Driving your RV part 2: Coping with size

Driving your RV part 2: Coping with size

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Looking at the RVs owned by some new RVers, you might think they made their purchase at a scratch and dent sale. While RVers, for the most part–including new ones–don’t get in major accidents, “getting too close to something” seems to be a way of life for those getting accustomed to driving a “big” rig.

It’s likely that compared to what you’ve been driving most of your life an RV is much bigger. Not only is it longer, it’s probably much taller, and possibly a bit wider. Out on the open road these factors aren’t usually a big problem. But put you and your RV in a tight spot, say maneuvering around a fuel island or small campground, and that size suddenly becomes a huge issue.

Keeping out of trouble with your new RV means two things: Knowledge and practice. It’s important to be knowledgeable about your RV’s characteristics. We’re often surprised to find RVers who simply don’t have a clue as to how tall their rig is. Get an accurate measurement, then write it down where the driver can see it. Using a “tape gun” or label maker and printing the information in large print really helps. Put the information close by: A good place is on the upper portion of the windshield. When you approach a low bridge or awning at a fuel station you’ll have the information you need to know whether or not you can make the passage.

Some snicker at this idea, but a couple we know once got “off the beaten track” while towing their travel trailer in an unfamiliar town. Before they knew it, they tried passing under a railroad overpass and literally peeled the roof off their new travel trailer. It took several days out of their vacation plans and the help of their insurance company to put themselves back together.

Practice putting your RV through turns before you get in a ticklish situation. An empty parking lot, an assistant, and some cardboard boxes set up to simulate obstacles can help you see how easily (or how difficult) you can steer and make corners. A major issue that new RVers often run into (literally as well is figuratively) is the phenomenon known as tail swing.

Tail swing “happens” when you steer one direction and the rear end of the rig goes the other. How’s that? We can illustrate it with a pencil. Take a pencil in your hand, holding it parallel to the floor. Pretend the point of the pencil is the front of your RV; the eraser, the rear end. Now “drive” your RV into a left turn. As you do, you’ll find the eraser swings out to the right.

In an automobile you don’t notice the effect of tail swing near as much, as the pivoting point of the car (the rear wheels) is fairly close to the rear bumper. In a motorhome the rear wheels can be quite far away from the back bumper, and the effect of tail swing is multiplied. Now picture yourself at the fuel island with your big motorhome. You’ve parked close enough to the pumps to stretch the fuel hose to the tank. When it’s time to pull out, if you don’t pull far enough forward before making your turn, the rear end of the motorhome can easily meet up with stationary objects (like a fuel pump) with embarrassing consequences. This same effect can plague RVers yanking a trailer.

With a motorhome, carefully watching the rear view mirror can help you see where your tail swing can take you. With a travel trailer, you’ll be blind on the right side as you make a left turn and vise-versa. Practice is where tail swing problems can be accounted for. Drive your motorhome in the parking lot with a spotter ensuring you haven’t “hit” your obstacle boxes. If you’re dealing with a tow rig, the only way to get the “feel” for what your rig can and can’t do is to have someone else drive it while you stand outside and see the tail swing effect for yourself.

Next, we’ll discuss passing with an RV.

If you missed our last part on keep an eye open behind, you can find it here.

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