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Magellan’s GPS Takes a Shortcut on Lifetime Benefits

When Donald K. went to update his Magellan GPS with the latest map, he got a nasty surprise. Despite being advertised as coming with “FREE lifetime map updates,” he was informed that his unit did not qualify.

Magellan GPS

Seems pretty unambiguous, right? “Free lifetime map updates.” “Never worry about out-of-date maps again.”

However, farther down the page on Magellan’s website is an inconspicuous disclosure.


Lifetime = 3 years

Magellan astonishingly defines “lifetime” as just “three years” from the date of manufacture. That is certainly not how the average consumer would define lifetime. Nor how the Federal Trade Commission wants its definition disclosed:

§ 239.4 “Lifetime” and similar representations.
If an advertisement uses “lifetime,” “life,” or similar representations to describe the duration of a warranty or guarantee, then the advertisement should disclose, with such clarity and prominence as will be noticed and understood by prospective purchasers, the life to which the representation refers.

And the FTC also bans the deceptive advertising of guarantees.

Clearly, the disclosure that Magellan makes is not conspicuous, nor in close proximity to their “lifetime” claims. Further, their warranty is really a specified term of years — three — and not an unlimited warranty time-wise as the term “lifetime” implies.

Making the lifetime to which the warranty applies to the device’s own lifetime is circular reasoning. In essence that says the device will last only as long as it will last and then you’re out of luck. And in Magellan’s case, they are even cutting that short.

We asked a spokesperson for the company why they continue to use the misleading term “lifetime” to describe their three-year warranty, and whether they will grant access to map updates to purchasers who feel they were deceived. Here is their response:

We sincerely apologize for any confusion we may have caused to consumers about “lifetime maps” on our Magellan GPS devices. Typically with electronics, “lifetime” refers to the useful lifetime of the device, and for most GPS devices the useful life is about 3 years. Magellan honors customer requests for lifetime map updates as long as the device is still capable of being updated. For support, please visit https://service.magellangps.com/ [and fill out the “contact us” form].

One can only wonder what she meant by saying the device has to be “still capable of being updated” rather than simply saying that as long as the device was still functional they will provide map updates.

Thanks to John Matarese of WCPO-TV for the original story idea.

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14 thoughts on “Magellan’s GPS Takes a Shortcut on Lifetime Benefits”

  1. They could have simply said “Guaranteed for 12 updates or 36 months.” Who would guess that car companies would be more forthright!

  2. “Typically with electronics, “lifetime” refers to the useful lifetime of the device”

    Really? I have a household collection of heritage devices by that standard. I’d love to see them expound on their source for that statement. Maybe their “data” are assisted by their GPS users discarding the units after 3 years because they can’t be updated.

  3. It’s possible (but not likely), that the map files are now bigger than the device can store. I say unlikely, as I suspect it stopped at exactly three years from registration. The same model being registered later is still supported.

    Hopefully, the FTC makes them change their policy… otherwise I suspect a class action lawsuit is in the works and some lawyers will be making some money.

  4. They state that 3 years is the useful life for most GPS devices, but they are in control of that by limiting which devices can receive updates. The device itself does not wear out in 3 years. Of course, their warranty only covers the first year.

  5. I ran into the deceptive “lifetime updates” from Magellan a year or so ago when I attempted to update my Magellan GPS. The website repeatedly demanded $40 or so for the download which had been free before. I finally emailed the company, and they changed my account to allow a free update without further explanation. I have not tried to update again.

    The company’s excuse that “useful life” is predicated on the device’s capability of being able to “download and use current data” is disingenuous at best since they are perfectly willing to sell you that update (with no warnings) if you hand over the cash.

    I’m a careful consumer, but I find this definition of “lifetime” to be very deceptive. I still see ads for Magellan (and other) GPS devices predominantly advertising free lifetime updates with no qualifications whatsoever. Clearly Magellan should say “Free Updates for 3 years”, but that doesn’t make as snappy ad copy.

    I just checked the listing of a Magellan GPS on Amazon. It says “Free Lifetime Map Updates – Never worry about out-of-date maps again. Receive free map updates for the life of the device” Never. It does not say the life of the device is only three years.

    My question is whether other GPS vendors are equally as deceptive. I will be sure to check Garmin for their policy before buying my next GPS.

  6. So what happens if the device sits on the shelf for a couple of years before it is sold (which is not out of the realm of possibility)? The new owner only gets updates for a year? Weird. I personally hate GPS devices.

    I used to work as a route driver & I was given a GPS when I started the job. I maybe used a couple of times in the beginning but after it had me going around in circles one day I chucked it in the back seat & never used it again.

  7. On the flip side I have a Garmin with “lifetime updates” that has got to be at least 10 years old now and I can still update it. Guess that says something about which to choose

  8. I just finished an update on my old Garmin Nuvi 2555LMT,bought in April 2013. Took over nine hours to download. The last time it was updated was 2014

  9. Imagine if this applied to motor vehicle GPS! Obsolete after 3 years – no wonder Apple and Android Car Play are taking off!

  10. I encountered this with a video card over 10 years ago. Same thing. Lifetime turned out to be the liftime of the product, which was when the next series of cards was released. This could be as short as only 18 months.

  11. As a consumer, I think this is ridiculous. Yes lifetime should be of the product not the buyer (after all, if one drops dead right after buying an electronic, that shouldn’t mean no more updates) but reducing “lifetime” to 3 years is deceptive.

    However, I think this is another case where marketing makes a promise the engineers can’t/won’t be able to meet. Trying to keep legacy hardware/software updated can be a challenge and at some point it’s just not productive. The hardware is way outdated and the software is no better. You don’t want to be working on Windows 10 while still being required to maintain backwards compatibility with i386 computers. Heck, at some point it’ll become less expensive to just give owners of those old hardware new devices instead of having to create and maintain software for old hardware.

    A fair solution is to outlaw these kinds of warranties. At best, it’s confusing. And at worst, it creates expectations that can’t be met.

  12. I bought a Maggelan that crapped out after 13 months they refused to help me because the warranty was only good for 12 months.

    Edgar replies: Paul… if you paid by credit card, you probably have an extra year of warranty coverage under your card’s extended warranty benefit. Call them to find out. If you are already beyond the second year, you are probably out of luck.

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