By Russ and Tiña De Maris
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.
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 the rig – 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,” and in close quarters, like at a fuel station, 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 rear view mirror as you pull out away from an object while swinging a turn.
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 your 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.”
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.
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.