Is Driving An RV Difficult?Elijah White
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Driving an RV can be intimidating because of the size of the vehicle, but is driving an RV difficult, or is it not that much different than driving a car?
Whether you’re planning to buy an RV for annual family road trips or seeking to convert to full-time RV living, driving a large vehicle or hooking a travel trailer to your car can be a daunting task. Driving experiences will greatly vary with the size and layout of your RV.
While you do not need any special licensing to drive an RV the activity does have a learning curve. Motorhomes drive similarly to box trucks and buses, while travel trailers require weight distribution knowledge to safely pull behind your vehicle.
Below we will go over the essential knowledge you should have before hitting the road in your RV including wheelbase length and off-tracking, driving differences between RV types, and what to do in the rain, snow, steep hills, or other potentially difficult driving and parking situations.
Even with past experience as a professional driver, the first time I took off in my motorhome I was mortified. Now I enjoy the cruising style of the large vehicle and the views available from an extra wide and tall windshield.
The Basics of Driving Any RV
Basic RV Driving Tips
How Much Practice Does it Take To Drive an RV
You can learn to drive an RV in just a few trips if you already know how to drive a car. Growing comfortable with driving your RV is all about practice and experience. If possible, go on frequent test drives and practice runs in an area you are familiar with before setting out on longer trips.
The intimidation factor of driving an RV goes away with practice and familiarity. After a few successful trips and parking attempts the large vehicle quickly goes from daunting to fun to drive.
How Early to Apply RV Breaks
Besides your turn radius changing, this is probably the biggest difference in any RV compared to driving a normal vehicle. RVs rarely weigh less than 5000 pounds and many are over 10,000, that is a significant difference from a one-ton sedan.
When you begin breaking in an RV you will notice immediately that the momentum cannot be easily stopped. If you no do give yourself adequate time to come to a complete stop you’ll roll right through stop signs even in low-speed areas.
Maximum Speed for an RV
Generally you should not exceed between 55 and 65 MPH in any RV even when the speed limit permits doing so. The heavy weight of an RV becomes more unstable the faster it goes, and speeds in excess of 70mph can leave you with no time to stop when needed or powerless to fight against the weight of any out of control rig.
Keep to the right-most lanes and practice patient and defensive driving at all times in your RV. Driving at 65mp (or 63mph for maximum efficiency) where permitted will also pay off in savings for gas money.
Is The Height of An RV Important
Taking a trip in your RV can require more planning than a normal car. Knowing your clearance height for passing over bridges or through tunnels is crucial knowledge for any RV goer.
While many modern GPS systems and apps store vehicle information and make these checks for you, it is still good practice to be aware of your rig’s height and length. RVs longer than 30ft or taller than 12ft might be limited options for accessible city areas and some bridges or tunnels.
Should You Plan Your RV Route in Advance
For the most part, yes. Most issues that occur when driving an RV can be prevented with good planning. Knowing the road you plan on taking will accommodate your slower speed and not feature turns too narrow or clearances too short will eliminate most possible issues. Also plan on stopping at spacious truck stops to avoid squeezing into cramped gas stations
Driving Small RVs Vs Large RVs
B-Class Rvs and Camper-Vans
Some campervans are no more difficult to drive than your average van or truck. B-class sized RVs are usually conversions of box trucks or cargo vans. If you are confident driving a normal car these will not differ too greatly or require much learning except for getting comfortable with the slightly larger size of the vehicle.
If you do not feel like piloting a 20-30 foot or longer RV is something you will ever be comfortable with, consider a sprinter or cargo type van conversion. SUVs and Minivans also make great weekend campers and can be a smaller stepping stone into RV life.
B-Class Rvs are generally small enough to be taken and parked in areas designed for normal cars. Some of the challenges of driving a B-Class include parking in tight spaces and making sure to not venture into too small of areas that may be difficult to navigate.
