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RV Driving: All You Need to Know

Special license for RV driving, tips for driving your RV for the first time, and much more.

driving an RV

You've decided to take the leap into RV living and have chosen the perfect rig for your family. Now comes the tricky part; learning how to drive an RV. Since most of us have never driven a vehicle bigger than a Honda, it is difficult to see ourselves behind the wheel of a 40ft wheeler. Is driving an RV really that different from driving a car? Do you need a special license for driving an RV? Read on as we explore the answers to these questions and more.

Is it Difficult to Drive an RV?

Technically, driving an RV isn't that different from driving a car. However, there is a learning curve when it comes to things like turning and parking, especially for larger RVs. Fifth-wheels and trailers can be hard to maneuver, especially if you haven't driven a towed car before. Learning when to brake and how to manage a vehicle that is heavier than your average car can take some getting used to. But once you get the hang of it, it is just like driving any other car.

Do you need a Special License to Drive an RV?

According to the current DMV laws, you can drive any vehicle weighing under 26000 pounds if you have a regular operator’s driver’s license. If your vehicle is over 26000 pounds then you might need a commercial driver's license or a special license depending upon the state you're in.

Useful Tips for Driving an RV

Learning how to drive an RV? Here are some useful tips and tricks to help you along the way.

Plan Your Route Ahead of Time

Driving a car on a highway is different than driving one in the mountains or off-roading. The same is true when driving an RV. Planning your route ahead of time can help you prepare for the kind of terrain you will be driving on. You can also map fuel stations and rest stops as well as overnight RV parking places to make your road trip go smoothly. Make sure to pack road safety gear so that you're prepared for any eventuality.

driving RV on road

Be Mindful of Your RV's Height

RVs are not always long but they are taller than cars. Roof clearance is one of the first things you need to be mindful of when driving your RV, especially if you'll be traveling on a route with a lot of tunnels, bridges, or overpasses. Measure the height of your RV from the ground up to the antenna of the vehicle. Write the measurements down in both metric and imperial and stick them somewhere on the dash, in clear view of the driver. When planning your route be mindful of the height of bridges and overpasses. Err on the side of caution and avoid tunnels that have a height restriction incredibly close to the height of your vehicle (you might not fit through).

Class B RV

Adjust the Driver's Seat and Side Mirrors

RVs (especially Class As and fifth-wheels) allow you to adjust the driver's seat in a number of ways. So before you hit the road, make sure to adjust the driver's seat according to your comfort. It is difficult to see behind an RV, especially if you're driving a longer vehicle, but also adjust the side mirrors of your RV so you can drive safely. The idea is to get as comfortable inside your RV as you can so that you can focus on the road when driving.

Side mirrors of an RV

Practice Turning

Turning is one of the trickiest parts of RV driving. If you're driving a Class B or a smaller Class C, you won't have much difficulty learning how to turn. But if you own a Class A or a trailer, then turning can take a bit of practice. Be mindful of your tail swing. Longer RVs and trailers have rear tires that swing out as you turn, the length of the swing is known as tail swing. You can figure out the tail swing of your vehicle by heading over to an empty parking lot and turning your vehicle to the right as a spotter on the ground measures how much your tail swings out.

Tail swing varies from 18-30 inches but it is important to know your number so you can make safe turns. Right turns are trickier to make than left ones because you also have to be mindful of the curb. When making a right turn make sure you can go as far left on your lane as you can and turn slowly. It's okay if you hold up the traffic behind you, road safety is more important.

Find the Right Gas Stations

Gas stations can be a nightmare for new RV drivers. The sharp turns and low hanging covers over the pump can be really hard to maneuver around. That is why it is a good idea to fuel up at truck stops when just starting your RV journey. They are designed for larger vehicles and are located right next to the highway. Have a partner help you park your RV so that you don't hit the pump, other vehicles, or anything else on the gas station.

Truck at gas station

Know Your Lanes

Driving a rig bigger than other cars means you need to be mindful of the lane you're driving in. You're going to be slower than other smaller vehicles on the road so it is always a good idea to drive in the right lane. In fact, a lot of states have laws that allow RVs to only use the right lane while driving. Driving in the right lane allows you to keep the speed limit you want and gives the driver better visual access to the road.

RV in traffic

Keep Your Distance and Know When to Brake

When you first learn to drive, you are told to keep a distance between your car and the next in terms of car lengths. Since RVs can be almost 40 feet long, that pushes the car length to that much as well. The idea is to leave enough space between you and the next car so that you can brake in time. RV brakes work a bit differently than the ones on your car; they are slower and need more time to bring your rig to a complete stop.

Rv brakes

As a rule, keep at least one car length per 10mph between you and the next car; that means a 240ft distance for a 40 feet Class A going at a speed of 60mph. Now, this may seem a lot but remember that it takes a normal car at least 220ft to come to a complete stop; a rig is a different story entirely. You can also calculate how much following distance you are leaving in terms of time. Generally, a 1-second gap for every 10 ft of vehicle (plus an additional second if you're going over 40mph) is considered acceptable.

Check the Weather

Harsh weather can throw you a curveball, especially when you're a newbie rig driver. Rain, thunderstorm, fog, sandstorm, and snow are all examples of bad weather that can make RV driving trickier. Make sure to check the weather before you hit the road and avoid areas with unpredictable weather until you've gotten a hang of driving your rig. Even then, it is a good idea to park your rig somewhere and wait out the bad weather than risk an accident.

Driving an RV in snow

Practice Parking

Learning how to park a car is both a science and an art. Add extra weight, bulk, and length into the mix and you have a far more difficult situation in your hands. Practice parking your rig in empty parking lots before you set off on a trip. Have a spotter ready to guide you on turns and clearance. Backing into a spot is easier than backing into traffic. If you have to park in a tight spot, make sure to get out of your rig and eyeball all obstructions in your way before you back your rig in.

Parking an RV

Don't Forget to Have Fun

Learning how to drive a rig can be a daunting task but it isn't a very hard one. If you've already driven cars and vans before you already know the basics, all you really need to do is practice your hand at a larger vehicle before you set off. The RV lifestyle is all about the freedom to travel and explore, don't lose sight of that, and have fun every step along the way.

Family in RV

The Last Word

Just like RV living, driving a rig is also an exhilarating experience; being able to maneuver a vehicle of that size is a feat in itself. The key to mastering RV driving is practice, practice, practice. The more you drive the easier it will become. Make sure you are following all road safety rules, etiquette, and restrictions for your own safety and the safety of others. Don't forget to carry the right RV accessories so you're always prepared. Happy RVing!


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