Driving an RV is a lot different than driving a car. Here is the best advice to help keep you safe on the road. To start with, keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
Wind and passing trailer trucks can make things kind of scary at times. Road fatigue comes a lot faster when you're driving an rv. The steering corrections you make need to be small – too big, and you’ll wonder if you’re going to make it.
There’s also a lot more to do to get road-ready at the beginning of your trip, and more to do to get set up at the end.
I used to take my car and drive the 720 mile trip from NC to
my parents’ home in MA in one day. I don’t make trips like that in the
RV - well, I don't do it in the car anymore either. When I'm driving the
rv the best days are when the trip is 150 miles or less, though I do
more on occasion.
On Interstates, the miles add up faster, but the heavy truck traffic creates stress. Hills will slow you down no matter what kind of road you’re on. I drive between 55-60 most of the time for two reasons: 1) better gas mileage, and 2) the faster you go, the harder it is to stop, and a speeding motor home can cause a lot of damage.
If you tow a car with all four wheels on the road, you can’t back up, so you need to think ahead. Can I get in and out of that gas station easily? Can I make that turn without hitting something? I’ve had more than one embarrassing or frustrating moment.
City Driving: Negotiating city traffic while driving an RV is one of the most scary experiences that new RVers can have. There’s so much traffic, the streets are apt to be narrow, and it all can be overwhelming. To make the experience a bit easier on the nerves, here are a few tips for navigating city streets.
Don’t depend entirely on GPS – plan ahead and map your route. Use a mapping service like Google Maps to get a bird's eye view of the streets; use the "satellite" function to zoom in on streets in detail and get a feel for spots that may give you trouble.
Avoid high-traffic times. Dealing with commuter traffic is a dependable way to become a nervous wreck.
Turning corners with a big rig or towing a car or a trailer means you need to keep an eye on your rear end. Take the turns wide, and keep an eye on your rear view mirror on the curb side. You don't want to end up dragging your rear tires (or trailer) up over the curb.
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Since trucks and RVs are usually directed to the furthest right lane, traveling alongside parked cars, be especially alert for any parked vehicle that might extend into your space a bit. I lost my curbside rear view mirror to a parked utility truck with pipes racked along the side.
Similarly, so-called “rotaries,“ "round abouts" or "traffic circles" need special attention. Although I think you are supposed to head for the inside curve when you first enter, when driving an RV I am most comfortable staying in the outside lane so I don't have to cross over a couple of lanes of traffic to make my exit. Stay alert for drivers needing to exit & cutting in front of you.
You’ll soon learn to keep your rig in a good lane position. Stay inside the center line on the left, but not too far in and keep an eye on the right hand curb with your rear view mirror.
If you have a backup camera, keep it turned on so you can keep an eye on the traffic behind you. And, if you’re lucky enough to have a navigator in the passenger seat, have him/her watch for traffic in that blind spot.
Mountain Driving: Don’t be in a rush. Here’s where you learn to use all the gears your rig has available. When you’re climbing a mountain pass, stay in the right lane as much as possible and allow others to pass you. Gear down, take your time, and don’t wear out your engine trying to keep the speed up.
On the downhill side, don’t allow your rv to gain extra speed – it may be tempting but that’s just asking for trouble. Use your lower gears and allow the engine, rather than your brakes, to keep the speed down.
Be warned: Gas stations are almost non-existent in the mountains - make sure you have enough in your tank to complete the journey. Also, there is apt to be construction with controlled stops on mountain roads during the summer months. If time is an issue, check with the state departments of transportation ahead of time to see what the situation is on your planned route. Maybe there's an alternate route that would be better.
With practice, you’ll get better, and more relaxed at driving an rv. If you’re just starting out on your RV adventures, here are a few more things to keep in mind.
Length: Your motor home is longer, and there’s a greater distance between your front and rear wheels. Therefore, you need to go forward further before starting to make a turn.
I just learned another lesson about driving an rv – unfortunately, I learned it the hard way. When you turn sharply, the rear of your motorhome, which extends quite a bit beyond your rear wheels, will swing in the opposite direction. Much to my surprise, the rear corner of mine met a concrete post. Duct tape is a wonderful thing - sadly, it is only temporary. Body work will cost about $150. Ouch!
Width: Allow for the extra width and keep those expensive side-view mirrors in mind – there are hundreds of obstacles you could clip them on that you never had to worry about when driving your car.
I had to replace one of my side-view mirrors, having knocked it for a loop on some pipes racked along the side of a parked utility vehicle while driving through San Francisco! Watch out for mailboxes, road signs, branches, fences, etc.
Height: Your RV is quite a bit higher than you are used to – memorize your height and watch for any height restrictions when approaching bridges and overpasses, especially on back roads.
Weight: Your motor home will respond more slowly to both the brake pedal and the gas pedal, so you need to do more planning ahead.
Backing into a Site: Use your side mirrors and back up camera (if you have one) when maneuvering your RV. If you are alone, get out and walk around to make sure you know of any obstacles ahead of time. If there are others around, enlist their help to avoid any costly scrapes or bumps. Walkie-talkies and cell phones are very useful when you have someone to help.
Take it one step at a time, and slowly – you’ll soon be a pro at driving an rv.
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