This is a relatively straightforward question. I'm scheduled to visit the US in a couple of weeks. It's been around 15 years since I've been there, and I don't remember much as my parents had taken care of most of the work back then.

I want to rent a car in Las Vegas so that I can drive to the Grand Canyon and back. I noticed that they have an option to pay extra to add a GPS system. Is this necessary? I suppose the reason I'm asking is because (at least in my home country of Korea) everyone uses their phones and navigation apps (e.g. Google Maps, Kakao Maps, T-Map, etc.)

Are there any details that I'm unaware of that may cause adding on the navigation to be more beneficial? Thanks in advance.

  • 7
    Worth noting, that frequently these days even if you choose not to pay for GPS, the car comes with it anyway - although the hire company may of course not have provided complete/updated maps for it.
    – CMaster
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 12:00
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    Rental companies are like AOL... even after the product is obsolete they sell it anyway as long as they can... At one time, separate nav units were useful since it wasn't in every single phone, but unless you are time traveling from 2002, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to get this service.
    – JoelFan
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 19:13
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    – JonathanReez
    Commented Apr 15 at 2:15

9 Answers 9


If you have a modern phone, you don't need to rent the GPS with the car. Just install a navigation app that supports offline maps (this includes Google Maps these days but there are others), and download the proper maps in advance. I usually have a second app as backup.

The only minor inconvenience is that you need a mount (I use a cheap generic one bought at a dollar store) and have the charger cable in the car to keep the phone connected. Any car you rent (with possibly the exception of a very cheap compact) will have a usb port to plug it in.

As mentioned in the comments, it is important to have offline maps anyway, since it is unlikely to have cell coverage in the area of the Grand Canyon. As an example, here is the coverage by AT&T (blue is LTE, green is other AT&T, yellow is roaming):

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    The offline maps part is important to stress, as you might not have cell coverage in that part of the US for significant amounts of time. Obviously depending on your carrier and your actual route.
    – pintxo
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 13:52
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    When buying a car recently, they didn't have any vehicles in the lot with GPS. The salesperson told me that was because no one wanted to pay a couple thousand dollars more for something they can do on their phone for free. Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 18:59
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    @GrandmasterB modern cars now have Apple/Android auto which accomplishes the task much better
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 19:30
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    It would pay to look up the rules for using handheld devices in the jurisdictions you plan to visit: most (all?) states have strict rules (with varying enforcement) against using handled devices while you drive. At the very least you'll need to have it mounted in a holder of some kind. Of course, if there will be a passenger who can handle the device, there's no problem.
    – CCTO
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 20:58
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    Or you know, just buy a printed map for a few dollars at the local gas station or a bookstore. I always have those in my car because you never know when coverage might just disappear on an interstate. As an aside, i imagine there is always enough traffic between LV and the Grand Canyon that there is good coverage all along the route... Barring really bad weather like in winter. Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 1:49

I'm going to add a 3rd option. Buy your own stand-alone GPS unit from a big box store in the US. Depending on how long your trip is, what data plan you have for your phone, or how much the GPS rental is from the car company this may be a cheaper option.

Additional benefits of this option is that the device will come with mounting hardware, and that when your trip is over you can sell the device and re-coup some/most of your costs.

The downside to this is that the maps in the device may not be the most up to date and that you'd be looking many gigabytes of downloads for the latest maps. But in general for a trip around Nevada to tourist destinations you will most likely not need the very latest maps.

  • If you buy a used stand-alone GPS unit off of eBay or at a local pawn shop, you might even be able to sell it for roughly what you paid for it.
    – bta
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 17:48
  • There is no way you can buy an item from a pawn shop, walk out the door, walk back in and expect to sell it for the same price you paid. Your local pawn shop is going to buy stuff at some percentage of what they can sell it for - that's simple business practice. You might sell for the same price on eBay - but I wouldn't expect it.
    – Peter M
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 17:59
  • You definitely won't be able to sell anything to a pawn shop for a good price. I was thinking more like reselling it on ebay, craigslist, etc. I've done that with small electronics before and essentially got several days of use for the price of shipping. Significantly better than the rental car company rates.
    – bta
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 18:04

If you don't have mobile internet access while in the US you have to resort to offline maps or to the car GPS, because you can't download maps on your phone as you navigate.

I've rented a car in the US a couple of times and I always added a GPS, because the roaming costs for mobile internet connection are very high, and I didn't want to buy a US SIM card for a short trip. At home, and in the EU where there are no roaming costs, I use Google maps to navigate.

