What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done while RVing?
RVers tend to be a sociable lot, always willing to lend a helping hand. We’ve all experienced the delight of nearby campers coming over to welcome us to the campground or wish us well upon departure. As well meaning as these cordial chats are, they can sometimes get us sidetracked from our normal routines, leading to mishaps. Several such incidents made our RV OOPS list this year, all caused by friendly conversation at exactly the wrong time.
The key here is not to be antisocial, but to wait until arriving or departing campers are completely finished with their duties before engaging them in conversation. Unless of course, it appears that they are in need of assistance, such as needing a back-up spotter, lifting a heavy boat trailer, or trying to fix a defective whatever.
We’ll start our list of 10 mishaps from Dumb to Dumbest with three examples of the aforementioned theme: distraction by others.
No. 10 Adios and have a good day Bob and his wife were spending a couple of weeks in Mexico camping in their motorhome. One day, they and another couple agreed to go shopping in a nearby town, using Bob’s motorhome since neither had a tow car. As often happens on outings, the guys sat up front with the gals in the back. After shopping, Bob was maneuvering his Class-A through the crowded parking lot while Chuck was showing off his new watch, talking about what a great deal he had made. In a tight turn, the right front corner of the motorhome clipped and broke off a truck mirror. Seconds later, the owner of the truck was pounding on the door. After some frantic hand waving and shouting in Spanish, it was obvious he was not happy. Partly to calm him down, Bob immediately gave him $200 to replace the mirror. The man seemed satisfied and Bob was relieved he didn’t have to deal with the police or his insurance company.
Scratches on the motorhome continue to remind Bob to not get distracted while driving, especially while maneuvering in a crowded parking lot. Chuck also learned a lesson and apologized for talking about his shopping experience at exactly the wrong time.
No. 9 Enjoy your biscuits This story was relayed to me by Ruth whose grandparents had decided they would buy a motorhome and “hit the road before they got much older.” They purchased a new Class-A and planned a trial run to several state campgrounds. After a couple of weeks at their first campground, it was time to move on to another not far away. While pulling in the slides and raising the jacks, a neighboring RVer came over and offered them a plate of biscuits for the next leg of their trip. How nice is that?
After thanking the neighbor and getting into the front seats, they drove out of the campsite. As they neared the exit, a fellow camper was waving his arms and pointing to the side of their coach. Their electrical cord, hose, and sewer line, which they had forgotten to detach, were all dragging along the ground. OOPS! Annoyed and embarrassed, they finished their departure routine and carried on.
According to Ruth, her grandparents love the RV lifestyle, particularly the friendly campers they’ve met along the way. One thing they learned from the experience is to always do a walk-around before departing to ensure they really are ready to hit the road.
Helpful hint: While doing a walk around, instead of just looking, consider using a checklist, either written or on an iPhone or iPad, using an app such as RV CheckList.
No. 8 Almost hitched Joe was getting ready to depart the campground after a great weekend of waterskiing and fishing at the adjoining lake. His final task was to hook up his boat trailer to the hitch on the back of his diesel pusher. In the process of doing so, a friendly camper came over and asked, “Joe, where are you headed?” Being a socialable guy, Joe explained that they were off to another campground and another lake. Conversation continued as Joe walked to the front of his motorhome, said goodbye, and drove off.
When he reached the highway and got up to speed, he could hear a rattling noise at the rear of the coach. Pulling off to the side of the road, Joe applied his brakes purposely to stop in a hurry, resulting in a loud CRUNCH. Upon inspection, the trailer had become disconnected from the coach and the hitch was firmly implanted in the radiator, causing steam to shoot skyward.
Thinking back about his hook-up procedure, Joe recalled that his camping neighbor interrupted him just after he had attached the trailer and just before he normally tightened down the hitch clamp. That brief conversation resulted in a $2000 repair bill and a vow to always use a checklist, especially when well-meaning neighbours interrupt his departure routine.
Some motorhome owners use a trailer or dolly (which carries the front wheels only) to tow their car; others tow the car flat, with four wheels on the ground. As we’ve seen in previous RV Oops Awards, the biggest problems encountered when towing flat are towing the car in gear or with the emergency brake on, causing burned out brakes, transmissions, or even whole vehicles. But mistakes can also occur when towing a trailer or dolly. The next two awards include an OOPS with a dolly and another towing flat.
No. 7 Pins and Dollies Gerry and his wife had just arrived at a big box store parking lot in their Class-A and wanted to do some shopping in a local downtown area. After unloading the car from their two-wheel dolly, off they went. Upon returning, Gerry ran the car up onto the dolly and strapped down the front wheels. With several hours of daylight remaining, they decided to drive to a campground. While heading down a four-lane highway, Gerry heard some scraping sounds but couldn’t find a pullover to check it out. A passenger in a passing car was waving frantically at them from an open window while pointing to the rear of their motorhome, shouting: “Sparks!”
