New motorhome owner? Feeling a little concerned about driving ‘the white beast’? Don’t worry- we’ve all got to learn how to drive a motorhome somehow; here are some tips and tricks for beginners to get you out and about safely.
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How to drive a motorhome- the basics
For anyone not used to driving an HGV, getting behind the wheel of a motorhome often leads to pounding hearts, sweaty palms and probably some sleepless nights.
After all, not only do you have to remember the length and height of this thing, you also need to remember HOW MUCH MONEY you’ve just laid out for it.
As someone who still has to ‘psyche herself up’ to drive the van, I know exactly how you feel.
So I thought it might be useful to share some tips which have helped me build my confidence in driving our motorhome.
You can grab your FREE motorhome departure and pre-trip checklist here
Driving a motorhome for the first time tips
So, let’s start at the very beginning, because I know a lot of people will be brand new motorhome owners, going to pick up their camper from the dealer and not ENTIRELY sure how to drive it home.
So, here’s what you do:
- Firstly, TAKE YOUR TIME. Don’t allow the dealer or anyone else to rush you off the forecourt. Ideally, don’t pick it up last thing when they’re trying to lock up and get home
- Know your dimensions. Make a note of the height, length and width. It’s amazing how quickly you forget your height when faced with a low bridge!
- Talking of which, bring a PROPER motorhome sat nav. No, Google maps will not do unless you know the roads VERY well and can guarantee your vehicle will get there safely. Your first trip is not the time to be reversing or trying to turn around in a narrow road.
- Set up your seat and mirrors properly. Make sure you can see on both sides, including all blind spots. Most motorhome wing mirrors have two mirrors- the bottom one helps you see the blind spots.
- Make sure you know where the indicators and gears are, and if it’s a manual or automatic motorhome (my car is automatic and my van is not… so I often need a minute to remind myself to use gears!)
Ideally, you want a trusted person as a helper/ navigator, but the first trip is probably not the time to bring the whole family, no matter how excited they are. Give yourself the first trip to get your head around it, especially if you’re nervous.
If you’d like some tips for packing your motorhome or what to do on a campsite, read this advice for new motorhome owners
How to drive a motorhome with confidence
So, the biggest thing with driving a motorhome is confidence. It’s important to build up your confidence and the best way to do this is practice, practice and more practice.
Generally speaking, most couples will have one person who does most of the driving. Which is fine, but what happens if that person becomes ill and can’t drive?
It’s important that all drivers on the motorhome insurance are able to drive the vehicle safely, so make sure everyone gets a chance to practice, make mistakes and build confidence.
Mr WB prefers to drive and I prefer to navigate, but recently I’ve been taking myself on some solo trips to make myself gain confidence with driving the motorhome.
Learn your width
The hardest thing is often knowing how wide the vehicle is, especially as you’re driving and navigating around obstacles like parked cars. Once you feel happier knowing this, everything becomes a lot easier. Remember, the average motorhome is around 3ft wider than the average car.
Work on figuring out the white lines in relation to a spot on the motorhome dashboard. This makes it easier to know that you’re correctly positioned within the lane.
Use your mirrors to assess the gap each time you overtake anything. Were you too far away? Too close?(!) You might wish to fit wing mirror protectors asap… just in case!
It feels really weird, the first few times you drive closer to the pavement than you might be used to. But you can practise in your car so it becomes more natural.
This is a good skill to practise on a country road, or in an industrial estate after hours. Take your time driving around, ideally with someone competent to help you learn the correct position in the road.
Make wider turns
The biggest mistakes most motorhome newbies make is they try to turn a motorhome like a car at a junction. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. You need to remember your length and then pull out far enough so that the length of the whole vehicle can do around the corner.
A general rule of thumb is not to turn until the back wheels are in line with the obstacle you’re trying to drive around, such as the pavement or a bollard.
If it looks like you’ve turned too early, just turn the steering wheel the other way and make the turn wider before turning back in again.
And go SLOWLY. There’s no judging panel or points given for style. There are fines and damages to pay if you get it wrong. So take your time and build confidence the right way.
Watch the video of me driving our motorhome for the first time
Yes, we had fun filming this, but I’d recommend not filming yourself on your first time driving a motorhome- the pressure was intense!
We hope you found the video useful. If you did, we’d love it if you followed us on Youtube. New videos with tips for motorhoming and campervanning in the UK and Europe are released weekly.
Know the speed limits for motorhomes
Many motorhomes must comply with slower speed limits, especially if the max unladen weight is 3.05+ tonnes or you’re towing with your motorhome.
This screenshot is taken from the gov.uk website; please do check it for more information.
