Don’t Trust your GPS!

July 25, 2012 by Chris Guld · 37 Comments  
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by Chris Guld, www.GeeksOnTour.TV

We have several GPS devices, some are test units, some are our old standbys.  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 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 … mine!

We are currently in New England.  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 are 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.

Now we are in 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.

I love our GPS devices and wouldn’t travel without one, but we have learned some important lessons over our 9 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.”  Microsoft Streets and Trips uses Navteq maps.  Here is a Navteq form where you can report a map error.  Rand McNally units have a button to “Tell Rand.”  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.

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37 Responses to “Don’t Trust your GPS!”

  1. S S on July 25th, 2012 9:53 am

    I use a GPS religiously but it’s just one tool. I also consult the Motor Carrier’s Road Atlas for low clearance sites and also check the low clearances website at . We’ve been fulltimers for more than nine years and this approach has not failed us yet.

  2. John on July 25th, 2012 4:26 pm

    Back in my active duty AF days in Strategic Air Command, we did everything by a checklist. But there was a sign in the command post that reminded us: “A checklist is designed to guide your thoughts in an orderly fashion, not to replace your frigging brain.” Same applies to GPS

  3. Lindsay on July 25th, 2012 4:26 pm

    Allstays Smart phone app has a low overhead clearance feature.

  4. randy on July 25th, 2012 4:30 pm

    it amazes me how the gps can get you 1500 miles to within 1 mile of destination and then screw up

  5. GlenO on July 25th, 2012 4:49 pm

    I agree with John (AF). Check, double check, and recheck. GPS has told me to do some stupid stuff in time. The ole common sense has to prevale along with the hard copy map.

  6. GaryM on July 25th, 2012 5:15 pm

    Our Garmin got us too. We were cruising along on Highway 2 across northern Montana. Got to this little town and the GPS indicated we should go straight rather than take the right turn at the light. We did as we were instructed by the female voice. The road was paved (at first) getting smaller and smaller. No place to turn around of course. Soon we were on a dirt road – sort of like a lane. We came to a real scary looking bridge. Keep in mind that we are pulling a 30 foot 5th wheel with a crew cab diesel truck. We parked in front of the bridge, knowing full well that we were in a pickle. Wife had a look of terror on her face – on the other side of the bridge, we could see a big space to turn the rig around. As far as we could tell, we were being taken into a farmers field. What to do? I told the wife, pick up your feet and hang on. We got across that bridge quickly, turned around and YES, then we had to come back across. Wife moaned, once again I told her to pick up her feet and back we went. Don’t know why we made it other than it was probably home made by someone wanting to cross with farm equipment – maybe a big tractor or something. I have not trusted that female voice since…

  7. Ralphie Boyo on July 25th, 2012 5:39 pm

    I like to map out my course via Mapquest or Google Maps the night before to see if that’s the way I want to go and perhaps re-route off of the interstates. The Droid with Navigation is our primary travelin’ tool. Thanks for another warning~

  8. O. Gray on July 25th, 2012 5:44 pm

    Don’t trust Streets & Trips in northern Ontario. There is NO ROAD from Wawa to Sudbury unless you want to use a logging road but that’s where S&T told us to go. Luckily we knew it wasn’t a good thing to do with a motorhome.

  9. Roger Marble on July 25th, 2012 5:52 pm

    I usually plan my rout on my PC using Garmin MapSource software. What’s interesting is that the Garmin 255W portable unit I use seems to have different information.
    Two weeks ago I was in East central Ohio near Loudonville and had a change of plans so entered the new location directly into the 255W. It ended up sending us down a dirt road even though I have the GpS set to avoid unpaved roads. After I filed a report with Garmin they said the error was that Navteq did not have the road identified as unpaved and they would try and get the error fixed. Based on history this will probably be about 12 months.
    Also checked Streets & Trips and find that S&T does not allow you to avoid unpaved roads. Their solution seems to be to simply ignore those roade as they do not show up on S&T map program.

    Final comment. I really wish they could be consistent with the directions. Sometimes the main road makes a turn but there is no instruction to “Keep Left” or Keep Right even though there is a paved road straight ahead. BUT other times I am on a main road that only turns about 10 degrees from straight and am directed to keep right because there is a road off to the left.

