Garmin Puts Good Customer Service On The Map

The battery on Bryan’s Garmin Streetpilot lost the will to hold a steady charge. Figuring that the unit’s warranty had expired, Brian asked for a replacement through MasterCard’s extended warranty protection. MasterCard required documentation from Garmin, which Bryan requested. Instead of providing the documents, Garmin responded with something else.

Bryan writes:

I have a Garmin Streetpilot c320 GPS unit. In November the internal battery stopped holding a charge, but the unit would work with direct power. This was only an issue when I started the car as it took much longer to acquire reception or if the power cord would get bumped which would occasionally happen with my stick shift transmission.

I knew that my GPS was out of the 1 year Garmin warranty, but I remembered that I bought it with my World Mastercard which has extended warranty protection. The claim process was much more involved than with American Express. After filling out all the paperwork and sending it to Mastercard, I got this response back:

As the claims examiner for MasterCard I have received and reviewed the documents submitted. The repair estimate submitted is for flat rate repairs. According to the Original Warranty you received with this item it was covered for defects in materials and workmanship for 1 year. I will need to see there was a defect in a part or in the workmanship of the item to extend your coverage.

The original warranty also shows there was no coverage for failures due to abuse,accidents,misuse or unauthorized repairs.

We need to confirm the failure of this item was caused by a defect.

Please secure an itemized repair estimate that will show what caused the failure, parts needed to repair and the final costs.

As shown in the Guide to Benefits this is required information for coverage under this benefit. I have listed the guide to Benefit information below.

Please forward the itemized repair estimate to my attention and I will promptly review this claim for coverage”

I contacted Garmin tech support to see how I can get a detailed repair estimate to complete my MasterCard claim. To my surprise I get this response:

“Dear Bryan,

Thank you for contacting Garmin International, I will be happy to help
you with this. The RMA number given you is for warranty repair. You
will not be charged for this. Just send your unit in with the shipping
address as indicated in the email.

With Best Regards,

Damon M
Product Support Specialist
Automotive Team
Garmin International
913-397-8282 (fax) Att: Damon M

I shipped the GPS and less than two weeks later a I received a replacement unit with a working battery. So I learned two things from this:

  • 1. Garmin has some great customer service even through email.
  • 2. I’m going to use my AMEX for all my purchases since their claim process is much easier and actually works to help their customers.

There is a third lesson: always, always, always ask for what you want. Bryan could have saved a few steps by calling Garmin directly, instead of assuming the worst. If they said no, he could still have relied on MasterCard’s extended warranty protection. Either way, excellent response from Garmin!


Edit Your Comment

  1. TexasScout says:

    I MUST AGREE! My Garmin C320 has been back for the same problem three times and now it’s back at Garmin AGAIN for a bad switch and pixels going out in the screen. TWO TIMES it was a few weeks out of warranty and they honored it. This time (since I told them that I had sent it back to them on my dime three times) they gave me their UPS account number to send it OVERNIGHT to them.

    Even though I am not happy with the durability of the unit, I will give GARMIN USA Service the highest rating I can for keeping me as a customer. I will never use another companies product.

  2. RottNDude says:

    Sounds like my experience with Plantronics and a headset that failed to properly charge. They overnighted a brand new one at no cost to me. I guess spending $100 for a 2″ piece of plastic that sticks in your ear warrants that kind of treatment, who knows…

  3. MDSasquatch says:

    Forget the Garmin and go with the TomTom; I used a Garmin in San Diego for about a month and the thing was slow to react if you had to make two or more simultaneous turns, it took me to non-existant places, and was generally off by about 2/10 of a mile.

    But if you really want a good system, get an OnStar equipped rig!

  4. davidglover says:

    Garmin is awesome. I have had 2 problems over the last 6 years and they ALWAYS went above and beyond. I LOVE GARMIN.

