Nearly every RVer has noticed the vast number of gadgets and gizmos in the market — many of which offer a small to “questionable” contribution to the RV experience. From time to time, however, a product comes along that substantially contributes, making the RV experience more enjoyable — the Garmin RV1090 GPS is just such a product.
I have been using an in-vehicle GPS-powered navigation device since the days before they became commonplace in new cars and truck — so I’m acquainted with their strengths and their shortcomings as well as various attempts to distinguish themselves from competitors. I’ve used exclusively Garmin devices over the years simply because I like their user interface — to me, its not over complicated and allows me to quickly use its features without getting bogged down in a sea of settings.
With that, you can imagine that driving or pulling an RV presents a particular set of needs that are natural for the GPS to manage. My own tow-vehicle, a 2018 Ram 3500 Turbo Diesel, has its own navigation system on board, but I found that it just didn’t provide that “usefulness” factor I was looking for. For example, as I describe below, my truck didn’t even know about a particular campground that we like to frequent! My truck’s navigation system also fails in one other aspect: I feel that the GPS system should be available to a vehicle passenger — to use and update, while the vehicle is in motion. Unfortunately, the lawyers who are designing today’s in-vehicle systems just don’t give us that flexibility.
The RV-1090 is an example of how today’s technology is able to provide good value in the RV space, beyond that of a generalized in-vehicle navigation system. I’ve been able to compare the RV1090 with two other navigational devices — my truck’s own in-dash system and my phone, which happens to be an Android device utilizing google maps. The discussion below represents what I’ve been able to verify thus far, in my own testing.
Size is important
The first thing I noticed about the RV-1090 was its size! It’s a very substantial screen — overpowering at first, if you are used to the smaller units, until you see that the screen is substantially more than an arm’s length away, and attached to the windshield. This one will not work with those little sandbag mounts, supplied for the smaller screens! The supplied windshield mount is very good: Previous GPS units of mine have been much smaller and mounted “standalone style” on the dashboard, using a sandbag type of mount. I find that this works well for the small units but trust me for these wonderfully readable big screens you want the windshield mount!
One important advantage of the large screen is that it is readable from all points in the vehicle. The windshield mount makes it surprisingly easy for a passenger to detach it, while the vehicle is in motion, and update the route, find a rest area, or what have you. It’s a well-thought-out system — power is applied to the mount itself, so that there is no cord attached to the display itself, and the strong magnet built into the mount itself makes it very easy to attach and detach the unit. This makes it easy for a front-seat passenger, for example, to make route adjustments without having to stop the vehicle just to satisfy the lawyers.
It’s all about Navigation
So far, I have discovered three very useful advantages to the RV1090 over my existing tools, which (incidentally include a small Garmin Nuvi, which is not RV specific). The first is Navigation. The second is Navigation. The third is … Navigation .
With the RV1090 I can quickly search by “campgrounds” or enter a generalized search, and find target campgrounds easily. State Parks are an area of interest for my wife and I, so when our truck failed to locate one of our favorite locations, we were disappointed to say the least. Below is a photo of my truck’s in-dash navigation system when I plugged in the GPS coordinates for one of our favorite campgrounds, operated by the State of Idaho:
The RV1090’s even has a section devoted to KOA campgrounds, but that aside it does very well at identifying State Parks especially, where other GPS devices struggle. In fairness to those devices that struggle, I will note that the campground of interest (above) does present a challenge: It lies within a National Reserve, but it is operated/maintained by the Idaho State Parks and Recreation.
Bottom line: The RV1090 nails it.
Navigation: routing specific for your vehicle
One of the important features of the RV-1090 is its ability to consider your specific rig when making route calculations. This is possible because the 1090 already knows about road-specific data, such as weight and height restrictions for roads and bridges, and it can compare this information with your own RV’s height, weight and length. To enable this, you only have to load your information into the device and tell it that you are operating an RV as opposed to a car. For example, as shown in the screenshot below I have specified a 35′ fifth wheel that is 14′ high and weighs 16,000 lbs. (In actuality, it is only 13′ 4″ high, but I don’t want to test this on a bridge claiming to be 13′ 6″, which is the standard minimum…).
The next photo is a marked-up screen shot showing the RV-1090 in a real situation, compared with Google Maps: Notice that, on the right-hand side of the photograph, Google Maps wanted to route me from Montpelier through Dingle on the way to Bear Lake (notice the checkered flag — that is the campground of interest, which lies on the east side of Bear Lake itself).
