Differences from driving a car or SUV

If you have purchased or rented a vehicle without a rearview mirror centered over the dashboard – as you have in your car – then you will need to rely on side mirrors (unless your vehicle comes equipped with a backup camera system that includes the facility of switching on when you are not in reverse gear).

It is recommended that you make proper use of your side view mirrors when driving. This will enable you to pay close attention to surrounding traffic before changing lanes or turning. Backing up techniques are discussed below.

When you have to park then try to find a space with plenty of room in all directions and one where  you can drive out forwards. This might seem obvious but you might be surprised just how much more room you will need to maneuver compared to your car with which you are very familiar.  We suggest you err on the cautious side until you have more experience of driving a bigger vehicle.  For more information on backing up and backup cameras for larger vehicles, see our Backup Tips for Trucks, RVs and Vans.

Keep in mind that because of the extra weight of large vans and trucks, more time is required for acceleration and stopping.  So, maintain adequate space between you and the vehicle in front of you in case you need to stop suddenly.

Also, remember that longer vehicles require extra room for turning.  Go wider to ensure that you do not mount a sidewalk curb or strike another vehicle – even a glancing blow can cause serious (and expensive) damage.  So the longer your truck, the wider you need to go.

High sided vans are susceptible to strong cross winds and the draught created by passing large trucks. So be aware of this and you will not be taken by surprise.

Before setting out

If possible you should consider having a companion for the trip especially if you might need to back up.

It is wise to check out your route noting distances and potential difficulties – narrow roads, limited heights, tight entrances etc. Try to find suitable stopping places with sufficient room for you to park or maneuver your larger vehicle.

If you plan on a long haul trip, then be sure you know on which side of your truck is the fuel cap and which type of fuel is needed. Bear in mind that heavier vans and trucks consume more fuel per mile than cars so having an idea of the fuel tank capacity, and the likely fuel consumption rate, will help you calculate when you will need to make a pit stop.

Parking

If you are inexperienced in parking a larger vehicle then you should have a spotter outside the truck to guide you and watch for any changes whilst you are backing up. The blind spots behind these vehicles can be huge.  Once you are used to all this, and if you have a backup camera system, then you could consider reversing without the aid of a spotter.

However practised a driver, is it is essential to carry out these exercises in parking:

  1. Check the surrounding area for potential obstacles and for other vehicles and pedestrians. Remember the height as well as the width of your van or truck. Take note of trees, over hangs, and awnings that may interfere with your movement. Then see if you can stop in such a way as to provide you a straightforward out. This will avoid backing up in an unfamiliar area.
  2. Scan the space behind you. Get out of the truck to judge your clearance. This is especially helpful in smaller parking lots and in residential areas. Ask your spotter to direct you into the parking space, and stop you if any risks appear behind you whilst you are backing up.
  3. As soon as you have parked always set the parking brake. Move the shift selector firmly into ‘park’, and then firmly set the parking brake. For a standard transmission, shift transmission into first or reverse gear and firmly set the parking brake. If you are parking to face downhill, turn the wheels toward the curb. When facing uphill, turn the wheels away from curb.
  4. If you plan to unload using a ramp from your vehicle try to back against the curb. This will allow you to deploy the ramp at a gentler slope for easier loading and unloading.
  5. Always wear your seat belt when operating a moving vehicle.

Backup Cameras for larger vehicles

Because of the larger blind areas behind RVs, vans and trucks, it is recommended that you use a backup camera.  This will enable you to see obstacles, cyclists, pedestrians and other vehicles more easily.  For more information on backing up, see our Backup Tips for Trucks, RVs and Vans.

To understand the benefits of using a backup camera, see our post, Why Install a Backup Camera?

And for up to date recommendations on buying backup cameras for larger vehicles, see our post.