorcycle GPS feature that allows you to do just that as long as your fellow riders have a compatible GPS device.
  • Real-Time Tracking – This feature allows your friends and loved ones to track your location when you're out on the bike. This is helpful if a member of your group gets lost, but it's also a safety feature if you enjoy getting lost on the back roads without much surrounding traffic.
  • Bluetooth Compatibility – Connect your Bluetooth device to your GPS system, and you can answer phone calls without taking your hands from the handles. You may need an app to make this work, but manufacturers like Garmin offer the app for free.
  • Real-Time Traffic & Weather Updates – You shouldn't have to stop to see if there's an incoming storm or a backup in traffic. The best motorcycle GPS will give you those updates in real time as you ride.

Truck and motorcycle GPS systems should keep you safer while making your time out on the road more enjoyable. If you're frustrated with the shortcomings of car GPS units, it's time to upgrade to a newer model that caters to your preferred form of transportation.