  10. Rick McConnell on July 25th, 2012 6:43 pm

    My experience is when GPS says turn one way and wife with smart phone ap says turn the other way, always follow wifes directions. When she is correct everyone is happy, when she is wrong, I don’t get blamed. It is win win for me.

  11. Dave Planitzer on July 25th, 2012 7:23 pm

    I have found that sometimes entering the coordinates rather than the address does a better job. Found this out in Marsing ID when Riverhaven RV RV park warned against using a GPS.
    I general use three methods to get there – Streets & Trips Priintout, Paper road maps, and my Droid. I also cary an old Garmin for when, out West, Verizon’s signal is nowhere to be found.

  12. RockinFX on July 25th, 2012 8:28 pm

    LMAO @ Rick – smart man and thanks for the chuckle! ;D

  13. butterbean carpenter on July 25th, 2012 8:29 pm

    Howdy Chris & Jim,
    My X and her husband, who happens to be my friend, were in Nevada and followng
    their Garmin GPS when the 4 lane turned into a 2 lane turned into a cowpath and they were towing their travel trailer… As the cowpath narrowed a hiker appeared (almost ran over him) and told them to keep going; it was only about 100 yards to the highway!!! Garmin was correct in the hiway/road/cowpath!!!
    I ONLY use my 15 year old DeLorme, which SHOWS COWPATHS, and whatever I can Google up… Mapquest will get you lost EVERY TIME!!!

  14. Tom S on July 25th, 2012 9:14 pm

    Sometimes the RV Park owners address is different from the Park address. If you type-in the printed address it may not take you to the park.

    Such is the case of Canyon RV Park in Southern California. The address given is for their downtown business office. Oops !!

  15. Teri B on July 25th, 2012 10:25 pm

    Love my Garmin for around town in Texas but find many of the same situations as above when traveling out of state. As with all GPS units, they usually get outdated within 2 years because new streets are added and older ones are removed or changed into dirt roads. Updates are a must if you keep them for a while.

  16. Orlando Roofing on July 26th, 2012 1:01 am

    Many people are using GPS to track directions. However, this tool is not accurate just like maps. It would essential thing to bring maps before travelling to avoid getting lost.

  17. Pat on July 26th, 2012 5:53 am

    Good article and good advice one and all…we got the Magellan 7″ screen for RVs with the Good Sam app…seems to work OK but takes some pre-trip work and I back it up with Google maps (with 54′ of truck and trailer I like to check out the gas stations enroute with the sat photo feature…kept me out of a couple tight spots) AND the TL trip software…and like my fellow AF retiree that pre-/post-flight check list idea works every time…from getting ready for moving day, to traveling and setting up at the end of the day or for a longer stay!

  18. John and Kathi on July 26th, 2012 7:16 am

    While camping at Carter Caves State Park in Ky, our lady in the box told us to go back roads which turned into single lane dirt roads until we had to cross a 50 foot wide stone creek in the yard of a farm .the paved road was within site on other side. Brought new gps when we were home.

  19. Rick Ginn on July 26th, 2012 8:23 am

    Rick you must know my Wife I do the same smart move

  20. Richard on July 26th, 2012 8:56 am

    I workamp as a park ranger and can tell you that most GPS units fail miserably in National Parks. I also agree with AF above, a gps is not a substitute for using your brain. A couple of years ago a visitor in Death Valley turned off a gravel road into the desert following their GPS, went a couple of miles, got stuck and one of their party died of heat exhaustion. Also had a visitor trying to find an eastern entrance into Sequoia NP because their GPS said there is one, there is, but it is a hiking trail. USE YOUR HEAD FOLKS, NOT JUST YOUR GPS.

