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Driving a Class A is not as scary as it looks

Many folks, on “thinking” about getting their first Class A motorhome, are a bit intimidated. After all, they’re so BIG! However do you pilot that big thing down the road? How could you ever get comfortable maneuvering so much mass? Here’s some advice from those who’ve made the big leap and now are proud pilots of those big coaches.

Getting started

Like any other RV, one of the best things to do is to find a big empty parking lot and start “getting the feel for it.” Set up safety cones (or cardboard boxes) and get the firsthand feel for turning, backing and maneuvering.

If you’ve experienced other, “smaller” RVs, then you already have a handle on moving up to the bigger coach. Just understand that acceleration is a bit slower, stopping distances are longer, and that gauging your turns is a bit different. With the longer wheelbase, the tendency of newbies is to “oversteer.” Practice moving the rig over and you may find out how little wheel movement it takes to actually move it – it just takes a little longer for the whole bus to come with you.

The rear-wheel overhang may be one of the biggest problems a Class A driver has to overcome. The distance from your rear axle out to the end of the coach makes for a much wider “tail swing.” In close quarters, like at a fuel station, it can make for a real problem. If you swing too narrow, you may find yourself hanging up the rear of your coach on the pump or other obstruction. It’s essential that you LOOK in the rearview mirror as you pull out away from an object while swinging a turn.

Have plenty of mirrors on the Class A

And on the subject of mirrors, hopefully you’ll have more than one per side on your rig. Adjust one of the right-side mirrors a bit “in” so you can spot people riding in your blind spot. Or add on a BIG convex mirror.

In the parking lot, find a straight curb you can park next to – passenger side to the curb. Look in the mirror to see your distance from the curb and get up close. Now, sitting at the wheel, look ahead and try to imagine how close you are to the edge of the lane at your right. You may find it helpful to have an assistant put a piece of tape on the bottom of your windshield at a point that lines up with your right side. By looking at the tape when on the road, you’ll have a good idea where the right side is. This is especially helpful on the road where there’s no shoulder or in a tight construction zone.

Before taking off on a long trip, try making a couple of short day trips. This will give you an opportunity to really get the feel of your rig without the pressure of time hanging over your head. Try and include different driving environments in these trips – straightaways, curves, and a little hill climbing/descending where possible.

On the road

With your position in the driver seat being a bit different than in a car, truck, or Class C motorhome, your perspective on turns is different, too. You’ll be able to run your nose ahead a little farther than you’re used to. One Class A pilot puts it this way: “Since your seat is ahead of the wheel, once your butt is past the corner, you can really crank the wheel.” Yeah, but watch that tail swing!

Lane placement is a bit different as your coach may be wider than what you’re accustomed to. This is particularly so if you’ve never driven an RV and are used to a car width. Again, keep an eye on your mirrors and see where your coach rides (hopefully) inside the white lines. When driving ahead, keeping your eye on the center of the lane ahead of you will help.

While some RVers, in an attempt to be “helpful,” suggest staying out of the far right lane on the freeway, you’ll find yourself better off in the right, except when passing. No matter how fast you drive, there’ll always be somebody who drives faster. Let ’em pass! Better to have them pass on your left than to zoom past on the right. Take a tip from the big commercial rigs. The only exception may be when there’s a huge amount of traffic merging onto the freeway, or, of course, when your lane will soon become an “exit only.” And staying to the right prevents that sinking feeling of being “stuck between two trucks.”

Take your time making a turn

When the time comes to make a turn, you may find it much easier to make a left turn than a right turn. That’s OK – just slow down and be deliberate. If you have to stop in the turn, that’s fine too. Better to hold up traffic for a minute than to forge ahead and end up with a huge body repair bill.

Pay attention to the weather. Your rig has a much bigger profile, and that’s somehow attractive to high winds. Every year on Interstate 40 in Arizona near Winslow, you’ll find reports of semi-trucks being blown over by high winds. Don’t join them. If high winds threaten, pull off the highway and wait them out.

