Our Annual Countdown of the Top-10 Motorhome Mishaps, from Dumb to Dumbest
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done while RVing?
When I asked this question of a couple who had been full-timing for 12 years, the husband said, “We’ve NEVER done anything dumb.” After a thoughtful pause, his wife replied, “Really … what about that time when you were cleaning out the black-water tank?” “Oh, yeah that,” he replied. The messy details followed, earning them a coveted spot in this year’s RV Oops Awards.
The most frequent blunder reported to me every year is backing a motorhome into something without a spotter, which typically earns a Dumber Award, as it did this year. The second most frequent is a toss-up between black-water and dinghy-vehicle issues, both of which are also included in this year’s list of 10 mishaps. While many of these mishaps, rated from Dumb (No. 10) to Dumbest (No. 1), are admittedly unique, the fact that they happened to fellow RVers means that they can happen again. Awareness will hopefully reduce the chances of them happening to you.
No. 10 Diesel Pusher
Towing a dinghy in gear or with the emergency brake on are two expensive mistakes that can easily be avoided by using a checklist attached to the coach’s visor. The following unusual mishap suggests a third item to add to that checklist.
Bill had filled up his diesel pusher the night before leaving the campground so he could make it all the way home, 500 miles, nonstop. At the crack of dawn, he packed up the coach, attached the dinghy vehicle and hit the road.
His family greeted him as he pulled up in front of his house and turned off the engine. But everyone heard an engine still running. OOPS! In his haste to leave, Bill hadn’t shut off the dinghy vehicle’s engine. Jokingly, his son asked, “Did the car push the coach all the way home?”
No. 9 Sideview Vision
Gordy was driving his Class A motorhome on an interstate — pulling a trailer loaded with an ATV — when the sky opened up with rain so heavy that he could barely see the road. He put on the flashers and maneuvered to the side of the road to wait it out. Just then, his wife looked at their rearview camera monitor and screamed in horror, “The trailer’s gone!” The thought of a trailer sitting somewhere on the highway in a blinding storm panicked them both. Gordy immediately called 911 and explained that he had just lost a trailer on the interstate. He was told that because of the storm, it would be some time before the state patrol could assist them. The rain continued so hard that they stayed in the coach for another 15 minutes, all the time dreading the worst. When it finally let up, Gordy went back to check out the damage and found the trailer hooked to the motorhome just where it was supposed to be.
Admittedly puzzled, Gordy re-entered the cab, looked again at the camera monitor, and noticed that the view was from the driver’s-side camera, which was indeed looking back down the empty highway. He realized that when he turned on the flashers, the camera system had switched from the rearview to the driver’s-side view. He called back 911 and told them that they had found the trailer. He hung up when the operator asked where they had found it!
No. 8 Here Kitty, Kitty
After buying groceries, Rick and Mary became preoccupied transferring items from the shopping cart into their coach at the far end of the parking lot. Once everything was securely stowed, Rick drove through the lot onto a busy street, turned at the first intersection and pulled into a busy gas station a half-block away. While waiting in line at the pump, Mary noticed that their 20-year-old cat, Bob, was not with them. Assuming that he must have escaped at their last stop, Rick grabbed a walkie-talkie and hurried back to the grocery store on foot.
Meanwhile, Mary had pulled their motorhome up to the pump, got out and “couldn’t believe her eyes” when she noticed Bob near some bushes beside the gas station. After gathering him into her arms, she called Rick with the good news. I’m still trying to visualize Bob frantically following his home as it meandered the quarter-mile from the store to the gas station, “Wait for me!” Talk about cats having nine lives, this guy definitely used up one on that occasion!
No. 7 Runaway Lucky
Arriving at a local campground, Bev parked her Class C in a pull-through site and unhitched the dinghy, leaving it behind her motorhome. The next morning it was gone. She ran to neighboring campers in tears, shouting, “Somebody stole my car!” No one had seen or heard anything. Shortly thereafter, a friend arrived. After some hysterics from Bev about her loss, the friend said she thought she saw her car down at the entrance to the campground.
