You have a new RV and are ready to hit the road! Driving an RV or a motorhome is very different from driving a motor car and once you start driving you will quickly begin to realize that commanding an RV is nothing like driving a car or even a truck.
As a first-time owner or even an experienced RV driver, you should learn as much driving RV as possible so that you are prepared for every scenario from tight turns to backing into small parking spaces.
Here are some top driving tips for new drivers of RVs and motorhomes to check out before hitting the road.
Driving an RV or a motorhome is very different from driving a motor car.
1. Go Slow
The first tip when driving an RV is to go slow. Unlike other drivers, who are usually rushing to get to their destinations, you’re taking your time. Owning and driving an RV or a motorhome is supposed to be a leisurely experience, so going slow is all part of the package.
It is recommended to always drive around the 63 miles per hour mark and never exceed 65 miles per hour. Don’t worry about impatient drivers around you – drive at the speed limit and stay in the slow lane. Driving at a leisurely speed will also give you better gas mileage.
Owning and driving an RV or a motorhome is supposed to be a leisurely experience, so going slow is all part of the package. Driving through the Grand Canyon by
2. Keep Far Right
Unless you’re driving outside of the US, motorists should stick to the right lane when driving. If you are driving an RV, this is generally the rule of the road. Motorhomes and RVs are large, lumbering vehicles and it is safer for everyone on the road if they stick to the right lane. Driving in the right-hand lane also allows you to be close to the shoulder should you have any mechanical issues and gives you the best visual access from your driver’s side mirror.
Driving in the right-hand lane is generally the rule of the road for RV drivers.
3. Adjust Your Mirrors
It is very important to always have an eye on the rear of your vehicle at all times. Before heading off on any trip, adjust all your mirrors so that you have a clear vision of the rear of your RV from all angles.
Adjust all your mirrors so that you have a clear vision of the rear of your RV from all angles
4. Know Your Literal Limits
A motorhome is a large vehicle and it’s important to know the limits of the vehicle from the width to the height. Your road trip may take you to a range of different locations from narrow overpasses to low tunnels and you don’t want to be worrying whether your RV will fit under that tunnel or be too wide for that overpass.
Take the measurements of your RV before you go. Measure the width and the height and keep these in mind when driving through tunnels and overpasses. If you do happen to come across a tunnel or overpass with less clearance than your vehicle allows, use your GPS to find another route to avoid getting stuck.
A motorhome is a large vehicle and it’s important to know the limits of the vehicle from the width to the height.
5. Understand Your Tail Swing
The tail swing of a motorhome or an RV is “the distance that the body of the coach behind the pivot point moves in the opposite direction of the front when you turn.” If your RV is made up of two parts – the cab which is the shorter part of the vehicle and the coach, which is the longest part. The coach will not turn at the same time that the front of the RV does, so you will need to calculate your exact tail swing to accommodate and plan for that distance gap.
The best way to do this is to find an empty street or parking lot and have another person watch as you turn to calculate the tail swing. Park the vehicle flush with a painted white line and use the white line as a reference point for turning. Depending on the size of your RV and how tightly you turn, average tail swings are between 18 and 30 inches (more or less). The more you practice, the more you’ll get comfortable with making tight and loose turns.
The tail swing of a motorhome or an RV is “the distance that the body of the coach behind the pivot point moves in the opposite direction of the front when you turn.”
6. Keep Your Distance
Always stay at least 400 to 500 feet from the vehicle in front of you. If you aren’t sure how far that is, count four to six seconds – this should give you enough time to brake over a minimum distance without worrying other drivers on the road.
Always stay at least 400 to 500 feet from the vehicle in front of you.
7. Know When to Brake
While this may seem like an obvious tip, braking in an RV is very different from braking in a car. The average campervan packed with gear weighs over 7,000 pounds and you need to account for this when braking.
There are no such things as sudden stops – you need to be alert and conscientious at all times. If you have to brake for any reason, you must plan it out well in advance. It’s going to take time for your vehicle to roll to a complete stop, so you must make sure the path in front of you is always clear.
Make sure the path in front of you is always clear.
8. Be a Courteous Driver
It’s always a good idea to be courteous on the road, and when you are driving a large vehicle like an RV or a motorhome, it’s even more important! If you know you have a left turn coming up in a few hundred feet, flip your left turn signal on early and slowly begin to move over to the left lane. This will give other drivers on the road plenty of time to move out of your way.
9. Watch the Weather
Weather plays an important role when driving an RV or motorhome as it can be difficult to maneuver such a large vehicle in inclement weather. It’s a good idea to download a weather app and use it to check the weather before your trip and constantly check the weather as you travel.
While a drizzle or light flurries don’t have to stop your trip, it’s a good idea to pull over if it’s raining or snowing hard, there are strong winds or there’s thunder or lightning. Best to be safe than sorry. You should also avoid driving in hail, snow, or fog as the visibility is very low and can be potentially dangerous.
It’s a good idea to pull over if it’s raining or snowing hard.
10. Go Slowly on Steep Inclines, Hills, and Mountain Passes
Driving a motorhome or an RV up or down a steep hill, or curvy mountain pass is quite different from driving an RV in a straight line. Although you might want to get the hilly part of your drive over quickly, your best bet is to drive slowly. Driving too fast or overexerting your engine or brakes could lead to overheating.
Take note of steep inclines, hills, and mountain passes when planning your trip, and change your route if you’re not comfortable with the road conditions. Keep the dimensions of your RV in mind before or when attempting to drive a mountain pass.
Climbing a Hill
- Slow down and downshift gears so the engine can help you climb the hill without the engine overheating.
- Stay in the right lane and let faster vehicles pass you.
- Downshift gears before you start to drive downhill.
- Use your engine and transmission to help slow your speed when going downhill.
- Use the tow/haul mode if equipped.
- Hard braking for shorter periods is better than soft braking for long periods.
- Slow down. Follow the posted speeds at each curve or turn.
11. Book Campsites with Pull-through Driveways
Backing up a motorhome or RV is not easy so book campsites with pull-through driveways – it’ll make parking much easier.
12. Don’t Drive When Tired
This almost goes without saying, but driving when you are tired is incredibly dangerous, particularly in a large vehicle like an RV. Driving an RV takes extra concentration and you need to be alert at all times.
If you’re feeling tired, don’t push through it. Either stop and have a rest in a nearby lay-by or truck stop and continue your journey when you are feeling fresh or ask someone else to take over the driving. Don’t reach for the coffee either – too much coffee, caffeine-based drinks or sodas can make you feel jittery and shaky, and this can be dangerous while driving.
11. Practice, Practice, Practice
As with anything in life, practice makes perfect – or close to! Driving an RV is just the same – the more you drive it, the better you will become. Focus on wide turns, K-turns, parallel and perpendicular parking, and other tricky driving maneuvers, and practice these until you feel confident doing them.
Focus on tricky driving maneuvers and practice!
Hope these RV driving tips for new drivers were helpful. Enjoy your trip!
Jill Miller is the founder of Your RV Lifestyle. Trading corporate America for the open road, Jill, along with her partner Jose, began their RV journey, making an unconventional start by wintering in New Jersey. A natural adventurer, she was motivated by a desire to explore the USA and beyond, embracing the varied landscapes, communities, and cultures across the country.
For Jill, the allure of RV living was not about material accumulation, but rather the pursuit of an adventurous, fulfilling lifestyle. A lover of golf, bicycling, hiking, and line dancing, she has carried her passions across the country, engaging with them in diverse settings. Jill’s commitment to the RV lifestyle came after years of careful research, numerous consultations with RV owners, and personal trials, including living in a rental RV.