You’ve bought or hired a campervan or motorhome, maybe for a festival, road-trip or holiday and you’re about to drive it for the first time. If you’ve not driven a larger vehicle before, you may feel a little apprehensive but there’s a first time for everyone and there is a lot to be gained. This is a simple skill which is really worth the effort to master.
It can take a little getting used to, but most people we speak to say, that although the idea of it was a bit scary at first, they actually ended up enjoying it. So, take heart, with a little help from the tips below, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the journey as well as the places you visit.
Its not much different to driving a big car. Make sure you have plenty of time and don’t rush. Be clear what speed limits apply to your vehicle and know how big your vehicle is. Check size restrictions of bridges and barriers before you go through them. Use your wing mirrors regularly. You can’t make tight corners like you can in a car. Go a little further past the junction before you turn, so you don’t mount the curb. Plan ahead and avoid unsuitable roads and always park with a view to getting back out again.
Get it in perspective
It’s unlikely that your first time driving a campervan or motorhome, you’ll go for a supersized vehicle. It’s more likely to be a large van sized chassis, which means it’s closer in size to a large family car than it is to a truck.
At first, you’ll need to think a bit more about road positioning and cornering but once you get the hang of it, you will begin to enjoy it. Van driving is fun. After all, you are on holiday or a road trip so chill out and enjoy the ride.
An ounce of preparation is worth two birds in a bush or something like that. It’s all about avoiding stressful situations so plan your route carefully in advance. Try to avoid narrow, single track roads and the like, where possible. Don’t just rely on a sat nav, do some up-front planning or you’re asking for trouble. Unless you pay for the large vehicle upgrade (which nobody does), sat nav doesn’t know how big your van is.
Give yourself plenty of time.
Take away time pressure by giving yourself plenty of time to get to your destination with some contingency build in. If you have a campsite booked or you’re meeting friends, call ahead if you are going to be late. Don’t try to make up lost time by driving too fast.
Enjoy the scenery but give yourself extra time in rural and coastal locations. What appears to be a short distance on your map may take much longer to drive on challenging roads.
Take a break
If it’s a long journey, don’t go for an epic 5-hour stint at the wheel. Take some breaks and have a cuppa and a snack, maybe even a snooze. You can do this anywhere that you can pull up and park. It’s one of the benefits of travelling in a campervan. Swap drivers every so often, if it’s an option.
Keep your tank full
Set off with a full tank of fuel and take the opportunity to refill long before the fuel gauge goes into the red. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of nowhere and running on fumes. It’s tempting to keep going once you get on a roll but it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for filling stations once you go below half empty.
Drive in daylight
Make it easier for yourself on your first van trip by driving in daylight. Plan to set off and arrive at your destination in daylight, if you can. Not only does it make driving more relaxed, it makes it easier to find campsites and get set up once you arrive.
Make a checklist
Make a checklist of all the things you need to remember each time you set off. Are all the doors and lockers closed? Is the electric hook-up cover secure? Have you wound down the TV aerial and closed all the roof vents? Is the gas turned off? Are your bikes tied onto the rack securely?
Check the inside of the van
As well as looking round the outside, you also need to check the inside of the van. Has everything been put away, so it doesn’t roll around or rattle? Are the overhead lockers properly closed? Excessive rattling adds significantly to driving stress, so deal with rattling objects as best you can. Perhaps use towels or foam to dampen the shaking and, if you can’t stop the noise, put offending items in the rear storage locker.
Objects flying around inside your van or falling out of cupboards can do a lot of damage so be very careful where you choose to store heavier objects.
Make basic vehicle checks
Do your tyres look pumped up and in good condition? Is your washer bottle full of washer fluid? Do you need fuel?
These checks should only take a couple of minutes before you set off. If you make it a habit from your first trip out, it’ll become second nature and save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
Know how big your campervan or motorhome is
It’s important to know your campervan or motorhome’s dimensions. Make sure you know how high and wide it is before you get to your first low bridge or width restriction sign. In other words, find out before you set off.
If you have hired your campervan or motorhome, the hire company’s orientation tour of the vehicle should include this information and it will usually be prominently displayed somewhere in the driving cab.
If the van is yours, you can find the dimensions in the handbook or on the manufacturer’s website. If anything has been added to the basic vehicle, like a satellite dome, bike rack or rocket launcher, it’s a good idea to double check by measuring it yourself.
You only need to do this once, then write the height, width and length on a sticky label and put it on the dashboard so you can see it whilst you are driving. It’s a good idea to record the dimensions in both feet and meters as you will come across signs in both measurements.
Find the campervan or motorhone manual
There’s lots to learn when you get a new motorhome and you will need the manual a lot at first. It will help you with usual vehicle related things like tyre pressures and how to check the oil, but it will also tell you how to operate your gas and electric systems as well as things like how to empty the water tank.
Know how heavy you are
You need to know the weight of your campervan for several reasons. Some roads and bridges have weight restrictions and you don’t want to drive on them if your van is too heavy. It will also have an effect on handling and fuel economy, and you can be prosecuted for driving an overweight vehicle. It may also invalidate your insurance.
You need to understand 3 numbers:
- MIRO (Mass in Running Order) – This is the weight of your motorhome as it left the factory with a full tank of fuel plus an average driver weight of 75kg, but before any other contents are added.
- MTPLM (Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass) – This is the maximum amount which your fully laden motorhome can weigh and still be legal to drive.
- Payload – This is the weight of everything your campervan will carry including, additional passengers, any freshwater and wastewater you’re carrying, plus all your kit and food. Your payload must be less than the difference between the MTPLM minus the MIRO.
If you’ve hired your campervan, you will be told about the allowable payload by the hire company when you collect it. If it’s your own van, check the manufacturers specifications.