Unfortunately the Google Maps route is an un-maintained gravel/dirt road! definitely not suitable for 24,000 pounds of combination weight, and a 101″ wide trailer. However, with my rig length, width and height loaded, the RV1090 correctly routed me through Paris, Bloomington and St. Charles, taking the “longer” route to the checkered flag. Boom.
Bottom line: the RV1090 nails it
Navigation: Elevation and percent grades
Another great advantage when pulling 24,000 pounds of combination weight is the knowledge of route elevation and grades. Below is a screen shot of the RV1090’s user interface informing me that I am about to travel about 220 more miles and drive over some 6% and 8% grades! definitely useful information, as I get about 4 miles per gallon over such roadways, compared to 11 miles per gallon over the open freeway.
Navigation side-effects of RV-specific data
I am reminded of a local news story where a woman nearly lost her life transitioning from an interstate freeway to a local highway spur. During the maneuver she hit a truck, left the road and ended up in a nearby pond. Aside from the miracle that saved her life, the woman’s explanatory statement to the police was quite entertaining: Her GPS was too late in telling her to take the exit! While this excuse is not likely the real reason for the accident, it does illustrate an important point: GPS devices supply information for you to interpret — they are not to be followed “by rote” if you will.
As mentioned previously, one of the important features of the RV-1090 is it’s ability to compare your RV’s weight, height, and length with the available data for the route itself, and to use that comparison in the route calculation. That’s what allows it to avoid a bridge, for example, that is too low, or a road that is not safe for a heavy RV, etc.. It turns out, however, that this type of information is not available for all roads, which means there are situations where the RV-specific calculation cannot be made. This is not a fault of the GPS — its just that many residential or rural routes do not provide that kind of data.
This brings me to what I consider to be an important feature of the RV-1090: It will avoid roads for which there is no data, and displays a warning when you choose to drive on such roads. Below is a screen shot of such a situation, where the RV-1090 is trying to find a route for which there is RV specific information Note the little orange circle in the lower left corner — this is telling me that there is no RV-specific data for the road I am currently on.
I reached out to Garmin for additional information, and they confirmed that when the RV is over 7,700 lbs., the RV-1090 will always prefer a route where the road-specific data is available (At the time of this writing, I’m not sure where the 7,700-lb. figure comes from!). My point is that failure to properly interpret what the device is telling you could lead to frustration. One reviewer I came across appeared to experience this very behavior, while expressing frustration that the device tended to route “all over town”. I’ve been able to verify that this is actually quite easy to do: Most rural, and especially residential roads are absent this type of data, so the device will naturally try to pick a route it can safely recommend for your RV — so if you know where you are going its quite possible that you might not understand the RV-1090’s routing. Here are two suggestions to help optimize the effectiveness of this feature:
- Assessing the local road conditions is always best, so you may decide you can live with the fact that no RV-specific data is available. When you make this decision, simply use the warning on the screen as a reminder, and drive where you think is best. Keep in mind that bridges are likely to be the most important factor to consider as regards your RV’s height and weight.
- If your confidence in the local driving conditions is especially high, and you no longer desire an RV-specific route calculation, you can always select “car” instead of RV, which will remove this data from the 1090’s route calculations.
Here is what the RV-1090 looks like when RV-specific data IS available (the warning icon has been replaced with the current speed limit).
Heat and Battery Charging
It’s good to remember that the RV-1090’s large, beautiful screen requires a fair amount of power to operate, which generates heat, especially when combined with battery charging. This can be an issue in vehicles for which there is little airflow around the windshield where the RV-1090 is most likely to be installed. Without sufficient airflow around the unit, the RV-1090 will heat up and stop charging, rendering it useless in a matter of minutes (when the battery runs out). This is especially problematic in the summer months, when the vehicle’s air conditioner normally directs cold air horizontally into the cabin, leaving the windshield quit un-ventilated!
The solution is to configure the air conditioner to utilize the defrost vents, effectively directing cool air over the unit itself.
For those who pay attention to traffic, the RV-1090 provides an interesting capability that utilizes an app on your phone, instead of the FM broadcast method.
<more info to come re: FM broadcast vs smartphone data sources>
Here is a screen shot of the RV-1090 receiving traffic information for an upcoming trip. Note that the trip itself is over 500 mile, but I’m about to encounter a small delay approximately 11 miles ahead.
There are other user interface advantages that I find in the RV1090 and I will update this post with new information as I am able. For example I am still evaluating the “Garmin Drive” connection and its ability to keep me informed re: traffic. As the RV-1090 is very feature rich, it won’t be practical to describe very one, but I’ll do the best I can to highlight the important ones, and/or the ones most meaningful to me