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RV OOPS Awards, 2010

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“What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done while RVing?”

That’s the question I’ve been asking RVers over the past year. About half of the people interviewed reported some real doozies, while the other half reported minor mishaps such as leaving something behind when vacating a campsite. During a dozen years of RVing, my wife and I have left behind three doormats as well as dog toys, clotheslines, faucet fittings, sewer fittings, and a wheel chock. We now have a cardinal rule: scan the campsite after pulling out the rig. Since adding that simple procedure to our Departure Checklist, we haven’t lost a thing.

And that’s the way it is with most RVing mishaps: a simple procedure can often prevent the dumb thing from happening in the first place. Notice the emphasis here is on dumb things, not dumb RVers. We’re mostly a brilliant bunch but let’s face it, stuff happens! The good news is that we are able to learn from others’ mistakes and hopefully, by taking the necessary precautions, not repeat those mistakes.

I ranked what I considered the ten most serious mishaps on a continuum from “Dumb to Dumbest” (#10 to #2) with the “Absolutely Dumbest Thing” (#1) deserving of the top RV-OOPS Award.

It’s not entirely coincidental that the dumbest things were also the most costly things. Nor is it entirely coincidental that all of the award recipients were males, since everyone I interviewed was male. More research is needed to determine whether female RVers might do different dumb things or, wouldn’t it be lovely, none at all.


#10.     It was raining on Herb’s last day of camping in the fall. He rolled up the wet awning and left it that way until his first camping trip in the spring. When he unrolled it, the previously white and blue fabric had been transformed into earthy shades of black and green by exotic fungi that thrive in dark, damp conditions.

Herb’s short-term solution was simple but tedious. Scrub for four hours with detergent, trying not to look up when cleaning the underside. Since that mishap, he always ensures that his wet awning is opened and dried before storing for an extended period.

Helpful hint: If you ever find yourself taking a shower while cleaning the underside of your awning, try detaching the two support bars at the bottom and allow them to slide under the unit until the awning is more like a wall than a ceiling. This two-person procedure may require some bracing in order to apply pressure on your scrub brush.

#9.     Gerry was parking his relatively new Class A motorhome alongside the curb in a small town. Unfortunately, the sloping street tilted the top of his unit toward the sidewalk, enough to rub against a metal street sign. OOPS! A four-foot scratch on the side did not quite match the swirled paint job.

Gerry sat on the roof and pushed the offending sign away with his feet while his wife slowly edged their motorhome forward until clear of the sign. He later visited a body shop that made it look like new again. Gerry commented that he was now super-cautious about street signs when parking curbside: “never again.”

#8.     Steve was backing his Class C motorhome into a campsite with his wife in the passenger seat. He heard shouts coming from an adjacent campsite and stopped to see what all the commotion was about. He had backed over a small cedar tree, which became lodged at a rakish angle under the rear quarter section. In his haste to extricate his rig from the tree, Steve pulled forward. OOPS! The partially uprooted tree ripped off the lower side and rear aluminum panels.

After sheepishly replanting the tree, Steve used a handful of metal screws to temporarily reattach the panels. His final fix involved a pricy visit to the body shop. Since the mishap, Steve always ensures that his wife is watching behind the rig to give directions when he backs up. He even purchased a set of headphones so they can communicate without shouting or arm waving.

Helpful hint: If your rig ever gets entangled in tree branches, always stop and assess whether less damage will occur by judiciously cutting off branches rather than simply pulling away and hoping for the best.


#7.     Randy was driving his Class C into a shopping centre on a rainy day and chose to enter the underground parking area. His rig fit easily into the entrance but unknown to him, the further he proceeded into the darkened lot, the lower the ceiling became. CRUNCH! His air-cooling unit wedged itself tightly under a concrete beam.

Randy managed to back out, but the casing of the cooling unit was smashed beyond repair and water was leaking inside the rig. His less-than-satisfactory solution was to remove the cooling unit and replace it with a carrying case large enough to cover the hole. Randy now shies away from underground parking, regardless of how hard it’s raining.

Helpful hint: It’s important to know the height of your rig, plus a comfortable margin for error, and to constantly be aware of overhead obstacles such as entranceways, wires, and branches. Even the horizontal “height pipes” suspended at the entrances to some parking lots can cause damage if they impact your vehicle.

#6.     Brian bought a fifth wheel trailer and had a hitch installed in his short-bed pickup. Everything worked fine until he made his first sharp turn. KABOOM! The front corner of his trailer hit the truck’s back window, shattering it to smithereens. Fortunately, no one was injured, including his dog in the back seat. Surprisingly, Brian said the hitch installer never mentioned the potential problem of the trailer contacting the truck when turning.

