Are Campervans Easy to Drive?
For many new overlanders, the prospect of driving a campervan can leave a pit in your stomach. It’s not uncommon for first-time van lifers to never have driven anything larger than a hatchback or small car. This leads to the assumption that driving a campervan will be fraught with complications leading to stress and ultimately, more accidents!
But what’s the truth? Are campervans easy to drive or do you need to take extra lessons and precautions? Do you need special experience before you buy one of your own? To make your transition to van life as smooth and safe as possible, let’s look at a few tips for how to drive a campervan.
Automatic or Manuel
Vehicles either come with an automatic or manual transmission – known as “stick shift” by our American cousins. Most vehicles in the UK and Europe have a manual transmission. This means you need a gear stick to manually shift between gears whenever the revs in the engine get too high.
Obviously, this requires more active driving on your part. Bigger vehicles generally have heavier gear levers, and some have more gears than a standard car. If you buy an automatic vehicle, you don’t even have to think about changing gears, which makes these campervans easy to drive. So, if you want a more stress-free road trip, perhaps you should choose a North American model that has an automatic transmission to save you the trouble.
When people wonder “are campervans easy to drive?” they often refer to the weight and size of a vehicle. Campervans are of course much longer, taller, and heavier than your standard car. This extra size and bulk can influence your driving. City travel, narrow roads, and low-clearance car parks do become a problem.
That also means there are more blind spots on a campervan. Sometimes you can’t see out of the back and the wing mirrors are heavily relied upon. When you drive a campervan, it’s good to be aware of these issues. Be proactive in making more checks whenever you change lanes, watch out for cyclists, and make sure you give plenty of time to indicate before you make any sudden movements.
A campervan is not a vehicle to be used for a drag race. They are slow to accelerate, and they struggle at top speeds. However, the lifestyle of an overlander doesn’t revolve around speed. When you’re on a road trip with your campervan, you should take things slow and enjoy the ride. There’s no point rushing the journey and putting your engine under unnecessary strain.
Most campervans operate best when being driven around 60 mph. Accelerating must be done cautiously, and you should anticipate the speed of other vehicles before merging. The slow lane on a motorway is the best spot for motorhomes and utilising it makes campervans easy to drive.
Reversing in a campervan is difficult. It’s hard to see behind you and most campervans don’t have rear-view cameras or any beeping sensors to guide you. As always with a campervan, take things slow and don’t rush. If you are driving solo, use your mirrors, signal with your hands, and indicate whenever you are reversing.
If you have another passenger in the vehicle, it can help to have them outside the vehicle guiding you where you need to go. A good tip for making campervans easy to drive is to change your attitude toward how you travel. Don’t drive into busy areas and cities with tight parallel parking. Try to plan your trip to be van-friendly to avoid unnecessary added stress.
Unfortunately, hills are the natural nemesis of any campervan. If you attempt a steep hill, your engine can overheat, your van can run out of power, or you can damage the motor/transmission by over-revving. If you are going down a steep hill, the constant braking can wear out your brake pads or warp your brake motors. These are all costly mistakes to fix!
Luckily, the UK is a small country and there are very few places that are too hilly to be tackled in a campervan – although, Scotland and Wales should be planned carefully. Mountainous landscapes are some of the worst locations for campervans to drive. You may have to manage your expectations about where your van can go to reduce the chance of damaging your vehicle.
Driving your campervan off-road is a big no-no. Well, that’s not completely true, but you need to be cautious about how you do it. Due to the extra weight of a campervan and its lack of manoeuvrability, it’s easy to get stuck in soft sand or bogged down in the mud. However, campervans often have higher clearance than a standard car so going down rough and rutted roads may be doable.
To make campervans easy to drive, it’s always best to think of your engine first. Know its limitations and don’t push them unless you need to. Most vans lack 4×4 and even if you do make it through an off-road section you might end up damaging your vehicle. You don’t need that stress and it only makes your life more difficult. Stick to well-paved roads wherever possible!
To make campervans easy to drive, there are a few more tricks that can be tried. First off, don’t be afraid to use your hazard lights. It ensures your van is extra conspicuous. For example, if you need to slow down and are worried about your brake speed, flashing hazard lights lets other drivers know your intentions in advance.
The next tip is to put a 60 mph sticker on the back of your campervan. This is just another way of telling drivers you aren’t the fastest vehicle on the road, and they are better off going around you. Lastly, add some extra gadgets such as extendable wing mirrors to get a better view behind you. So, all things considered, are campervans easy to drive? Definitely! Just as long as you follow these tips and take your time to enjoy the process of travelling on the open road.