In Part 1, we covered getting set up with the right tools and accessories for systems such as freshwater, dump tanks, electrical, and taking the shakedown cruise. In this blog, we’ll cover some tips for driving/towing, storage, and the all-important pre-departure checklist.
Driving an RV whether you are maneuvering a big rig or towing a trailer is not difficult, it’s just different. You need to figure out how your rig handles turns. Does it cut sharp or swing wide at the back end? What is it’s departure angles?
Before you hit the road, you need to measure your rigs height, width, length, and weight and have it posted somewhere in the cab where you can see it when you approach a tight situation. Keep in mind, the numbers posted in the brochure are not exact for every unit. You need to measure the actual height, width from the outermost point such as mirrors or awnings, and the height. Jot these numbers down on a label or even masking tape and put them on the dash or somewhere visible for that moment you come across a low clearance warning and do not want to guess! I can guarantee if you have a 10’ 6” travel trailer or motorhome and you go through a 10’4” bridge or tunnel, you will come out with a 10’4” rig!
Set Yourself Up For Driving
It’s important to sit in the driver’s seat and set your mirrors, seat position, and then get acquainted with all the functions of the rig before hitting the road and trying to find where the wiper functions are when it starts to rain! Sit in the seat and adjust the position of the seat to ensure you can see the mirrors, adjust the steering wheel to see the speedometer and critical gauges. This may seem elementary, however, I have driven dozens of units that I could not see the mirrors due to the “A” pillar, could not tilt the steering wheel and see the speed on the dash, and other issues. If you have a truck and trailer, your mirrors need to be wide enough to see the side of the trailer. It is also a good idea to install a rearview camera on the back of the trailer to help see what you can’t!
Practice Your Right-Hand Turn
After you become familiar with all the functions, identify blind spots, and are comfortable sitting behind the wheel, you will want to practice making a right-hand turn! Some vehicles will “cut” the corner short and your back wheels will jump the curb while others with a longer back end will have a wide swing. Find a parking lot at a large church during the week, or high school/junior college on the weekend and set up a simulated corner. Interstates are 14’ wide while most city streets are 12’ or less. Typically you will only have a sharp right-hand turn in a city so set up your cones or markers at 12’ and practice making the turn so you know how far into the intersection you need to go to make it through the turn. This will help you be prepared when it comes time to make the turn which is a big part of RV driving and towing. The more you can practice tight situations such as turning, backing up, and driving in traffic the more prepared you will be and have a more comfortable driving experience.
Practice Backing Up
Smaller travel trailers will have a tendency to turn faster and sharper while 5th wheel trailers take a much longer time and distance to react. Using the same parking lot, practice backing into a simulated camping space before trying to learn the tricks of the trade at the campsite! When training new RVers in driving classes, I have them parallel to the site and scribe a line from the back driver’s side wheel of the trailer back to the spot in the campsite where they will finish. Then they put their hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. The direction you move your hand is the direction the trailer will go! Look at the mirror, focus on the back wheel, and follow the line. This will make them concentrate on where the wheel is going and not everything else on the trailer and tow vehicle. Once you get familiar with how the trailer reacts, it becomes easier. Another tip is to pull up to the camping spot and perform what I call an “S” maneuver which is turning slightly to the right and then the left. This puts your trailer at a slight angle to the spot so you are not making a hard turn backing up.
And whether you have a truck and trailer or motorized, it’s a good idea to have someone help you when backing up. Develop good clear signals which large sweeping gestures rather than just using hand signals which the driver might not be able to see. I also use a gesture pointing to my nose or behind and then a large direction gesture to tell the driver that the hose of the trailer/motorhome needs to go over in that direction or rear end…you get the idea! The best stopping gesture I recommend is a large sweep of crossing your arms which is very visible. Don’t stand directly behind the unit as the driver can not see you as well and it could be dangerous! Many people like to use cell phones to communicate however there typically is a gap or delay in the signal which could mean not stopping in time. It’s best to have good gestures or use walkie talkies.
Develop A Pre-departure Check List
Having a list to verify your TV antenna is down, steps are in, electrical and water is unhooked and everything is secure before you leave will help reduce headaches and save you money not having to fix or replace things! Create a customized checklist for your rig by adding your personal items and accessories, follow it every time before heading out and then hit the road with confidence.
About the author: Dave Solberg: Managing Editor, RV Repair Club
For the last 25 years, Dave has conducted RV maintenance and safety seminars, developed dealer and owner training programs, written RV safety and handyman articles, authored an RV handbook reference guide, and logged over 100,000 miles on the road in an RV.
RV Repair Club is your go-to online resource for enthusiasts who want quality RV maintenance, repair and upgrade information – a community where passionate RVers can come together to gather knowledge and share their experiences.
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