Renting a motorhome for the first time? Or maybe considering giving the RV lifestyle a try? One of the most common concerns for new RV owners is how difficult it will be to drive the vehicle itself – even with a self-contained motorhome, where no towing is involved. Rest assured that it isn’t as difficult as you may think. I’m going to share some tips and tricks to help you handle a Class A or Class C motorhome with confidence.
Driving your motorhome safely is very important. Here are some things you should do before heading out in your new home on wheels:
- Get to know your rig
- Keep your passengers safe
- Make wide turns
- Plan your route
- Go slow
- Leave some space
- Avoid small gas stations
- Maintain your RV
- Ask for help
There is a lot of information listed there, so I will go into more detail throughout this post. Keep reading, and I will pass along the lessons I’ve learned that have helped me become a more confident driver cruising down the highway behind the wheel of my motorhome.
If you are not familiar with the difference between an Rv and a motorhome, we have a post dedicated to discussing the different types of RV’s. In a nutshell, a motorhome has its own drivetrain and is a self-contained unit. You drive and live in the same unit – without ever hitching or unhitching anything. It will handle much differently than a truck pulling a trailer or 5th wheel.
When renting an RV, most people will get a motorhome and not a towable option (although there are exceptions). Often, this is their first time behind the wheel of a large rig.
Is driving a motorhome hard? Well, it’s different than driving a sedan or an SUV. And yes, it can be harder, if you’re not aware of some things. With that in mind, let’s start looking at the various things you need to know.
1. Get to know your rig
Of course, you know that a motorhome is much larger than the car or even a truck that you are used to driving. Get a feel for how the RV turns, accelerates, and stops.
Take the time to adjust your mirrors, and learn your way around the dashboard. Avoid becoming distracted looking for button or switch by becoming familiar with all the controls before you leave the driveway.
Take note of the height of your RV, and be on the lookout for low ceilings. Gas stations, toll booths, and bridges may not be tall enough for the equipment on the roof to clear. You don’t want to tear off the AC unit or roof vents pulling into a gas station, and you certainly don’t want to get stuck under a bridge.
Understanding the limitations of your vehicle is just as important as steering in a straight line. Become familiar with your owner’s manual.
While not actually part of driving, having a working knowledge of your vehicle will give you peace of mind and help build confidence in your ability to handle the rig.
2. Keep your passengers safe
One of the best parts of traveling in a motorhome is being able to share the experience with friends and family. Motorhomes are very convenient with easy access to the kitchen and bathroom, and it can be tempting for those in the back to move around while the vehicle is in motion.
There are usually seatbelts installed in the dinette, chairs, and couches mounted in the living area. It is just as important to stay seated and wear your seatbelt at all times in a motorhome as it is in any other car or truck.
For those traveling with little ones, I would recommend reviewing state laws concerning child car seats in the areas you plan to travel.
3. Make wide turns
Take turns as wide as possible, and be conscious of what is happening with the other vehicles around you. Sometimes you may need to wait for traffic to move a little bit before there is enough room to maneuver around a corner.
4. Plan your route
Knowing how to get where you are going will help reduce the stress of being someplace new. It’s not always easy to turn an RV around, so knowing which side of the street your campsite is on can save you some hassle of missing a turn.
GPS units for RV’s can be programmed to help you avoid traffic and tight spots. Enter in the length and height of your motorhome, and it will plot a course around any major obstacle such as a low bridge. You are still responsible to identify anything that gets in your way, however, these systems can help reduce the risk of running into an unforeseen situation.
5. Go slow
Experts recommend never exceeding 65 MPH. Even if the traffic around you is moving more quickly, sticking to a 65 MPH speed limit will help you maintain control of the vehicle. It can also have the additional benefit of better gas mileage.
Take your time and relax. Leave yourself enough time to make it to your destination. Factor in rest breaks and stops for gas. Building in some downtime to see the sites along the way will help make your trips more enjoyable.
6. Leave some space
Maintain a four-to-six-second gap between you and any vehicles in front of you. This can equate to 400- 500 feet which allow for a safe stopping distance.
If you know that a lane change is needed, start to move over sooner versus later. Use your turn signals to make sure other drivers know which way you plan to go and give you adequate room.
Be ready for cars to cut in front of you. It comes with the territory, and having some extra space will help keep everyone safe.
Motorhomes move around when passing trucks or catching a gust of wind. It can be tempting to make a quick correction when you feel like you are being pushed to the other side of the lane.
Let your arms relax, and make small corrections. If you feel like you are weaving left and right, try looking further down the road. You will find yourself turning the wheel less.
Planning your moves 10-12 seconds ahead of time will give you ample room to react to any situation that arises.
8. Avoid small gas stations
Use truck stops whenever possible. Many truck stops will have separate gas pumps for RV’s that give you plenty of room to get in and out.
They have large parking areas where you can take a break, or catch a few hours of sleep before continuing down the road. You may find clean restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities if you need them.
Most will also have food available around the clock. Be on the lookout for dump stations if your grey and black water tanks are full.
9. Maintain your RV
Anything you can do to avoid mechanical issues is worth your time. As a driver, you are responsible for taking a safe vehicle on the road
Ensuring that your tires are at the right pressure can prevent a blowout. Having working brake lights and turn signals will help avoid accidents.
A quick inspection of your rig at the start of the day can make the difference between a good trip, and a very bad experience.
10. Ask for help
Whether it is for directions or just getting around the gas pump, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone at the campsite was new to driving a large vehicle at some point and had to overcome the same learning curve. You would be surprised how easy going most folks are.
Also, keep a pair of walkie-talkies handy to make it easy to relay instructions with your spotter. A cell phone on speaker works just as well when it can be hard to see hand signals. Back up cameras are great but not as good as someone telling you exactly where to stop.
Just as you needed practice learning to drive your first car, you need time to learn how to maneuver something as large as a motorhome across the country.
Take the time to become familiar with your new RV and practice some of these tips. You will find that driving one of these memory makers isn’t as intimidating as you think.
What are some things you have learned that can help someone new to driving a motorhome? Share them in a comment below!