Monday, September 25, 2023


Already nervous RV driver led astray by expensive GPS

Dear RV Shrink:rvshrink
My wife bought me a new GPS for my birthday. It’s an expensive, big rig model. It is supposed to have all the latest information to keep me from driving our 40-foot motorhome and toad into areas that are too narrow, too low, etc. Now I am more frustrated than ever.

Not only are we out the money for this “special” device, but it is no more accurate than the cheap one I used prior. Besides that, it just sent me down a dead-end street in New Orleans and I left the top hand rail of my ladder on a low tree branch.

My wife says I may not be cut out for RVing, or that we need to downsize. I love this big rig, but I find myself nervous as a cat under a rocking chair when I get this train on the wrong track. Am I just a novice, nervous Nelly? Will it get better once I get a few more miles under my belt? Should I start looking for a smaller rig? —Train Wreck in Trenton

Dear Train Wreck:
Your concerns are fairly normal. Let’s start out with using a GPS. If this can solve your problem it will be a lot cheaper than taking a bath on trading down. A GPS can be a valuable tool if used properly, but nothing is foolproof.

My suggestion on using high-tech navigation is to use everything available. Even after updating my GPS I consider it only 70% accurate. Study your proposed route using other programs that are free. Google Maps and free GPS apps give varied formats. You can also use Google Earth to fly into congested areas and get a visual idea of what you will run into. Don’t fall blindly in love with the voice on your GPS and take its directions as gospel.

If that doesn’t work out for you, perhaps downsizing will. There is a huge difference in maneuvering a 30-foot versus a 40-foot rig. It may be worth your while to take a driving course if you haven’t already. Many dealers offer that option to new owners.

If you have never driven a vehicle of that size you will discover there is a learning curve. A few driving tips that you could glean from an instructor or fellow campers will make you much more proficient. You will also learn that one size does not fit all (campgrounds). The larger you get, the more restricted you become no matter how sharp your driving skills. You can’t put a 40-foot motorhome in a 24-foot space.

Everyone has their own comfort level. Find yours so you can enjoy your travels and not have to deal with a case of nerves every time you get behind the wheel. —Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-book: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.



  1. I had a 34 foot class A for eight years. I loved it when we parked Hated it driving down the road. In addition it was an expensive, full time, maintenance nightmare. I parked it once year having surgery and the diesel fuel got contaminated costing me $6,000 on the road. this is not counting the $300 worth of fuel dumped. I downed sized to a 13 foot Scamp travel trailer. and I am loving it. I will never go back.

  2. YES! If the poster has NO experience driving “BIG RIGS” getting some one-on-one instruction with a PROFESSIONAL INSTRUCTOR is likely to make a HUGE difference in his driving experience. In literally just a few hours, the poster can “up his game” and, become FAR more confident in his ability to SAFELY operate his big rig. His wife should ALSO take this important education (because feces occurs) and, the day may come where her ability to safely drive their big rig can be of critical importance. Many (most?) BIG RV rallies offer driver training (on a limited basis; sign up EARLY!). I expect a web search would turn up several Professional Driver Trainers. I agree with the RV Shrink that ALL GPS units are NOT perfect (I had a situation where FOUR DIFFERENT GPS units, all with the most recent updates, were UNABLE to find a well established RV park; a phone call to said park quickly got me straightened out). Another EXCELLENT resource is the PRINTED Rand McNally Motor Carrier Atlas. LOTS of valuable information therein and, if purchased at a true truck stop, it can be had for HALF the MSRP (I buy the Deluxe Laminated Edition every year). As the RV Shrink pointed out, downsizing to a smaller rig is likely to come with a HUGE financial hit. Spend several hundred dollars on GOOD training and the poster CAN learn to master his BIG RIG!

  3. GPS systems are useful tools! But, DO NOT RELY on them totally. Your best friend is a Road Map or Road Atlas. You should invest in the Commercial Truck Drivers Atlas, put out by Rand McNally.

    Of course you need to know how to read and decipher a Map too! Unfortunately, learning to read a map is usually done on your own. By studying and learning the symbology of Road Maps.

    In many cases, GPS systems, wether built into your vehicle or the types you put on your dash are not updated very often. Usually, they are updated about every 10 years and that is based on what the company that makes the GPS and various States provide to the GPS Companies. Even buying an update for your GPS, is usually a worthless investment.

    Another reminder for those people who have the Windshield Mounted GPS. Be careful when driving thru certain states. Some states DO NOT allow anything stuck to your Windshield, other than your rearview mirror. They are considered Visual Obstructions and you can get ticketed for it. Minnesota is one of those states and there are others too!

    Your best bet with a GPS is don’t rely on it and LEARN TO READ A MAP!

    Safe Travels.

  4. New rookie truck drivers get into trouble when they use a GPS especially designed for truck drivers. The people who design and program these “wonderful” pieces of technology are human and make mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes is when they have a lazy moment and don’t watch ahead and miss the hazard and let the computer run the route. NEVER trust the GPS 100%.

  5. Nothing beats the good old fashioned paper map (or atlas, or whatevever does NOT plug in to use).

    We have a GPS or two, but wifey sits next to me with a Gazetteer open on her lap all the time. If the GPS doesn’t agree with the map, we go with the map. Never an issue.

