TomTom’s Top Gear-Branded GPS Is Absolute Rubbish

Kristan, like many sensible and awesome people, was excited when GPS maker TomTom produced a limited edition unit for fans of the BBC program “Top Gear.” The biggest draw: the recorded voice of Jeremy Clarkson, the show’s lead presenter and an internationally beloved contrarian jerk. Clarkson’s voice isn’t available for separate purchase from TomTom, at least for American consumers. Oh, no. We have to shell out $269 for this spiffy satnav, and that’s what Kristan did. It turned out that the unit….wasn’t all that great. But the final insult came when it failed, and TomTom sent a warranty replacement of an inferior unit that contained no Top Gear content and required an additional $60 fee to reactivate the GO LIVE that Kristan had already paid for.

In September 2011 I first heard of an upcoming product from your
company- the TomTom GO LIVE Top Gear Edition limited-release satellite
navigation unit. This would be a TomTom GO LIVE 1535 unit with content
inspired by the British television show, of which I am a fan-
including voice recordings by Jeremy Clarkson, the show’s lead

I had been considering the purchase of a GPS unit for my trips for
some time prior, and the fact that this was a tie-in to one of my
favorite sources of entertainment pushed me over the brink into
buying. I almost choked at the $269 price tag, but decided that the
combination of map guidance, live traffic warnings, and the massively
arrogant voice of Clarkson would justify the price tag. I anxiously
waited for the unit to be available, and around October 11 or so, when
the “Order Now” link went live on the TomTom website, I not only
ordered but plumped for express delivery, expecting that the unit
would be delivered in time for a particular trip a little more than a
week thence. The whole cost was about $315 after taxes.

And I waited. And I waited. And I waited.

My money was taken post-haste, of course, but when it came to getting
some sort of response as to when I could expect shipment, nothing
happened. Emails, phone calls, and posts on the TomTom message boards
produced no response whatever- not even “we’re working on it” or
“they’re not actually available in the US until X date.” Finally, long
after the trip I’d hoped to show off the device on had come and gone-
and long, LONG after “express shipment” had become a sad, pathetic
joke- the device shipped- a MONTH after I’d clicked the button to
place my order.

I soon found that my expensive TomTom device was not all it could be.

So far as my rural area was concerned, TomTom had no clue what any of
the street numbers were. On the road, points of interest were often
placed on the wrong side of the road, in locations where I couldn’t
access them from the street, or (in one noteworthy case) over a mile
away from where they actually were. A multitude of roads and streets
that haven’t existed for fifty years are retained on the maps. The gas
prices listed in the services were never good for anything more than a
rough estimate of averages in an area, since the services retained
price data months out of date- including data for gas stations that
closed YEARS before. All of this, of course, came on top of the two
most common sins of GPS systems- incredibly optimistic ETA
calculations and the occasional inclusion of absurd detours down tiny
side streets in the name of (supposedly) faster routes.

Despite these flaws, the device was useful enough, and Jeremy
Clarkson’s voice amusing enough, that I used and enjoyed the system
for six months… until, on the way home from a trip on Memorial Day
2012, the system began to seriously malfunction.

I should point out that I had, on at least a monthly basis, plugged
the device into my computer to download map and system updates. For
three months- March, April and May- the device had consistently
reported itself up-to-date. I have since learned that TomTom
encountered a widespread glitch which caused its devices to lose GPS
satellite signal. However, I had not received this news, and thus
found out about it only after my device “bricked”- that is, became
completely unusable. When I attempted to turn it on after the Memorial
Day trip, it would cycle on and off the start-up screen; nothing I did
could restore it to function.

After spending over an hour on the phone with a technical support
person (mostly re-doing things I’d already looked up on the website
and attempted to no effect), I was instructed to send my device to a
warehouse in Fort Worth for warranty service. Since the post office
did not deliver to this warehouse, I was forced to use UPS- another
$25 spent. Within a handful of days the device was turned around- or,
rather, my old device was junked and a replacement sent.

