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Classic RVing goofs

The confessions of RV Forum Members

By Tom Jones

All RVers make mistakes or have horror stories to tell. These experiences are part of the learning curve, and usually result in the creation of a routine or habit to prevent recurrence. Sharing stories and habits will hopefully help others prevent the same mistakes and develop preventive habits of their own.

Watch your turns

When newbie motorhome driver Frank drove away from the fuel pump he forgot about the length of the RV. As he drove out and turned right he heard a howling screech of metal ripping fiberglass. Frank's insurance adjuster told him the most common cause of motorhome body damage is due to drivers not allowing enough room in a turn when leaving fuel stations.

Gary offers the following explanation for Frank's experience. When you turn, the coach (trailers too) pivots on the rear axles. All the overhang behind the axles thus swings out in the opposite direction of the turn. The amount of swing will vary with the amount of overhang , so it differs from rig to rig. The solution is to drive straight for a bit and WATCH THOSE SIDE MIRRORS! Don't be reluctant to adjust those mirrors via the remote control so you can see what the back is doing and remember to look both low and high as well as straight back.

Gary also raises a companion problem called "lag" or "turning short". As you turn the steering wheels, the rear wheels immediately begin to take the shortest route between their current location and the new front wheel position; In other words, the back end takes a short cut. That means the back end will cut the corner on the turn and in a right turn that means it can easily go up over the curb or hit a utility pole or sign on the corner. You get the same lag in a left turn, but there is usually a lot more room on the left side and you can see it better as well. Again, the solution is to drive straight a bit longer than you would with a car and WATCH THE SIDE MIRRORS!

Gary further warns that, when backing up, remember that the front swings as well as the rear. Drivers are justifiably nervous about what is unseen behind them and sometimes forget to watch the front as well. In particular, the mirrors are well known to jump out and grab a passing tree.

Look ahead and watch your sides

Woody warns about not allowing enough braking time, and not being constantly aware of the height of your vehicle and overhead obstructions such as underpasses, tree limbs, and signs. He also warns that you have to be aware that your motorhome extends beyond the sides of the tires; Woody says he's encountered mailboxes and signs that were too close to the curb on residential streets that could be hit by the side of the coach even though the tires weren't close to the curb.

Fred was once forced to drive his Dutch Star motorhome through a city construction site where the open lane was the right hand one. "We whacked every warning sign along one whole block" says Fred.

Fred also suggests you don't drive into fuel pumps with the coach pointing towards the store, unless you gauge the distance for your turn to be adequate.

An experienced RVer, Fred adds several more suggestions. Keep your eyes roaming watching for dogs, children, old folks, balls and idiots.

Use outside help

Charlotte suggests it's always good to have the other person on the outside and watching when entering or exiting a tight place or campsite. She uses simple hand signals and always makes sure she can see the driver's face in the mirror - so she knows the driver can see her. One caveat offered by Joel is to mutually agree that the ground guide will point in the direction that the REAR of the trailer or motorhome is supposed to go.

Several folks suggest getting a pair of walkie talkies, family radios, or handheld CB units for the outside observer to talk to the driver.

Watch the roof line!

RVers use a variety of ways to remind themselves to lower the TV antenna. When Woody raises the antenna he also lowers the sun visor and clips a note to it that reads "Warning, Antenna Raised". Charlotte hangs the keys of her toad on the antenna crank as a reminder.

Gary warns that we tend to look at the road at eye level, but the coach goes up to around 12-13 feet and a branch or leaning tree can clip the side above your normal line of sight.

George reminds us that backing a 7-foot tall van into a 7-foot one inch carport with the vent open will cost a hundred dollars. But driving with the fiberglass pop top open and hitting some low hanging object will certainly be a whole bunch more expensive.

Forgetting to unlock the steering wheel of your toad can have some undesirable results when turning. Many RVers have had nagging doubts as they drive down the road. Liz uses a hair clip attached to the steering wheel of our toad with a big white sock threaded through it. Using the backup monitor of the coach, she can see if the steering wheel of the toad is turning; The white sock is clearly visible in the monitor.

Fred advises not to park too close to a curb if you are towing; The towed vehicle will swing toward the curb as you pull out.

Talking of toads

We were en route to our first Moab rally and, after a couple of nights in Salt Lake City, headed out for the final leg of our outbound journey. About 50 miles from Salt Lake I told my other half "I don't recall releasing the parking brake on the toad". I pulled over at the next convenient place and sure enough the parking brake was still on, with zero adjustment left. Now I consciously double check both the parking brake and the transfer case before leaving.

Wet grass is soft!

Carl was cranking up the jack of his trailer when it slipped off the cone he'd placed beneath it. The jack buried itself in the soft ground. It took a couple of scissor jacks to bring the front of the A-frame back up, much to the amusement of onlookers who had gathered to watch and cheer. Carl subsequently threw the cone away and now uses a 12"x12"x1" piece of lumber under the trailer jack.

Shut off the sewer rinse valve and leave the sewer hose connected

Joe told us one of his classic stories of the time he forgot to turn off the sewer rinse hose, resulting in the black water tank overflowing. When Joe's wife Cricket tried to flush the head she got what Joe called an impression of Old Faithful. Meanwhile Joe, who was outside the coach, realized what had happened and immediately opened the black water drain valve. That's when he realized he didn't have the sewer hose attached and was covered in you know what. Anyone who knows Joe will recognize this as typical of his RVing experiences.

Check before you leave

Gary reminds us to disconnect hoses and power cords before leaving.

Fred urges you to take your time getting ready; Look the trim of the rig over twice to see that the antennas are down, the compartment doors are latched, nothing is under the rig. If hooking up a towed vehicle, do not let anyone talk to you. If they do, start from the beginning and do the job again. Develop a pattern for preparing to move and stick with it.

In a similar vein, Gary suggests RVers develop a routine for packing up and do not stop to socialize while doing it or you will forget something. If your routine is interrupted, force yourself to go back through it quickly, even though you are 'sure' you did everything. He adds "Most of us avoid chatting up a fellow RVer when he is dismantling camp because we know it too often causes expensive mistakes. This especially applies to hitching up a car for towing. Wait till the routine is done and then say your good byes. Then do a final walk-around before getting in to drive away."

Several people suggest using checklists such as the ones available in the RV Forum library.

Latch the fifthwheel hitch

Lou neglected to make sure the 5th wheel hitch was fully latched when moving his Dad's new fiver. When he pulled forward, the trailer slipped out of the hitch and landed on the bed rails of the truck with a loud bang, leaving two matching indentations on the trailer's front cap. Lou's dad philosphically laughs about it, saying Lou spared him from putting the first dent in the new fiver.

Some words of consolation

Fred believes that everyone is allowed one HFWPOH (Hit Forehead With Palm Of Hand) moment, a term invented by an RV Forumite.

Gary says "All of us have made the same mistakes and not always just when a newbie. We've all got our stories, including a few we would rather not tell!"


Stories, tips and suggestions described above were gleaned from messages posted in the RV Forum. The contributors (including Gary Brinck, Charlotte, Cliff, Leo Everitt, George Jannini, Don Jordan, Carl Lundquist, Bob Maxwell, Joel Myers, George Mullen, Liz Pearce, Woody Van Note, Frank Rigold, Fred Thomas, Lou Sneider and others) readily shared their experiences and suggestions. I claim no credit for the content other than some degree of paraphrasing and minor edits and a story of my own.