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What You Need to Know About Owning and Driving RVs

I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.

If you are thinking about buying a recreational vehicle, there is some basic information you need to have before following through on your plans to own and drive one of them. When you purchase a camper, travel trailer or motorhome, you are not just buying a vehicle. You are buying a lifestyle.

You may not realize this at first, but as time goes on, you're going to get drawn into every aspect of RV ownership and, as many people often do, find that your coach requires more care and greater expense than you had ever believed to be possible.

You may think you can reduce upkeep and cost by purchasing a smaller unit, but you're going to find that the only things that will make size matter to you will be comfort level and ease of driving.

Because of these two issues, you likely will find yourself trading more often than you had planned to do, but as an RV owner, you're going to learn that wanting more (or less) is going to become second nature to you.

Learn what you need to know about owning and driving RVs before you buy one.

Learn what you need to know about owning and driving RVs before you buy one.

Buying RVs

There are expenses that go far beyond purchase price and continue for as long as you own your recreational vehicle.

Some are evident immediately, such as price, sales tax, registration fees and insurance, but even some of these can be shocking. For example, it is not unusual for a buyer to pay upwards of 6% of the sales price to cover these costs. For example, on a $100,000 unit, a buyer would pay $6,000!

People try all sorts of ploys to avoid paying these extra costs, but states are extremely strict about them. If they catch someone lying about the amounts that are due, the penalties can be quite stiff!

Ironically, the biggest financial cost comes in the losses people take when they sell or trade their coaches. Buyers don't think about this at the point of sale, but they get a fast education when they try to make changes.

How to Keep from Making the Worst Buying Mistake Ever goes into specific details about this issue, so be sure to read it!

Ownership Costs

How Much Does It Really Cost to Own an RV provides an overview of the amount of money people often spend in order to own an RV. If you read it, you'll quickly discover that the worst culprit, and one few people ever take into consideration, is depreciation.

RVs lose value quickly, so when it comes time to sell, many owners are shocked to learn that they are not going to get anywhere near the amount they paid for their coaches. Another problem is deterioration. The more you use your travel unit, the less likely it is to deteriorate.

However, to keep it functioning properly, you have to consistently inspect it and make repairs and upgrades where necessary. If you can work on it yourself, you can save a small fortune, but if not, you're going to pay labor costs that can range anywhere from $65 per hour to $189 per hour depending on who is doing the work.

You may think that buying a new coach will help you to eliminate most of these problems, but that is not necessarily true. Much depends on the quality of the RV you purchase. Of course, the better the quality, the higher the cost. These days you can spend anywhere from $20,000 to $3,000,000 depending on what you buy.

No matter how much you spend, remember that if you must finance your purchase, you'll be paying hefty interest costs on top of the amount you paid for your unit.

Make sure you can afford any RV you buy.

Make sure you can afford any RV you buy.

Reducing Your Costs

You're never going to escape the costs of RV ownership, but you certainly can reduce them by doing such things as

  • buying previously owned, older units,
  • doing your own repair work,
  • paying cash,
  • doing a good job of maintaining your RV,
  • storing your coach at home and
  • traveling on the cheap.

The truth is that if you are careful about the choices you make, you can have all the luxuries in a recreational vehicle that you like and enjoy great vacations. However, it's up to you to take your time and do a lot of research before buying anything or traveling.

Traveling

Vacationing in a recreational vehicle is the best part of owning one because doing this allows you to

  • go where you like on your own schedule,
  • sleep in your own bed every night and
  • eat your own food if you choose to do so.

The worst part of an RV trip is loading and unloading, but once you're ready to hit the road, you feel a sense of freedom you can get in no other way. However, you should know that to get the most out of any vacation, you must plan carefully and load your coach properly. You need to make sure that your equipment is in good working order and that you know how to drive it safely and comfortably.

You'll quickly learn that short trips are not worth the effort, so if you're going to buy an RV, make sure you'll have enough time available to use it!

Driving Your RV

Driving a recreational vehicle requires skills that differ significantly from those you need for driving an automobile because RVs

  • are taller, bulkier and heavier than most cars,
  • often must tow, carry or pull other vehicles during travel,
  • offer limited visibility in many instances and
  • have different turning ratios.