  5. MRT says:

    Garmin definitely has great costumer service. I bought a unit at a discount retailer and it did not have a car charger although the ad definitely mentioned that one would be included. Ended up emailing Garmin and was sent one free of charge without any hassles.

  6. RottNDude says:

    You have got to be kidding about the TomTom. I went from a Garmin iQue to a TomTom 510. What a mistake. From voice messages prompting to “keep left” at every freeway exit even though the option was turned off, to automatic day/night lighting that never worked properly, to windshield mounts that “drooped” over time and were replaced twice, to eventually a bunch of lines across the screen, the TomTom was an awful experience. I eventually spent the $100 to update my iQue maps and have never looked back. That 5-year old Garmin GPS is still working perfectly to this day.

    I don’t know where you were driving in San Diego, but I live here and know for certain my iQue offers better routing – I did the side-by-side comparisons, even.

  7. pylon83 says:

    Let’s just say I’m “intimately” familiar with the internal workings of Garmin customer service. They have an incredible philsophy when it comes to dealing with customers and warranties. The CSR’s are given incredible leeway in making decisions. Most reps, as long as you are nice, will just take care of you. Even with regard to accessories, etc., as long as it’s under $75, the reps can just give stuff away in the interest of customer satisfaction. It’s an incredible company, both in terms of the products, the service, and they way they treat their employees. I will offer one suggestion though, If you’re looking for something to be replaced or an out of warranty repair, e-mail can be an easier way to accomplish it, and sometimes more successful.

  8. Binaryslyder says:

    Similar thing happened with my dad’s street pilot. The cord that charges the unit had started to twist and fray. It didn’t look that hard to replace so I figured I’d call them up and do it my self. His GPS was out of warranty by about two months and his best buy coverage did (big surprise!) absolutely nothing.

    Imagine my suprise when they mailed out a newer (and more durable) cord free of charge!


  9. algormortis says:

    We use Garmin units in our fleet vehicles. One day, I managed to sever the power line of the car charger. My fault, no doubt.

    So I call up to order a replacement, as my company’s purchasing cards have “Required comments” that Web commerce often barfs in dealing with.

    When I ask if I can buy, the gentleman on the other end asks me if it was, say, a damaged plug. I reply that “I cut through it with a line stripper…accidentally…but stlll my mistake.”

    “Oh, we’ll replace that…you CUT THROUGH IT? You didn’t get zapped or anything, didja?” “Oh, no, it’s insulated.” “That’s pretty impressive, still.”

    Two days later it’s sitting on my desk.

    I’m one of their cult now. My personal vehicle has a Garmin now, too. My mom’s car has a Garmin I bought her for Christmas. Quality service gets you everywhere, and a quality product only helps.

  10. Joe_Bagadonuts says:

    I have a Garmin Edge 305 for mountainbiking that was replaced by Garmin in rapid fashion. I had the unit for about a month or so and then it locked up and wouldn’t work. A call to the customer service line walked me through some fix attempts that didn’t work, so they just shipped a replacement out. Thinking the shipping was going to take a week or more, I was bummed that I might not have the unit for an upcoming race, but the next morning (Saturday) there was a knock on my door from FedEx with a package from Garmin. The package had 2 boxes – one with a brand new Edge 305 in it and the other was empty with a shipping label to send back to Garmin.

    Long story short Garmin fixed the problem in less than 24 hours and kept me as a satisfied customer.

  11. MDSasquatch says:

    Go to LaJolla by UCSD and look for a Godfather Pizza, you will end up in the parking lot of the university, Look for a K-mart and you will end up at Sears.

  12. temporaryscars says:

    Cool. I’m in the market for a GPS. I guess i’ll be giving my money to Garmin.

  13. wordsmithy says:

    Add me to the list of Garmin fans. I was helped by CSR Chris last week who patiently helped me diagnose my unit’s problem then volunteered to send new software to cure it–all for a unit out of warranty.

