Behind the Pivot Point: Understanding the Turning Radius of Your RV

Getting the hang of it starts with knowing about off-tracking and rear overhang.
“Are RVs hard to drive?” It’s one of the first questions every potential owner asks when they step onto an RV sales lot for the first time. The answer? Yes, they are, at first. Just as you weren’t a pro at driving a car the first time you got behind the wheel, driving an RV takes practice. With a little understanding of what makes driving an RV different, you’ll get the hang of it the same way you did with driving the family SUV. Here’s what you need to know.

Turning with class A, B, and C mobile homes.

KEEP TRACK OF OFF-TRACKING

When driving your RV down the highway in a straight line, the rear wheels will follow the exact same path as the front wheels. When you begin making a turn, however, off-tracking occurs. The amount of off-tracking that occurs on your RV is a direct result of two things: the wheelbase of your vehicle (the length between your front axle and the drive axle) and the wheel cut of your vehicle (how sharply your front wheels can turn).

Off-tracking also occurs in the family car every time you make a turn. But it occurs in a much smaller fashion, so you don’t pay that much attention to it.

You cannot turn the front of your mobile home as sharply as you do the family car, so you may have to turn the front of your RV like you were taking up two lanes, whereas the rear of your RV will probably only take up one lane.

If you understand off-tracking and adjust for it, practicing skills such as good lane positioning and observational habits will make successfully navigating a turn second nature.

 

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE REAR OVERHANG

The drive axle (or front rear axle, if you have two axles in the rear) on Class A, B, and C mobile homes is also known as the pivot point because your RV will pivot around this point whenever you take a turn. Everything behind the rear drive axle is known as rear overhang.

Rear overhang is important to know about because everything behind the pivot point will go in the opposite direction of where you’re turning your RV. This is known as tail swing. Turning to the left? The rear overhang will swing to the right. 

Why is this important? Consider this situation: Let’s say you’re at the truck stop and have just finished filling up your RV. As you’re leaving the truck stop, if you turn your RV too quickly (before your rear overhang has cleared the pump) you stand a chance that the rear part of your RV will hit the gas pump.

And that’s just one instance where your RV’s rear overhang could get you into trouble. Always keep in mind that even if the front part of your RV seems to be in the clear, the back part might not be.

 

Turning with a fifth wheel.

As with Class A, B, and C motor coaches, fifth wheels also have a pivot point and a rear overhang. They operate in much the same way discussed above, with a couple of important differences.

For example, in some cases fifth wheels turn much more sharply than their mobile home counterparts. This can lead to jackknifing the unit when reversing if you turn too sharply. Not a big problem, though, since all you’ll have to do is pull forward and try backing up again.

Also, since you can’t tow a fifth wheel by simply attaching it to a ball and hitch connection, you’re going to need a pickup truck. (If you need help picking out the perfect pickup, just steer on over to our Best Truck for Towing Guide.) One of the more popular pickups for hauling a fifth wheel is the short bed extended cab pick up. This is because of the added seating and the ability to still be able to park the pickup in the garage.

If this is the pickup of your choice, you’ll need a slider hitch to help with the turning radius. With the shorter bed, these pickups have less distance between the cab and the front of the fifth wheel. When there’s not as much room between the cab of the truck and the trailer, the front corner of the trailer can hit the cab of the truck when attempting to make a sharp turn.

SO HOW DO I STEER CLEAR OF SIGNS AND FIRE HYDRANTS?

The answer here is simple: Practice, practice, practice. Just find yourself a nice, big parking lot, and put out some orange cones. Yeah, you’ll probably run them over a couple times while you get the hang of this, but better the cones than a curb or a light pole--those could do some expensive damage to your new RV!

Now that you’ve got some turning know-how, you’ll want to check out our Driving an RV for the First Time guide.

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