<p>They say that driving is like riding a bicycle, once you learn how you never forget. However, driving a large RV is very different from driving a car or even a truck. RVs are wide, long, and very heavy meaning that your movement profile has changed significantly. You won't be able to see out the back windshield because there isn't one and everything must be done more slowly with great caution. The last thing you want is to scrape up your new or rented RV on a curb because you took a turn too tightly or didn't know how to park.</p>
If you are thinking about taking an RV vacation but don’t have a lot of experience with the unique challenges of RV driving, we’d love to offer you some pointers. Sharing tips is a core element of the online RVer community and once you get the hang of your rig, pretty soon you’ll be writing your own tips that you’ve picked up along the way.
Where to Practice
Practice is very important for getting started as an RV driver so that you can get a feel for how differently the RV maneuvers compared to the vehicles you are used to. RVs accelerate and slow down much more slowly than normal vehicles but they also have an incredible amount of momentum when they get going. The long body means that your RV needs a lot more room to turn and you will need a clear idea of how this really works before taking your RV on a real adventure.
-Practice Driving on Country Roads
The first thing you want to get the hang of is basic maneuvering. Going forward, speeding up, slowing down, stopping, and making turns at intersections are all different so we advise you take your RV out onto nearby paved but rural roads and start doing loops around the field and little farming communities. Traffic will be light so you won’t be in anyone’s way and there is less chance of a collision or tight spaces.
-Practice Parking in a Walmart Parking Lot
Parking is a necessary basic of getting around in a new vehicle but it is also one of the most notoriously difficult things about driving an RV. The easiest and ideal parking situation is a long parking space you can pull through, but most campsites will require you to pull or back into a finite space. To practice parking forward, backward, and through, give yourself plenty of space in the boonies of a Walmart parking lot and use orange traffic cones to mark your target spot, then practice not knocking the cones over by using your mirrors and a spotting buddy.
-Practice Highways Close to Home During Quiet Hours
Once you’ve got the hang of basic maneuvering, take your RV onto the highway and loop the area around your home. Pick low-traffic hours like after the dinner rush or very early in the morning so there will be little competition and practice freeway driving. This is your chance to choose your ideal speed and get a feel for lane position management.
Your New Height Clearance
Even larger trucks and vans are usually at no risk of hitting low-set bridges or gas station overhangs, but RV rooftops are almost always much higher than standard vehicles. All those signs you’ve seen about maximum vehicle height now apply to you and it is vital that you know the height clearance of your RV.
-Bridges and Navigation
Most people don’t think about it, but roads are not built with an infinite amount of space above the lanes, Bridges, overhangs, power cables, and layered overpasses can all potentially be hit by the top of your rig
You can find special maps and navigation apps for truckers and RVs that can help you route only through paths that your clearance can make it through. Fortunately, this will usually only limit your access to very urban areas and the main roads of some small towns. Mainly, it’s important to know when you’ll need to take the ‘business’ route along a highway which will tend to dodge low-clearance areas.
-Gassing Up at Truck Stops
Filling up your RV gas tank is also a matter of strategy and height requirements. Gas station rooftops are not a consistent height and some will be too short for your rig. Look for places that specifically include truck pumps, which will always be high enough because they’re made for 18-wheelers. Fortunately, there are truck stops spaced pretty evenly all over the country.
Driving Well On the Road
When you’re ready to take your rig out on a trip, it’s also time to start practicing being a good fellow-driver with others on the road. With a large vehicle like an RV, this requires a certain amount of new etiquette. You will need to be courteous to and wary of smaller cars and ally with other large vehicles that share your same needs on the road.
-Maintaining Your Lane Position
The first trick is getting the hang of lane position. Considering how wide your vehicle is, it can be difficult to tell if your passenger-side wheels are over too far. And for other cars, there is nothing more terrifying than a several-ton RV drifting across the line. This is something to practice on light traffic days until you get the hang of perceiving your lane position.
-Managing Curves and Turns
Turning in an RV is completely different from turning in a normal car. You will often need more room than a normal right-lane turn provides and more time to maneuver carefully because the RV is so long. Turn slowly and give yourself as wide a swing-space as possible to work with. Most other vehicles will see what you are doing and give you space. If you can, take the second turning lane, further from the curb, which will afford a wider turning radius as you go around the inner lane.
Curves in a road are a different story. When the road curves, there will almost universally be enough room for your turning radius. Your real concern is inertia. RVs are heavy and they shoot around curves like a heavy marble. You will need to downshift and/or brake to slow down before a curve and take them as fast as you can handle to stay inside your lane. Generally, it is best to go very slowly in the right lane to be safe.
-Speed and Steep Grades
Steep grades are another issue to be very careful about. Once your RV starts accelerating, you could be seeing terrifying triple-digits all too soon and a hard time slowing down. You will need to use low gears and/or a lot of braking power to keep your rig under control going downhill.
Uphill, of course, will be a different story. Prepare to experience truck-like slowdowns when climbing a steep hill because your engine is hauling a lot of weight. Eventually, you will learn how to optimize your momentum to make hills better but it will always take some effort and you will get passed by impatient, lighter vehicles.
Speaking of passing, it’s time to face something very important: You are a truck now. You go the speeds you need to go and mostly, you stick in the right lane where people understand how to deal with a very large vehicle. Become one with the truck and caravan culture and you’ll constantly find casual friends on the road who will look out for you. Watch their brake lights, obey the rules of the high-beams game, and don’t stress when little vehicles want to pass you on principle. They’re just nervous.
Teamwork is Key
Finally, start thinking about who you want to camp with and your place in the RV and travel-trailer community. Most people travel in couples or families, though some RV solo for the joy of freedom and solitude. Whatever your camping style, driving is almost always easier with the help of at least one partner and an alliance with your fellow road warriors.
-Have a Parking Spotter
Parking is challenging with an RV, even if you’re a pro at using your side mirrors. A spotter is someone who stands outside and slightly behind your rig and helps you direct the back end into a parking spot. They’ll shout before you hit a curb and let you know when to wiggle or straighten up. Parking is always easier with a spotter.
-Take Turns Driving
If you have another adult camping companion, they should also be well-versed in how to drive the RV. This will ensure that if you get sleepy or even incapacitated, that your camping buddy could take over the driver’s seat. Having a backup driver can be very important for getting out of sticky situations, dealing with emergencies, and relocating the RV if necessary during a stop. Not to mention having someone to spot your parking jobs.
-Drive in Caravans
You’ve probably seen the RV and truck caravans out there on the highways already and the good news is that anyone can join one. Some are planned by families that RV together but most happen naturally on the road as various speeds cause the larger vehicles to wind up in a line, having been passed by everyone in a hurry. Caravans look out for each other using basic light signals and courteous driving policies.
Caravan etiquette includes maneuvers like shifting into the left lane to give a fellow large vehicle space to merge from an entrance ramp or flashing your brake-lights twice as a warning for an upcoming hazard or sudden slow-down. Caravans can help you avoid getting a speeding ticket, getting boxed in, and guide you to truck stops in unknown regions.
Getting good at driving an RV takes time and experience. However, with these basics in hand and a little experimental practice before your first big trip, you should be driving like a pro in no time.