There’s no question about it, driving an RV for your first time can be a little overwhelming. For starters, they are much bigger than your average rig.
Maybe you have driven a Uhaul before or your family’s suburban, but driving an RV is not the same.
To get you ready for this big adventure that you’re about to take, we have put together a series of helpful tips you must know before driving an RV.
The thing about driving an RV is that it’s not that it’s incredibly difficult to do; you simply need to get used to the differences.
By far, one of the best sources to help you get used to these differences can be found in the RV Drivers’ Confidence Course.
I highly recommend watching that video and then use the notes below as a reference for that video. That video was where I first learned how to drive an RV, and the rough 200,000 views tell me that it was the best resource for many other drivers as well.
Additionally, I will link to other videos that I believe you will find useful.
Part 1: Positioning the Mirrors and Their Mounts
The most difficult aspect of RV driving is having enough accurate information about your position in relation to your surroundings so that you can make the correct decision.
This issue makes your mirrors the most important factor in preventing potential accidents, and this makes positioning them correctly absolutely vital.
Fixed Mounts Versus Adjustable Mounts
There are two types of RV mirror mounts. If you happen to have the adjustable type, then will need to position the mount correctly before we adjust the mirrors.
Walk to the front of your motorcoach. Line your sight up with the side of the RV. You will be looking the back like you are about to check for bubbles in the surface of the side of the motorcoach.
Now, you will want to adjust the mount until the space between the mirror and the side of the motorcoach seems to disappear.
Flat Mirrors and Convex Mirrors, and How to Position Them
There are two types of mirrors that you should know.
These are the large mirrors on top that do not distort the size of the reflected objects. They show the actual size and distance. From the driver’s perspective, the correct position will show the coach in the first 1 to 1 ½ inches of the viewable area.
The rest of the mirror should display your surroundings.
This will not give a wide view of your surroundings. That’s okay because that is the convex mirror’s job.
The ideal position will display the cars behind you, so keep the mirror level enough to look far into the road’s horizon behind the coach.
These are the smaller mirrors below that do distort the objects. You will want the view of the convex mirrors to overlap the view of the flat mirrors to prevent any unnecessary blind spots…Not much though.
About 25% of the convex mirror should show the side of the coach, and the rest should be focused on the road.
As far as the up/down positioning is concerned; you will want the views to just barely overlap. Too much of an overlap will enlarge a blind spot that every coach driver has to work around.
Part 2: Blind Spots
Be Aware of the Passenger-Side Blind Spot
Every coach has a blind spot on the passenger side. On the driver side, you can simply glace out your nearby window to see the vehicles that are driving parallel to your body. Cars driving the passenger side are a bit different.
Unless you have the neck stretching abilities of Mr. Fantastic, the view is going to be out of your reach. There are a couple of ways to approach this.
If you drive with someone else, then you can simply ask if the side is clear. Obviously, this isn’t a reliable solution because you probably won’t always have a copilot.
Fresnel Lens – Wide Angle Lens
The Fresnel lens is a really good permanent solution. A Fresnel lens is a piece of sticky plastic that bends the view around the outside of the passenger side window with a fish-eye effect.
This helps drivers by giving them visual access to the objects that were hidden on the other side of the passenger’s door.
In 2007, there was an initiative to lower the number of incidents caused by this blind spot. VOSA Highways Agency and UK Immigration Service handed out packets that contained these Fresnel lenses at the southeast ports.
They saw more than a 50% reduction in accidents from the blind spot/sideswipes. Here is a link to the video if you are interested.
Front-Side Blind Spot
Unfortunately, there is more than one blind spot to motorcoaches. Being raised high off the ground creates a space in front of the coach that isn’t within the viewable space. That space is probably larger than you would expect.
Most of the time, those blind spots are somewhere in the range of 15’ – 17’. Measure them out, so that you are aware of how big that blind spot is in your RV.
Part 3: Making Turns – Basics
Wheel Base, Wheel cut, and Off-Tracking
There is another video that I have found to be rather useful. RVGeeks has produced a really good demonstration video that shows the effects that Off-Tracking has upon your driving.
To explain what Off-Tracking is, you will need to know what the wheel cut and the Wheel Base are.
The wheel base is the distance between the Steer Axle (front axle) and the Drive Axle (back axle). Sometimes, RVs will have a third set of wheels complete with an additional axle.
That additional set is called the Tag Axle and it is located behind the Drive Axle, so try to not get them confused.
The wheel cut is the number of degrees that your front wheels can turn. Typically, this will be in the range of 45 degrees to 50 degrees.
It isn’t too important to know these exact numbers because the real-life practice is more important than being able to calculate these on paper.
