Following Garmin's Replacement Instructions Could Cost You $99

Garmin wants to bill reader Hal $99 for a new SD card after failing to tell him to remove his old card before returning his dead-on-arrival StreetPilot C510. The SD card holds the unit’s maps, and without one, the GPS unit is useless.

While in the market for a GPS unit I checked to see what companies had the best comments and user experiences, and Garmin came up as what seemed to be a good option. I had been looking for a GPS for some time but was waiting for a good deal on a Garmin or TomTom. On January 27, 2009, Woot had a reworked Garmin StreetPilot C510 that was refurbished at an excellent price. It included the 2009 North American map set and a 1 year warranty from Garmin, so I purchased it.

When I received the unit it would not power on. After working with it for a couple of days and over the weekend I called Garmin to see about getting an RMA. I talked to a representative on the phone and he led me through the same troubleshooting steps that I had tried from their support page. He agreed that it needed to be returned and gave me the RMA information. He said that I should not include any accessories such as the power adapters since they probably would not be returned. I took the unit and packed it for return to Garmin per his instructions.

A week or so later I received the replacement unit. I was able to power it on immediately but it could not find my current location. I worked with it some more and checked the support site and found that the SD card inside the unit that contained the maps was not included with it. I submitted a support request via email to Garmin asking for them to send me the SD card so that my unit would work. Here is their response:

Thank you for contacting Garmin International. Unfortunately there is no way for us to replace that SD which is why we instructed you to keep all of the accessories and to send us only the bare unit. You will need to purchase another SD card with the maps installed in order to have any mapping information. If you would like to order that you can give us a call or order it through our website.

With Best Regards,

Lorraine H
Product Support Specialist

I was not told by the help desk tech that I needed to remove a card from the GPS unit. Frankly I would likely have thought that was an intrinsic part of the device had I known that it was even in there. Since I had never gotten the device to actually work I frankly had no idea that there was an SD card in it. I looked up the cost of the map set on the SD card and found that it was another $99. Here was my reply:

Lorraine,

Let me get this straight. I purchase a unit that is DOA but under Garmin’s warranty. I am told to return it but not include any accessories, which I take to mean is the power cords, suction cup, case, etc. The agent on the phone doesn’t tell me to remove the embedded card that’s in the unit and I am supposed to know to remove the card that I wasn’t told to remove. I don’t have any experience using the device since it was totally dead when I got it but I am somehow supposed to know to look for and remove a card from the device even though no one from your company bothers to tell me to do that or even where to look. In order to replace this card I have to go to your web site and spend $100 for the part that you didn’t tell me that I had to remove but which my machine won’t work without.

Is this Garmin’s customer service policy?

Lorraine’s reply was:

Thank you for contacting Garmin International. I do apologize but we informed you to not send any accessories and only the unit. The reason we do not want you to send the accessories is because they can not be shipped back out to you. I contacted my supervisor to verify and unfortunately at this point you would have to pay for the SD card in order to have maps on the unit. You may be able to find the preloaded SD card for less through some of our online dealers so you may want to try that.

Apparently Garmin’s customer support policy is that if you return a unit to them according to their instructions and haven’t managed to somehow discern that there is some accessory in the device that they don’t bother to tell you about, you are out of luck and have to pay them again to make the unit do what it was supposed to do in the first place. I find this to be ridiculous, especially since they retained the SD card with maps that I sent them with the unit.

Hal had no way of knowing that he had to remove the internal SD card. Since Garmin didn’t provide clear instructions, they should either return his old card or give him a new one.