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Easy way to keep a Garmin GPS running right


Something that nobody thinks about (usually not until it's too late) is the memory card in a Garmin GPS.

On my GPSes, I can't use the internal memory for storage because the maps simply won't fit, so I use memory cards.

What I've learned over the years is that as memory cards get older, they can and will start causing problems. As long as you use a card that's not old, the GPS will run fine.

Which memory card to use?

Almost every Garmin nuvi and zumo model made can support up to a 32GB microSD memory card. The reason you don't use more than 32GB is because of the file system used. Anything greater than 32GB won't be recognized in a nuvi.

Note that I said almost every nuvi. A short list of nuvi and zumo models don't support up to 32GB, and they are:

Every other nuvi and zumo can support a 32GB memory card as of this writing in September 2020.

Brands I recommend for new 32GB cards are Samsung and Sandisk. This is one of those instances where brand actually does matter because those cheap knockoff cards really don't work that well.

If you have to use 4GB or 8GB, your best bet is NOS (new old stock) sealed package memory cards from Sandisk, Samsung, PNY, ADATA, Lexar or Kingston. And again, make sure whatever you buy is in a sealed package and has never been opened. You have to buy NOS for 4GB and 8GB because it's rare to find those made new anymore.

Warning signs that a memory card is failing

There is unfortunately nothing that really tells you how much useful life left your memory card has, but there are a few telltale warning signs.

If the GPS starts taking longer (and you will notice it) to draw maps, calculate routes and/or search POIs, that could mean the memory card is starting to near the end of its useful life.

If the GPS outright crashes on startup or during a route recalculation, the card should be replaced immediately.

If the gold colored contacts on the memory card are tarnished, crinkled and/or all scratched up, the card should be replaced immediately.

How long is a memory card supposed to last?

I've seen some last 10 years, but how long yours lasts depends on the conditions it has been subjected to.

The two things that make a card fail sooner than later are excessive heat and oxidation. There's not really much that can be done about this since the GPS is exposed to sunlight and the elements in the air whenever your car window is open.

One of the few things you can do is periodically clean the memory card contacts to extend the life of the card. This can be done with very light passes using a pencil eraser. You can also use DeoxIT D5 contact cleaner spray that's specifically designed for cleaning electronics contacts.

However - and this is important to note - keeping the contacts clean doesn't affect the memory itself. If the GPS continues to have trouble with map drawing, calculating routes or POI searches after a card cleaning, replace the card.

Generally speaking, you can get about 5 years out of a memory card in Garmin GPS with regular daily use. You may get more than 5 years, but if you don't, you now know the warning signs and what actions you can take.

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