  21. Bill Ridgley on July 26th, 2012 3:37 pm

    GPS is a useful feature, but it has to be used with some good sense (I no longer use the term “common sense” because I believe that it is a less -than-common commodity these days. My wife and I were traveling near Pendeleton, Oregon this past June. We wanted to stay at the Wildhorse (Casino) RV Park. Our truckers GPS did NOT list Wildhorse Boulevard (the street on which the park is located, but DID list a Wildhorse Road. Since we had a good idea where the park was, we decided to test the GPS unit by following directions to the address on Wildhorse Road. While driving our 39 foot motorhome with a vehicle in tow, we followed the directions off of a state highway to a secondary rural road, then directed to turn onto a narrow farm road that the sign reported as being “Adams Ranch Road.” As the road grew increasingly narrow and our apprehension increased correspondingly, we came to an open pasture when the GPS reported “destination on left!” There was NO sign of a casino of any type, or of an RV park, only a couple of cows staring as us in cusriosity. The raod was so narrow and the verges on both sides so steep that we could not turn around. We continued on and ultimately got back to the main road, where we continued to our (original) destination. The roads were so small that only a county-scale map or a gazetter type map would show them, not our atlas, nor, for that matter, a state highway map. We STILL laugh about it, and it is well on the way to becoming one of our favorite travel stories…

  22. francis young on July 26th, 2012 4:11 pm

    How about using a GPS in New Zealand and Australia? The camper rental companies there want $5 per day, can a person buy one for $150 or so that has both New Zealand and Australia on it?

    I assume the one I have does not have that info on it, and it is old enough that I don’t want to spend the money to download those countries.

    Any suggestions?

    Francis Young

  23. Ed Nickerson on July 26th, 2012 5:29 pm

    I forget the website but I got the info from “Laptop GPS World.Com” I use software on my laptop and Delorme told me to take a narrow road to a low undepass with no place to turn my motorhome around if I was not pulling my car in tow. A great and kind knowledgeable man told me of a site where I downloaded information for Delorme (low bridges, Walmarts with gas, parks and many other features) the only problem is you need to load every map with the info you want.
    My wife has a much less annoying voice when she says “I don’t like the looks of the road they want us to take.” I’d much rather hear OFFROUTE OFFROUTE from the voice on the GPS than hear her say I told you I thought we were going to have trouble with this road.

  24. Thom Bell on July 26th, 2012 6:01 pm

    Have you tried the Magellan Roadmate RV9145 series or the RV9165 series, I am interested because we are thinking of buying one to replace our Garmin Nuvi, both Magellan series are designed for RVs and you input length, width and height and they are suppose to help you avoid “tight” situations. Please let me know if you have any good or bad experiences with them. Thanks!

  25. Bob on July 29th, 2012 2:36 pm

    Thom Bell,
    A trick I have learned is to to to to read about the product (in this case the Magellan Roadmate RV9145. There you will be reading good information about this unit, comparisons with other models and customer comments. If that is not enough you can watch the video and browse the accessories! This works for me on a lot of stuff. Still, some of the customer reviews can really be a hoot. lol
    Hope this helps, Thom.

  26. james Okvist on July 31st, 2012 12:41 pm

    Hi I agree with the comments by many people that a GPS should not replace your brain. I have only owned one for 5 to 7 years. I never got lost in the prior 45 years but that was before I owned an RV.
    We use a GPS whenever we travel now. They are very helpful. Our class A was sold new in Canada so the speedometer large numbers are in kmh. It’s easier to check my speed by looking at the GPS. Our older Garmin GPS units worked well but were not infallible. We bought a Rand McNally Trip Maker RVND 5510. It has a lot of custom RV features like low bridge warnings and interstate services/attractions. We have been RVing since 2008 and have crossed the country on two trips, been in all the lower 48 states and have put about 40,000 miles on our rig. In all that travel I have never had had the GPS send us down a really bad road. The GPS did route us under a bridge that we could not fit under once in upstate NY (pre rand McNally). There was a sign prior to the bridge so I used the GPS to route around it.
    I have a theory why I don’t have clearance problems and dirt road problems. We drive a class A RV, tow a car, and don’t boondock. Thus when we are in National parks and other wilderness areas we mostly stay in outside campgrounds and tour in our car.
    The GPS is far from infallible. The rand McNally often sends us on inefficient paths because it does’t understand traffic issues. Also it often thinks a destination is on the other side of the road.
    I like our GPS but it does not replace using your brain and listening to the real navigator (my wife).
    I wish that when I purchased our Rand McNally we could have gotten lifetime updates for maps and the traffic option.


