Driving Mistakes RV Newbies Should Avoid Making

A great new article by a guest author Darla Preston.

The RV lifestyle is getting increasingly popular, and it’s for a good reason. There are few more romanticized ideas than hopping in your home-on-wheels, letting the wind come in through the open windows, and seeing what the open road has in store. 

If you’re ready to get your own rig to travel in, you won’t regret it. You’ll feel an instant liberation that’s unique to anything you’ve felt before. That being said, it’s important to keep in mind that driving an RV is far more complex than operating a regular vehicle. While you may be tempted to go on a cross-country road trip as soon as you drive your new RV off of the lot, you’ll fare much better if you take the time to learn the dos and don’ts of navigating your new rig beforehand. 

There is a learning curve, so don’t feel frustrated if you’re not a pro right off of the bat. While a few obstacles are part of the learning process, you’ll get started in the right direction if you avoid a few of the major RV driving mistakes newbies often make, such as: 

Going Too Far During Your First RV Trek 

When first getting into the driver’s seat of your new RV, it’s best to familiarize yourself with how your RV operates before planning an extended vacation.  

By traveling to a location that you’re familiar with, you can get comfortable behind the wheel before taking on longer, more ambitious hauls. New RV owners often underestimate how much more difficult it is to make sharp turns, back-up, navigate traffic, change lanes, park, etc. in comparison to a normal-size car or even a hefty truck.

Even braking is more difficult to get used to due to the heaviness of the vehicle, as alertness and precision are necessary in order to prevent dangerous, sudden braking. 

Because there is so much to get used to when it comes to actually physically driving an RV, play it safe and start small. Get to know your RV by practicing in sprints before you plan a rigorous marathon. 

Failing to Secure Your RV Awning and Lowering Your Antenna Before Driving 

RV awnings serve as one of the most practical accessories RVers use to enhance their lifestyles on the road, which is why it’s not often you’ll find a fellow traveler who doesn’t have one. 

RV awnings may not be the first topic you think of when it comes to driving safely in your RV, but if you talk with your campground neighbors or scour RV forums, you’ll undoubtedly run into stories of poor travelers who failed to secure their awnings before hitting the road. 

If your awning were to blow open as you were driving, your awning and RV could both be heavily damaged, and even worse, it could result in injuries to you, your passengers, and/or other drivers. 

To avoid this scenario, always take the time to make absolutely certain that your awning is securely retracted and secured before driving your RV. You can find travel locks and tie-downs that will help ensure it stays securely in place. 

On a similar note, if you have an external RV antenna, it’s important to make sure you remember to lower it before taking off. Most are made from materials that could easily break if it were to snag on an obstacle, such as a low-hanging tree branch.

Not Doing Your Research or Practicing Before Towing  

Towing is an area of RV travel where it’s incredibly important that you know what you’re doing, as failing to do your due diligence could result in a dangerous scenario. Most RVers eventually tow something. Some haul a car with them so that they’ll have a vehicle to explore nearby towns with after they set-up camp at the RV park. Those with travel trailers need to know how to tow for obvious reasons. 

Whether you’re towing a vehicle behind your RV or you’re towing your trailer behind your vehicle, it’s important to know the Gross Combination Weight Rating of the owner’s manual of the vehicle you’re driving. This number lets you know the total combination of weight that your vehicle can safely handle, including the weight of your vehicle, the weight of any passengers and luggage, and the weight of whatever you’re towing. 

The owner manual of both your RV/trailer and your vehicle should give recommendations on what kind of hitch will be needed and if a dolly/trailer is necessary, as well as if the vehicle can be towed at all. On certain makes and models, the power train can be compromised if they were to be towed. 

Aside from the technicalities, it also takes a while to get comfortable driving while towing something. The added weight will increase the stopping distance that is required for safe braking, and you’ll also need to be careful while turning, as you’ll need more room due to the extended length. 

Taking the time to get comfortable before impulsively hitting the road will allow you to safely haul what you need behind you without jeopardizing the safety of you or others on the road. 

Forgetting to Consider Size Limitations When Planning Your Routes

Because you’ll be driving a large vehicle, there may be some bridges and tunnels that will be too low or narrow for you to safely clear, and similarly, vehicles that surpass a certain size may not be able to access extremely curvy narrow roads. Even many gas stations won’t be able to accommodate a large-size vehicle, which makes filling up along your travels more difficult. 