C-Class RVs and Super Cs
This is where the size of the RV starts to affect the driving experience. While not so large that you feel like you are in a semi truck, these RVs require a seasoned driver to just pick up and take off in.
Even though I have experience as a professional driver, the first time I drove an RV was still nerve wracking. Usually around 25 feet long, this class of RV can be handled by someone well versed in basic driving practices but still offers a learning curve.
In a C-Class RV some of the biggest challenges presented will be stopping accurately at lights because of the weight and momentum of the vehicle, and turning accurately.
A-Class RVs and Diesel Pushers
While this size category offers the most spacious living environments and high capacity storage for amenities and appliances, driving an A-class RV compares to driving a full sized bus in difficulty.
City buses have the luxury of designated lanes and stops in most areas that an A-Class RV will not have access to. Because you are confined to public roadways and parking an A-Class RV you might find yourself spending extra time planning your driving routes.
A-Class RVs suffer from the highest rate of off-tracking. This is when your wheel base is long enough to change where the back of your RV ends up during a turn. Improper judgment can mean the side of your RV striking the curb, or anything on it.
Driving Different types of RVs
Tips for Driving a Motorhome
So far the driving tips I have gone over apply mostly to motorhomes because this type of RV drives most similarly to a regular car while pulling a trailer is a different experience. Motorhomes drive most similarly to a large box truck. If you have ever rented a U-Haul you might have been getting free driving practice for your RV.
Motorhomes have the most issues with off-tracking because they have a pivot point at the rear wheel axle that needs to be taken into account when turning. Drivers must turn wide to compensate for the side of their RV as well as the rear overhang (the rest of your RV behind the rear wheels).
Tips for Driving a Travel Trailer
Pull behind RVs follow many of the same principles as motorhomes, but will turn differently and need to be hitched and weighted properly.
When driving with a travel trailer you will have more leeway to turn without worrying about your wheels off-tracking, but extra attention needs to be paid to the weight distribution of your trailer.
Pulling a trailer heavier than your truck or SUV can handle may cause damage to the engine or other parts of the vehicle and can be extremely dangerous. An out of balance travel trailer can fishtail or roll over with even a light collision or maneuver.
Tips for Driving a 5th Wheel
5th Wheel style mobile homes are specialized, pull-behind travel trailers that are attached exclusively to the bed of a truck with a specifically styled hitch.
The specialized hitch allows for wide turns and intricate maneuvers much like a semi truck is capable of performing, but can also result in jack-knifing your RV and causing damage.
Is it Safe To Drive an RV in Rain or Snow
Driving an RV Up and Down Hills
How to Safely Drive Uphill in an RV
Driving uphill in an RV typically has one main danger: wasting all of your gas!
So long as the incline is not overly steep, An RV can safely make it uphill. Just be sure to keep an eye on how hard your engine is working and be sure not to overheat it.
How to Safely Drive Downhill in an RV
When headed downhill it is a good idea to shift into a lower gear. Letting your brakes do the work of stopping such a heavy vehicle is a bad idea and can result in brake damage or failure. Staying in first or second gear will allow your transmission to keep you from gaining too much speed.
If you are driving in a mountainous area with steep hills stay in low gear and drive extra slowly.
Driving an RV in The Rain or Snow
Is It Safe to Drive an RV in The Rain
Your RV can be safely driven in mild, normal rain conditions. You might need to allow extra time to stop, but generally barring heavy storm conditions RVs handle rain well.
If it is storming to the extent that winds exceed 25mph it might not be safe to drive your RV. The wide sizes of an RV are especially susceptible to being pushed by harsh wind.
Can RVs Handle Snow
Many RVs are built as warm weather vehicles. Driving through snowy conditions often at least requires appropriate snow tires and confident driving skills.
An RV that isn't well insulated can be miserable to stay in, and if the water tanks or lines are not all contained within insulated areas they can freeze over and become damaged. If your RV is rated for all seasons it is probably also designed to safely travel in light snowy conditions on designated roadways.