Tuesday, September 26, 2023


RV boo-boos: To trust or not to trust the GPS?

Ever been misled by your GPS? If the number of stories we get is any indicator, if it hasn’t happened to you, it will soon enough. For some, a GPS fiasco is simply an annoyance, but in other cases, it can be a lot more serious. For RVtravel.com reader Michael W., his was happily on the more laughable side.

Guidance by dashboard voice

Tim Green aka atoach on flickr.com

Pushing hard against winter storms, Michael was headed across Mississippi, looking for an elusive Army Corps of Engineers campground. Surely the COE would provide good signage at the entry? “As per usual, the sign was small and hidden by blinding lights, rain and fog,” recalls Michael. So, what was the guidance of that little dashboard voice?

“The GPS said turn left; we did. Then left again, and right. We did,” Michael relates. “Soon we were on what amounted to a two-track high in the hills at a dead end road looking at a smaller two-track going down the mountainside.” It’s never fun to be misled by a GPS, but local humor provided a bit of a respite. “Closest signs said, ‘Keep Out, Beware of Owner, Don’t worry about the dog,’” goes the story.

The miserable weather added to the difficulty. Michael and his party resorted to disconnecting the toad car from the motorhome. The toad was pressed into service akin to a pilot. “Using the toad’s headlights and hand signals, we managed to turn around and head out without a scratch.”

Not out of the woods

But the couple wasn’t “out of the woods” yet. Nor was the GPS done contributing. Michael finally found a road sign for the camp—and the GPS suggested a right turn. “Do we do it, or not,” must have been the cockpit conversation. With some hesitancy, the group made the turn, and then another right turn, finally driving into a parking lot.

misleadThe lot was loaded—with police cars! Law enforcement types were loading up some “detainees,” as Michael put it. One officer finally came to the parties’ aid, giving them genuine, “get to your campsite” directions without a mislead.

Turns out, they were technically headed for the campground at the GPS unit’s behest. But the little “smart box” wasn’t taking into account that there was no way that Michael’s motorhome would have made it across the terrain of the mountainside the two-track was originally taking them. “No more trusting the GPS at the end of a long travel day,” is Michael’s sum up.

If you’ve witnessed, or had your own, “RV boo-boo” moment and have a photo to share with others, let us know. Fill out the form below and put “boo-boo” on the subject line. Be sure to link your photo with the attachment tool on the form. 

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Other stories by Russ and Tiña De Maris


Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.


  1. Early on I blindly followed Google′s directions. With my 20 foot camper, it was never a problem. But our first excursion with our new 34 foot camper resulted in a misdirection that had us turning the camper around in an apartment complex parking lot with a short turn-around spot that dropped off into a creek…in the rain. I had to back it up, disconnect the camper and reposition truck, then recoonect the camper. Resetting Google brought directly to the campground less than 5 minutes later. I purchase RV TripWizard and Sygic RV immediately afterwards. I use TripWizard to plan out my trips and Sygic for my travel day. I paid for traffic so I can get rerouted if necessary. No problems since! (Famous last words…)

  2. We used a Garmin RV GPS that decided our route based on the height, length, width, and estimated weight of our RV. We travelled all over the country and only had a problem once when my husband decided the GPS was wrong and ignored the advice. That was a nightmare and he decided to listen to the GPS after that. I think had we been using a regular car GPS, we would have had a number of close calls. When you’re 37′ and pulling a toad, a wrong turn can create a huge problem.

  3. Its not the “GPS”. Its the maps. I have been 4 wheeling driving since the early 1990’s, way before GPS. The paper maps were not always correct. I have been on roads that were barely passable with my 4 wheel truck much less what the map showed as a passenger capable road. A lot of those maps are still in use when GPS was implemented. They just used the same maps that were in existence. Over the years the mapping companies never went out and explored the roads, they just used satellite pictures to determine what the roads were, not a very reliable method. Over the years I have sent in update request to mapping companies that the road they have as a passable road was really a rough 4 wheel drive road. some took years for updates to happen. so do not blame “GPS”, it just follows the existing map system.

