Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Living in the Roadtrek - Driving

I thought that it would be good, for those interested in Class B RVs, and Roadtreks in particular and also for those who are considering purchasing one, to describe what it is like driving my Roadtrek 190. One of the benefits to a Class B RV is that it is the smallest of the motorhomes and it drives like a van. Well, it almost drives like a van . There are a number of things to be aware of when driving a Roadtrek or any Class B RV because of their size and what is in the interior that makes driving a little different from driving a car, an SUV, or a standard passenger van.

I am going to say right away to you that anyone who drives can drive a Roadtrek. There should be no one that feels that it is beyond them to drive or that they would be frightened or nervous to drive it. Before getting our Roadtrek I had driven two small passenger vans that we owned, a large, 15 passenger, extended van, and a small school bus. My wife had only driven cars, SUVs, and our two small vans. We took a test drive in the Roadtrek before we purchased it. Both of us drove it. And both of us were very comfortable getting in and pulling out onto the road, and driving. We both noticed on that test drive that it drove very much like a car - and was very similar to driving our small passenger van. When we took delivery of our Roadtrek, it was Meryl who drove it out of the dealer's lot and to the campground an hour and a half away on a turnpike with me following in our car behind. She had no problem at all.

If you have ever driven a cargo van or a small commercial truck, there really is nothing different about driving a Roadtrek or a Class B. In one of those you will have the same driving considerations that you need to have when driving in a Roadtrek. In fact, those are harder as there is no rear window to look behind you at all.

OK - so no panic. The first thing that you need to be aware of is height. You cannot drive on just any road or highway. The Roadtrek 190 is 8 feet 9 inches tall. Some other Roadtreks and Class B's are taller. In most areas in the country there are few roads with low overpasses, but in some, particularly it seems on the East Coast, there are. There is a parkway near us with overpasses with 7 foot 10 inch clearance. We found one lower where that parkway meets another. You need to be very aware of this BEFORE you get on any highway in your Roadtrek. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where you cannot stop or pull off the road and come up on a sign that shows a height limitation below 8 foot 10 inches - in fact you want a foot or so more to be comfortable that you are not going to rip the roof or anything on the roof off when you go under that overpass. So, all you need to do is pay attention to height restriction signs - and they are usually posted before the entrance ramps. You also know you are fine if trucks are on that road - as you are well below the height of any commercial truck. Before we got the Roadtrek we drove up and down (both sides) of roads, highways, and parkways that we commonly use where we live. There are several that we cannot drive the Roadtrek on because of the low clearances.

When we plan a trip we route the GPS (IN ADVANCE) around those roads. Do not rely upon your GPS - they have no idea that you are not driving a car and take nothing into consideration when routing you except the fastest route. A standard car GPS does not have height allowances in routing. The GPS built into the dash of the Roadtrek are standard TomTom GPS units - just like the ones in cars. There are specific GPS models by two manufacturers that are designed for routing RVs and these do include height and weight restrictions. Magellan and Rand-McNally both make RV GPS units. There are road atlases that have this information also. Once we leave New York we have not had a problem, though we understand that there are a few highways in Connecticut that do not permit RVs including Roadtreks.

The overall size and weight of the Roadtrek is something to consider when driving. It is 20 feet long - the 190 is no wider than a standard van - and it is almost 8,000 pounds - heavier when packed for a trip with driver and passenger(s). Because of this, you don't make any sudden changes in position on the road when driving. NO sudden movements! And certainly, never cut anyone off closely. There is a lot behind you and a lot of weight to get where you need to go and you want to do that with the full awareness that you have room to get in there. A few times in our travels this past year, Meryl - who is a good navigator - will tell me there is the turn - just several yards away with cars around me. In a car, maybe you could pull over quick to get to the turn - for me - never in the Roadtrek. I would rather miss the turn and go back than cut some car in half that comes up too suddenly or was unseen - and we will get to that next. So - anticipate what lane you will need to be in and do that as much in advance as you can.

In a car and even most passenger vans it is easy to see what is around you, behind you, and next to you. This is not the case in the Roadtrek - again, if you have driven a cargo van with no windows this is no different. In the Roadtrek when you look in the rear view mirror what you see is the cabinets, the edge of the TV and about the middle third (including the center post) of the rear view van windows. Some keep the rear window curtained, we do not - I am not sure if it is legal here (though we see vans that do this) and I would rather have the limited sight out the rear door windows than none at all. What you can see out the rear door windows is only good for what is directly behind you. To see on the sides of what is behind you (or next to you) you need to rely upon the door mirrors. Newer Roadtreks have special side view mirrors.

I have looked at a number of Chevy and Ford vans to see if they have the same mirrors that came on my Roadtrek 190 Popular - some do and some don't. It is hard to tell model years and that may be the difference - and it does not seem to be a difference between cargo models and passenger models. Each of the two side mirrors is a split top and bottom mirror.

You adjust these mirrors so that what is in the top mirror - larger of the two mirror sections to see what is behind you at a distance on that side and it will also take in some of what is in your lane behind you. You adjust the smaller section at the bottom to see what is close to the side of your Roadtrek - right there in the lane next to you but behind you. Top top section of the mirrors are power mirrors and can be adjusted electrically inside at the driver's seat. The bottom section must be adjusted manually. These mirrors function like the split extension mirrors for large RVs and trailers.

Here are photos of the mirrors on my Roadtrek -

When I took my Roadtrek to our local mechanic for its first State Inspection he was very impressed by these mirrors. They do make it very easy to see what is all around you - but you must remember when driving the Roadtrek to use these mirrors to their fullest advantage. They can almost take the place of the rear view mirror and I for cargo vans where there is no rear door window to look out of, these mirrors are used for everything.

