Updating the Maps in My Clarion GPS

Updating my maps is a project I’ve been meaning to get around to for quite some time, and I finally got irritated with driving past brand new roads that my old maps swore weren’t there and going to closed and out of business stores that it swore were open. Having to get online and looking at Google Maps for up-to-date information every time we got to a town and were looking for a place to spend the night was an extra step that involved cooperation and communication with the non-driver, who was also getting irritated with the extra workload.

Here’s how this works. Maps are just datafiles the GPS companies keep updating as roads and points of interest change. As part of the purchase price, most companies offer free upgrades on their website. My old Pioneer charged for maps, and I ended up never updating it.  The process is basically downloading the new maps onto your laptop or smartphone and transferring the datafile from there to the GPS head unit – the thing in your dash. The way this is done depends on the model – there can be a memory chip like a camera, or a USB port, which can take either a USB memory chip or a USB cable connected to your computer/phone. it depends on how the data is stored in your GPS.

Here’s Western Europe for sale – well, the map of it, anyway. This is the software on my laptop.

I have a Clarion NX501 with many bells and whistles – Bluetooth, satellite radio, backup camera, etc. We plunked it into my prototype Adventurous CS back during the summer of 2014 when we were building it and it has been working great ever since.  Shown on the startup screen every time it boots up is the website you need to go to in order to get new maps – https://www.naviextras.com/shop/portal – so I went there, created an account, downloaded the software to my laptop, and started looking around, Sure enough, there were plenty of new maps I could download for free.

Now I had to figure out how to connect the head unit to my laptop to transfer the maps. My unit had a USB port on a dongle in the glovebox, so I tried a USB memory stick there. No luck. the head unit could read the USB stick (which means it could play any music I had on the stick), but still no map transfer. Same with a USB cable – the software on my laptop still said “no device recognized”. We just weren’t communicating. I sent a message to the help link on the website, and they said the NX501 should have a memory chip – look around for one.

The secret portal.

Sure enough, there’s a little door bottom left on the radio face, and behind it there’s what looks like a headphone jack (it isn’t, that’s an audio in port for  iPhones) and a tiny, tiny chip called a microSD chip. My laptop can’t read this chip with the built-in chip reader, so off I go to Target and come back with a nifty $11 microSD to regular SD chip conversion thingie, sold as an accessory for a 16 GB microSD chip (the chip that I pulled out of the head unit was 4 GB). Plug the microSD chip into the thingie, the thingie into the laptop – finally, device recognized. The software’s looking for a file written on the chip which identifies the GPS to the map software.  You can make a backup of your chip, update map files, add your own POIs in .kml format, lots of stuff.

Sorry, Canada. Not enough room for you.

My unit came with maps of the US and Canada, I click “upgrade” on all the boxes, get ready to download, and… not enough room on your chip. Darn. I try to copy everything on the original 4 GB chip onto the 16 GB chip I bought, put the new chip into the head unit, and… it won’t boot the nav stuff. There’s a secret, proprietary file on the chip that you can’t see, and these Clarion units won’t work with generic microSD chips, only with the ones you get from them.  I asked them for a bigger chip, offering to pay real money, but they never responded.  In order to have enough room to upgrade my US maps, I had to erase Canada – sorry, Jim Hammill, I can’t come to the factory anymore, because I can’t find it 😉

These chips are TINY. Don’t drop them. Excuse my dirty hands. The big thing is the adapter, and it’s only about an inch square.

It’s a slight pain not to have enough room – if I want to go to Canada and use my GPS I will have to erase some section on the US (there are  5) to make room for it, then erase Canada again when  I leave and reload the USA section.  In order to get the European maps, I will have to erase just about everything, and buy the Western Europe map for $100 (because my unit was sold in North America, I get free upgrades for the US and Canada only). I will keep pestering the Clarion help people to get a chip big enough to load the entire galactic sector.

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  • Andrew Pierce

    I gave up on dedicated gps units and just use the Waze app on my phone. Better routing, maps always up to date, better traffic info, speed camera and speed trap alerts, etc. Near infinite ‘points of interest’ also fully updated. Speech recognition input. The only real downside is if you are in the middle of nowhere with no signal. Then you may not be able to re-route, but your existing route is cached so still probably works.