Ask LH: How Can I Make My GPS App Give Me Better Directions?

Dear Lifehacker, My GPS sometimes gives me ridiculous directions: It’ll ask me to turn in a “no right turn” lane, drive me in weird little circles, or sometimes even take me on a 10-minute detour before getting to my destination. How can I get it to give me more accurate directions? Sincerely, Random Routes

Dear Random,

A GPS app (or GPS device) can give you wrong directions for any number of reasons, but usually it’s just an error in the map. Maybe it doesn’t know there isn’t a right turn restriction at that intersection. Some users have even had issues with their navigation app asking them to drive off a bridge or onto some train tracks. However, sometimes all it takes is a few settings tweaks to fix the problem. Here’s how to make sure you always get where you’re going.

Turn Off Route Preferences

Most GPS apps and devices have options for things like “Avoid Tolls”, “Avoid Highways” and “Avoid Dirt Roads” that, if set, can take you a pretty roundabout way to your destination. Check through your particular app and make sure these are turned off. While these options mean well, more often than not they’re just going to take you on a route that isn’t as fast as the default. You’re better off just leaving them disabled.

I’d also recommend using the “fastest route” over the “shortest route” option. Your GPS is just a computer and will not understand that saving you a half hour of driving is preferable to saving you 100m on your route.

Update Your Maps (Or Fix the Issues Yourself)

Some GPS devices (and even a few smartphone apps, like TomTom) store maps locally instead of connecting to the internet, which means that they don’t update as often as those that are always connected. If you’re getting bad directions, your maps very well may be out of date. If you’re using a dedicated GPS device, plug it into your computer and follow its instructions for updating the maps. If you’re using a smartphone app, make sure you’re using the latest version and that all of its maps are up to date. If you’re still seeing the issue, you can submit corrections to the maps provider so that it won’t make those mistakes again. They may take a while to show up, but at least you’ll be helping others that need to take that same route.

Know Where You’re Going Before You Leave

The sad fact of the matter is that turn-by-turn navigation is never going to be perfect. Some of us have had incredible experiences with certain apps while others of us have had all sorts of incorrect directions. The best thing you can do is wean yourself off that GPS dependency as much as possible. Check Google Maps or Bing Maps for driving directions before you leave so you have a general idea of where you’re going. Buy a paper map for your car in case you get lost and your GPS can’t get you home. And always make sure the address you put in is correct — I’ve driven an hour out of my way just because I forgot to put “North” in front of the street name.

Remember that your GPS doesn’t have common sense — but you do. If your GPS asks you to take a turn that sounds wrong — you know, because it drives you into a lake — it probably is wrong. Ignore the instructions, and your GPS will recalculate the route and (usually) correct itself right away. The better you know where you’re going, the better judgment you’ll be able to make in these kinds of situations.


PS Got any other tricks, tips or solutions to bad GPS directions? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

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