I promised I would do a post about our experience and opinions of the two-day private lessons we took from Dick Reed's RV Driving School.
Except for some short test drives, neither Craig nor I have had any experience driving a Class A motorhome, nor a bus nor trucks other than my Safari Van. We have rented two 25' Class C's, one in New Zealand and one on the West Coast, and watched the Lazy Days videos several times.
We were both "able" to drive the Alfa, but were not confident in our own skills nor each other's. I know I was a "white knuckle" passenger, and I don't think Craig was very relaxed when I was behind the wheel.
We took two day, 12-hour, two-person lessons in our own rig. The instructor, Frank Piccolo, came to our RV park at 9 AM Saturday morning. After a short conversation to determine our experience and what we felt we needed the most help with, he worked with us to properly aim the mirrors and check our tire pressure. (Although we knew we should have done it before the trip, Craig hadn't and all of our tires were seriously under-inflated.)
Frank showed us where the connection is on our coach to use the built in compressor. It seems all we might need is a long hose!
At this point we drove to the local Les Schwab Tire store to get the tires properly inflated. Frank knows the guys there and all it cost us was a tip to the mechanic.
At the same time the mechanic crawled under the rig and found the DOT number. Our tires are from March '06: almost five years old. They both said (and this is the same as our RV inspector) that the tires look good and should hold up for some time yet.
On our second day, we checked the tires when they were cold in the morning and again after driving for a while. For newbies, this was good. It's not a fun thing, but very important.
After the tires were taken care of, he took us to a deserted industrial area where we took turns driving and making left and right turns, backing up and driving in general. Much of this was so he could evaluate our skill levels.
I was a bit timid, and sometimes went a little fast. Craig just plain drove too fast. We both made so-so turns but weren't too bad. As we repeated these several times Frank corrected us and we did better.
At this point he also showed us what to do if our air brakes failed. For example if we hit a road hazard and tore a brake line while on the highway.
Next he had me drive quite a few miles on a winding two-lane mountain road. He helped me learn to stay in my lane, not panic when approaching an oncoming car, and not drive off onto the shoulder. I kept hearing "keep to you left, to your left..." He instructed me on not riding the brakes, not going too fast, making nice turns, and always looking ahead and to be aware of road hazards, deer, cars coming out of driveways, etc.
His message was "you're big, stay in your lane, slow down, cars are more maneuverable than you are." I'm still not sure what to do if I come face to face with another big RV going around a tight blind curve!
Then Craig took a turn at the same.
We stopped for a fast food lunch, and then went to a gas station for fuel. Even this was a lesson in how to watch for canopies and posts. He also told us that it was best to get fuel at busy truck stops or stations that had a good turnover in diesel fuel. Even if an out of the way station has a slightly lower price, the fuel might be "old." Go where the truckers go! The extra pennies per gallon are well worth it in performance and prevention of problems.
From Craig: on the way home we stopped at a non-truck-stop station that had the lowest price for diesel in the Bay Area. Everyone's advice is based on their experience. Frank was an owner-operator trucker for many years before he retired to be a driving instructor, so naturally he recommends truck stops. The station we stopped at was quite busy.
Next we went to a large deserted parking area and practice backing up into coned off spaces, each taking several passes.
We ended the day with freeway driving and going up and down "grades". He emphasized staying in our own lane, watching for merging traffic, going on and off ramps, changing lanes, and keeping a reasonable distance from cars and trucks that were ahead of us.
We started day two with a safety check of our lights and more maintenance checks. We discovered we need a new air filter and new windshield wipers. (La Mesa was supposed to do that, but it seems they didn't.) He also showed us how to check the oil filled wheel bearings. I don't understand exactly what that is all about, but Craig says he does.
Although he is not a mechanic, Frank was a big rig driver for many years and seemed to know what we should be checking on. More information than we got from the dealer!
We repeated most of the same exercises that we had been through on Saturday with Craig driving the windy road that I had driven. In the parking exercises we changed the cones to be different types of parking spaces and environments.
We also did a "panic stop." On a deserted street, Craig drove quite fast and then slammed on the brakes. It was a good thing I was prepared, because the chair I was in went sliding and tipped over. This let us see just how long it took to stop. Frank said we had good brakes.
We decided to end our Sunday lesson early so we could get back home before dark. The ride home was really rather nice. We each drove some, and I was more comfortable because I had more confidence in Craig's driving. I hope he had the same for mine.
We both need a lot more practice, need to slow down, and need to stay to the left!
Unfortunately the lessons really didn't help with backing into our driveway. It is still very hard and just on the edge of what is possible! But we got safely parked once again.
Overall I would recommend driving lessons for any new motorhome owners that aren't experienced driving similar vehicles. If it prevents one accident it is money well spent!
From Craig: after the first day I would have said "if I wanted another person to tell me to drive slower, bigamy might be more fun." But the second day we did more technical and practice-oriented things, and overall I would say that it was worth the money for both of us.