Unfortunately, owners new to RVing don't understand these things and start driving their units before learning how to do so. They are the same people who find themselves standing on the interstate beside their overturned camping units or watching as their vehicles burn to ashes because they took a turn too fast.

They thought automobile driving skills would automatically transfer to their ability to drive an RV but instead, they became dangers to themselves and others.

Here are some tips that will help you to avoid problems.

Learn the Basics

It is unfortunate that state governments do not require special training or licensing requirements for people who buy recreational vehicles, even though they do require them for cross-country truckers.

As a result, people falsely assume that it's OK to start driving a rig immediately after purchasing one, even though they may never have driven one before and even though many are as large as semi trucks.

Therefore, it is up to the individual to make sure that he gets the training he needs and the practice he should have in order to be safe when traveling.

There are two ways for people to learn to drive their units safely:

  1. attend a professionally run, in-depth and complete RV driver safety class or
  2. find an experienced RV owner who is willing to actually take you out on the highway and teach you to drive, back up and park your RV.

Match Your Skills to Your Vehicle

It is common for people to assume that they have the ability to drive any travel unit, but the truth is that thinking this way is what gets them into trouble. To be safe, you should always buy a coach that is comfortable for you to drive.

For example, although I've been traveling for many years, I set my personal limit at driving a truck that tows a fifth-wheeler. I would never attempt to drive a large Class A motor home.

I leave that job to my husband, who

  • was a cross-country trucker for many years,
  • has driven more than a million miles without an accident and
  • clearly knows how to handle big rigs!
You'll have less stress and more enjoyment if you learn  how to drive your RV.

You'll have less stress and more enjoyment if you learn how to drive your RV.

Practice

No matter who teaches you, the important thing to remember is that the best teacher is experience. The more you practice, the more your skills will improve and the safer you will be when you drive your recreational vehicle.

It’s one thing to drive a big rig on clean, dry roads when the weather is ideal and traffic is slow, but quite another to get caught in heavy traffic when the weather is bad, roads are steep and rough and construction is taking place.

So, while you are practicing, make sure you do so in a variety of situations so that you’ll be well prepared for whatever may come.

An actual photo taken of an RV that obviously is being driven by a new RVer.  Kind of a warning to other drivers or at least a plea to be patient!

An actual photo taken of an RV that obviously is being driven by a new RVer. Kind of a warning to other drivers or at least a plea to be patient!

Know Your Unit’s Measurements

It’s extremely important to know the exact height, length, width and weight of your RV.

  • You can find the height by using a tape to measure the distance from the bottom of a fully inflated tire to the top of any item that sits on your roof, such as your vent covers or air conditioners.
  • Length is measured from the front of the front bumper to the rear of the rear bumper.
  • People with slide rooms will have two widths. The first, which is for driving purposes, is simply the measurement of the actual width from exterior side to side. The second is for parking purposes and includes the width from one exterior sidewall of your widest slide room to the exterior sidewall of the widest slide room on the opposite side,
  • To find out how much your unit weights, you’ll have to take it when empty to a certified scale and then again when loaded to the same scale. Your owner’s manual will tell you the appropriate axle weight for your coach, so you want to make sure your loaded coach does not exceed those limits. Otherwise, your unit will not be balanced and will be more likely to roll over as a result.

These measurements are very important to know because there are many areas of the country that have weight limits for bridges, height limits for tunnels and width limits for roads.

One thing that will help you is to buy a GPS that is specially made to show you how to avoid those areas when driving big travel units. My husband and I use the RV 770 NA LMT-S system manufactured by Garmin. It has saved us from making many driving mistakes because it provides us with routes that help us to avoid potentially damaging problems such as low overpasses or overly narrow tunnels.

Magellan also offers an RV GPS system, but we prefer the user-friendly modes of the Garmin.

The Result of Poor RV Driving Skills

Drive Logistically

It is much safer to drive in the lane closest to the right lane if there are more than two lanes or in the center if there are three lanes.