Driving a motorhome like a pro- practical tips
Ok, these are the things which really helped me:
- Use your mirrors much more than you might be used to. Check and then check again. Especially for bikers who might be approaching quickly
- Take a few extra seconds before you pull in again after overtaking- just to be sure you’re all the way past!
- Pay attention to the trees. They get a lot lower than you’d think!
- LET OTHERS PASS. Better to be 5 seconds slower and calm, then get stressed by someone beeping or driving up your backside. Another advantage of going a little slower is you get WAY better fuel economy.
- Get a motorhome reversing camera. Seriously, this makes life SO MUCH EASIER. You can see the one we have here.
- Remember your van is WAY heavier than a car… and needs much more room to stop, so brake early
- Be particularly careful in heavy rain. Drive slower than you might otherwise and be alert for aquaplaning and standing water.
Is it difficult to drive a motorhome?
I wouldn’t say it was difficult to drive a motorhome; after all, the controls are likely to be all the same as your car. But it certainly is different and you need to be much more aware of certain things.
There are a couple of things you can do to make life easier for yourself:
- Park facing the direction you wish to move off in wherever possible. It’s easier to drive out of a space then reverse out
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when parking or trying to navigate an obstacle If you ask a random passer-by, just be sure you trust them before you listen to their advice!
- Keep an eye out for pedestrians, cyclists and other road users- many people are oblivious to the fact you might not be able to see them at all times.
- Be prepared to pull out further than you might be used to in order to turn at a junction. You might need to wait for both lanes to be clear of traffic if it’s a two-way street.
How to park a motorhome
Honestly, you park a motorhome a bit like a car. I always prefer to reverse into a space and it’s not much harder in a van- you just have to be really really aware of your surroundings.
A great place to practise parking is on a quiet campsite, ideally midweek and not in the school holidays! Drive around the site, choosing empty pitches and driving into them. Yes, people will think you’re insane, but it really will help.
How do you drive an automatic motorhome?
Pretty much exactly the same way as you drive an automatic car. Just be really aware if you take your foot off the brake!
If you’re not sure whether to buy a manual or automatic motorhome, this will help you decide.
Can you get motorhome driving lessons?
Absolutely you can! Just Google ‘motorhome driving lessons’.
Can you drive a motorhome on a normal driving licence?
Ok, let’s unravel the complexities of the UK driving licences. (If you don’t have a UK driving licence, please check the government website of your issuing country.
So, in the UK, what vehicles you can drive depends on two things:
- WHEN you passed your driving test
- The WEIGHT of the vehicle you’d like to drive.
When did you pass your test?
If you passed your driving test before 1st January 1997, you’ll have much more on your driving licence than those of us who passed afterwards.
For example, Mr WB can drive a vehicle over 3.5 tonnes on his ‘normal’ driving licence (which requires a C1 endorsement); I cannot. Which meant I couldn’t drive our second motorhome without doing additional motorhome driving lessons and a test.
The other thing to bear in mind is what you can tow. The law has recently changed, so that you can now drive a vehicle with trailer as long as the MAXIMUM weight of the train does not exceed 3.5tonnes.
To check, you’ll need to look on your driving licence at the categories you’re entitled to drive OR, you can check on the GOV.UK web site. To use this service, you will need:
- Your Driving Licence Number
- Your National Insurance Number.
- The postcode from your driving licence
Once entered correctly, you’ll see several tabs with information displayed. The second tab will show you what vehicles you can drive (what weight).
You can see what all the driving categories mean here.
Driving a motorhome- final tips
It’s ok to be nervous about driving a motorhome for the first time. And it’s ok to take your time and do things a little slower. The important thing is that you DO IT. Practice on quiet roads or at quiet times of the day (or night) and build up your confidence. I have faith in you!
Lastly, driving a motorhome can be tiring. Make sure you allow plenty of time for proper rest stops (including a quick nap if you need one) and try not to drive longer than 4/5 hours a day to give yourself plenty of recovery time.
Want more tips for motorhome life?
Here are some more ideas you might find useful:
- Essential Motorhome accessories every van should have
- Best Sat-nav for motorhomes or campervans
- Motorhome Security– tips for at home and on the road
- How to get Internet & wifi in a motorhome
- Europe- essential gear for travelling to Europe
- Best gift ideas for motorhome and campervan owners
Want FREE checklists, eBooks and additional tips to help? Visit our resource page
Kat never planned to buy a motorhome. She also never planned to quit her job as an air traffic controller, go touring around Europe in said motorhome, start one of the UK’s largest motorhome travel websites… or get a cocker spaniel.
If you’d like to connect with Kat, send her an email or follow her adventures on social media.