Spread the load
Try to spread the load evenly throughout the van. Water tanks are usually positioned in the centre of the van which helps. Overloading the rear axle, particularly, can have a detrimental effect on vehicle handling and can be illegal.
If you think you may be overloaded, take it to a weighbridge. This link may help https://www.gov.uk/find-weighbridge. If it’s your own van you will soon get a feel for correct loading.
Stay in your seat and wear a seat belt
When the vehicle is on the road, everyone in the van should be in their seat wearing a regulation seatbelt. It’s no different than when you are in a car.
You’re on holiday so you should be feeling relaxed but driving laws still apply. If you’re a passenger, don’t be tempted to go wandering round the van while it’s moving. Apart from being illegal, it’s really dangerous, even at low speeds. If you’re the driver and need to be told this then it’s a miracle you’re still alive.
Pay attention to road signs and speed limits.
A car is more forgiving of imperfect driving. You can break and turn more quickly and stably, to correct a mistake, than you can in a campervan or motorhome.
In a van it pays to be more cautious and avoid any dramatic corrections. Road warning signs and speed limits are there for a reason. Ignore them at your peril.
Be aware how speed limits apply to you
People who haven’t driven larger vehicles before often don’t know this, but speed limits vary depending on the weight of the vehicle. Vans with an unladen weight of less than 3.05 tonnes have the same speed limits as cars. Vans over 3.05 are more restricted. Visit www.gov.uk/speed-limits for more information or see the table below:
|Type of vehicle||Built-up areas mph (km/h)||Single carriageways mph (km/h)||Dual carriageways mph (km/h)||Motorways mph (km/h)|
|Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight)||30 (48)||60 (96)||70 (112)||70 (112)|
|Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight)||30 (48)||50 (80)||60 (96)||70 (112)|
Keep your distance
Regardless of the speed limits that apply to you, remember that your van will take further to stop than your car. Take it slowly and maintain your distance from the vehicle in front of you.
It can be frustrating getting stuck behind a car going at 50mph on the inside lane of the motorway, so you need to be more patient than you do in a car (you should also be patient in a car). Don’t be tempted to tailgate slow drivers. Apart from putting yourself in danger, there is probably a reason they’re driving like that and pressurising them will only make things worse.
Check your mirrors all the time
In most campervans and motorhomes, the rear-view mirror isn’t going to help you much and using your wing mirrors becomes much more important. If you’ve hired your campervan, the handover should include how to properly adjust your mirrors for the best view. If it doesn’t, then ask. It’s important.
Campervan and motor home mirrors are much bigger than car mirrors and cover a bigger arc to cover blind spots. You should be able to see along both sides of the van as well as the central line on the off-side and the edge of the road on the near side.
Check for blind spots on route by observing passing cars. Take note of how early you were able to see them and how late you can see them as they go past. Adjust your mirrors if necessary.
Check your mirrors frequently, things can change quickly on the road and you want to have an early warning of anything that could put you in danger. Visibility at junctions and when joining the motorway will be more restricted than when driving a car so check your mirrors and over your shoulder a lot during the approach to the junction.
Don’t be bullied
Don’t allow yourself to be put under pressure by aggressive driving behind you. Car drivers sometimes don’t appreciate the different challenge of driving a van or that you may have different speed limits that apply to you. That’s their problem not yours. Just concentrate on driving well yourself.
Driving faster than you want to, is not going to end well. You can’t outrun a car in any case and they will probably just up the ante, if you increase your speed. Maintain a speed at which you feel comfortable and in control. If the opportunity presents itself, pull in and let them overtake you.
Watch those curbs
If you’re new to driving a bigger vehicle, you will have to concentrate a bit more on your road positioning at first. A motorhome is wider than a car, so getting your positioning just right is more important as there is less room for error.
Cornering in a longer vehicle is also different. If you hug the edge of the road when turning at a junction, you will probably mount the curb with the rear wheel.
When you approach a junction, go a little further before you turn the wheel to give you back wheel more room to get round. With a little practice is will become second nature.
Pulling into petrol stations
For some reason pulling into petrol stations catches a lot of new campervan drivers out, especially in bigger vehicles, and the last thing you want to crash into is a petrol pump.
As you approach the petrol station, slow down so you can quickly check out the entrance, exit and forecourt. When you turn into the entrance, don’t turn back too quickly when you turn to pull level with the pumps, or you’ll just end up at an angle. On the other hand, make sure you don’t clip the curb on the island where the pumps stand. It’s usually a high and very solid and will result in an almighty bang.
Just go slowly and think it out. You’ll be fine.
If you’re overtaking remember that you don’t have the acceleration that you do in your car and you need a bigger gap to pull back into once you’re past. Be sure you have plenty of time and that you know what is behind and to the side of you. Signal early.
Make sure you have completely passed the vehicle you’re overtaking before pulling in and don’t drop your speed off too quickly unless you want them to join you in the back.
When you’re overtaking some van and truck drivers will flash you when you’re sufficiently past to pull in so keep an eye out for that.
Set yourself up to win
Driving a campervan is like chess. Make life easier for yourself by planning your next move ahead of time.
Before you drive into a parking space or camping pitch think about how you will get back out again when it’s time to move on. Check for mud and soft ground on camping pitches before you leave the tarmac.
In a parking space, it’s usually best to park facing outwards as it makes setting off again much easier. You can see where you are going, and pedestrians have annoying habit of walking behind vans when they are reversing.
If space is tight, don’t be afraid to get a passenger or helpful looking passer-by to guide you safely into a parking space.
We hope that the planning, preparation and on-road driving tips above will help you to have a great experience on your first time driving a campervan and that you’ll be back for more very soon.
In no time at all driving your van will become part of the joy of going on road trips.
Just remember, plan ahead, drive safely and enjoy!