Reduce anxiety maneuvering at the fuel stop

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

While having that bigger motorhome or towing a larger 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” to hit makes even experienced RVers break out in a sweat. What to do to make fueling up easier?

Reduce anxiety by planning ahead. If you fill up your tow rig while unhitched, that’s a great plus. 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. 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.

Parallel fuel islands are easier! Photo: free the image on flickr.com

Here’s where a little advance planning can help – with technology. If you have a fair idea of your routing, use your Gas Buddy app 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 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, since 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, that 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 pumps. Allow yourself three feet between the side of your rig and the island. That makes it easier to turn the rig without fighting tail-swing – and it’ll make accessing your basement storage (if needed) much easier. 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 getting in and out.

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.

22 COMMENTS

  1. that’s why I put a 100 gallon aux tank in my ram. I pull a 48 foot goose neck toy hauler and I hate having to get ripped off at the over priced truck stops. This way I can shop the cheaper stations which makes a big difference when your buying a 100 gallons at a time.

  2. The “Bucky’s” stations in Texas seem to be RV friendly, lots of space to fuel up, and to park elsewhere when you are done. I regret semi trucks are not welcome.

  3. Great ideas…unless you are solo! I can’t imagine spending hours looking at gas stations on google maps the night before I head out. Even pulling over to check photos when I get down to half a tank would be a pain. I have found that many Flying J RV lanes also sell gas.

    I did have an incident with a Loves that had lanes so close together. As I was in my turn to get into the lane a car pulled up to the pump in the next lane. They were oblivious to me heading for them, got out and started pumping. I ended up scraping the side on the pump stanchion instead of hitting them.

    • Vanessa, I have learned that “A little patience goes a long way”. Damaging my rig would be pretty darn far down on my list before waiting, or even being a bad RV ambassador. Personally I would in your situation pull as far into the turn they blocked as you can then Just wait… Other people will look at you funny, but then they will see that the other person is in your way and a block head, and then mentally side with you. The other person will have to sit there fueling, now knowing they did something inconsiderate while they fuel, and maybe get a life lesson free of charge, and you don’t have to do anything but sit in the air conditioned cab of your rig and smile.

      While I do not travel solo very often, When I do, I find it takes maybe 10 minutes in Gas Buddy and Google Earth to determine good stops to fuel at. If I am just headed down the road, a Pilot, Flying J, TA or other Truck Stop is usually a good choice.

  4. Many older stations in small towns have pump lanes parallel to the street. Stations at interstate exits are much more challenging and also much busier. One of the reasons I prefer secondary roads, besides seeing so much more than from the interstate.

  5. Ditto on using Google Maps Satelite view. We even use it in advance of pulling into a Cracker Barrel.
    Also, the book ‘Next Exit’ indicates the fueling stations that are ‘RV friendly’ (highlighted in red). Of course, that book only covers the interstate highways.

  6. It is so easy to Fuel up with the semi trucks at One of the many truck stops. I ask why do those of you stress yourselves , risk damage to your rig by using auto fuel pumps or even those that are marked “RV lanes” pumps. Truck stops are so convenient to use and I have Never encountered a rude trucker. Many say I wanna do what you are doing when I retire. Pull in, fuel up, pull forward so those behind you can start their fueling process, then go inside do what you need to do buy coffee use the restroom whatever. Then leave without any stress. Once you do use Flying J or whoever it you will see how easy it is. The pennies that you might sayve isn’t worth the stress or the risk of an accident.

    • I’ve never seen gasoline at the semi truck pumps. Only diesel. That’s why I don’t fuel with them. I wish I could use them with my 30 foot travel trailer.

      • Eric, I believe that It is a lane over in the Auto Section, Labled RV Lane, but someone correct me if I am wrong. Sounds like a great idea. My Truck wants Diesel, and the RV Generator is Gas, as is the Fuel Dispenser for the Toys in back.

  7. Back in the day… many businesses advertised that they were “RV” friendly. That usually meant a big parking lot where you could maneuver your rig. Maybe it’s time for fuel stations to try the same thing. On our recent trip (10k through the south and Midwest) only one station advertised truck parking and RV friendly. They had two lots, one for trucks and one for RV’s. Overnight was permitted with permission. Many times I would take up most of the station (one full island and maybe more) to fuel.

  8. One time I entered a station for fuel only to realize the exit was blocked by some kind of equipment. It was a very busy place with cars and trucks coming and going in and out the only entrance/exit. The only way out was to back my trailer out the way I came in. My wife braved the traffic. Stopped everyone and I backed out. Everyone seemed to wait patiently. I’m just glad backing is very easy for me. There was a day years ago this would have been very bad.

  9. Great article but I might beg to differ that “most” Flying J’s have RV fuel lanes. It’s more like “ some”. Some say RV friendly. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have RV lanes. Actually, I’m not sure what it means.

    • True. Many Flying J’s are just car-fueling stations, on small lots with the pump lanes perpendicular to the building. In fact, I found one of those yesterday, while checking the layout of stations along I-90 on google maps.

    • I have a Flying J/Pilot credit card so I can fuel up in the truck lanes without needing to go inside to pay. This is no help if you need gas though.

  10. I have a Dodge Ram 6.7 diesel that I use to tow my fifth wheel, we always look for the nearest Costco stations who have diesel. Though they are busy they are also very roomie . We also have an auxiliary fuel tank which allows us a great deal of options.

    • This is not true in Portland/vancouver area. The three that I am familiar with you could never pull anything longer than a utility trailer through.

      • Agreed, most Costco stations I am familiar with don’t even do diesel, and are way to crowded to make sense. Glad it works for you Carl.

  11. One or two more tips. Once you have decide on fueling, if you must cross the lanes that the truckers are using for fueling, make eye contact with the driver if he is in the cab, before walking in his lane/path. They may not see you from their driver’s seat if you are walking in front of there rig. Avoid getting squashed or upset. Also, take you rig’s keys with you if you have to go into the store to prepay for fuel or walk around your rig. Just an anti-theft notion in case there is that thief lurking around the pump islands.

  12. During the 7,000 mile trip out West we just returned home from with our 35’ fiver and F-350 diesel we discovered how much easier to navigate and faster to fuel (and fill the DEF tank if needed) it is to use the semi-truck side of the stations. Prior to the trip I had watched some YouTube videos on the proper way to do it and it worked great. No dirty looks from the truckers either.

  13. I’ll add one more fueling option… forgive me if it screams “obvious” but few seem to utilize it…

    I sometimes carry 6 gallon gascans for fueling my generator while unplugged. I now ALWAYS carry at least 2 empty cans even when I have a powered site waiting for me and the genny stayed home. At any overly-challenging station, I pull up where ever I fit safely, whether on the end of the station, the big parking lot next door, or even along the roadside if that’s the most room. Then, a simple fireline of filling one can while the other dumps into my truck, swap and repeat. With an assistant and non-dribble-and-gasp cans, I fuel up just as fast as the pump can deliver (my vented cans can dump faster than the pump refills them).

    I realize some people may have trouble just moving the 50lbs or so of a full gascan (battery pumps are $7, so lifting to empty isn’t necessary), but for those who equip themselves ahead of time, cans are MUCH less stressful and allow getting the very best prices at tiny rural gas stations.

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