Looking for adventure in Big Country, USA? Then you very well could end up behind the wheel of a recreational vehicle (RV).
In fact, RVs are more popular than ever, as 8.9 million U.S. households own one, up from 7.9 million in 2005, according to research from the University of Michigan. Even more telling: Representatives of about one-fifth of U.S. households indicate that they either own, have owned or intend to own an RV sometime in the future, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.
It’s common for potential RV buyers to rent a model before shopping for one – if just to get a sense of whether this lifestyle suits their style of wanderlust. It’s also a good way to acquaint yourself firsthand with associated RV driving challenges. With the latter in mind, here are some safety and logistical tips to consider when renting an RV:
1. Practice, practice, practice
Shortly after renting your first-ever RV, get acclimated to your new “big ride” in a safe, open space. Even if you’ve driven a minivan or large truck for years, you’ll find that the RV experience presents an assortment of new challenges. “Go to a mall when it’s empty or a big church lot on a weekday,” says RV expert Janet Groene, co-author of the book, Living Aboard Your RV. “At low speeds there, learn to use the mirrors, turn corners, back up and park. Familiarize yourself with the rear-facing TV view, if your RV has one. If you’re traveling with a partner, practice hand signals so you can help each other park and back up without resorting to shouting instructions.”
2. Initial inspection
Before heading out, do a walk-around of the RV to observe any potential problems. “Check your tire pressure,” says Groene. “Make sure all access doors are closed and no obstructions are in the way.”
3. Big-picture perspective
You have one major safety advantage in an RV: elevation. You’re sitting higher than most auto drivers, which gives you a longer, wider view of the road. Use this to gain a greater perspective of what’s ahead, including any road obstructions, slowing traffic, accidents, etc. “You should give your full attention to the road, especially in an RV,” Groene says. “It has a higher center of gravity and lots of wind surface. Maneuvering provides many surprises and they are worse at speed or on windy days. Add a sudden blow-out to the picture and you’ll want both hands on the wheel.”
4. A safety cushion
About 15 percent of RV auto insurance claims are caused by the failure to correctly stop and turn. RVs need plenty of distance to brake, as well as width to turn.
5. Tall order
Always check clearance signs for tunnels and commercial buildings to assess whether your RV will fit underneath. “You should be constantly aware of your RV’s height in feet and inches,” Groene says. “Don’t attempt to go through a drive-through or indoor parking garage unless you’re absolutely certain you’ll make it.”
6. Balanced load
An unbalanced RV is likelier to suffer a blowout, breakdown or braking/steering problems. Pack evenly so you don’t “overload” one particular section of the RV.
7. Homework assignment
In planning a long trip in the open country, go on the websites of campgrounds to make sure they’re right for RVs. “Many indicate whether they have pull-through sites and hook-up areas,” Groene says. “Pull-throughs allow you to drive straight to the RV section. Hook-ups are for connecting to electricity, water and sewer.”
If you decide to ultimately buy an RV, learn about Nationwide’s RV insurance and ask your agent about adding the right coverage to your policy