Lazydays DRIVING TIPS

The DOAI rally held at LazyDays Feb, 2002, offered us the opportunity to take the LazyDays Confidence in driving course.  We found this to be an excellent class, and presented below are highlights of the class.  After the classroom instruction, each student drove a new D on an obstacle course - LazyDays Crown Club campground roads that are somewhat small and challenging.

Note - these driving tips are for MOTORHOMES only - and only those motorhomes less than 40' in length.

SETTING YOUR MIRRORS
Most coaches have a large flat mirror on top and a small convex mirror on the bottom.

The top mirror should be adjusted horizontally so that you can see the side of your coach in the one inch surface of the mirror closest to the coach.  The remaining 8" or so of the mirror surface gives you a view of the road behind you.  The mirror should be adjusted vertically so that you can just see the rear red clearance (near the rear bumper) on the bottom of the mirror.

The convex mirrors should be adjusted horizontally so that you can see your coach in one-third of the mirror.  They should be adjusted vertically to allow you to see vehicles alongside you.

TURNS

Knowing how to make a turn so that your rear wheels track where you want (in other words, so you don't sideswipe anything), is one of the more difficult skills for a new driver.  But before we learn how to do this, you first need to be aware of "tail wag".  Compared to a car, motorhomes have a large overhang - this is the distance from the rear axle to the very end of your coach.  As you turn a corner, the rear of your motorhome will swing out (tail wag) from your lane a distance that is directly proportional to this rear overhand length.  You can approximate your tail wag by measuring your coach's rear overhang and dividing by 4.  Add a foot or so for a safety margin and now you know how far you must be away from an object if you are going to execute a hard turn.

To make sure your back wheels end up where you want them to at the end of your turn, you will need to know your coach's steering angle (sometimes called wheel cut).  For the Discovery, it is 50 degrees.  If you have a gas coach, it is probably 45 degrees.

For a Discovery (or other 50 degree wheel cut coach), pull forward until your hip is aligned with where you want your rear wheels to track.  As an example, if you are making a right turn, you would pull forward until your hip is at least as far as the curb.  When you reach this point, make your turn.  SPECIAL NOTE - this works for modern rounded curbs.  If you are trying to negogiate a square (right angle) curb, then you will have to pull out a little further before you start to make your turn.

For a typical gas coach with a 45 degree wheel cut, align the front of your coach with where you want your rear wheels to track.

ADDITIONAL TURNING TIPS

  • In most cases, your toad will also track with your coach.  However, if you are towing a big trailer, you may need to make additional adjustments.
  • We all have power mirrors.  USE THEM! If you get in a tight spot with your turn, tilt your mirror down so you can see how much clearance you have.  The rear wheel is the coach's pivot point, Once your rear axle has cleared the obstacle, you can turn as tight as you want and your coach will clear the obstacle.
  • Sometimes in making a right turn, your coach will have to swing into the oncoming lane.  Be aware of this.
  • If you made your turn too soon and see that you cannot clear the turn, straighten out your steering wheel and move forward until your rear axle clears the obstacle and then complete your turn (use your mirrors to watch this!).  DON'T attempt to back up unless you are towing a trailer.
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
Many drivers complain that they can't hold their coach on the road - they are constantly fighting the steering wheel.  Of course, there can be many mechanical causes for this - anything from improper front end or axle alignment to improper weight loading.  Also, most air-ride coaches will tend to rock a little from side-to-side on their airbags, and some drivers interpret this as a need for steering correction - that really isn't neceesary, resulting in another steering correction, and they end up going down the highway making a series of small left-right turns instead of driving straight.  Another problem is that some drivers try to "aim" the coach by continually watching where they are only a short distance in front of them.  As you drive, you should be looking 1/4 mile down the road, relying on your peripheral vision to keep your properly centered in the lane, as well as scanning your mirrors.  In addition to giving you extra time to react, this will also result in your driving in a straight line and much less driver fatigue.

Due to the long wheelbase of your coach, the rear wheels track in a significantly different line than your front tires when going around a curve.  Most drivers find this to be a particular problem on left-hand curves.  On narrow roads, this means that you have to execute your turn a little later than you normally would as when driving a car - or else your rear wheels will cross the centerline or wander off the road on the passenger side.  A good way to avoid this is to first pick out the apex of the turn and transfer the apex to the outside curve (for a left turn).   Drive straight towards this point and when it disappears from your view, make your turn, tracking your front tire through the outside of the turn.  Note that this is really applicable for tight roads with sharp turns and not the long wide turns of the interstate.  

