by Paul and Kerri Elders
Let’s take a quick look at the process of “breaking in” a new RV. Whether you’re brand new to the lifestyle or are upsizing to a larger rig or downsizing to a smaller one, your new-to-you RV will be like a trusted old friend in no time at all. Sometimes, “Newbie” RV owners ask themselves if they’re really up to the task of driving their new RVs cross country. Rest assured, whether your new RV is a tagalong trailer, popup, fifth wheel or a brand new motorhome, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Life’s a Great Adventure; let’s get going!
First, let’s look at a few simple tips to make the experience a little easier, starting with two very basic rules of safe RVing: 1. Take your time and 2. Remember to always allow extra space between your RV and other vehicles.
It’s important to remember that stopping distances for any type of RV can be significantly greater than those of the typical car, just because of an RV’s obvious larger size, weight, and length. The solution is simple: just remember to maintain more space between your RV and other vehicles and never tailgate any vehicle in front of you. This is especially important as you begin to learn the special handling characteristics of your new RV. Keep in mind that acceleration, braking, and handling of any RV can also vary slightly from trip to trip, depending on its final loaded weight and distribution of cargo. Keep that in mind when packing your rig.
It may sound a little silly, but when you first get your new RV, spend a few minutes in the driver’s seat with the engine off, just becoming familiar with the look and feel of this new-to-you RV. Notice where all the gauges are located. Practice activating the navigation system, sound system, AC/heat, turn signals, headlights, windshield wipers, hazard lights, and backup monitor, if so equipped. When you’re ready, start the engine and gradually make yourself familiar with the rig’s acceleration characteristics, its braking pressure, and its steering “feel.” If possible, log some miles by driving on uncrowded, wide-laned roadways. You’ll quickly overcome your feelings of new-rig intimidation just by driving your new RV around town before setting out on your first major journey.
Newbies can also gain some valuable experience by practicing parking your new RV in a large, quiet parking lot before taking your first trip. Become familiar with the wheel tracking and turning radius of your RV, and make it a virtually subconscious practice to continually use your outside mirrors as you park and as you drive. Remember that your “blind spot” is always larger in an RV than in a car; you can compensate for this fact by checking the outside mirrors frequently and using the spot mirror regularly.
Always remember the reason you’re RVing in the first place: the goal is to have FUN. First and foremost. So never, ever, allow other drivers on the shared roadway to pressure you into driving faster than you feel comfortable. Keep it slow and steady until you are 100% comfortable with the feel of your new rig. Just stay in the right lane, and gradually work your way up to a comfortable and safe speed. Never exceed your own comfort zone. The more you drive, the more confident you’ll become.
Always signal your intentions, and check your mirrors diligently when changing lanes. Again, stay in the right lane unless passing slower traffic is a necessity. When you’ve passed a vehicle and are ready to return to the right lane, watch for small, quick-moving cars that might attempt to pass you on the right side. Judge lane position by keeping the white lane lines equally spaced in the outside rearview mirrors and by focusing your driving attention on the center of your lane about 500 feet ahead. As you drive, keep your eyes moving at all times between the mirrors and the road ahead.
If you’re a motorhome driver and have decided to add a towed vehicle (commonly called a “toad”) to the mix, do a little practice run before embarking on your first major journey. Practice connecting and disconnecting the toad from its tow bar (or tow dolly) a few times so that you can get the routine down pat and feel confident about proper hookups. Your tow bar’s Owner’s Manual is a priceless teacher; follow its instructions to the letter. Whenever you have a car in tow, remember that you also have its added weight tagging along behind you. Acceleration will require a little more time and distance, and so will braking. Make allowances for extra stopping distance.
Be patient with yourself as you become accustomed to your new rig or the feel of driving with a toad. Remember that everybody was a Newbie, once. Just relax, slow down, and enjoy the ride, because the true joy of traveling is found within the journey itself. Drive responsibly, keep your cool, and most of all: have FUN! Happy trails!