Maneuvering big RVs in tight fuel stops



    By Russ and Tiña De Maris

    While having a larger motorhome or towing a bigger trailer has its share of “pluses,” along with the increased length comes what for some is a “problem set.” When it’s time to fuel up your rig, getting in and out of the fuel station can become anything between a challenge and a nightmare. Swinging your rig around in a confined, tight area with plenty of “targets” you can hit can make even some experienced RVers break out in a sweat. What can you do to make fueling up easier?

    Planning ahead can considerably reduce the anxiety level. If you fill up your tow rig while unhitched, that’s a great plus. Of course, on long runs you’ll no doubt have to fill while hitched up. Some thinking about the layout of the fuel station can make life easier. As an example, you’ll usually find that fuel stations where the fuel islands are parallel to the street access are easier to get in and out of. If the islands are perpendicular to the front of the building, then – unless there’s a pretty fair amount of space between the fuel islands and the building – you may have far more trouble maneuvering.

    photo: free the image on

    So here’s where a little advance planning can help – with technology. If you have a fair idea of your routing, use your Gas Buddy to help you find those great fuel prices, and look to see if there’s a photo of the fuel station available – in many instances there are pictures posted by users. Does the photo indicate the fuel island layout? Another techno application that can help: Google Streets and Maps. Bring up the street address of the station, then use “satellite view” and zoom down to where you can see the layout of the station. Advance planning also means fueling up before you’re at the panic level. One RVer says he fills up when he’s around 100 miles of an empty tank.

    Some stations naturally lend themselves to RV-friendliness. Most Flying J truck stops have designated RV islands, designed for getting big rigs in and out with ease. It helps here, too, that these islands have both gasoline and diesel. That’s great if your motorhome motivates on diesel, while your toad car (which you forgot to fill up before hitching up) desires gasoline. If your only interest is in diesel, then fueling up on the truck island will make access and egress a breeze.

    If you do find yourself at a fuel station where you’ll need to make a turn to get out of the island, it’s best to not pull in too close to the fuel island. Try and allow yourself three feet between the side of your rig and the island. That will make it easier to turn the rig without fighting tail-swing – and it’ll make accessing your basement storage (if needed) much easier. Of course, you may cause a bit of inconvenience to the folks using the next island over, so if you can, use an outside island (which makes getting out even easier). If you’re on the inside, by all means stay with your rig while you fuel and then get thee away from the island as soon as you’ve completed fueling – makes for good “RV public relations.”

    Other tricks? Some RVers suggest that if the prices are fairly close, you may be better off spending a few cents per gallon more for fuel to have the choice of easier in-and-outing.

    If you find yourself in a station where the islands are perpendicular to the building and it looks just “too tight” to get out, it may be easier to back your rig out, provided you don’t have a toad behind you that prevents it.

    If you use the guidebook “The Next Exit,” you’ll find stations that are RV-friendly outlined in red print. And another thought on advance planning. If you’ll be back this way, make notes on stations that are easy (or difficult) to get in and out of.


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    Denny Wagaman

    I should add to the above comment. I use Flying J/Pilot 99% of the time. (Being around autos that are pulling in and out of their fuel spaces is very unsafe.

    Denny wagaman

    I have never ever ran into a problem if any kind whatsoever at truck stops. Fuel on the ground? yes. Have a pair of truck stop rubber shoes. Just pull up wait your turn, put in the fuel, pull up to the line after fueling and if you need to go inside to pay or get a receipt, then leave. Be courteous to all. My fourth DP again never ever a problem. I would never consider going into an RV fuel spot with my 64 ft.

    L. Z.

    Usually the truck stops are dirty and filthy to no end. I have a diesel pusher with a toad and still always look for a some what normal station and avoid the Truckers intolerance !!!


    Another concern is leaving your steps out. Most auto drivers are in a hurry and do not see your steps out. I always hit the switch to retract my steps when filling.

    Don & Nancy

    I look for RV Lanes and then Google Maps the station using Satellite view. Then I am SURE what I am pulling into. My 38 foot gas motorhome, long tongue tow dolly with car makes a lot of “RV friendly” stations IMPOSSIBLE to get into and out of. The extra planing makes for a “no stress” fuel stop every 300 miles.

    Paul M.

    I’m so happy I read this article. It made me feel good to know I am not alone. I have a Next Exit app. on my Table and I look for stations that say RV friendly. Not that that matters. Some will say RV friendly but that isn’t always so. I have called ahead and been told , ” we have RV’s pull in all day long”. BS. So stations that say RV friendly have pumps set up separately from the others so you can pull right through. which is really great. Bottom line look before you leap.

    Ron Schmitz

    I really like the Love’s & Pilot stations for their nice clean stations. But seems the new stations they are opening they are making the gasoline islands too tight for turning in. Too bad there are not more Buc-Ee stations, with the separate RV islands.


    The perpendicular pumps are a really dumb idea. I am sure it has to do with getting more pumps in a smaller plot of land. But, up here in WI in the summer probably 30% of the vehicles are pulling some sort of trailer. Boat, camper etc.

    Todd M Banks

    Fueling my gas RV is a point of contention. Being that we are 58 feet long with the tow jeep behind us. No backing! We’ve been to 28 states so far in the year and half of ownership, and have learned to scan the pump-islands pretty fast. As a normal course we try to choose the furthest island – swing wide, and I stick my head out the window to align my tank with the pump. This way the tow is just enough out-of-the-way in the rear to allow others to get by. In all the fill-ups, we have had only one nervous tight spot. I have found most stations have the pump islands to close to the store/cashier building. Our scan is to see if we can slip in between, and head for the last pump/islands; then to quickly see if by doing so, we can make the turn, that there is enough room whence our turn is made that the tow is not hanging too far out as not to allow others to pass, and finally to make sure we can make the turn OUT – all of this we’ve become fairly adept at. Many times all of the above conditions exist but we must wait for others to finish – no worries there – accept I’ve noticed some individuals, are not so kind. They know well we are waiting, yet they sit there checking texts on their phones, finishing a doughnut or what ever. I’ve noticed some that fill up, get back in their car and sit there for a long time – knowing full well we are waiting. As not to create an incident or cause harm to myself since some of these people are likely wanting some kind of incident, I just sit and wait. Once we waited a half hour; I had no choice, my fuel was low. For the most part we get the job done a high percentage of the time, sometimes we have to pull in but quickly leave because we just cannot fit. BOTTOM LINE: Buy a diesel – I envy those guys pulling into truck stops without having a concern like we gas people do.


    Google maps is my BEST FRIEND, after my wife. I survey the station and often call ahead to get details. You also MUST BE AWARE of the clearance under the canopy, if they have one. You don’t want to loose your A/C.


    I’ve also been to stations that have the islands at a 45 degree angle from the street. Those are “mostly” good in and outs. Sometimes I need to back out of an island or swing tight and my wife/navigator is outside making sure it’s not a contact sport with other vehicles or gas pumps.