RV Handling & Driving Tips
Motor homes are not difficult to drive, and that is one reason they have become so popular. If you are an experienced driver, you can adapt to the greater size, weight, and height of a recreational vehicle. But when you are behind the wheel of your RV, it is a good idea to make use of all your defensive driving skills.
Staying alert, planning ahead and driving defensively are critical to the safe handling of your RV. When you become one of the big rigs on the road, you are responsible for the safety of your passengers as well as the safety of the other vehicles with which you share the road.
The way you approach driving situations like traffic, parking, and braking changes when you are driving an RV. Merging and yielding requires patience because your RV is bigger than a car. Driving with heavy traffic means you have to be aware of vehicles all around you, especially in blind spots.
Sometimes the easiest handling of your RV is when you’re cruising down the interstate. When you begin to maneuver small streets, one-way roads, tree-lined avenues, and parking lots, the size of your RV becomes apparent. Parking your RV is easiest if you have someone directing you in; if you are alone, do a walk-around before backing in. If you can pull through a parking spot, that’s even better―because you completely avoid backing up.
Braking any large, heavy vehicle takes longer than a regular car. As patience will help you in traffic, increased following distances will help you when braking. You will be sharing the road with many drivers who don’t understand that you need the extra space in front of you. Some motorists will drive aggressively just to pass you and get in front―always be prepared to brake quickly.
When you vacation with other RV drivers, you can caravan down the road. Traveling in a group is a good idea because you are now more conspicuous to other drivers. Still, vehicles will work hard to get ahead of the caravan, so use your mirrors often to monitor the side and rear of your RV. One accessory that can enhance your safety is a rear camera that offers you an instant view of the traffic behind you (this helps with parking, too).
The wind will play with your motor home. The degree of influence it has on how your RV handles will depend on your rig’s aerodynamics, height, width, accessories, and towing situation. Keep a good grip on the steering wheel as your RV rocks and sways from the weather―and slow down.
Even experienced commercial drivers need to spend a few miles practicing their RV driving skills. Mirrors, windows, and even cameras can help you keep track of your immediate surroundings. Are there cars driving alongside? What kind of traffic is following you? Constant monitoring of the traffic around you will help your reaction time should something go wrong.
Braking is different for an RV. If you are towing, then your trailer might have brakes that are wired into your vehicle’s braking system. Don’t ride the brakes on your motor home or trailer, because they could get hot and stop working. Moderate your speed to prepare for braking―decelerate before an off ramp―and keep your brakes in good condition.
Cornering with a large RV requires more turning radius. A sharp turn could find your rear tires up on the curb or tracking over someone’s lawn. But you must also stay in your own lane to avoid a collision, so simply pull out farther into the intersection before starting the turn. Take some time to practice turning with your RV before you head out on a road trip.
Your RV is higher than a car or pickup truck. Some of the routes you are familiar with could be inappropriate for your RV. To avoid getting stuck below a railroad bridge or damaging your RV by hitting an overpass, know your height and the maximum allowed by tunnels, bridges, parking garages, and overpasses. A road atlas designed specifically for RV drivers or truck drivers will list the routes you can’t drive on.
Heavy vehicles, like your motor home, drive differently from lighter vehicles. For example, if you were to go into a skid, your heavy RV would be much harder to control. At the same time, a heavy vehicle can better stick to the road with the proper tires, good suspension, load distribution, and center of gravity.
Speed affects your RV differently from a passenger car. Because heavy vehicles can pick up speed on a downslope faster than lighter cars, you will need to watch your acceleration. On the other hand, your speed will be reduced by wind resistance.
Inflating your tires to the recommended pressure will help you operate your RV because the vehicle will handle best with good rubber on the road. Check your tire pressure at least once a week. If you feel some sway or drag in the wheel, take a look at your tires.
Towing and Passengers
Towing a trailer, boat, or car changes the way you drive your coach. Not only must you be sure your overall gross vehicle weight (GVW) is right for your truck or motor home, but you have to be certain the hitch is used properly. A good habit for you to develop is a thorough pretrip, midtrip, and post trip inspection of your hitch, tow bar, or trailer.
Passengers can be a distraction for any driver, but even more so in an RV because people tend to be talking, watching television, eating, or even playing cards. As the driver, you can reserve general authority over passenger activities. If this sounds severe, remember that you are responsible for the safety of your passengers while sharing the road. You can expect passengers to be courteous and respectful of your driving duties.
Driving an RV is not difficult, but it is not easy either. Practice will help you develop good driving skills that can keep you and your passengers safe. Before you get behind the wheel, plan your trip and get plenty of rest―and then drive carefully.