Where I live just got blasted by 18 inches of snow. I have to mush a dogsled team just to get my mail.
If you live (or travel) somewhere similar, you might be wondering, “Can I tow my RV in the snow?” This is a common question for newbie RVers, snowbirds, and full-timers.
Yes, you can. But it’s dangerous. If you remember nothing else from this guide, you should follow the adage:
Snow, go slow. Ice, no dice!
Here’s how to drive an RV in winter weather. Many of these tips are adapted from professional truckers who are experienced in driving through snow, ice, slush, and other winter conditions.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT TOWING IN THE WINTER
Does My Camper Need Snow Tires?
No, you don’t need to replace your typical ST smooth tires with LT Mud+Snow tires. Because a towable RV just follows, the deep tread of a M+S snow doesn’t significantly improve traction.
(At least, not on the highway. If you tow your teardrop down Jeep trails in the winter, then by all means, go for snow tires!)
This is not the case for motorhomes, which should use snow tires during the winter months.
Does My Camper Need Snow Chains?
As a rule, if you are required to use snow chains on your tow vehicle, you may be required to use snow chains on at least one axle of your towable RV (preferably the braked axle, if both aren’t).
And if you’re driving a motorhome, many western mountain roads require you to either have snow tires or chains during the winter months, regardless of weather conditions.
20+ SAFETY RULES FOR TOWING AN RV IN THE SNOW
1. Double-Check Your Tire Pressure
According to Goodyear, tire pressure can drop by 1-2 psi for every 10 degree drop in ambient temperature. A severe winter storm can slash temperatures by 50+ degrees Fahrenheit, which could significantly reduce your tire pressure!
And since you know that an underinflated tire is an overloaded tire, there’s nothing more important than double-checking your tire pressure before every trip and every morning.
2. Watch the Tire Spray
Examine the water coming off other vehicle’s tires.
- Lots of water spray: Roads wet and slushy.
- Less spray, but the roads look wet: Freezing conditions! Watch out
- No spray, roads look wet: You’re on black ice!
3. Learn Brake Control
The exact techniques you’ll use for brake controller depend on your tow vehicle (FWD/RWD/4×4) and brake controller (time-delayed or proportional), but as a rule:
Feather the brakes!
Practice in a parking lot. If your trailer starts to fishtail or jackknife, try feathering the brakes with one foot and lightly pressing the gas with the other. This should help the travel trailer swing back into alignment.
And obviously, you’ll need to brake earlier than you’re used to.
You may need to recalibrate your brake controller for winter conditions. Chances are, it’s set a bit “hard” for towing in snow or ice.
4. Know the Weather
Research weather conditions along your route. Better yet, take a peek at the radar.
Roads can be most dangerous between about 20 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit. When colder, the roads (and ice) actually have more traction. But temperatures around freezing and just below can quickly coat the snow and ice in a thin layer of water, which will kill your traction.
5. Turn Into the Skid
If the rear of your vehicle slides to the right, turn the steering wheel to the right to recover. Vice versa for a leftward skid. Rule: Turn your steering wheel in the direction of the skid. If you steer the other way, you’ll likely turn your skid into a spin!
6. Check Your Tail Lights
If you’re driving in snowy conditions, stop often to check the taillights, reflective tape, and other safety equipment on the back of your trailer. You don’t want them covered by snow or road grime!
7. Steer Sooner
You’ll want to beginn steering into a corner a little earlier, too. If you wait too long to turn into a corner and then abruptly change direction, you’re at risk of oversteering or sliding off the road.
8. Slow Down!
Not to sound like your mom, but seriously, slow down. Speed + ice + 8,000 lbs on wheels = death. When there is ice or snow on the road, limit your top speed to 45 mph.
9. Know the Route
Don’t get distracted while driving an RV in winter. Make a passenger the navigator to assist you in following the route, and don’t glance away at your GPS. That’s what voice commands for for!
10. Prep Your RV
Prepare for the worst. Before venturing into bad weather, ensure you have fresh water, full batteries, and full propane tanks. If you’re driving a motorhome, make sure you’re using a winter blend windshield fluid. If you’ll be driving in extended sub-freezing conditions, winterize! Your plumbing lines can freeze in a matter of hours!
11. (Maybe) Adjust Your Sway Control
If you use bolt-on friction sway control bars, you might want to reduce the friction. This isn’t a rule; it’s just a guideline. But some drivers find that the lower friction helps them get a skidding trail back into line.
12. Clean Off the Snow
Snow and ice on the roof of your RV can fly off and cause accidents. Flying snow can cause white-out conditions for followers, and slabs of ice can fly off like frisbees and impale other vehicles.
13. Prep Your Tow Vehicle
Bring a first aid kit, heating source, blankets, water, food, lithium jump starter/battery charger, and matches.
And don’t forget the shovel, kitty liter, and tow straps!
14. Crawl on Downgrades
If you’re coming down a mountain pass, crawl. Limit your speed to 20 mph. If you skid, you can accelerate to deadly speed in a matter of seconds. Remember, that 5,000-lb travel trailer is actively trying to push you down the hill.
15. Use the Rumble Strips and Your Horn
If you feel yourself skidding or losing control, signal other drivers by honking your horn or driving over the rumble strips on the side of the highway.
16. Turn On Those Hazard Lights
Don’t be ashamed. Stay safe! Turn on your flashing hazard lights to signal other drivers that you’re driving slowly and carefully.
17. Change Lanes Slowly
Don’t change lanes until your turn signals have blinked at least five times. That gives other people the chance to see your flashers, especially in conditions of poor visibility.
18. Give Up Space
You remember the three-second rule you learned in driver’s ed?
- Pick a point on the road.
- Watch when the car in front of you passes it.
- Then count one-one-thousand-two-one-thousand-three-one-thousand.
When driving in sleet or snow, extend that count to at least five full seconds.
You should also try to stay ahead of any followers by five full seconds unless they’re passing.
Think of this as your “buffer zone.” It keeps other people safe from your mistakes, and you safe from other peoples’ mistakes. Don’t travel in a pack.
19. Time the Thaw
When the thermometer is between 22 and 35 degrees, you can encounter snow, ice, and water – all on the same day!
Be careful driving just after dark. Freezing temperatures can quickly turn today’s water into black ice.
Conversely, you’ll tend to have the wettest conditions in the middle of the afternoon. Heavy traffic accelerates melting.
20. Just Stay Home?
No one likes this advice (including myself). But sometimes, Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.
And even if you’re an ace at winter driving … well, remember that not everyone else is. When you’re driving on the highway, you’re at the mercy of someone else’s skills, too.
And they might not be as safe as you are. Either way, you’ll be the one in the ditch.
Andy Herrick is a blogging nerd, #8 Enneagram, wannabe bread baker, INTJ, RV industry professional, and small business entrepreneur. He can be found hanging out with his lovely wife and family, skiing, cycling, climbing, hiking, and convincing anyone who will listen why dogs aren’t really that great of pets. Also, he runs this website.