RV Driving Tips: Critical Differences About Driving a Motorhome
Road View From the Drivers Seat of an RV
What's So Different about Driving a motorhome?
Whenever I'm in a campground, I spend a good amount of time talking to my fellow campers, and one of the more well known jokes among campers is the following:
Owning a motorhome is like owning a boat; the only thing you have to know when you buy one is how to write the check!
This usually comes up as some of us are watching a novice trying to park their RV in a campsite, or unhitching a tow car, or other RV-centric moves that requires a little fore-thought and know-how.
I wrote this article to provide some facts about driving a large motorhome, regardless of whether it's a Class-A, Class-B, or a Class-C version.
These rigs require special handling and safety knowledge that sets them apart from a normal sized automobile when you operate them.
Learn to Drive the Hard Way or the Smart Way?
Over my lifetime, I have driven a lot of different automobiles and I have even towed a few trailers with small trucks. Heck, I have, just like everyone else, rented large moving trucks and driven them on the highways of America without a clue of how dangerous they can be.
But, my formal operating lessons consisted of a sales guy walking over to me and saying;
Here are the keys, so sign the form and the truck is due back in 24-hours. Have a nice day.
My wife and I had camped in RVs for decades from the time we were married and over that period of time we have gone through a range of camper styles from; family tents to Pop-Up Campers to a 24-foot Tag-Along Trailer.
Back then, our camping had always been for those one or two weeks a year you took a family vacation plus maybe a half-dozen weekend trips to nearby places of interest.
Looking back, we were pretty lucky because we had some close calls towing even these campers as we learned all of those towing and driving tricks you need to be aware of, the hard way.
Driving My First Motorhome Was an RV Adventure
And, eventually, I purchased my first Motorhome.
At the time, I found this great deal where I could trade my older SUV to a private owner in Florida for an older 36-foot motorhome.
Excited over the deal, my wife and I drove the SUV down to the Florida guys home, paperwork in hand. When we got to Tampa, each of us inspected the others vehicle and after some haggling we came to a deal that satisfied each of us.
A quick trip to the local bank, and after signing the papers with a Notary Public, we loaded our gear and pulled out of the Tampa area in my first Motorhome; a 36-foot long, 1996 Pace Arrow Vision.
I was on top of the world.
Literally, it felt like I was on top of the world, I had never driven anything so large and I had never driven from the vantage point of a seat that was so high above the road.
Looking back to that trip home, I should have known that, as careful as I was trying to be, I was a rolling accident waiting to happen.
My First RV Driving Mistake
First of all, let me state; We all make mistakes at times, but for those of us who are on the road in a Big Rig, a small mistake can lead to some dangerous situations. Here are a couple of my first driving mistakes.
RV Driving Mistake #1:
I should have known that something was different about driving a Motorhome, when I had something go wrong on the trip back to our home that was then, in Lynchburg Virginia.
After about three hours of driving without incident by the way, I finally pulled into a standard sized gas station right off of I-95 to fill up my fuel tank.
It was a small gas station, and not some large open truck stop, but I saw that they had a sign which pointed around the building and said; RV's this way!.
I thought, what the Hey! RV's obviously fit here, or they wouldn't have that sign, right?
I settled into my seat and slowly followed the signs. I circled the station itself and as I turned in to align my rig with the fuel pump, there was this strange scraping sound.
I was scraping the Service Compartment door of my rig along the protective concrete-filled pole right next to the gas pump. I stopped, and let my wife stand there for a few minutes waving her arms and yelling at me.
It seems I had done several thing wrong, I later learned.
1- I had not picked a large truck stop or major fuel stop that is laid out specifically for large towed campers and motorhomes to access their pumps.
On the other hand, this particular gas station and it's layout was not designed for big rigs and had been an afterthought that the owner had added so he could sell more gas to RV owners.
2- I did not take into effect the long wheelbase of my rig, as opposed to an automobile when I finally started to turn into the fueling lane next to the pump.
With the longer wheelbase, I had started my turn far too soon and I had paid the price.
3- I had not asked my wife to go outside and warn me if I got too close to; the pump, the roof over the pump, or other vehicles that I couldn't see in my RV mirrors.
Anyway, the station owner came out, with a smile on his face, and after checking that his pump and concrete filled pole were OK, his smile broadened and he said;
That happens to a lot of people, you should have pulled out further before you started to turn.
So, duly chastised, we filled our tank and finally we, very carefully, exited the tiny gas station and got back on the road. But now we had a dented Service Compartment door that would need repair.
