Driving your Motorhome for the First Time
Driving your motorhome to your first camping destination is quite an exciting experience. This year, more RVers than ever before are hitting the roads. This is truly making 2021 the year of the RV, whether you’re an experienced RVer or a newbie. Do you have a new Class A or C that you’re nervous about driving? Harvest Hosts has your back. We’ve previously discussed everything needed to know about towing a vehicle behind your motorhome, including the pros and cons, how to choose a vehicle, and what supplies to gather. This article is geared towards RVers who already have the accessories for towing a vehicle and are ready for their first trip. Get comfortable, take a deep breath, and let’s dive into some steps before driving your motorhome for the first time and how to work up to towing a vehicle behind your motorhome.
Before the Trip
Before embarking on your first journey it’s important to do some planning beforehand. This will involve purchasing some accessories, practicing, and doing your research.
If possible, it’s best to leave the towed vehicle at home on your first few trips and start out smaller. It will be a lot easier to get a feel for driving the motorhome without the added 3,000-5,000 pounds of a towed vehicle being pulled behind you. It may also be easier to limit your first trip to just a few hours away (typically called a shake-down trip!). Check out the Harvest Hosts location map to see if there are any Hosts near you. You may be surprised by what hidden gems are tucked away just a few hours (or closer) from you!
There are some important accessories that can make your first and future journeys so much easier. The first one on our list is an RV GPS. An RV GPS will help you to avoid low underpasses, weight-capacity bridges and roads, and more. This is an invaluable tool to the motorhome driver and can alleviate a whole lot of stress while on a trip. There are so many options out there, so we’ve put together a list of the top-rated RV GPS devices from actual RVers.
The next important purchase would be mirror accessories for your motorhome. The included mirrors should allow you to view your entire motorhome while driving, but you may consider purchasing mirror extenders or bubble mirrors to assist with additional viewing. A backup camera can also be helpful to view the backend of your RV and even keep an eye on your towed vehicle while traveling.
If you plan on towing, consider purchasing a braking system for your vehicle. Not only is this mandatory in some states, but it will also be more gentle on your motorhome’s brakes and tow setup to increase the lifespan of each component.
When it’s time to begin practicing driving your motorhome, you should first ensure that the RV is empty. It can make a world of a difference to not be carrying around hundreds of pounds of water, people, and packed essentials. Not to mention, this will help you to save on gas while you work on driving practice. All motorhome owners know how quickly the gas bill can add up!
Spatial and Height Awareness
One of the most important components to driving a motorhome is being aware of your width while driving. Most motorhomes are about eight-and-a-half feet (8.5′) in width. This is about two feet wider than the average car. When beginning to drive a motorhome, it can be tricky to get your spatial awareness down. However, this is an important skill to obtain for both your own safety and the safety of everyone around you. Begin by driving slowly and checking your mirrors frequently to view the lines on both sides of the road. The longer you practice driving your motorhome, the more comfortable you should become. As far as height awareness, it can be helpful to step out of your motorhome to evaluate the area for any obstacles while parking. Signs, mailboxes, and trees can all be road hazards. It can help to have a spouse or buddy to assist with this step. Be sure to consider your air conditioners and satellites when scouting for height hazards.
Braking and Turning
Braking in a motorhome is a little different than braking in a regular vehicle. Due to the sheer weight of the motorhome (even while empty) it takes significantly more time to come to a stop. Be sure to give yourself plenty of room and time to slow down when coming to a stop. It’s nearly impossible to stop quickly in a motorhome, especially with additional weight added. As stated above, consider purchasing a braking system for your towed vehicle to assist your motorhome with braking.
Turning your motorhome either left or right can be tricky. When turning right, always check your right mirror to ensure you do not hit the curb. When turning left, check out of the driver’s window and left mirror to ensure that you will not hit anything if turning in a populated area. Another common obstacle can be pulling into or away from gas pumps. Be sure to use your mirrors and use your spouse or a friend for help if needed.
Parking in a motorhome involves using spatial and height awareness, mirrors, and maybe a few trips in and out of the driver’s chair to step outside. Whether pulling up to a curb, pulling into a space in a campground, or even parking in a parking lot, be sure to take it slow and aim for accuracy, not speed. Don’t be afraid to pull out and try again.