  • 2
    You can also use a phone GPS which is not mobile connection based. I have bought one but there are also free ones around.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 11:10
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    Also worth pointing out that if you're driving in the middle of nowhere you won't get any phone signal, Wi-Fi Egg or no Wi-Fi Egg. Downloading maps in advance is really the only safe option.
    – Muzer
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 12:01
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    And most of this proposed drive is in the middle of nowhere. Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 17:22
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    @Seankala It's well established, it's just that the US has a LOT more land with little population compared to South Korea. The US has about 100x more land area and only about 5x the population of SK. Equivalent land coverage is not economical - it would cost 20x more in infrastructure to have mobile coverage spread uniformly over the entire land mass.
    – J...
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 18:11
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    @Muzer I'd also point out that "Driving in the middle of nowhere" can mean 2 miles off the main freeway depending on who your carrier is (I'm looking at you T-Mobile)
    – Peter M
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 21:38

Because Korea is extremely dense and that makes it easy to essentially 100% cover with cell phone service. The Grand Canyon has a vast wilderness, almost comparable to Siberia.

Whether a car sat-nav makes sense depends on the unit

A traditional Sat-Nav device (you mis-call them "GPS") has a huge amount of memory to store pre-programmed maps of your region. It also has a GPS receiver so it knows its coordinates.

However, obviously, the trend is to go to "cellular data connected" types, because they have the latest maps, do smarter routings based on collected data, and are able to adapt to live and past-pattern traffic conditions. These will be useless in many parts of the Canyon.

Increasingly, the car rental agencies are likely to hand you a loose "device" that is basically an Android tablet, and rent that to you for some outlandish price. Don't count on it being mounted, integrated, or audible in driving conditions.

It also depends on the language.

Where's your brain-trust?

"Who is your English speaker?" vs "Who is your driver"?

Because the rental-car company supplied unit will be English language, almost certainly. If only the driver speaks English well, this is a bad division of labor. The rental company's choice of device will be unfamiliar and awkward. To be clear, the person driving is not the person who should be dealing with the nav. Messing with any smart device while driving is always dangerous; but an unfamiliar or balky one is much more dangerous because of how the brain responds to unexpected behavior. Brains do not multi-task; they rapidly task-switch (badly). Unexpected behavior from a balky device makes the brain not switch back at the expected time, extending the head-down time and making you crash.

If there are 2 adults in the car, the driver should not be navigating or interacting with electronic equipment. The other person should. Which means the nav aids need to be in that person's language.

Which brings us to the ideal division of labor on a long road trip.

Driver drives. Navigator navigates. Navigator is always right.

The best division of labor on a road trip is 2 people: One person to drive and the other to navigate. The driver treats the navigator's word as absolutely correct. If the driver strongly feels otherwise, the driver pulls over safely to the side of the road and they look at the maps together and resolve it. The driver does not badger or argue with the navigator, or make the navigator afraid to speak freely. The navigator does not give too-late or shaky/uncertain instructions; better to give a wrong instruction firmly, then at an appropriate time, a second instruction to correct the course.* Once you get the rhythm of it, it works very well.

Obviously, that creates a language dependency.

A sat-nav attempts to automate the navigator's job. A human navigator is worlds better. The human might use the sat-nav as a tool, but would be better off using tools the navigator is already familiar with. I certainly would be reluctant to reserve in advance a Sat-nav the navigator has not had time to play with to see if it's a good fit.

If you are the English speaking driver, I'd rather you converse with the navigator in Korean and have the navigator use a familiar tool in Korean. Google Maps is available on iOS and Android obviously, and allows pre-loading of offline maps. It keeps them in memory only for 30 days or so, so don't load them too soon or it'll delete them.

Paper maps are your friend

Really. There is no substitute for paper maps. They are large, and present both the entire "big picture" and also the finer details.

However again, it helps for them to be in the navigator's language. Sourcing Korean language maps of the US Grand Canyon ... in the US ... may be a challenge; get them at home.

The "Rescue Me" button

I mention this because this happens at least a couple times a year, usually in the winter. People make wrong turns (often due to sat-nav telling them to), the car has a problem, and they die out there. Every case could have been trivially solved with one piece of tech: The 406 MHz ELT. This uses the military-grade, built-for-purpose distress signal system also used by jetliners and cruise ships. Due to the high cost of the infrastructure (many satellites), there is one world system with all the major powers onboard. A handheld beacon costs about $400 (once, no annual fee) and they can also be rented. It has exactly one job. Break seal, push button, forget it, focus on survival, and 2-12 hours later, help appears. It doesn't do anything else. It works anywhere but the steepest canyons (and obviously not caves), but this time of year you should be staying out of slot canyons anyway. If you have a mind to do anything slightly adventurous, or just if you're bad at navigation, think about getting one of these.

America is big. A standard trick in WWII was to take German POWs to New York and put them on a train ride to the west coast. The sheer size of America removed any further hope of a German victory.

* Example.

"Continue straight here. Do not get on the freeway."


"At the next opportunity, do a U-turn. We do need the freeway, after all. I wasn't sure, and I called straight because it would be easier to recover."

"OK, good call."