It’s best to know your RV’s dimensions so that you can pay attention to warnings posted about size limitations, but it’s even better to choose routes ahead of time so that you know you can safely travel through. There are RV-based GPS apps and systems that are designed specifically to help RVers navigate the safest, quickest, and most convenient routes. 

Failing to Minimize Distractions in the RV

No matter what kind of vehicle you’re driving, it’s important to minimize distractions to help prevent accidents. That being said, the loungey, at-home feel RVs provide can make it easy to unwind and indulge in the vacation-esque vibe. While you can still make road trips fun, try your hardest to avoid the main causes of distracted driving:

  • Phone use. Whether it’s fiddling with the GPS, taking photos, making calls, or texting, the less you use your phone while driving, the better. If you need to use it for any reason, your safest bet is to have a passenger handle it for you or to pull over. 
  • Looking for mile-markers or observing the scenery. While it’s inevitable that you’ll observe the beauty of your surroundings or need to check for road signs/mile markers, keeping your eyes on the road is the best option. If you can, have your passenger act as your co-pilot and your lookout. 
  • Talking to passengers. Long drives are perfect opportunities to dive into great conversations but try to avoid topics that spark heated debates or arguments. Getting worked up or overly emotional can take the focus off of the road. 
  • Handling pets or objects. Fumbling around trying to find something or attempting to handle a pet will require you to remove your attention off of the road. Try to get everything you and your pet need in order before starting your journey. 
  • Driving tired. Drowsy driving presents many of the same risks as intoxicated driving, so never push yourself if you feel your eyelids getting heavy. 

Being Uninformed with RV Maintenance and Mechanical Health 

It should go without saying, but it’s important to be diligent in getting your RV regularly serviced and keeping up with important maintenance. Follow the manufacturer’s tire pressure recommendation, and regularly check to make sure the tires are in the safe range. It’s especially important to keep an eye on the pressure during periods of intense heat or cold, which can cause it to expand or lower, respectively. 

If you’re buying used, have a third-party mechanic inspect the RV to make sure the brakes, battery, roof, sewer system, etc. are all in good working order. Even if you’re mechanically inclined, utilizing someone who is experienced with RVs can prevent you from overlooking anything important.  

Avoiding Professional RV Driving Lessons if You Need Them 

Some people catch on to driving an RV quicker than others. If you notice you aren’t getting the hang of it, don’t be afraid to take an RV driving course. Instructors can work with you one-on-one to show you how to safely drive your rig, and they can help with specific areas that new RV owners find difficult, such as backing into a campsite. Some will also give a maintenance overview so that you feel well prepared in that area as well. 

RVs are big and clunky, which is why many people feel a bit uneasy behind the wheel at first. There is never any shame in asking for a helping hand, especially if it will help you be more confident and safe on the road. 

Assuming You’ll Remember Everything Important 

Even when you feel like you’ve mastered all of the areas of driving an RV, it never hurts to create an extra layer of protection. Before you head out on a big excursion, take the time to develop a pre-driving checklist that you’ll use to assure you’ve covered all your bases. There are so many minuscule details to remember, and creating a checklist will help you go through item by item so you don’t forget anything important.

Include items such as:

  • Ensure the awning is safely tied down and that the antenna is lowered
  • Make sure your mirrors and seat are properly adjusted 
  • Check on your tire pressure 
  • Check your fuel and oil levels
  • Make sure the hitch is adequately installed
  • Ensure your brakes are in top working order
  • Make sure your headlights, taillights, and turn signals all work
  • Double-check your routes can handle your vehicle’s size and that there are gas stations along the way that can accommodate you 

It’s also a good idea to frequently walk around your vehicle when you stop for fuel , meals, etc. to ensure that nothing has come loose or been damaged. Pay special attention to the bearings on your trailer, as they shouldn’t be too hot to comfortably touch. Bearings will be warm, but if you can’t hold your hand on them, they could be defective or the bearing nut may be too tight. 

Closing Up

Hopefully, these tips help shed some light on what will make your RV driving experience smooth, easy, and safe. If you take the time to prepare yourself for the task, you should have no problem hopping in the driver’s side and expertly navigating thrilling adventures that you and your passengers will remember for life. 

I hope the information in this article will help make your RV adventures safe and fun-filled.

Thanks for visiting.

G. Borg

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