When it comes down to it, driving a campervan isn’t that different to driving a car. You don’t need a special licence (unless it exceeds the weight limit for cars) and driving a campervan is really easy to get used to. There are, however, certain little differences you need to be aware of. They may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t think about the little things, such as:
Campervans are taller than cars. Many drivers of hired campervans forget this when entering height restricted car parks, or trying to park under the branches of trees. Returning your campervan to the depot with holes in the roof isn’t advisable if you care about your deposit. A good way to avoid this is to memorise the height of your campervan and be on the lookout for height restriction signage. (Check out road and traffic signage Highway Code questions if you’re unsure about these signs).
A campervan’s height also means that it will be more affected by strong crosswinds, making it less stable than your average car. You might see this sign warning you of areas with strong crosswinds. The best way to deal with this is to slow down, especially around corners. If the wind is extremely strong, it would be better to stop the campervan entirely and wait until the gusts subside.
Campervans are longer than cars. This makes both turning and parking more difficult, and you might find that certain streets in historic town centres simply can’t cope with a vehicle the size of a campervan. It is also harder to find appropriate parking spots in the first place. Even if, for example, your campervan is short enough to enter a multi-storey car park, it may not be wise to do so, as a campervan is tricky to handle in confined spaces, especially as you will not be able to see behind you. At all times, you will need to make sure that your campervan is not sticking out too far.
Many places have designated campervan parking spots, but you will most likely have to consult the local tourist information centre or website to find them.
Campervans are larger and heavier than cars. It is important to consider the campervan’s greater stopping distance and the fact that it may sink into muddy grass. Also, the larger a campervan is, the higher its centre of gravity is; the higher its centre of gravity is, the more likely it is to fall onto its side. This makes performing sharp manoeuvres in a campervan (such as avoiding an obstacle in the road) more dangerous than in your average car. Therefore you need to be extra cautious when turning.
Furthermore, the weight of the campervan means that the brakes will overheat more quickly than your average car’s on long downhill stretches. To combat this, the driver of the campervan should change down one or two gears to use engine braking.
Campervans are not off-road vehicles. Driving a campervan off-road can result in damage to its underside and is a good way to get it stuck, resulting in an embarrassing rescue. As a side note, driving on a beach counts as off-road. In fact, some campervan hire companies will restrict their customers from driving their campervans on unsealed, gravel roads, though most will allow it, albeit with certain restrictions. You will need to consult the individual company on their conditions.
Even if a road is tarmac, if it looks to be particularly narrow or windy – and especially if it is both – then you might want to find an alternate route.
The majority of campervans are diesel. The accidental pumping of petrol into a diesel vehicle is a comically common occurrence – one that you think will never happen to you. But what if you are on holiday, driving long distances with your mind focused on other matters? It pays to keep a mental note of which fuel type will not destroy your campervan’s engine. If, however, the unthinkable happens and you realise in time, don’t start the engine.
If you only pumped a small amount of petrol into your diesel vehicle then don’t panic: you can get away with diluting it by filling the remainder of the tank up with diesel, but if, less fortunately, you pumped a significant amount of petrol into it, the tank will need to be drained.
The majority of campervans are manual. If you are used to driving an automatic vehicle then take the time to fully acquaint yourself with the manual gears before beginning your campervan trip. You do not want to destroy the gearbox. If your licence only allows you to drive automatic vehicles you will need to specify an automatic campervan.
Campervans carry equipment that needs to be secured. Most campervans will come equipped with items such as crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, toasters and kettles – you need to remember to make sure that everything is strapped down before driving off. Here is the layout of a typical campervan for hire: the cupboard doors all have special latches that stop them opening while on the move. All equipment should be placed inside the cupboards while the campervan is being driven. Inside the cupboards, you will find devices such as specialised compartments and elasticated straps to prevent items from moving around. Check that these are secure before you set off. Also, remember that you will have items from your holiday that you are taking, too, and they should be secured properly.
Campervans are not as fast as cars. The acceleration of a campervan is less than that of a car, so think twice before trying to overtake someone. More often you should be letting cars overtake you. It is frustrating to be stuck behind a large, slow vehicle, so be the campervan driver you want others to be: let cars pass when you have the opportunity to do so.
Also, bear in mind that you may not have the power to maintain speed up a hill so change down a gear early and try to maintain your speed as much as possible. If you can’t, be sure to keep left to give others the opportunity to overtake.
So, there you have eight things that you need to be aware of if you hire a campervan or caravanette here in the UK or anywhere else in the world. Of course, you would never be caught out by silly things like this, but I would advise you to remind yourself of them if you ever find yourself driving a campervan. They could save you a lot of hassle.