Garmin Drive 53 - Bottom

I’m old enough to remember a time when we didn’t have Car GPSes. Back then, we had a map book that was incredibly confusing to use. Today, drivers have a host of options at their disposal but many people still just use the map feature on their phone. So the question is, do you need a standalone GPS in your vehicle?

I’m reviewing the Garmin Drive 53. This is a 5” GPS navigator that mounts into your vehicle and stays powered through the 12V car charger. With a touch display, it feels familiar to anyone who uses map apps on their smartphone. In a world of distracting driving, this is one solution to keep your phone in your pocket and still have map navigation.

Unboxing the Garmin Drive 53 GPS

Inside the box, you’ll find everything you need to get your navigator up and running. You’ll find the 5” Garmin Drive 53 display, the vehicle suction mount, vehicle power cable, USB cable, and the quick start manual. It comes preloaded with maps for the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, U.S Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, and Mexico. 

The Garmin Drive 53 is ready to use out of the box. However, the software and maps can be updated on a computer. 

Garmin Drive 53 - Closeup

Design of the Garmin Drive 53

The Garmin Drive 53 features a 5” colour touchscreen display. The unit is small, but the screen size is sufficient for viewing maps. On the back there is a power button on the top right and a speaker on the bottom left. The middle features a concave circle where the mounting bracket connects. The USB port is located on the bottom right. On the very bottom of the unit is a microSD card slot. I’m assuming this is another way to add map data. 

Garmin Drive 53 - Wide

Installing the Garmin Drive 53   

Getting the Garmin Drive up and running is simple. It’s also easy to mount. Users can mount it on the dashboard or window. However, ensure your mounting location complies with applicable laws. Distracted driving laws vary between regions so check with your local authorities. 

On the back is a small latch. Simply place it on the surface and push the latch down. The Garmin Drive 53 suctions itself to the surface for a tight, secure fit. From there, the position of the screen can be adjusted by swiveling it to a designed position.  

The Garmin Drive 53 screen can be dislodged from the mount. Behind the screen is another latch that connects the screen to the mount swivel. Push down on the latch to separate the touchscreen from the mount.  The hardest part of the installation is concealing the wire that connects to the 12V car charger. The wiring route will vary between vehicles but I highly recommend taking the time to hide the cable. 

Garmin Drive 53 - Side

Control options for the Garmin Drive 53 GPS

The main screen shows two options on the top: “Where To?” and “View Map”. Pressing “Where To” opens another screen. “Go Home” lets you set your home address for easy directions back home no matter where you are. Users can also save specific addresses, search specific addresses, and look through recent addresses. There’s also a category section to search for things like restaurants, shopping, gas stations, etc. 

The “View Map” section opens up the current location of the vehicle, the direction it’s currently heading—north, west, east, south—and the speed. Drivers can pinch and zoom in and out. Alternatively, there are touchscreen +- zoom buttons. An arrow button on the top left toggles between a top-down view and 3D angle map view.  

Using the Garmin Drive 53

Used right, GPS navigation is an incredible tool for drivers. However, they can be distracting if used improperly. To familiarize myself with the navigation features of the Drive 53, I practiced it at home before installing it in my vehicle. I recommend others do the same.

Entering addresses is a bit of a pain. You have to start with the house address and then enter street, city etc. There are predictive word suggestions on top but they weren’t very helpful. 

I entered addresses before I started driving. There’s no way I would try to enter an address on the road or at a stop light. There are just too many steps, and it requires your full attention. 

Garmin Drive 53 - Closeup2

Driving with the Garmin Drive 53

The Garmin Drive 53 provides audible voice prompts in a female voice during the drive. I found the 5” screen to be sufficient to follow the map as I drove. The fact that it doesn’t take too much space is another bonus. It makes it less distracting, yet useful. 

At a stop light, I used my fingers to zoom in and out. It’s quite useful to zoom out and back in to determine your location in real-time. However, I wouldn’t do this while driving. Instead, I relied on the voice prompts to remind me of upcoming turns. It does provide an estimated arrival time but I don’t think it uses real-time traffic data. 

I also started to detest the audio click noise every time you press the touchscreen. Thankfully, I was able to adjust the volume of the Alerts and Tones. I also increased the Spoken Navigation volume button so I could hear it with the radio on. 

Garmin Drive 53 - Front Settings

Who is the Garmin Drive 53 for?

It’s hard to imagine getting somewhere without GPS navigation these days. Most of us use our smartphone map, however, that opens us to the possibility of getting distracted on the road. 

If you spend a lot of time on the road, a better idea is using a dedicated GPS navigator like the Garmin Drive 53. It provides turn-by-turn directions with voice prompts. It’s not too big to become distracting and it’s easy to install.

The hard part—especially for smartphone map users—is entering new addresses. It takes time and effort. My recommendation is to enter a bunch of important addresses at once and save them. That way, you’ll have easy access to the places you go the most. If you need to enter an address, do it before you hit the road. 

If you want turn-by-turn navigation without distraction, then I highly recommend you check out the Garmin Drive 53. It will get you from point A to point B with your smartphone staying in your pocket. 

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Andy Baryer
Andy Baryer aka “Handy Andy” is a technology journalist, gadget reviewer, and DIY/how-to content creator. Known as the handyman of tech, Andy enjoys fixing poor wireless networks, building smart homes, and cooking with the latest kitchen gadgets. He’s a competitive whistler, a budding woodworker, and loves gardening in his home-built smart garden.