    • Tommy I couldn’t agree more. I have a map/gazetteer collection and nothing beats them. We do use Global Positioning too, but I’m absolutely observant of where I am & what direction I’m heading all the time I’m behind the wheel – helped in advance by planning my route before heading out. If I suspect I’m going to be, (or am) in trouble I stop asasp and recalculate – me – not the GPS

      As an aside, one of the mysteries in this whole big world of RV’ing, both in Canada (where I live) and I’m certain in most states in America – is how in Gods name do authorities in charge of keeping our roads safe, do not see that anyone driving a special rig such as a 40 foot RV with a Lincoln Navigator in tow shouldn’t be required to seek training and a dedicated license to pilot that rig. A big rig operator, an ambulance driver, a taxi driver, school bus driver needs a special license and/or training but nothing for the foreign tourist or a domestic heading out with the rental or the brand new Monaco often by my observation making our highways and byways less safe for him/her and the rest of us. The mystery remains.

  6. Go “old school”, supplement your fancy GPS with a paper map. We use a motor carriers road atlas which gives bridge heights and other restrictions. Even the best GPS has been known to get folks lost and into areas where they should never have traveled. Never trust a GPS 100%.

  7. Our Motor Carriers Road Atlas is large print, laminated and spiral bound (can use a wet-erase marker, too). A quick look at the proposed route will show an orange road line that stipulates that this is a truck route. My DP can go where trucks go, I then set the GPS to follow the orange line.

  8. It’s important to update your GPS device even if it is brand-new, out of the box.
    Read the instructions. They are available online. Maybe watch an instructional video or two on YouTube.
    You need to identify your rig. Height, weight, length, propane, etc. are settings you need to specify.
    I drove big RVs all around the country for fourteen years full time. Now we travel in a Class B motorhome.

  9. Hello, we started out with the same problem. Our coach is 38ft and 13ft tall. Our first GPS was one that was for rv’s are cars. I couldn’t understand what they where saying and it had to be for a little bitty camper. I was turned on to a GPS called CoPilot. rv and trucker GPS. It tells me a mile or two ahead and alerts about road heights and widths. I can understand there voice and it had a satellite so you never loose signal. Then it updates itself. Everything makes mistakes but I will tell you I’m a happy camper with this GPS. Before you trade your Rv inn ,try this out.

  10. We have a 38 foot motor home and are towing a tow dolly and Toyota Carolla. So there is no backing up allowed. We had a similar problem getting to the KOA in New Orleans which the GPS tried to take us down a NARROW and Tree filled street. The KOA directions on the website told us NOT to use the GPS but gave us a route that said “No trucks allowed”…but was the right way to go.
    We use a Good Sam GPS but ALWAYS “drive the route” on the PC using Google Maps and the 3 D mapping “little man” on the route. This has worked well for us for the last 6 years.
    It DOES get better…you just have to do more planning than the GPS allows for.
    Happy camping.

  11. I bought the so called “Truckers Atlas” primarily because it’s been touted as the Bible of road atlases here so much. What an absolute waste of money! It is hard to read, small print and so fill with needless trivial info I’ve gave up ever using it. It’s absolutely of no value to anyone (including truckers) IMHO. Get yourself a good road map of each state you plan to visit (free in most cases from the states’ dept of tourism or the first rest area you encounter at the state line) they are usually larger, more detailed and far more useful than any atlas I’ve ever found and I’m always checking them out. GPSs’ have there use and I would be hard pressed to travel without one but I always try to pre-programmed my route first the way I want to go not the way the GPS tells me to go. Yes, Google Maps, Apple Maps, Mapquest are excellent at pre-planning your route and I typically go that route first then on to my GPS. Of course most GPS phone apps are far superior to dedicated GPS’S but they also have their limitations such as data availability.

    All in all there is no one good way to find your way. Unless you can use all the data that’s available to you you will always be disappointed

  12. We did our big loop around the western US in 2015 with a Magellan GPS for RVs. One of the first things we did when we got home was to add a Garmin GPS for RVs. They both sit on the dash and we figure we have a 70% chance of one or the other being right. The fun part is trying to figure out which one at any given moment. Twice now we have driven north of Shreveport for more that 40 miles off of any road as far as our Magellan is concerned. Overall the Magellan interface is nicer and the campground descriptions are great. The Garmin has no campground information but it will find them but it generally has better maps and it can download new maps. Too bad one doesn’t buy the other out and take the best of both systems.

  13. A commercial carriers road atlas will solve 90% of your problems. Not only does it list all low clearance issues on your proposed route it will list areas where a large vehicle will not fit. It is a little more expensive than a regular atlas but it will pay for itself the first time it keeps you from backing out of a dead end road. If your GPS is designed for RVs you should be able to put all the info of your rig, length, height, width, weight, etc.into it and it should guide you around all you problems. If it’s just an expensive unit for cars you have wasted money and will definitely need the truckers atlas.

    • Guess it depends on who you have to help co-pilot (wife-hubby, etc.). I find GPS Systems are very distracting to use if I am driving. My hubby is very good at reading maps and/or figuring out alternative routes.

      I now look up the area on a map and update myself at each rest stop/area/Walmart.

      That is just me. Some people are better than I am at listening, pushing buttons and driving at the same time. I am not.

    • Agree Hugh. Also recommended is get the eyes checked before hitting the road. There’s a danger in allowing to much AI in to soon. The eyes – remember the EYES!


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