      • Even if they drive it, if you have a vehicle bigger than the standard SUV, regular GPS will send you places your RV shouldn’t go. One of the roads near us is a snaky tightly curved road – Scott Road – that’s an easement owned by the local ranchers. We locals use it as a short-cut to the next town and I’m sure – based on the vehicles I see trying to traverse it – it looks like the shortest way to a campground that’s up the highway from the end of Scott Road. GPS just sees it as the shortest route from A to B. These poor people creep along Scott Road in their 40′ RVs with a toad. The same is true for big delivery trucks. One look at them tells you they don’t want to be on that road. An RV GPS would never have sent them that way. The application doesn’t know that you’re driving a vehicle that is too big and too long for the situation. I know my RV GPS wouldn’t put me on that road because I tried asking for directions to a place I know would get me sent via Scott Road and it didn’t do that; it sent me the longer way around,

  4. Need google to add more input items. We can input no ferries & no toll roads, but we need height, width, length, weight. All the separate rv gps have given us trouble right when we needed them. Google is best updated app but can get RV’ers in troulbe.

    • You need to get an RV GPS. See my comment above. Ours was a Garmin – we called her Greta – but there are several brands available. They record and save information about your RV’s height, weight, length, and width and plan your trip with those details in mind. Our GPS also let us record the information for our toad separately so we could use the same GPS with a non-RV vehicle – Tomas Towcar – when we were on excursions. It was one of the best things we bought before travelling.

  5. My sister is not a fan of using GPS. She’d rather use her own instincts, which are very good. She was driving, I had Google Maps pulled up on my phone, since I can get lost in a paper bag and we were going to a specific address. At one point, the GPS deviated from her intended route and we had a discussion on trusting the GPS vs her sense of direction. We ended up following the GPS directions, which took us to a frontage-type road parallel to the interstate. “We should be over there,” she commented irritatedly. Almost as soon as she said that, we could see that the traffic had come to a halt on the highway. Sure enough, flashing lights were next. Evidently the GPS was aware either of the accident or the traffic jam that ensued. You can’t always tell what the GPS is helping you to avoid by taking their specific route.

  6. Anyone that just blindly follows a GPS routing deserves to be put on a dead end street.
    You should know the general routing you should be taking.

  7. I almost always look at a paper or e-map of the route that I will be traveling on before I head out. Then I follow my GPS until it wants me to go a way that I don’t want to go. I just drive the way that I want to go according to my earlier look at the map, and the GPS “recalculates”. This is pretty fail safe, IMHO. I would be very uncomfortable just “blindly” following my GPS!

  8. I use Co-Pilot GPS successfully for the most part but twice it has been confused within a mile or two from the destination, the latest on the current site. This campground is on County Rd T and sure enough the GPS found it, a gravel road. What it didn’t know was “T” is actually 2 separate roads divided by a canyon. A local resident was able to give directions to our destination. A similar occurrence about a year ago had us turning on a narrow paved road that stopped at a locked gate to private property. We had to back the 5th wheel about 600′ into a narrow drive and turn around. After reaching the campground I checked the GPS map and found that it was indeed taking us to our destination…only a quarter of a mile away…on the opposite side of the river.

  9. My Garmin doesn’t know when a road is designated four wheel-drive only. The last time i was in Utah, it tried to send me down barely passable roads several times. Always carry a map. And don’t get me started on the voice recognition!

  10. We purchased an inexpensive truck GPS (about $70) to use along with the directions we get from RV Tripwizard. In addition I have a Garman that I had for one of my cars.
    It sounds like a lot, but I use TripWiz to confirm the truck GPS (it’s been good about 98% of the time, occasionally showing me about 50′ off of the road I’m on and losing signal momentarily, but that’s when my backups come into play)
    I have decided to look at google satellite view for the last mile or so because that’s where the confusion has come up in the past, haven’t done it often but that will be added to my checklist.
    Living in a 40′ Class A pulling a toad requires common sense in addition to the above as well as a great co-pilot, but I believe common sense is the most important item

  11. For all of the benefits and information provided by the GPS I will gladly tolerate the .05% of the time it makes a mistake. For the scope of the task of mapping and routing, I think the product is totally amazing. With a little homework with paper or google maps the mistakes can be recognized and the negative effects can be minimized. My guess is there would be many more “boo boos” without a GPS.