Needless to say, my wife and I spent the next hour or so discussing the new level of stupidity that I had reached.
But as all of you married people know, this was done is jest and not meant to be insulting to my ego at all, or so she now say. But finally, silence fell over the inside of the motorhome as we headed for our reserved overnight campsite near Brunswick, Georgia.
My next Driving Mistake (Same Trip)
Driving Mistake #2:
As we got closer to Brunswick, we began to notice that there were more and more orange cones and warning signs appearing along the sides of the Interstate.
It seems we had driven into a major highway maintenance area and the speed limit quickly dropped to 55 and 60-mph versus the standard 70-mph.
The northbound lane was still two-lanes wide, but with the reduced speed limit, the traffic was getting thicker. In anticipation of slowing down in certain spots of maintenance.
Telling myself to be smart, I eased my RV over into the right lane and just kept up with the pace of traffic in front of me.
Then suddenly, looking ahead, I saw that we were approaching a bridge and that the two lanes looked like they had been narrowed, so I dropped down to a little over fifty-mph as I started onto the bridge.
Suddenly, there was the sound of a very loud truck horn behind me, playing a tune resembling DIXIE.
I checked my left-hand mirror and there was this Low-Boy tractor-trailer barreling down the left hand lane and his right tires were straddling the solid center lane markings.
I quickly looked to the right and the right edge of my rig was already directly over the right-hand white lane marking.
I had nowhere else to go. and I realized that I had only two choices, in my mind.
I could go right crossing the outside white lane markers and give the trucker more room, or I could stay where I was and get hit by the insane trucker coming up on me.
It was at this moment that I made my critical mistake.
You see, I assumed that the truck driver had some right to cross over the center marking and to a part of my lane but it was obvious to me that he was going to hit my Motorhome.
Of course, he didn't have that right and he wasn't going to hit us. He should have pulled back and used his own lane and passed me with the same caution that I thought I was using.
But, I guess that driving a very large truck on the highway gave the driver some feeling that he had priority over other vehicles and drivers.
Anyway, I pulled further over to the right and my motorhome immediately took out eight of those bright orange plastic reflective cones before I could come back into my lane.
They made a thump, thump, thump sound as I struck each one, and they each, burst into a hundred pieces that flew in all directions, including my windshield.
At this point, the trucker had flown on by me and was happily driving down the road that he obviously thought he was the King of.
I quickly checked my mirrors and I saw that everyone behind me had backed off and were dodging the errant cone debris that I had launched into flight.
I glanced over at my wife and she was sitting there, petrified.
You see, the passenger seat is right over the right-hand tire and she was able to watch as each cone thumped under the motorhome body and then flew away, not five feet away, in front of and beside her.
Well, I had no other choice and kept driving until I had crossed the bridge and the lane widened to normal again. But my wife, after she had regained her composure, decided that we should have yet another conversation about my stupidity.
She described, in great detail, exactly how stupid I was to; 1- buy an RV in the first place, 2-drive one on an Interstate with my limited brain function, and 3- even consider her ever traveling on a road with me again in this lifetime.
That's when I chewed off most of my lower lip, as I repeated to myself; Do Not Respond, Do Not Respond, Do Not Respond.
DOT Roadside Safety Triangles
RV Damage Control
So, as I chewed the end of my tongue off, I also continued to drive along the Interstate for a couple of dozen miles until we eventually pulled into the first large rest area we came to.
Tired of the heat inside the RV, real and imagined, I jumped out and inspected my wounded motorhome.
The right front fender was fiberglass and it was seriously cracked in a couple of places. The wheel well was fiberglass and aluminum and most of the fiberglass was missing while the metal was bent badly.
And, there was a battery compartment right behind the wheel and its door was hanging by one mauled hinge.
As I stood there, waiting for my wife to wind up and chew on me even more, another camper came rolling into the area and parked right beside me.
They were an older couple in a Class-C motorhome and we spent the next few minutes talking about what had happened at the bridge.
Finally literally laughing at me, he turned and asked me;
You do know that your rig is probably right at 8-feet wide don't you?
i answered that yes I did know this and then I threw in a "So What?"
He looked at his wife and then said;
:"Well, when the state does highway work, they will often narrow the lanes down to the legal minimum size and that's 8-foot, 6-inches.
A motorhome driver needs to be very careful whenever he comes into a road maintenance area, or he could do what you did, hit some of the cones, or sometimes hit some of the signs."
