Our annual countdown of the Top 10 motorhome mishaps, from dumb to dumbest
Every year, adventurous folks like us go camping in our motorhomes and every year, we do some dumb things. Mostly, they are minor mistakes like running out of fuel or forgetting to unplug the power cord when leaving a campsite. But sometimes they are major blunders, like last year’s winner who seriously scraped the side of his new motorhome on a pole at customs when he was asked to pull over for an inspection.
I’ve noted in previous RV Oops Awards that there is one thing certain about RVing blunders: the person responsible is not likely to make the same mistake twice. Well, this year’s winner proved me wrong! With that confession out of the way, let’s take a look at the following mishaps, which I rated on a 10-point scale from “Dumb” to “Dumbest.” My hope is that this knowledge will help prevent fellow RVers from making the same mistakes.
No. 10 Re-cal-cu-lating
The use of a GPS to find our way to campgrounds, gas stations and other locations has made life easier for RVers. Well, sometimes! My friend, Anne, was taking her first cross-country trip in her Class C and had purchased a GPS to make life easier. I suggested that she always use a map to confirm the route recommended by the GPS. She obviously ignored this advice when she tried to get to a campground and “Old Faithful” told her to turn right at an intersection. A rural road with a slight upgrade soon became steep and winding with overhanging trees on the left and a cliff on the right, forcing Anne to ride the center. The 30-mile road dead-ended at a seldom-visited fort. OOPS! She then had to backtrack (a total of 60 nerve-wracking miles) to the intersection, where turning left would have taken her almost immediately to the campground.
Anne confessed that she didn’t use a map to confirm her route, adding some words of wisdom: “Eating humble pie is low in calories … but high in humility.”
No. 9 Rocket man
The manager of the lot where Bruce stores his Class A called to inform Bruce that a rock thrown from a lawnmower had broken his door window. The window was replaced, courtesy of the manager. To prevent a recurrence, Bruce decided to drape a towel over the top of the door and down the outside, covering the window. To do this, he stood on the steps facing outward with the door open in front of him and the partially open screen door behind him. As he swung the towel over, he accidentally backed into the screen door and the steps retracted. The electric switch was positioned in the mode that retracted the steps if any door was closed. Here is Bruce’s description of the event in his own words: “The steps were fast, really fast, clamping the back of my running shoes and sending me flying out onto the driveway. My feet came out of the shoes and I ended up horizontal on the gravel with a twisted knee and ankle. Robin Williams would be proud of me.”
No. 8 Windy city
This incident is the first time we’ve had multiple winners for an RV Oops Award. Fortunately, I was there to take notes, but not names.
Near Palm Springs, a serious windstorm with blowing sand arrived in mid-afternoon, knocking down a few trees and generally causing havoc in the campground. As a precaution when the wind picked up, I closed my windows and hatches and pulled in the slides. After the wind subsided, I went outside to assess damages. Our doormat had blown onto the roadway. Other campers were less fortunate.
A fellow was inspecting one of his vinyl slide canopies, which had ripped away from the side of his coach and was merrily flapping in the breeze. Two other guys were searching downwind for a plastic roof vent, which had been left open, and a canvas wheel cover. A couple of satellite dishes were lying on their sides. A sewer hose had become dislodged from the drainpipe, resulting in gray water being spewed about the site (which the owner wasn’t aware of until I told him). Later, I spoke with a couple who had gone away and left their windows and hatches open. A substantial layer of sand had settled on every horizontal surface throughout their motorhome. I can imagine: Even with our windows and hatches closed, we were finding sand in nooks and crannies for days afterward.
Helpful hint: Always keep an eye on the weather. If severe storms are forecast, secure everything outside, and close your windows, hatches and slides.
Mike was driving his coach on a busy freeway when a pickup truck loaded with various construction items passed and moved over in front of him. Within a mile or so, a large piece of plywood came flying out of the back of the truck and sailed up over the top of his motorhome. KABOOM! He pulled over at the first opportunity to inspect the damage. The wood had mangled his satellite dish to the point where it had to be replaced. While costly, this accident could have been worse — much worse — if that sheet of plywood had come through the windshield.
Helpful hint: Always be aware of vehicles in front of you carrying loads that appear to be unsecured. If you choose not to pass them, then slow down to allow sufficient stopping distance should something fall off or become airborne.
No. 6 Dirty laundry
Jay and Wendy purchased a new motorhome with a fancy Italian-made washer/dryer combo, which worked fine during their first winter in the South. After returning home, they stored their coach for six months. On their second trip south, the washer stopped working. A mobile RV technician diagnosed the problem as a faulty motor and replaced it under the warranty conditions, which did not cover the $65 service call.
On their next trip south, the washer quit again. They called the same mobile technician who again replaced the motor, still under warranty, and again charged for the service call. This time, he recommended that the washer be used regularly while in storage to lubricate the motor bearings. Wendy remarked, “I used this opportunity to do a monthly load of wash.” They’ve had no further problems with the washer motor.
Helpful hint: Appliances, and motorhomes in general, have less mechanical issues when used on a regular basis.
No. 5 What’s on TV?
Not long ago, I was casually watching a couple packing up their motorhome, preparing to leave their pull-through site. Everything was going according to plan; hoses and cables were disconnected and stored. And then they departed. Left behind was their disconnected satellite dish, standing on a tripod about 20 feet away from the pad. The next morning, I informed the campground office and it was subsequently removed, hopefully claimed by its owner.
