Even the greenest RV newbie has a well-established relationship with the open road. By the time we get our first RV, most of us have carried a driver’s license in our wallet for decades. But this familiarity often works against us when we become RVers, making many of us lazy and reluctant to learn new rules of the road. Unfortunately this attitude puts us at risk of common newbie RVer mistakes, like overheated brakes and collisions with stationery objects. The good news is that you can avoid the hassle of these preventable RV repairs, by reviewing the Top 5 Rules of the Road for RV newbies.
Rule #1: Don’t drive too far or too fast in one day.
If you’re like most RVers, your road tripping wanderlust probably began with epic cross-country road trips in passenger cars. And like most new RVers, you were probably surprised to find that taking an RV road trip is more physically and mentally taxing than a typical automobile road trip. Starting, stopping and navigating a vehicle that weighs thousands of pounds more than a passenger car forces us to be more alert to road conditions, which is mentally exhausting at day’s end. Driving a rig also requires patience, because a 10-hour driving day in a passenger car is about the equivalent of a five hour day at the helm of a recreational vehicle. Tackling too much driving in one day leaves us physically exhausted and puts our safety (and that of our passengers) at risk. As RVers we must plan our routes and trips accordingly.
Rule #2: Make RV maintenance a regular part of your life.
RV maintenance is more important than ever when it comes to starting, stopping and maneuvering a heavy vehicle. RVs take more braking power than a passenger car and have more complicated systems, that when broken, can compromise your safety and comfort – and cause a lot of property damage if things go awry. Plan for ongoing RV maintenance throughout your year by adding maintenance days to your calendar. The most important daily, monthly and quarterly aspects of RV maintenance include (but aren’t limited to):
- Maintaining tire pressure
- Monitoring fluids
- Inspecting brakes
- Generator inspection
- House systems safety check (plumbing, heating, electrical and roof, among others)
- Maintaining your hitch for a towable or tow car
Rule #3: Know your RV size and GVWR
Passenger car drivers rarely consider the height or weight of their vehicle on the open road, but when you drive a home on wheels it’s critical to know the physical dimensions and capabilities of your rig. Those clearance signs at gas station overhangs and low bridges all take on new meaning when at the command of a RV. Everything from the tires on your wheels to the height of your air conditioner can mean the difference between an uneventful driving day or becoming a Darwin Award Recipient if you make contact with a stationary object like this guy. Always know how tall, heavy and wide your rig is before embarking on your first trips.
Rule #4: Learn how to use your brakes.
Overheated brakes are a leading cause of RV fires on the highway because too many newbie RV drivers don’t understand the importance of using lower gears on steep grades. You can avoid overheating your RV brakes by preparing for upcoming conditions. Before you turn the key, study a book like the Mountain Roads Directory, which describes over 700 mountain passes in 22 states. When you’re on the road and encounter a steep downhill grade, switch to lower gears to slow yourself down. You also want to regularly inspect RV brakes and keep them adjusted to avoid costly repairs.
Rule #5: Be a courteous, patient driver.
RVs are called “recreational vehicles” for a reason: there’s no need to be in a hurry when you are at the command of a ten ton vehicle that can cause a lot of damage under the right circumstances. Since we are the ones out there having fun, take it easy on the road and fall back when ordinary drivers try to pass. Keeping a slower pace not only conserves fuel but it gives us plenty of time to react if Speedy Gonzales cuts us off.
The more trips you take in your RV, the more you’ll find that these rules of the road can help us become better drivers no matter what size of vehicle we’re driving. If you have other driving tips for RV newbies we would love to hear them so take a minute to share your feedback below!
About the Author:
Rene Agredano, a Coach-Net member since 2015, is a self-employed full-time RVer who enjoys writing, jewelry design and animal advocacy. Her adventures with a three-legged dog and husband Jim are chronicled at LiveWorkDream.com.
Rick, good advice here.
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About brakes; when going down a steep grade it is good to slow your speed down before assending. As you travel down try and maintain your speed within a 5 mph range. Example; if I start out at 45mph. I try not to go over 50. I apply the brakes at 50 and hold them until I am back to 45. Let up on the brakes and let the speed go up to 50 again and repeat. This allows your brakes to cool off in between applications. If you have a Diesel engine, I would recommend getting an Exhaust Brake (check with your manufacturer before installing) his will help you slow down without much braking. GM truck transmissionns have a downshift feature that will also help. Good Luck, and Merry Christmas!
