Driving an RV or pulling a big trailer or 5th wheel requires some practice and planning. It’s simple and practical after gaining experience but the first couple of trips are often difficult and nerve wracking. The RV is a large vehicle that requires specific knowledge to really master. Parking, turning, navigating city roads and cruising on the highway are all very different than if you were controlling a standard size car, SUV or pickup. Take some time to develop a routine and learn the rules of the road before committing to a big road trip.
Before driving in any environment, a pre-driving checklist is an absolute necessity. If you jump in the RV and hit the road without checking everything first, disaster can strike quickly. Start by checking your countertops and open living spaces for loose items. Leaving a french press on the counter or loose items scattered around the camper can create a serious mess on the road. Start your day by removing all loose items and secure them in drawers, cabinets and safe spaces where they will not fall and break.
After cleaning up the interior clutter, run through a quick check of the fluids. Check the oil, coolant, washer fluid, brake fluid and if desired, the transmission fluid. Checking the transmission does require driving first to heat the fluids in order to see an accurate reading. Never overfill the transmission fluid as it will cause air pockets to form that can ultimately damage the unit. If you are uncomfortable checking and filling these fluids, locate a locate service to assist before embarking on any major trips.
Also check the tire pressure and do a scheduled rotation as advised by your service station. When the mechanical checks are completed, load your gear, groceries and start planning a route with stops and trip highlights.
Driving Mountain Roads
Mountain roads are the most difficult to manage in a large RV. Driving through city environments with heavy traffic can also cause difficulties. Practicing with an experienced driver is ideal but learning on the fly is also possible. Take a practice run through a familiar city where you know the roads well. Practice at a low traffic time and spend some time becoming comfortable with turns, lane changes, stopping and accelerating. Plan stops in advance when possible to avoid confusion when attempting to park in urban environments.
Mountain roads have higher gradients, making them a challenge for RV’s and larger trailers. Use your lower gears for climbing and also to slow the vehicle on steep descents. Lower gears add power for climbing at slower speeds. Shifting lower than overdrive also helps preserve your transmission because the torque converter is inactive and will not overheat while climbing.
On the downhill side of a pass, the lower gears use compression from the engine to slow the vehicle. This is incredibly important for heavy RV’s and trailers. Most larger trailers also have trailer brakes to help slow down. Riding the brakes creates heat from the friction and will wear out the brake pads quickly. Riding the brakes excessively will cause smoking and in severe cases, the brakes will even catch fire. Use your low gears to save the brakes on the steep downhill grades.
Spontaneous stops are great but planning ahead saves headaches on the road. Planning for parking, shopping, easy travel routes and camping spots makes life easy. Do some research ahead of each trip and know what lies ahead. Check for steep mountain areas, potential weather hazards, narrow roads and anywhere that issues may arise. Utilize RV apps, call RV parks ahead of time and plot out stops at stores with large parking areas that are RV friendly. Rest stops and highway pull off areas are often friendly for RV travelers. Following common truck routes and utilizing truck stops is also a savvy approach to covering highway miles with easy places to find fuel, overnight parking and basic supplies. Many truck stops are nice places to do laundry and even take a shower for reasonable rates. Look for these rest areas on long trips to layover between your primary destinations.
RV’s with navigation systems are ideal because they have hands free navigation. Follow safety standards and do not navigate from a cell phone unless it’s mounted to the dash. Plot your stops and even potential stops well in advance to allow for quick navigation without stopping to research destinations. When you need a parking spot in a pinch, these advanced markers will make traveling a breeze.