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Informational tools help RV owners get around

July 29, 2005|by JEFF JOHNSTON/Motor Matters

Recreational vehicles are all about travel. Travel means exciting new places, adventures and the challenge of strange territory. RVing also involves a variety of sometimes-complicated hardware that can be especially confusing for newcomers to the fraternity.

With a bit of foot or keyboard work, today's RVer can find a wide variety of information sources to help make RVing more fun and easier, too. First, the Affinity Group RVing Web site portal ( www.rv.net) is a great one-stop-shopping place to start looking for RV information. Check there first for links to a plethora of RV information.

Many still enjoy, and prefer, the use of paper maps. While state and national mapbooks are a start, they leave much to be desired when it comes to the small details. My personal favorites are the detailed state mapbooks, known as the Atlas & Gazetteer series, produced by DeLorme (delorme.com, 800-561-5105). These books, one per state, are printed in the large road atlas size, but they break each state down into smaller sections that offer all the detail an RVer needs for effective navigation.

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The Oregon state book, for example, has 88 pages to cover the state. Those pages include listings of bicycle routes, boat ramps and fishing information, hiking trails, historic sites, campgrounds, forest and wilderness areas, unique natural features and other subjects of interest to travelers. The Gazetteer is handy when major campgrounds are filled on busy weekends. A look at the Gazetteer reveals tiny, out-of-the-way and generally unadvertised campsites that may be available when commercial sites are packed.

A terrific book to augment the Gazetteer is the Trailer Life Campground/RV Park & Services Directory (tldirectory.com, 800-234-3450). The Campground Directory is a high-priority must-have guide when traveling. This dictionary-size book - the 2005 version has more than 1,840 pages - includes listings for more than 1 million RV parks and service locations across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Each listing includes ratings for services, campground facilities and the like, along with directions and contact information. The Directory also includes details on RV maintenance, a state-by-state rules of the road list and other useful information. As they say, if you only buy one RVing guide this year, the Directory should be it.

For general information delivered to your door each month, you can't beat Trailer Life magazine, which covers all kinds of RVs; and MotorHome magazine, which as you probably guessed is all about motorhomes (trailerlife.com, 800-825-6861; motorhomemagazine.com, 800-678-1201). Each issue includes new RV road-test evaluations, new product reviews, travel features, technical hints and a ream of valuable information.

Also available from the Trailer Life people, the RV Buyer's Guide is an annual listing of hundreds of new RV models. The Buyer's Guide helps navigate your way through the confusing maze of options and models when shopping for a new rig. Grades can be a concern for many RVers, especially those with older rigs or marginally overloaded rigs that are prone to overheating. The Mountain Directory (mountaindirectory.com, 800-594-5999) is available in East or West versions. Combined, both books include information covering more than 700 mountain passes in 22 states.

Each listing, keyed to detailed maps, includes maximum elevation, grade percent and length of grade, runaway truck ramp locations, grade approach information for each end, and so on. While these books were originally aimed at the commercial truck driver market, RVers find them very handy. They can help plan a route via the least-aggressive grades possible if it's a concern during travel.

Finally, there comes a time when every RV is going to need maintenance or repair. For both newcomers to RVing and old hands who need some nuts-and-bolts technical help, The RV Handbook, by Bill Estes, and Trailer Life's Repair & Maintenance Manual, by Bob Livingston, should be stashed away in every RVer's mobile tool crib (tldirectory.com/shop, 800-667-4100).

The RV Handbook is a detailed overview of many aspects of RVing, including selecting a tow vehicle, dinghy towing, taking care of tires and other subjects. The Repair & Maintenance Manual provides all the information needed to perform basic troubleshooting and repair on RV accessories, including the refrigerator, furnace and water heater, and covers electrical, plumbing, drivetrain and other systems.

Short of a trip to an RV dealer, these books can help motorists get out of tight spots and save a bundle of cash by doing it themselves.

Round up a few of these sources before you hit the road and you'll know where you're going, how tough it is to get there, and how to fix the rig if something goes wrong. That adds up to more RVing fun.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2005

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