How To Safely Drive your RV Tips & Tricks for all Vehicles

Last Updated on August 13, 2021 by Christina

“I will never forget the day we were driving along U.S. 23, south of Coachmen Freedom ExpressAnn Arbor, when a tire came off our travel trailer. I felt a slight tug to the left, looked in my side mirror and saw my tire, still on the rim, rolling to pass us in the left lane.”

Freedom Express Trailer

Our camper, a hybrid travel trailer, has a tandem axle so we didn’t crash right then and there. We also use an Equal-i-zer sway control system, and I’m convinced that also kept us from a very unfortunate situation. My best guess is the lugnuts on that particular wheel had been over-tightened, which led to the rim being sheared off the axle like a can opener.

Long story short – accidents can happen no matter how careful you are. Here are some general tips to help you stay safe on the road, plus hints that can make maneuvering your RV a little bit smoother.

  • Slow down. The single most important precaution you can take.
  • Drive defensively. Many motorists will race ahead of you, and merge into your lane suddenly. Anticipate this action and be prepared to brake.
  • Leave extra space between you and the vehicle in front of you. RVs are big and heavy and take extra distance to come to a stop. Don’t ride the brakes on your motor home or trailer, because they could get hot and stop working.
  • Be aware of blind spots. Make sure your mirrors and backup cameras are positioned properly to reduce the blind spots.
  • Practice. Besides slowing down, the next best tip is to simply practice driving and maneuvering your RV. Remember back your dad taking you to an empty parking lot when you were first learning how to drive? Do it again, this time with your RV. Backing up can be especially difficult; try turning in the opposite direction you want to go. So if you want the trailer to go right, turn the wheel left. A key to backing into a campsite is understanding how pivot points work. Also, when at a campground, take a walk around the campsite before backing in, taking care to look for overhead branches.
  • Get a co-pilot. Your spouse, responsible child or friend should be your co-pilot on every trip. They can help with navigation, but one of the biggest ways they can assist is by directing you into a campsite. Either said than done, that’s why practicing in a parking lot can help. By the time you’re done, you’ll learn how to take direction and your co-pilot will learn how to give it.
  • Don’t cut the corner. Your RV is big, so you must take wide path when making turns. Otherwise you’ll run over the curb and hit anything or anyone standing on the corner. This is something to practice in a parking lot as well.
  • Watch your head. RVs, especially Class A motor homes and larger fifth wheels, can be quite tall. Know your maximum height, and when planning your trip ensure there’s enough clearance along the way. Today’s RV-specific GPS systems have this function as a built-in feature.
  • Maintenance. Make sure your RV is always in proper working order before every trip. Tires must be at the proper inflation, engines must be in good working condition, and hitch assemblies must be correct for the application. I highly recommend a sway control system if you’re towing an RV, whether it’s a pop-up camper or an extra long bunkhouse.
  • Check it twice. A good habit is to develop is a thorough pre-trip inspection of your RV, tow vehicle and any hitch assembly. Make sure the trailer is safely connected to the hitch, and the brake lights and signals are working properly. First, check the hitch. For a regular ball hitch, the tongue on the trailer should be properly attached to the vehicle hitch, with the locking mechanism snapped and lock pin in place. A trailer connection to a vehicle should also have two chains, criss-crossing in an X shape, between the vehicle and the trailer. Check the connection by pulling up on the trailer to try to pull it off the hitch, which you shouldn’t be able to do. Next, check the brake lights and signals. Connect the electrical wires from the trailer to the vehicle. If no one is available to tell you whether the lights work when you apply the brakes, use the reflection of another vehicle, window, or other reflective surface; or check in the dark.

Remember, you are responsible for the safety of your passengers as well as the safety of the other vehicles with which you share the road. The bottom line is to use caution and slow down.

See you next week when we talk about RVing for Newbies: Tips & Tricks for your First Trip.

Rick Kessler

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Great Lakes region. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and the Gr8LakesCamper blog.