Tech Tips

GPS for Navigation

There are 2 different GPS systems for RV users.

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GPS - Garmin GPS 18

I initially bought a Garmin GPS 18. This system has lots of features, a good user interface and low cost.


  • Comprised of 3 parts.
    • GPS Receiver
    • Mapsource - Maps
    • nRoute - Routing Program (Free)
  • Mapsoure can be run stand-alone.
  • Mapsouce Version 6 is updated 3 or 4 times a year. Updates are free.
  • nRoute & Mapsource share the same GUI interface.
  • Fully configurable via the Preferences.
  • Most if not all functions either have Function Key assigned or combination of keys to display/invoke the function.
  • GPS simulator function.
  • Voice Instructions
  • Off Route Configuation
  • 2 GPS Receiver interfaces
    • Serial with 12v plug
    • USB
  • Windsheild mount included
  • Low Cost.
    • $100


  • GPS 18 has a proprietary GPS Receiver/Data Stream.
  • Address lookup needs some work.
    Example - 73 rd St may not find 73rd St
  • Map updates cost $75. You can actually buy the GPS and software cheaper off the net than just the map update from Garmin.
  • Fairly steep learning curve.
  • Not RV friendly
    • No RV option - Bus or Truck
    • No Low Bridge info
    • Poor RV POI's

What you get

Setting Preferences

F8 Status Display - Daytime View

F10 Trip computer - Night Time View

F11 Satellites

F9 Driving Directions

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GPS - Microsoft Streets & Trips

2008 Update

I was given a copy of Microsoft Streets & Trips 2008 with the GPS antenna to evaluate before going to the 2008 IRV2 National Rally in Perrin, TX. The 2008 update (software only) is a cheap map upgrade compared to Garmin's $75. But, if you don't have any laptop GPS software Microsoft Streets & Trips is good place to start.

The  antenna uses the new Pharos GPS 500 interface to attach to the PC via USB connection and is compatible with the Pharos GPS 500 accessories.

2007 Info

I also have Microsoft Streets & Trips 2007. I originally purchased Microsoft Streets & Trips 2005 for $10 (just the software), as it was the last 2 disks of MS Works in 2005. I updated it to the 2007 version. I use my Gamin USB GPS receiver by using Franson GPS Gate to create a virtual Serial Port that Streets & Trips uses.


  • Can be purchased with or without a GPS receiver.
  • All in one routing and mapping program.
  • Configurable.
  • GUI interface.
  • Real-time construction updates.
    Note - This function requires an Internet Connection.
  • Voice instructions. "Text to speech".
  • Install allows coexistence of the previous version of MS S&T or it will remove the previous version for you. This eliminates the need to shut down the install process, remove the old version and restart the install.
  • Fairly good routing. Aadjusting road preferences and adding stops can change this. 
  • Good RV POI's
  • Low cost.
    • 2008 version with antenna for as low as $56
    • $89 for Software and GPS Receiver
    • $39 for Software only


  • No map updates from year to year.  
  • Moderate learning curve.
  • Not RV friendly
    • No RV option - Bus or Truck
    • No Low Bridge info

What You Get

Configuration Screen 1 & 2

Planning/Driving Mode - Daytime

Planning/Driving Mode - Night Time

GPS Guidance Mode

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GPS - CoPilot 9 Navigator

Lastly I have CoPilot 9 Navigator that I got from Dell for $29. CoPilot 9 Navigator, like the Garmin PS 18, has a proprietary GPS Receiver/Data Stream.


  • Low Cost (Software & GPS Receiver)
    • $29 Dell.
  • GPS Receiver - USB 2.0
  • Good address location.
  • Configurable.
  • 2 Modes
    • Planning - Default if no GPS found
    • Guidance
  • Voice instructions.
    • Pre-Recorded sound files (John or Lisa)
    • MS Windows "Text to speech"


  • Proprietary GPS Receiver/data stream.
  • Full screen GUI interface only in Guidance mode.
  • Address lookup naming convention needs work.
    County Road 467 is County Hwy 467
  • Moderate learning curve.