  12. I miss the old days when Google maps was even dumber. It would direct people to drive off piers into lakes and rivers, and people would do just that. Made for some entertaining reading.

    • I don’t know if you ever saw this, but years ago Google maps could navigate you to Japan, China, etc from anywhere in the US. It would get you to the west coast of the USA then it stated something like, “Kayak 4,320 miles across the Pacific”. It doesn’t appear to do that today. Someone was having fun programming that one day!

  13. Our GPS took us onto a gravel, then dirt, road through dense forest when we were trying to reach the city campground in Sopchoppy, FL. We finally reached a fence across the road that had obviously been in place for many years. After backing the trailer 1/4-mile, we were finally able to turn around in in barnyard (with the farmers permission). We then stopped at the town hall to ask directions and were guided on all-paved roads directly to the campground. If there was ever a reason to check Google Earth ahead of our visit, that one was definitely it. It was almost like the GPS was just “guessing” at the correct route. Lesson learned!

  14. I always look at a map before I start out for the day and write down my route. Therefore when I get into an area that a gps is telling me to turn; I know that it might be showing a “shorter” route but not necessarily the “best” route when pulling the trailer. A gps loves to take you down residential streets or poorly maintained roads if it calculates that it will save a few feet on your trip.

  15. I have numerous times had the GPS tell me to take an off ramp, only to be directed to proceed straight and back on the same interstate.
    I have a Garmin where I can plot my route on the computer and then send it to the GPS. The route shown on the computer is correct. Some error occurs when transferring it to the GPS.
    I usually ignore the the error since I know what exits I need to take. Just love the “recalculating” messages!
    BTW, I have the same mapset loaded on the computer and the GPS.

  16. Towing my travel trailer home from Florida one evening, I got on the wrong road and had to ask for directions. Fortunately, a County Sheriff was sitting in a driveway, so I stopped to ask for help. The elderly gentleman told me what I needed to know and suggested I make a U-turn across his front lawn. I suggested his wife would have his butt if I tore up the lawn with my trailer. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was his lawn and I could cut through it because HE said so. I still wonder how much chewing out he got.

  17. I usually check the route on Google Earth to see what it looks like. Google Earth is also great for seeing what the campground and surrounding area are like,for example, where are the truck stops or train freight yards are.

    • This is exactly what I do as well. Googlemaps and GPS’ can do dumb things that aren’t suited to larger vehicles. Google Earth lets me see it and make alterations as needed.

  18. I always, and I mean always, review my GPS’ calculated route to make sure it is on main roads and has no quirky type directions.

  19. Returning to TN from Wichita across U.S.60 about 40 miles west of Joplin, MO. The GPS says in 2 miles turn left, so we turn left onto a county road heading north toward St.Louis. Several miles later I found a wide enough spot to pull off and LOOK AT MY MAP, this road is not going to take us toward TN. There’s not enough room to turn this 38’ motorhome and toad around so onward we go. There are several recently combined wheat field but each one has a muddy entrance, finally after going 11 miles out of the way I found a field that was dry enough to turn around in an get back to 60. Moral of the story, always carry a map, because that dumb blonde inside that GPS is wrong many times. Had another incident in FL last year, instructed to turn left, next instruction had me turn left in 1/2 mile, next turn left in 1/2 mile, next turn left next road, put me right back on the road I was told to turn left off. Her blonde roots are deep. Lol

  20. My Garmin repeatedly routes me though downtown sections instead of out and around bypassing tight turns, heavy traffic, road construction, and too many stop & go lights. And yes, down dead end streets and roads requiring backing up a 40 ft 5th wheel back out into busy traffic. Every once in a while it directs me to turn off the highway on a side road then back on the same highway.

    • Which Garmin GPS are you using? We have the RV780 and use the BaseCamp software to establish the route then check that using Google Maps. Safe Travels.

      • RV780 also. Because of the less than perfect routing I started using RV Trip Wizard each trip then print out the details and email the trip to me and my wife. There are hot links in the email that automatically bring up each travel segments Google map location while en route. In heavy highway traffic areas I use Waze plus the Garmin, switching it to avoid highways when directed off due to accidents or backups. These moments are when the Garmin has given poor directions.


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