Don’t trust your GPS!

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by Chris Guld, GeeksOnTour.com

We have used many GPS devices. Google Maps on our smartphones is our go-to navigator, but it doesn’t know about RVs! If you have a big rig, it is especially important to use a device that is RV-aware. There should be a setting to enter your RV’s height, weight, and propane. We have used Rand McNally RV GPS, Garmin Trucker’s/RV GPS, and the Co-Pilot RV GPS app on our iPad. Every time we encounter an issue with driving an RV on this country’s highways, we like to check out the various devices to see what they tell us to do. We would often have two or three of them talking to us in different voices at each turn. We love it when they all agree. When they don’t, I tell Jim to follow the female voice on his right … mine!

The northeast has more low bridges and other RV-unfriendly roads than other parts of the country. For example, traveling north from New York City in the Hudson Valley, every one of our units routed us on the Sprain Brook and Taconic Parkways. As soon as we took the on-ramp, we saw a big sign saying Passenger Vehicles Only. Since we were driving a 37-foot-long, and 13-foot-high motorhome, we got off at the next exit. This is where having a small, handheld GPS is very useful. I can hold my smartphone in my hand and easily manipulate the screen to see what we should do. We had to follow city streets in the Bronx, until we finally got back on a highway … 9A, only to see a heart-stopping sign:

A road sign that makes your heart stop when you're in an RV - a 13 ft high RV!

Jim’s pounding heart didn’t stop his quick thinking and he moved into the left lane, where the clearance was much higher in the middle of the stone arch.  I held my breath until we were on the other side.


Next came Massachusetts and when we called an RV park to inquire about a site for the night, we were told to take a specific route. She said to go past the designated exit to the next one, then get off and take a local road for a few miles back up to the park. After safely parking for the night, we investigated the reason for the detour and discovered an 11-foot clearance bridge (42.668005°, -72.547709°). None of our GPS devices knew about this – they all routed us on the road where we would have been caught by that low clearance.

Make sure to keep your GPS maps up to date; some of the issues above would be fixed with an update. I love our GPS devices and wouldn’t travel without one, but we have learned some important lessons over our years of RV travels with GPS devices.

  1. Consult a paper map periodically, just to see if what your GPS is telling you makes sense.
  2. Review your day’s route in the GPS before you turn the key and start driving, especially the beginning – from the campground to the highway.
  3. Learn how to see the entire day’s route in your GPS before following it. I’ve heard of people traveling 6 hours out of their way before they realized that the GPS was taking them to a different ‘Greenfield’ than their intended destination.
  4. Always call your destination and verify your directions, or read the directions from the RV Park’s website or directory listing. The local park owners or staff know better than the GPS devices! It’s that last mile that is the most problematic.
  5. Any time you find a routing issue that is not correctly identified in your GPS unit, communicate that problem to the manufacturer. Garmin gives you a web form to report a map error. Google Navigation has an option at the end of your route to specify ‘”Destination Not Here.” Google Maps also has a procedure to tell them you got bad directions. Rand McNally units have a button to “Tell Rand.” Co-Pilot gives these instructions for reporting an error. The more we all communicate with the manufacturers and map makers, the better the information will become.

What lessons have you learned in traveling with a GPS?  Leave a comment below.


Chris Guld is President and Teacher-in-Chief at GeeksOnTour.com. She and her husband, Jim, produce a free weekly online show called What Does This Button Do?  They have been Fulltime RVers, popular seminar presenters at RV Rallies, and regular contributors to RVTravel.com, for many years.

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Gigi
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Gigi

Dear Rand McNally, We followed your directions on our factory installed unit and ended up on an ATV/ski mobile trail in northern Maine. We drive a 24″ motor home… really?????

Dave
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Dave

How good is the RV Co Pilot for mapping a safe route? I know the version for CoPilot for Commercial Trucks is very highly rated. . I know I would need to purchase from Amazon (through RV travel.com) a stand alone GPS receiver for my iPad. Thanks for your comments.

Bill T
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Bill T

It’s been my experience that GPS units are only tools that can help in navigation. I find it better to plan our routes with good old paper maps, verify with google and go from there. I only use the GPS unit as a backup in case there is an unscheduled road closure and I need to go around and don’t have time to stop and recalculate the route.

PennyPA
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PennyPA

I first get my route from Mapquest then double check it with Google Earth looking for low overpasses. If none are found, I print the directions and give it to my with the instructions to “follow the printed directions”. My Nuvi doesn’t give me the option to put in vehicle height but I do have a program, “Low Clearances” that shows all heights below the 13′ I’ve chosen. Another program in my arsenal that I use for every trip, is RV Trip Wizard that allows me to put in vehicle height, campground preferences, preferred driving time, and a host of… Read more »

RV Staff
Admin

Good information, PennyPA. One question: You “print the directions and give it to …” your what? Thanks! 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Captn John
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Captn John

When the Ram GPS tried to take me down a dirt driveway I decided to do a little test. MapQuest, Google Maps, Ford, and Garmin all did the exact same.
Google maps seems to always look for shortest route. That includes backroads. The only time I tried to follow that Google suggestion the Garmin RV 760 gave 3 alerts within seconds of very low weight limit bridges.
I have state highway maps of all states I plan to visit and update the Garmin 760 at least 3 – 4 times a year.

Mr Disaster
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Mr Disaster

Google maps seems to be pre-programmed for the “Shortest” route. We have found no settings that could adjust that feature. Google maps doesn’t seem to identify low clearance overpassess at all. In Maine the toll portion of Interstate 95 has a whole series of overpasses at 13 feet. There are no warnings before you enter there toll road and no escape routes. We are planning on buying the Garmin dezl 770 hopefully it will help….

Larry Z.
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Larry Z.

I purchased a Rand McNally RV specific GPS with “Lifetime Maps” only to discover that the updates are NOT for MY lifetime, but the lifetime of the gps platform that the manufacturer decides. It turned out that I only benefited from one map update until mine was “no longer supported”. Make sure to verify how long the company plans to support your GPS when you purchase it.

Jim
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Jim

There are areas in the country where Garmin units in RV mode simply do not work; one I know of for sure is Northern Arizona. There may be many others. The problem is with Garmin maps, not necessarily the units themselves. Garmin is well aware of the problem but I don’t know of any steps they have taken to correct it.

David Hagen
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David Hagen

My Garmin NUVI is great for the motorhome as it takes me on the preferred route. However using my Smartphone with google maps seems to always take me on secondary roads. How do I tell Google to take the preferred route?

chris p hemstead
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chris p hemstead

My Garmin directed me to drive across the Snake River.