Look ahead – way ahead. This will help you with lane placement, and you’ll find you’re a lot less tired at the end of day by not fighting the wheel. And looking ahead helps with stopping distance – and you want plenty of that. If somebody drops in ahead of you, simply back off and recreate that big buffer space.

Parking your Class A at the campground

Always use a spotter when backing up. Go SLOW and swivel your head between side mirrors and backup camera. And don’t forget: You CANNOT back up with a “toad car.” If you need to back in, unhitch and “drop” the toad first.

Yes, it takes practice to get into a “back-in” site. At first, you may be best to use pull-though sites, particularly when trying to set up camp after dark.

And if you’re in the shotgun seat

It can be a bit disconcerting to ride in the passenger seat – your perspective on lane placement can initially be nerve-wracking. You may feel that the driver has you “way off the road” and onto the shoulder. Don’t let your eyes fool you. If you can feel the rumble strips, yeah, it’s time to speak up.

Related:

Lane-savvy driving – The safe way to travel
RV Driving School

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CeeCee
1 month ago

Since we painted guide-lines on our windshield (YouTube video suggestion), I never worry about lane placement. Careful route planning and previewing, especially for details like refueling, can do a lot to keep you out of trouble. I hate driving, especially with toad, on congested urban freeways. I doubt I will ever lose my fear of changing lanes in heavy traffic. Fortunately, my husband usually takes care of those situations. However, I do plan routes and times to avoid them as much as possible. Never underestimate the value of the second pair of eyes. Also, keep close tabs on weather and road reports. Conditions can change suddenly.

Julie C.
1 month ago

Thank you for this! Great reminders for someone who doesn’t drive The Whale very often.

Neal Davis
1 month ago

Thank you! All excellent advice! I do have two things to add (my virtual two cents, as it were).

First, as one approaches a back-in campsite, cheat to the same side of the road as the campsite. For example, if the site is on the left move to the left edge of the road as you approach and drive by the site before backing into it. Doing so adds a few inches to the room into which you can swing the nose of your RV without hitting an obstruction. This is especially helpful in heavily forested campgrounds.

Second, bookmark or otherwise mark this YouTube video to have as a reference. It is an excellent 41-minute driving course video.
https://youtu.be/4CeThR_A4VI .

Warmonk
1 month ago

I was once on a commercial flight of 15 minutes duration in a DC-9. That flight had all of the components of a trans-Atlantic (or similar) flight: taxi to departure, take-off, climb out, cruise, descend, approach, land, taxi to gate. It would be foolish – perhaps dangerous – to expect a newly-qualified pilot to attempt such a short flight.

So, why would you suggest short trips to get used to a large RV? In my opinion, an extended trip with reasonably long driving segments and multi-night stays would make more sense in a learning scenario.

More time to learn, more time to become comfortable, more time to consider areas for improvement, more time to make – and test – adjustments. And a lot less pressure to meet a short schedule.

Larry
1 month ago

Lots of talk of tail swing but no mention of off tracking.

Bob p
1 month ago

Your mirrors should be adjusted so they are just outside of seeing the sides of the coach, you should know what the side of your coach looks like so there’s no need in setting the mirrors with a part of the coach in the view. A slight tilting of your head will bring the coach into view. Also the bottom of the mirror should show the rear tires, now you can see traffic coming along side and can reference what your rear tire is running over. The next thing is make a note taped where it’s easily readable with your length, width, and height as a reminder of how big you are, practice making right turns and watching you mirror until you can determine a reference point to determine when it’s safe to turn. Be mindful of “tail swing”, that’s how much the rear of the coach will swing out into the lane next to you in a tight turn. I saw a class C the other day that must’ve had 16-18’ behind the rear axle. In a tight turn that’s enough to swing across 2 lanes of traffic.

Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

First, you say that the mirrors should be adjusted so that you DON’T see the side of the coach, then you say that you SHOULD see the rear tires. You can’t have it both ways, the rear tires don’t extend beyond the side of the class A.

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