  14. pylon83 says:

    Something to keep in mind when working on the Phone with Garmin (or any other company for that matter). Let them know if you are going to need the unit shortly. Usually if you say “I have a big trip coming up”, etc., they will overnight things. But, most times, unless you have implied it, they have no reason to know that you need it post haste. So, just be up front with the rep, make sure they know the whole situation, and you will get taken care of.

  15. socritic says:

    In the market for a GPS, this kind of service and response guarantees that when i purchase one, Garmin will be my number one choice. It’s easy to criticize and harder to praise, so to be fair i will say that since i’ve been reading the consumerist, I’m super influenced by the experience of other people. I make it a point to support the good companies and NEVER buy from companies that drop the ball. GO GARMIN!

  16. gundan says:

    I have had a similar experience with my Garmin. I have a Streetpilot C340, after a botched firmware upgraded I contacted Garmin and they shipped me a replacement unit in 2 weeks time. Their customer service is fantastic and their product is excellent.

  17. dgcaste says:

    @mdsasquatch: That actually happened to me while using Verizon’s VZ Navigator, I was trying to drive to the Cove in La Jolla and ended up at that school’s parking lot!!!!!!!!!! I wonder if there’s a deal under the table to direct people to a useless destination…

  18. Red_Eye says:

    We have a Streetpilot c330 and its the worst investment I have made in recent history. We bought it in april of last year, and Garmin has come out with an update for its maps that wont even fully fit on the unit at once. Whats worse is that they want $75 for the blasted update, keep in mind this is a $300 unit and if we ever want the maps updated and for it to stop sending to closed fast food restaurants etc then we have to buy the upgrade. Software updates are free maps are not. So keep that in mind, it is the hidden cost with a Garmin. Personally I will NEVER buy another one after that.

  19. m4nea says:

    The estimate process is exactly why I don’t care for credit card extended warranty programs.
    Some of them need up to three estimates!

  20. loueloui says:

    Um, I vehemently disagree. Not because of the skill of the Garmin technicians, or the quality of their repairs. I think they are being torpedoed by the corporate types. I have owned 3 Garmin products, and this will be my last. Why? Here’s a few reasons:

    Their product cycles are ridiculously, maddeningly too short. The last 2 units I bought were obsoleted months, in some cases weeks after purchase. These were not old clearance items, or overstock. I paid full price for these units. In one case I spent over $500 for a unit only to find out that it was obsoleted 67 days after I purchased it. My original unit was over $1200. If I had bought a laptop, and Streets, and Trips, and a GPS receiver with updates every year I would still have had $400+ left over. Not to mention I would have the use of a laptop. Instead I got screwed by Garmin when they obsoleted my unit. They really screwed their legacy customers with the DST patches as well (thanks guys!)

    Their maps are riddled with omissions, errors, and anomalies. This is obviously not news to them, and they have taken the attitude of, ‘Well it’s impossible to get everything right so why should we try?’. In the early days of the Streetpilot the original data provider was really pretty good. Most entries in the database existed, and the details were correct. The next map version was a complete disaster. This is the beginning of them buying data from NavTeq. The difference was immediately apparent. For instance you may get an entry for ‘Winn-Dixie Supermarket’ and be routed to one of their corporate offices, or the store may have closed many years ago.

    Their software is a joke. Although I can appreciate that it is not possible to get a better route than from a local who has first hand knowledge of a specific city, and almost always their routes will get you to where you’re going, sometimes the routes will be dozens of miles out of the way, or routed through a highway for a very short trip, or through residential streets for a very long trip. This is an ongoing problem, and greatly affects the reliability of the directions. I have learned to translate nearly all of the routes to something more reasonable. I’m not saying that this is not an issue with other manufacturers, but the technology is definitely not as accurate or reliable as they would have you believe.

