#1: Know your RV’s vital stats.
If you’ve added any accessories to your rig, measure the height yourself in the driveway at home. You don’t want to lose that top rack you just bought!
This is good to know for parking, but it’s also important for driving. Some states restrict vehicles of a certain size on certain roads. You don’t want to get a ticket, but more importantly, you don’t want to be on roads that can’t comfortably accommodate your RV.
You sure you can fit in that spot? It’s good to have this information handy, especially for parking situations. (More on that below.)
Make sure you have items evenly distributed on either side of your RV. Just like stowing carry-ons on an airplane, it’s smart to secure heavy items so they don’t go flying if you hit a pothole or other “unexpected turbulence.”
If you’re really road-tripping, gas stations could be few and far between. Make sure you know the range of your vehicle while towing, whether you’re cruising on the highway or stuck in city traffic.
Keep a list of these vital stats in a spot that’s easy for you or your co-pilot to see when you’re driving. That way, you can quickly double-check them before you drive under a low overhang or turn onto a narrow country road.
#2: Check before you cruise.
We bet before you head out, you’ve made yourself a nice packing list so you don’t leave anything important behind. A pre-trip safety checklist is just as important. You don’t want to be “away from it all” and find your oil pressure’s too high, your tire pressure’s too low, or your windshield wipers are shot. Here’s a quick list. Consult your service manual or talk to your dealer or mechanic for more specifics for your vehicle.
- Tires: Check the pressure and make sure your tires aren’t overinflated or underinflated. Check for tread wear. Tire issues can be one of the biggest hazards in RV driving.
- Lights: Make sure headlights—high and low beams—brake lights, hazard flashers, and turn signals are all working.
- Fluids: In particular, check levels for coolant, brake fluid, oil, hydraulic/power steering fluid, and washer fluid. Check under the vehicle for leaks.
- Doors and hatches: Check that all compartment doors are securely latched and any accessories like awnings and steps are properly stowed.
- Secure heavy objects for travel. See “weight distribution” above.
- Check your wipers and blades to make sure they’re in working order.
- Adjust your mirrors for best visibility. See #3 below!
- Get your driver’s seat just how you like it—you’ll be there a while!
Before a long trip, you may want to invest in a tune-up and general maintenance visit to your trusted RV mechanic.
Although you’ve completed a thorough pre-trip safety check, it’s a good idea to make note of a few service stations or RV dealerships along your route, just in case you need some expert help. You can use the Togo app to save names and contact info for these businesses so they’re easy to access if needed.
#3: Who’s the readiest of them all?
Nothing makes a novice RVer’s palms sweat more than the prospect of putting their RV in reverse. Backing up an RV—whether it’s a class A motorhome or a trailer hitched to a vehicle—is a real skill.
Proper use of mirrors is critical here. Your flat mirror lets you see alongside and behind your vehicle as well as way behind you (like the side mirror on your car). The convex mirror lets you see the side of the vehicle all the way to the back and up to 12 feet out to the side, but there will always be a blind spot. That’s where a back-up camera can help.
Before your trip, take some time to practice backing up and parking in an empty parking lot. Draw your own chalk lines or bring along some cones so you can practice getting in and out of spots.
When in doubt while backing up, get out and look. Trust us, it’s way less embarrassing than hitting something. With a little practice, you’ll look like a pro pulling into your first RV park.
#4: Wait, which way is Memphis?
Your RV adventure should only include good surprises. Avoid the other kind by bringing along a few critical items:
HIGH-QUALITY TIRE GAUGE
You checked the tires before you left, but you’ll want to check them again periodically throughout your trip.
Everybody has their “can’t live without it” favorites, but we’d say there are a few must-have app types for an RV trip:
- Reliable mapping program: Choose an app with up-to-the minute route information. Keep in mind, pre-programmed GPS systems could have out-of-date information.
- Traffic tracker: You don’t want to be stuck in traffic when you could be at the fireside already! A traffic app can help you avoid bottlenecks.
- Weather tracker: Look for an app with live radar and hourly information, since conditions can change quickly.
- Togo: Can we put in a little plug here? We’ve got lots of tools you can use to make RVing way easier!
If your RV doesn’t have one, consider adding an after-market back-up camera to make parking and reversing safer and more efficient.
There’s not a cell tower for miles—and there goes your mapping app. Bring along an atlas or printed directions, just in case technology fails you.
#5: Bring a healthy dose of common sense.
Because an RV is a bigger vehicle, it does handle differently. Follow these tips to reach every destination safely:
Always pay attention to your surroundings, and if you have a co-pilot, enlist their help. A large vehicle needs more time to respond. Attentive driving will give you as much warning time as possible.
AVOID SUDDEN MOVES
You never want to lose control of your RV, so slow and steady is the name of the game. Don’t let other drivers pressure you into moves your vehicle can’t handle. If something is in your path, brake—don’t swerve. Swerving in an RV can cause an accident.
GIVE YOURSELF SPACE
A bigger, heavier vehicle simply needs more time to execute moves like stopping and turning. Give yourself plenty of distance between your RV and the vehicle ahead of you. The faster you’re going, the more room you need to stop.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE SKY
Pay attention to weather conditions along your route. If it’s raining, you’ll need even more time to stop, so slow down, and increase the distance between your RV and the vehicle ahead. RVs do not usually handle well in snow. If you’re headed to snowy conditions, consider putting on snow tires. As taller vehicles, RVs are also more susceptible to shifts in the wind and can become more difficult to handle. When it comes to challenging weather, remember: You’re RVing for leisure. Give yourself plenty of time. Don’t be afraid to pull off the road and wait out the weather—with all the comforts of home.
#6: Steer on over to a pro.
If you want even more help with RV driving training, there are many companies and organizations with RV driving schools—some will even teach you right in your own RV. If you’re serious about taking a course, be sure the curriculum includes:
- Backing up and parking
- Mirror adjustment
- Transmission and engine operation
- Turns, swing outs, and curb climb
- Situational awareness and lane positioning
- Proper road separation (forward, sides, and rear)
- Over-the-road driving
- Other RV operational instruction
- Learning your RV's dimensions
- RV tires (pressure, age)
With practice, you’ll gain all the confidence you need to enjoy RV driving. You’ll soon discover that wherever you’re going, getting there—safely—is at least half the fun.
Now that you’ve completed our mini safety course, you’ll want to steer on over to our Driving an RV for the First Time guide for much more on how to ready your rig and reach your destination safely.