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The FM coverage is very poor, you will only get it in major cities. I live 50 miles from Philadelphia and used to commute daily. I could not get any traffic data until I was about 20 miles from the city, which was too late to make a major change in my route. There are large areas with no coverage along the NJ Turnpike, even when you are close to NYC.
I don't think there's any list of what stations offer it, and that's not something the user is supposed to even know about. The device should automatically lock onto the strongest signal (if any). If you go into the developer settings, I think it will give you some data about this, but I haven't looked for awhile. The method for accessing this varies by device, on some of them you need to go to the volume screen and hold your finger on the top right corner. On other models you hold your finger in the middle of the speedometer in the trip computer (IIRC).
The traffic data comes from HERE (formerly Navteq). At one point Garmin claimed that it was augmented by data they receive from users with the smartphone link app. Not sure if that is still the case.
IMO, the FM traffic is useless if not downright misleading. I stopped using it long ago.
Thanks for keeping us updated- maybe this will help someone else.
FWIW, if the old firmware had tide data, you can revert to it. Old versions are archived on this site (which is well-known, but NOT an official Garmin site)
Note that these are actually the installers for the firmware and not the firmware itself. To revert, you will need to change the filename to GUPDATE.GCD and copy it to your GPS. I have gotten confused by all the different "flavors" of Garmin devices, which require that file to be copied to different locations. But I *think* the GUPDATE.GCD file needs to be in the \Garmin directory on the GPS. Maybe @sussamb can confirm this?
When you restart your GPS, it *should* ask if you really want to install firmware that is older than your current version. If you agree, it will then go through the installation process. This may take a little while, so be sure you have good batteries in the device, since a premature shutdown could be disastrous.
Also be sure that you have good backups of all your user data (maps, waypoints, tracks, etc) just in case. It's good practice to just copy the entire contents of internal memory to a folder on your computer periodically. I would also remove the SD card before doing a firmware update/downgrade. If there's already a GUPDATE.GCD file on the GPS, then that is the installer for your current firmware. You might want to save that for future use, if needed (although you could download it again from the link I posted).
I have a Montana, not sure how it might be different. However, if I go to Setup > Routing and choose Hiking or Pedestrian for activity, there is a menu for off-route calculation. What have you selected there? If you choose prompted, it should alert you when you go off-route.
However, if you choose Direct Routing as an activity, you will not have an off-route calculation menu.
Sounds like a good project and I hope you get some responses. But I think you have come to the wrong place. For starters, there is very little activity on this site anymore. Beyond that, when someone does come here it is generally to ask a question like "how do I update the map on my Garmin GPS?" This has always been a consumer-focussed site, and not a place to discuss complex technical topics. :)
And before you ask... no, I have no idea where you would find a site to discuss this kind of thing, sorry.
There's Garmin's legacy program, Mapsource, that was discontinued a number of years ago. It will use the same maps that are already installed in Basecamp. It's worth a look, but if you are looking for something "intuitive" then you may not be impressed. :) https://www8.garmin.com/support/download_details.jsp?id=209
Also "Tyre to Travel" which was originally a shareware program that only worked with TomTom devices, but the new version also supports Garmin. www.tyretotravel.com