Learning to drive an RV or motorhome for the first time is a little nerve-wracking. Whether it’s an RV rental or you’ve bought it – it’s all on you now.
While you might be an experienced driver, that all changes when you’re behind the wheel of an RV beast! And whether it’s a Class A, Class B, or Class C – make no mistake, it’s hard to handle at first.
Learning to drive a motorhome isn’t for the feint-of-heart. The good news is that you’ll be far better prepared once you’ve read and properly digested our 15 RV driving tips for first-time motorhome drivers.
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Here are our 15 RV driving tips for new RVers.
1. Begin Slowly
The one thing that RVs are not is fast. It’s not a Ferrari and it’s shouldn’t be driven like one either.
Most experts concur that even new RV models shouldn’t be driven any faster than 65 MPH and usually closer to 60 MPH is best.
These are a large vehicle with a long wheelbase. They aren’t as maneuverable as your station wagon or sedan. By driving slower, it allows more time to react to what’s happening in the road in front and to the side.
While there may be some impatient road users honking their horn as they go past, driving faster than 65 MPH is reckless. This applies whether you’re in the RV alone or the family is with you too.
Also, while the gas mileage is not as good as with a car, it’s much better when going at a reasonable pace rather than pushing the engine harder. So, longer journeys require a bit more time but have lower fuel costs.
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2. Before Going on a Long Trip – Practice… Practice… Practice!
It is a bad idea to plan a big road trip immediately after you purchase or rent an RV. You’re simply not adequately prepared yet.
Find a vacant parking lot that you can practice some basic turning, braking, reversing into a parking space, and other typical driving actions. What you’ll appreciate quite quickly is that RVs are heavy, less responsive, and create a different driving experience.
The time it takes to bring the recreational vehicle to a complete stop is longer than it is for a smaller, lighter vehicle. Because of this, get used to maintaining a wider gap between your RV and the vehicle in front. It will feel abnormal at first, but you can’t stop on a dime here!
Also, when you practice the turns, it’ll become obvious that the turning radius is larger. You’ll need to go wider and turn later to make it.
Backing into parking spaces requires practice just like it does with learning to drive a car. It’s helpful to have someone direct you from outside with your windows down so you can hear them. By performing the same parking maneuver several times, you’ll both correct and improve from previous mistakes until you get a much better handle of parking.
Once you feel comfortable with the maneuvering in the parking lot, try driving on a few less populated roads to test out driving in traffic.
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3. Don’t Drive When You’re Distracted
Having split attention and being unable to focus is not good if you’re a new RV driver.
There are too many things to watch for and to stay aware of as you get comfortable with driving a larger rig. The last thing you need is to add distractions on top of this.
We suggest disabling notifications on your phone, turning off the radio or background music, and asking anyone accompanying you to keep quiet unless there’s an emergency.
Also, if you have kids, then it’s a good idea to have your partner or a friend take care of them while you get more familiar with your motorhome.
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4. Be Aware of Your RV’s Height
While driving a car or truck, the height isn’t usually a worry. An RV is another matter entirely!
There will be overpasses, tunnels, and bridges that are quite low with the lingering question of whether your RV can fit under them without getting stuck.
Each RV class and model is different. As an example, Class A RVs stand from 10 to 14 feet. Also, if there’s anything fitted custom to the roof such as a MaxxAir Roof Vent Fan [affiliate link] with a protective cover, solar panels, air conditioners, or a roof rack system, then the RV will be taller than its manufacturer’s specifications suggest.
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you. ℹ
As a reference, interstate overpasses aren’t much of a concern because they’re usually around 16 feet in height.
Conversely, many drive-thru options for banks or fast-food restaurants have overhangs that restrict vehicles to only those 10 feet or below. In which case, you might want to park up and order in person.
Look into getting a copy of Trucker Atlas [affiliate link] which can provide information on low-height obstacles and restrictions along your route.
While driving, it’s a good idea to outsource the course-plotting to a Satnav or navigational app.
Why should you do this? Because it’s one less thing to focus on while you’re getting more familiar with driving a large rig.
The Garmin DriveSmart 65 Satnav device is excellent [affiliate link]. It’s also possible to use Google Maps or another travel app that can announce when needing to make a turn or to continue through a junction.
6. Carefully Schedule Your Fuel Ups
Gas stations are designed for cars and trucks – not RVs. Subsequently, getting into the correct lane to reach the pump station and avoiding any obstacles is challenging for first-time RV drivers.
It’s a much better idea to plan to use a truck stop instead. Their gas stations are designed to accommodate long haul trucks and other wider or longer vehicles.
The best ones include Love’s, AllStays, TA Petro, Sapp Brothers, and Flying J Travel Centers. The Trucker Path app for iOS and Android mobile devices highlights the different trucker stops along your route. It’s invaluable.
