Driving & Parking Class A Motorhomes
Posted by Tom Westley on
Driving a Class A motorhome can be intimidating — how do you manoeuvre a vehicle that’s practically as big as a house?
While it’s true that these rigs require special handling that sets them apart from a normal sized automobile, driving them is a skill that can be easily learned — with a little practice.
The very first thing to address is awareness of your surroundings, and driver comfort. Before you even get into your rig, walk all the way around it to ensure that no obstacles will be in your way when you pull out. Don’t forget to look overhead for low-hanging branches, overhangs, or other tricky spots.
Next is mirror adjustment. Standard rear-view mirrors aren’t very helpful on big rigs, and some models don’t even include them. The side mirrors on both sides of the RV will be your main source of surrounding information. Adjust them until you can see everything around your rig while sitting comfortably in the driver’s seat, without craning your neck.
Now that you’re ready to start driving, it’s important to note that features such as the automatic transmission and power steering in an RV operate just like those in your car.
Once you’re out on the open road, You’ll notice right away that driving a Class A gives you a view of the road like no other vehicle. Big windshields broaden your range of vision, and the high front seat puts you well above most regular automobile traffic. Take advantage of this ability to see far ahead to gauge traffic and avoid road hazards well ahead of time.
Accommodating Your Rig’s Size (And Weight)
When driving a Class A RV it’s important to keep in mind the sheer size of your vehicle, this means you can get stuck in spaces like narrow alleyways, parallel parking spots, and low ramps. Plan ahead and take as much care as possible to avoid situations that will require you to manoeuvre in ways you’re not confident with.
Don’t blindly pull into unfamiliar driveways, dead-end streets, or parking lots without a second exit. Modern map services like Google Maps can be great for spotting these hazards before you get into them, especially if you have a passenger checking Street View while you drive.
Know the overhead clearance of your motorhome. Most are over 10-11 feet tall at the highest point of the tallest object mounted on the roof, and some reach over 13 feet after factoring in AC units and other features. (If you’re an American travelling within Canada, note that 12 feet is equal to 3.66 meters.) This can be too tall to clear some overpasses in older towns and cities, or even to clear some gas station roofs.
As you increase the weight of a vehicle, braking becomes a more important and complex process. The heavier your RV is, the more inertia it will have, requiring more force to stop and more room to slow down. You should increase the following distance between your RV and the vehicle in front of you to at least double what you would allow when driving a car.
Large Class A motorhomes also typically have air brakes instead of the disc or drum brakes you’ll find in most cars. While disc and drum brakes respond to the amount of pressure on the brake pedal, air brakes respond to how long the pedal is held down. Because of this, no matter how hard you slam on the brakes, you won’t be able to slow down any faster than the brakes allow. You’ll need to account for this when calculating how long it will take you to come to a stop.
All of this also means that as a larger vehicle, you have the right-of-way in most confrontational situations. In a situation where either you or a smaller vehicle must react, the smaller vehicle — who can manoeuvre easier than you can — should stop and allow you to get out of the way. You should not take your chances trying to back up or pull off the road when a smaller vehicle could do the same with much less risk. If they yell or blow their horn at you, just stay calm, shrug and smile, and wait until they move.
When you need to hit a turn, you’ll have to deal with the fact that your vehicle is significantly longer than the vehicles you’re used to driving. The longer your vehicle is, the wider the turn radius. This is an especially big problem in cities, where the roads can be narrower and more congested.
Keeping all that in mind, there are a few basic rules to follow when it comes to driving on the highway. Since braking takes more space and time, you’ll need to give other cars a greater berth. Since turning quickly (and gracefully) is out of the question, you’ll want to limit the amount of passing you do. Keep an eye out for high winds and other inclement weather, as Class A motorhomes can act as sails and move quite a bit when driving in heavy winds. In general, you’ll want to slow down, take it easy, and reduce distractions.
Choosing The Right Parking Spot
When it comes to parking, pull-through parking is the best option. Instead of trying to pull into or back into parking spots, you’ll want to find places where you can simply drive straight into the free space.
In parking lots, choose the spaces that are at the ends of the lot, with nothing behind them except maybe a curb or six-inch parking barrier. When you pull into shopping areas, try and stick to the perimeter and chose your parking spot so that you can simply pull ahead to leave.
Reversing a Class A
When reversing a Class A Motorhome it can be quite difficult to judge distances behind you, especially those in your blind spots. For the most part, you’ll want to reduce the amount of reversing you have to do as much as possible. Some modern Class A motorhomes feature backup cameras to make the process easier, and even if yours lacks this extra, it can prove to be a worthwhile investment.
Practice & Go Slow
The best way to sharpen your skills in a hurry is to find yourself a big empty parking lot or other wide open space, and construct yourself a makeshift driving course. Whether you pilfer some cones or use objects at hand, this space will give you the freedom to simulate real-world scenarios with no pressure.
The most important thing to remember during your first days behind the wheel of a motorhome is to go slow and build your confidence one step at a time. And when the time comes to get out into the open road, don’t be afraid to apply caution wherever necessary. If it means getting out of the driver’s seat numerous times to walk back and verify that you’re not going to hit something, just do it. You may get some frustrated horns, but it’s a far better, and safer, option than causing an accident.