4 truck-specific GPS navigation systems

By on November 1, 2013
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There was a recent story about a trucker guided by his global positioning satellite (GPS) navigation unit to a road so twisty, his trailer could barely make it around the curves. Then he arrived at the edge of a cliff, and the truck almost went over. The driver stopped just  in time. He skillfully backed around some curves before finding a place to turn around.

The GPS unit he used was obviously for passenger cars. Every unit made for trucks has a database of truck-restricted roads. Trucks are routed to avoid those situations, as well as parkways, low bridges and underpasses. They also have programs to record hours-of-service (HOS) information along with other trucker-specific tools and information.

Test driving the latest GPS devices

Truck-specific GPS units are generally available in 5-inch and 7-inch models, measured diagonally across the screen. My preference is for 7-inch models. Truck cabs are larger than passenger cars, with correspondingly larger dashboards. The GPS can be mounted farther away, minimizing or eliminating any blind spots or obstructions.  The trade-off is that you have a longer reach to change destinations or route preferences. But the larger units are not just scaled-up versions of their 5-inch siblings. They usually carry more information.

I selected the most fully featured models from the four leading makers — the Cobra 8000 PRO HD, the Garmin Dezl 760 LMT, Rand McNally’s Intelliroute TND 720 LM and Magellan’s RoadMate Commercial 9270T-LM.

All the models displayed the same general route information, but their methods of calling up additional information and the menus needed to get to the information varied. Each unit had its strengths and weaknesses, so this evaluation is based on personal preference and prior experience. I hesitate to recommend any one unit over another, since all accomplish their missions accurately and features are a matter of preference. All are easy to learn and use.

To evaluate the units, I selected routes that included low bridges that “sardine can” high trailers. I drove the routes in a passenger car so I could navigate under and around truck-restricted routes, just to see what warnings I would get. In all cases, warnings were issued, usually in advance of the last turn before the problem.

Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 720 LM

The Rand McNally Intelliroute opens to an intuitive menu with truck tools, preferences and sound level. If you’re ready to navigate, you can go to a map or choose a destination. Its menu selections use large graphic icons. The navigation display indicates miles remaining to the destination in addition to drive time remaining, time remaining or arrival time. Within several layers of menu, you can use timers, odometers and driving status. It will also show miles to the next scheduled maintenance.

The TND 720 LM has a virtual dashboard showing vehicle miles, speed traveled, speed limit, elevation and sunrise/sunset times at the vehicle’s current location. You can choose to display the time at your terminal, current position and destination. One button returns you to your current route. Fuel consumption data can be entered on the virtual dashboard to assist with fuel tax reporting. With a Wi-Fi connection, you can get weather information and fuel prices by brand. There’s also a calculator.

Cobra 8000 Pro HD

The Cobra 8000 PRO HD has one of the most intuitive screens, once you learn the icons. The “navigate to” icons bring you within one or two touches of finding or entering a destination. Logging functions are large and easy to read, but some route information such as speed, streets travelled and time/distance are done in narrow typeface, difficult to read for those with deteriorating eyesight. Speed limits are not displayed.

There are several map screen options that remain on screen, allowing you to toggle to obtain up to date traffic information or to see at a glance your mile marker, or the next rest area. Alerts and warnings are displayed to the right of the truck icon, accompanied by a readily identifiable symbol for each: a large weight for a restricted road, a camera for red light cameras and a police hat for known speed traps.

Magellan RoadMate Commercial 9270T-LM

The Magellan RoadMate Commercial 9270T-LM has an intuitive start-up sequence with the option of a driver log-in. That’s useful for team drivers since it records driver status separately for each. Warnings and alerts include real-time traffic, shown in a green triangle on the left side of the screen. The triangle changes to red for warnings. The reason for the alert pops up in the triangle, which stays red as long as the situation exists.

The RoadMate recognizes street names and knows the range on street numbers. For example, if a driver tries to enter an address on a short street with a limited range of street numbers — say 2400 to 3299 — the unit accepts only a 2 or 3, and stops accepting numbers after the last digit. When displaying time/distance information, two touches let you select between arrival time, remaining travel time and distance. A “OneTouch” button brings up a full screen menu with emergency, fuel and eight other programmable categories. Tap on “fuel” or “Burger King,” for example, and you will get a list of the nearest destinations in that category. There’s also one button to cancel the current set of directions.

The mounting system has a relatively long, telescoping and pivoting arm. It gives the Magellan a long lever arm pulling on the suction cup mount. As long as the air conditioner was on, the unit stayed in place, but when I left the vehicle parked facing the sun, the air in the suction cup heated up and expanded. Often suction was lost and the unit was found lying on the dashboard. This was actually a problem with most units, but more so with the Magellan. It could probably be corrected by using larger suction cups. You have to use the arms because a bracket mounts on the long arm, which the power source plugs into. The unit slides onto two rails on the bracket, which aligns it with the power plug receptacle in the base. An adhesive mount could bypass Magellan’s device.

Garmin Dezl 760 LMT

The Garmin was easiest to read, with nice, large type. Warnings are shown on an amber bar at the top of the screen and include tight curves and steep hills ahead, as well as the usual truck restrictions. The amber bar stays on only a few seconds, often not long enough to comprehend the meaning. Speed was shown in large digits, with actual speed next to the posted limit. When the limit was exceeded, the numbers turned red. Changes in speed limit were accurate within 10 feet.

When you decided to change destinations before reaching what was programmed in, a single push of a white “X” in a red octagon on the desktop was all it took. Some of the others required you to go through several layers of menus to cancel a trip. The Dezl, like the Intelliroute, starts automatically as soon as it gets 12-volt power. Others must be manually started with an on-off switch.

Be truck-specific

All the units examined had a perspective view of the more complex exit ramps, with direction signs. See which graphics set is most intuitive for you, and what icons you most easily recognize. But please, make sure you get a unit for trucks.

You don’t want to find yourself at the edge of a cliff.

About Paul Abelson

Paul Abelson is the Senior Technical Editor of Road King magazine.

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