What Is a GPS Data Card?

By Fred Decker

Many GPS devices have an SD card slot and can be updated with data cards.
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Hand-held or car-mounted GPS devices can save you a world of inconvenience when you're traveling or driving through an unfamiliar location. A full-featured GPS can guide you through tricky freeway interchanges, warn you of changes to the speed limit and direct you to the nearest roadside diner or restroom; however, this data changes constantly. Keep your device up-to-date by downloading new maps or purchasing them on a data card.

Data Card Basics

A data card is nothing more than a standard SD card preloaded with map data or other pertinent information, such as points of interest, for your GPS. You can purchase data cards directly from the manufacturer of your device or through major electronics retailers and online outlets. Many third-party sources also offer maps on data cards, formatted and ready to use on major brands of GPS devices. You can create your own data cards, if your computer has an SD card slot, and you can use them on multiple devices or exchange them with friends or other enthusiasts.


If you want to purchase maps or other information on a data card, your GPS must have an SD card slot. Modifying a GPS to add a card slot is beyond the skill of most users and would void any remaining warranty on the device. If you normally use your SD card slot for extra memory, you'll have to remove the memory card to use your data card. On the other hand, if you have multiple GPS devices, you'll be able to quickly swap memory and data cards between them as needed.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Data cards offer a quick and easy way to upgrade a GPS device. You don't need a computer or an Internet connection, you don't need to download data, and no installation from a CD is required. Just insert the data card into your GPS and turn the device on. Your maps will be available immediately. Data card maps do have drawbacks, though. Most importantly, some can't be updated. When the data becomes obsolete, you'll need to buy a new card. Some are copy-protected, so you can't transfer the data to another GPS or your computer.

Using Your Data

Once a data card is installed, you can use its maps or waypoints exactly as you would use other data on your system. The card's data will appear in your menus along with the maps from your device's internal memory. If your GPS should fail, or if its battery runs out, you can simply transfer the card to another device. Most manufacturers provide map management programs, such as TomTom HOME and MyTomTom, and Garmin's BaseCamp and MapSource. If your card is not copy-protected, you can connect the GPS to your computer with a USB cable and transfer maps or other data.