Hitting the Road in a Motorhome – an Epic Adventure

True motorhome enthusiasts love a tidy interior. After all, it only takes one sharp braking maneuver for everything that isn’t nailed to the floor to turn into dangerous projectiles. We asked DEKRA expert Peter Rücker how to mitigate risks when loading and securing loads.

When loading the motorhome, one should also pay attention to a balanced load distribution between the axles. Photo: Shutterstock Andrey Armyagov. Photo: Shutterstock Andrey Armyagov

People vacationing in motorhomes come to expect a different mindblowing experience beyond every new horizon. However, such adventures must be well prepared. Professionals leave nothing to chance, especially when it comes to loading and load securing – after all, the motorhome isn’t just a vacation home on four wheels, but also a means of transport, subject to the Road Traffic Act’s relevant sections as well as the laws of driving physics. DEKRA expert Peter Rücker knows the meaning of the latter in the field. “An emergency stop from 50 kilometers per hour already generates enormous accelerating forces,” explains the head of DEKRA accident research. The decorative vase of flowers on the folding table, the laptop on the sofa, and the breakfast dishes in the sink would all turn into dangerous projectiles, that it would be better to stay out of the way of. And what if the front passenger is making coffee in the mini-kitchen during a sharp evasive maneuver or a collision with the car ahead? This notion horrifies Peter Rücker. “While driving, all passengers must be seated in the designated seats and wear seat belts. A table in the seating area should be folded to the side or dismantled to prevent injuries in the event of an accident,” explains the expert.

Balanced load distribution ensures the motorhome’s driving stability

DEKRA also makes a clear statement regarding load securing. “The load must be stowed and secured in such a way that it cannot slip, fall over, or drop during emergency braking or sudden evasive maneuvers,” Peter Rücker quotes from the German Road Traffic Act (StVO). He advises making consistent use of the storage space in the rear, under the seats, as well as in kitchen and wall cabinets. Luggage can even be stored in the shower or toilet. The rule of thumb for proper loading: Heavy items belong at the bottom, lighter ones on top. Be sure to load in a form-fitting way and use lashing straps and luggage nets to securely fasten movable items. In general, heavy luggage is best stored in the rear axle area. However, care should also be taken to ensure a balanced load distribution between axles in order to maintain good driving stability. If there are pedelecs involved, DEKRA expert Peter Rücker recommends removing the batteries before you hit the road, for safety’s sake. To protect the open contacts, the batteries should be packed in a bag and carefully stowed inside.

Wohnmobil
Traveling by motorhome is trending. Photo: DEKRA Automobil

It’s best to already shed excess pounds while planning your trip

However, the essentials of mobile travel begin long before the first tour, with the question of the correct weight. Although most motorhomes offer plenty of space for children and their families, the available payload can be tight, depending on the equipment. Two pedelecs on the rear rack alone weigh in at around 150 kilograms. It’s therefore worth shedding excess pounds when planning the trip: Instead of cast-iron pans and coffee sets, use cookware made of aluminum and plastic. An aluminum gas bottle and tire mobility kit also weigh less than a steel gas bottle and spare tire. A typical beginner’s mistake would be to fill the freshwater tank to the brim before starting the journey – every excess liter on board comes at the expense of the payload. If you want to be on the safe side, take the packed motorhome to a public weigh station before hitting the road – if the scale indicates an overload, the inflatable boat, marquee, or awning may have to stay home in the garage.

Grüner Trenner Infokasten Box Kasten

Mobile travel is trending

Anyone who’s looking to switch to a motor home by buying or renting will need luck and patience to even find a suitable vehicle. A market study presented by the Caravaning Industry Association in Frankfurt in September 2020, suggests that the strong demand could continue. According to the study, the European leisure vehicle market will grow by around four percent by 2025. This corresponds to around 179,000 new registrations in the motorhome category, of which 100,000 alone are attributed to the German motorhome market. Box vans are likely to account for a particularly large share of this growth. Here, the association expects a market share of 48 percent in both Europe and Germany.

Checklist

Which driver’s license is required for motorhomes?

Motorhomes are available in different body designs as campers (box vans) or as fully or partially integrated models. The driver’s license required depends on the respective weight class. Camper vans up to 3.5 tons gross vehicle mass (GVM) require class B; above that and up to 7.5 tons, they require class C1. People who obtained their driver’s license before 1999 may also drive the heavier caliber vehicles with the old class 3.

What are traffic restrictions for motorhomes?

For motorhomes above 3.5 tons GVM, traffic signs such as “no overtaking” (left) and “no traffic” (right) apply. Photo: ETM-Verlag

For motorhomes of up to 3.5 tons GVM, the same rules apply on freeways as for cars – above 3.5 to 7.5 tons GVM, the speed limit is 80 outside built-up areas and 100 on freeways. For motorhomes above 3.5 tons GVM, traffic signs such as “no overtaking” (traffic sign 277) and “no traffic” (traffic sign 253) generally apply. You should be aware of your vehicle’s dimensions – this avoids surprises in tunnels and under limited passage heights.

How to calculate the payload?

The motorhome’s permissible total weight is specified in the vehicle registration document. From this, the vehicle’s empty weight, as well as the weight of passengers and general equipment are subtracted. The difference gives the maximum permissible weight for private luggage. The freshwater supply is also a factor. Only fill the tank up to a third before the tour – refills are available at gas stations and parking lots.

Loading the motorhome correctly

Low center of gravity improves the motorhome’s stability. Heavy luggage such as camping furniture, awning, canned food, and gas bottles belong far down near the rear axle. Load as form-fittingly as possible. Bicycles on the rear carrier weigh several kilos – make sure that the rear axle isn’t overloaded, which would come at the expense of driving stability and steering accuracy. For pedelecs, remove the batteries beforehand and stow them in a bag inside the vehicle.

Be sure to secure the cargo

Loose luggage has no place in the passenger compartment while driving. It can become a dangerous projectile during evasive and braking maneuvers or in a collision. Use the rear compartment, storage compartments with lockable doors, and the storage space under the seats for loading. Load upper storage compartments with light items only. Secure loose luggage with tension belts and luggage nets. By the way, seat belts are compulsory in motorhomes – all passengers must wear seat belts in their seats during the journey.

Get acquainted on a test drive

For many people, it takes some getting used to the dimensions and handling of a motorhome. A careful test drive with the travel-ready vehicle gives an impression of visibility conditions and peculiarities when braking, accelerating, and cornering. Afterwards, you should check whether the cargo is still correctly secured. People who don’t feel completely confident when maneuvering should seek assistance from an instructor. A preliminary driving training on training grounds might be a good choice.

Technology check before hitting the road

Are brakes, lights, and turn signals working? In addition, make sure the tire pressure is correct. This information can often be found on a plate on the B-pillar. DEKRA recommends a tread depth of four millimeters – even if the legal minimum is only 1.6 millimeters. The gas system must be checked every two years – make sure you have an up-to-date certificate.

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