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Need to learn how to drive an RV? The first thing any new RVer should do after they have purchased an RV is to familiarize themselves with the vehicle or trailer. You need to know the height, width, length, and weight.
The height and weight are especially important to know when you are traveling the smaller roads on the eastern side of the country. When most roads were built in New England and along the eastern seaboard, they were built to accommodate much smaller vehicles. 75 years ago no one imagined that someday the roads and bridges they were building then would eventually carry 40 feet long motorhomes towing a car behind them. Overpasses were lower then and while many upgrades and improvements have been made in the past few decades, there are still bridges and overpasses where your weight and height will be a factor. You don’t want to be the person that wedges their RV under a bridge or worse yet, collapses a historic iron bridge because you chose to drive over it not knowing how heavy you were.
Important note on navigation
If you rely solely on GPS (which you shouldn’t) for navigation, then you should consider purchasing a system that advises you of low clearances and weight restrictions. Commercial truck drivers use these types GPS systems and you should too. I would suggest visiting a truck stop accessories store checking out what they recommend.
I’m ready to drive, what’s my next step?
Here are a few things to do after you’ve familiarized yourself with your RV and you feel like you’re ready to hit the road.
Familiarize yourself with towing components
When I got my fifth wheel, the first thing I did was to thoroughly familiarize myself with the towing components of these models. A 5th wheel is not your standard ball and hitch with safety chains; instead it consists of having a fifth wheel in my truck bed much like a semi-tractor and a pin on the trailer that locks into the wheel. Once the pin is locked into the wheel, there is little chance of it coming out and that is why they are generally approved for people to occupy them while in motion unlike the traditional ball hitch models of trailers.
Practice in a controlled environment
Once I had mastered hitching and unhitching my RV, I took it to an abandoned parking lot and practiced making turns. From this I learned what my turning radius was and where I needed my truck to be when executing a turn that would keep my trailer from climbing up on a curb and hunting a lamppost or worse yet, some moron standing there in my blind spot staring at a cell phone while a 14,000 pound trailer is about to run them over.
This was also a good time for me to practice my backing skills. I was quite familiar with backing up a ball and hitch unit but I soon discovered that backing my new 5th wheel up was a lot different. To my surprise, I discovered that backing a 5th wheel up was much easier than my previous ball and hitch model because the pivot point of the trailer was now located much closer to me, which of course also tightened up my turning when allowing for length.
Some people may advise you to purchase small orange traffic cones for these exercises, but I would advise against that. How often are you going to need those traffic cones in the future? If your answer was probably never, then I would suggest you look around for some three to five gallon buckets that you can repurpose later as a means of storage. In an upcoming article I will share some of the creative ways I save money by repurposing items and then using them for storage or other purposes.
After you feel comfortable driving your new RV around a clear area and you have practiced some of the basics of turning and backing, your next step is to take your RV out on the road for a longer drive in the urban or more populated streets. You should also drive your motorhome or trailer on some freeways or interstate highways at higher speeds to understand how they pull or react at those speeds.
What do I need to know while driving?
The best way to understand how your RV reacts in various driving conditions is to put it through various tests along your journey. You should understand how your vehicle reacts to crosswinds or light and heavy rains. Have you prepared for driving your rig through snow flurries or freezing rain? Weather conditions are always an important aspect to consider when traveling, but you will really need to consider speed, distance, and braking as the most important factors when on the highway.
Speed, distance, and braking – the most important factors on the highway
One thing to remember is that your motorhome or the RV you are towing should always be in the right lane of the highway you are traveling. Another good idea is to keep up with the traffic flow while in those lanes but yield to those going faster than you. Remember, you need to place your unit into an area and maintain a safe area for slowing and braking.
This is easily accomplished in flat urban areas, but in mountainous regions you are going to have to use your lower gears to climb the incline and then use the same gears to descend. Never descend those areas in higher gears because it will lead you to putting more pressure on your wheel brakes and this can easily overheat and ultimately fail your braking system. In fact, I have seen trailer brakes get so over heated that they have actually set fire to the trailer on a semi-truck or an RV trailer as well as motorhomes.
And finally, remember to keep a distance between you and the next guy. Give yourself a good cushion for braking and remember…there’s always going to be some idiot that places himself into that comfort area you are driving in, but just back off the fuel and let them do the stupid driving.
As long as you’re learning how to drive your new rig, read these articles as well.