Regular readers already know that I’m in the midst of shopping for my first, and if I get it right, quite possibly my last motorhome. And, it’s quite possible that if I find the motorhome lifestyle enjoyable, I could be one who trades up to new models every few years. With that said, while I’m getting close to making a decision, I’ve yet to push the buy button.
I can sum up my experiences to date by saying this has not been an easy task. In fact, in many ways, figuring out the balance of motorhome wants and needs has become a full time job as there’s many factors to consider before writing that big check. While logic states the abundance of information found within the pages of various online forums can, in theory, simplify the shopping process, in a way it does. But conducting research online these days seems to point out the problems with various models more than it highlights the positive aspects of ownership. This makes using the forums more of a process of elimination than it does a true shopping tool.
I’m one who’s considered a newbie to this industry and in the past have only admired those large, semi tractor trailer-sized motorhomes from afar. While I’ve participated in various motorhome-related forums and have gained quite a bit of useful information, I chose to take a different path in selecting my first motorhome – one that I’ve learned is far from the norm. It’s been my goal to learn to drive an operate a motorhome before and not after pressing the buy button. This has proven more difficult than I imagined.
My question was a simple one: Where could I go to learn to drive a motorhome?
When I made the decision that I could finally live my dream of motorhome ownership, my first call was to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) PR office. The RVIA is a trade group that is funded and managed by the RV and motorhome manufacturers and dealers and common sense told me this would be the best place to start. My question was a simple one: Where could I go to learn to drive a motorhome? The answer I received was surprising as the PR person was not able to provide the name of a single approved company or organization that offers training prior to purchase.
It seems the norm in this industry is that after the ink dries on the purchase contract the new owner is provided a walkthrough of the various components by either the salesperson or a designated dealership employee. It seems the same person who is tasked with showing you the motorhome’s basic operations such as turning on the interior lights, operating the awnings, lowering the shades and dumping the waste tanks also acts as the driver education teacher. It seems that in some cases this is accomplished in a few hours and depending on the specific user or dealership, possibly a few days.
It seems the common statements I’ve heard at various dealerships is that operating a motorhome is akin to driving a large SUV. The fundamental differences are taking wider turns and planning for longer distances to bring it to a halt. Possibly that’s true, but I was simply seeking hands-on experience so that when it came time to purchase, I would have a level of confidence when driving it off the dealer’s lot. After all, when I learned to drive a car many decades ago, the process began in a large parking lot and prior to obtaining a license, culminated in a semester of Driver’s Education classes that combined classroom basics and supervised behind the wheel time. While we all know that driving a car is not complicated, when you’re first learning to drive, it takes a while to feel comfortable. I can only imagine it’s the same with operating a large motorhome.
…it seems this industry has failed in establishing any type of certified driver’s education program…
Maybe it’s me and quite possibly I’m being overly cautious, but these things are huge and the margin for error is much higher than driving even the largest automobile. Common sense tells me that learning tried and tested methods to make tight turns and safely navigating through traffic and on the highway while operating air brake systems will include a learning curve…one that should be supervised by one who is trained to teach effective operational methods for vehicles of this size. But it seems this industry has failed in establishing any type of certified driver’s education program and while there are instructors who can teach new owner’s safe driving and maneuvering techniques, there’s no industry standard curriculum or official designation for the instructors.
As long as you have the available funds in your checkbook, in reality a first-timer can walk into a dealership and drive away in a large motorhome.
After all, I think we’re glad that commercial truck drivers require proper training to obtain a license to drive on the highways, but since most States don’t require licensing for similar sized motorhomes, it seems there’s little if any emphasis on learning to properly operate a motorhome. As long as you have the available funds in your checkbook, in reality a first-timer can walk into a dealership and drive away in a large motorhome. Personally, that just doesn’t seem right.
Some say to make the first purchase a smaller, easier to handle motorhome and compare it to buying a first house. Yes, that makes sense, but in reality, there’s a gaping difference and it has to do with the costs involved. While a motorhome is a combination of a motor vehicle and a house, depending on the market, a house has a chance of appreciation and can be considered an investment. So, starting small and learning while you go, then trading up can make sense. While a motorhome could be considered to be an asset, it’s one that quickly depreciates. So, while buying a starter motorhome may make sense in one regard, unless it’s one you want to keep for the long term, it’s akin to throwing away money. So, it’s my logic to make my first motorhome one that I want to own for many years.
