The call of the open road is a dream of many individuals and families. North America is loaded with beautiful, scenic, historic, and family-friendly destinations that can fill a lifetime of adventure—all made super convenient from the comfort of a Class A motorhome.
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But driving a Class A—from the smaller sizes at 26 feet up to the larger ones at 45 feet—are not like driving a car or even a big truck. Add on a towed vehicle and you could potentially be driving something as long as 65 feet!
Not to worry. Like anything else, with a little practice in an open parking lot and a patient travel companion, you can quickly master the technique.
1. The Information is at Your Fingertips
In today’s world of information overload, there is no shortage of books, websites, and videos to get you ready for driving your RV. Prior to your first trip on the road—which I recommend doing close to home to get your feet wet for experience—do a web search for videos about how to handle your RV, how to make turns, how to handle a front tire blowout, how to look for other vehicles around you on the road, and how to handle driving up and down hills and mountains. The tire blowout video is particularly important as this event, although rare, creates a dangerous situation for you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road. Several major tire manufacturers provide free, in-depth videos about how to handle and respond to this scenario.
Prior to pulling out of a campsite or hitting the road, make sure all blinds and curtains are drawn back, slides are in and water, electric and sewer hoses are disconnected.
2. Practice Your Skills Before Hitting the Road
After watching those videos, take your RV to a large parking lot like at a mall or empty shopping center. Try all of the techniques you watched, plus skills such as backing up, getting comfortable around objects, and making turns. This may take a couple of times before you feel comfortable and safe trying these with traffic.
3. Prepping for Safe Driving
Although many of us should get into our personal vehicles and do the safety checks that we learned in driver’s education, we more likely just get in and go. That is not, however, the case for a motorhome.
Because of the size of a Class A and the many blind spots that they inherently come with, it is important to do a set of tasks and checks before pulling the RV onto the road.
First, purchase a tire pressure monitoring system for your RV and your towed vehicle, if you have one. These small sensors monitor the tire air pressure in each tire and alert you if the tire air pressure drops below a certain level. Tire problems are inevitable when traveling in an RV and since you cannot see the tires on the RV or your towed vehicle while driving, these sensors may prevent a lot of damage, expense, and injuries.
Second, if traveling with a partner, develop a set of hand signals for safety checks and moving the RV, such as moving from a parking spot, pulling in and out of a campsite or storage, and checking lights. This set of gestures could save your marriage, as directing an RV driver into a campsite is one of the biggest arguments seen at the campground. Possible gestures may include a fist for stopping, thumbs up for brake lights and turn signals, extending your left hand or right hand for moving right or left, and folding your extended arms up for coming straight back. Remember that the driver is looking for your signals in a six-inch-wide mirror as you stand up to 70 feet behind him or her. Be deliberate, be visible, and remember that if you can’t see the mirrors, the driver can’t see you. Having a headlamp is a good idea as well for giving directions at night. Walkie-talkies or cell phones can work too to help with this communication.
Although slides should always be in when driving your RV, if you need to adjust the RV slightly in the campsite, be sure to stand wide enough so the driver can see you giving the hand signals for moving back and stopping.
Third, clean your side mirrors and rearview camera. Having these accessories free of obstructions will help overcome the challenge of blind spots. You cannot see out the back of your motorhome so your rearview camera is what gives you a second set of eyes behind you. If it is dirty, you will not be able to watch for any potential issues.
Fourth, raise all blinds and pull back all curtains near the driver. This includes the curtain next to the driver seat, the curtain next to the passenger seat, and any blinds on the seats immediately behind the driver and passenger seats. And of course, don’t forget the curtain across the front windshield.
4. Avoid Annoying Backtracking
Know the height and length of your RV to avoid having to backtrack onto a road that can accommodate the dimensions of your RV.
Although most interstates and major highways are tall enough for your motorhome because they have to accommodate semi-trailers that can be as tall as 14 feet, you may encounter lower overpasses, bridges and tunnels as you get on state and county roads closer to your destination. By knowing the height of your RV, you can avoid clipping off AC units, satellite dishes, or even worse, the top of your RV, damages that can lead to expensive repairs.
Some roads, such as a couple in the mountains of Colorado and California with tight switchbacks, limit the length of vehicles. Longer vehicles cannot make these tight turns. Taking these routes will get you stuck and traffic snarled until you can figure out how to maneuver out of the situation. Signs will warn drivers as you approach roads with height and length restrictions. Some travel apps now have filters where you can designate the height and length of your RV so you can avoid issues of road limitations.
5. Give Some Space
Because of the long length of Class A motorhomes, they make wide turns. As you approach a turn, make sure you clear the corner and other vehicles. Practice in open parking lots prior to driving your motorhome on the road to help prepare you and develop the skills.
As you drive on the highway, be aware of your surroundings. Give plenty of room when passing, don’t cut too close in front of other vehicles, be prepared for others cutting close in front of you, and don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Remember that a large RV will take more stopping distance than a smaller car.
Also, be respectful of other drivers. Motorhomes drive much slower—typically an hour slower per four hours of estimated drive times—and may cause a back up of vehicles behind you. Use slow-vehicle pullouts whenever possible and make sure to allow others to pass you by staying in the slow lanes on highways when not passing other vehicles. And have some fun communicating with other drivers by using your courtesy lights—labeled ICC on the panel to the left of the steering wheel—to tell other drivers it is safe to pass and as a thank you when they have let you pass.
6. Climb Those Mountains
My boyfriend and I like traveling in the mountains. We also live in Colorado, a state abundant in towering mountains and high elevation roads and mountain passes. When driving our RV, we have to make sure it is ready with the power it needs to get up the steep inclines and that it will safely make it down the decline on the other side.
When driving uphill, switch to low gear to produce higher RPMs for more engine power.
The technique is the same for going down inclines, but you can also use the engine brakes for additional slowing and control. Avoid riding the brakes, which can cause them to overheat and potentially fail.
A motorhome travels along the Kuskulana Bridge on a cloudy day on the road into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska.
Make sure the steps out the main door are fully extended before stepping out of the door. This could be a hard fall if the steps are not in place.
For more helpful tips about driving, owning, and traveling in your RV, visit www.gorving.com.
Dawn Wilson Photography
Dawn Wilson is a professional photographer and writer specializing in wildlife and outdoor destinations. She is the President of the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and has traveled extensively since 2015 using her RV to document North America’s wildlife and wild lands. She lives in Estes Park, Colo. with her boyfriend, Richard, their husky, Kealy, and their two cats, all of whom have traveled in the RV with them. Visit her website at www.DawnWilsonPhotography.com or follow her on Instagram (@dawnwilsonphoto).