What Is the Purpose of the Memory Card in a GPS?

By Nick Davis

Update your GPS before you set out on the road.
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Using a memory card with your GPS unit can take your navigation to another level, enabling you to update existing maps, add maps or add multimedia files. GPS memory card slots typically accept removable micro, mini or full-size Secure Digital cards. You can purchase these tiny cards with maps on them, or you can use them to transfer map and data files from your computer to the GPS unit. Not all GPS units have memory card slots, but if yours does, consider using it to upgrade your existing GPS instead of buying a new one.

Memory Card Types

Certain GPS units use microSD memory cards and some models use full-size SD cards. Depending on your GPS unit's manufacturer, you may be able to purchase an SD card directly from the manufacturer loaded with maps. GPS units are also capable of formatting and using an SD card not from their manufacturers. Your GPS unit's manual states the type and size of memory card it can format and use, such as a 1GB, 2GB or higher-capacity card.


Memory cards usually store maps including street, topographical, marine and other types of maps. The cards may also contain routes and directions to specific places. If desired, purchase and use multiple memory cards to organize the different maps you use and use a different memory card for each map type or route. If your GPS enables you to display photos for tagging places or even play MP3s, use the memory card to transfer those files from your computer to the GPS unit.

Using a Memory Card

The memory card goes into your GPS unit with its gold contacts facing down. Slide the card into the device's memory card slot until you hear the card click into place. Your GPS unit automatically recognizes the memory card and may prompt you with a message asking if you would like to format the card or use it. Tap “Yes,” “OK” or something similar to complete the process. On certain models, you have to navigate to the device's settings or main menu and tap “Memory Card” or something similar, and then tap “Format” or the like to format and use the memory card.

Transferring Files

To transfer data from your computer to your GPS unit via a memory card, insert the SD card into your computer's memory card slot and wait until your computer recognizes the card. Then drag and drop the map or other file from the directory on your computer to the SD card's directory. The file transfer takes place immediately. Click the up arrow in your computer's system tray and click the icon containing a USB cable to use the Windows eject tool. Click on the SD card's name to dismount it from your computer. Then physically remove the memory card from your computer.

Memory Card Adapters

If your computer doesn't contain an SD memory card slot, purchase and use an SD card adapter to transfer content from your computer to the memory card. Typical adapters require a USB port on the computer. Plug the adapter into the computer first, and then insert the SD card into the adapter.