Reflecting on my early RV voyages brings back memories: sobering mental images of punctured sheet metal, sheared-off fender flares and bent TV antennas. Plus, there was that time I ended up with my rig stuck in such a tight spot that I was tempted to call AAA to extricate it. And that was just the first couple of trips.
Like most everyone who persists in a vexing task, however, I eventually learned the big do’s and don’ts of RV driving, the important “always” and “never” warnings you don’t hear until it’s too late.
Fortunately, I’m here to keep you from getting schooled the hard way. Keep these seven rules for the road in mind the next time you slide behind the wheel of your RV, and you’ll be more likely to remain a happy camper.
RULE #1: DON’T GO THERE.
If you take only one thing away from this story, let it be this: Never ever get your RV into a situation—be it a busy gas station, a crowded parking lot or whatever predicament—without knowing if and how you’ll be able to drive out.
RULE #2: LOOK UP!
When you’re driving a 12-foot-tall RV, you need to be on the lookout for hazards from above that you’d likely never even notice in a car. Watch for low-hanging branches, and heed those “low clearance” warning signs at overpasses and tunnels.
RULE #3: BE SIZE WISE.
Learn how to properly set the mirrors on your motorhome or tow vehicle. Be sure to leave plenty of room when passing a vehicle on the road. And, use your companion as a spotter, whether you’re changing lanes or backing into a campsite.
RULE #4: STOP IT!
Remember that bringing a large motorhome or tow vehicle/trailer combination to a stop takes more room. Be sure to give yourself the extra following distance you’ll need to bring the whole thing safely to a halt.
RULE #5: SWING WIDE
Watch your mirrors, and be aware of where the back tires are tracking. You may have to make a wider turn, just as tractor-trailer drivers do when rounding a corner, to avoid running over the curb or hitting obstacles.
RULE #6: DOUBLE-CHECK
Before you drive away, ensure that your lights and signals are working, the TV antenna is lowered, and the RV’s steps are raised. Also, give the trailer’s hitch and safety chains the once-over.
RULE #7: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
While hitting the road straightaway is tempting, take some time—ideally early mornings when roads and parking lots are less crowded—to get a feel for your vehicle’s turning radius and how the trailer tracks behind your tow vehicle.