ADDITIONAL TIPS

  • Did you know that the closest point you can see in front of your coach is approximately 20'? Depending on your height and driving position, this could be more or less.  For me, it is 20'.
  • When you stop behind someone (in your coach or your toad), stop far enough back so that you can still see the tires of the vehicle in front of you.  This will allow you sufficient space to pull around the vehicle in front of you if need be without having to do any backing.
  • Know how many turns of your steering wheel are required from lock-to-lock (full right to full left or vice versa).  If you are making a difficult turn and need to go forward to clear something, now you know how many turns of the steering wheel to make so that you coach goes straight (number of turns lock-to-lock divided by two).
  • According to LazyDays, a surprising number of chassis need to have an adjustment made so that the number of turns of the steering wheel from center to full left and full right are the same.  Check yours as this will also affect your tire wear and straight line stability.
  • Before moving your coach, do a complete walk-around.  Make sure that all your hookups are disconnected.  Also make sure that there are no obstacles or people near your coach - remember your 20' blind spot in front of the coach.  Check and make sure your antennas are down.
  • While driving down the road, allow four seconds gap between you and the vehicle in front of you.  It takes a lot more distance to stop a motorhome than a car.  Increase this distance in inclement weather or as road conditions dictate.

    BACKING UP INTO A CAMPSITE OR PARKING SPACE

    This is probably one of the most difficult things for a new driver to master.  Here is the "LazyDays" technique.

    First, you will need to ascertain a reference point for your coach.  From the middle of your rear axle, measure 8 feet forward towards the front of your coach.  Hopefully, this will be near the edge of a luggage door or paddle or something that you can see in your rear mirror.  HOWEVER, you can use this alternative: Measure from this reference point to where you sit in the driver's seat.  For the D, this is approximately 12 feet.

    Refer to the drawing below:

    Parking Diagram

    Assuming you are driving a D, pull up parallel to your back-in spot and position your coach so that it is one foot from the curb AND your hip is at the right edge of the campsite.  While you are sitting there, survey your parking spot for any special obstacles, including any bushes or trees with low-hanging branches or pedastals.  If you are driving a coach with a 45 degree wheel cut, you will pull forward until the front of your coach is at the right edge of the campsite.

    Next, pull forward until your "reference point" described above, is positioned at the right edge of the campsite OR just move forward the distance you measured above (approx 12 feet for the D).   If you have a gas coach with a 45 degree wheel cut, you will have to make the necessary measurement adjustments and remember that your reference point for initially positioning your coach is the front bumper.

    After you have pulled forward to your reference point, make a full hard right turn to the curb on the other side of the road.  Then, turn your steering wheel hard left and back into the spot.  This will put you close to the right edge of your camping spot, and you may need to make adjustments for your slideout.

    ADDITONAL PARKING TIPS

    • Backing accidents are the highest cause of RV accidents.  Use extreme caution in backing.
    • Ideally, all backing will be done with your partner.  Prior to doing any backing, make up a set of instructions that you and your partner will both understand.  This is especially important if you are using hand signals.
    • NEVER let someone else, other than your partner, back you into a site.  His communications with you will not be what you think he means!
    • NEVER back up unless you can see your partner in the mirrors.  If you are the backing partner, NEVER stand in the path of the motorhome.  Our instructor said that one lady was killed at LazyDays campground when the driver inadvertently ran over her.
    • If someone has parked their toad in such a postion as to impede your ability to safely park - AKS THEM TO MOVE IT.  It always helps if you say something like "I never backed one of these before and wonder if you would move your toad?".  At the LazyDays DOAI rally, two D owners hit other camper's toads while trying to park.
    • Sometimes, due to insufficient room, you may have to jockey front and back to get correctly positioned in your campsite.

    ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

    Safely driving an RV involves many other factors.  Here are some things that I ask all of you to be mindful of and consider:

    • If you are pulling a toad, get an auxiliary braking device and a break-away feature.  In addition to being required in many states you drive through, it will significantly reduce your stopping distance in a panic stop.
    • All chassis manufactured after approx April 1998 have ABS.  As you drive, you should always have an "escape route" that you can use if you cannot stop in time.  With ABS, you can keep the brakes mashed to the floor and still steer around an obstacle.
    • Weigh your coach BY WHEEL and ensure that you are not overloaded by wheel or axle.
    • If you are pulling a toad, it is very important that your tow bar, when connected to your coach with your air bags inflated, be within 3 inches of level.  An out-of-level tow bar puts an enormous amount of stress on the towbar that could result in its failure.  It can also result in reduced braking and jack-knife problems.
    • Speed kills! Especially when you are driving an RV.  Tire temperatures increase drastically, and many tires are not rated for above 65 mph.  Slow down to 55 - 60 mph.  If you are in that much of a hurry, you should have left yesterday!
    • Measure your tire inflation pressure before every trip.  An underinflated tire will fail.
    • Visually inspect your tires often, especially for any bulges, cracks, sidewall scrapes or other sign of impending problems.  Also look for uneven tire wear and have the cause corrected.
    • Attempting to re-inflate a high pressure RV tire, after it has been driven without or nearly without air, can be fatal.  The steel belts may break (due to damage done while you drove on it), one at a time as you inflate it until the tire explodes.

    - Bob