"Get on the freeway northbound. This ramp here, follow the brown truck".

  • 2
    I would add that the navigator shouldn't present the driver with choices, especially if the driver has no context from which to make decisions ("you can turn right here or go straight"). Also the driver has to be able to disregard the navigator's instructions when they are unsafe or illegal (for example, "turn right here" when the car is already in the left-turn-only lane).
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 17:08
  • +1 to everything in this excellent answer except “However again, they [paper maps] need to be in the navigator's language.” Reading a map in a foreign language requires much less proficiency than following GPS system directions. Provided the navigator can read English script enough to read and recognise place-names quickly, they should be fine with paper maps in Englis. I’ve often navigated from maps in languages I don’t know. There are usually only a few pieces of important text esides placenames (e.g. the key for road-type symbols), and those can be puzzled out in advance.
    – PLL
    Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 22:07
  • Second the warning about a lack of cell coverage. People from dense areas expect their phones to always work--in the western United States if you're between cities and not on a major highway do not expect your phone to work--and even then there will be dead spots. I have yet to see a cell tower in a national or state park, sometimes you get service from outside, most of the time you don't. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 15:24
  • You are exactly correct about the paper maps. The park service gives out very good quality maps of the park as you enter, and the parks have plenty of signage. Maps in languages other than English are available as well (international tour groups are very common), ask a ranger about them as you enter.
    – bta
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 17:55
  • @LorenPechtel fast forward a few years and plenty of people get great internet service by traveling with a Starlink antenna. Obviously not practical for hiking but car campers can now get 100 Mbps internet anywhere in the US :-)
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Apr 15 at 2:15

It mostly depends on what you would otherwise use for navigation. Also, consider that you are planning to travel to an area with a low population density (high risk of getting lost, as well as patchy cell coverage, see Death by GPS).

Regarding your “usual” navigation options, consider:

  • Is off-line navigation supported? You might not have a data connection, or it might be prohibitively expensive.
  • Is off-line navigation fully supported? Some solutions calculate a route and cache the data, but if you need to recalculate your route without a data connection, you’re out of luck. To be on the safe side, opt for a solution where the map data is on the device, not in the cloud.
  • How complete and up-to-date are the maps? (The same question applies to the device provided by the rental company.)
  • What about the legality of using your cell while driving? More specifically:
    • Some legislations forbid looking at a screen while driving. Though that applies to a cell phone just as a sat-nav installed in the vehicle. The only option here is to have the front passenger do the navigation.
    • Some legislations forbid holding electronic devices while driving; a cell mount will solve this.
    • Some legislations forbid mounting devices on the windshield; a cell mount attached to a ventilation grille is your friend here.
    • Some legislations forbid interacting with electronic devices while driving (which might also apply to sat-nav devices installed in the car); either have a (savvy) passenger take care of this or pull over when you have to enter a new destination.

If you intend to rely on your cell, be sure to carry a car charger and cable for it. Not all rental cars may have a USB port, but a 12V plug is pretty much standard.


If all you’re doing is going to the Grand Canyon and if you are comfortable getting out of the city without a GPS then the drive is very straightforward. There will be phone coverage within Las Vegas itself.

Worth noting cellphones in the US are very expensive compared to other countries.

  • The drive is straightforward if you don't make a mistake. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 15:27

My experience is that Sat Nav rental charges are excessive, so I went prepared.

I rented a car in Houston, TX recently. I had travelled with my mobile phone, and a couple of mounting devices intending to use its Sat Nav. While on WiFi I downloaded the Google Maps for the area I was visiting.

To my surprise the small Hertz rental car I got was equipped with Android Auto (and the the Apple equivalent). The effect of this was that when I plugged my charging cable into the USB slot the car asked me whether I'd like to connect my phone, and lo, on the cars computer screen my phone's Google Maps was displayed. Further the phone could be voice-controlled via the car. Hence my phone could just be lodged anywhere convenient, no need for a mount.

I read that Android Auto is quite common on modern rental cars. I'd advise checking with the rental company. I have Hertz Gold and so can select my own car in many rental locations and in future intend to check that my selection has Android Auto.


We paid extra in the US recently and they gave us an android device that took us around in circles trying to get out of Los Vegas. Ended up using Google maps and forgot about the supplied one.

Won't be bothering with paying extra for GPS next time.

Note: we had T mobile SIM cards for mobile data and I'd also setup offline maps.


Amazingly, though even cheap cars in the UK come with built-in satnav, I've never had a rental car in North America -- even upmarket models -- come with a built-in satnav. And although I use a Samsung Galaxy phone and find its navigation useful when on foot in strange countries, even that size of screen isn't great while you're driving. When I travel to North America I take a stand-alone satnav (with built-in American mapping) with me -- that way I get a good satnav for less than the cost of renting one for a couple of weeks -- and I have it when I need it most, driving away from the car-hire office!

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