Last week we asked you about your RV mishaps and what was the worst mechanical or driving mishap you have ever experienced while RVing. As usual, our readers did not disappoint.
Our goal with the question was to help others avoid the same experience, if possible.
It turns out there is a whole lot that can possibly go wrong when RVing. Hopefully, not all days are like the ones below. But some days are beyond challenging.
In order to make this compilation useful, I gathered your answers according to these categories and, as usual, the name of the RVer who sent in the story is under each entry.
- Defective RVs
- Electrical issues
- GPS issues
- Human error
- Mechanical difficulties
- Road hazards
- Tire issues
- Towing and hitch issues
- Weather and Mother Nature
- Wheel and axle issues
So without further ado…
RVtravel.com readers’ worst RV mishaps
I had an accident pulling away from a gas pump and did damage to the motorhome and toad. I didn’t allow for the tail swing.
Fifteen years ago I was driving on I-5 in California when I noticed the cars ahead in the lane to my left were stopping short (I never learned why). Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the car next to me also stopping short. I said to myself “Please God, stay in your lane.” He didn’t. He skidded into me, taking out 14’ of my basement doors as he did so. It cost $14,000 to repair. Why so much? I was told it was $1,000 per foot to fix. To this day I do not know which was the worst trauma, the accident itself or the damages and cost of repair. Thankfully, the repairs were made by the other driver’s insurance company.
Returning home on the last trip of 2021 we were T-boned by a hit-and-run drunk driver. Good news was that he hit the toad, not the coach. We were able to continue home pulling the toad as the damage was limited to the center of the vehicle between the wheels. Bad news was that it would take almost 6 months to repair the toad as insurance delays and parts on back order took over. The drunk driver did not fare so well. He left more than 1/2 his front clip including license plate on the roadside. The police had him arrested before my call to 911 was completed and he got 3 1/2 years in the lockup for this and another incident with an RV with injuries two months prior.
MISHAPS WITH BRAKES
Our worst mechanical mishap was driving a few miles with the brake safety switch tripped. Burned up our trailer brakes. $1,400 damage. I always check that safety switch every time we pull out now!
The worst thing that happened was that we lost the brakes on the trailer going down I-90 outside of Chicago. We called a nearby dealership and they said to bring it in. The hydraulic line was broken and they didn’t have the parts in stock but could get them by the next morning. They put us up overnight w/electric and at 8 a.m. they came and took the rig back and before noon it was all fixed. The best part is that it was all covered by our extended warranty.
We left for a weekend trip up in MA and the situation right off the bat didn’t feel right. It seemed like something was dragging. I got on the highway and soon people were waving at us! We pulled over to find our trailer brakes were smoking! Called my dealer for answers. He told me to unplug the trailer. I did and it seemed to work. Plugged it back in and took off. Minutes later same thing, people waving at us. We pulled over on the side of I-84 at one of the worst locations. Called Good Sam and they dispatched a tech. Long story short, after an hour and a half of diagnosing and crawling under the trailer, it was determined that my plug was inserted upside down in my 2021 Silverado! There are actually two grooves in the truck receptacle to allow this and because the cover only opens horizontally, you can’t really see if you are correctly positioning the plug. New drums and shoes later on all four wheels, the trailer is again good as new and a new label, THIS SIDE UP is now on my plug!
We bought a brand-new Winnebago Forza 2019. It started falling apart driving from the dealership. After owning it for three months, we took it to the Winnebago factory in Iowa. Left it there for 45 days, 14 pages of rework and replacement parts. Every part you could imagine. Multiple part and electrical failures. It never was right after we got it back. After one year of ownership, the dealer bought it back and Winnebago gave us a check for everything we went through.
As I was driving south on the interstate in ND I heard a very loud noise and saw lots of white things flying behind my Class A in the mirror. I thought maybe it was the awning… NOPE, it was my ROOF!
RV ELECTRICAL MISHAPS
My worst experience was a bad positive battery cable from the passenger side to the driver’s side. There was a hidden break in the cable. The CPU on the driver’s side was telling the alternator to work but it couldn’t get power to the other side. I used a set of battery cables to test out my theory and it was working. That’s the only way I got it home to the shop.
