What to Expect When Hauling an RV for the First Time

Rest stop: somewhere in Texas.

I have to admit, my biggest reservation in pursuing RV life full time was not the tiny space, it wasn’t selling almost all of my stuff, it was having to haul my 8’x30′ home behind a heavy duty truck. I feared: having to make turns, going up and down steep hills with a 10K pound load, changing lanes, and even simple things like pulling into a gas station.

Well I’m here to tell you the whole experience has been much easier than I thought, and the learning curve isn’t that steep. We have now moved our rig a half dozen times and have hauled it over 1,000 miles from Austin to Colorado.

Here is what you can expect when hauling your RV for the first time:

  1. Backing in: I’m guessing this is one of the biggest fears for most people that are just getting into owning an RV. Well, it’s definitely something that takes practice and has a bit of a learning curve to it, but after having backed into only four of our spaces now, I feel very confident about backing up our rig. My best piece of advice is go slow, be patient, and don’t kill your spouse out of frustration when things are not going how you want them to: whatever you do, don’t lose your cool. In regards to backing up the rig, the best method I have found is to grip the steering wheel at the bottom of the wheel with one hand (using your palm), and then push the wheel in the direction you want your back end to go. I found this easier than hearing people say, turn the wheel in the opposite direction you want to go (done when gripping steering wheel at 10 and 2).I have now backed our rig into several spaces, even some very tight places with trees and vehicles on one side of the rig. We had a bit of help backing in the first time, but every time since them it has been just myself and Kristy. We felt like we learned pretty quickly and have a lot of confidence with our backing abilities already.
  2. Driving: Aside from backing up a 30′ RV, I feared simply driving: changing lanes, turning into traffic, and entering the highway. Well, it turns out all of those fears were pretty ridiculous. Extended mirrors on the truck actually make it fairly easy to see how much clearance you have for a lane change, and as long as you make your change slow you can course correct if you realize you don’t have the necessary room.I would say the most important thing to remember is go slow. You aren’t going to be flying down the highway at 75mph. Having traveled over nearly 1,000 miles straight with the RV, we have learned that going slow is the most important thing. On a couple occasions our GPS gave is some confusing directions, which caused us to miss our exit, but even after realizing it at the last minute we didn’t attempt to rush over one lane and make the exit. We kept cool and took the necessary steps to turn around and get back on track: without running anybody off the road, or running off the road ourself. Going up hills, entering the freeway, and hauling our rig downhill also has proved to not be as difficult as I expected. Not all diesel trucks are the same, but with ours, we simply take it out of overdrive when going up hill and the truck does all the necessary gear shifting, and the same is true on the descent when you shift down to a lower gear. The trailer is also equipped with breaks, which take some getting used to adjusting (done from a small box inside the truck), but are necessary for helping you slow down on the descent without wearing out your truck breaks. I will say, I was a bit nervous the first time I ever pulled the trailer, but it really only took one time, and a 1,000 mile trip to get the confidence I need to go anywhere. The key is to just take things slow and not get impatient.
  3. Gas Stations and Fuel Economy: Another fear related to hauling a huge RV was pulling into gas stations. This, too, I ended up finding easier than I expected. The key is to select a gas station with an easy entrance and easy exit (preferably on the side of the road you are driving on). Larger gas stations on the corner of another street are ideal because you have two ways out, truck stops are also awesome because they are designed for large rigs to get in and out. I also typically opt for an outside pump, or the furthest inside pump I can find: this allows for easier maneuvering of your rig when exiting. One of the biggest bummers that we discovered when hauling our rig to Colorado was that fuel economy was way worse than we expected. We were expecting to get about 10 MPG, but ended up only getting about 8 MPG. This made it well worth it using apps like Gas Buddy to find the cheapest gas. We found that diesel gas can fluctuate as much as .20 cents or more, and when you are filling up a 30 gallon tank, that can really ad up! The only disadvantage we found with the Gas Buddy app is that it doesn’t tell you what side of the road the gas stations are on. I also suggest not letting the app be the end all of making a stop. We missed a couple exits for “lowest priced” gas and ended up outside of town and paying .20 more per gallon than if we had just pulled over to the first place we saw in town. While, they can and do help you save money, don’t let the app frustrate you: if you can’t find the gas station the app suggests just take what you can get.
  4. RV Inspections: We discovered just a few weeks before leaving for Colorado that Texas requires RV’s to get inspected in person. This law varies by state, and Texas used to just allow you to pay for your tags through the mail or internet without having to get the trailer physically inspected. So, two days before we hit the road for Colorado, we pulled into an inspection site, waited around an hour in a dingy waiting area with our kids. Thankfully the rig passed inspection with no problems: but this new law is going to be a huge inconvenience for people that live in their rig full time. 
  5. Fancy Towing Devices: A must have for towing an RV is a weight distribution hitch, and anti-sway bar. They will run you about $200 on Amazon (affiliate link), and are essential for towing: especially if you will be towing in the mountains or in any sort of cross wind situation. The weight distribution system helps even out the weight of the trailer on your truck, and helps keep the trailer level with the truck. The anti-sway bar does exactly what it sounds like: it keeps your trailer from whipping around from side to side as you travel down the road. If you don’t plan on traveling long distances you can get away without having one, but if you are going to travel, this setup is a must.

As with learning any new skill it takes time, practice, and discipline. Learning to haul a large RV is no different. I suggest taking a couple smaller trips before hitting the road for a big trip. I had moved our RV three times before hauling her to Colorado. One thing I would actually advice against is watching youtube videos on the subject of how to back in an RV, it will only serve to confuse you. The best way to learn is practice and talking to other experienced RVers.

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