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Driving an RV!

Driving that big RV ... by Peggi McDonald

When John and I picked up our first RV, the dealer included a three-hour familiarization promo as part of the sale procedure. It covered many aspects of how to live in our new home on wheels and use all the house type amenities. At that point we were handed the keys and told to go and have fun.

John had never driven anything bigger than a sedan but he set out on a very challenging journey alone; we were not towing at the time so I had to drive the car home. Both of us arrived safe and sound but unfortunately this scenario is repeated too many times when novice RVers take control of their new unit. As a result the onus is on you, the RVer, to find a safe way to travel the highways.

On a positive note, driving an RV is not a difficult task once you gain a little confidence. From the beginning seasoned RVers advised that we both should be comfortable driving our motorhome - we pass this advice on to all RVing twosomes.

Although John prefers to be the primary driver I take a periodic turn at the wheel. Several years ago, John accidentally turned his right ankle while walking the dogs on a gravel road - he couldn't walk for a week due to a painful sprain. Since we were on the move from A to B; it was good that driving our motorhome was second nature to me. We both practiced parking maneuvres and controlling our unit in defined spaces at a nearby shopping mall parking lot after hours. We also fine-tuned our hand signals to direct each other into a specific area.

 Next we ventured onto quiet secondary roads with low traffic flow to get the feel of our longer length and height plus the drag of a truck passing. Eventually we our excursion included a major highway - but not during a high traffic times.

Some RVers enroll in a professional truck driver course; it may be a bit costly but so is your RV. There is no special licencing to drive an RV unless your unit has air brakes then a course in most provinces and states is required for a licence endorsement. The rulings, regulations and type of qualifications differ, but training is usually a must.

 Climbing mountains is the ultimate test of your driving skills. I will never forget our first such encounter at Siskiyou Pass, Oregon during year one. We had just came out of Mexico and although we traveled those mountains with relative ease this one was so long - four miles up, seven miles down. We had recently added new brake shoes to our motorhome and felt it was OK to use our brakes as needed. We were completely unaware that when going down mountains the general rule for RVers is to use one gear lower when descending a mountain than was used to climb it. That way the engine does the braking and limits the amount you need to use your brakes - otherwise they will get hot and fade from overuse. When we smelled burning breaks halfway down the mountain we had no idea it was our motorhome. Thank heavens a rest area was waiting around the next bend.

The Mountain Directory by Richard Miller (Mountain Directory West) (Mountain Directory East) explains details of all Mountain Passes in the USA. It is so comforting to know distance, curves, elevations and what's waiting around the next bend. Be aware of these cautionary alerts Ø Over-the-counter drugs; many cause drowsiness. Ø Ask your pharmacist or your doctor if over-the-counter choices will conflict with your prescription meds. Ø A little coffee may help keep you awake but too much can work in reverse. Ø Take frequent breaks, a nap or switch drivers when possible at the first signs of becoming sleepy or if your eyes feel heavy etc. Ø Truck stops are preferred safe places for a prolonged stop rather than at a rest area. Ø An open window with a breeze in your face helps you stay alert; passengers can always cover up if they are cool. Keep your tires properly inflated and check them regularly for cracking sidewalls. Most, but not all, RV manufacturers suggest you rotate all tires at regular intervals. Many RVers feel if the tread is in good shape and their tires have been subject to limited driving miles they do not need replacing. However sitting in one spot can cause mega problems to the strength of the sidewalls especially as tires near a five-year usage. When RV's have dual tires you should add a quality set of stainless steel valve extenders - it is the only way to check the pressure and add air to the inside dual. We recently ran over a nail and ruined a front tire on our car. Now there are two new tires on our 'tow car' because it tracks better during flat towing when both front tires are of the same calibre. Peggi and John McDonald are RV Lifestyle Consultants who understand the -idiosyncrasies all RVers.

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