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The Truth About Driving an RV for the First Time

The Truth About Driving an RV for the First Time

In most states, you can drive your RV off the dealership lot with zero experience or training. As long as you have a valid driver’s license, you can start driving your new rig around the moment you complete the transaction. However, driving most RVs and a standard passenger vehicle are very different experiences.

Today, we’ll shed some light on the truth about driving an RV for the first time. We’ll provide some tips for driving and a few things you should know before hitting the road. Let’s dive in! 

Is It Difficult to Drive an RV?

The answer to this question will differ based on your experience and confidence on the road overall. Once you learn how they move and handle the driving itself is not hard at all, however.

Driving an RV can require an adjustment, but it’s not nearly as difficult as many think. It does require you to change your mindset and to be more careful, especially while turning. One of the hardest parts of driving an RV is backing up into a campsite or storage spot. However, much like any other activity, the more you can practice, the easier it becomes. Getting some added practice can be a great excuse to book a campsite for a weekend camping adventure.

Marissa's First Time Driving a Motorhome! - Our RV Life

You have to understand that you’re not going to jump into your RV and joyride. Driving an RV safely requires a navigation plan to ensure you don’t find yourself in a sticky situation. Not all roads or bridges are RV-friendly. You can put yourself and your RV in a serious situation by not having a plan. 

What RV Is Easiest to Drive?

Compared to a car the easiest RV to drive is a Class B motorhome. These are the smallest type of RV and drive very similar to a standard passenger van. While most of these are too tall to drive through your favorite fast food drive-thru, they require much less parking space than other RVs. If you can drive a passenger van, you should have no trouble driving a Class B motorhome.

Driving a Class B doesn’t have nearly as much of a learning curve as larger motorhomes or towable RVs. As a bonus, Class B RVs are some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles, making it easy to go far and fast during your adventures. They have been gaining popularity for full-time and part-time travelers to see the country and make memories.

How Fast Can You Drive an RV?

Reducing your speed is one of the adjustments you must make when driving an RV. Most RV tires have much lower speed ratings than tires on passenger vehicles. While speed limits in some areas can be 75 to 80 mph, we recommend not to exceed 65 mph.

Driving Class A Motorhome
Keep your speed below 65 mph.

Tire blowouts are rather common in RVs and can do a tremendous amount of damage to a rig. Two primary causes of tire blowouts on an RV are improper tire pressure and excessive speeds. When you combine excessive speeding with low tire pressure, it’s only a matter of time before a tire blows.

RVs are bigger and much heavier and thus require an enormous amount more stopping distance compared to a standard passenger vehicle. The faster you’re traveling, the more stopping distance you’ll need. Depending on your reaction time, you might not have time to come to a complete stop before hitting the car or object in front of you.

One added benefit of driving slower is better fuel economy as well. Many RV’s will see a 10 to 20 percent reduction in fuel economy, going from 65 to 75 MPH.

Tips for Driving an RV for the First Time

Don’t panic if you’re nervous about driving an RV for the first time. The feelings you are experiencing are normal and will fade with experience and practice. Here are a few tips for the first time you get behind the wheel.

Research and Choose an Easy Route

For your first trip, you want to choose your route wisely. Avoid high volumes of traffic or areas with construction. These driving conditions can increase anxiety levels that are likely already off the charts. We recommend always using an RV GPS to help ensure you don’t have any surprises along the way regarding low clearance, narrow roads, or other obstacles. Also look at satellite imagery of your route and make sure parking lots or fuel stations are large enough.

➔ What’s the difference between a standard GPS and an RV GPS? Find out: What Is an RV GPS? (And Is It Really Better Than Google Maps?).

We recommend driving the route in a passenger vehicle first. This allows you to get familiar with the area and to be aware of any potential challenges. You may even have a partner drive in front or behind you to act as an extra set of eyes during your maiden voyage. Having your lookout on speakerphone can make it easy to communicate any potential issues or things to watch for while driving.

For your very first trip making it to a wide open area, quiet road or large parking lot is our best recommendation. Use these areas to get comfortable with how the rig moves, stops turns and backs up.

Class B RV on mountain road
Research your route before you set out to avoid finding yourself in unsafe situations.

Set Your Mirrors Properly

You want to maximize your ability to see all that’s around you. Similar to a passenger vehicle, you’ll still have blind spots while driving an RV. However, if you set your mirrors properly, you can drastically reduce blind spots and monitor obstacles while maneuvering your rig.

Take the time to adjust your mirror before hitting the road. Have someone walk around your rig so you can see what areas are your blind spots. This will be important when maneuvering corners or through tight campgrounds.

Keep Your Speed in Check

As we stated previously, speed is important when driving an RV. It’s a good idea never to exceed 65 mph while driving an RV, no matter the speed limit. Some states, like California, even have reduced speed limits for vehicles towing trailers. Those towing an RV aren’t exempt from these laws, and you’ll want to ensure you don’t have a lead foot.

The faster you go, the more stopping distance your RV will need. This can be extremely dangerous when in heavy traffic or if there’s an obstacle on the highway. In some areas, wildlife might decide to run across or park itself in the middle of the road. Keeping your speed in check can help buy you time to make the best decision for handling the situation.

