Scary Moments in RV Driving

In the morning, I was slated to drive up a 17% grade in an RV in Quebec. I slept nervously that night overthinking the whole thing. What if the RV could not pull up the hill on its own? The steepest hill I ever climbed previously was about 8%. What if I could not pull Cindy’s CR-V attached to the RV? In the end I decided to go for it because I could not find anything on the internet that warned me away from climbing too steep a hill on the route we were taking on the Gaspé peninsula.

Never mind coming DOWN a 17% grade trying not to go too fast with a 20,000 lb. motorhome towing a 4,000 lb. car. One hill not that long ago had the brakes smoking on the RV by the time I got to the bottom…not a good thing.

After driving this RV for almost 40,000 miles since we purchased it, I’ve finally learned the most important lesson of driving our RV. Slow down…don’t drive too fast.

I know, sounds simple, right? But that is what got me up and over the 17% hill that day. Just put those emergency flashers on, chug up the hill and let the engine do the work. On the way down the hill, don’t get going too fast. Let the engine slow you down and apply the brakes well before the curves and steep sections. Worked for me.

Did I forget to say something about the wind that was blowing that day? It was howling the last two days in our campground and it was still howling the morning of the 17% climb. The wind wants to blow the RV around since it is shaped like a rectangular box and easily pushed around. I normally grab the steering wheel a little tighter to make sure I stay in my lane. But our RV handles pretty well in the wind because we invested in some upgrades.

Our class A motorhome is only 31 ft. long and 12.5 ft. high so there is a little less to blow around than the 45 footers you might see on the road these days that are 13.5 ft. high. Still, since our RV has a gas engine and a low-end suspension, we had to put some extra money into making the RV handle better in the wind and perform better on the hills. With the addition of better shocks, anti-sway bars, steering components, spring components, and an engine performance computer and air cleaner, we finally got the RV handling and performing so that it was almost fun to drive.

Did you know that you do not need a special license to drive an RV in California? Well, I did read about a “housecar” license for motorhomes 45 feet and longer. But we thought that driving an RV without some instruction was ridiculous. So when we first bought the motorhome in 2015, we invested in RV driving lessons because as we learned later, having confidence to drive an RV is half the battle. We took two days of lessons…both Cindy and I drove the RV all over the Antelope Valley in California with a retired sheriff (sergeant) turned RV instructor in retirement. We learned about the tow-haul feature on our RV (helps to control the transmission shifting properly up and down hills), driving windy roads, stopping the RV, getting gas, driving in a crowded parking lot and maybe most importantly backing up. We left our two days of instruction with much more confidence and the skills to begin our RV adventures.

Ever heard of tail swing? Neither did we but when you drive an RV you have to watch for it as our instructor pointed out. The back end of the RV “swings” out a little or a lot when making a turn, especially a tight one. It takes some practice to get it right. There is a lot of RV behind the rear wheels and when the front wheels turn, the rear of the RV has a tendency to swing out so you have to be careful that you don’t hit the car in the next lane (or the tree in the campground or the pole in the gas station).

While we both share the freeway driving miles on long days, I do most of the driving. But did you know that Cindy is the designated backer-upper? She is the one who backs into those tight-fitting campground sites. I’m just the guy giving hand signals while she puts the RV in just the right spot.

And did you know that one of the main forms of entertainment in a campground is watching other people back into their campsite? Our instructor told us this and sure enough on our first RV trip to Pismo Beach, California, the couple next to us diligently watched Cindy back in. The woman had her mouth open and jaw dropped the whole time I was giving hand signals to Cindy. She could not believe that Cindy had done the backing up and told us so after Cindy shut off the engine. Another time in North Carolina, a whole family lined up their lawn chairs to watch Cindy back in. I’ve seen guys line up in chairs with beer in hand to watch, hoping some mishap will occur to this woman driver.

Confidence matters when driving an RV, otherwise, the tendency is to drive too fast and be slightly out of control. An RV does not drive like a car so different rules apply when going up and down hills, changing lanes, going around curves or even parking. In the wind, most motorhomes have to slow down, much slower than a car.

Those are my RV driving tips in a nutshell. Drive slowly when necessary; make sure your RV handles correctly; and get some instruction. It helped us. Maybe it will help you too.

2 thoughts on “Scary Moments in RV Driving”

  1. I was thinking that driving down would be far more scarier!

    I have driven buses full of campers when I worked for the YMCA (66 campers). Usually stick shifts which felt easier, but I’m not sure if that’s scientifically accurate. But never on that type of grade.
    Have been on dirt roads in the mountains which has its own challenges on steep hills. We borrowed a church bus once for an IVCF retreat, and since I still had my bus drivers license I did the driving . The breaks failed at the bottom of the hill. Had we had one more curve we would have crashed! Never used their bus again!!!

  2. In my case, I’m pretty safe if I drive down a hill at 25 mph. If I start to go faster than that I apply the brakes until I’m going slower than 25. I did that on multiple hills well over 10%. The engine is revving like a banshee but on this RV it seems to take it.

    YMCA busses have that reputation I’ve heard. And camping busses even more so. Glad you survived to tell your harrowing story!!!


Leave a Comment