Can Any USB Cable Be Used for Garmin Street Pilot?
By Fred Decker
The majority of Garmin's GPS devices come with a USB cable, which can be used to transfer data to and from a computer or for charging the GPS from a USB port. The slimmest and lightest models use a thin micro-USB connector, while handheld Garmins and the versatile Street Pilot series use the larger mini-USB format. Although most mini-USB cables will work with a Street Pilot, there are a few potential complications.
Electronics manufacturers often take a rigidly negative stand on the use of third-party accessories, advising that their use can cause permanent damage or void your warranty. Garmin is more flexible. The company's support website encourages GPS owners to purchase the official Garmin accessory cables for their devices, but it's a soft sell. The official FAQ on the company's support site concedes that most generic or third-party cables will work with Garmin GPS devices. However, some specific cables might not work, or might not work for all purposes.
The USB specification uses four wires to conduct both data and electricity, regardless of whether the cables are the full-sized variety used on computers or the mini- and micro-USB versions used for portable electronics. However, the smaller versions of the cable add a fifth wire that can be used in several ways to create proprietary or special-purpose USB cables. Garmin's cable for the Street Pilot can be used for either charging or data, but other cables might be configured for charging only or data only.
Charging vs. Data
If you purchase a mini-USB cable without the fifth wire connected, it will transfer data to your Street Pilot. However, you won't be able to use any navigation functions while it's plugged in. If the fifth and fourth wires are connected to each other, either directly or through a resistor, you'll be able to charge the Street Pilot and navigate at the same time. This is how the connector from your car charger works. Charger cords use a different resistor between the fourth and fifth wires, enabling higher amperages for charging. That's why it's faster to charge from your AC or DC charger than from the computer, where the USB port provides limited amperage.
Choosing a Cable
The simplest choice when purchasing a replacement cable for your Street Pilot is to order one through Garmin or an authorized Garmin dealer. If you're in search of the lowest possible purchase price, a variety of online or brick-and-mortar retailers offer third-party cables at aggressive price points. To minimize the risk of purchasing an unsuitable cable, try to find a retailer that deals in Garmin and third-party GPS products. They're likely to have experience in matching Garmin GPS devices with aftermarket chargers, and can make a recommendation based on that history. Some might be willing to let you try the cable in-store, and verify that it works with your Street Pilot.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.