Prospective or first-time RV owners may be intimidated by the thought of driving and parking a vehicle substantially larger than the family sedan. Without a doubt, some new skills are required, but learning them does not have to be a stressful experience.
The fear factor probably rises in direct proportion to the size of the RV. Class B and smaller Class C motorhomes are hardly larger than a van or pickup, so perhaps the only real concerns will be learning to rely on the side-mounted rearview mirrors and getting used to the extra weight. Likewise, owners of smaller travel trailers will find little challenge beyond learning how to back up a trailer.
At the other end of the scale are large Class A motor coaches and 40-foot fifth wheel trailers. Those with no truck driving experience will face some challenges in mastering these vehicles. RV driving schools are offered for folks who feel genuinely ill at ease with the prospect, but as with acquiring any new skill, practice is still critical.
Rather than focus on specific techniques which vary from one type of RV to the next, we’ll focus here on addressing the different driving challenges that new RVers will face and discuss how to practice them safely.
Just getting the unit home from the dealer may introduce the new RVer to driving in traffic, facing lane changes, turns and stop-and-go driving. Try to avoid heavy traffic and situations until you have had a chance to work on these skills. Remember to allow lots of room and turn extra wide. Plan on a couple of practice sessions in low-traffic, open areas where you can work on your turns and get used to your mirrors.
Parking may be the second test you face. It’s a good idea to practice backing and parking in a large, nearly vacant lot, if at all possible. Set out some traffic cones or similar markers to help you judge curbs and obstacles. This is also a good place to practice with your partner: You should try to develop reliable hand signals, and/or learn to use walkie-talkies or cell phones, and build confidence in each other.
The final set of driving skills you’ll need to develop is for safe highway driving. These include passing, negotiating curves and grades, and managing your speed to meet conditions. You will be moving a lot of weight down the road, and it will take longer to crank it up and slow it down. Save steep mountain roads for later trips – start out with something easy. Get the feel of your brakes and how your rig handles curves. Take it slow and steady as you start out. Try to arrange for practice drives on quiet weekdays.
Finally: Practice. Then practice some more. You’ll enjoy your RVing a lot more if you drive and park with safety and confidence.