Driving an RV is very different from driving a car, so much so that there are even recreational vehicle laws to help govern this. Whether you’re towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel, or driving a motorhome, they all present their driving challenges. When deciding whether to buy an RV, many people ask, “How hard is it to drive an RV?” There are several things you can do to make your RV driving experience much safer, easier, and even more enjoyable.
This instructional—and at times humorous—guide to RV driving identifies and explains the 5 Golden Rules of RV driving that will help you navigate through the tightest parking spots, busiest gas stations and most infuriating traffic jams.
Rule #1: Slow Down
Let’s be real, car speed limits seem more like a casual suggestion than written law. Some of us drive like Vin Diesel in a Fast and Furious chase scene once the coffee kicks in during our morning commute. You may be able to get away with speeding in your Toyota Camry, but driving slowly is absolutely essential in an RV. Why? Driving any faster can be unsafe, add significant wear and tear to your engine, and negatively impact your fuel consumption.
Driving slowly is especially important on mountains. Stick to low gears when going uphill and downhill to avoid taxing your engine and gaining too much speed. It’s a good rule of thumb—and often the law—to stick to the right hand lane, except to pass, while driving. Don’t be afraid to go under the speed limit, either. To see the speed limits for all 50 states, click here: RV laws by state. After all, isn’t relaxing and taking your time what RVs are all about?
Slowing down also helps the environment. For more on this and other eco-friendly RVing practices, check out our article on Environmentally Friendly RV Travel.
Rule #2: Get Help Parking
Bad parking jobs are seemingly everywhere, and they’ve inspired countless epic fail compilation videos on YouTube.
Here’s the thing: parking is way more difficult in an RV. You don’t want to have these driving experiences the next time you drive your RV.
While few people like getting help parking, it’s often better to swallow your pride and seek help. If you can’t clearly see behind you, grab a spotter to help you into a spot. Those massive RV mirrors can still leave blind spots—especially when trying to park in tight spaces. Many RVers find it helpful to use two-way radios to communicate while parking.
Check out leading models on Amazon.com:
Don’t have a co-pilot? Try installing a backup camera. These handy pieces of technology easily attach to any trailer. They’ll help you see the hazards behind you so you can park without the threat of ending up on YouTube.
Rule #3: Know How to Brake
Okay, this one might seem like a basic tip. Using your brakes is pretty much the first thing new drivers learn—right after the dangerously outdated idea of putting your hands on the steering wheel at “10 and 2.”
Still, it’s important that you understand how your RV’s braking system works. RVs weigh thousands and thousands of pounds—and that’s before the added weight of all your water, fuel and gear. Because they’re extremely heavy, RVs take significantly longer to stop than other vehicles.
It takes more than a few trial runs to get the brakes down on these massive machines. That means you’ll need to allow greater separation between yourself and other vehicles. It’s important to be very alert and anticipate the traffic patterns well ahead of you. And on downgrades, you can downshift to let your engine do more of the work when it comes to braking. All of this will help you avoid playing bumper cars with your driving neighbors around you.
Rule #4: Use Truck Stops
Let’s face it, truck stops get a bad rap. Many travelers avoid them at all costs thanks to their reputation for questionable food and even grosser bathrooms. But truck stops—not gas stations—can be an RVer’s best friend.
Many gas stations aren’t designed to handle the size of an RV. Compact parking spaces, limited room and low hanging roofs are enough to scare many RVers away from a typical gas station.
Truck stops, on the other hand, are designed for larger vehicles and have plenty of extra room. Whether you need diesel or gasoline fuel, these travel centers supply both, and often in separate sections. As an added benefit, you can usually boondock overnight there. The added space allows you to safely pump your fuel without worrying about swinging the back of your RV into the pump island (aka, the dreaded tail swing).
For more information on how to drive an RV, check out this great video from RVgeeks:
Rule #5: Know Your Size
Who hasn’t ignored a size restriction? It’s a time-honored tradition that lets us add extra weight to our airline baggage, and sneak onto theme park rides even though we were definitely under 48 inches tall.
For RVers however, exceeding a size limit is a surefire way to cause massive damage to your vehicle—and yourself. Whether you’re driving a Class C RV, class A RV or towing an RV, there will be places your RV will not fit. Class C motorhomes are often over 10 feet tall, and Class A motorhomes can measure more than 13 feet tall. This is often right around the clearance height of some highway bridges. Even worse, small city bridges sometimes have less than 10 feet of clearance.
Make sure you know your vehicle’s length, height, and width before your next road trip by measuring from the tallest and widest points. Be aware of the RV length restrictions by state. In most states, you’ll need a special permit if your RV exceeds about 8.5 feet wide. Be sure to download one of the many mobile apps and GPS programs which include updated information on vertical clearances along your route.
Word to the wise when driving your RV: skip that late-night fast food run and drive-up ATM. Most banks and fast food joints have low awnings and roofs. And think twice about whether you’ll fit under the canopy at any gas station (note: link contains destructive footage; no one was reportedly injured; meant for instructive purposes).
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to buying the right RV. Whether you’ll be taking short trips, or living full-time in an RV, check out this More Than A Wheelin’ article for help with what size RV to buy—because bigger isn’t always better.
I hope you’ve found these tips and RV driving rules helpful. Here’s to a safe and enjoyable ride on your next RV trip. Don’t forget to check your RV state laws before your next trip! Keep Wheelin’!
From time to time, More Than A Wheelin’ features guest bloggers on our website. This article was written by Adi Hed, writer, travel enthusiast and co-founder of Tadibrothers, a company specializing in safety products for RVs and other vehicles. When he’s not traveling or in the office, he can be found writing on The Tadibrothers blog at https://www.tadibrothers.com/blog/ The information and views shared in this article are those of the writer. More Than A Wheelin’ is not affiliated with Tadibrothers and does not endorse its products.