They walked down the slight incline to the entrance and sure enough, there was her car. Bev had locked the doors, but left the car in neutral with the emergency brake off. Handprints on the dirty hood and side mirror suggested vandals had pushed the car backward out of the site onto the incline. From there, it proceeded across several tiers of campsites narrowly missing trees, picnic tables and fire rings, eventually stopping when the frame got hung up on a large concrete block. The rear bumper had some serious scratches and one rear tire was off the ground. The tow bill came to $150. The dinghy, which she now calls “Lucky,” is once again parked behind Bev’s motorhome — in gear with the emergency brake on.
No. 6 Frozen
Bill and Sheila were fall camping with their granddaughter, who was enjoying the new fallen snow. After a weekend of lowering temperatures, it was time to leave. Unfortunately, the support jacks on their older motorhome, two in the back and one centrally located in the front, were frozen to the ground. The motors labored but the jacks weren’t budging. Bill took a hatchet underneath and starting chipping away at the ice covering the bases of the rear jacks. That seemed to work OK — both jacks retracted. So he crawled under the front between the jack and the wheel and continued chipping. After several minutes, the jack base retracted and the front axle came crashing down, pinning Bill underneath on his stomach.
Sheila came running out to see what happened. Her suggestion was to start the engine and lower the jack, but Bill, slightly panicky, wasn’t at all comfortable with that! Instead, he handed her the ax so she could start chipping away a trench below his legs, which were sticking out under the front bumper. Ten minutes later, with her pulling and him pushing, Bill wiggled his way along the trench until free. In hindsight, Bill agreed that starting the engine and lowering the jack might have worked, providing his wife made sure the transmission was in park and the emergency brake on.
No. 5 NASCAR in the Rearview
Pulling a boat trailer with their Class C motorhome, Norm hit a dip in the highway and immediately heard a loud BANG. He looked in his rearview mirror and saw what he thought “looked like a NASCAR race complete with smoke and swerving cars.” Pulling over to the side, he got out to see what had happened.
It all started back home when Norm bought a 16-inch hitch-receiver extension to accommodate his family’s four bikes on a rack between the RV and the boat. When he hit the dip, the weight of the bikes put downward pressure on Norm’s extended hitch setup, snapping two of the four bolts holding the receiver to the coach and forcing it down toward the road. The brunt of the impact was taken by the boat trailer’s spare tire mounted near the coupler. The tire tore and smoked, causing havoc on the highway as cars swerved to avoid the shredded rubber. Fortunately, no one was injured.
A wrecker towed the boat to their campground, where Norm installed a new hitch receiver and bought a new tire at a cost of $500. Norm has since tossed the extension and now carries two of his bikes in the boat and two hanging on a rack attached to the motorhome’s ladder.
I mentioned to Norm that carrying two full-size bikes on an aluminum RV ladder might result in a bent ladder (it did in my case). As an alternative when towing his trailer, he might consider installing a front-mounted bike rack.
Helpful hint: In addition to adding to the loaded weight of your motorhome (thereby reducing the available cargo carrying capacity), adding anything to the front or rear bumper can also impact the gross axle weight rating of the vehicle. Always weigh your motorhome (and in this case with the boat trailer) loaded and ready for travel (including bikes) to make sure the motorhome is not overloaded.
No. 4 Y Back Up
When Yogi and Judy purchased their new Class A motorhome, the dealer advised them to never back up without having a spotter stand behind and to the side of the coach. Of course, all of us MotorHome readers already know that, don’t we? A year into their RVing adventures, they pulled into a small campground with a narrow, slightly uphill entrance leading to the office. After checking in, they disconnected the dinghy vehicle and Judy drove it to their assigned site back down the hill. They agreed that Yogi would wait for her return.