At the first opportunity Gerry pulled over and walked back to his tow dolly. Everything seemed fine, until he looked more closely at the dolly platform. The pin to prevent the ramp from lowering should have been inserted in the dolly hitch. Instead, it was still laying on the platform, just where he put it. Apparently, the car was merrily bouncing up and down while the back edges of the ramps were scraping along the highway.
Except for some scratches to the ramps, there was no serious damage. Gerry said he now places the pin on the ground beside the connection when unloading his car. I suggested he might want to tie a cord to the pin, so that it dangles from the tow bar, a better option than placing it on the ground or hiding it on the platform under the car.
No. 6 Brain Freeze Don had recently purchased a new car and was flat towing it to a local campground. Not wanting to unhook his car, he chose a pull-through site. As his wife was making dinner, Don was admiring his new car from the driver’s seat. Before going inside the coach, he moved the gearshift lever from Neutral to Park.
After dinner, his wife mentioned the coach was not quite level, and maybe they could back up a bit to try to level it. Don agreed, so he fired up the engine and slowly backed up. Within two feet he heard a crunching noise. Getting out to investigate, he saw that the car had not moved, but the hitch had risen up to the point where it broke the panel under the front bumper. $600 later, his new car was like new again. To this day, Don has no idea why he put the shift lever into Park (maybe he was thinking it should be in Park when they were parked?).
No. 5 Highway to Hell This RV trip starts in the cool refreshing mountains of Western Canada and ends in the hot dry city of Las Vegas a few weeks later. Mike and his wife had done some camping in their Class-A, mainly in Canada. They discussed, and Mike agreed that it would be nice to take his mother-in-law to Vegas, a place she had always wanted to visit. Both the roof and the cab air conditioners hadn’t worked for some time in their aging motorhome, but that shouldn’t be a problem. After all, “How hot can it be in Vegas in August?” They were about to find out.
All went well as they crossed the border and spent a couple of weeks in the northern mountainous states. The last leg of their trip had them leaving Utah and heading for Vegas. The closer they got, the higher the temperature rose: 90° … 100° … 110° F. The previously cool air blowing through the vents was beginning to feel like the blast from a hair dryer on “hot.” Mike reported his mother-in-law saying, “Now I know what it would feel like if I drove to Hell.” His wife protested loudly: “Why didn’t we get the air conditioners fixed in Canada?”
“No worries,” Mike said, “We’ll get some ice cubes at the next gas station and place them in front of the vents. That will cool things down.” And it did, the temperature dropped from 110° to 100° F, which now felt like a hair dryer on “medium.” When they finally got to Vegas, Mike was given an ultimatum: Get the air conditioners fixed or the ladies were flying home to Canada, with or without him. While the ladies played the slots in an air conditioned casino, Mike visited several RV repair shops, dismayed to find out that it was going to cost about $1200 to totally replace the ceiling unit and install a new compressor in the cab unit. Since the two flights home would likely cost close to that amount, he figured he might as well get them fixed.
They had only budgeted for three days in Vegas; unfortunately, it required a week to fix the air conditioners. Mike said he refused to add up the total costs of the repairs, hotel rooms, meals, and gambling losses. As he put it, “I didn’t want to know. We had been to Hell and survived … not many RVers can say that!”
No. 4 Where’s the remote? Carol and her husband had camped in their motorhome for many years. Early on, they had purchased an outdoor-temperature gauge for the inside of their coach. The instructions indicated that the wireless remote temperature sensor be placed in a shady spot and not exposed to moisture. Carol found what she considered the perfect location … on top of the rear wheel. It worked fine as long as she remembered to remove the remote before getting underway, which she did numerous times, except for three occasions. On two of them, as her husband pulled out of the campsite, the remote fell on the ground out of harm’s way. On the third, it fell directly in line with the rear tire and was “totally squashed.”
Their new remote came with a clip, allowing it to be attached under the front bumper and removed before getting underway. The one time Carol forgot, the remote fell off “someplace between San Francisco and Sacramento!“ She purchased another and now ties a yellow ribbon on the steering wheel to remind her to remove it before moving the motorhome.
Helpful Hint: As an alternative means of remembering, instead of a ribbon consider adding, “Remove Temperature Remote” to a Departure Checklist.
No. 3 Post trauma I was recently in a campground where each site is numbered on a 3-foot-tall 8” x 8” wooden post, anchored in concrete at the entrance to the site. While camped in a corner site, I watched a brand new Class-A arrive, which was headed for the pull-through site directly across the road from us. When I say “brand new,” I mean that the owners had just picked it up at an RV dealership a few miles away, and this was their first outing.
The front left side of the coach was already past our post when the driver stopped to let his wife out so she could make sure they cleared a tree on the right side. It was obvious to her that some branches would scrape their new rig unless he turned sharply left, so she motioned for him to turn, a bit more, just a bit more … “OK, you’re good to go!”