I looked at my wife and then decided not to give her time to fall into the "I told You So" trap quite yet and I turned back to the other camper driver as, still laughing, he said to me;
Anyway, Buddy, I have a few of the basics that every Motorhome driver needs when he is on the road that you might be able to use.. I have a drill, some pop-rivets and a roll of Duct tape. let me go get them.
Well, he and I spent the next hour pop-riveting the loose parts back into place and duct taping the others so that they wouldn't flap in the wind as I drove down the road.
Eventually,I thanked the guy and as he pulled out of the rest area, he told me one more thing about driving a Motorhome;
Look, Buddy, You're obviously a newbie, so you need to be extra careful until you learn the tricks of the road for Motorhome drivers. Just stay in the right lane and keep it five to ten mph under the speed limit, and you'll probably be OK.
I just nodded and anyway, we got back onto the road, spent a several great nights in a couple of campgrounds, on a now much slower and very cautious trip back home to Virginia.
I now knew a few things about driving an RV that I had never considered.
But I also realized that I needed to learn a lot more about driving a Motorhome.
If for no other reason than the fact that I just couldn't afford to keep learning the Hard Way!
Gorilla Tape for RV Repairs
Driving in the High Country of Arizona
A Good RV Driving Course for Beginners
After a couple of thousand dollars repairing my RV, I kept that motorhome for about a year and a half and we grew to love the freedom and extra comforts that a big rig gave us as we traveled on our trips around the southeastern parts of the US.
Actually, we loved it so much that we decided what we needed was a NEWER and BETTER motorhome, because we were starting to travel more and more and were looking forward to even longer extended trips.
Shopping for an RV Trade
We shopped around on the web for a while and finally we traded our old Rig for a newer and fancier motorhome from a pretty large RV dealer in the South.
And along with the deal, the sales company offered us a two-day driving course, while we were waiting for our new RV to be checked out and readied for us.
We jumped on this opportunity. This was a specialized driving class for Coach owners. And along with my wife, we learned a lot of very important things about driving an RV.
During the course, we spent two days with a half a day in a classroom and the other half in different motorhomes, learning the things that make a motorhome so special when you drive one. We learned how to drive one safely and with confidence.
The second day, we went out and spent another half a day practicing what we had learned in a brand new 40-foot Diesel Pusher with a qualified instructor making us drive this Rig under all types of conditions.
After these two days, even though we had previously owned and driven a couple of thousand miles in two different RV Coaches, we left feeling so much safer driving our new rig on the open road.
Here are some of the things we learned in the classroom and on the road as part of these fantastic driving classes. We share these with you in the hopes that they will aid you in your travels also.
Parking and Turning Tips for the RV Driver
Remember this old and unofficial Rule of the Road for RV Drivers:
I learned the rule of the road for boating when I owned a HouseBoat and kept it for years on a lake in Virginia.
Basically the rule is that SIZE RULES!.
What this means is that the larger boat is harder to maneuver in the water than a small boat, so it has the right-of-way in almost every confrontational situation.
I was happy to hear this same rule explained by the teacher of this RV Driving class as well as by most of my fellow RVers.
When it comes to a situation where you must react or the smaller vehicle must react, the smaller vehicle should stop and allow the other vehicle to get out of the way.
And keep your Cool because when they Yell and blow their horn at you, just stay calm and be polite. And when insulted just shrug and smile while continuing to wait for them to get out of the way.
DO NOT take chances with your RV trying to back up or pull off of the road for the convenience of other smaller and thus more maneuverable vehicles!
Even the most dim-witted angry driver of a car will eventually catch on and move out of your way.
Campsite in Verde Valley, Arizona
DID YOU KNOW – Road Tips:
The following are some of the TIPS that we learned in our Driving Course as well as from other Motorhome drivers.
They are logical and common sense things that will halp any camper be a safer and better RV drive.
If you're traveling in Canada, make a note for yourself that 12-feet is equal to 3.66 meters, and post it on your dash as a quick reference when you're approaching an overpass or pulling into a fueling station with the clearance is posted in meters.
Motorhomes Deserve Respect
The driver/owner of a Motorhome should always keep in mind that their Coach is longer, wider and taller than an automobile, and your RV deserves the extra respect and thought from others when you are turning, stopping, accelerating, and parking the RV.
You should always know the overhead clearance of your Motorhome. Motorhomes are typically over ten or even eleven feet tall at the highest point of the tallest thing mounted on the roof.