In the middle of nowhere with no cell service we coasted to the side of the road with no power. The alternator had died and without its charge the batteries were sucked dry. I had 2-6V house batteries so I tried to run the jumper cables from them up to the front but they weren’t long enough. I then realized that both systems shared the same common ground, so I peeled the two jumper cable leads separate from each other and hooked one end to end with the other and now they were long enough to reach. I hooked up only the positives. I gave it a try and the engine started right up. I then started the onboard Onan generator to keep the house batteries charged, and went down the road 50 miles to Durango and bought a new alternator.
While trying to get to Branson Lakeside RV Park we plugged the address into our Garmin RV Mapping system. It said to take Main St to Veterans Blvd and turn right. This is an impossible turn to make with a big rig. If you go straight on Main St it looks narrow but is just fine and leads to an easy wide right turn onto Branson Landing Rd and right into the RV park, but we did not know the area. Attempting the turn on Veterans was a horrible idea. There is only one curbside lane with a left turn and through lane coming at us. I saw the light pole and I avoided it but we did NOT see the huge concrete base that protruded almost to the curb with that light pole embedded in the far back corner. The damage to 3 basement doors was extensive. We had to detach the toad in the middle of tons of traffic, back up in heavy traffic to get off the concrete and still finish the turn. Fortunately, a friendly local directed traffic and cleared the oncoming left turn lane so we could complete the turn using that lane with a wider turn. Unfortunately, we weren’t done — at the other end of the road was a roundabout that was not round and cannot be safely negotiated with a big rig either. No further damage but we did have to go up on the curb to make both turns and come back across the river to the RV park. THEN we had to deal with opening the basement to get our grill out and find a way to keep the basement door closed for the 1,000-mile plus trip back home. We were visiting family there and were embarrassed to show them our no longer pristine RV. Finally, after paying for it (minus the deductible), our insurance company canceled our policy. Not our best RV days! We love our Garmin but no longer trust its “RV sensitive” data.
We were setting up our new 28 ft. trailer with our new Ford F-150 pickup. My husband had disconnected and asked that I pull the truck forward a bit. I jumped in the truck, which I hadn’t driven much, and started to pull away, but instead started backing up. I slammed on the brakes but kept roaring towards the tongue of the trailer. When I tried to stop, I pressed further on the gas pedal by accident and slammed into the yoke with a horrifying sound. When I looked in the backup camera my husband, Tim, wasn’t there anymore. I had clipped him with the bumper of the truck and he fell onto the battery holder behind the propane tank on the yoke of the trailer. I started screaming for help as he laid there moaning. Campers came running and called 911. Thankfully the paramedics arrived very quickly and asked Tim if he could move. And he did! He got up, very slowly, there was no stopping him. The fire department and sheriffs arrived and inflated a huge ‘balloon’ under the trailer yoke to raise it up and support it until we could get the wheel fixed. Tim was taken to the hospital to be checked out. He had bruised ribs and massive bruises all over his right side and buttocks but everything checked out A-okay. Lesson learned…. NEVER stand behind a running truck or between truck and trailer EVER. Accidents happen so quickly. We were fortunate that he was inches away from the point of impact with the yoke of the trailer and fortunate that the propane tanks weren’t hit.
While set up in a campground someone across the road unhooked their 5th wheel camper from their one-ton and went full throttle into my motorhome moving the entire 28,000 pounds of it sideways eight inches. The front wheel took the largest impact, moving the steering column against the brake pedal. It is still in Tennessee (I’m in NY), for over two months, and so far they put a new tire and rim on it. Not sure if I can name the insurance company, but “Flo” is not helping at all. I decided that my best option is to bring it back to Thor because the 28-foot slideout is twisted and the insurance adjuster gave an estimate of $30 for fiberglass supplies and trim to be pieced together from Amazon to repair the slideout. “Flo” will not tow it that far so I wanted the chassis straightened and certified to be straight and safe to drive and I’ll pick it up. As of now, it was brought to a shop that doesn’t have the equipment to adjust or repair it, but they “sent someone out to look at it” and said the toe-in looks OK.
While backing into a tight spot at a Wilson, NY, campground, the host sat on a golf cart and watched as I nicked the front of our new motorhome on a bolt sticking out of a fence. $3,500 in damage. He said, “I don’t like to tell people how to drive!” All he had to say was “STOP!”
