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Mark Polk, motorhome and motor coach maintenance expertBy Mark Polk
RV Education 101

Prime camping season is here and that translates into hitting the road and logging some miles in our motorhomes this summer. Driving a motorhome is not that difficult, but if you’re used to driving an average-size automobile, there are a few driving tips and techniques to keep in mind.

My RV insurance company has informed me of the causes of the most common insurance claims for RVs. The claims relate to: hitting concrete islands at gas pumps, hitting obstacles when making right turns, hitting overhead obstructions, backing the RV into something, and sideswipe damage to the RV.

If you think about it, all of these incidents are caused by the length, width or height of the RV, because it is longer, wider and taller than what you are accustomed to.

Here are my top 5 (yes, I’m straying from my typical top 7) RV driving tips and hints on how to avoid becoming an RV insurance statistic.

1. Accidents at the fuel pump

When it’s time to refuel, look for an exit where there are several gas stations available. This gives you a better selection for finding one that is easy to navigate in and out of.

The two most common incidents at the pump are when you turn into or away from a concrete island or pole at the gas station. If you are turning away from the pole, tail swing is the culprit. If you are turning toward the pole, your pivot point is the culprit. Tail swing is when you turn the RV in one direction, and the rear of the RV swings out in the opposite direction. Depending on the motorhome, tail swing can be more than 30 inches.

The pivot point of the RV is the center of the rear axle. If you turn in the direction of an object before the pivot point reaches the object, you will hit it. If you turn in the direction of an object after the pivot point reaches the object, you will clear it.

2. Right turns

Making right turns made the list of top RV insurance claims for the same reason as gas stations. When you make a right turn in your motorhome, you need to drive out farther than you are accustomed to before you start into the turn. If you start to make a right turn too early, before your pivot point clears an object, it can result in hitting an object or driving over a curb.

When you make a right turn, tail swing applies, too. If you are too close to an object on the opposite side of the direction you are turning in, your tail swing can hit the object.

3. Height of motorhomes

When you drive an automobile, height is not a concern. An average-size vehicle can drive through or under any bridge, tunnel, overpass or fast-food drive-thru that you encounter.

When driving a motorhome, always be aware of heights. It’s not uncommon for RVs to exceed 12 or more feet in height. When traveling on back roads, an overpass that you can easily clear in an automobile can result in serious damage to your motorhome.

I recommend writing the height of the motorhome and posting it where it is easy to see as a constant reminder.

4. Backing the motorhome

Backing an automobile is easy because it’s small and you can look over your shoulder and see where you’re going. This is not true with a motorhome. It’s larger, you cannot just look over your shoulder, and it requires practice to become proficient.

For starters you should always try to avoid backing from your right side. This is your blindside. It is much easier to back from your left. The best method for backing is to have a spotter guide you. You need to be able to communicate using hand signals or radios.

The spotter needs to be positioned where they can be seen in your mirror. This means the spotter may need to move as you turn and back. You should always be able to see each other’s faces during the backing maneuver. If something doesn’t look right, stop, get out and look.

If you need to back the motorhome without assistance, walk the area first. Establish predetermined stop points, and then stop, get out and check when you reach each predetermined point. Repeat this process as many times as necessary

Before you start backing, tap your horn to warn people around you. Always be on the lookout for small children and pets.

5. Roof and sideswipe damage

This is a big one. It goes back to driving a smaller automobile, again. In a car you don’t need to be concerned with tree branches and other overhead obstacles, or with sideswiping a roof overhang or with hitting a mirror on a bridge.

Always keep in mind that a motohome is wider and taller than an automobile. When you add mirrors and awnings to the equation it’s even wider. And with items like roof-mounted air conditioners and antennas, it’s taller too.

When you arrive at the campground, get out and look before attempting to park the unit on the site. Tree branches and other overhead obstacles easily can damage the roof and sides of the RV.

The folks at the insurance company didn’t talk about claim numbers 6 and 7, but I bet they can be grouped into categories like RV awning and step damage, and tire blowout-related damage. These types of claims can be avoided by performing simple preventive maintenance and pre-trip checks on your motorhome prior to heading out on your next RV adventure.

This was a crash course on RV driving, but it should help when it comes to avoiding the top RV insurance claims. To learn more about how to drive an RV properly and safely, check out the “Drive your Motorhome Like a Pro” DVD available at

Travel safe this summer, and have fun.



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