  21. yg17 says:

    A GPS unit is only as accurate as the map data provided to the manufacturer is. And Navteq and TeleAtlas are the 2 companies that provide map data to all of the GPS makers as well as Mapquest, Google Maps, etc. If there’s an inaccuracy on one GPS, chances are, it’s going to be inaccurate on another. Sure, there are differences in the accuracy of the GPS receiver itself (your latitude/longitude positions, but all of those are pretty dead on). But if a Garmin thinks 123 Main Street is 2 blocks away from where it actually is, all the other units will probably think the same. And when you think about the vast amounts of data there is to collect for a single city, let alone the entire continent, you just can’t expect 100% accuracy.

    I’ve noticed some areas are better than others in terms of accuracy. There are a couple areas of Jefferson City that just do not match up to what’s on Google Maps and Mapquest, and probably a GPS too. The couple times I had to drive up there, it really screwed me up at first. Once a place I was going to was about a mile past where Google said it would be (that one really fucked me up, fortunately, I just kept driving and found it), another place was a few blocks off.

    I personally love Garmin as well. Well….that’s only because when they were here on campus recruiting and showing off their products, I entered a drawing for a Nuvi 660 and won :D So naturally, I love them. But it is a great GPS and had I paid for it, would’ve been well worth the money.

  22. c0nsumer says:

    For what it’s worth, I have an old Garmin eTrex Legend, and a couple years back the navigation stick (for going through the menus) stopped working. I called customer support about it, they asked me to send it in, and a week or so later a replacement one (which looked brand new, although it may have been refurbished) showed up and it’s been working great ever since.

  23. Scazza says:

    Not completely in the market for a GPS unit, but the thought has crossed my mind a few times since getting my first car last year. If I decide to finally pick one up, I am guessing its now going to be Garmin thanks to the positive news you guys have mentioned…

  24. theirishscion says:

    @Red_Eye: I’m afraid all the manufacturers charge for mapping updates, to the best of my knowledge. Also, you’ll probably find that any GPS you buy from any manufacturer will get outmoded soon afterwards. Still, I can see how you might feel frustrated by that. That said, the question really is whether or not it does the job you need. I have an original Garmin Quest, now a 4 year old unit, and one they actually still sell last time I looked. It still does everything I need, so I don’t consider it obsolete, to me at least.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve owned 6 Garmin units, and two Magellans. On the handful of occasions that I’ve needed to call Customer support on the Garmins, they’ve gone above and beyond, shipping parts out instantly, that sort of thing. Several friends have had similar experiences even out of warranty. The Magellan units, sadly, sucked. That said, that experience was in the mid-nineties. Still, it left a sufficiently sour taste in my mouth that to this day I don’t consider Magellan when buying gear. I’m quite impressed with the TomTom gear, but I’ve not owned any yet. Most recent Garmin purchased was a Nuvi 650 for Beloved for xmas, which she loves with a passion. (It’s for her Mini so it has a Mini splash screen and a little blue Mini for the car on the map. Very cute)

  25. stormyk says:

    Most impressive fact-when you call Garmins support phone number, you get American workers in Kansas with terrific attitudes. I have 3 Garmin GPS units and will never buy another brand.

  26. P41 says:

    I was gifted a low end Garmin a year ago. It doesn’t show any of the streets I need it to show. One set of streets is now on this year’s map, but near as I can tell the update price is within a few dollars of the purchase price of a new one. Their customer service may rock but someone needs to learn how to grow a business with subscription sales, also FYI I don’t think the hardware is free so who wants to buy when they’re obviously being ripped off.

    I’m tempted to try one of those rogue amateur maps. Seems funny that when they have a giant blank spot on their map, they’re not willing to work a legal deal that at least starts them off with what the amateurs have.

  27. chutch says:

    I have to agree with SOCRITIC, I’m in the market. A member of my family owns a Garmin and seems happy. I’m a price cutter, so I considered a cheaper model of another brand. When I do buy, it will be a Garmin unless things go downhill fast.