What you Get

Startup - Planning Mode/No GPS

Planning Mode Options

Planning Mode - Trip/Options

Run Trip Planner

Exapnded View - Minus Driving Directions

Startup - Guidance Mode With GPS

Run Saved Trip/Route

Guidance Mode - Options

Guidance Mode - Ready To Navigate

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Which GPS Is Best?

The real answer is, "The one that works for you".

Best bang for the $:

  1. Garmin GPS 18 based on features and normal purchase prices.
  2. Microsoft Streets & Trips is a close 2nd.
  3. Copilot 9 Navigator would be the obvious choice solely based on cost.

Ease of Use:

  1. CoPilot 9 Navigator wins as it has shortest learning curve. This is directly related to the number of features available.
  2. Microsoft Streets & Trips comes in 2nd with a little steeper learning curve due to added features.
  3. Garmin GPS 18 is last as it has the most features and not all of them are used a lot.

Bottom Line - A PC laptop based GPS is a low cost way to navigate in a RV.

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MIO Tech C320 Hand Held

I decided that I would look at a hand held GPS receiver to supplement my laptop versions. Why? The laptop versions are great while you are on the road. But, when you get to your location and start driving around in your car it is easy to get lost or find places. I found that the MIO C320 fits the bill.

MIO Features

  • Low cost <$200 - On sale for $199 or less.
  • Fully configurable.
  • Large screen for a hand held - 4"x2.25".
  • It will fit in your shirt pocket.
  • GPS Antenna port.
  • Windshield mount.
  • Cigarette light adapter power - mini USB connector.
  • MP3 player.
  • Headphone port.
  • SD card support - 1, 2, 4 or 8 gig.
  • POI Loader

I added a cigarette light outlet to the driver's side dash so I didn't have the cord stretched across my feet to the Newmar supplied outlets. I also added a "Y" adapter to the headphone port and hooked to my Sony mixer unit. This allows me to play my cds via the MP3 player though the radio speakers.

I also found a coiled power cord, a Sun Shade and Dash Mount that Base Mount fits it. So now I can set it almost anywhere.

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Brake Fluid Testing

You need to flush or replace your brake fluid:

  1. If it over 2 years old.
  2. If it boils from to much braking (heat).
  3. If it fails the moisture test.
  4. If it fails the Test Strip check (copper contaminatiom).
  5. All of the above!

To properly test your brake fluid you will need to check the Master Cylinder and EACH brake caliper. The moisture tester or 100 test strips will run about $50 each. Not something the average RV or DIY type will have in their tool box.

The moisture tester is real easy to use. Just dip the end in brake fluid sample, press the buttom and read the Tri-Colored LED Panel.

  • Green LED = Moisture less than 1.5% (OK)
  • Yellow LED = Moisture between 1.5% and 3% (Consider Flushing)
  • Red Led = Moisture greater than 3% (Fluid should be flush immediately)
  • Flashing RED LED = Low battery

Using a test strip is also easy. Just dip end of the strip in a brake fluid sample and compare the color on the strip to the colors on the test strip container.

I just changed my fluid a few prior to testing the Speed Bleeders on 7-8-2009. I had to top off the master cylinder and I am sure this skewed the results. My test was 10. The levels are 0, 10, 30, 100, 200 & 300. 100 is marginal and 200 or greater it's time to change.

If you think changing the fluid every 2 years is over kill, check the photo below. This is about 1 year and less than 10,000 miles.

If you look at the photo's of the fluid it really looks bad. But, is it or is it not still serviceable? Well, unless you have some way to test for water content or copper contamination you will never know. I am going to error on the side of safety and ASSUME that it is contaminated and replace it. For $20 and less than 1 hour of my time using Speed Bleeders it is cheap cheap cheap.

