Keep that RV going straight down the road

By Greg Illes

There are a lot of RVs that don’t always drive straight down the road – and it’s not always someone else’s rig. If your rig is squirrelly, you don’t have to just live with it – there are some remedies available to you. Sometimes the cause is a subtle error in driver technique; sometimes it’s chassis issues or other mechanical factors; sometimes it’s just the wind. Turns out, you actually have control over all of these factors.

WIND is a nasty culprit, but at least it’s obvious. Those 30 mph gusts are knocking you almost out of your lane. There are only a few ways to deal with wind, and sometimes the best one is simply to park and wait for better weather. If you must drive on, keep your speed down (55 mph or less). Watch for breaks in terrain or foliage that will let surprise gusts pound you. Above all, steer deliberately and avoid over-correction. Only a truly severe wind can actually knock you over — but a more modest gust can cause an over-correction, and unintentional swerving off-road or into the other lane.

CHASSIS factors are much more insidious. They may have been around forever, such as with design deficiencies, or they may have developed gradually through wear of bushings, tires and/or ball joints. Have your RV checked regularly for alignment and suspension wear, and keep a sharp eye out for telltale tire wear. If you drive a motorhome, have a Road Performance Assessment (RPA) done by a certified provider. This assessment will tell you if anything is wrong with it, and also what might be done to improve it over stock condition.

Most chassis producers strive for the lowest cost, not the best handling. Cheap shocks and skinny sway bars are the norm. And then, the motorhome manufacturers load those chassis to near-max Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). It’s a formula to guarantee flaky handling. Consider the addition of heavier sway bars, a tracking bar and/or a steering stabilizer if your coach doesn’t already have them. Be sure to get an expert opinion and installation on any potential modifications.

TOADS can have a dreadful effect on steering stability. If you tow, be sure your setup is properly installed, in good condition and legal. Too big a vehicle on your tow hitch can wag you around like the tail of a dog.

TECHNIQUE is maybe the hardest factor to deal with because our egos get in the way of objective judgment. Do you have a tendency to over-correct? Do you clench that steering wheel like you’re hanging from a rope? Do you watch the lane right in front of your windshield instead of farther up ahead? Do you yank it into a turn instead of using a gradual “urge”? All of these quirks will lead to weaving and swerving, regardless of the quality of rig that you drive. There’s not space enough here to suggest remedial techniques, but if you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might consider getting some instruction in heavy-vehicle operations. Sometimes, just the awareness and some practice can work wonders.

Remember that you are the captain in command, not the victim of hapless circumstance. If your rig won’t drive straight, find out why and fix it. You’ll both be happier.

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at www.divver-city.com/blog.

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One Thought to “Keep that RV going straight down the road”

  1. Alex

    So glad you are addressing this issue! We had a new Mercedes Benz Sprinter Class C . Handled like a buoy on a a stormy sea. i started by replacing the shocks. Surprised by the stock units. You could compress and extend them as easily as an accordion in a polka band! With one end of the new shock braced against the ground, the replacement units (brand starts with a “B”) required pushing with all of my 200 lbs to slowly compress. They extended very very slowly. The rear of our Class C weighed 7,300 pounds. You don’t need to be a physicist to imagine the difference in handling. A thicker roll bar improved handling even more. These were bolt on changes not unlike getting underneath to change oil. If your rig doesn’t tend to wander in winds too much, simply changing the rubber roll bar bushings to urethane ($35) will have a similar effect. The Benz chassis still had nice ride but driving and cornering became a more enjoyable and confident experience. No more rock’n’rolling 8 times after a corner or departure from a steep driveway. Do it or have it done for you. You won’t regret it and it will add value when its time to sell and move on.

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