The Ins and Outs of Inputting RV Dimensions for Tailored Travel Plans

Let’s be honest, maneuvering a vehicle the size of a city bus down narrow country lanes or under low urban overpasses can be an anxiety-inducing experience. As any seasoned RV owner will tell you, failing to account for your vehicle’s dimensions can spell disaster faster than you can say “detour!”

But don’t panic. With a bit of preparation and planning, you’ll be cruising the open road worry-free in no time. The secret lies in inputting your RV’s key measurements into your GPS so it can route you around potential trouble spots. Think of it like having your very own digital co-pilot, helping you avoid scrapes, jams, and embarrassing “how did I get myself into this mess” moments.

Taking Measurements – Size Matters!

Before we get into using those dimensions for navigation, let’s talk about measuring your RV properly. You’ll want to get the length, width, height and weight down to the most accurate numbers possible. Even an inch or two difference can be the deciding factor between breezing through or bungling a tight turn.

Getting out the tape measure: For length and width, simple exterior measurements from front to back bumper and side to side typically do the trick. Consult your owner’s manual or look for a manufacturer’s info sticker inside the door to confirm. Measuring height is a bit trickier. You’ll need the total height when fully loaded and in driving position. Don’t forget to account for factors like roof A/C units or an upraised satellite dish. A driveway and a buddy to visually gauge as you drive by can get you in the ballpark.

Considering clearance: Now think about bridge clearances and tunnels you may encounter. Even if your RV clears the posted height, hanging conduit or guard rails often lower real-world clearances. Similarly, road widths for bridges and shoulders may be narrower than pavement. Give yourself a nice 6-12 inch buffer here if possible. Better to be conservative than cringing as you hope your side mirrors make it unscathed.

Accounting for weight: Your owner’s manual should provide weight ratings like Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR). While you likely don’t need these for navigation purposes, keeping the weight within safe limits via cargo and passenger load will affect driving and stopping distances, acceleration and hill climbing ability. Go easy on loading up the underbelly!

When in doubt, go bigger: I’ll share a quick personal anecdote to illustrate the importance of measurements. On a trip from Memphis to Nashville, I breezed under an advertised 12′ 6″ bridge clearance. However, my 13′ exterior clearance was really around 14′ with the A/C unit. What I didn’t account for was the dip down right after clearing the bridge which then slammed the A/C hard into the metal girders hanging down. Let’s just say it made for an unpleasant crunching sound and a costly repair bill. Lesson learned!

Inputting Dimensions for Navigation Guidance

Now that we’ve got accurate measurements, we can leverage them for navigation. Both standalone GPS units and smartphone apps designed for RVs allow you to input length, width and height information to receive tailored routing and alerts. Depending on the sophistication of the system, it can either avoid restricted roads completely or provide advance warning to the driver of possible trouble spots.

Here are some options to check out:

RV-specific GPS units: Brands like Garmin, Rand McNally and TomTom offer robust standalone units with RV settings and restriction avoidance. Look for large, easy to read screens and points of interest like campgrounds. Voice guidance and Bluetooth connectivity are nice upgrades for hands-free use. Expect to spend $300-$500 for these devices.

Smartphone apps: Apps like CoPilot, RV Life and iRV2 use your phone’s onboard GPS and internet connectivity. Download maps to save data usage. Often less expensive than standalone units, but tiny phone screens can be tough for older eyes. Cost is typically $5-$15 monthly after a free trial.

Manufacturer systems: Some high-end RVs have built-in nav systems like Ford’s SYNC4, Ram’s Uconnect or Chevy’s MyLink which allow dimension input. Convenient if already installed, but less flexibility to change vehicles down the road.

Basic mapping apps: Even Google Maps and Apple Maps allow you to select “avoid highways” and “avoid tolls” which are handy for steering clear of turnpike tunnels and smoother interstates. Enabling satellite view helps visualize tight spots in advance. Just be sure to always double check restrictions.

Helpful Tips for Accurate Custom Routing

Whichever navigation system you select, keep these pointers in mind to make the most of customized routing:

  • Carefully measure and input length, width and height details during setup
  • Select “motorhome” or “trailer” vehicle type so weight and acceleration are factored in
  • Enable automatic restriction avoidance to steer clear of low clearances and narrow passages
  • Pay attention to on-screen height, weight and width warnings which may prompt detours
  • Update your vehicle profile if you change RVs or add accessories like bikes on the rear rack
  • Report unmarked low clearances or outdated restrictions to the map vendor
  • Allow extra time for scenic detours routed around restricted areas
  • Obey signs for restricted roads even if your GPS tries to route you through
  • Have a backup navigation plan or atlas in case you lose GPS signal in remote areas

One time while traveling out West, my GPS tried routing me across an old rickety one lane bridge with a 7 ton weight limit. The on-screen restriction warning plus the clearly aging infrastructure prompted me to safely detour around, even though it added 30 minutes. In that case, the digital co-pilot lived up to its job!

Maximizing Comfort and Minimizing Risk

Here’s the thing about maneuvering a small condo on wheels down the road – it takes advance planning and caution. While technology like custom routing has made the process safer and easier, ultimately the responsibility still rests on us drivers.

Inputting accurate dimensions is one way to set yourself up for a comfortable, confidence-inspiring trip. But you also need to drive slowly and deliberately through tight spaces, watch for low hanging branches or conduits, and religiously obey posted limits and warnings. Sometimes it’s just not possible to get a behemoth vehicle through, and that’s ok. U-turns (“Yogi’s are easy in an RV!” as the old saying goes) and detours keep the adventure going with only minimal delays.

Here are some additional tips for minimizing hassle and risk when clearance gets tight:

  • Scope out destinations using Street View to visualize tight spaces
  • Have a spotter help guide you if needed, and trust their directions
  • Avoid rush hour driving in congested cities when feasible
  • Delay trips after heavy storms which can bring down overhead limbs
  • Pack leveling blocks to lift low-hanging components over obstacles
  • Scope out gas stations with wide approaches and large islands
  • Maintain adequate following distance for stopping and visibility

Occasionally, a run-in with a low bridge or branch is unavoidable, despite your best preparations. But resist that sinking “uh oh” feeling, take a deep calming breath of the pine-scented country air, and remember – it’s all part of the adventure! Minor cosmetic damage builds character (and gives you a story to share around the campfire). The important thing is getting back on the road safely to enjoy the rest of your journey. With precise dimensions and smart navigation, the open road awaits!

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