Brian’s temporary solution was duct taping a sheet of plastic to the window frame. He also slid the hitch further back in his truck bed, which may have created another unsafe condition by taking weight off the front wheels used for steering and breaking. His ultimate solution, after replacing the window, was to buy a long-bed pickup.

Helpful hint: Although a long-bed pickup is ideal for a fifth-wheel trailer, a less-expensive option would have been to install a kingpin extender or a hitch specifically designed for short-bed pickups.

#5.     Upon arriving at his campsite, Ed prepared to separate his truck and fifth-wheel trailer. After blocking the wheels and lowering the trailer jack stands, he disconnected the brake and electrical cables and released the hitch pin. So far, so good. He then proceeded to pull the truck away from the trailer. OOPS!  The not-so-good part was neglecting to lower the tailgate, which looked like an arrow pointing backwards after being rammed by the kingpin.

Ed’s solution was to remove his bent tailgate permanently, which he considered an inexpensive alternative to the “air-flow” models designed to improve mileage.

Helpful hint: Arrival and departure checklists can prevent many mishaps. Simply write items to be checked (such as “lower tailgate”) on a 3×5 card and attach it to your sun visor. It only takes a minute to review these items after arriving or before departing.
Another helpful hint: Checklists only work if you use them.

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#4.     On the last day of his camping trip, Fred rolled up the awning and hit the road. Unfortunately, he neglected to secure it with the locking latches on each of the two support bars. It pretty much stayed in place until he got up to cruising speed. KABOOM! The wind had unrolled the awning, tearing the worn canvas and ripping the support bars from their attachment points on the side of his coach.

Fred rolled up the mess as best he could, using rope to hold the dangling bars against the side. He then drove slowly home where he permanently removed the damaged awning. When I asked him, “Do you miss your awning?” he replied, “Only when it’s rainy or sunny.”

#3.     Gary was driving his Class C along a freeway when – BOOM! – the sound of a cannon reverberated in the back of his rig. Pulling over, he found that one rear tire had exploded, throwing a large chunk of rubber through the wheel well, tearing out an interior cabinet, and making a major mess of the bathroom. Gary seldom checked the tires, but hindsight suggested he should have, especially since they were 7 years old.

He covered the hole with a plastic tarp and limped to the closest tire store where he purchased six new tires. He later visited a body shop and cabinetmaker to repair the damage. Gary’s walk-around now includes a close inspection of all tires for proper inflation, cracks, and wear.

#2.     Mark had arrived at his campsite in his fifth wheel and decided to unhook the truck. He blocked the trailer tires, unlocked the hitch, disconnected the electrical and brake cables, opened the tailgate, and pulled away. KABOOM! (The sickening sounds of Crunch and Kaboom are often associated with the unexpected, and mostly avoidable, costs of RVing). The front of the trailer came crashing down, making V-shaped dents in the side rails of the truck bed and some noticeable symmetrical grooves in the underside of the rig. OOPS! He had neglected to lower the front trailer jacks.

After a few choice words, Mark extended the front jacks. His long-term solution was to replace the bent side rails. Rather than fix the grooves, Mark used them as irritating reminders to always lower the jacks before pulling away the truck.


#1.     Frank bought a used Class A motorhome and drove it for thousands of miles without a problem. One day while cruising along, an acrid smell preceded a loud KABOOM! and immediate loss of power. The engine would not turn over.

Frank called for a tow to the nearest garage where the mechanic diagnosed a “seized engine,” likely caused by overheating due to lack of oil. Oil? Frank wasn’t sure the last time he or anyone else had checked the oil. A potentially fine camping trip ended with him and his family renting a car and returning home until a rebuilt engine could be installed. Frank still drives his motorhome but now checks the oil regularly.


So there you have it, the RV-OOPS Awards for 2010. The names of recipients were changed to protect the guilty. Everyone would no doubt agree that their mishap would never happen again, at least not to them.

We’ve often heard the expression, “Experience is the best teacher.” But when it comes to mishaps, “Knowledge of someone else’s experience is the best teacher.” Why? Because it leads to worry-free RVing and best of all, it’s cheaper!

I’ve already started compiling next year’s awards. If you’ve done something dumb (and who hasn’t?) during your tenure as an RVer, perhaps you would like to share your story so that others can learn from your mishap. If so, send an email to CaptnMac@shaw.ca, indicating what dumb thing you did, how you resolved it, and how you might have avoided the mishap in the first place. Who knows? You might be eligible for an RV-OOPS Award in 2011!

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