The replacement was NOT a TomTom GO LIVE Top Gear edition, but a
regular GO LIVE 1535. The Top Gear content had not been added.
Clarkson’s voice, which I had enjoyed, was not only not loaded, but
not available by any means fair or foul. In short, I had NOT been
given equivalent value for the device under warranty.

Things got worse. When I tried to get updated maps and programming, it
took another hour on the phone with technical support to get the
website to accept that the new device belonged with my current
MyTomTom account. Having done this, on my next road trip I discovered
that TomTom Services had not been activated on the device… and
despite having five months to go on the original device’s services,
the new device’s services would require a new $60 fee to activate.

So- having spent not less than $340 thus far on this device, I now
have a device which functions on a par only with TomTom’s $100
entry-level device- which, in turn, could be supplanted by a
non-upgradable, $50 no-name-brand GPS unit.

From beginning to end, I feel taken to the cleaners. I feel like
TomTom has abused me as a customer and soaked me for every penny they
could grab, providing me substandard or nonexistent customer service
in return. I am not a dissatisfied customer: I am an angry, vengeful,
disgusted, outraged, infuriated and exasperated customer.

TomTom, you had your chance and you blew it. I don’t want another
device from you; I don’t want promises or excuses or any words from
you; the only thing I will accept from you, if you send it, is a
check. Otherwise you are dead to me- and good riddance.


Edit Your Comment

  1. dorianh49 says:

    Some say… that this GPS has a crush on the dinosaur from the Toy Story movies, and that he’s afraid of the number “7”. All we know is…

  2. coffee100 says:

    What’s that? People are overpaying for a broken, inferior product manufactured by slaves 12,000 miles away and they’re complaining? Who the #*&#%*& do they think they are?

    Americans are entitled to 40,000% rolling markups. Now pony up, fork over, shell out and shut the #*#% up.

    Oh, and there will be another 6000 layoffs next Thursday.

  3. Cat says:

    slightly OT, but related. I just had my first long trip with a GPS…

    Questions to GPS makers – could you please add a “NO, I don’t want to go to fuckin’ Canada!” function?

    And an “Avoid tolls” function?

    • George4478 says:

      My several-year-old Garmin has several “avoidance” options you can turn on/off. One is toll roads. It wasn’t a top-of-the-line model so I thought this was a fairly standard feature.

      • mikedt says:

        Over the years Garmin and the others have removed a lot of the route customization that was available on older units. I’m guessing that 80% of their customer base was confused by these options – or didn’t find them important – so now we’re left with pretty much “fastest” or “shortest” route.

        • Chuft-Captain says:

          Even my cheapo $99 Nuvi 50 that I use on my motorcycle has an option to avoid tolls. I don’t believe there’s a brand name GPS that doesn’t.

        • Traveller says:

          Faster Time, Shortest Distance, Less Fuel, and Off Road tell the nüvi how to calculate the route. Avoidances are for modifying the calculated route. On my 1300 the following avoidances are available: U-Turns, Highways, Toll Roads, Traffic, Ferries, Carpool Lanes, and Unpaved Roads.

          The nüvi line did greatly simplify the possible options, but all nüvis have at least these options.

      • Gehasst says:

        My Garmin Nuvi has this as well. It won’t hold a charge, but it gets me there as long as I plug in. =) Oh and it was only $65 new.

        • MikeVx says:

          If you want a working battery, there are a number of places that will sell you a replacement, along with instructions and any special tools you will need to open up the unit.

          The internet is a wonderful thing, properly misused.

    • Claire says:

      My new-ish Garmin has the option to avoid toll roads. However, as Texas consists almost entirely of toll roads, I have to keep it turned on, unfortunately. It has never tried to send me to Canada, but I do wish it had a “don’t drive through this neighborhood if you don’t want to get robbed” feature.

      • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

        “as Texas consists almost entirely of toll roads”

        Everything is bigger in Texas… including exaggerations.

        • Martha Gail says:

          Like everyone else doesn’t speak in hyperbole? Texas does have a lot of toll roads.

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        However, as Texas consists almost entirely of toll roads

        You know how I know you’ve never been to Texas?

        • Kris Overstreet says:

          Well, Claire has been to north Dallas or Austin, I’d bet. A few years back our governor’s hand-picked head of the state transportation department said, “In the future all roads will be toll roads.” They’ve worked hard ever since to make that come true.

      • EllenRose says:

        My Garmin Nuvi was desperate to take me through South Chicago residential streets. I eventually turned it off.

    • DeeJayQueue says:

      My <1 year old TomTom has options to "always, never or ask" whether to avoid tolls, ferries, carpool lanes, etc.

      My biggest gripe is that after the latest map update, rt66 in Virginia no longer appears as an HOV road. Personally I'd like GPS units to be aware of conditional HOV lanes or roads… For example, the aforementioned rt.66 is HOV from 6:30-9am Eastbound and 4-6:30pm Westbound. It would be nice for my GPS to take this into account. It's all for the best though as I avoid that road like the plague anyway.

  4. sir_eccles says:

    Is there one with the Stig?

    • atrixe says:

      You mean a unit that doesn’t give any spoken-word directions?

      • dorianh49 says:

        And shakes its head in disapproval if you travel under 120MPH.

      • SharkD says:

        Actually… some say, that, wherever you are in the world, if you turn your radio to 88.4, you can actually hear his thoughts…

    • Kris Overstreet says:

      The unit I originally had also had “Stig Mode,” i. e. silent, and the default car icon was the Stig in a convertible. (Other options included the Dampervan and the combine snowplow.)

  5. Coffee says:

    This letter – while long-winded – is at least easy to follow. I would say, though, that while I hope that the OP is reimbursed for at least the cost of reactivating services, I’m not sure that the last paragraph did her any favors. If I’m trying to get something from a company, I’m most likely not going to say that I’m through with them until after I’ve received consideration. Saying “I would like a refund and I have no intention of ever using you again” doesn’t exactly scream “good investment” in the retentions department.

    • coffee100 says:

      You’re right. At the very least your face should make contact with *both* ass cheeks while you pucker. After all, it’s only your money. It’s not like you should expect dignity too.

      • George4478 says:

        Do you truly not understand the point? If you tell a company up front that you will no longer be a customer then they have no reason to care about you or your problem.

        I would not think this is a difficult concept to grasp.

        And I never thought NOT threatening a company was the same as kissing their ass.

        • coffee100 says:

          You’re right. Just be careful the company doesn’t come to a sudden stop or it’s suddenly going to get really dark.

          • Coffee says:

            There’s a difference between having self-respect and being so dogmatically intransigent than you would rather sink with a ship than step onto land only a few feet away.

            Trying to get a refund is basically a negotiation, and when you negotiate, pragmatism is a useful attribute to have. When you lose perspective in a world full of false dichotomies of your own creation, you end up on a soap box, screaming imprecations at people who regard you as nothing more than an ideologue.

            • coffee100 says:

              “you end up on a soap box, screaming imprecations”

              It’s easier for people to hear me when my head isn’t up some company’s ass.

              • The Beer Baron says:

                I say, old chap, while life is difficult for some, it is even more difficult for those poor souls among us who are sadly lacking in their mental capacity. I certainly hope you are inured to the hardship of survival, because if you are going to be as dumb as you appear, you must needs be tough as hobnails.

            • frodolives35 says:

              Some times its not the money but the FUCK YOU factor. I think that’s a great letter but its not my money. If it was me the big FUCK YOU letter comes after the poor half ass compensation.

