FROM DUMB TO DUMBEST, WE COUNT DOWN THE TOP 10 RVing MISHAPS
Nearly everyone who has RVed can recall doing something dumb that put a damper on his or her camping experience. It might have been minor, such as forgetting a doormat or major, such as totalling the rig. Let’s face it; as RVers, we know the drill of setting up and breaking camp, and we certainly know the rules of the road. But, far too often, we rush through things, become impatient, or get distracted while multi-tasking. And the odd time, adult beverages are involved. Regardless of the reasons, mishaps do occur, not only to newbie’s but to long-timers as well. However, the good news is that many of these mishaps can be avoided if we just remember to slow down, be patient, and focus on one task at a time with a clear mind. Arrival and departure checklists are very helpful as well.
In last year’s RV-OOPS Award’s article, I asked readers to share their mishaps with me so that others could benefit from their experiences. Thanks to those of you who took the time to respond. From your e-mails, together with my personal interviews, I selected 10 motorhome mishaps and ranked them from “dumb” (#10 to #6) to “dumber” (#5 to #2), with the “dumbest” (#1) deserving of this year’s winner of the top RV-OOPS Award. Typically, dumber things result in more expensive repair bills. For example, last year’s winner blew the engine in his motorhome by never checking the oil during a year of extensive travel.
NO. 10 “Out of sight, out of mind” applies in spades to TV antennas. Occasionally, you’ll see a motorhome traveling down the highway with the antenna raised. Those are the lucky ones. Grant never made it to the highway. His raised antenna hit a tree limb while exiting the campground. WACK! Fortunately, he was able to find repair parts at a local RV dealer, where the clerk made him feel better by saying: “It happens all the time.”
Grant said he solved the problem of forgetting to lower his antenna by “attaching a long piece of velvet material from the crank handle.” For later models that raise and lower electrically, a long piece of velvet material could be attached beside the switch as a reminder. Personally, I would put “lower antenna” on my Departure Checklist; then attach a long piece of velvet material beside the Checklist as a reminder to use it!
NO. 9 Most RVers plug in their power cords upon arrival at a campground and, if they do a walk around, unplug them prior to departure. That’s what I thought until Charlie told me about the time he departed a campsite in his Class C motorhome after doing a walk around inspection. A hesitation in forward movement was followed by a noise from the rear of his rig. TWANG! In his rear-view mirror, he saw the power pole quivering back and forth. Upon inspection, Charlie was reminded that the power outlet on this pole was elevated five feet above the ground. He had suspended the cord by his RV ladder and actually walked under it during his walk around.
Since that incident, Charlie always walks around his motorhome twice, once looking down and once again looking up, vowing never again to forget to unplug his power cord. Many RVers admit to driving down the road with a trailing power cord, which is usually damaged beyond repair from dragging on the pavement. Charlie at least had a reasonable excuse for forgetting to unplug. For electrical connections at ground level, not doing a walk around is a feeble and costly excuse.·
NO. 8 Bill and Jane had just finished dressing for church and had about a half-hour before leaving. While Jane continued putting on her makeup, Bill noticed his black-water tank was 3/4 full and decided to use the time to empty it. He pulled the black-water valve and let it drain. Since he still had some time left, he decided to rinse out all the paper and sewage in the top quarter of the tank by filling it completely, which he estimated would take about 12 minutes. At the 12-minute mark, the “full” indicator light was not yet “on,” so he yelled to his wife to check the water level in the toilet. She obliged by pushing the button that electrically opens the flap valve. WHOOSH! A brown geyser, complete with little pieces of toilet paper and fecal matter, covered her hair, face, and clothing as well as the bathroom walls, ceiling, and floors. As the screaming waned, Bill shut the water off and drained the tank while Jane jumped in the shower. Bill cleaned up the mess as best he could and they still made it to church, a bit late.
In his sermon about taking God and spouses for granted, the pastor remarked that everyone should regularly “fertilize their relationship with God and their spouse.” Bill, biting his tongue to keep from laughing out loud, leaned over and whispered to Jane, “I fertilized you this morning.” She hit him!
Helpful hint: Tank lights are not always reliable indicators of fullness. But even if they are, NEVER flush out your black-water tank after dressing for church!
NO. 7 On an extensive trip in their Class C motorhome, Don approached a bridge with a tollbooth. He drove ahead slowly, ensuring that the RV height did not exceed the gate overhead and that the side mirrors did not exceed the entrance width. As he entered the payment area, CRUNCH! “What the heck was that?” Backing out, he discovered that a 3-foot high cement wall just below the passenger-side mirror had ripped off the front bracket of his awning. Moving over to an unused lane, Don duct taped the bracket in place, allowing him to proceed to a dealership for a proper repair.
Don now has a new rule, which all RVers should adopt when passing through tollgates: “Always use the lanes intended for semi-trailers.”
Another RVer pulling a trailer reported exactly the same mishap, at the same tollbooth (in Nova Scotia). Based on the number of collisions with this concrete wall, perhaps the authorities should trim it back a foot or so, or at least put up a sign, forewarning RVers to use the truck lanes.
NO. 6 Most campers take pride in the appearance of their rigs, ensuring that they are washed on a regular basis. Of course, doing so usually involves the use of a ladder to reach the upper areas. Be careful, be very careful when using a ladder.
After a long trip south for the winter, Ross’s motorhome needed some serious cleaning. He got out his 7-foot folding ladder and climbed up to the next-to-top rung to wash above the windshield. Suddenly, the ladder began to fold underneath him. He watched helplessly as the pavement rushed up to stop his fall. Ross lay there wondering how badly he was hurt while his neighbors rushed over to help, calling an ambulance and making sure he didn’t try to get up. X-rays at the hospital showed multiple broken bones: arm, pelvis, shoulder, and ribs.