7. Be Polite on the Road
As the beast on the road, the RV takes up lots of space!
Other drivers are likely to be a little nervous being close to your vehicle too.
With driving, because you’re moving slower, there’s time to indicate earlier that you plan to merge with the left lane or that you will be turning off the interstate. You can be an appreciative driver, so let other drivers get in front of you and don’t be in a rush.
Other motorists can signal later and react quickly. However, bear in mind that your RV’s movements must be more gradual to ease into and out of traffic over a longer stretch.
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8. Don’t Drive When Overly Tired
You mustn’t drive when you’re too tired.
If there’s any chance of your judgment, reaction time, or ability to stay alert being compromised, then don’t drive the RV.
Park up at a Walmart, a truck stop, and an RV park and spend the night. Then start fresh in the morning.
It only requires one moment where you’re not paying attention because you’re nodding off and it could spell disaster.
Remember, an RV is a larger vehicle. When out of control, it’s a dangerous, reasonably fast-moving object. It could cause serious damage or bodily injury to you, other passengers, other drivers, or pedestrians on the road.
Also, driving under the influence is not legal or sensible either. Sleep one off, if need be.
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9. Pay Attention to the Weather (Like You Never Did Before)
The different weather systems that roll around the U.S. changes considerably from state to state. When you’re taking any trip, which will go across state lines, consider how the weather systems are likely to change there.
It’s difficult to keep an RV on the road when the winds pick up on the highway. They can push your vehicle across the road if you’re not careful.
A serious rainstorm or ice on the road are all reasons to drive slower and consider pulling off. When it starts thundering down or there are lightning strikes, you want to take shelter at that point.
Install a Weather app to give you alerts about bad weather approaching, provide storm warnings, and other useful predictive information to give you a smoother ride.
10. Get Your Mirrors How You Like Them
To feel more comfortable behind the wheel, you need side mirrors that you can trust.
Whether you have a rented RV, or you’ve bought one, make a point of checking and adjusting your mirrors to exactly the way you want them.
It may require a couple of tries to get them perfect. Also, it’s worth re-checking them periodically in case they move out of position or someone has accidentally knocked one out of alignment whilst walking past.
11. Brake Earlier Than You Believe Is Necessary
Given that you’re driving an RV that’s thousands of pounds in weight, it’s substantially heavier than the cars you’ve driven before.
Even new brake pads will struggle to bring a heavier RV to a stop. It won’t happen in the same amount of time, for sure.
There’s no emergency stop or rapid deceleration possible in an RV. It’s a gradual process. So, brake much sooner than you’d normally believe is necessary. It helps when you’re driving slower anyway too.
12. Secure the Interior and Exterior of the RV
Driving the RV, anything unsecured will slide around. That means a book left on the counter will slide to the floor, a mug of coffee may fly into a side cabinet – you get the idea!
Look around the interior to check for anything that needs cleaning up and putting away. Some cabinets may have lockable doors or drawers to secure them for transport – take advantage of that.
Then look around the exterior to check for anything untoward or that you’ve left out there. If you’ve spent time at a camping spot, perhaps you’ve something on the RV temporarily and forgotten to remove it? This spot-check finds those items before they become a potential flying hazard to someone else down the road.
13. Special Restrictions for RV Widths over 102 inches (8.5 feet)
A curiosity with RVs is when their width is bigger than most.
There are restrictions for RVs with a width greater than 8.5 feet (102 inches) where they’re mostly only permitted on highways.
The most problematic states for wider RVs (in no particular order) are:
- North Carolina
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
If you have an RV that’s wider than most, check the regulations for the states that you’ll be driving through to see if there are additional restrictions.
14. Careful of Picking Up Speed Going Downhill
Oddly, an RV picks up speed sooner than a car when traveling downhill.
It’s easy to get caught out if you’re not paying attention to it. Then suddenly you’re traveling faster than is advisable.
Wrestling back control of your RV once it’s speeding downhill is no easy task. Even a small pothole in the road will make that doubly difficult. Avoid getting into trouble but watching out for sudden downhill stretches when driving over hilly or mountainous terrain.
15. Perform a Maintenance Check Before Heading Out
Giving your RV a maintenance once-over before driving any major distance is worth doing.
Checking your tires is the first thing to look at, including your spare one. Verify that each tire is inflated sufficiently – but not overinflated. Don’t be overloaded.
Also, look for any tires with road damage that makes them unsafe and risks a blowout on the road. Examine the tread depth to verify they still meet safety standards and don’t require replacing.
Clear the windscreen and other windows too.
Also, check that the hoses and belts are looking good and in the right place. Lastly, double-check that the headlights, taillights, and signaling are all functioning correctly.