After parking the car, Judy started walking up the hill. Tired of waiting, Yogi decided to back down on his own. Using his side mirrors, he could clearly see both sides of the road. What he didn’t realize is that the road branched in the shape of a Y and what he was looking at was the left and right sides of two different roads. At the junction of the Y was a large tree, which stopped the coach abruptly before Judy could warn him. As she got to the driver’s side window, Yogi shrieked, “I don’t get it! I could see the whole road so I’m not sure what I hit.” She calmly replied, “You hit a tree — which wasn’t on the road!” After $1,300 in repairs and the dealer’s advice now tattooed on their brains, the coach was like new again.
No. 3 Mmm, Mmm, Not So Good
With the high price of fuel, Floyd was concerned about fuel costs for their diesel pusher. Knowing that a frugal friend had various diesel engines running on biodiesel for half the price of ordinary diesel, Floyd arranged to purchase a 55-gallon drum of it from him. He then pumped the entire contents into their coach’s tank, “getting hungry in the process since the fuel smelled like chicken soup.” Due to personal circumstances, Floyd couldn’t travel during that summer. However, in November he “cranked her up and took off for parts unknown!” Parts unknown turned out to be a half-mile down the road. After a $1,500 tow, the repair facility power-washed and steam-cleaned the fuel tanks, then cleaned the fuel lines and injectors, all for $2,600.
Turns out that the biodiesel was indeed a byproduct of Campbell Soup, which gelled to chicken fat as the weather cooled. Floyd said he hasn’t been able to eat chicken soup since that fateful day.
No. 2 Black-water Woe
For whatever reason, some guys want to clean the inside walls of their black-water tanks as if they were going to eat lunch in there. Remember the fellow who said he never did anything dumb, until his wife reminded him otherwise? That guy was Henry and here’s his story.
To really clean the black-water tank in his Class A, Henry reasoned that he would close off the discharge valve and run the black-tank flush for about 10 minutes until the tank was full of water, then drain it along with every speck of crud that was in there. This reasoning occurred in spite of a sign by the flusher valve: Caution. The sewer valve must be open when using this inlet. Ten minutes seemed like a long enough time for Henry to grab a cup of java and sit outside with his wife for a little chat. Upon hearing a loud BANG, Henry knew immediately that his 10 minutes was up!
Before he could get the black-tank flush turned off, pressure inside the tank broke the toilet valve and smelly black water overflowed throughout their motorhome. After a couple of professional cleanings failed to eliminate the stench, they had all of their carpets replaced. I’m still not sure why Henry couldn’t remember doing anything dumb, considering the bill came to $2,200.
No. 1 The Nose Knows
Louie took delivery of a brand-new motorhome, driving it from the dealership to his home. The next weekend he drove to a nearby campground with his family. When he stopped at the check-in, he got a faint whiff of gasoline, but since the coach had been running smoothly, he didn’t think much of it. Upon returning home at the end of the weekend, he got out and again smelled gasoline, so he booked an appointment at the dealership for them to check it out.
A week later, cruising down the freeway on his way to the dealership with Mannheim Steamroller blaring from the CD player, Louie said he felt like he was “in absolute heaven.” Exiting the freeway, he smelled smoke and thought that someone was having a backyard barbecue … until he realized that the smoke was inside the coach. Pulling over to the side of the nearest street, he managed to exit the coach just as it filled with smoke. A policeman stopped him from re-entering to get the fire extinguisher, saying, “The insurance company owns it now.” Apparently, a bracket holding the fuel line had broken, allowing gasoline to be sprayed across the hot engine. All the fire department could do was put out the flames of a charred hulk. Louie has since replaced the motorhome and his beloved Mannheim Steamroller CD, and continues to spend many a camping trip in absolute heaven.
The author would like to thank all those RVers who shared their mishaps so that others can benefit from their experiences. As usual, names were changed to prevent people from being identified … only the winners will know who they are.
If you’ve done something dumb while RVing, please email the author at [email protected], describing your mishap and how it might have been prevented. You may have to ask your significant other to help you remember! With any, ahem, luck, you just might recognize yourself as one of the winners of next year’s RV Oops Awards.