RV Breakdowns: How To Be Prepared

RV Breakdowns 

No one wants to think they’ll ever experience an RV breakdown or emergency, but the sad fact is, most RVers will encounter some difficulties with their rig regardless of how well they maintain their equipment.  It could be something as simple as windshield wipers that won’t turn on, or something as dramatic as a roll-over on the freeway.  You may never be able to completely remove all the risk but there are many things every RVer can do to reduce their risk and minimize the impact of breakdowns on the road. 

Plan Like a Pilot

Commercial airline pilots mentally rehearse (and often test) emergency procedures in flight simulators to establish procedures for virtually every type of emergency.  Captain Sullenberger’s (Captain Sully’s) miraculous water landing of Flight 1549, on the Hudson River, that saved the lives of all the passengers and crew did not begin with the bird strike that disabled both engines.  His reaction to that emergency was the result of hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of mental preparation. 

Mental Preparedness, not Breakdowns

Of course, we don’t have RV simulators, but nothing is preventing us from mentally preparing for all types of emergencies.  When we’re driving or towing our RVs, we need to think about what we’d do if we had a blow-out in one of our trailer tires, then what we should do if it’s the left or right front tire.  A blowout in a front tire will result in your RV pulling sharply to the side with the blowout and you need to mentally prepare for either scenario. Also, we need to consider what we should do if a deer jumps out in front of us and there’s no time to stop?  We need to be mentally prepared for a semi-truck to drift into our lane before it clears the front of our truck or motorhome. Be thorough and think about how your RV will react in each of these emergencies.  Mentally rehearse your response, so if it does happen, your reaction will be immediate and effective.

Make sure to plan your RV trip prepared for anything to happen!

Mental Preparation Improves Driving

When you spend time thinking about these possibilities, it will also alter your driving behavior. It may cause you to drive a little slower, be more observant of the traffic around you, and watch the subtlety of every truck’s movement and lane position.  You’ll look further down the road for animals and other hazards, and you’ll develop the habit of being more engaged in the driving process.  All these driving behaviors may help to minimize unexpected traffic emergencies, but no mental preparedness will eliminate RV breakdowns on the road.  

Roadside Assistance and Other Tools

Mental preparation is important, but rehearsing emergency procedures for a blowout will not prevent RV tire damage.  It may keep you from being involved in a much more serious problem like a roll-over wreck, but it will not prevent the blowout.  Therefore, you should carry a spare tire, if you have the type of RV on which you could replace a tire (some motorhomes and other big rigs are not suitable for amateur roadside tire replacement).  Other steps you can take to prepare for an RV breakdown on the road is to have good quality tools and the acumen to use them. If you’re not adept at DIY projects, you’ll need to find a qualified technician and that can be a huge challenge when you’re traveling in unfamiliar locations. Therefore, paying for high quality roadside assistance is a must for all RVers, so you can call for help if you’re stuck on the side of the road.  In that same vein you should have a cell phone, and flares (or highway markers) to set out behind your RV if you must stop on the side of the road.  You should also travel with enough cash to cover unexpected expenses and have at least one credit card with enough open balance to cover larger expenses. RV repair expenses could include a protracted stay in an RV park, RV parts, or the cost of hiring a mobile RV technician to fix the problem.  RV parts and repairs are expensive, and you need to be able to pay for those expenses regardless of where you are traveling.

Case Studies in RV Breakdowns

An RV breakdown can happen on the freeway or in a campground. We’ve met three couples at an RV park in North Carolina who arrived there because they had breakdowns on Hwy 95 near the RV park.  In each case the breakdown was in their towing vehicle.  Another RV breakdown we observed occurred in a campground.

RV Breakdown

Case Study #1

In one case, the truck’s engine suddenly started making an awful noise and the owners of the truck soon learned that the engine was completely shot and needed to be rebuilt or replaced (an estimated cost of over $20,000). They decided the 20 year old truck wasn’t worth fixing, but that left them stuck in the RV park with no way to tow their fifth wheel back to their home in Massachusetts. They eventually asked a friend from Massachusetts to tow their fifth wheel trailer home from North Carolina. This started as a serious RV breakdown on the road, but they were fortunate to be able to limp all the way into the RV park rather than being stuck on the side of the road.  

Case Study #2

Unfortunately, another couple had a similar problem with their truck near the same RV resort, but they were stuck on the side of the road. They had to have their RV towed into the park and then their truck towed to the Ford dealership.  After many stressful days and difficulties with a dishonest and inept service department, they were finally able to find a technician at another shop who correctly diagnosed the breakdown as a defective inexpensive valve. The valve was quickly replaced and after two weeks this couple were finally able to get back on the road to New Hampshire, but not before they had missed several important personal and work obligations.

Case Study #3

The third couple needed to rent a car while they waited for a new part for the fuel injection system to be sent to the park. These folks had the knowledge and tools to replace the part when it arrived, but they were burdened with the expense of the new part, expedited freight, and a rented car.

Case Study #4

Finally, not all RV breakdowns occur on the road. Sometimes they happen while you’re camping.  In a park where we stayed recently, we saw the owner of a 40 ft. motorhome driving around the campground with the living room slide fully extended.  It was apparent that the slide would not retract and as a last resort the owner tried driving the RV with the slide extended to jostle it loose.  That didn’t work and nothing else these campers tried was effective.  Clearly they were going to need professional help.  Fortunately, this breakdown occurred while they were in a campground but many RV breakdowns do occur on the road.  


Safety Tips for RV Breakdowns on the Road

Therefore, if you break down on the highway, the most important thing to do is get off the road, as far as possible, and to position yourself and your RV in the safest place possible.  Then you can go to work solving the problem. It may require some time to diagnose, or it may require waiting for roadside assistance to tow your RV to a campground or service department. It will undoubtedly be inconvenient, costly, and in some cases, frightening. 

RV Breakdown

Prevention is the Best Defense against an RV Breakdown

Every emergency is different and will need a different solution but the best defense against an RV breakdown on the road (or in a campground) is prevention. Don’t wait for a blowout to replace worn tires.  Have your RV serviced routinely. Replace the batteries timely, have your generator serviced. Keep an eye on your brakes and replace them before they cause a roadside emergency. Check your engine fluids, and tire pressure and don’t skimp on parts when they need to be replaced.  Finally, like a commercial pilot, mentally practice what you will do in any kind of traveling emergency. It may not prevent the emergency, but it may keep it from turning into a much worse scenario.

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About Peggy Dent

Peggy Dent is an author, writer and full-time RVer, currently traveling in the US and Canada. She's driven a motorhome more than 130,000 miles and learned the secrets, delights, and pitfalls of RVing through her own experiences. She shares her knowledge and insights in numerous RV industry publications. You can contact her through her website at www.apeninyourhand.com