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RV Driving for Beginners

Red RV parked in a camping space next to a lake
RV insurance and proper driving skills are important to have before you hit the road.

What new RV owners (or renters) need to keep in mind is driving a recreational vehicle is very different from anything you’ve ever managed before. Here are some key tips for all the new RV drivers out there.


RV Ownership On the Rise

After a global lockdown, many Americans are coming out of weeks and months of strict stay-at-home orders and are looking for a bit of adventure. Instead of traveling by air (which is still taking time to ramp up), many are looking to hit the open road to be more socially distant, to camp and explore nature or to visit family. Family vacations by car aren’t anything new, but to avoid even a nightly stay at a hotel, some are turning to a home on wheels: the recreational vehicle.

Industry analysts are showing that RV sales have shot up in the weeks after many state governments have eased travel restrictions and campground closures. Many shoppers are using them to stay as distant as possible and to use up as much of the summer break as they can while the weather is good.

“Camping World Holdings Inc., a retailer of outdoor equipment and RVs, reported on May 8 that first-quarter sales beat analyst projections,” writes Jeff Green in a recent article on Bloomberg. “The company said it shifted to online sales to meet high demand during lockdowns. Camping World stock rose to a two-year high on the outlook. Shares of Thor Industries Inc. and Winnebago Industries, the two largest publicly-traded RV makers, have also been improving off March lows.”

In addition, many new would-be owners are hitting RV showrooms, and are buying entry-level and mid-level models.

The customers coming to one dealership fall into three groups, remarked Mike Regan, an Austin, TX-based RV dealer: “Those who wanted to come during the shutdown and couldn’t; the annual spring customer enticed by the promise of summer; and a new group—people considering an RV for the first time because of the pandemic,” writes Green.


RV Ownership: The Basics

If you’ve been considering your own RV for summer adventure, you should first get to know your options. Learn about the different sizes, shapes and how to transport your RV.

Small Options

These might be towed behind a vehicle or even placed on top of a flatbed truck. Some options include popups, teardrop trailers and small campers. These options may need a bit of hands-on manipulation once you get to your destination, to either unfurl your sleeping space or unpack your items stored inside. You’ll get the benefit of towing your space behind your vehicle, but it’s best for one or two people, not a big family. You’ll want to look up your vehicle’s towing capabilities and you might need to get a towing hitch installed, as well as check your engine for any tune-ups needed before hitting the road. Consider how many passengers you will carry in your car, along with any cargo. If you’re planning on loading up the SUV and also filling the camper, you’ll be hauling a lot more weight (putting that much more strain on your tow vehicle) than if you’re heading out by yourself and only the basics.

Medium Options

The mid-sized travel trailers range from around 10-feet long to even 22-feet long and are great for those who like a “tiny house” quality, but still don’t mind having to cook on an external stove or fire or use a public restroom. Medium trailers may or may not come with an included toilet/shower or full kitchen option, but then again, many do. You may need to think about what your priorities are, such as a queen-sized bed or a bathroom to yourself. You may have to make do with one or the other, not both. Lots of vintage (or vintage-inspired) travel trailers come in these sizes, so you may consider buying an older model if vintage is your preference.

Large Options

If you prefer to bring all the amenities of home, or don’t want to tow your trailer, you’ll likely have to pick the biggest of the big RV options. RV types like a fifth-wheel or the drivable motorhome style are built to provide a comfortable inside gathering space like couches, a dine-in kitchen, bathroom and ample bed options. Think about storage when you consider purchasing any RV, but especially these bigger options and make sure your home parking options will accommodate something of this size. Live on a narrow cul-de-sac with no room to maneuver a 35-foot RV? You may want to consider something smaller, or a different parking and storage area with enough security to protect your new adventure vehicle.


How to Get Used to Driving a RV

Before you get on the road with your recreational vehicle for the first time, you’ll want to take care that you understand exactly how it will handle. If you’re towing, take care to fully practice any possible scenarios like backing up, turning around and merging into traffic.

With any trailer, you’ll want to make sure you understand all of the procedures for regular maintenance, like dumping any waste or even filling up at a gas station. Not only that, but you’ll want to safely learn how to maneuver your RV from point A to point B without any mishaps.

If you’re new to RV driving, you might ask your dealership if they offer any training on site with your actual vehicle. If they don’t, or if you’re buying from an individual, or simply can’t get an in-person class in your area, head to the internet. There are many instructional videos online for a range of RV driving skills, including:

So many people love their RVs that there are also plenty of fan groups online for almost every brand and style. You can get advice from friends and neighbors who are RV owners as well. The one thing you should take care to do before you head out on the road is to also make sure you’ve updated your insurance policy to cover your new purchase, and any additional equipment you’ll be taking with you on the road. RVs can require additional driver’s license endorsement in some states, so check your local DMV for information.



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