Garmin offers free “lifetime” maps… just not your life

Everyone likes free stuff, and that’s just what’s happening at Garmin, with a lifetime of free map updates available on a new range of GPS units. Sort of.

Available from late February, the new Garmin Nuvi 2000 and 3000 series models will feature lifetime maps, available in up to four map updates per year. Lifetime maps isn’t the only thing on offer, with lifetime traffic reporting available in all but the lowest of the new models.

Seven new models will be released this year – three in February, the remaining four in March – all offering free map updates so you know where you’re going.The new products will also offer a better user interface, new navigation engines, faster routing, 3D terrain, and automatic orientation in case you want to use the device in either portrait or landscape mode.

The devices start with the Nuvi 2455LM ($249) where not only has the speed of searches improved from older models, but it now features images of intersections and road exits to help navigate further. In the upper end of the spectrum, the Nuvi 3450LMT ($449) and 3490LMT ($499) feature slim sizes and touch screens supporting pinch-to-zoom, while the top-end 3590LMT model ($549) brings with a huge 5 inch screen.

“Garmin has always been about creating the best navigation experience for our customers,” said Trevor Berrange, Garmin’s Managing Director for Australasia. “Now, in 2012, we’re making an even bolder promise to consumers, saying to them that once you purchase a Garmin Nuvi, you will never need to buy maps again. The savings and added convenience for our customers will be significant.”

The Garmin Nuvi3450 supports portrait orientation.

There does seem to be a catch, however, with Garmin only supplying the free maps until either Garmin’s supplier stops providing maps or Garmin deems that the “product’s useful life expires”, whichever is shorter.

We queried Garmin on what length a “product’s useful life” roughly is and were told by a Garmin spokesperson that “there is no specific time limit on the reasonable life of the product.”

While that suggests you’ll be receiving updates for at least a few years, we suspect that the term “lifetime” here relates more to the “lifetime of the product” and not your lifetime. So when Garmin chooses to retire support for one of the Nuvi models announced here, you may lose access to your free maps.

Still, free map updates for a few years means you’re not out of pocket every time the roads change in your area, so that’s something.