    • Kris Overstreet says:

      Bear in mind: I spent a MONTH in total silence, getting no answers whatever from the company, waiting for the original unit. Twice I spent over an hour with a technical support person who barely spoke English, was working from a you-shall-not-deviate script, could not hand me over to a supervisor, and had no knowledge whatever beyond what the script provided. And that was when I was being polite and patient as I could, when there was still a chance I’d recommend TomTom or buy an upgrade.

      If I fought now for some measure of compensation, the time and aggravation involved would be more than I’d ever gain back- which would likely be NOTHING. At this point I don’t expect them to do anything for me at all; I just want to let TomTom know where they screwed up and why I’m walking away for good. (And the Consumerist cut a paragraph or two where I really told them how I felt.)

  6. RedOryx says:

    Aren’t most branded items rubbish? It’s like the company spends so much money on licensing agreements they run out of the cash necessary to make a decent product.

    • Coffee says:

      Seriously, and it’s becoming more an issue all the time, especially with stealth branding, where a company trades off its brand to sell other items. For example, I’m more than happy to pay $65 for my Ray-Ban sunglasses, but I wouldn’t touch similarly priced glasses branded by, say, Kenneth Cole.

  7. SirWired says:

    How on earth does one spend $25 sending a GPS with UPS? Sounds like they went to a UPS store or other UPS retailer. I guarantee they wouldn’t have spent $25 just printing a shipping label online.

    • Kris Overstreet says:

      Ground shipping plus insurance, plus the gas to get to said depot- an hour and a half each way. As I mentioned, I live in a VERY rural area, so not being able to use the post office was a burden. (And UPS charges as much as the shipment itself to do a pickup out here.)

  8. ferozadh says:

    Oh TomTom… your days of standalone GPS units are numbered.

    • coffee100 says:

      You mean layoffs and firings? Wow! That deafening sound you just heard was every middle manager in America unzipping their pants.

  9. Kate Blue says:

    I’m surprised they didn’t just replace it with a smart phone app.

    • Kris Overstreet says:

      I don’t own a smartphone and don’t want one. My current non-touchscreen cel phone doesn’t connect reliably at home, and I want a reasonably large screen to look at when on the road seeking directions. If there was something halfway between a smartphone and a tablet that came with a dashboard or windshield mount, then an app would work- otherwise not.

  10. NeverLetMeDown2 says:

    TomTom couldn’t send the OP a replacement Top Gear-branded unit. They had to pull those from the market after the initial production run (BBC told Clarkson that it was a conflict of interest for him to be using his voice on the device). The OP should have gotten the equivalent hardware, with the same services she paid for, however.

    • Coffee says:

      Well this is certainly relevant…good find, NLMD2 :)

    • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

      You may want to reread what the link you posted. TOMTOM: “We are still planning to sell the announced TomTom/Top Gear product. The deal was cut for future products, not the one we announced.”

      If you go to TomTom’s webstie…you can still order/buy the same model GPS the OP did.

      • NeverLetMeDown2 says:

        1. They did sell the initial product (that’s how she bought it), but no more units were produced (i.e. they didn’t scrap the ones they already had, but instead sold them).

        2. The device is there, but there’s no way (that I can see, maybe I’m missing something) to actually buy it anymore. Certainly not available in channels that sell the full TomTom range (i.e.

  11. Jeff Ousley says:

    I have to say, I’m surprised people still use standalone GPS devices in this day and age. Do TomToms usually offer some kind of advantage over smartphone GPS? Obviously, not everyone has a smartphone yet, but with the kind of money Kristan was dishing out, you could easily buy a smartphone with GPS included that updates itself automatically. Just curious if anyone had any input.

  12. P51baby says:

    I’m wondering if the switch up in devices had anything to do with this deal where BBC was unable to sell the devices due to conflict of interest (happened around the same time that the express shipping mishap occurred). They probably didn’t have any more units to replace it as tomtom can not make new ones after the initial production. Still, tomtom should have kept customers informed and at least have the activation fee waived.

