Recently, we spoke with Gary Lewis, Founder of RV Basic Training, an organization established to teach RV owners everything they need to know to enjoy a safe, comfortable and incident-free RV driving experience.
Based in Southern California, RV Basic Training offers motorhome enthusiasts located across the United States with expert instruction through the RV Boot Camp program. RV Boot Camp sends an experienced instructor to you so that you can learn in the comfort of your own coach.
Below, Gary talks about what led up to the establishment of RV Basic Training before explaining the ten rules all new RVers should know before hitting the road in 2015.
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Back in 2001, my wife and I sold our business and decided to hit the road full time. After a year of traveling throughout the United States and Canada, from Fort McMurray in the North to South Padre Island in the South, I missed being involved and being needed. So I signed on to do motor home deliveries with a drive away company. Ultimately this lead to the position of Press Fleet Coordinator with a major RV company. We had motorhomes that would go out for magazine reviews, RV shows, photo shoots, you name it. The problem was, our units kept coming back damaged. Finally, my boss said, “Gary, no one is leaving here until you spend at least four hours with the drivers teaching them how to handle these things.” I had been a commercial driver for years, had my CDL and was very experienced driving larger vehicles. To make a long story short, I put together a program to educate our press fleet recipients on how to operate an RV safely, which is what led to the establishment of RV Basic Training in 2006.
Now that you’ve learned a bit about my journey, Id like to share some advice that will help you to avoid damage to both yourself and your motor coach when you decide to set out on your next big adventure.
What is the RV difference? It’s the fact that your Class A coach is much taller, wider and heavier than any car or truck you’re used to driving. Most cars these days are pretty small – about 15 feet or so in length – so if you’re dealing with a 40-foot motorhome, you’re operating a vehicle that is many times larger than your car.
When you’re operating a motor coach, you have anywhere from 12 to 15 feet behind the rear axle, which presents you with tail swing. On top of that, you usually have 18 to 24 feet minimum between the front wheels and the back wheels, which gives you off track. So essentially, you have to be constantly aware of the fact that your coach’s footprint is a big one. As soon as you start driving it like a car, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.
If you learn one thing from me let it be this: Always perform a pre-trip inspection. If you’re not sure how to perform a proper pre-trip inspection, you can download a free pre-trip checklist on our website. Unlike commercial drivers who can be fired for not performing a pre-trip inspection, many RV drivers fail to do so out of laziness. Its why you’ll see RVers take off from a campsite while still plugged in to a power source or with their awnings out. If you don’t perform a pre-trip inspection, I guarantee you’re going to have a problem. Maybe not today, but you will tomorrow.
There is such an unbelievable lack of understanding as to what RV mirrors are supposed to do and how they’re supposed to be set. When it comes to mirrors, most people assume “well it came this way; I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be set.”
One in five large vehicle accidents are connected to a driver’s mirrors. Either the driver failed to use his mirrors when changing lanes or turning, or his mirrors were improperly adjusted. There is a video posted on our website that talks about how to make a right turn without hitting a curb, and it has to do with, you guessed it, proper mirror usage. It addresses the fact that you should be using your convex mirror when turning. Its one of the things we spend a lot of time on because its one of the main areas where damage occurs.
Some people believe the convex mirror should be facing downward so that you can view your front wheels, which is absolutely incorrect. Your convex mirror is meant to help you see alongside your coach. If you have a person standing at the rear of your motorhome, you should see the top of their head. If you’re able to see well above that person’s head, that means your convex mirror is set too high.
Every commercial driver in North America has to master four basic driving skills: straight line backing, tight right turns, dockside backing and parallel parking. Anyone we train is going to be proficient in these areas when were finished with them. If you know how to perform these maneuvers, you understand the location of your back wheels and realize how large a footprint you have, which is vital. If you don’t, you probably wont be comfortable behind the wheel of a Class A motor coach.
Even with proper training, many drivers require a little extra help before they arrive at a point where they are fully comfortable behind the wheel of an RV. One thing that can make a big difference is developing a driver/spotter relationship. The spotter alerts the driver of his or her surroundings and helps to navigate tight turns and lane changes. One of the easiest ways to maintain this team effort is with.
RV headsets that allow instant communication between the driver and the spotter. There is no delay and no buttons to press. Its just like talking over the phone. Someone can be at the back of the coach checking both sides at all times and can communicate with the driver quickly and easily.
It’s a fact that for every three feet behind your rear axle, you have the potential for one foot of tail swing heading in the opposite direction that you must manage when turning. If you’ve got 12 feet behind your back wheels, which most RVs do, and you make a sharp right turn, guess whats going to happen to whatever is sitting directly to your left? You’re going to come in contact with it. Failing to account for tail swing is a big reason many new RV drivers damage their coaches.
Off track is the difference between the path of your front wheels and the path of your rear wheels when you turn a corner. Take a stretch limousine for example, compared to my little red hatchback. Both vehicles have very little space behind the rear wheels. Unfortunately, the distance between those front and rear wheels is 28 feet for the limo and 9 feet for the hatchback. So when turning a corner, the limo has to go much further out because only the front wheels turn while the back wheels follow. If you don’t go far enough out, the back wheels are going to go over the curb, possibly causing the limousine to strike a nearby object. That right there is an accident caused by off track.
It’s a fact that when you go from 20 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour, its going to take you four times longer to stop because that stop is going to require four times the distance. When you double your weight you’re going to require twice the stopping distance. Double weight and double speed means you’re going to require eight times the stopping distance because it multiplies. Its a concept known as velocity squared, which is the formula police use while reconstructing an accident in order to figure out how fast a person was going. Stopping and following distance is key to a safe journey no matter what kind of vehicle you’re driving, but especially if you’re operating an RV.
RV drivers must know how to handle three core environments: urban, rural and highway roads. There still exist a large number of roads – particularly in rural environments – that are less than 12 feet wide because they were built before 1955. In addition, there are many highway driving challenges that are amplified when you’re behind the wheel of a 40-foot motor coach, including lane changes, merging and moving over for law enforcement. If you don’t move over and slow down when approaching a traffic stop or other incident involving the police, you’re going to get a ticket. Being familiar with the different variables each environment presents is important to staying safe, and out of trouble, while out on the road.
There’s a lot that doesn’t get covered in great detail, but is still important to remember for as long as you own your RV. These include:
Thanks for reading! I hope you found the above information helpful. If you have any questions for me or would like to learn more about RV Basic Training and RV Boot Camp, shoot me an email at gary.theRVguy@gmail.com or visit www.rvbasictraining.com.