Steve Owens said:
I have a 2010 Winnebago with a Allison trans that will gear down on hills as I put pressure on the brakes. In mountain country I use it all the time to preserve my braking and pad life.
The Allison is a great transmission, and has a holding feature for hills. Unfortunately for me I have a truck that I can not install an Exhaust Brake on. I did install a product that helps with brake pressure, this allows me to apply the brakes with less pressure. Works like an accumalater on aircraft.
Randy Verburg said:
Just before l hit the hill l’ll slow down to 50mph and re~set my cruise control and that will work like a jake break, it is letting the motor of your truck or car slow you down but if you freak out and hit your break petal now your cruise is off and your going to do what this guy said that is also hard on your brakes slowing down to 45 & speed up and brake again down to 45mph if this one of them hills that are ten miles or better long try to get your cruise set again….
Understand YOUR particular driveline. *For MY Freightliner with Cummins engine and Allison transmission cruise control engaged locks out engine brake! in order for the engine brake to activate I must disengage cruise control. For MY coach – 2004 Phaeton 36′ any long grade I must slow down to 35 or 40 before beginning the descent. Then let it rise to 40 or 45 before pulling it down to my starting speed with the service brakes. *
*YOUR rig may have very different requirements. Do understand that in the mountains on long steep grades it is much safer to start down the grade too slow, you can always let the speed climb. If you start out too fast you may be in for serious trouble with no easy recovery.*
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Paul Goldberg said:
In addition to limiting a day’s travel it is also a great idea to stop every two hours and walk around the RV to be sure everything is as it was when you left your last stop. We use that stop to change drivers too. If we really need to go more than 4 hours in a day, this lets us have a relatively fresh driver for the hours after four. My wife has as many hours at the wheel as I do and can do anything necessary at the wheel including backing into a tight campsite.
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Pull over and let other travelers pass when you can on 2 lane roads. They have jobs to get to you don’t. You are limited to 65 mph on your trailer tires.
Rick Drysdale said:
No you are not limited to 65 miles per hour on trailer tires. There is no “trailer tire” There are many types and quality of trailer tire.
The limit is the speed limit . Usually there is a lower limit for towing vehicles with 3 or more axles.
Paul Goldberg said:
While it is true there are many kinds of tires put on trailers many of them are rated to 65 mph. Most motorhome tires are rated to 70 mph. We do not set a schedule that requires us to go over 62-63 mph out of choice. I am over 70 and I do not have the reflexes of a 50 year old. My 30,000 pound plus motorhome towing a 5000 pound car is not as maneuverable as my Corvettes were. Most trucks pulling trailers are also not as easy to turn and brake as my Corvettes were. It is better to go slower and move over to allow faster traffic to pass than to press your luck on a narrow road to avoid feeling pressured by faster cars tailgating.
Randy Verburg said:
If your passing a semi truck or one is passing you. Once you get around them, or they get around you Day or Night flash your LOW Beams Lights, tbis way you will know it is Safe to come back over in the Right Lane. Anx please if Someone is passing you at Night Please Please Do NOT FLASH your BRIGHT LIGHTS you some night will fine out why. There is Some Rigs that has a Switched called a MARKER LIGHTS these are the yellowish-orange Lights above your head on the outside Flashing Them the Driver Passing You Knows it is Safe to come over. Don’t Have Them Turn Your Headlights Off & On Couple of Times. Just Don’t Do the Bright Lights they Bline The Driver that is Passing You & it will happen to you some night & you will know why l said Please Do Not Use Your Bright Lights !!
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Great advice! Thank you for sharing!
Paul Goldberg said:
On my coach the switch to flash the marker lights is marked ICC Flash. This is a holdover from the days there was an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) which mandated the use of marker lights for commercial vehicles.
Lynn ricketts said:
Ii live in a 18 foot camper.i notice it has a awecul smell that makes my eyes burn and my chest ceel heavy.im hock up to a out sixe sewer .but the sewer pipes Re not cap off in the lots to tbe left and right of me
Could thesmell be methane gas?
When turning or changing lanes give ample notice so those around you can let you in.
We dont want any smushed family’s because we didn’t signal out intentions soon enough.
Cars are way more maneuverable and can zip in and out of traffic a lot easier than an RV