Driving your RV part 4: Making turns with a trailer

Driving your RV part 4: Making turns with a trailer

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Getting accustomed to driving an RV is different for each kind of rig. Making turns in your motorhome isn’t too much different then making turns in your automobile, with the exception of knowing about tail-swing, which we talked about in an earlier post. The really LARGE motorhome driver will also need to learn to swing wider in a close turn; beyond that, it’s not a tough act to learn.

For trailer pullers, there is a bit of difference, and it’s called “tracking.” That appendage behind your tow vehicle, the trailer, will not always follow the same wheel track as the towing vehicle. Generally speaking, the smaller the trailer, the more closely to the tow vehicle the trailer will track, but extend the length of the trailer and things require more practice and a careful eye. If the trailer a fifth wheel the issue is compounded. What causes the problem? The pivot point for a travel trailer is a few feet behind the rear axle of the tow vehicle causing the rear of the tow vehicle to “steer” the trailer. The fifth wheel pivot point is directly over the tow vehicle’s axle–tracking is completely different.

Learning about how your individual trailer reacts to turning is something best gained by experience. Again, a large, empty parking lot is the ideal environment for practicing. With travel trailers, drive into a slow turn, and watch in your rear view mirror to see how the trailer follows. With a longer trailer, or with a fifth wheel, don’t be surprised if the trailer gets closer to the inside corner. That is to say, when driving ahead into a left curve your trailer will likely get closer to the oncoming lane of traffic.

The idea is to learn to compensate for this proclivity. An area where many new trailer towing folks get into trouble is negotiating a turn on a narrow street. You go to make a right turn, the trailer tracks “inside” and you may find the trailer tire going up over the curb, or worse yet, clobbering a phone pole or parked car.

swing wide turnTo overcome this problem you may find it necessary to pull a little to the opposite side before making a turn. Making a right turn? You may have to pull a bit out toward (or even over) the centerline before making the turn. You may also need to “overshoot” the turn, pulling father ahead than you would normally in order to keep the trailer from tracking into trouble. It’s a matter of experience: Use your mirrors, practice in an open lot before hitting the road.

Next,  we’ll discuss backing up your RV.

If you missed our installment on passing safely with an RV, you’ll find it here.

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