However, there is a reference point system (Described in a couple paragraphs) that uses the wheel cut number, and it is useful for initially getting used to making turns on highways.
This won’t work in parking lots, so don’t use the system there.
The front and the back axles are independent of each other. When you make a turn from your steering wheel, you are turning the front axle.
As you drive down the road the back axle and their accompanying wheels take a slightly different path to get to the same endpoint.
When you are driving a small vehicle, the difference between these paths is almost negligible. However, when you have a longer wheelbase, the difference between these paths becomes larger and more evident.
The Reference Point System
If your wheel cut degree is:
45 Degrees: Your reference point will be your front bumper
50 Degrees and Above: Your reference point will be your hips
When making a turn (Either Direction), you will drive straight until your reference point is just past the objects that are trying to avoid hitting.
Sometimes the turn will be too narrow or sharp to make, so be aware of that before you make the turn.
Practice Off the Roads at an Abandoned Parking Lots
You have likely had years of driving a vehicle with a tiny wheelbase, so you will have years of building up muscle memory to handle a small amount of off-tracking.
That will likely throw your RV driving off for a little bit while you get used to the change. If possible, I highly recommend finding an open and abandoned parking lot where no one will bother you.
This head knowledge is best translated into a physical experience where you won’t hurt anyone. It can be tricky initially, but you will probably get the hang of it pretty fast.
Pivot Point and Rear Overhang
When making turns there are two more terms that you should get to know. They will help to keep you from smashing the back of the RV into the curbs, signs, pedestrians, and anything else within its radius.
The pivot point is located in the center of the Drive Axle (Rear Axle).
This is the section of the RV that starts at the pivot point and extends all the way to the back of the RV.
Knowing this section will help you to be aware of the portion of the RV that will swing to the opposite direction of wherever you turn.
This might sound confusing and illogical, so click this link if you would like to see an example. RVGeeks did a fantastic job demonstrating this concept, so I highly recommend it.
Part 4: Lazy Days Sticker Tips for Better Navigation
In the instructional video produced by Lazy Days, a series of marks or stickers are recommended to help new drivers get used to driving with the dimensions of their new RV body.
I will go over those now.
The Navigational 16 Feet Mark for Making Turns on Roads (Not Parking Lots)
Due to the length of the RV, the off-tracking, and the front-side blind spot, making turns like a car will easily place the rear overhang onto the bike lane, off the road, or into the road of the traffic beside you.
To help you navigate this issue we will want to make a mark on the part of the windshield that is directly in front of the steering wheel. Don’t do it just yet though.
First, we will need you to go outside and measure 16 feet out from the front bumper but also lined up to the steering wheel.
Mark that point with an object for reference, and head back to the driver’s seat. Now make a small mark on the windshield to indicate where that 16 foot is located from the perspective of the driver.
How to Drive Through Wide Curves
When using the sticker to make your turns, you will need to wait for different visual cues for left and right directed turns.
Making a Left Turn
For turns to the left, the visual cue is the moment the 16 feet sticker touches the outside (right-side) marking of your lane.
It is useful to mark your windshield with a sticker at the point where you see 16 feet from the front bumper.
This sticker will be used as a marker for the point when you will want to begin turning.
Making a Right Turn
Being in the inside lane can make this a bit more difficult. The method is different, the turn is tighter, and it will likely require that the front of the RV will slightly cross over into the opposing traffic’s lane.
This isn’t an issue with this method. It is just part of the accepted nature of driving an RV. This obviously presents some dangers, so don’t blindly poke into the other lane. Go as slow as needed to ensure everyone’s safety.
Nobody that is logical and fully aware of the situation will blame you for slowing down.
With right turns/inside lane turns, you will want to wait for the 16 feet mark to meet up with the center of the lane to the left before you start making your turn.
Remember, even though it looks like you have crossed into the other lane, that mark is showing you the point that is 16 feet ahead of your bumper. With practice, that fear will subside.
3 Feet Mark on Back-up Monitor
This one is really simple, but it can make backing up a lot less stressful if you don’t have the better back-up monitors.
In recent years, back-up cameras have become more sophisticated. These monitors project where you are headed and beep if you are about to hit something.
If you have a back-up camera without those features, then try making a mark on the monitor that indicates the 3 feet mark.
This will help you to have a clearer perspective on where objects are in relation to your RV.
Closing Thoughts on Driving an RV
I’ll probably look through more of the videos to expand on these notes later. For now, I hope these help you guys out.
Let me know if there are more aspects to RV diving that you have a particular interest in understanding before you get behind the wheel of your RV.