Unlocking a Garmin Map

(this page created 5/27/08)

Enter your 25-code, which Garmin won't give you!

Garmin's Unlocking Maps is Difficult (and that's an understatement)

Garmin maps has the WORST unlock code license key experience of any product EVER in the history of time.  Garmin's UI designers and programmers are clearly incompetent and should be fired immediately and then sued for fraudulently presenting themselves as professionals capable of building a product.  This web page documents how very bad their GUI is, and documents the nooks and crannies of the license key process.

My main issue is that I can't even understand the METAPHOR the Garmin map unlocker is shooting for.  The CD Package and my GPS provide me with 7 numbers of varying lengths and NONE of them is the number it wants.  Not only that, but to get the number it wants, I have to create an online account with Garmin (16 more fields to fill out) and then I'm not allowed to use that online account to license the GPS!  It's like the designers of this UI flow (Garmin engineers) have never built an installer before.  No, wait, scratch that - it is as if the Garmin UI designers have NEVER USED ANY INSTALLER BEFORE!  It's that profoundly bad.  Really.  See the screen shots below.

Oh yeah, if you think I'm alone in this opinion, check out these links:

http://www.mischel.com/diary/2006/06/29.htm - Jim's Random Notes with the quote "Garmin's... attitude towards customers is insulting."
http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/archives/000664.html - "Stupid Garmin MapSource Installation" by Jeremy Zawodny
http://sci.tech-archive.net/Archive/sci.geo.satellite-nav/2006-05/msg00041.html - "More MapSource unlock madness..." in a discussion group
http://www.buzzillions.com/dz_504884_garmin_mapsource_24k_topo_national_parks_reviews - "Bad Experience so far.... The instruction manual says in the box there will be either a 25 digit "unlock code" or a trifolded paper with an 8 digit "coupon" code. My box didn't contain either one."
http://www.mininova.org/com/1097618 - large discussion trying to figure out how to use the Garmin unlock manager.  The FUNNIEST comment is suggestions on how to use illegal software keygen crackers to get the Garmin maps to work -> BECAUSE IT IS EASIER than using Garmin's installer!!!  Garmin, are you awake?  Does this bother you?
http://www.gpsdiscussion.com/garmin-gps/2563-unlocking-maps.html - More discussions around how hard it is to unlock Garmin maps and how bad Garmin support is.

What Am I Doing?

I'm travelling to Australia, so I'd like to load my Garmin Rino 530 GPS with detailed street maps.  So I went to Amazon.com and bought the "City Navigator Australia 2008", and I want to do is load it into my Garmin GPS. 


Who is Brian, and why is he qualified to configure GPS units?

First of all, it shouldn't take a computer expert to load a map into a GPS.  That being said, I know a lot about computers.  I have a Masters degree from Stanford in Computer Science, and I've been a full time software engineer for the past 20 years, working up to my armpits in technology every day.  I've formed several startup companies including my current one that is a network based online backup company called Backblaze.  I personally have written several installers, including the completely custom one for my current product.  I also like GPS units, I own 5 GPS units, each for a different task.  I've motorcycled through Europe, through Canada, and all over the USA using GPS to guide me.  Now it's time for Australia, so let's get to it....



I bought "Garmin MapSource City Navigator 2008 map" from Amazon.com and want to unlock it.  Here are the numbers I found on the package (slightly modified so you can't use them):

Back CENTER of CD Jewel Case: A271000296  (Promising!  10-digit, In a big white square highlighting it as my City Navigator Australia important!)
Back of CD Jewel Case: 007-00157-04 (small, in the lower left corner of the case)
Back of CD Jewel Case: 171-00075-04 (small, in the lower right corner of the case)
Front of CD Jewel Case: 007-00336-04 (small, in the lower left corner of the front case)
Front of CD Jewel Case: 171-00149-04 (small, in the lower right corner of the front case)
INTERESTING: L2XPVZ7A -> (8 character code) This sounds very
plausible, and was hidden between two layers of cardboard in the shrink wrap!!
Not near the jewel case!  I missed it for much of the time I tried other things, then went
back looking and found it!  Unfortunately there is no location in the Garmin installer to enter it,
or is there?!
AND THE MAGIC GPS SERIAL NUMBER: 29415006 - not having to do with the maps, but hidden under
the battery inside my GPS to uniquely identify my GPS.  This was important!

