Driving a motorhome can sometimes feel a daunting prospect, whether you’re a beginner or have toured before. The good news is following some simple motorhome driving tips can make a big difference, allowing you to have a more enjoyable experience on the road and helping to remove the stresses from your journey.
Whether this will be your first season of touring and you’re looking for some tips to help you master the basics or you’re a more experienced motorcaravanner who wants a refresh, just following these steps can make a big difference to your time on the road, helping your tours start with a hassle-free experience as you drive to one of the best motorhome sites.
There are also some navigation aids you could consider investing in that can be a great help. For instance, the best motorhome sat nav will be able to take the size and weight of your vehicle into account, helping you avoid narrow roads, low bridges and similar. The best dash cam for a motorhome can also provide some peace of mind when you’re on the road, offering clear recordings should the worst happen.
In this guide, I’m sharing my top motorhome driving tips – before you know it, you’ll be on your way to driving your ‘van like a pro.
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Step one: before turning the key…
Watch the Weight
Let’s start with an understanding of motorhome weights. The most crucial aspect will be knowing what the MTPLM (Maximum Technically Permitted Laden Mass) of your motorhome is. This is the heaviest the motorhome can be with everything and everyone on board. It is the first weight on the official weight plate, which is normally located on the front crossmember under the bonnet.
Anyone who has passed their car driving test in the UK can drive any motorhome up to 3,500kg MTPLM providing there are no further licence restrictions. If the MTPLM is between 3,501 kg – 7,500kg, Group C1 is required on the driving licence, previously an automatic entitlement if the car driving test was passed before 1st January 1997 and the driver is under 70 years of age. Younger drivers can add group C1 to their licence by undertaking a course of tuition and an assessment; older drivers should retain the entitlement by successfully passing a medical.
Next, ascertain the unladen weight of the motorhome. Subtract the maximum payload figure from the MTPLM. Next subtract 75kg (nominal allowance for driver) and the weight of a full fuel tank. Allow 1kg per litre. If the result is under 3,050kg, car speed limits apply in the UK. Otherwise, the speed limits are: single carriageways: 50mph; dual carriageways/motorways: 60mph.
Follow a pre-departure checklist
I’d always recommend having a pre-departure checklist to hand before driving a motorhome – it will give you the peace of mind that the necessary bits have been done, as well as allow you to have a safer experience on the road.
These are the pre-departure checks I’d follow – if it’s your first time in a motorhome I’d also recommend also knowing how to load a motorhome too:
- Windows & rooflights locked
- Everything stowed securely
- Lockers/cupboards/drawers locked
- Hook-up lead stowed
- Gas turned off
- Fridge door locked, 12V selected
- Control panel checked
- Walk around/look underneath
- Wind-out awning retracted
- Bikes secure on rack
- Exterior-access locker doors secure
- Elevating-roof lowered and secured
Apply a sticker to the reverse side of the sun visor that shows the vehicle’s height and width in both metric and imperial units.
Climb into the cab, adjust the seat, mirrors, and make sure that you know how to turn the lights on, operate the hazard lights, sound the horn, deploy the turn indicators, and that you can comfortably apply and release the parking brake. The pedals are often further apart than in some cars, and some are offset.
Try the following whilst stationary: place your foot on the accelerator and without looking down transfer it to the brake pedal. Keep practising until it comes naturally.
Finally, when was the last time you read the Highway Code? Enough said?
Step two: build your confidence
In many ways, driving a motorhome is similar to driving a car – however, due to the fact that a ‘van is bigger and heavier, you’re going to need greater concentration. I’d subsequently recommend turning off the radio and any music, as well as phones, so you can focus.
Consider a course
The Caravan and Motorhome Club, Camping and Caravanning Club, plus some driving schools, organise motorhome manoeuvring tuition courses. Many sat-navs can be set to take into consideration high/heavy vehicles when route planning, including the Garmin Camper 795, our standout pick on the market at the Practical Motorhome Awards 2024.
Walk this way
Walk around the motorhome and observe that there is ‘a lot of it’ behind the rear wheels. Thus, when emerging from a narrow opening – say your drive – always proceed straight-ahead until the rear is clear, before turning left or right. Changing direction prematurely may cause ‘tail swiping’ of the gate posts, or whatever. Note that the mirrors stick out further than the bodywork. Thus, if the mirrors fit through a gap, the motorhome will!
Initially, stick to quiet and wide single-carriage local roads. Drive ‘laps’ of a 5 -10 mile circuit to gain confidence, without having to worry about the route. Practise glancing upwards, both when looking ahead and side-to-side in order to spot overhanging tree branches and similar obstructions. Always follow ‘M-S-M-M’ (Mirrors – Signal – Mirrors again – Manoeuvre).
Entering the flow of traffic
Motorhomes are slower to accelerate than cars. Wait for a large gap and don’t ‘barge-in’.
Placing the vehicle
Keep a safe distance from the kerb without wandering out-of-lane. Regularly glance in both door mirrors.
Gently apply the brakes a good distance from the corner so that the motorhome is in equilibrium when changing direction. Approach speed should be slower than that in a car, as motorhomes lean more when cornering.
A motorhome’s wheelbase is longer than a car’s, so don’t cut corners and risk mounting the kerb. Look in the bottom of the appropriate door mirror as you turn to see where the back wheel is. Alternate between looking ahead and at the back wheel. As with emerging from a narrow gateway, go forward before turning the steering wheel and take your time.
When negotiating a ‘T’-junction of single carriageways, wait for the traffic to be clear in both directions, as it is likely that the central white line of the road to be joined will have to be crossed in order to successfully achieve the manoeuvre. It might be concerning at first, but will quickly become second nature.
Reversing a motorhome
We strongly advise that all motorhomes should be fitted with a camera on the back. These are commonly known as ‘reversing cameras’, but can be activated at any time. A motorhome mistake to avoid when ‘backing-up’ is to just rely on the camera and forget to look in the door mirrors as well! Gain confidence in an empty car park.
Step three: advanced motorhome driving
Motorways and dual carriageways
If the `van has a cruise control, use it, as it is easy to increase speed without realising it. When changing lanes remember ‘M-S-M-M’. Overtaking demands double-checking in the nearside mirror that the motorhome is well clear of what has been passed, before returning to the original lane.
When you’re driving a motorhome on an exposed stretch of motorway or when crossing a long bridge, you’ll find your ‘van can be susceptible to being buffeted by high winds. The way around this is by following the ‘Rule of Ten’ – if it’s being affected, start to gradually reduce your speed by 10mph. If you’re still not happy, then slow down by another 10mph, repeating it until you’re feeling comfortable.
Steep driveways/Ferry ramps
If you’ve settled the ferry or Eurotunnel debate by opting for the former, this will be for you. A long rear overhang behind the rear wheels increases the possibility of grounding. Take great care and progress at a slow walking pace. Reduce the effect of the gradient by approaching the slope at an oblique angle.
The journey is the start of your touring experience and you’ll want to ensure you begin it in as enjoyable a way as possible. A stress-free drive is one thing – something else you can do is stop off at places of interest along the way, as well as take lots of breaks, so you get to explore as you go.
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