RV GPS Buying Guide

Thinking of a new GPS? The task of choosing the right one for you can be very intimidating. With so many great brands, models, and features to choose from, how do you know which one to buy?

When choosing a GPS, the most important question to ask yourself is “What do I want to do with it?” Any automotive GPS unit will tell you where you are and where to go, without getting lost. As RV’ers, we all have a set of basic needs that our GPS must satisfy. Beyond that, it’s entirely up to you whether you want it and are willing to pay the extra money for certain features.

preloaded maps

The first factor to consider is which maps you need to preload on your GPS. That, of course, depends on where you plan to travel. Many systems come with highway maps of the entire United States and Canada loaded into their main memory. Some come with all of North America and some with Europe as well. This gives you the luxury of going anywhere without worrying whether or not you loaded the right maps; it also makes the device ready to use, right out of the box. The preloaded maps occupy part of the main memory of the GPS; any excess main memory can be used for additional maps, MP3 music, or custom points of interest. This brings us to memory capacity.

memory capacity

The amount of memory your GPS can hold is also very important. If you buy a drive that has very little additional main memory and cannot be expanded; you may not be able to add features or points of interest (POI) at any time. Many GPS models only contain enough main memory to store their preloaded maps, with very little left over. This is only a problem if you don’t have a memory expansion slot. A memory expansion slot allows you to add memory to the GPS if you ever need it. Most use a Secure Digital (SD) card to expand memory. SD cards are inexpensive and a great way to add memory to your drive when you need it. The more expensive drives usually have a considerable amount of their main memory free for use and also have a memory expansion slot. Less expensive drives typically use most or all of their main memory for built-in features, but most still have a memory expansion slot.

text to speech

Another important feature to look for is “text to speech”. Most GPS units with voice directions will give an audio notification such as “Turn left in 300 feet” or “Take the next exit.” A unit with a text-to-speech feature will say not only the address but also the street name: “Turn left on Mulberry Lane in 300 feet” or “Take exit 23A.” This is a boon for many people, especially RVers, since they won’t even have to look at the screen to know where to go.

live traffic service

A great new feature to consider is the live traffic service. Available in larger cities, a subscription to a traffic service gives you up-to-date, real-time updates on traffic and road conditions. Is the highway blocked from exit 23 to exit 29? Your GPS will warn you and offer you an alternative route. After a free trial period, the traffic service usually costs around $7 per month. Some Garmin units also offer XM radio services, so you can get not only live traffic, but XM satellite radio as well.

Even beyond a typical traffic service is the new and improved MSN Direct service. Many of Garmin’s higher-end units, like the Nuvi 780, come with this capability. With MSN Direct, you can check the weather, avoid traffic jams, compare local gas prices, get upgraded movie listings, stock information, local news and events when you’re traveling with your unit. Even plan trips from the comfort of your computer, through Windows Live Local, then send locations wirelessly to your GPS. Like a traffic service, MSN Direct has a monthly charge after the free trial period.

bluetooth enabled

One of the latest additions to GPS systems is the integration of a Bluetooth chip. If both your cell phone and GPS unit are Bluetooth-enabled, you’ll be able to pair them for hands-free calling, POI dialing capabilities and more, making your automotive electronics suite fully integrated. Many campground POI lists, like the CoolRVToyz Ultimate RV Parks & Campgrounds Directory, take advantage of this feature in Garmin GPS units and allow you to mark a campsite hands-free just by touching your GPS screen.

MP3 enabled

Another new addition to GPS systems is the ability to play MP3 music. By loading your favorite MP3 music or audiobook onto your GPS, you can play it through the GPS speakers or your in-dash radio. Many of the best GPS units also come with an FM transmitter to link directly to your in-dash radio for music to come out of your vehicle’s stereo system. This is particularly useful as the GPS will automatically lower the volume of music to give you directions or if you receive a phone call.

Travel Guides and Tour Guide(TM)

One of the most exciting new features is Garmin’s new TourGuide(TM) feature. With TourGuide(TM) you can book fully guided tours for your GPS. Launch TourGuide(TM) and simply follow the tour. Your GPS will guide you to points of interest, explain them to you and even show you photos. It’s like having your own tour guide during the trip.


Among the most popular GPS navigation systems for RV’ers are the Garmin nuvi 200, 360 and 680, Lowrance iWAY 600C, Garmin StreetPilot c550, Magellan Maestro 4040 and CrossOver GPS, and TomTom ONE 3rd Edition. So which GPS is the “best”? That completely depends on your needs, your preferences and your budget.

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