If you have never towed a trailer behind you before or you are the new driver of a motor home, it can sometimes seem a bit daunting to think about hitting the road. But with some practice, patience, and these tips you will feel like a natural in no time. Even if you are a seasoned RV driver, you may find some of these tips helpful.
Practice makes perfect, right? Well maybe not perfect, but if you are not used to pulling a camper, the first thing you should do is go out and practice before you actually take it for a road trip. This will help you get more acquainted with everything. If you need practice with backing up a trailer, take it out to a big empty parking lot and practice! Always remember the trailer turns the opposite way; so if you are turning the steering wheel to the left, your trailer will go to the right.
Before you hit the road you will want to make sure your vehicle and trailer are set up and secure for travel. Make sure all your entry doors and compartment doors are locked. You don’t want one of these flapping open while you are going down the road. Adjust your mirrors; your mirrors are crucial for seeing the trailer behind you, and you will need your mirrors to be at the right angle to see when you are turning, so you don’t sideswipe anything! (They do make tow mirror extenders that you can buy to put on your existing mirrors if you can’t see enough of your trailer-see above picture.) Next make sure all your lights, turn signals, and four ways work. Inspect your tires for wear and make sure they are inflated to the proper weight. Torque all the lug nuts. Adjust your brakes so they are just right. If they are up too high, you will wear out the trailer brakes, but you want enough stopping power to be able to stop sufficiently.
Try and plan your trip ahead of time. Know what the possible weather conditions will be. You probably don’t want to drive your RV if the driving conditions are terrible. Hail, high winds, and ice or heavy snow are not fun driving conditions for anyone, let alone if you are driving an RV. If you do encounter severe weather, its best to find a rest area and wait it out. There are many helpful apps that you can use to track the weather. If you don’t already have one, you will want to download a weather app and keep your location setting on. The app will give you real-time weather alerts on your phone as you are traveling.
You should know the height and weight of your trailer before you take off. Write this down and keep it handy in the cab. Don’t overload your RV. If you are unsure of the loaded weight, most truck stops have scales that you can use for free. If you are worried about bridge heights, tunnels, or weight restricted roads, they do make GPS’s that are just for RV driving. These are made specifically for RV’s and trailers; you can select the right height and width, and it will steer you clear of anything your RV can’t go through. You can also download a GPS app, like CoPilot; this is less expensive and will virtually do the same thing. Plan your route before you leave and use your GPS or an app to plan your pit stops along the way. Also, make sure you download your map before you go because chances are somewhere along your journey you will lose internet connection. You will be thankful for this!
Don’t drive when you are too tired. A realistic amount to drive in a day is about 400 miles. Anything more than that, and you are pushing yourself unless you have a co-pilot. Take advantage of the rest areas that are located along the major freeways. There are usually two sides-one for compact vehicles and one for semis and trailers. These are great because you don’t have to worry about parking in a tight space, and you can pull through with plenty of room. This is a perfect time to get out and stretch, use the restroom, or take a nap. Taking your eyes off the road for even 15 minutes can make you feel refreshed and more alert. If you are on a stretch of road where there are no rest areas, you can always pull off and park somewhere that has a nice big parking lot. My favorites are Walmart’s, Home Depot’s, and Cracker Barrels.
Always fuel up before you leave for your destination. When you do need fuel, try and stop at the truck stops. It makes it much easier to maneuver by the gas pumps. Depending on the size of your rig, it can be more challenging to get fuel at a regular gas station. Keep this in mind, and don’t wait till you are on Empty to fill up. If you are under a half tank and see a truck stop, I would stop and fill up. Especially if you are traveling in say the North West part of the country, you could go 200 miles before you see another gas station.
Speeding. Just don’t do it. Going too fast can damage your camper or even worse you could lose control or not be able to stop in time. It will take longer to stop with a trailer on, so give yourself plenty of space between vehicles. Ease into your brakes-don’t slam on them. Keep an eye out for brake lights ahead of you and start slowing down at the first sign of braking ahead. Plus if you stay at a steady speed of around 65 MPH, you will get better fuel mileage. Take advantage of your cruise control when you are on long stretches of highway.
Be a courteous driver. Stay in the right lane unless you are passing. It is also beneficial to stay in the right lane because you are closer to the shoulder just in case you need to pull over for something. You should keep a set of reflective warning triangles with you. If you are going to be on the shoulder for an extended period, these are very helpful to put out, so no one hits your trailer. Always put your hazards on when pulled over. Put your turn signal on to turn or switch lanes way ahead of time. This gives other drivers enough warning to get out from behind you or speed up in front of you. You cannot always see drivers that are directly behind your trailer. There is always a blind spot.
When you are turning, take your turns long and wide. Watch your tail swing closely. Always use your mirrors to judge how far out you need to be before you start turning. A good rule of thumb to stick with is to pull straight forward until the end of your rig is where you would usually turn, then start turning the wheel.
When you are going down hills, shift to a lower gear and let your engine do the braking for you as much as you can. It will be less wear and tear on your brakes. When going uphill, shift to a lower gear and try to keep a steady pace; don’t push your gas pedal to the floor. Just stay in the slow lane and let others pass you.
Keep a stash of quarters with you and some cash. You will want quarters to hit up the vending machines at rest areas. Also, depending on where you are traveling, you could end up hitting some toll roads. Quarters and small bills will come in handy for this. You will probably pay more on toll roads, as they often charge by the number of axles you have.