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Smartphones & gadgets

Using GPS to locate your parked car

Q. I am at an age where orientation plays major tricks on my mind. At times, when I am done shopping, I’ve forgotten where I parked. Is there a GPS device that will help me find my car? This device needs to be very user-friendly and simple.
~ Linda in Honolulu, listening on KHVH 830 AM

A. We all need a little help finding our car from time to time. That’s true no matter our age.

If you already have a GPS unit, you should be set. Add a waypoint in the GPS unit before leaving your car. Take the GPS unit with you. To find your car, navigate to the waypoint.

The steps for adding a waypoint vary. Manually adding one every time you park can quickly become a hassle.

Some GPS units automatically add waypoints when removed from their mounts.

Garmin makes a number of GPS units with this feature. They start around $400. Look for units featuring Garmin Locate. I could not find a similar feature from other manufacturers.

You needn’t purchase a full-fledged GPS unit. There are GPS gadgets designed specifically to help you return to a location.

These gadgets are relatively inexpensive. They’re also easy to use and small enough to attach to your keychain.

There’s the Bushnell Backtrack Personal Locator ($60) or the IDC Ecco ($100). They both essentially work the same. When you exit your car, press a button to save your location.

When you’re ready to find your car, click the return button. A simple directional arrow will lead you back to your car. These gadgets can both store up to three locations.

Now, you may find concrete is a problem. Parking garages are constructed with a lot of the stuff. The concrete may block GPS reception. So, a GPS unit isn’t a fail-safe solution.

However, something else can help: your camera phone. Snap a picture of your surroundings when you park.

This isn’t as elegant as GPS. But maybe it will jog your memory.

I also have some low-tech solutions:

Do you have an antenna? Punch a hole in an old tennis ball. Jam it onto the end of the antenna. Your car will stand out. Unfortunately, few cars today have free-standing antennas.

Press the panic button on your key fob. That will set off your alarm system. Everyone within earshot will love that!

Take a course on memory tricks. If you can’t remember where you parked, what else are you forgetting? You could leave home without your shoes!

When you park, consciously look around for markers. Most parking garages have them. If not, note your proximity to doors, elevators or whatever. If you do that consciously, you’ll probably remember.

Anyhow, this seems like a minor problem to spend significant money on. But you know what you need. If GPS works for you, look at the Bushnell and IDC units. If you want GPS for the car, consider Garmin’s offerings.

GPS units can do so much more than help you find your car. It really is one of the coolest technologies around. To learn more about GPS and to get purchase information, check my tips:

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