And, many of the very big motorhomes will be right at the 13-foot, 6-inches limit. So, even though you will have higher and well-marked clearances on major highways, when you pull off and onto the side roads of the country, you could easily come up on an overpass that your rig will not clear.
Take care and don't chance getting your AC units and other things ripped off of your roof and your rig wedged under an old country overpass in a small town.
One trick is when you are on the road remember that a tractor/trailer rig is nearly always at or near the US maximum allowed height of 13-feet and 6-inches, and if you watch and stay behind them on the back roads, this should help you stay out of trouble with overpasses and fuel stops.
Tail Swing or Off-Tracking
And By The Way, the Tail moves!
The number-1 accident with Motorhomes is actually caused by Tail Swing, and one should keep in mind that the average Motorhome has up to 2-1/2 feet of Tail-Swing when it is in a turn.
When stopping at fuel dispensers, keep your rig at least 3-1/2 feet away from the pump to allow for Tail-Swing when you pull away from the fuel dispenser.
What to Do At an Intersection
Intersections are a curse to Big Rig drivers. As you pull up you are trying to figure out so many tings sud ch as; which lane do I use, ae there any signs or other man-made things near the edge of the road at the intersection, who is in the lane beside me and how big is the vehicle, and more.
That Big White Painted Bar at a Stop Sign
Surely you have noticed the big white painted bar across the road at every stop sign/ stop light in the country.
This bar is always designed to be set back enough to allow other turning vehicles to clear the vehicle that is sitting at the sign/painted bar, when they make a turn.
So always stop your rig at the white bar and do not go past it for a better view.
Turning Through an Intersection
There are a couple of pretty common situations that a Motorhome driver will run into at an intersection. Be aware and handle them properly.
Intersection Situation One:
When you are pulling up to a STOP sign/light and are in the left lane of 2 lanes, and are planning on turning left, you should pull up as close to the left line on the road as possible to allow for the tail end of your rig to swing out and to the right when you turn left.
Always take the turn very slowly and watch closely when actually turning. If there happens to be a car that is too close to you on your right, by taking the turn slowly they will see your tail start to swing and get out of your way, themselves. And remember the Rule of the Road mentioned above.
Situation Two: When pulling up to a STOP in a single lane, and turning left, pull up as close to the left line on the road as possible to avoid your tail hitting any signs, fire hydrants or other things on the side of the road at the corner.
When to Turn the Wheel:
If you are driving a Diesel Pusher or any big rig Motorhome, you must remember that you are probably sitting directly over the front wheel, unlike when you are driving an automobile and the front wheels are in front of your feet.
So regardless of whether you are turning left or right at an intersection, pull straight forward until your Butt is at the point where you need to turn, THEN turn the wheel.
Everyone is used to their car, where they are sitting behind the front wheels, and turning the front end before "their Butt" gets to the turn location. You need to turn your big Pusher as mentioned here if you want to make the turn without taking out stop signs and other paraphenalia standing at the intersection..
While driving your RV, follow these Tips
Here are a number of simple things an RV driver can do to make their trip a safer and more enjoyable one.
When on the road, try to keep at a 4 to 6 second gap between you and the vehicle in front of you. If you maintain this gap, you will have adequate time to stop your Motorhome under normal road situations.
This time gap is equivalent to 400-500 feet and is considered a safe stopping distance.
Try to keep your speed down on Interstate Highways, and drive at a 63 to 65 MPH speed range and take the time to enjoy the trip and the scenery.
If you drive at this speed, you will lose only 15 minutes in a 200 mile drive, and you could pick up as much as 2 to 2-1/2 MPG with a gasoline engine.
And….Those people that keep passing you doing the 70-mph speed limit or faster, will pull in front of you, but they will be long gone very quickly at the speeds they are driving.
Steady your Steering:
If you are driving down the highway, and it seems that you are constantly turning the steering wheel left and right, try lifting your head and looking further down the road.
You will find that you will be moving the steering wheel much less, and you will still maintain your position in your lane.
You should try to get into the habit of looking 10 to 12 seconds down the road, so that you will have more time to react to situations that arise, that might require you to slow down, change lanes, etcetera.
When you see a situation that far ahead of you, you will have the time to safely change lanes and/or slow down long before it is necessary.
Make REST STOPS regularly.
Even though you are driving a pretty self-contained Motorhome, with bathroom, food, entertainment and all of those luxuries that you love, you need to stop and get out of the RV regularly.
