Driving Tips on Rough Roads for Newbie RVers

Driving on a rough road in an RV can lead to some amazing destinations. It isn’t possible to reach Alaska, for example, without some bouncing around. Most rough road damage is preventable. The following tips will make it easier to drive an RV on muddy or gravel roads, and ones that have pot holes, frost heaves, or which are generally in poor condition.

Watching Your Speed

Driving on a rough road requires patience and acceptance of the fact that you are not on a paved, four-lane highway. Head off on the rough road with the knowledge that it will take longer to traverse than a comparable distance on a good road.

Slowing down when you change road types, such as going from a paved road to a gravel road, will prevent a loss of control and give you time to see how your vehicle handles on the rougher surface. Then, maintain a steady speed, avoid swerving or making any sudden lane changes, and keep a safe distance from vehicles ahead of you.

Obstacles are much easier to avoid if you are driving for the road conditions, whether they be a frost heave, an animal crossing the road, or a large rock.

Preventing Cracked Windshields

The chance of receiving a rock chip is proportional to your driving speed. By slowing down and moving over when being passed by a vehicle, you reduce your chances of receiving a chip or long crack. Small chips should be fixed as soon as possible so that they do not become a crack that will require a total windshield replacement.

Tire Pressure and Blowouts

It is important for your RV’s tires, and those of your towed vehicle, to be inflated to the correct amount for the weight of the vehicle or a little lower. Over-inflating could cause a blowout while under-inflating the tires can give them a little better grip, but will reduce your gas mileage.

If a blowout occurs, resist the temptation to slam on the brakes and instead maintain pressure on the gas pedal.

Pot Holes

If you inadvertently drive through a large pot hole at greater speed than you should have, it is better to ease off the gas pedal than to slam on the brakes as braking could damage the wheel.

Dusty Conditions

Dust is a serious concern when driving on dirt or gravel roads. It is a good idea to cover the front grill to protect the radiator. Dust on battery terminals can cause a short, ruining the battery. It is therefore important to regularly clean the engine area to keep it in top operating condition.

Muddy and Otherwise Slippery Conditions

When a loss of control is felt on a muddy or slippery road, gently ease off the gas pedal and look firmly in the direction you wish the vehicle to go, which will set you back on course.

Protecting the Interior

Rough roads can also wreck havoc on the interior of your RV. Be doubly careful in securing items prior to travel and exercise caution when opening cabinets upon arrival. Pay special attention to the refrigerator as the bouncing can shake lids loose and create a mess. Carefully securing items will also reduce the number of potential projectiles in an accident.

Driving on a rough road in an RV is rarely pleasant and often nerve wracking, but it does not have to mean sustaining any damage or losses, major or minor, to your RV and/or towed vehicle. By slowing down, paying attention to the road conditions, and driving defensively, it is possible to drive a rough road in an RV while enjoying the scenery.

Driving With A Caravan In Tow

Towing a caravan or trailer requires greater skill and knowledge than normal driving.

Extra care must be taken when towing a car with a motorhome or a trailer/fifth wheel with a truck. Bounce from frost heaves can cause the tow hitch to twist or even shear off. The towing vehicle can also kick up rocks that could damage the towed vehicle.

Be sure to take frequent inspection breaks to examine your tires and towing system. For additional peace of mind, a tire pressure monitoring system and rear view camera can also help you keep an eye on your towed vehicle.

If you are traveling with someone and towing a car behind a motorhome, explore the option of driving the vehicles separately to avoid these potential issues.

Towing a caravan is more stressful than normal driving therefore it will cause fatigue sooner. More rest stops should be planned and remember that driving is slowing and it will take longer to get some where.

It’s important that the driver of any RV is aware of the changes to driving. They also need to ensure the necessary checks have been done to ensure both the vehicle and caravan are safe on the road.

A Swaying Caravan

If the caravan begins to sway or snake, avoid applying the towing vehicle’s brakes. Continue at a steady speed or accelerate slowly until the swaying stops.

Reversing A Caravan

If possible, reverse with a person watching the caravan.

The actions involved to reverse a caravan are the opposite to those of reversing just a car. The RAC recommends placing a hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, then simply move it to the right to move the caravan to the right. Make a habit of backing the caravan for even a short distance each time you pull in for the night, and you will soon surmount your last towing hurdle.

Caravan Driver’s Checklist

Before you embark on your RV trip make sure to go through the following checklist to ensure the pleasant journey.