Over the past six months I’ve been able to log more than 30 hours of supervised seat time and it came with great expense and a lot of begging. In some cases, I was the pilot program for this type of extensive training classes. You can read my posts highlighting my quest of learning to drive a motorhome on this site, and while I had positive training experiences at Motorhomes of Texas in Nacogdoches and at Newell Coach in Oklahoma, I’ve also rented a RV and hired a professional trainer to provide real time training during a road trip from Tampa to Orlando and an overnight stay at Disney’s Ft. Wilderness campground.
While my methods of seeking training are considered by many to be overkill, looking back on what I’ve learned to date I can only wish that during my first call to the RVIA the PR representative had informed me of the various classes offered by Lazy Days at its Tampa, FL and Tucson, AZ locations as that would have been a great place to start. So, while I’ve already logged quite a few hours of supervised training, I decided a trip to its Tampa location was in order.
Allow me to say upfront, this was a very pleasant, well organized experience and I was surprised there was absolutely no sales pressure. The classes I attended were exactly as promoted and because there’s no requirement of motorhome ownership to attend, I’ll recommend them to anyone considering the purchase of a motorhome.
During my first day at Lazy Days in Tampa I attended four classes:
- Basic Maintenance For Your RV
- Chassis Maintenance and Accessories
- Introduction to RVing
- Organizing Your RV
Granted, these classes are overviews and with the variety of motorhome offerings, it’s beyond reasonable to expect classes such as these to focus on a specific brand or type of RV or motorhome. But I’ll state the classes were well thought out, the instructors were organized and well spoken and the information delivered was relevant to current and potential owners of both gas- or diesel-powered motorhomes. A variety of topics are covered on a regular schedule six days per week and are clearly presented. More information on Lazy Day’s classes can be found here.
Tampa: RV Education and Training: https://www.lazydays.com/locations/florida/tampa-florida/education-training
Tucson: RV Education and Training: https://www.lazydays.com/locations/arizona/tucson-arizona/education-training
The following day, I attended its Driver’s Confidence Course. While there’s no charge for the other classes, a fee of $100 ($150 per couple) is charged to those who either don’t currently own an RV or those who purchased a model from dealers other than Lazy Days. It’s my understanding this class there’s no charge for this class to Lazy Days customers.
The day started at 9am in a classroom dedicated for this class. This day, there were three couples and myself along with a few new Lazy Days employees in attendance. The instructor was Maynard Voigtmann, who’s not only partakes in the RV lifestyle, is a former teacher. The classes utilized slides and video to demonstrate tried and tested safe driving techniques as well as highlighted emergency maneuvers. This two hour class granted plenty of opportunities for questions and answers and Maynard did a great job of keeping the topics focused on the subject matter.Ample time was spent describing Lazy Day’s “dot” technique that allows the owners to place tiny stickers at specific locations around the coach and on the mirrors and windshield that are used as methods to assist in judging the placement of the motorhome within the desired lane when driving straight, around curves or during slow speed and parking maneuvers. I have to say that even with the other methods of driving techniques I’ve learned to date, Lazy Days’ dot method is an interesting method of increasing the learning curve and confidence of any newbie.At 1pm, the class regrouped and Maynard simulated a pre-drive check by walking around the Winnebago Forza that we would be using for the driving portion of the class. Allow me to point out the Forza was a new and not a beat up pre-owned model. This model features a diesel pusher engine and air brakes and allowed new drivers to get the feel of operating a full size motorhome.After the pre-check and walk around of the motorhome, Maynard drove the coach through the massive Lazy Days park while explaining every action he was taking before allowing the students to take a turn at the wheel. When it was my turn, I used the dot method learned in the class to keep the coach properly centered and found it very helpful when making sweeping turns and getting close enough to the curb without driving off the road.
At the end of the day the students received a certificate of completion and a handshake from their new Friend, Maynard.
Bottom Line: As stated, there was absolutely no sales pressure or any favoring of one brand over another. The topics were generic and the teachers did a great job of staying on topic. While I haven’t made the decision of which model will be my first and maybe my last motorhome, or if I’ll actually pull the trigger at all, I can say that my experience at Lazy Days was a positive one and I left with a bit more confidence than I had prior to signing up for the classes. Looking back, this should have been the first stop in my process of shopping for a motorhome.
For more information on the classes offered by Lazy Days, call:
Tampa, FL: 866-703-3076
Tucson, AZ: 520-741-2219