Plan on and pull off of the road, at Rest Areas if possible, every hour an a half to two hours.
It will help you keep fresh and alert, if you just get out and walk around your Motorhome checking it over and then walking up to the restroom area and back to your RV.
Use TRUCK STOPS
If you are traveling along the Interstate highways of the US or even the major state highways, you will find that there are Truck Stops interspersed all along the major roads of America.
I recommend that you use these whenever possible for re-fueling as well as for taking a short break while on the road.
Truck Stops will not only sell Diesel fuel, but they will also have at least a few gasoline pumps. These pumps will always be designed to accomodate the big Motorhomes and towed Campers and you will be able to get into and out of them so easy, as opposed to regular gas stations.
They will also have large enough parking areas that you can pull back into a site and catch a few hours of sleep when you get tired on your journey.
And, of course, regardless of the hour, you will be able to pick up something to eat. It may not be gourmet food, but it will invariably be served hot, and the facilities will be clean.
RV Driving Safety
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
We have heard that older National Park campgrounds cannot accommodate a motorhome over 32'. Did you find the size of yours to be a problem?
Oh yes! In fact, I have several friends with Fivers who planned a trip across the country and back and were going to stay at National and State Parks almost exclusively.
One of them actually traded his perfectly good, almost new Fiver in for a shorter one so he could use these parks.
I have stayed at a few, but each time, I made sure I called and checked their site sizes ahead of time.
It's a great way to travel and see the country, but if you have a larger RV, getting sites in regular campgrounds can be a problem too. I went to the west coast in a 43-foot motorhome, and I had a heck of a time finding a campground that had sites I could fit in that weren't already reserved.
I recommend that you plan your trip for the size of your RV.Helpful 34
What's the maximum safe distance (in your opinion) one should drive a large RV in one day?
A decade ago, on one of my trips across the USA on I-10, I drove several times for 10+ hours. BUT, I was younger, I was pumping Caffeine, and I took a rest break where I got out of my RV and walked around every hour and a half.
Looking back, this was truly stupid because no matter what you do, your brain is going to get tired over such a long day of driving.
Nowadays, I drive like many of my fellow motorhome owners. I plan my trips for a maximum of 5 hours of drive time, and I still take a break every hour and a half or so.
And, I drive 5 or more MPH below the speed limit and stay on the right-hand lane.
This way, I get where I'm going safer, and I get to look at the scenery as I go. Plus, I get to my destination, with a clear mind and I'm ready to enjoy the campground because I'm not exhausted.Helpful 26
We are planning a trip to Maine from Texas in May. I have a 30' gas motorhome, and I will have a Honda CRV in tow. I am relatively new at RVing, although we have just completed a trip to Florida without any complications. Could you give me any advice on climbing and descending steep grades, and do you know of any driving schools in Texas?
My first tip is this; you will be crossing the Appalachian Mountains at some point, and if you do it down around Georgia, it will be a snap. As you go further North, the mountains become more prominent, and there will be long grades both up and down.
I assume you have a Ford V10 engine and 5-speed transmission, so with your 30' and tow car, you should be OK.
Once you're over to the Wast side of the Appalachian mountains, I-95 is the main N-S route for most RV campers, with the occasional foray either to the beach areas or what I call the "rolling hill" areas. There are lots of great places to visit without worrying about driving and towing over mountains.
As for myself, I have found that the safest and most enjoyable way to drive an RV is; stay in the right lane and stay 5-mph below the speed limit. Everyone passes you, so you don't need to keep passing others, and just that 5-mph speed reduction will allow you to relax and enjoy the drive yourself, rather than feeling like you are negotiating a battlefield with the other cars.
As for Driving Schools, I'm not aware of what might be available in Texas. I would Google it.Helpful 21
We have done a couple of trips in rentals (Class C, 26 ft.). I was comfortable driving the 26 ft. We want to try a 32 ft. for our next trip, but I am concerned that I might not feel as comfortable driving with the extra 6 ft. in length. Do you think there is much difference between the 26 ft and 32 ft motorhome in terms of ease of driving/maneuvering?
We went to AAA and got a trip-tic showing our routes to Maine and back. We decided to avoid I-95 after South Carolina and followed Route 81 all the way through New York, and then hopped on I-95. Any thoughts on route 81?
From what a lot of my fellow RVer's that live in the North tell me, you have the right route, using I-81. The best thing you can do is make sure you time your trip over this section of interstate to avoid busy traffic periods (such as morning and evening commuters) as best you can.Helpful 20