Having cleared the tree, the driver then was in a position to turn right and enter the site. CRUNCH! “What was that?” he hollered to his wife. They both came around to the driver’s side and saw our post pushed over and a major tear in the rear left side of their coach. I hadn’t seen the actual contact with the post, but I did see a grown man cry after he realized what had happened … he hadn’t accounted for tail swing to the left as he turned sharply right to enter the site.
He called the dealership about the damage and they suggested he bring it back in for repairs, which pretty much ended what could have been a lovely maiden voyage. Based on feedback I’ve received from other RVers, more posts and stop signs are knocked down by tail swing than any other maneuver.
Helpful hint: For each 3 feet of overhang beyond the rear wheels, expect 1 foot of tail swing. Thus, 15 feet of overhang can result in 5 feet of tail swing. It’s instructive to line up the left side of your coach with a white line in a parking lot, turn sharply to the right, and move very slowly forward while someone watches and tells you to stop when the rear of your coach reaches the maximum distance from the line. Awareness of how much your tail swings will make it less likely you’ll hit those posts and stop signs.
No. 2 Welcome to Pleasant View Not long after purchasing his new Class-A, Bruce arranged to meet some friends for a weekend of camping. He decided to go to the campground a day early to settle in and make preparations for his friends’ arrival. Driving along a narrow two-lane road far out in the country, he noticed the sign for the campground just as he passed the entrance. Not being able to back up with his motorcycle trailer attached, he continued on, looking for a place to turn around. Finally, he came to a church with a graveyard, which had a paved driveway around it. “Perfect,” he thought!
Scoping out the driveway, he noticed a small hump at the entrance, which might cause his trailer hitch to drag, but he “figured it was worth a little dragging not to have to drive further down the road.” As he entered the cemetery, Bruce was anticipating the sound of the hitch hitting the pavement. Instead, he heard a loud ripping and tearing sound from overhead. He immediately stopped and looked over his right shoulder, amazed to see a hole in the ceiling where his air conditioner used to be. While focusing his attention on the hump, he failed to notice the 12’ overhead iron arch “Pleasant View Gardens,” previously supported by two brick pillars. The arch was lying on top and the brick pillars were leaning against the sides of his coach.
A couple of hours later, after cleaning up the mess and leaving his personal information at the church, he drove to the campground with the wind whistling through the hole where his air conditioner used to be. Bruce said he saved some of the iron letters from the arch to serve as a reminder of his misadventure.
When his friends arrived the next day, he described the mishap and showed them the damage, which resulted in some chuckles and one lame comment: “Well, at least you made it out of the cemetery!”
No. 1 Double trouble Jim and Judy had spent a few weeks camping in their new Class-A. They had worked out a division of duties such that Jim looked after the outside while Judy took care of the inside. One evening Jim fired up the BBQ and grilled some steaks. After they were done, he decided to leave the BBQ on for about 10 minutes to burn off the steak juices on the grill. On this particular evening, the Academy Awards was just beginning on TV, which they watched while enjoying their evening meal with a glass or two of wine. After doing up the dishes, it was pretty much time to go to bed. Little did Jim know, he was working on an Award of his own!
The next morning, Judy tried to heat up some coffee, but the stove burners wouldn’t light. Jim checked the propane meter and sure enough, it was on “Empty,” and, wouldn’t you know it, the BBQ switch was still turned “On.” After minimizing his error by saying, “the tank was most likely near empty anyway,” he decided to drive the motorhome to a propane station across the street.
Jim did the outside departure duties while Judy secured the inside. With both of them seated inside, Jim drove slowly out of their site toward the exit. The sound of KABOOM and the motorhome coming to a grinding stop indicated that something was amiss. Their awning, still extended, had hit the first tree and was bent at a rakish angle backwards. When I asked Jim why he hadn’t retracted it, he said, “It was so high up that I never saw it during my walk-around.” With the assistance of some helpful RVers, he managed to get it rolled back in and tied to the side as best he could. His insurance covered all but $1,800 for the awning.
Jim is one of many RVers who empty their propane tank by forgetting to turn it off … something that could easily be avoided by setting a timer or purchasing an automatic shut-off valve from a local BBQ store. Driving off with the awning extended could also be avoided by using either a checklist or a spotter outside to watch for obstacles until the rig is clear of the site. Judie has since added this “outside” duty to her inside departure checklist.
In this case, it’s obvious the propane error did not lead directly to the awning error, but two blunders in two days earned Jim this year’s top Award. With today’s technology, wouldn’t it be nice if alarm bells went off whenever the shift lever is moved from PARK, indicating an extended awning, antenna, or lowered jacks? Of course, that would mean fewer RV OOPS Awards, but hey, that’s what this column is all about … reducing the number of errors we make by learning from the mishaps of others, resulting in more enjoyable outings in our motorhomes.
If you’ve done something dumb (that you wished you hadn’t) and are willing to share it with fellow RVers, please send a brief note to the author CaptnMac@shaw.ca, explaining your mishap and how it could have been avoided. Who knows, with any luck (oops, bad choice of words) you may win a coveted spot in next year’s RV OOPS Awards.