  13. CrazyEyed says:

    I didn’t find the slow shipping particularly relevant to the story but relevant in the context of TomTom not having their sh*t together. Sucks for Kristen though. At the very least, TomTom should have provided an equal or better alternative as a replacement.

    I never found TomToms as appealing as Garmins. When I need GPS my Droids free GPS does the job just fine.

    • Kris Overstreet says:

      TomTom not having “it” together is the whole reason why I’m dropping them; horrible service, unreliable equipment, spazzy software and website.

  14. theconversationalist says:

    Tom Tom is super lazy with terrible support.

    They’ve had a bug in many of their units where is says “west” insted of “0” or “oh” whenever there’s a zero in a hwy number. So Hwy 405 in LA will be read as 4-west-5, Hwy 101 will be 1-west-1, etc. It was really confusing the first few times I used it.

    Thing is, it’s dead simple to fix. There are online instructions from other users online that show how to change the lexicon file in less than a minute and upload it to the unit and the problem is solved. But it’s been this way in Tom Tom units from the factory for YEARS. Super lazy.

  15. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    I HATE my Tom Tom GPS. It came with my 2012 Forester, and it is a piece of junk. I’ve connected it to my computer to get the “latest” maps, which somehow don’t include roads that are over five years old. Then, it has a security feature that disallows scrolling through your iPod songs/artists/whatnot while you drive. While I get that you don’t want folks staring at their GPS while they drive, Tom Tom clearly only does this as an inconvenience as you can scroll through their needlessly complex menus to use any features for the GPS while the car is in motion.

    I will never buy another Tom Tom again, regardless of the Darth Vader voice.

  16. CorvetteJoe says:

    As someone who drives the toll roads in Orlando every single day, you just drive on through.
    The toll companies will only send violations notices for 6 or more violations. So, if you run one or two, don’t sweat it. There’s nothing more aggravating that someone stopped in a toll lane over a few cents blocking traffic.

    I hate our toll roads, but Orlando’s road system is so terrible it really forces us to use them in order to get anywhere quickly.

    My daily commute takes me through 4 toll booths a day, sometimes more. I actually live right by where the OP was complaining about. The last time a report about toll booths came out, Central Florida had like most of the top 10 most expensive stretches of toll roads in the country all in our small little area…..sad :(

    • jeffbone says:

      “Central Florida had like most of the top 10 most expensive stretches of toll roads in the country all in our small little area…..sad”

      I always considered the toll roads in Orange County and surrounding areas to be yet another tourist tax…although spending an extra hour on Colonial, Semoran, or OBT from time to time didn’t always seem like a good trade-off for saving the tolls…

  17. Bruce W says:

    Get in touch with your credit card company and do a charge back.

  18. Libertas1 says:

    Did anybody else read this entire letter in a British accent?

  19. Difdi says:

    Maybe we could get Top Gear to review TomTom products?

  20. sprybuzzard says:

    I had a Tom Tom I used maybe twice in the year I had it before it did the same thing as this one. I was on an 4 hour road trip and needed to return home when it wouldn’t load past the first screen. Fortunately I had GPS on my blackberry and was able to navigate out of Pittsburgh. Once I got to the highways I was good. I won the device in a drawing, but after using it so infrequently when it failed, leaving me nearly stranded, I wouldn’t buy one.

  21. JonBoy470 says:

    I’ve watched enough Top Gear to know that Jeremy Clarkson in particular takes a dim view of “Sat Navs”. Perhaps this is a secret ploy to dissuade their use…

  22. jeffbone says:

    I will never buy a TomTom, even if it comes with Diana Krall’s voice, thanks to this little stunt:

  23. rlmiller007 says:

    That’s where a little research comes in. With my $100 Garmin I can download voices and even record my own. I love hearing Darth Vader say ” Do not fail me again!” instead of “Recalculating.”