Many new RVers learn RV braking techniques the hard way. My husband and I fall into that category. We hit the road as full-time RVers without studying RV brake safety tips.
Less than a year later, we were forced to replace brake pads and rotors on our Dodge Ram 2500 diesel truck. It was an expensive lesson.
Since that hefty repair bill, we’ve done our research and learned these important RV brake safety tips. Study them, and you can avoid paying the same “stupid tax” we did.
1. Understand your weight limits.
If you haven’t digested the alphabet soup of acronyms like “GVWR” and “GCWR,” now is the time to get acquainted. Get started with a trip to an RV weighing expert and find out how much weight your RV, tow and/or towed vehicle can safely carry on the road without overtaxing your tires and brakes.
2. Study your route.
Don’t let those mountain passes creep up on you. Before you hit the road, study your route with guides like the Mountain Driving Directory series. You’ll learn critical information about more than 700 mountain passes in 22 different states, such as:
- grade lengths and steepness
- exact locations of steep, potentially hazardous grades
- escape ramps, switchbacks, sharp curves, and roadside pullout locations
3. Keep a safe speed.
RV brake safety begins by maintaining a safe speed. Leadfoot drivers need to change their driving habits when driving an RV. That’s because most RVs weigh much more than passenger cars, requiring more time and braking force to slow down.
When you don’t allow for that margin of error you could burn up your brakes—or more seriously—cause a bad crash.
4. Use your transmission to slow down.
Most of us haven’t been at the wheel of a manual transmission vehicle in years. But if you can remember back that far, try to imagine your RV is a stick shift as you head downhill.
Your goal is to safely use your gears to slow you down, not your brakes. Downshift out of “Drive” and into lower gears until your rig is moving at a reasonable pace that isn’t overtaxing your transmission by making it rev too high.
5. Get your foot off the brakes.
Constantly applying gentle pressure to your brakes is a bad habit that will cause them to overheat. Once they’re too hot, you run the risk of brake failure when you need them the most. Instead, tackle the downhills like a professional big rig driver:
- Give the brakes one firm push until your speed is about 5 mph lower
- Remove your foot to let the brakes cool off
- Downshift into a lower gear if you have to do this more than once every 60 seconds.
6. Get regular RV brake safety inspections.
Don’t forget annual safety checks by your favorite RV mechanic. Mark your calendar for a twice yearly inspection to ensure that your rig will stop when you expect it to.
As you head out into your own adventure, remember that RV brakes are only as reliable as your driving habits and annual maintenance. Your life and property depends on it.