Do RVs Have Air Brakes? (Most do not, but . . . )

Some motorhomes are quite large. While I know 18-wheeled trucks use air brakes, do RVs have air brakes?

Here’s what I know from driving my RV:

Most RVs do not have air brakes. Air brakes are typically only found on large Class A RVs that are diesel-powered, over 26,000 pounds, and often these are between 35 and 40+ feet in length.

But that’s just a quick answer and doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

So in this article, we’ll explore some specific models of RV that do have air brakes, and we’ll talk about whether you need a special driver’s license to drive on of them.

Let’s get into it!

Are diesel RVs the only ones with air brakes?

While diesel RVs are not the only RVs that have air brakes, air brakes are most commonly found on diesel RVs. This is because the primary type of diesel RV is Class A, and with some Class A RVs exceeding 35 feet in length, air brakes provide greater stopping power.

When you hear diesel RVs, you’re going to think about larger classes, probably anything over 26,000 pounds.

The Class A RV comes in between 13,000 to 30,000 pounds. Meaning if you get a larger Class A, you’re going to need the air brakes to help slow down this powerhouse.

My RV is a Newmar Baystar that is 34 feet long. It’s gas-powered, not diesel. It’s also only 21,000 pounds. So I didn’t have to get a special driver’s license for it. It also does NOT have air brakes.

Air brakes are most commonly found on very large diesel RVs because these vehicles need more help slowing down.

Think of it like this; hydraulic brakes perform really well when it comes to lightweight cars and lightweight motorhomes. When it comes to heavy RVs, they need more braking capacity.

That being said, unless you’re going to drive the largest Class A RV out there, you won’t have much problem with driving one.

Once you have gotten used to them, the air brakes will actually be better and safer for you and your RV.

Do you need a CDL to drive a motorhome with air brakes?

CDL stands for commercial driver’s license, and it is required when driving any Class A RV that weighs over 26,000 pounds, which typically will have air brakes also.

However, the license requirements may be different in your state. So always check with your DMV.

But does this include all types of RVs?

This depends on what you plan to use your RV for. For the most part, you will not need a CDL to drive most types of RVs. This even includes some Class A RVs.

Though you may not need a CDL, you have to pay attention to specific special license requirements.

Vehicles under 26,000 pounds don’t require a special license, and that is in the entire country. Most RVs fit this description; including Class A, C, and B.

That’s because some Class A’s only weigh as much as 13,000 pounds and wouldn’t require this special license. It may depend on what state you’re in, though too. And as I mentioned, my Class A Newmar is 34 feet long, but only 21,000 pounds. So I did not have to get a CDL.

But some Class A RVs are slightly bigger, though.

A Class A motorhome over 26,000 pounds is the only RV you’ll need a special license for. Often these RVs will be closer to 40 feet in length, and have air brakes, and are also often diesel-powered.

But for the most part, having a standard Class C driver’s license is enough for 95% of the RVs out there.

But you hear the terms RV and motorhome thrown around interchangeably.

If you’re interested in learning the differences between an RV and motorhomes, I have a recent article that covers it.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How to drive an RV with air brakes

To drive an RV with air brakes, allow greater stopping distance as it takes longer for the brakes to be applied when using air brakes. There will also be an air gauge on the dashboard showing the available air pressure. Never drive an RV is the air brake air pressure is low.

So air brakes have a slight delay from the time your foot hits the pedal and when the brakes actually react.

This delay also means it will take you longer to stop. To best prepare for any emergencies or anything happening on the road, it’s best to drive slower than most people. This gives you extra time to slow down and observe what is going on around you.

Honestly, I do that in my RV even without air brakes.

I like to drive my RV about 5 mph below the posted speed limit. Slow down and make sure you give yourself enough space between you and the car in front of you.

Now to further understand that driving slow and braking sooner is essential, imagine it’s snowing out, and you got ice on the road.

You’ve still got places to be, but your air brakes are less likely to be effective because of the size of your rig. Drive slow in slippery conditions such as rain or snow as you are more likely to slide.

While these all seem relatively obvious, there is one thing to make sure you look out for when driving with air brakes.

Your air brakes can leak, and if a leak develops, this can cause a major problem. The air in the brake is meant to keep the brake from applying itself. If the air leaks, then the brakes will apply immediately.

If the brakes apply while driving, this can cause a significant accident and make a major dent in your wallet when you have to replace the brakes.

There should be a gauge on your dashboard that shows if the air pressure is low and if it is pulled over as soon as possible.

I mentioned wallets hurting earlier, so let’s take a look at how much it would cost to get a brake job with air brakes.

How much does an RV air brake job cost?

An RV air brake job will cost about $1,500 total. Labor will be about $600, and the parts will be about $800. But different RV makes and models may see those costs vary slightly.

You might be thinking that replacing brakes should be fast, easy, and cheap. You would be wrong if you thought this because it’s more than just the brakes that you are replacing.

When it comes to the full breakdown of pricing, it varies on model, size, and make of your RV. Keep in mind that you are paying for labor, the brake pads, the rotors, bearings, calipers, and much more.

If this seems high, remember pricing does vary, but you might also be thinking of regular hydraulic brakes. These brakes are much cheaper to replace and can be found on most RVs other than Class As.

While this seems like a lot to pay, remember you are working with essentially a house on wheels.

That takes a lot of power to get moving and to stop. Getting an RV is cheaper than buying a home, but you have to remember just like any other car, you still need to do maintenance on it.

I recommended staying up to date on when your brakes need to be changed to avoid accidents in the future.

Can I park an RV with air brakes in a neighborhood?

Many neighborhoods do allow RV parking. However, some do prohibit the use of air brakes during certain hours, but this will be posted on signs. Also, some neighborhood HOAs prohibit any type of RV.

When it comes to parking your RV anywhere, whether it is in a neighborhood or not, you need to understand how to park your air brake RV properly.

Your RV mustn’t roll away from you and cause accidents on other sites.

If your rig is too long, look for another site where you can stay. The most ideal spot, of course, will be along the curb, in front of your house, ideally where you can just pull right in and out.

Do make sure to never extend slide-outs towards the street. But it may also get you a ticket if you extend them over a sidewalk too.

Always make sure you are on a level surface when you park a larger RV. Engage your parking brake, and you should always carry a few wheel immobilizers. Or just lower the leveling jacks.

This way, you have peace of mind while being at peace in nature.

How To Perform An Air Brake Check On A RV Or Motorhome

Did I cover everything you wanted to know about RVs and air brakes?

RV living is popular, and the ease of being able to drive one makes this lifestyle more desirable.

Just remember not to use your RV for commercial use and pay attention to the weight of your vehicle. Air brakes help you stay safe when operating a more massive RV, and you should take the time to learn about them and get used to them.

Try practicing in an empty parking lot and practice you’re parking and checking your brakes before going.

Drive safe and have fun camping!

Photo which requires attribution:

Bounder Command Central by jbolles is licensed under CC2.0

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell travels on and off with his 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. He writes extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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