Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Choosing an RV-specific GPS

A lot of people on Facebook ask what RV-specific GPS unit they should buy.  Since many RVs can only travel on roads where they'll "fit", it makes sense to have a GPS that will guide you along routes where the bridges aren't so low that they'll rip the top off or the turns so sharp that your long RV just can't make them.

I begin many of my articles by saying how much research I've done to reach my conclusions.  I just don't like the idea that readers might think that I just grabbed the first thing that came along.  In the case of GPS units, I've had various brands over the course of many years - just not for RVs.  When it came time to look at RV GPS units, I began the long process of scouring more than 20 RV-related Facebook groups, reading posts on, and asking a lot of fellow RVers what they use.

As part of my research, I ordered (or downloaded) and tried Garmin's RV 760, the Good Sam version of the Rand McNally RV 7730 (the 7735), CoPilot for RV, Waze, Google Navigation, and others.  I also read detailed reviews of them, as well as the RV-specific model made by Magellan.  On the first pass, I ended up returning both the Garmin and the Rand McNally because features were missing that I wanted to use - or they existed but were difficult to use.

If you look at the responses received on Facebook every time someone asks about RV-specific GPS units, you'll quickly see that users overwhelmingly recommend Garmin, followed by Rand McNally and then CoPilot.  Magellan is rarely mentioned.  Google Navigation isn't RV-specific, and neither is Waze.

Quite a few people say that they don't have much faith in RV GPS units because they've been led down roads that their RV should never have taken.  I get that.  But from what I can gather, this is rare.  I'd rather have an RV-specific GPS direct me on safe routes for RVs 95% of the time than not have one and take my chances.

Another consideration is that there is value in keeping with the mainstream.  In other words, sometimes it's best to get what everyone else is using because you know that there is a large community of support - not to mention that there must be something good about it because everyone is using it.  Comes full circle, doesn't it?  Thinking along these lines, I immediately throw out anything that's not RV specific (like Google Navigation and Waze) and anything that, from the hundreds of responses I've read, isn't used by most people (relatively speaking).  So, that pushed out Magellan.

Given all of this, I was left with three reasonable choices that required serious consideration:  Garmin, Rand McNally, and the CoPilot app.

Apps are great because they are easily updated and can go on most of your devices.  CoPilot is a good app because it has a nice interface and provides easy to understand voice turn-by-turn directions.  They have several different versions, one of which is called CoPilot for RVs.  It costs about $45, so it's much cheaper than standalone GPS units.

CoPilot for RV

CoPilot for RV allows you to enter your RVs specs (height, length, weight) so that you'll be properly routed.  However, there's a serious flaw in their app because it only lets you input a maximum weight of 26000 pounds.  Most large motorhomes weigh much more than this; mine weighs about 46000 pounds.  Therefore, the weight option is worthless.  I called them about this and was told that I should consider buying their version for truckers, which has higher weight limits.  However, the truck version doesn't have certain features for RVers - like campgrounds.  And, it also costs about three times as much. [Update:  I've heard that Apple's App store has a March 2017 update that fixes the weight limit issue by allowing any more thousands of pounds.  As of this writing, the Android (Google) Play Store's latest version is March 2016 and still has the weight limitation.]

On the good side, CoPilot allows you to download full maps to your device.  This is a big plus compared to standard phone-based navigation apps because you don't need to have a cellular signal to navigate and continually update your maps.  Your phone's GPS works directly with CoPilot and you can always navigate.  You can download map updates as long as you own the app.

Garmin and Rand McNally

The Garmin 760 and Rand McNally 7735 both had similar features.  If you want to waste your time, go ahead and search the Internet to find some of the comparisons.  You're wasting your time because they both handle RV navigation, have lots of Points of Interest (POI's - things like campgrounds, fuel stops, attractions, etc.), and are well supported with lifetime maps.  I'm about to tell you their main differences...

Some of the biggest differences between the two were that the Rand McNally had more campgrounds in its database, while the Garmin had more overall features (like backup camera add-ons and other things).  The Garmin is more expensive, but you don't have to pay extra for live traffic updates (like the fee charged by RM).  The Garmin, in my opinion, has a better display layout and brighter display.  And the Garmin can accept voice commands.

After reading everything I could and testing them out, I became convinced that Garmin was the way to go.  So many RVers can't be wrong, can they?

One of the key things I've learned about shopping for RV technical toys is to wait and not buy them until just before you need them.  If you just bought your RV and aren't "taking off" for several months, wait until a month before you leave because tech updates happen all the time.  It can be frustrating to buy something only to find out that the latest and greatest version is coming out two months after you bought it.   I wasn't striking out on our full-time journey until May 2017, so I decided to hold off on the GPS purchase until April (now).  And I was glad I did.

Garmin RV 770 LMT-S

In April 2017, Garmin introduced it's new RV 770 LMS-S GPS unit, the successor to the 760.  It's almost identical to the 760, but it includes Foursquare and Tripadvisor information, weighs less, and has a better screen with a higher resolution. [Note:  See Garmin's comparison chart of differences between the 770 and the 760]  I decided to order the 770.

So far, I've been very happy with the 770.  Admittedly, we haven't had chance to use it on our cross-country trip yet, but I can see that it's fast and is loaded with features that I like.  The display is easy to read, lane guidance is great, the voice is clear and easy to understand, and it's easy to lookup POI's.  I also preloaded a couple of trips into the Trip Planner.  Very nice in that you can just call up a predefined route and get going.  The Voice Command feature lets me interact with the device while driving and is easy to use.

I really like the integration with the phone.  I can use Voice Command to dial any number in my contacts and the 770's speakers and microphone will let me talk while driving.  When you select POI's (like a campground), you can even elect to call them using this feature.

As Garmin recommended, I loaded their SmartLink app to my phone and connected it to the 770 using Bluetooth.  Once you have done this, the 770 gets live traffic information.  We were driving from North Carolina to Florida on Interstate 26 when I saw a sign on the side of the road that said that the Interstate had all lanes blocked about 60 miles ahead.  I was wondering if the 770 would "know" about the blockage and, similar to Waze, would re-route us.  About 20 miles from the incident, a tone came on and the 770's female voice said something like "I-26 is closed.  Rerouting.  Please take exit 159 ahead."  Exit 159 was about 6 miles ahead of us.  We followed directions and it took us right to I-95 with about a 10-minute loss in time.  Nice!

Garmin and Waze

Note that Garmin, like most navigation programs, is not "social".  That is, you don't interact with others on the road.  That's where Waze shines.  Waze uses real-time reports of accidents, slowdowns, police sightings, and road hazards to warn you before you encounter them.  It's the only navigation program that does this.  Since it's social and real-time, expect that Waze is going to have the latest and greatest information about what's ahead.  Sometimes, you'll want to avoid things that Waze points out well before any GPS traffic program, like Garmin's, will know about it.


The setup that works the best is to use three things:  SmartLink running on your phone, the 770 handling RV navigation, and another phone (maybe even the one running SmartLink) running Waze.  You'll have total awareness of everything around you, what's coming up, and be reasonably assured that you won't be going under a bridge that's too low for your rig.

1 comment:

  1. great article, please advise when you have updated info on rv gps.