Nearly every RVer I know has left something behind when departing from a campsite — usually a small item like a doormat, tablecloth, faucet fitting or leveling blocks. In almost all cases, they simply didn’t inspect their site after they pulled out. But forgetting something as important as a satellite dish qualifies this anonymous couple for a Dumber Award.
Barry and Joan’s motorhome has a table lamp, which is plugged into a timer, programmed to turn on in the early evening. One day after arriving at a campground and plugging into electricity, Barry temporarily placed the lamp with the shade removed onto the driver’s seat while he opened slides and hooked up hoses. Not too long after, Joan yelled frantically, “Our coach is filling with smoke!” Apparently, the timer decided it was time for the light to come on while the lamp was lying on the seat. OOPS! The heated bulb melted the leatherette and burned a large hole in the seat, which they covered with a blanket until a new seat could be installed at a cost of $600. Barry confessed, “I was in the hot seat for some time after that one.”
No. 3 I go where I’m towed to … usually
Driving his motorhome on a side road, David noted a sign, “Uneven Railroad Crossing,” and slowed to 35 mph — still too fast. A “severe jounce” prompted a quick check of the rear-view monitor … their tow car appeared to be following along normally so they proceeded to their campground. Upon inspection, every hanger in the rear closet had jumped off the rod. Even worse, the hitch receiver was bent downward. The next day, being close to home, David decided to drive “as tenderly as possible.”
On the final stretch of freeway, David was driving under the posted limit in the right lane when they heard a disturbing CLUNK-A-CLUNK. His wife, Jane, looked at the rear-view monitor and yelled, “The Jeep isn’t attached!” David immediately pulled over onto the right-hand shoulder and slowed to a stop. They watched in horror as their Jeep passed them and headed across two lanes of heavy traffic, onto a narrow strip of median and continued along the guardrail for about a quarter-mile before stopping. When the hitch fell off, the triangular tow-bar assembly dropped to the ground and folded back under, acting as a rudder to keep the vehicle headed mostly straight ahead. The split-ring fastener on the breakaway switch had also failed so the brakes were not applied. Safety chains, attached to the hitch, went along for the ride.
Shortly afterward, the police arrived and stopped traffic while David drove the wayward Jeep over to the right-hand shoulder where he detached the tow bar. Considering the damages and injuries that might have resulted from their Jeep’s first solo flight, this couple was lucky: A new hitch receiver, tow-bar assembly, and some structural and cosmetic body work came to only $2,500.
Isn’t it amazing that a hitch receiver rated at 10,000 pounds can fail after just one jounce? Driving, no matter how tenderly, with a bent hitch receiver or tow bar is not recommended, especially on a freeway!
No. 2 Blub, blub, blub
Gerry and Sally enjoy camping in their Class A diesel pusher and since they also enjoy fishing, they often tow a small boat on a trailer. One day, they decided to launch their boat near a lakeside campground. Gerry undid the straps holding the boat to the trailer and remained in the boat while Sally backed the motorhome down the launch ramp. When the boat was just floating off the trailer, Gerry yelled, “STOP!” but the motorhome just kept moving backward … so far that water covered the engine causing it to stall. Neither Gerry nor Sally got wet, but their motorhome sure did — nearly up to the driver’s seat.
What happened isn’t exactly clear. Sally maintains that when she put the brakes on, the coach kept moving backward. Did she inadvertently push on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal? Did the brakes stop working? Or were the brakes ineffective because the ramp was slippery? What we do know is that they called for a very large tow truck to haul their motorhome and boat trailer out of the water. They also paid a very large bill to get their coach ready for their next camping trip. Gerry insisted, “Never again will we launch our boat with the motorhome; we’ll fish from shore if we have to.”
Grant and Doreen pulled their Class A motorhome into a fuel station to fill up before going to their campsite. When leaving, Grant moved ahead and while turning sharply heard a terrible grinding and ripping noise. Upon getting out and inspecting the damage, they saw that the dolly fender was crumbled and the tire torn to shreds, which was caused by colliding with the raised concrete island at the fuel pump. After backing the car off the dolly, Doreen drove behind the damaged dolly to the nearby campsite. Grant put their spare tire on the dolly to drive home, where they had everything repaired at a body shop.
Talk about learning from our experiences: The very next time they went to that campground, Grant decided to get fuel at the same station. When they were ready to leave, Doreen reminded him of the previous disaster. “I remember,” he said, but as he pulled out, guess what? Again, the dolly hit the raised concrete island and caused the same damages. Now how dumb is that? Well, it’s dumb enough to earn this year’s No. 1 RV Oops Award. I asked Doreen if they planned to get fuel at that station in the future. She replied, “Yes, but only when the dolly is safely back at the campground.”
Hopefully, with the possible exception of Grant, we can learn from the mistakes of other RVers so we don’t repeat those blunders. And that’s what these awards are all about.
If you’ve had a “misadventure” while RVing, please email me at [email protected] and describe the incident as well as how it might have been prevented. With any luck at all, you may qualify for an RV Oops Award next year. Names are changed so you needn’t worry about being identified, unless of course you want bragging rights to impress your friends.
And finally, thanks to those who have so willingly shared your stories, providing me with an array of blunders from which to choose.