Thursday, September 21, 2023


The many useful RV applications of Google Earth – Part 2: Height clearances

By Dave Helgeson
This is the second installment of a series on the many useful RV applications of Google Earth.

In the first installment we reviewed the useful RV applications of Google Earth when deciding, in advance, what RV park or campground best suits your needs and preferences along with advance navigation clues/difficulties.

In this installment we will look at using RV applications of Google Earth/Maps to determine vertical heights (aka low clearances).

Parking garages

Most RV owners would never dream of driving their RV into a parking garage. However, if your choice of RV is a class B van or your tow vehicle or toad is taller than most, knowing the permitted overhead clearance becomes important. In my case, I carry a motorcycle and ATV in the bed of my pickup truck which requires just over 7 feet of clearance. Sometimes we drop the travel trailer and head into a major city (Las Vegas, San Francisco, etc.) to see the sights. I need to know, in advance, what parking garages will accept my truck with the toys loaded in the back.

An online search will reveal the location of garages and rates, but seldom the height restrictions. “Flying” to the address on Google Earth, I locate the street entrance to the garage via satellite view. Once I find the entrance indicated by curb cuts or directional arrows, I then switch to Street View. Using Street View I can often zoom in to view the drag bar at garage entrances and read the listed clearance. Tip: Google Earth software often blurs text and numbers when viewed at 90 degrees when using Street View. If the text is blurred try viewing it from more of an angle as shown in the photo.

applications of Google Earth
Parking garage via satellite view. Left turn lane denotes entrance to the garage
applications of Google Earth
Switching to Street View allows you to view the height restrictions on the drag bar. (They don’t show well in this smaller photo, but are very legible on a laptop.)

Self-serve car washes

Need to wash your RV during your travels and the RV park you are staying in prohibits doing so? Perform an online search for “self-serve car washes.” That will likely bring up dozens of locations in a major metropolitan area. But, how do you know which ones have enough overhead clearance to accommodate your RV? Calling the phone number provided on the online listing typically takes you to a recorded message. That isn’t likely to provide the information you are looking for.

Once again, by “flying” to the address via Google Earth and switching to Street View, I can see if the facility is designed strictly for passenger vehicles or if it has tall wash bays for RVs and boats. Sometimes the actual clearance will be posted and discernible via Street View. If the facility has wash bays that will accommodate RVs, I then use Google Earth to view ingress/egress options and tight radius turns. I can also check the gradients of access points using the elevation feature we looked at in the last entry.

applications of Google Earth
This car wash features taller wash bays for RVs and boats

Low clearances: bridges and tunnels

While most RV routing software will steer you clear of hazards such as low bridges and tunnels, Google Earth allows you to double-check and take a closer look. By using Street View you can view the posted clearance and determine if it applies to the entire structure or just part of it like the outward curve of a tunnel or side support on a bridge. Often the low clearance only applies to one lane, typically the right lane, and not other lanes on a multi-lane road. Gaining this additional knowledge may allow you to travel a shorter route – saving you time and fuel.

applications of Google Earth
Knowing where the “low spot” is can be useful

Hopefully, you have discovered one or two more useful RV applications of Google Earth you hadn’t thought of or realized existed. If you know of a useful application I failed to list, please share it with others by using the comment box below.

In all cases, I encourage readers to know the required clearance for their RV, overly tall tow vehicle or toad, thus avoiding the fate of this RVer.

Note: Other than checking gradients via the elevation feature, Google Maps can also be utilized for the tips listed above.

Sometimes Google Earth will lead you to other useful items for RVers like a wash bay with a dump station. You can wash your rig and dump at the same time. How convenient!


Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson has been around travel trailers his entire life. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership long before the term “RV” had been coined. He has served in every position of an RV dealership with the exception of bookkeeping. Dave served as President of a local chapter of the RVDA (Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association), was on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college and was a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. He and his wife Cheri operated their own RV dealership for many years and for the past 29 years have managed RV shows. Dave presents seminars at RV shows across the country and was referred to as "The foremost expert on boondocking" by the late Gary Bunzer, "The RV Doctor". Dave and his wife are currently on their fifth travel trailer with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications on his own unit.


  1. I have used Google Earth to drive a planned route! You drive the roads seeing all the elevation changes and what is along the route. I detest freeways so try to take back roads. 

    • in fact it was my brother years ago that showed me how you can ‘travel’ the world with google earth. I will never go to Europe but have traveled the canals of Venice and other countries.

  2. Excellent article. I often “pre-drive” a trip before I take off, especially if I’m new to the area. I can use this strategy to pre-plan fuel and other stops. Are the diesel pumps part of the main fuel islands, or a separate set of pumps? Where is the access from the road, turn-around areas, and is there short-term parking for a snack break or leg stretch?

    I can then add this stop to my flight plan, even possibly adding an alternate stop if the other one is crowded – or in one case I encountered – out of business.

    This has saved my cheese more than once. We have useful technology. It should be liberally applied.


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