Attempt #1: Clearly I do not have a "25 Char Code":

Read the screens below from left to right (use your horizontal scroll bar on your browser).  They document my first attempt.  Clearly I DO NOT HAVE a 25 character code, so choose the bottom Garmin unlock option "No, I need to get a 25-character unlock code".

What is strange about the screen below is that I have an 8 character code, this was one of the clear choices on the PREVIOUS screen, but now we are going in a new direction to go online with Garmin.  Ok, fine, I can live with that.  Just get it done Garmin!


Ok, the screen below cracks me up.  So I don't know my Garmin 25 character code, so now they are asking me to login to my "my garmin" account with a username and password.  Formerly I needed one code, now I need 2 more codes (username, password) to get the 3rd code (25 character code).  But I'm holding an 8 char code THEY DO NOT WANT anymore even though it was one of the choices!!

I hate Garmin.  Utter failure.  Again, I bought this product retail for about $100 from Amazon, I have an 8 char code, but Garmin won't accept anything I have, they wanted a login to their site, which I supplied, THEN THEY FAILED ME.  They led me down this rat-hole and they failed me.


Yes, after logging into my "online Garmin account" like the software asked me to, it says "no coupon for you"!  Garmin Rat Bastards!  The Garmin website now knows who I am, I've successfully logged in, and I've been through this before several times in the past, but Garmin STILL can't get their online "my garmin" accounts to work.  So WHY do they push people to sign up to it?   At this point I've provided several usernames and passwords and paid honestly for the product, I've got an idea for you Garmin-> LET ME USE THIS PRODUCT!!

Garmin must hate their customers to put them through this kind of hell.



Attempt #2: Maybe I do have a "25 Char Code"?  Or maybe "25 chars" is approximate?

Ok, so if the above path failed, I'll try anything!  Let's pretend I do have a "25 char code", I'll try all my codes above...

My "Garmin MapSource City Navigator 2008 map" came with lots of numbers (see above), but no 25 digit ones.  But I thought maybe the installer was out of date (it CLEARLY is totally UI broken) and maybe one of my 10 digit or 8 digit numbers will work.  So I select this option below and give a bunch of them a try.


After typing every number I could find, it would not accept any of them.  But that makes some sense, none of the numbers were 25 digits long.  Let's keep cranking on this, we can defeat this Garmin installer and get our map out!



Attempt #3: Maybe I do have a "25 Char Code", but it's hidden away in my GPS?

I noticed another path through the installer worth trying, maybe my GPS has the code hidden inside it?

Maybe my Garmin GPS telepathically picked up my license key when I bought the Australian map?  Let's let the installer connect to my GPS, maybe it can figure it all out.


After connecting my Rino 530 GPS and letting the Garmin unlock software sniff for a minute, it popped up a dialog saying this device was not valid or did not have a key!  My Rino has $900 worth of already licensed maps running in it, downloaded from this same computer, using the same software.  And remember, I'm connected the internet and have logged into the Garmin online account with my information. What more could Garmin want?  Garmin installation and unlock software just fails at every turn! 

Who tests this software at the Garmin headquarters?  When it is so horribly broken yet they ship it out anyway?!  Somebody needs to be fired. 



Attempt #4: Call Garmin Technical Support

Ok, at this point I gave up and called the 1-800 number the installer suggested "if I'm having problems".  Problems?  You bet I'm having problems.  So next I navigated a phone tree at Garmin, and the Garmin message said "Call back during regular business hours M-F 9-4, we laugh at you!" and then they hung up.  Ok, I added the part about "we laugh at you", but it feels like it.  I'm getting pretty frustrated at this point.  I have a job M-F 9-4, I'm installing this software I got in my SPARE TIME which is at 7pm on a Tuesday.


Attempt #5: Success against the *WORST* *INSTALLER* *EVER* by Garmin.

