“What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done while RVing?”
Electrical Errors and Fuel-Pump Fiascoes are Among This Year’s Top 10 Motorhome Mishaps
Most RVers have experienced a major or
minor mishap that spoiled an otherwise delightful camping trip. I’ve selected 10 such misfortunes that were reported to me and ranked them from Dumb (No. 10 to 6), to Dumber (No. 5 to 2), to Dumbest (No. 1). It’s no coincidence that dumber mishaps are usually more traumatic and costly. For example, last year’s winner tore the roof off his motorhome by speeding up when approaching a low-clearance bridge so as not to get stuck and hold up traffic. This year’s winning entry was slightly less dramatic, but equally traumatic and costly for the individuals involved.
Two things are certain about RVing blunders: First, the person responsible is not likely to make the same mistake again. Second, somebody else will. By reading about the following blunders, we hope that “somebody” won’t be you.
No. 10: Lights Out
Bert had just arrived at a campground and hooked up his hoses and cables as he had done many, many times before. After dinner, he and his wife sat down to watch TV. About an hour into their favorite program, the lights and TV flickered on and off for several minutes, then turned off completely. Assuming the power went out in the campground, they went to bed early. The next morning, after reporting their power outage to the office, a maintenance worker came by to check it out. OOPS! Bert’s 50-amp shorepower plug was only pushed in halfway, causing arcing within the receptacle. The plastic receptacle was partially melted and one of the three prongs had completely burned off, requiring the purchase of a new cord. Bert said, “From now on, I will always push in my power cord completely.” After reading this, I suspect you will, too.
No. 9: A Plumber’s Delight
Jay, a long-time tent camper, made the big decision to buy a small motorhome and take his family camping in style. Shortly after hooking up his fresh-water line, water started running from underneath onto the ground. A line had burst under the kitchen sink. After shutting off the water, he used tape to repair the line. Within a few minutes after turning on the water, he saw another leak under the bathroom sink, which only required a crimp, and another leak behind the toilet. More tape. He immediately called the RV dealer, who told him to check his pressure regulator. “My what?” Jay asked. Following the dealer’s explanation, he picked up and installed a pressure regulator and has had no further problems with leaks.
Helpful hint: To prevent bursting water lines, always use a pressure regulator at the outlet of the campground’s water tap. An RV’s plumbing and filters are not designed for the high-pressure lines found at most campgrounds.
No. 8: Haste Makes Waste
Dave’s first priority, after maneuvering his large Class A into a smallish campsite, was to dump his full black-water tank. His sewer hose was just a couple of inches too short. Since it was raining, Dave decided not to attach his extension hose. Instead, he gained the required length by positioning the 45-degree connector parallel to the ground and stretching his hose to the maximum. Immediately after pulling the tank-valve handle, the weight of liquid pulled down on the hose, unscrewing the connector from the discharge pipe. OOPS! Five days of excrement began pouring out onto the ground. In his haste to shut off the flow, Dave broke the valve handle. Rather than fill his campsite with raw sewage, he chose to reattach the hose, an unpleasant task considering what was spewing into his lap at 10 gallons per minute. Dave eventually succeeded and held on to the connector until his tank was empty. He then visited the campground’s washroom for an extra long shower, clothes and all. In retrospect, I’m guessing Dave would have preferred getting wet from rainwater rather than black water.
Helpful hint: Remember the rule: “Right is tight, left is loose.” Screws, nuts, light bulbs and sewer-hose connectors all tighten to the right (clockwise) and loosen to the left (counter-clockwise). Thus, if your 45-degree hose connector is pointed right, a downward force will tighten it. Dave’s connector was likely pointing left, primed to loosen by the weight of the discharge liquid.
No. 7: Hearing Versus Listening
Since the water was turned off at campground sites because of near-freezing temperatures, Joe needed to fill his freshwater tanks. While his wife, Liz, watched from the rear of their motorhome, he slowly backed into position to access a functioning faucet. Noticing that the stub of a hefty branch was getting closer, Liz started waving and screaming, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” Joe kept on backing, implanting the branch through the back of the coach. OOPS! When Liz asked why he didn’t stop when she was yelling, he replied, “I didn’t know you meant it.” Joe covered the hole with duct tape until a body shop could make a proper repair.
Helpful hint: Having a spotter is very important when backing up. Listening to your spotter is even more important. If in doubt, stop, get out and have a look.
No. 6: The In’s and Out’s of Slides
John and Trish were getting ready to depart a campground in their Class A. John had opened a panel to unhook the water hose and left it open. Awhile later, he went inside to close a slide, checking carefully to ensure there wasn’t anything in the way. Trish was busy putting dishes away and securing drawers, so no one was outside to watch the slide come in. It was nearly in when a loud CRUNCH was followed by the slide abruptly stopping. A quick look outside showed the open panel door was badly bent by the slide and the slide itself was skewed at an angle. By opening and closing the slide several times, the angle lessened until the slide again came in straight. The panel door didn’t fare as well and had to be replaced.
Helpful hint: Always have someone inside and outside when operating slides. As many things get crunched outside as inside when opening and closing these huge compartments.