  • Check oil, water, brake fluid, the battery etc
  • Inspect all tires
  • Check car and caravan wheel nuts have been tightened according to manufacturer’s guidelines
  • Ensure coupling socket and ball match in size
  • Check coupling is correctly and securely fastened
  • Check safety chains are correctly connected
  • Ensure all lights work
  • Check number plates and registration
  • Test the brakes
  • Ensure load is properly secured
  • Limit the amount of load in the boot of the tow vehicle
  • Ensure rear vision mirrors on the tow vehicle are properly adjusted
  • Ensure that the gas cylinders are properly secured
  • While you are travelling ensure that the gas cylinders are turned off and in travel position
  • Ensure the refrigerator door is closed
  • Check any roll-out awning is stored away and locked in travel position
  • Check that the front and rear corner stabilisers are in the up position
  • Ensure that the hand brake of the trailer has been correctly released
  • Check that the roof hatches, windows and doors are secure
  • Check that the electrical cord has been disconnected and stored away
  • Check any TV antenna is in the travel position

Checks while Driving

  • The couplings and chains are still securely fastened
  • The brakes and wheel bearings are not overheating, by comparing to your carbrakes
  • Light connections are still secure and that the lights are working
  • Tyres are still sufficiently inflated
  • Roll out awning is properly locked and in travel position

Safety Tips for Newbie RVers

Safety is easy to overlook when you get all excited about journey, but you should always keep in mind the following tips:

  • Allow for the length and width of the caravan when entering traffic.
  • Remember, a car towing a caravan or trailer has further to travel when passing another vehicle.
  • Consider the dimensions of the RV. Allow for the RV height when pulling into the kerb, especially where the road is higher and there is a possibility of hitting trees.
  • To avoid sway, particularly in wet conditions, apply the accelerator, brakes and steering smoothly and gently.
  • Allow for a longer stopping distance.
  • Maintain a space of at least 60 metres from any vehicle in front.
  • When travelling downhill, engage a lower gear (in both manual and automatic vehicles) to increase vehicle control and reduce strain on brakes.
  • If overtaking, allow more time and distance. A vehicle’s capacity to accelerate is reduced when towing a caravan or trailer.
  • If traffic begins to build up behind the RV, periodically move off the road to allow other motorists to pass safely.

Fuel Economy Tips

Although load reductions improve gas mileage far more for smaller vehicles (cars, light trucks) than larger ones such as RVs, it still pays to ensure that an RV is properly loaded, not only for fuel economy and reduced maintenance, but also for safety.

FuelEconomy.gov points out that for cars, each 100 lb. of load can reduce fuel economy by up to 2%. This figure may not apply to an RV, but there is no question that load does affect gas mileage.

Here are some sensible driving fuel-saving habits to work on:

  • Avoid long periods of engine idle (see below).
  • Use the in-dash air conditioner only when necessary. It adds load to the engine and reduces fuel efficiency.
  • Avoid speeding, rapid acceleration, and sudden braking – they reduce fuel economy. Anticipate starts and stops and increase/decrease speed gradually.
  • Avoid driving in stop-and-go traffic by careful route selection or by using the traffic analysis feature of a GPS.
  • Reduce drag by driving with windows, especially large windows, closed.

One of the nice parts of RVing is being able to chat with fellow travelers; ask those with similar rigs about their best fuel-saving tips. Most are happy to share.

Observe Speed Limits for Optimal Fuel Economy

Each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a particular speed (or range of speeds). Keep in mind that:

  • Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.
  • Each 5 mph over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas.

Observing the speed limit is also safer. Better to get there a little later than to not get there at all.

Avoid Excess Idling for More MPG

Idling gets 0 miles per gallon. Cars with larger engines typically waste more gas at idle than do cars with smaller engines. And RVs typically have larger engines.

Many municipalities now have engine-idle bylaws, so an idling engine can cost more than just wasted fuel. If the vehicle is going to be sitting for a while, open the windows and turn off the engine.

Cruise Control and Constant Speed Give Fuel Savings

Since acceleration and braking represent inefficient fuel use, it makes sense to keep a steady foot on the accelerator. Using cruise control on the highway helps maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas. However, do not use cruise control in wet or snowy conditions, as this will reduce the driver’s control of the vehicle and could induce hydroplaning or loss of control. The result may be a dangerous skid.

Overdrive Keeps Engine Speed – and Fuel Use – Down

Overdrive gearing keeps engine speed down, which in turn:

  • Saves gas.
  • Reduces engine wear.

Follow the rig’s owner manual for when to use or not use overdrive. Following these driving recommendations may keep the rig on the road longer between gas stations, and a little more money in the wallet or purse for holiday shopping.