RV Handling Tips
The transition from driving the family car to driving an RV IS different, but not necessarily difficult. Driving a 10+ ton rig can be done safely once you’ve had a proper education in it and a little practice. Physical size or stature isn’t important; but health, alertness, mature judgment, dexterity, driving experience and common sense are. The tips below will help you to be a safe RV driver:
- The passenger is not a co-pilot. The passenger is a navigator, and should take responsibility for that job. However, the “pilot”/driver makes final decisions on where to turn, stop, go, or not go!
- Motorhomes are taller than most passenger vehicles, so know the clearance height required and consider things like service station canopies and low-hanging branches.
- Some highways either restrict or recommend non-use for vehicles over a certain length, so research which roads you can travel and how to access them. There’s a vehicle code that restricts the operation of housecars over 40 feet only on specified highways and within one mile of either side of those highways for access to fuel, food, or lodging.
- The additional weight and size (length) of an RV makes it less maneuverable than a passenger vehicle. A safe maneuver in your family car may be dangerous in the RV. Since it’s heavier, the RV may not stop as quickly and you’ll need more following and braking distance. Defensive driving in an RV requires making changes slowly, braking gradually, and being familiar with its handling characteristics.
- If you’re towing an RV, you must also be aware of brake fade. Brake fade can happen when the brakes are overheated from prolonged use or the brakes are out of alignment. To help avoid brake fade, use the lower gears to allow the engine to help slow the vehicle.
- If you are going to tow something behind you, consider whether your RV can carry the extra weight up steep mountains or slippery surfaces. Make sure the hitch attachment is secure, and also consider the total length of the campervan and attachment combined.
- Stopping should also be practiced on traffic-free side roads or empty parking lots before you embark on your journey. Perform maximum braking stops from various speeds so that you will be able to judge how your rig will perform when you need to stop. (This may seem like it will tear up or wear out your rig, but you will be happy you did this if you really have to perform a panic braking operation!) Air brakes can take getting used to, since they have an additional one-second response time that isn’t present in hydraulic braking systems. The pedal on an air brake is much softer than on a hydraulic brake. An exhaust brake enhances both gas and diesel engines ability to help with the braking process and are especially important descending long and steep grades.
- High speed turning also requires practice because the mass of 10+ tons of RV causes a momentum that makes the rig want to go straight much more so than an car. This weight has a much higher center of gravity and therefore turning can make it more prone to tipping. The suspensions of RVs are not as capable as a car.
- Another space that is important to judge is following distance. In good weather and on roads with good visibility, you need to have a following distance of four seconds (pick a landmark that the vehicle you’re following will pass and then count four seconds until your vehicle gets to the same spot). The higher the speed, the greater the following distance must be, and add time for poor visibility and bad weather.
- Always make sure you can "see" a forward motion path out of any parking lot before you enter it. Backing up should be avoided if at all possible, as there are lots of blind spots around your RV. Even in traffic, leave enough room in front of you so you can go forward if the car in front stalls. When you have to back up without assistance, get out and go back to look just to be sure it is safe to do so - even if you’re blocking traffic.
- Give yourself plenty of time for lane changes and use your signals. Don’t hesitate once you decide to make a lane change, and don’t slow down to merge. It’s vitally important to match your speed as closely as possible to the traffic around you.
- Be prepared to be passed by large trucks (semis, lorries) going in both directions. They will rock your vehicle with their "wake", but it shouldn’t be necessary to correct your vehicle's direction by steering. When you see them coming, you should have both hands on the wheel and hold it firmly, steady and straight ahead. If there’s a strong cross wind in the area you are traveling, you‘ll notice "wind shadows" when you go under overpasses or past trucks that block the wind. Remember to try to maintain the wheels in a straight line, even while the RV yaws or rocks back and forth. If you overcorrect, you may lose control.
- There are a lot of animals crossing roadways, especially in the morning and evening. If you find one in your path, do NOT swerve to miss it. Hold your steering wheel rock steady and use your brake. Better that the animal should die than your passengers or other motorists. When a large RV begins to swerve, it can be deadly, and nearly impossible to bring back into control.
- Should you decide you want to go off road it’s essential you discuss this with someone local, both to get their advice (on weather conditions, the best route, fuel availability and so forth) and to make sure someone local knows your intended route. It’s also a good idea to discuss your intended route with your rental company regarding their policy of driving the campervan on unsealed roads.
- If you do break down in a remote area, don’t try and get out and walk. People who stay with their vehicles are usually located quickly and easily. Stay in the shade, conserve water, and prepare effective signals.
- When travelling in remote areas, always take a sufficient supply of water – 5 liters per person per day.
- If the road you’re driving on is dusty, be cautious as it may be concealing potholes and/or washouts.