These lanes are designated for those who drive the speed limit (or slower). Right lanes can be problematic because people are turning on to and off of them, and those on the far left are not meant for steady driving. They supposed to be passing lanes only. For this reason, the center lane is the best and safest area for driving an RV. By doing so, you will be able to go with the flow of traffic more easily, leave room for those who wish to pass you and avoid many slow downs.

Some people can't drive big motor homes but may be able to drive travel trailers.

Some people can't drive big motor homes but may be able to drive travel trailers.

Plan for Braking

Because recreational vehicles are high, wide, bulky and heavy, it’s important to understand that stopping them takes time. For this reason, drivers must be acutely aware of traffic patterns and leave plenty of space between their vehicle and those in front of them.

Never slam on the brakes! If you see that you’re going to have to stop, slow your unit down by pumping the brakes until you can safely come to a full and complete stop.

Swing Wide When Turning

Because cars are short, they turn easily. However, to avoid rollovers or accidents that are caused by the rear end of a coach hitting something, RV drivers must learn to make slow, wide turns, especially when pulling into gas stations or driving onto highways when leaving interstates.

Practice safe RV driving.

Practice safe RV driving.

Other Safe Driving Tips

Here are some common-sense RV driving tips that will help to keep you safe when you're on the road.

  1. Make sure all passengers remain seated while your coach is in motion.
  2. Keep animals restrained so that they do not become driving hazards.
  3. Keep speed between 55 and 60 mph. It's better to take longer than to have an accident because you were speeding.
  4. Use a rear camera monitor so that you have a clear view of what is behind you when driving and backing up your vehicle.
  5. Do not distract yourself by doing such things as eating, texting or reading when you're driving.
  6. Learn how to use your side mirrors as well as your rearview camera.
  7. Take rest breaks every two hours or less. This will ease mental and physical stress and will also refresh you so that you will be more alert when driving.
  8. If you have a second skilled driver, share the driving with them.

Remember, with an RV, the trip is part of the vacation. You will enjoy it more if you are relaxed and always in control of your coach.

Learn What You Need to Know

As you can see, there is a great deal to learn about owning and driving recreational vehicles.

If you want to avoid problems and take full advantage of your beautiful RV, take your time, do a lot of research and make the types of decisions that will keep your costs low and your travel pleasure high.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Sondra Rochelle

Comments

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on August 16, 2016:

dalyn88: Yes, and maybe even a special endorsement on a driver's license as well as a DOT driving test. This would be an inconvenience, for sure, but it could save many lives. Thanks for reading and commenting. I think what you wrote is important for people to read.

dalyn88 on August 15, 2016:

I was a transport driver for many years including train units of gasoline products. Accident free as well, therefore I feel very qualified to drive a class A which I own that is 34 ft less than half the length of many units I pulled when driving Tractor Trailers. I do agree any driver that has not driven anything larger than a car or pick up truck be required to take a short intensive course.

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on August 11, 2016:

Blond Logic: I don't believe taking a certified RV driving course lowers insurance rates as it does with automobiles, but check with your insurer to make sure. I'm amazed you were able to drive that rig so far without incident, but thank goodness you did. There are a lot of strange things when it comes to buying, owning and driving RVs, which is one of the reasons I write these articles. It's my small way of trying to keep people aware of the issues. So nice to see you again!

Mary Wickison from Brazil on August 11, 2016:

I must say I was guilty of this. We traveled from California to Florida with two vehicles. Our driver left (unplanned) us in Louisiana and I had to drive a 42 foot RV the rest of the way. Thankfully I had very little traffic and no incidents.

I think RVs are an excellent way to travel but because of the comfort of driving, it is easy to forget the potential dangers.

Your advice is excellent with regards to extra training. I would have never thought of asking a big rig driver to help but it makes sense. They are probably more experienced than anyone on the road and know how to handle situations which might arise.

If you take a certified training class does this reflect in a reduction of insurance rates, do you know?

It does boggle the mind that with all the red tape, bureaucracy, and litigation which takes place in the US, that the laws aren't in place to require drivers to take classes to handle them. I suppose it is the power of the motor industry at play there.

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