  27. Orlando Remodeling on August 1st, 2012 9:32 pm

    Sometimes, some of us do depend on GPS as our guide for travelling. However, it is still needed for you to have map to have an accurate location.

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  29. Dan on August 7th, 2012 9:29 am

    We have found that GPS units have a difficult time with gated communities, not knowing where the entrances are and not recognizing the street names within that community. We spent nearly an hour in our motor home going down dead end narrow residential streets ending at the walls of such a community in Marble Falls, Tx. We were less than a block from our destination!

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  32. marianj` on August 13th, 2012 12:18 pm

    I navigate using a map. Don,t plan on getting a GPS ever.

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  35. Richard Howard on October 30th, 2012 9:49 pm

    We purchased a Rand McNally Tripmaker just over a year ago and were initially very satisfied with it. However on this ,our latest trip, it has failed us time and time again. The worst was leaving Charlottesville,VA for Asheville, NC where we ended up on a narrow country road with no shoulders in our 32′ fifth wheel and faced a low bridge, 11′11″ clearance and on a tight corner. Luckily we were able to back up and reverse on to a side road that got us back on to the country road and almost back to where we started. An hour of time and diesel wasted. It keeps telling us that we are about to go on to a dirt road. It has sent us (7 tons) where the vehicle weight limit posted was 2 tons less than we are. Today in Asheville it completely went haywire and led us to a remote farm instead of a shopping centre. So we are now losing faith in the Rand McNally and wonder if other people are having the same experiences and what is going on with this unit. Is it Rand McNally’s software somehow not being updated correctly. We do Mapquest now before each trip and carry maps for all states with us. Appreciate any comments any one out there may have who also have a Rand McNally. It’s a $400 waste of money right now.

  36. Frank on October 31st, 2012 5:38 pm

    I think it is good to use your GPS around where you live to give an idea as to how they perform in certain situations. I think that if it is sending you now a dirt road and you are in a RV that it is best to return to the main road and “regroup”: find out from another source how to get to your destination. I find GPS technology at least with our Gamin to be very sensitive in respect to heat and cold: do not expose the unit to winter outdoor temperatures and do not leave it in the window parked. Do not depend on a GPS as a pedestrian (and you become a pedestrian when you vehicle gets stuck) because the battery charge is very short. If you get lost in the boonies and have no idea where you are: STAY WITH YOUR UNIT, which is the reason why you do not go now unknown dirt roads.

  37. gebills on October 31st, 2012 9:14 pm

    This “correct driving directions” subject has graced our cab many times. I typically use the in-dash GPS in our Dodge for active navigation while driving and pulling our 5th wheel. As a backup to this information, I also use Microsoft Streets & Trips prior to starting a driving day; backed up by my iphone with the Google maps on the screen; backed up by the DW riding shotgun with the TrailerLife RV Road Atlas and the “RVer’s Friend NorthAmerican Diesel/Parking” directory. I am always aprehensive about getting into tight quarters with the truck and 5th wheel, and use the previously stated tools to keep us out of trouble. Unless I am absolutely positive and comfortable about a fueling sight that I have previously been in, or have reviewed from “google earth”, we pretty much just use the Tractor/Trailer fueling stations for fueling. One fueling sight along I-70 in Colorado called out that it had great RV fueling stations……… I’ll never make that mistake again. What they meant by RV fueling sights must have been for a SUV/pop-up combination; not 56 feet of truck and trailer. We had that fuel drive backed up for 15 minutes stopping traffic flow to half of the fulling stations trying to make the swing to get out.
    Back to the “GPS reliability” train-of-thought, by using a multitude of options (GPS, iphone, Streets&Trips, directories and charts) one would be wise to use all common sense they can muster when using this equipment. Yes, the GPS has made some incorrect calls. I’ve had it route us off a freeway onto a side road and five miles down the road, route us back on the freeway. Go figure………Generally, if in doubt with the GPS, I reach for the iphone and pull in an expanded overhead view on “google maps” that gives me my position while driving. Even after you have entered and area, doesn’t mean you need to keep going. Almost without fail, I always have a way out of the predicament I have driven into. Common sense goes a long way…….. Happy RV’ing….