Health & Safety

June 15, 2012

Vehicle GPS units: What you need to know

by Tom Woods
95th Civil Engineering Division Fire Prevention
Courtesy photographs
Recently, an employee at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, left his GPS unit in the bracket attached to the windshield in the sun. The battery overheated and exploded. The Fire Prevention unit of 95th Civil Engineering Division advises not to leave GPS or other electronic devises in the sun as it is possible for them to overheat and, in some cases, explode.

We love our cars. More so than probably anywhere else in the country, we love our cars.

Here in California, and probably more so at Edwards (due to our remote location), we spend more time in our cars than most other states. We become dependent on them. We rely on our cars to not only get us to and from work but in many cases to tell us how to get where we want to go.

Most new cars today come with the option for GPS navigation systems. For those of us that have older vehicles or just simply couldn’t afford the upgrade, we have aftermarket systems available to us. These are smaller units that can be installed in almost any car on the road today. They can tell you where to go, the fastest route to take and even update the route due to changes in traffic. Navigation systems can be a useful tool but, like anything else, they are subject to failure.

In August of 2010, Garmin, one of the leading GPS receiver manufacturers, issued a recall on 1.25 million in-car units over fears the battery could overheat and cause fires. The following devices were included in the recall: n¸vi 200W, 250W, 260W and n¸vi 7xx(where xx is a two-digit number). Of the 1.25 million, 800,000 were sold in the U.S. If you are concerned your unit may be affected you can visit their website at

Just recently, an employee at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, left his GPS unit in the bracket attached to the windshield in the sun. The battery overheated and exploded.

The cause of the explosion is still being researched. However, there are steps we can take to minimize the risk to ourselves.

Safety recommendations for vehicle accessory devices

  • Do not leave plugged in when not in use (including chargers)
  • Do not leave in direct sunlight when the vehicle is parked
  • Use protective window shades to limit temperature and exposure to sun
  • Stop using if you recognize damaged wiring or any other defect
  • Only use according to manufacturer’s recommendations
  • Periodically check manufacturer and safety websites for recalls

By following these simple rules you can significantly reduce your chances of a situation like the one at China Lake. If you have any questions or concerns you may contact the Edwards AFB Fire Prevention Office at (661) 277 3643.

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