How to Drive an RV for Newbies

Recreational Vehicles, or RVs, have become a popular choice for exploring the open road, whether you’re on a weekend getaway or a cross-country road trip. But if you’re new to driving such a large vehicle, it can feel overwhelming. This blog post is intended to give newbie RVers a guide so you can have less stress and more fun on your RV adventure.

Understanding Your RV

Understanding the RV’s size, weight, and how it handles are necessary for safe driving. An RV is significantly different from a standard passenger vehicle, so familiarize yourself with its dimensions, controls, and equipment. Spend some time in the driver’s seat before hitting the road, getting comfortable with the steering wheel, mirrors, brakes, and gas pedal.

Types of RVs

Knowing the type of RV you’re driving is essential. Different classes have unique characteristics:
Class A: These are the largest motorhomes, resembling a bus. They are luxurious but require more skill to maneuver.
Class B: Smaller and easier to handle, Class B RVs are like large vans but still provide ample amenities.
Class C: These are mid-sized, built on a truck chassis, and offer a balance between size and convenience.
When it comes to RVs, bigger is not always better. Make sure that your RV is a size you feel comfortable driving (and if you’re traveling with a partner, make sure they are comfortable with it too – you never know when you’ll need a break.)

Manual vs. Automatic Transmission

If you’ve never driven a manual transmission vehicle before and your RV has one, practice or consider taking lessons. This is not something you want to figure out for the first time while on a trip!

Now that you’re familiar with your RV and comfortable with how it handles, here are some tips for getting ready for your trip:

Packing and Organization

An organized RV is safer and easier to drive. Also, you’ll have a better time when you’re parked because you’ll know exactly where everything is. Here are some guidelines to follow when organizing your packing:
1. Weight Distribution: Distribute weight evenly to prevent the RV from becoming unbalanced.
2. Essential Items: Stock the RV with essential items like food, water, bedding, and cooking utensils. Check ahead about where you are going – is there a grocery store you can resuppy at?
3. Personal Items: Don’t forget personal items like clothing, toiletries, and medications. Be sure prescriptions are in their original container in case you need some medical assistance on the road.
4. Entertainment: Lightweight books, games, or outdoor equipment can make downtime more enjoyable.

Pre-Drive Inspection

Before you begin your adventure, a thorough inspection is essential. Here’s a quick checklist:
1. Tires: Check the pressure and look for any signs of wear.
2. Lights: Make sure all lights, including turn signals, are working.
3. Brakes: Test the brakes to ensure they’re responsive.
4. Fluids: Check oil, coolant, and other essential fluids.
5. Mirrors: Adjust them to minimize blind spots.
6. Cargo: Secure all items inside the RV to prevent shifting while driving.
7. Appliances: Check all onboard appliances to make sure they’re secure and working correctly.
8. Emergency Kit: Always carry a basic emergency kit that includes first aid supplies, tools, flashlights, and other essentials.

Now that you’re all packed, it’s time to hit the road! Here’s how to be a safe and knowledgable driver out there on the highways and backroads:

Driving Tips

Driving an RV might seem daunting, but following these tips can help you navigate with confidence:
1. Take It Slow: RVs aren’t designed for speed. Maintain a steady, slower pace, especially on curves and turns.
2. Use Your Mirrors: Rely on your side mirrors as your rear view may be obstructed. Consider installing additional wide-angle mirrors for better visibility.
3. Braking: Start braking earlier than you would in a car. The added weight means it takes longer to come to a complete stop.
4. Turning: Wider turns are necessary with an RV. Practice a few turns in an open area to get the hang of it.
5. Avoid Sudden Movements: Sharp turns or sudden stops can cause the RV to sway or tip.
6. Hills and Mountains: Downshift when going up steep grades to avoid straining the engine and use lower gears to control speed when descending.
7. Fuel Planning: RVs can have limited fuel ranges, so plan your stops accordingly.
8. Towing: If you’re towing a car or trailer, practice beforehand and be aware of the extra length and weight.

Road Etiquette for RV Drivers

Driving an RV isn’t just about handling the vehicle; it’s also about respecting others on the road:
1. Right Lane Driving: Keep to the right-most lane to allow faster vehicles to pass.
2. Avoid Blocking Views: Recognize that your RV may block views for other drivers. Be mindful when changing lanes or turning.
3. Courtesy to Fellow Campers: At campgrounds, keep noise levels down and respect others’ privacy.

Parking and Campsite Setup

1. Scout Ahead: If possible, check the campground layout or parking area in advance. Look for obstacles like low-hanging branches or tight turns.
2. Use a Spotter: When backing into a spot, have a friend guide you to prevent mishaps. It’s a good idea to agree on hand signals before starting to avoid any irritation between you and your traveling buddy.
3. Level the RV: Many RVs require leveling for appliances to work correctly. Use leveling blocks if necessary.
4. Hookups: Connect to electrical, water, and sewage hookups following the manufacturer’s instructions.
5. Neighbors: Respect other campers’ space. If you have slide-outs, ensure they won’t encroach on neighboring sites.
6. Security: Secure your RV when leaving it unattended. Lock doors and windows and consider an alarm system.

Safety Precautions

1. Know the Height: Be aware of your RV’s height to avoid collisions with overpasses or other low structures.
2. Weight Restrictions: Respect weight limits on roads and bridges, and never overload your RV.
3. Weather: RVs can be challenging to handle in windy conditions or heavy rain. Plan your travel around the weather when possible.
4. Rest: Avoid driver fatigue by taking regular breaks and sharing the driving if possible.
5. Fire Safety: Have functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and a fire extinguisher onboard.
6. Emergency Exits: Familiarize yourself and passengers with emergency exits.
7. Wildlife: Depending on where you travel, be aware of wildlife that could pose a risk, and know how to respond.

Legal Considerations

Ensure you comply with all laws and regulations:
1. License Requirements: Check if your state requires a special license to drive an RV.
2. Insurance: Adequate insurance coverage is a must. Consult with your provider to understand what’s required for an RV.
3. Follow Traffic Laws: Obey all road signs, speed limits, and traffic laws.


Driving an RV for the first time may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. From selecting the right RV and understanding its mechanics, to learning how to maneuver it on the road, planning ahead, and taking the time to practice, you can master the art of RV driving.

The joy of traveling in an RV comes from the freedom it provides and the comfort of having your home with you wherever you go. By following the guidelines provided in this blog post, you’ll be well on your way to experiencing the open road as an RV newbie. Happy and safe travels!