There are no laws in the United States regarding a requirement for a special license to operate a motorhome. However, there could be some other local laws that could impact your journey. Depending on where you live, some cities have laws prohibiting carrying propane through tunnels. In some cases, the propane must be turned off, but in other cases it cannot be transported at all. There could also be highway laws regarding which lane you can drive in or your maximum speed limit, especially while towing. Be vigilant of these signs while driving to avoid a ticket!
The most important piece of advice here is to drive safe. All the planning in the world won’t make a difference without practicing safe driving methods while driving a motorhome.
1. Keep your distance between cars.
As stated above, it is significantly more difficult to brake when driving your motorhome than it is when driving a passenger vehicle. It’s important to account for this extra space and time needed by keeping plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.
2. Go slow.
When first starting out, it may be necessary to drive at half the necessary speed to maintain control of your RV. In some states, the highway posted speed limits can be up to 80 mph. However, this does not mean that you need to drive that fast. Use your best judgement, and err on the side of caution, especially when just beginning. It’s best to stay out of the left lane on highways unless absolutely necessary.
3. Use engine braking, when possible.
The use of engine braking can be very important and helpful, especially when driving your motorhome downhill. Most motorhomes are equipped with engine braking capabilities to assist with slowing down safely. Riding a motorhome’s brakes downhill can easily cause them to smoke and even potentially catch fire. Before entering into a decline, drop your gears to assist with keeping your vehicle at a slower speed in order to avoid using your brakes as much. In an emergency, such as your brakes going out due to overheating, a steep decline may have a runaway truck ramp to use to slow down safely. If your brakes do become hot while riding down a decline, be sure to pull over to give them plenty of time to cool off before resuming your drive. As with all new things, learning to shift your gears while driving downhill will take some practice, but eventually, it will become second nature for the motorhome driver.
4. When in doubt, pull over.
Use your best judgement when driving in inclement weather, and pull over if necessary. Motorhomes are prone to getting pulled around during high winds due to their wide and flat surface area. If you feel uncomfortable or concerned, pull over to wait out the worst of the storm or heavy winds.
Driving a motorhome can be a daunting experience in the beginning. Don’t let the nervousness spoil your excitement. Before traveling to your first Harvest Hosts location with your new motorhome, be sure to have a plan, be knowledgeable, practice, and drive safely!
What was your first time driving your motorhome like? Do you have any additional tips? Are there any other questions you might have? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Cover image credit: Motorhome.com
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Know your equipment….complete a pretrip inspection inside and out…..do a walk around, check all fluids, check tires, test brakes, make sure all basement doors are secure, jacks stored properly, water and electric stored properly. Inside check drawers and doors secure, all items secure and stored, passengers and pets properly seated…..enjoy the journey!
Thanks so much for this succinct rundown, Eve! Happy trails! 🙂
I think that any article about driving an RV needs to address the issues of the vehicle’s “pivot point”, and the “tail swing”. Most RV accidents are caused by not being aware of those factors.
These are definitely also important factors, thanks for pointing this out!
It didn’t go “unnoticed” that the article asked …..
Do you have a new Class A or C that you’re nervous about driving?
No mention of a Class B…. which of course is camper van conversion…
It’s so true that Class B’s are so much easier to drive, so, if you want maximum mobility and the spontaneity to go just about anywhere, anytime, consider being a minimalist and purchasing a smaller rig.
Yes, they don’t have all the extra space of the larger Class A’s or Class C’s, but, they can offer you better MPG, easier access to RV parks and are extremely fun.
Driving a Class B is not too much different than driving a large SUV and you don’t need a tow vehicle, we take our Class B wherever we go and it’s extremely easy to park. Many people think they are giving up a lot, but, our Class B has a king size bed, bathroom, two showers, kitchen, generator and solar. There’s a lot of amenities in a small rig.
Hi, Mark! Thank you for your feedback. This article was geared more towards newbies learning to drive a big rig. However, your Class B sounds very impressive. I would love for you to share your experience in the comments on our Which RV Should I Buy? post to give future RVers more to consider.