You don't have to drive a car equipped with sat-nav to get the benefit of a computer-plotted route - instead you can use an online route planner. But which one works best?

To find out I've put four of them to the test on a journey I know well. It takes in every kind of road, from motorways to city streets to country lanes, and I know from experience that the best route is 75 miles and takes about 1 hour 45 minutes.

Would the route planners send me the right way? Would the driving directions printout be easy to follow? And how close would the journey time estimates be to the real thing?

The AA

www.theaa.com/route-planner/index.jsp

Distance 68 miles
Time 1hr 53min
Chose a shorter but more time-consuming alternative to my route, but gave a fair journey time estimate (based on 'average off peak' conditions). Driving directions were easy to follow, but the journey map needed manual resizing before it would print out properly.

Google

maps.google.co.uk

Distance 76 miles
Time 1hr 42min
Agreed with my route, and gave time and distance estimates which were close to the real journey. Directions simply laid out and easy to follow –- click 'maps' option for handy detail maps of each junction.

TomTom

routes.tomtom.com

Distance 67 miles
Time 1hr 49min
Uses traffic data to avoid congestion -– in theory, though I couldn't see much difference. This 'beta test' site gives a good route, but the distance estimate was eight miles shorter than the real journey. Tell it when you plan to leave and the site not only tells you the journey time, it calculates the time you will arrive, which is a neat touch. The driving directions confused me, though, with 'helpful' arrows contradicting the written instructions.

ViaMichelin

www.viamichelin.co.uk

Distance 74 miles
Time 1hr 33min
Good route and distance estimate, but journey time was optimistic. ViaMichelin calculates fuel costs for the journey, which would be handy - except that they come out in Euro unless you choose otherwise in a 'route preferences' submenu. You also get distances in kilometres, unless you select otherwise. Provides clear driving directions which are easy to relate to road signs.

Update: Green Flag's route finder (www.greenflag.com/routeplanning/) is based on ViaMichelin's and gives the same results, but quotes distances in miles and prices in £.

Conclusion

Google's route planner gave the best results, and that's the one I'll be using. ViaMichelin's directions were clearer, though, and TomTom (which is still in testing) will be worth watching.