Many folks believe that learning how to properly drive an RV may take months, if not years. And learning to drive a motorhome – the widest and highest among recreational vehicles – often seems like a herculean task. While it’s true that driving an RV takes more skill and slightly more focus than driving a standard vehicle, it’s far from impossible. Like many other things, learning to drive an RV simply requires a lot of practice and some time.
If you’ve already bought your recreational vehicle or are planning to buy it very soon but you don’t have any experience when it comes to driving one – do not worry, because we’ve got you covered! To help you get prepared for your first drive, we’ve provided a handy little list of tips for new RV drivers.
Preparation: What To Know Before You Drive an RV
A wise man once said: preparation is the key to success. When it comes to driving an RV for the first time – and this is an indisputable fact – you should never skip the preparation phase. Before you start the engines and head off to an adventure, you really do need to have some basic information about your vehicle, weather, and road conditions. This is essential because with this info in your hands, your trip is bound to be safe, and, as a bonus, you’ll feel more comfortable and confident during your road adventure.
We also recommend you check your brakes, RV tires, mirrors, and turn signals before you hit the road. Even if you consider this to be unnecessary because you did it recently, always have in mind that it’s better to do that right at the comfort of your home rather than somewhere on the road.
Know the Size of Your Vehicle
This one is imperative: You need to know the size of your RV before you go anywhere with it!
RVs are usually between 10 and 14 feet tall, so you shouldn’t have a problem using interstate overpasses as most of them are 16 feet in height. However, there are other things to think about as well: fast-foods, banks and car wash drive-throughs, among other things. Usually, these have only about 10 feet tall clearances, so you won’t be able to drive through them. But what if you have to get some food while on the road? It’s simple – just get out of your RV to do it.
Even if it’s an open road, even if you’re not traveling far – it’s absolutely essential for an RV driver to know the height of their vehicle. And by that, we mean the exact height. The salesman may have told you the size of the vehicle you bought or perhaps gave you the specification, but it’s entirely possible they off an inch or two. We advise you to measure the height manually – from the ground to the top of your RV. This way, you will have accurate information, which we recommend you write down and tape it to the dash.
Learn Where To Fuel Up And Plan Accordingly
The gas station is somewhat of a dangerous place for some RV drivers, because the accidents are actually pretty frequent when it comes to bigger RVs.
The first thing you need to learn as a new RV driver is to fill up the tank somewhere near your home (if possible) before starting a trip. Otherwise, it may be a struggle to find a gas station with easy access before you run out of gas completely. Of course, that doesn’t apply to RVs with trailers, since their drivers can easily fuel up the tow vehicle without entering with RV into the station. On the other hand, motorhome owners must choose the appropriate gas stations and have some skills to access them correctly.
When possible, don’t use mainstream gas stations that are loaded with cars and vans. Search for “Travel Plazas” or “Travel centers” instead. Travel centers usually offer some other services too, like potable water faucets, propane sales, but also restrooms and restaurants. You can also use truck stations because they usually have a larger access and sufficient turning radius.
Prepare For Different Weather Conditions
Sometimes it’s difficult to maneuver a regular vehicle safely in bad weather, let alone a recreational vehicle. The weather is a very important factor when it comes to driving an RV, and it should always be considered before starting a trip, especially a long one. That being said, this advice should apply not only to new RV drivers but all drivers in general.
You may think: we cannot influence or control the weather, so why should we make our decisions based on it? Whether we like it or not, all drivers depend on the weather. Therefore, in severe weather conditions such as storms, dense fog, hails, or blizzards, you should apply this rule: if it’s not urgent – it can wait.
We suggest you download a weather app and check it regularly, so you can prepare and plan the trip accordingly.
Get Enough Sleep
This one is also a piece of general advice for all people preparing for long trips, not just for the RV drivers. However, getting enough sleep before driving an RV is an absolute must because RV drivers more often go on long drives than the car drivers do.
An RV driver should never drive without getting sufficient sleep. If you don’t feel rested and fully concentrated, you are a danger for yourself, the people in your vehicle and other drivers on the road. This is even more important if you are a newbie in RV-ing.
Navigation – While You’re Driving
Okay, so you have learned everything you need to know, you’ve prepared everything you need to have, and the time has come to sit behind the wheel.
Your vehicle is long and wide, probably much bigger than any vehicle you’ve ever driven. Keep your vehicle at the far right side of the road, and take it slowly. You should also maintain a larger distance from the vehicles in front of you than you do while you’re driving a standard car because of any unpredictable situations.
Whether you’re towing a camper with your car or driving a motorhome, these are the most important rules: don’t go fast and use your mirrors. Don’t worry too much about the traffic behind you – it’s better to go slowly now than to feel sorry later.
Turning an RV
When you maneuver any big vehicle you should especially be careful with the turns. When it comes to driving an RV, the turns are probably the most challenging to do. Never make sharp turns because you could get your rear tires up on the curb, or enter someone else’s lawn. It’s important to recognize the turning radius and compensate before you make the turn. Your turns need to be wide, long, and slow – particularly right turns because when you’re turning to the right, you’ll be up against the edge. This will require you to go a little further out before you turn to the right in order to make an adequate radius. Be patient and concentrated, and be sure to watch rear-view mirrors and keep as close to the center lane as possible.
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s important not to go fast and to keep a greater distance from the vehicles in front of your RV. That will allow you enough space to brake if something unpredictable comes up.
Always be aware of the size and bulkiness of your vehicle, and know that stopping your RV will take much more time than braking a car or some other lighter vehicle.
Also, you should practice shifting into a lower gear to slow down instead of using brakes each time. We recommend that you try this in an area of no traffic, preferably when the road is dry. When you shift to a lower gear, just gently use your brakes a few times. This practice will help you drive more smoothly and extend the life of your RV’s brakes. You can use this braking method while driving more slowely, but of course, brakes need to be your immediate action in a case of emergency.
Practice, practice, practice!
Learning to drive a motorhome or any other type of RV takes some time and effort, so we can conclude this article with the best tip you should to follow: PRACTICE! Try to drive an RV on wider roads first, with low or no traffic, if possible.
The more time you try it yourself, the easier and more natural it will become, and you will also feel more confident each new time you get on the road. Once you gain good driving practices, learning to drive a motorhome or tow a camper will become as natural as driving any standard vehicle.