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Brake Fluid info:

  • Brake fluid is gycol based.
  • Brake fluid is hydroscopic - it absorbs water
  • DOT 3 is all that is ever needed for normal usage.
    • Ford makes a DOT 3 fluid that meets or exceeds DOT 4 specs.
  • DOT 4 has a higher boiling but deteriorates faster when contaminated (so I have been told).
  • DOT 5 is silicone based and should NOT be mixed with either DOT 3 or 4
  • NON contaminated fluid will either be clear or a slight amber color. The darker it is the more the contamination.
  • Gravity bleeding is the simplest method to flush and bleed the air from the system.
  • 2 Man pressure bleeding is probably the fastest.
  • Vacuum bleeding works ok. See the Air Powered Bleeder entry below for more information.
  • Power bleeding using pressure and fluid replacement at the master sylinder is the best.

Normally I would just replace the fluid with DOT 3. But, I decided to go top shelf and use DOT 4 as it was only $1 a quart more. I bought 3 quarts and only used 2.

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Gravity Bleed Your Brakes

Check your owners manual for any restrictions, warnings about the ABS system and brake bleeding.


  • 3 qts of DOT 3 or DOT 4 fluid
  • 3' of plastic hose
  • 3 liter clear soda bottle
  • Wrench to loosen/tighten brake bleeder screw - 7/16" or 11mm

How To:

  1. Remove as much old brake fluid from the master cylinder reservoir and refill with fresh fluid.
  2. Go to the wheel furthest from the master cylinder. Usually the passenger side rear. Attach the plastic tube to the bleeder screw. Drop the other end in the soda bottle that has about 1" of brake fluid in it (enough to cover the drain tube).
  3. Open the bleeder valve and wait for the fluid to run. Be sure to top off the master cylinder reservoir. Always close the bleeder valve when filling the reservoir.
  4. Continue to drain the system until the fluid is clear or has a slight amber color and there are no air bubbles.
  5. Repeat for the drivers side rear, pass side front and drivers side front.

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2 Man Mwethod

The setup for this method is the same as the Gravity bleeding process except you have someone inside the coach to pump the brake pedal to force the fluid out.

  1. Read the Gravity Bleed section first for setup info, required tools and supplies.
  2. Start the engine and have your inside person pump the brake pedaal and hold it.
  3. Open the bleeder valve and the fluid will be forced out. The brake pedal will go to the floor. DO NOT release the brake pedal told to by the person bling the brakes.
  4. Close the bleeder valve and let the inside person that they can release the brake pedal.
  5. Repeat steps 2 & 3 until the fluid runs clear.
  6. Refill the master cylinder reservour, move to the next caliper and repeat steps 2 thru 5.

Note - Don't be alarmed if you see the ABS come on during the bleeding process. This is normal and the light will go out once the brake system pressure normalizes.

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Speed Bleeder Method

The setup for this method is the same as the Gravity bleeding process except you install a set of Speed Bleeders first.

Now all you need to do is:

  1. Open the Speed Bleeder valve about 1 full turn
  2. Push brake pedal to the floor and realese it
  3. The rears take about 5-6 cycles and the fronts take about 3-4 cycles to completely flush the lines
  4. Close the Speed Bleeder Screw
  5. Refill the master Cylinder
  6. Move to the next brake caliper to be flushed and repeat the process

Note - Don't be alarmed if you see the ABS come on during the bleeding process. This is normal and the light will go out once the brake system pressure normalizes.

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Air Powered Brake Bleeder

I decided to test an Air Powered Vacuum brake bleeder system from Griot's Auto.

What's In The Box

Add An Air Quick Disconnect

Does it work? Well, yes but it is not what I want. It suffers from the following:

  1. It takes a lot of air to create the vacuum. This is something the average RVer probably will not have. I have a 2.5HP 230v 20 gal compressor and it ran a lot when I pulled the fluid from the master cylinder.
  2. It suffers from the same problem the most vacuum systems do. You can't get a good seal at the bleeder screw as you will draw some air in around the threads (do to opening the bleeder) and the rubber connector after it gets some brake fluid on it.

But, I did get the fluid changed. It took about 20 mins to empty the master cylinder. It only took a few mins to do each wheel. But, I had to let gravity do its job to make sure I wasn't getting air in the system.

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