So I've got nothing to lose, might as well look around through the crazy Garmin hard to use installer for other options.  And wow, I found a working path!!  Here is the successful path through this terrible Garmin unlock wizard: an astounding 9 steps through Garmin crazy land:

Wandering along through crazy land...


Again, I've seen this screen before, it looks like the wrong path.  To enter my license key, Garmin wants me to login to their website.  So I log in to make them happy.....


Now I've gone down the more sane (less insane?) path before, so now I'm going to try every last other option!!   Look below, I'm actually claiming I've never been a Garmin customer before, even though I have had a "My Garmin" account for several years and this particular GPS has 5 other Garmin maps installed and loaded into it and legally licensed: "WorldMap", "MetroGuide USA 5", "City Navigator Europe v8", "US Topo West", "US Topo East".  But hey, I'll try anything to get past the *WORST* *LICENSING* *MODEL* *EVER* from Garmin GPS!!!


This next screen proves Garmin engineers have had a psychotic break but were still allowed to continue on working at Garmin.  EVEN THOUGH I'm logged into an account at Garmin, they want me to re-enter in all my info-> and they want me to claim I'm new and have never used Garmin products before.  I've tried everything, and THIS INSTALLER NEVER ENDS, it just goes on and on for no apparent reason.  Garmin, you SUCK!


Wait, what is this?  After entering in 22 fields of information, plus my user login to "my garmin", plus a rejected phone call to Garmin technical support, they are asking for something new, something amazing, something called the "External Serial Number" of the Unit.  Hey, it's psycho user interface world built by Garmin. I have found the crappiest user interface on the planet, now I'm actually getting curious on what happens next.


Ok, after trying several things, I found my Garmin Rino's serial number UNDER THE BATTERY COVER.  Yes, I removed the battery, and there it was.  The correct number of digits.  We're not done yet, because Garmin is a hateful, evil company, but I'm getting excited, this seems promising!  I enter my Garmin Rino's "hidden under the battery" serial number in the space below:


Oh my goodness it keeps on going!  Below I am prompted to enter YET ANOTHER 8 digit code (not to be confused with the previous 4 codes?)  But this one was a breakthrough -> it *FINALLY* allowed me to enter the Garmin 8 digit code FROM THE GARMIN SHRINK WRAP MAP SOFTWARE I BOUGHT.  This comes hidden in the cardboard in the shrink wrap packaging of the Australian CD.  Not in the CD Jewelcase.  Not taped to the CD.  Not printed on the front of the CD.  But hidden in between this non-obvious brick of card board.  But hey, I found it, and I entered it, and....    AND......


I have successfully defeated Garmin's licensing scheme!  Or got through the labyrinth.  And so, my dear readers, I leave you with this conclusion -> Garmin makes good GPS unit hardware, but their Map Unlocking wins the award of being the hardest to use licensing system I've ever seen in my whole professional career of being a software engineer. 

Garmin -> you are terrible at installers!  I'm serious, and I don't mean that in a small way.



That was hard.  In a way that it shouldn't have been.  I'm a networking and computer professional and IT WAS HARD to figure out, what does the average non-technical customer do?!  I'm ready to abandon Garmin in favor of easy to use products.  Garmin needs to be punished for that kind of horrid user experience.


Post-Mortem: Garmin Support gets back to me after 9 DAYS!

On 6/4/08 I got the following email from Garmin Tech support, an amazingly slow response for my rejected support request from earlier:

------------ START EMAIL --------------
Date: 6/4/08

Thank you, Brian Wilson, for registering your Garmin product. Please check the information below to ensure it is correct. This is your registration confirmation. To make corrections, please send an e-mail to registration@garmin.com. If everything is correct, you do not need to reply..

Name: Brian Wilson

Product Name: RinoŽ 530
Serial Number: 29415006
------------------ END EMAIL ------------------

So really Garmin NEVER RESPONDED to my pleas for technical help!  Their incredibly slow automated system sent me a welcome email after 9 days, with information that would not have helped me navigate the installer!  Garmin sucks so hard they blow.


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