Driving Class A RV
Set your mirrors properly to reduce blind spots.

Watch Your Weight

Packing your RV full of gear and items you want to take camping can be tempting. However, RVs have a cargo carrying capacity. This rating is the maximum weight you can add to the RV and safely drive it. This will include the weight of any liquids in your tanks and any gear or equipment in your RV. Adding too much weight to your rig can damage the suspension and make driving your rig down the road very dangerous.

You also want to consider how you distribute the weight throughout your RV. Distribute the weight over the entire rig evenly. You don’t want too much weight on one side or front to back. Too much weight on the rear of your RV can cause it to sway, and too much weight on the tongue can cause issues for your tow vehicle. Drive your RV to a CAT Scale or a SmartWeigh to get an accurate measurement of your weight.

Learn more in our article about the most important question RVers don’t ask.

Make Wide 90 degree Turns

There’s a reason why you’ve seen semis take such wide turns while maneuvering their rigs. RVs, like semi-trailers, will take a tighter turn than the vehicle towing them. As a result, you can easily sideswipe objects along the side of the road when making a turn. Get used to taking wide turns, especially if you’re turning right.

To make a wide turn you will be allowing the nose of your vehicle to go much further into the intersection than you would with your car. Once you are far enough in make a much sharper turn instead of sweeping the intersection. This will ensure that your off tracking of your rear tires has plenty of room. Here is a really great video from our friend the RV geeks about this. It applies both to motorhomes and trailers.

How to Drive a Motorhome/RV — Driving Tips: Off-Tracking & Rear Overhang

Not all drivers understand that RVs and semis need to make wide turns, which may block your ability to make the turn. However, forcing yourself into a turn when there’s not enough room will only end in you damaging your RV or someone else’s property. Wait patiently and allow other drivers to get out of the way before making your maneuver.

Class A motorhome making left turn at stop light
RVs must make wider turns than regular passenger vehicles.

Keep Your Distance

You want to keep your distance between you and any vehicles in front of your RV. Your RV will likely have a much greater stopping distance than most other vehicles on the road. However, while keeping your distance, other vehicles may see the open space and fill it while changing lanes. Be mindful of this and anticipate that you may need to adjust your speed if a vehicle changes lanes and gets in front of you. You may not have time to stop, especially if the vehicle is applying its brakes aggressively.

Practice Parking

Learning to park an RV can be challenging. It can be completely confusing if you’re unfamiliar with backing up. While parking a driveable RV is relatively similar to a passenger vehicle. This is because you can use your mirrors and swing the tail into place. However, there is nothing intuitive about backing up a towable RV. When you have a bend in the vehicle, you need to get comfortable with how it moves when backing up. The best way to do this is to practice!

We recommend finding a large empty parking lot to practice parking. This could be a school parking lot on the weekends or a business that has closed up shop. As long as there’s no event or activities at an establishment, there’s a good chance they’ll not mind. However, to avoid any issues, you should always ask permission in advance before practicing your parking. 

Class C RV driving towards storm clouds
Keep an eye on the weather to avoid dangerous conditions.

Watch Weather

The weather conditions can complicate driving an RV for the first time, especially wind. You’ll want to adjust your driving based on the weather conditions and refrain from using cruise control when the pavement is wet. Wind gusts have the potential of blowing an RV from side to side and even, in extreme situations, blowing them onto their side. If you’re new to RVing, you’ll likely want to avoid towing in wind conditions or gusts over 25 to 30 mph.

Pro Tip: Wind can be an RVers worst nightmare. Before driving an RV for the first time, learn How to RV in the Wind: A Survival Guide.

If you notice the weather isn’t going to cooperate for an upcoming trip, you might want to consider canceling your reservation. Do so a few days in advance to have the best shot of getting as much refunded as possible. Even if you lose a few bucks, it’s better safe than sorry. 

Tail Swing Will Get You

One of the biggest rookie mistakes made by RVers is underestimating tail swing. The longer the distance between the rear axle and the bumper of the RV, the more dramatic the tail swing will be. One of the most common places we see accidents with tail swings is at the fuel pump. RVers make the mistake of turning too quickly or sharply when leaving. The result is the side of their RV smashing into the cement or steel barricades designed to protect the pumps.

This is one of the main reasons we encourage drivers to fuel their tow vehicles before hitching up their rigs. It’s easier to drive your tow vehicle to the fuel pump unhitched than to try to maneuver a long rig through a tight space. If you’re hitched, find fuel stations with truck lanes designed for big rigs. However, these are sometimes the only viable options for drivers with diesel engines.

Class A motorhome leaving gas station
Be mindful of tail swing, especially at gas stations where you’ll need to make tight turns.

Practice, Practice, Practice Driving Your RV

Driving your RV can be intimidating initially, but it gets much easier the more you do it. There’s no such thing as a perfect driver, but practice makes you a better driver. The more you can practice, the quicker your anxiety levels will begin to decrease when you consider towing your rig. With lower anxiety levels, you’ll be able to enjoy the entire experience of taking your RV out for an adventure.

Once you get comfortable and start spending more time behind the wheel, you’ll want to keep in mind these 10 Simple Ways to Make RV Driving Days Not Suck.

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