Class A motorhomes are the largest motorhomes on the road. After all, you’re bringing all of the comforts of home with you. While these roomy RVs might seem intimidating to drive at first, it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Plus, many luxury motorhomes are already designed with ease-of-use and driver comfort in mind, so there isn’t as much of a learning curve.
Still, it’s important to understand how to handle a vehicle of this size, especially when you drive one for the first time. To help you get started, I’ve compiled a top 7 tips for driving a motorhome to help you safely and confidently drive your diesel pusher motorhome to your next adventure. With these motorhome driving tips, you’ll be handling your RV like a pro in no time.
1. Make Sure You Have the Right Class of Driver’s License
Depending on your state (or province), you may be required to get a Class A or Class B (commercial or non-commercial) driver’s license before you can legally drive a motorhome that weighs over 26,000 pounds.
A commercial driver’s license is a driver’s license required to operate large or heavy vehicles.
Every state issues different types of licenses, so it’s not always as simple as, “Do I need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to drive my RV that weighs over 26,000 pounds or not?”
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The question looks a little more like, “Do I need a special license, and if so, in what cases, and what kind?”
Several examples follow:
- In California you need a Class B non-commercial license to drive a vehicle weighing over 26,000 pounds
- In North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, and Pennsylvania you need a Class B license for a single vehicle over 26,000 pounds; you need a Class A license to drive a combination of vehicles that weigh over 26,000 pounds
- In Texas you need a Class B non-commercial license to drive a vehicle weighing over 26,000 pounds
Since regulations do change it is recommended that you contact your local DMV if your rig is close to 26,000 pounds or more.
2. Know How and When to Brake
It’s important to understand that the larger and heavier the vehicle, the longer it can take to stop. You’ll need to plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to slow down and come to a complete stop, even in normal weather.
It’s also important to keep in mind that hot brakes don’t work as well and they wear out faster. To keep your brakes from overheating, avoid riding your brakes and use your gears to downshift (engine brake) when driving downhills. If you do start to notice a smell coming from your brakes, pull over when it is safe to do so and give the brakes a chance to cool off before continuing your drive. This is especially important when driving in the mountains.
A good rule of thumb is to descend a hill in the same gear (or one gear lower) than used to climb the hill.
3. Leave Enough Following Distance
Since it takes longer to brake, you’ll also need to make sure you’re leaving sufficient following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. The general rule of thumb in normal weather is to leave one vehicle length for every 10 mph. So if you’re driving 60 mph, leave six RV lengths in front of you.
For a 40 foot motorhome, that means leaving 240 feet of space between you and the next vehicle on the road. However, you’ll need to leave even more space if driving during inclement weather like rain, snow, or fog. Even if the road doesn’t look slippery, it’s always best to slow down and leave plenty of room.
Some RVs include technology to help the driver mitigate potential accidents. For example, some models are available with collision mitigation technology, adaptive cruise control, and adjustable following distance control—all to take the guesswork out of your drive.
4. Stay in the Right Lane
Most motorhome drivers find themselves driving at slower speeds than the rest of traffic—and that makes sense. The ideal speed to drive an RV is around 55-60 mph—the so-called sweet spot for RV fuel efficiency. However, the speed limit on most US highways is between 65-75 mph. Traveling in the far right lane allows you to drive your RV at the optimal speed for your own safety and fuel economy while allowing other drivers to pass on the left.
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Staying in your lane can be somewhat challenging for high-profile RVs which can be prone to drift when there are crosswinds. Newmar’s Comfort Drive feature prevents this type of drifting with adaptive steering that automatically adjusts to help you stay in your lane—without requiring a death grip on your steering wheel. That said, it’s always wise to keep both hands on the wheel.
5. Understand Your Tail Swing
Once you get the hang of it, driving straight in an RV can quickly become second nature. Getting used to turning might take a bit more practice since you also need to take your tail swing into consideration.
What is a tail swing? For every three feet behind your rear axle, you have the potential for one foot of tail swing heading in the opposite direction. So, if you’ve got 12 feet behind your back wheels and you want to take a sharp right turn, you need to be aware of what’s immediate to your left. When you’re just starting out, it can be helpful to have a spotter outside the vehicle to guide you as you practice turning and parking.
6. Know Your Clearances and Plan Your Route Accordingly
Diesel pusher motorhomes aren’t just longer and heavier, they’re also taller and wider than any other cars or trucks you’re used to driving. Because of this, your RV may not meet the clearance requirements for certain overhangs and it may be more challenging to navigate narrow roads in older towns.
Be particularly aware of low overhanging trees, the height of tunnels and overpasses, and the clearance at fuel stops. But don’t let that hold you back. It just means you’ll need to plan ahead and stay aware as you drive which are great things to make a habit of anyway, no matter what type of vehicle you’re driving.
There are navigation tools and technologies available to help alleviate some of the planning for you. After inputting your coach’s dimensions, they can plan the best routes for you based on them.
7. Don’t Drive Tired
When you’re driving a Class A motorhome, there’s a lot to be aware of as you’re driving including your following and stopping distances, your turn radius, your overhead clearance, and more. Plus, you’re probably driving long stretches at a time. Driver fatigue is one of the biggest dangers on the road especially when driving a big rig, so stay safe and avoid driving when you’re tired.
Driving a recreational vehicle is an extremely rewarding experience. Now that you know these Class A motorhome driving tips, there’s no limit to where your RV can take you.
Speed was high
Weather was hot
Tires were thin
X marks the spot