  28. BrianH says:

    I’ll just make this brief: I’ve had 3 experiences with Garmin customer service / tech support, and they’ve all been outstanding & exceeded my expectations. Maybe that’s why every time I’m shopping for a GPS, the only decision to make is the model, not the brand.

  29. narcolepticdoc says:

    I’d have to disagree with one of the statements in the article…

    “If they said no, he could still have relied on MasterCard’s extended warranty protection.”

    (Apparently Not). Weasels.

  30. pylon83 says:

    To those complaining about the mapping updates:
    Any company you go to is going to charge for map updates. The companies that produce the maps are in the business of doing so to make a profit. They charge Garmin/Tom-Tom/Magellan, etc. for new maps, and those companies, in turn, charge the end user. At least the $70 Garmin map update is far less than what you would pay to update the in-dash nav of a BMW/Honda/Mercedes, etc. Further, the map updates are really necessary, depending on where you live. Most people don’t update every cycle. I mean, if you travel mostly in large, well developed cities, the roads aren’t going to change. They certainly aren’t going to move Michigan Ave. in Chicago, or I-435 in Kansas City. Most people don’t update until they run into a problem where something they want is not in their current version. Further, with regard to the hardware cycles. Your unit is not “obsolete” just because they came out with a new one. There are plenty of people out there who are using 3, 5, 5, or 6 year old units that still work just fine. They may not have Text-to-speech, or Voice recognition, but they still get you from point A to Point B. And unfortunately, as the map data grows, eventually older units will run out of room. Just like a computer.

  31. Red_Eye says:

    @theirishscion: Oh I understand the name of the game here is to charge for content just like any other platform. What I object to is the fact that at Christmas they were still selling these units with the old maps and according to their support as long as they continue to sell the C330 it will always be sold with the old maps. They know the unit is out of date and they dont care as long as they make that sale. The new maps came out in/around the middle of 07, these units were Black Friday fodder at Wal*Mart for $128. Great price, of course if you have to update the maps for $75 in order to have current streets… I dont mind the ancillary data being out of date like places to eat, gas, lodging etc.. HI do object to having to pay for the map data for the street maps.

  32. MRT says:

    Regarding map updates, I managed to score a free 2008 map upgrade for my Nuvi 660 (Not sure if it was a one time offer for new customers or for everyone). Now, the routing seems to be a bit better although signal acquisition seems to take longer.

  33. yg17 says:

    @MRT: How did you do that? I wouldn’t mind a free map update for my 660

  34. barty says:

    Garmin has always been pretty good about supporting their products. My old eMap had a broken battery contact which I couldn’t just buy separately when I talked to their accessories sales department. So I called tech support. After explaining to the guy what had happned, he put me on hold for a couple of minutes and when he was back, he informed me he had walked down the hall to the service department and picked one up for me. I gave him my name and address and I had a replacement part a couple of days later.

    @Red_Eye: That’s why I warned people not to buy that model when I was asked. They’ve been discontinued since about January of last year. Everything that was sold last year was warehouse stock and was probably loaded with 2006 maps. My understanding is that Garmin won’t provide a free update unless you purchase something within 30-90 days of a new map release. With the c330s they were basically liquidating remaining inventories and were pricing them accordingly.

    Like someone else mentioned, it is a waste of money to buy a map upgrade every cycle, unless there have been major changes in your area. Otherwise it may be 2-3 cycles before some streets show up. My plan is to update my c650 probably in 2010 if its still going (hopefully! My aforementioned eMap is 8 years old now and still works, though it is a battery pig)

  35. pylon83 says:

    Unless you bought it AFTER the new maps were released, you’re probably out of luck. Unless there are some extenuating circumstances, they limit ANY map updates to those who purchased the units AFTER the new maps were released. And for the most part, they have eliminated free map updates all together, probably due to the cost.

  36. ralphie99 says:

    Just to chime in: I LOVE GARMIN TOO!