No. 5: Hot Day in Death Valley
Kevin and Mary were headed toward Death Valley National Park towing a Volkswagen Baja Bug behind their motorhome. Their route included a curvy road that precluded towing, so they disconnected. Kevin drove the motorhome; Mary followed in the car. At the end of the curvy section, they hooked up. Mary said, “It’s in neutral and the brake is off.” In the interest of marriage harmony, Kevin chose not to check.
Off they went at 50 mph. Nearing the top of a hill, Kevin throttled back and felt an immediate resistance. Looking in the mirror, he saw flames and smoke billowing from the dinghy vehicle. After pulling over and extinguishing the flames, he discovered that the car was in gear. The mechanical fuel pump, combined with the overheated engine, started a fire, which consumed the entire rear end of the car. They continued their somewhat subdued excursion into Death Valley, with the gearshift of their non-functional dinghy automobile in neutral.
Kevin and Mary have since bought another dinghy vehicle, and in the interest of marriage harmony, have agreed to check on each other as to whether it’s in neutral with the brake off.
No. 4: It’s the Real Thing
Ian had owned a Class A for years without problems. This year, however, he began hearing a clunking sound when accelerating or braking. He took the motorhome to an RV dealer who suggested it might be the brakes or driveshaft, maybe the transmission. They did some work on the brakes, which didn’t fix the problem, so he took it to another shop and another. After several thousand dollars of repair bills, Ian figured it was time to sell before whatever it was got worse. While sprucing it up by vacuuming under the front seat, he found a full can of Coke had been clunking back and forth against the seat frame. Problem solved. Ian sheepishly admitted, “After all those repairs, I decided not to sell.”
No. 3: The Wheel Goes ’Round — Hopefully
Tony was driving in their elderly (1987) motorhome when his wife said, “I think I smell something.” Within minutes after slowing down, a loud CLUNK and scraping sound came from the rear of their coach, which jarred to a stop as if someone had thrown out an anchor. The passenger-side rear wheels had come off the axle, which was now sitting on the ground. A truck service center later diagnosed the problem: the wheel bearings seized to the axle after overheating, likely a result of inadequate lubrication. The total bill, including a rebuilt axle, came to $5,000. Tony said, “Fortunately the differential wasn’t damaged since it’s nearly impossible to get major parts for a 25-year-old motorhome.” Even more fortunately, the wheels didn’t fall off at high speed, which may have damaged a lot more than the differential.
Helpful hint: Since regular maintenance is almost always less costly than occasional repairs, consider servicing at intervals recommended in your owner’s manual.
No 2: Fill ’er Up
Last summer, Neil learned a very important lesson about using fuel stations. He pulled his 35-foot motorhome alongside the inside pumps and filled up. He then began his exit by turning to the right. Hearing a “funny sound,” he immediately stopped and got out to investigate. Lo and behold, a car had pulled up along his passenger side for gas. According to Neil, it was not a pretty sight: The car was scraped from the driver’s door to the front bumper ($1,400) and his side compartments were badly scraped and dented ($4,000). To quote Neil, he will “never, never, never again get fuel at an inside pump and will wait as long as it takes to access an outside pump, which provides more room to maneuver.” That’s good advice for all drivers of large motorhomes who tend to use fuel stations on a regular basis.
No. 1: Almost Clearing Customs
Gerry and Judie were crossing the border from Canada into the United States in their new 42-foot Class A motorhome. Although six lanes were normally available, congested traffic prompted Gerry to enter Lane 6. When he got to the booth, the customs officer asked if they had any fruits or vegetables. Judie said they had a tomato, to which the officer replied: “Pull over to the right, park, and get out of your vehicle during our search.” Gerry pulled forward as far as he could until a low concrete barrier required him to turn sharply right. Partway through the turn, he heard a loud BANG, followed by some serious crunching sounds.
An iron pole holding up the roof of the customs booth had ripped off the awning and slide topper, bent a slide, and made numerous holes and dents in the side of their motorhome. Several customs officers helped them pick up the pieces, apologizing profusely. Subsequent to searching their coach and confiscating the offending tomato, the officer mentioned, “That happens almost every day.”
After spending the next six weeks in a dealer’s lot, Gerry and Judie’s “beautiful baby” was repaired like new, to the tune of $15,000. In hindsight, Gerry admitted it was “driver error.” He said he should have asked Judie to watch from the outside so he could have used every inch up front before turning, and then watch the side so he didn’t hit anything. But, he didn’t want to upset the customs officer by taking longer than necessary to get to the inspection area.
The saddest part of this story is the officer’s comment that these accidents happen almost every day (in Lane 6, apparently, since other lanes have more turning room). How difficult would it be to put a sign reading “No RVs” above Lane 6? Incidentally, most border crossings have very narrow lanes so drivers of motorhomes should use extreme caution, especially with side mirrors extended. And don’t even think of taking a tomato across the border.
So there you have it, this year’s top 10 bad things that happened while otherwise good people were RVing. Thanks to those who took time to share their mishaps with me, either in person or by email, so that others can benefit from their experience. If you’ve had the occasion to do something equally dumb, please email me at [email protected], describing the mishap and how it might have been prevented. You needn’t worry about being identified; fictitious names are used to protect the responsible parties. If you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on how you view it), you just might qualify for an RV Oops Award next year.