When you meet non RVers, one of the more popular questions is “That motorhome is huge, is it hard to drive?”
This question is not near as frequent as “What kind of milage does your rig get?”, but the idea of a class A being hard to drive is definitely a popular question.
Driving a class A motorhome will put some fear in you the first few times. Motorhomes can be more than 8 feet wide, and when you sit in the drivers seat for the first time, the size will be intimidating.
I remember when we first bought the RV. After the orientation the technician said that we should drive it over to get some gas. He sat down in the passenger seat and motioned for me to sit in the drivers seat.
I hesitated for a bit. I suggested that the tech drive us to the gas station.
His response was that if I didn’t get into the drivers seat and drive, then my wife was going to get to drive the rig before I could.
I guess that was enough motivation for me!
We went over the sequence to move. Turn the key, foot on brake. Alarms go off. Keep foot on brake until auto-brake is ready and alarm goes off. Release push button emergency brake, shift into drive. Let your foot off the brake and you start rolling out!
As soon as we got lined up for the street he had me park. Put your foot on the brake, and turn on emergency brake. Shift to park where the auto brake engages. That is it!
Then we looked at the mirrors. The mirrors are extra large compared to a car. The mirrors have a top and a bottom. The bottom half of the mirror is aimed down at the rear tires. You can see the entire length of the RV. The top half is aimed like a regular car mirror, you aim it at the lane next to you so you can see who you may end up trampling with your 20,000 lb + weight.
I am not going to lie. At this point I am both terrified and excited. Who wouldn’t have those emotions? You feel like a boss. You are driving a house down the road. You also feel scared to death. You are driving $10’s or $100’s of thousands of dollars. You could mess up and destroy it all. You could hurt yourself or someone else.
A truck driver or a bus driver takes extensive testing and training. When you buy an RV they give you the keys and tell you to drive!
After adjusting the mirrors, I get things moving and pull onto the street. Lucky for me the street is empty.
The trick when turning is to remember the length of the RV. In my case the RV is almost 38 feet long. In order to make a right turn you need start as close to your centerline as possible. Then pull out to the cross street until the middle of that road. Then cut in hard and keep the front wheels parallel to the new center line and as close to the line as possible.
Check your right mirror. You should see your rear tire just miss the curb as you accelerate forward.
The same procedure is for a left turn. The main difference is that instead of putting the front tires on the inside line, you put the front tires on the outside line. Keep watching the rear tire on the way throughout the turn because you don’t want to hit another car waiting at the intersection!
Keeping the class A motorhome straight when going down the road is a little different from a car. With a car you have a hood. When you learn to drive they teach you to keep the lane divider at a certain point on the hood. Then you always know you are in the correct spot.
In a class A you don’t have a hood to aim with. Some people use a marker and make a mark on the windshield where the centerline should be. I am a wiggly guy so I don’t like that method. The seat is always in a different spot so that method doesn’t seem to really work for me.
The best way I figured out is to look at the rear tires. Then you can see how far away they are from the center line. Once you get going you get a good feel for it. It is just really scary getting going! After the last 2 years I have a good idea where the lane dividers on the inside and outside end up on the windshield. I still keep an eye on the rear tires for my most accurate line distances.
Once you get going you feel great. When I first started driving, my shoulders and arms hurt from tensing so much. I can relax now when I drive unless the traffic and winds are heavy.
By the afternoon of my first day of RVing I was drinking coffee and driving at the same time. It probably took months before I was completely relaxed, but at least I was no longer terrified.
The biggest trick is to remember to have unlimited patience.
Are you trying to align yourself up to get gas? Who cares about what others think. Adjust your position 20 times if you have to. Take your time.
Problems backing into a spot? Take you time! Don’t be afraid of old retired people judging your parking.
Better to take 20 minutes to get it right then to rush and make a mistake that will cost you $3-$5,000 in damages.
There are two types of class A RVs: Diesels and gassers. Diesels are the luxury RVs. Diesels ride on airbags. They are usually quiet and they feel like you are gliding over the road. They also are very heavy so they don’t get buffeted around the road very much.
I drive a gasser. Gassers are much more pick-up truck like. Instead of the house riding on airbags you have rubber bushings. You have shocks doing all the work. The suspension is for cargo trucks. It isn’t about comfort, it is about doing the bare minimum without breaking anything.
When you hit bumps and rumble pads in a gasser RV everything shakes and rattles. You feel every gust of wind.
When a semi-truck sneaks up on you it scares you. Your RV will be traveling nice and straight and you will feel it getting pushed towards the side of the road. Then as the semi passes you the wind buffets you around. You need both hands to hang on and stay in your lane. Then as the truck continues to passes, you begin to get sucked into his lane.
It’s a crazy scary feeling. Then the fear begins to normalize until you accept it as a reality.
When you drive a gasser you end up driving a lot slower as well. When I see speed limit signs of 70 or 75 miles per hour I just smile. No way. When we have wind 60mph is usually fast enough. On our way to Sioux Falls we were driving into 25-35 mph wind gusts. I just didn’t feel safe over 60mph.
You also can’t fully rely on cruise control. It is better if you manually take over on hills. Let the RV pick up 5 or 10 extra mph going down hill so you can coast up the next hill easier. If you rely on cruise control going up hill you will have the engine revving very high and loud. If manually use the accelerator you can let the RV lose some speed without forcing the engine to power up to 100% to get to the top like a cruise control will do.
Manually using the accelerator saves you a lot of gas money and engine wear.
The horn, wipers, and lights all work as you would expect them – they work like they would on an automobile. Even the cruise control is an exact copy off of GMs car line.
One toy that many class A gas RVs posseses is a grade brake. This handy switch is turned on when going down steep hills. The grade brake uses the transmission and engine to slow down the RV. Essentially it forces the RV into using lower gears so the coach can’t roll too fast down the hill.
It is a little scary to use the grade brake. Mostly because it makes the engine roar about 3 to 4,000 rpm – it is very very loud!
When traveling down some steep bluffs in Minnesota last week the brakes were very hard to operate because the road was so steep. I was very happy to have the grade brake to help slow me down!
So this is my intro to driving a gas class A RV! I never really saw an article about the process and I wished I had when I was looking for RVs.
So – who has some questions?