    I own three of their devices. I had a hand-held unit, a GPSMAP 60CSx, which I loved, but was out of warranty when it fell off my bike and got run over by a truck (long story). I called Garmin, and even though it was out of warranty and obviously not a “defect” (I told them the truth about what happened), they sold me a new one for half the price they usually are, I just had to send back my busted one. Sure, it wasn’t free, but it saved me a bundle and the service was awesome. GO GARMIN!!!

  37. MRT says:

    @yg17: I logged into my Garmin account online, clicked on the map updates link, and there was an offer for a free upgrade. I was tipped off by a thread on one of the gps forums regarding map updates. Some got the offer and some didnt.

  38. TadizzleFizzle says:

    I just had a great Garmin customer service experience, too. I wrote in to complain about roads that are missing and/or mislabeled on my new c330, and they offered to send out the 2008 maps to me free of charge. Amazing!

  39. startertan says:

    I’ve had my Garmin 360 for over a year now and only twice has it led me astray. On 2 separate occasions it directed me to drive through someone’s private property. Outside of those 2 incidents it has been absolutely fabulous. Glad the CS is good and I’ll be a loyal customer for a long time.

  40. Kaneohe7 says:

    I now understand why they have been expanding their corporate HQ’s so rapidly in the past couple of years. As soon as they get done building they expand again. I can see their HQ’s building from my back yard.

  41. firesign says:

    i’m also a big garmin fan. i have a nuvi 660 and it’s been rock solid. the couple of times i’ve asked questions with garmin’s tech support the answers have always been prompt, polite, and exactly the answer i needed.

  42. cerbie says:

    Cool. I have a Garmin with a non-user-serviceable battery, and fully expect the battery to die before I need/want a new GPS unit. Lithium-based battery, in a car (AKA oven), well…

  43. algormortis says:

    @mdsasquatch: actually as most k-marts in SD have been replaced by “sears essentials”, that sort of makes sense that you’d search for k-mart and end up at Sears.

    as for Godfather’s…it might be saving you. ;)

  44. Anonymous says:

    High Cost of Product Failure – Internal Battery – $175.00

    Thank you for contacting Garmin International.
    These batteries are designed to last around 7-10 years, however anytime the unit is powered off that battery is being used and drained. If you were to leave that unit off and not charged or even power it on for any long periods of time, this will drain the internal battery faster. (On or off it the clock is ticking)

    I would recommend charging the battery or at least using the unit once a week if not more. This will help preserve the internal batteries life. It is not something that is covered under warranty if outside the one year warranty.

    Now all of you know that if you buy a Garmin with an internal and they all do, you have to either charge it or use it weekly but not to long, because the internal battery is going to fail. And when it fails, you either pay $175.00 for Garmin to replace it, because it is not consumer friendly, or buy a new unit for $400.00 to $800.00.

    Look on line and you will find that the Garmin X76’s, mine was a 276 fails in 2 to 3 years. Not the 7 to 10 they are suggesting.

    Anyone know anything about class action lawsuits?

  45. Anonymous says:

    NONSENSE. I had continuing problems with an i5 Street Pilot for which I paid over $300 new at the time of purchase. After continually being taken to non-existent destinations Garmin did replace it with a Nuvi 250 which retails for as little as $110. Now I am having similar problems with that unit, and lo and behold, I also discover that they sent me a re-manufactured (USED) unit, not even a new one, which now will not work on the car charger but only on battery power.

    And when I mentioned to the CSR that I am still being taken to non-existent locations in the boondocks, he tells me that Garmin units are not for precise navigation but are for “recreation.” What does that mean…that they can only help me find my way around my basement billiard room? He also said point blank that Garmin does not and will not guarantee their accuracy. I guess it’s back to a compass and a map!

    It’s great that some of you have had good experiences but no means have all of us. And their products still SUCK.

  46. Luke69 says:

    I owned both Garmin Nuvi 300 and Garmin Nuvi 310 and had problems with both of them. On the positive side they were always solved quickly with garmin’s customer service help