Now, all of that explained, let me tell you that even with these mirrors there can be cars that you do not see coming up along side of you. Where one section of the mirror leaves off, the other section, even when adjusted properly, does not necessarily start in view. I have found that if a car is in the very left of the left lane next to us or the very right of the right lane next to us, they are in a blind spot in the mirror sections - and can come up next to you without you seeing them until you look at them directly out the driver's or passenger's door window. Again, a reason not to make any sudden lane changes.

One other minor thing to note about driving the Roadtrek or any Class B - heck, any motorhome, is that you are driving a room with a lot of things in it that are not normally in a vehicle. You have cabinets and drawers, and things that are stored that all together make noise. And you hear noises that you start to wonder about while you are driving. The thing we have found is to laugh about them, wonder about them, but ignore them. Do your best to place things in cabinets so that they move as little as possible. Find things inside the Roadtrek that shake, rattle, or vibrate and secure them as solidly as you can (more about this in another article). Once you have found all of the noises and done something about each one -not while you are driving, of course, the noises mostly go away.

All of this can be learned and gotten used to very quickly. In fact, if you are just aware of these things, it all just becomes a matter of fact when you get in and start to drive and it is automatic. Do not leave this article feeling that you could never do this. You can. For a couple, it is important that both partners feel comfortable driving. You never know when one has to take over the wheel. A couple of drives in your Roadtrek and it will be like you have been driving one for years.

I will write in other articles about parking the Roadtrek and about the ride.


  1. Great article... thanks for sharing the info.

  2. i have just started to read your blog and you're a great writer. I am curious
    about what you "button down" to minimize the rattling? The rattling is a big complaint of my wife...

    1. Everything from the drain cover plate in floor to the doors on the cabinets in the rear at the floor. I will do an article about the various things that we have found - SO FAR - and I am sure there are more. There always seems to be something rattling that even turning the radio sound up does not cover. :)

  3. Hello, I want to thank you for writing this blog. I love all the information you offer. Im going to get the towels you mentioned. I wanted to ask you about that small blindspot in the driver side mirror. I have noticed that too and although I was not going to make any sudden lane changes, it sometimes takes me by surprise a car appearing right outside my window. Is there anything at all I can do or buy give me more visuals in that area? Maybe one of those small stick on round mirrors? Any advise you can offer would be much appreciated. Thanks, Wendy

  4. Do a search for Adjusting RV Mirrors. If I can find the link I will post it. I originally found a great video for this online but I have not been able to locate it since. You may be able to adjust for this on the driver's side with a slight adjustment of the mirror. I am not sure about the stick on convex mirror. There are extender mirrors that clip on to the side view mirrors that will let you see more of what is behind you and wider out - they are made actually to see when a car is towing a trailer. I would buy it from someplace local that you can return it to if it does not help. The problem is mostly with cars that seem to be on the far side of their lanes - maybe they pull that way to give plenty of room around us when they pass us? :)

  5. When I first got my RV I was driving down the highway when I heard a LOUD BANG. Scared the heck out of me!!! Being a long time, experience driver I didn't look back but sure wondered what the heck had fallen, smashed or broke. When I finally was able to stop and check it out ... I discovered that a wooden panel that covered the HW tank and plumbing area had not been secured properly and had fallen down onto the floor with a thundering BANG.

    It now has an extra clip on it to ensure it is secured when going over bumpy roads.

    Great BLOG and great information.


  6. I have an 09RS Adventurous. When did RT start putting on the "special side view mirrors"? Do you know if they can be retrofitted? It is very scary to start to pull over to the right and not see a car until the last second. I would love to fix this problem. I tried the trailer mirrors but that makes the side mirrors nonadjustable. Love your blog.

    1. The side mirrors on my 190 are stock Chevy mirrors for my year and other Chevy Express vans. From what I have seen there is no such mirror available from Sprinter and this is not a Roadtrek part. You may be able to find custom mirrors that will be able to be installed on a Sprinter. Try the JC Witney website as they usually have custom parts not seen elsewhere. There may be better towing mirrors than you have tried that will give you better visibility. Also - there are convex mirrors sold at most auto stores that glue on to a regular side view mirror that will increase the angle of view.

  7. Very informative and interesting articles, Thank you.

    It is very easy to just looking forward through the windshield until you need to change lanes or make a turn. don't fall into the trap! Keep your eyes moving constantly - from the left mirror to the front view, then down to the gauges on your dashboard and over to the right mirror, the back again. Force yourself to do this until it becomes second nature. Not only are you a safer driver, but you are more alert.

  8. The 2014 RoadTrek (with Mercedes-Benz sprinter) now offers several neat safety features. For the side mirrors - they have a radar based blind spot assist.

    One of the most common accidents that occurs when merging is when one vehicle -- the one that's changing lanes -- hits another vehicle slightly behind it and to its side because the driver of the first vehicle couldn't see the second one in his mirror. To prevent this from happening, Mercedes-Benz has developed a new safety feature called Blind Spot Assist,

    It uses six short-range radar sensors located in the front and rear bumpers that monitor the zone to the side and rear of the car on both the left and the right. If another car is driving alongside in the blind sport area, the system will display a red warning symbol in the associated side mirror. If the driver ignores the warning and then turns on their indicator, the red warning symbol with start to flash and emit a warning sound inside the car.

  9. You can get an 8x10" thin plastic fresnel .lens for your back window. It widens the view so you can see cars to the side and behind and things on the ground just behind you. It sticks by static. Of course, being 20 feet away, the image is pretty small.

  10. I am new, as of yesterday, to the RoadTrek experience and find your articles great! thank you! keep them coming and i will keep reading and enjoying them!