During his lengthy recovery, Ross had lots of time to think about what went wrong, confirmed by examining his ladder’s remains – he had neglected to lock the four rails of the ladder. Fortunately, Ross reported that he has sufficiently recovered to again wash his motorhome … “but only if someone holds the ladder.”
Helpful hints: Make sure your ladder is locked and has a secure footing. And never stand on the top two rungs … the higher you go on a ladder, the more it hurts when you fall. A long-handle brush can be used to clean the upper portions of your rig. If you have balance problems, consider hiring someone to do the work.
NO. 5 Arriving at a friend’s home after dark in his new Class A, Danny asked if he could use a garden hose to fill his fresh water tank. Leaving his flashlight inside the coach, he hurriedly attached the hose and busied himself with other things. About 20 minutes later, he heard the reassuring sound of water coming out of the overflow. When he went to turn off the faucet, he noticed brown waste matter running down both sides of his coach. Inside, he discovered the same stinking mess running out of the bathroom onto the carpets the full length of the motorhome.
OOPS! Danny had mistakenly attached the garden hose to his black-water-flush inlet, which he said was “frighteningly close to the fresh-water inlet.” Had he used a flashlight, he might have noted the decal: “Do Not Use Flush Unless Black Water Valve is Open.”
In the short term, Danny hired professional carpet cleaners. In the long term, he solved the problem by purchasing a larger motorhome with the fresh-water intake and black-water-flush intake in separate compartments. Now he just has to remember which intake is in which compartment!
NO. 4 Judy’s husband, who refused to give his name, left his new laptop computer on the dining table; then headed down the highway in their Class A. An unexpected panic stop resulted in all unsecured items, including the computer, becoming airborne projectiles. WHAM! His computer was damaged beyond repair, a $3000 lesson in Newton’s first law of motion, paraphrased: “An object in motion, at 60 mph, tends to remain in motion until it smacks into a wall during a panic stop.”
Judy and her husband now make sure that all loose objects are secure before they hit the road. I reassured Judy they are not alone. I’ve yet to meet a single RVer who hasn’t broken a wine glass, candleholder, coffee cup, something, that should have been safely tucked away prior to getting underway. Such minor mishaps don’t qualify for a Top 10 OOPS Award, but a smashed computer? That qualifies!
NO. 3 Having just returned home from a solo weekend camping trip in his new Class A, Dick decided to back into his gated RV pad. He blocked open the steel gate; then got back inside and preceded to back up. Within a few seconds … RIPPPP! A quick assessment showed that the gate had partially closed by the wind; grabbing the rear compartment door and peeling the coach open like a tin can. Several months and $8000 later, his rig was like new again.
Now here’s the sad part: had Dick waited 30 minutes, his son would have been home to assist as an observer, preventing this mishap from ever occurring. So often when RVing, hasty decisions turn out to be bad decisions!
NO. 2 Ian lives on a seldom-traveled rural road and was planning to back his coach into his driveway between two stone pillars. Imbedded in the pillars were upturned angle irons, intended to support a gate, which had yet to be installed. While maneuvering his rig sideways to the road, he slowly backed up but seemed to be hung up on something. Wouldn’t you know it? A rare traffic jam was forming on the road – two cars from one direction, and one from the other. Frustrated and annoyed, Ian “poured the coal to her” to pull across the road so that traffic could pass. KABOOM! What he was hung up on was one of the angle irons, which had become wedged in the passenger-side rear panel. As he zoomed ahead, the rear panel ripped off and the pillar was dragged down. The bill for RV repairs came to $8,500, plus the cost of rebuilding the pillar.
Someone who wrote to me asked about the most common mishap that RVers report? I would have to say that backing into things is extremely popular, and yet so easily preventable.
Helpful hint: ALWAYS have someone watching behind your rig when backing up, ideally with communication headsets, to provide direction.
NO. 1 Art and his wife were returning home in their Class A from an enjoyable camping trip with their grandchildren. They took a toll-road exit and pulled into a restaurant parking lot. While there, Art’s wife opened the bedroom slide to get something. After lunch, they drove out of the parking lot onto the onramp of the toll-road, and approached the tollbooth. CRUNCH! The coach stopped abruptly when the still-extended slide, on the driver’s side, smashed into the booth. To his dismay, Art hadn’t once looked into his rear view mirror, until that fateful moment.
Although drivable, the motorhome had such extensive damage that their insurance company wrote it off. The tollbooth was also totaled. Art said that he was “a wreck for the next several days.”
You might like to know that Art and his wife are still together, have bought another coach, and continue to enjoy camping with their grandchildren.
Helpful hint: Always do a walk around before starting out on a trip, and again whenever your rig has been left unattended for any length of time. It only takes a minute and can save big bucks in repair bills … just ask Art!
Several other RVers have confessed to driving with a slide extended, mostly without incident. However, one man did report getting his bedroom slide caught on a telephone pole guy line, causing extensive damage to the slide. It surprises me that motorhome manufacturers allow the rig to move when a slide is extended. Some coaches may have warning lights on the dashboard, but if drivers don’t look in their rearview mirror, why would they look at their dashboard?
Well, there you have it, the RV-OOPS Awards for 2011. The names of recipients were changed to protect the guilty. Remember, we can learn by having mishaps or we can learn by reading about the mishaps of others, which is so much cheaper. Hopefully, none of us will repeat any of this year’s blunders.
Again, I encourage readers to e-mail me at [email protected], indicating what dumb thing you did, how you resolved it, and how you might have avoided it in the first place. Who knows? You may well make the list for our 2012 Awards.