We had alternator trouble and had to get towed to a local garage where they quickly replaced it. We hooked up and took off down a back road and were anxious (desperate) to find a campground for the night. It was dark; country dark. I saw a campground sign and thought I saw the driveway so I pulled in; into a farmer’s yard. Called the same tow truck to pull us out the way we came in and went about 50 yards down the road to the real campground driveway.
Driver fatigue caused memory loss! I needed a place to pull over and take a break, I was tired and hungry. I saw a wide spot coming up, slowed, and overshot it. Putting the car in reverse I heard a clunk. I’d forgotten I was pulling a tent camper, which jackknifed into our Explorer.
While boondocking in 2019 in Joshua Tree National Park, CA, on our 2nd trip in our 24′ Arctic Fox, after driving off-road for approximately five miles we came to an isolated location, and as I maneuvered into position I finally noticed my wife waving her arms with panic as I backed the right two tires down into a wash leaving the trailer at a very dangerous angle. If I didn’t have a 4-wheel drive, I would have been waiting for a tow.
After three years of successful and enjoyable full RVing, we had “the incident.” As we predominantly boondock, we use multiple tools, from apps to Facebook groups, but especially satellite views of the planned camping location to insure all will be well. Only this time they all failed us, including posts on a well-meaning group for large RVs. The road I selected had an unexpected, steeply angled curve that did not allow our 41’ fiver to pass, despite the very skilled and patient driver, aka my dear husband. After a few hours of guilt and much anxiety, we were rescued by a large vehicle tow truck that made a slight adjustment and we were home free and damage-free. Our take-home lesson is that if you can’t see the whole road that leads to the site, then walk the road!
RV MECHANICAL MISHAPS
The biggest mistake I have made in 40 years of RVing is to pick the wrong repair shops to do the repairs. One job that should have taken four days took 13 while we were staying in a hotel at $135 a day. Another was to get a brake job at a facility that usually worked on automobiles though advertised as an RV repair shop. There were others. When on the road you have little information about shops you may encounter. Check with more than one local resident for recommendations. The more the better, and don’t rely on internet information.
In May of this year, we were driving our 2008 Country Coach Intrigue from Amarillo, TX, to Fredericksburg, TX. Forty miles from our destination our diesel pusher started overheating. I checked the antifreeze and some had boiled out. After letting the engine cool off we started out again only having to stop again in a few miles. This happened over and over from 3:00 PM until 9:30 PM, when we finally reached our campsite in Fredericksburg — a 14-hour day that should have taken 8 hours. I tried for several months to find a mobile service to come work on our MH but no one wanted the job. I finally found a mechanic. Turns out it was the hydraulic pump that drives the radiator fan and power steering. Unfortunately, the part is not available anywhere and had to be made in China with a 10-week delivery time. It’s now mid-November and, hopefully, the part arrives soon, as we are hoping to make a Christmas trip to Oklahoma. To say the least, it’s been a very frustrating spring, summer and now almost winter stuck in one place.
With a car in tow, our 2005 Meridian lost a fuel pump while on I-80 east of Chicago. We were stopped in lane 2 of a 4-lane road. Very quickly the Highway Patrol showed up followed by two heavy tow trucks. Luckily there was a CAT dealer nearby. All it took was time and money to get back on the road.
On Montana Route 212 in a 1989 Fleetwood Jamboree, we cooked the transmission about five miles past the summit (10,947). We were towed into Gardiner, MT, where we spent a week getting it replaced. The shop was super nice and allowed us to stay in the RV. Since then we always install a transmission temperature gauge.
In our 4-month-old 2021 Coachmen Leprechaun 260 DS while on the way to the dealer for yet more warranty work, coming to a red light on a 4-lane road, towing my 2019 Jeep Wrangler I heard a loud bang. I lost power steering and power brakes. Glad the Ford E-450 has a downshift button on the shift lever, and that I was not traveling too fast. Managed to get it stopped in time. Whew!
After a month delay in starting our trip north for the summer, I picked up our RV at Freightliner of Ocala. I knew there was serious issues as soon as we started up the entrance ramp to North I-75, a block away. I had to travel in the breakdown lane at 10 mph for nine miles to the next exit where we stayed at a mechanic’s shop for three days. The problem ended up being a three-foot section of rubber fuel line that was plugged to the point where only 1/16″ was available for fuel flow. Driving the nine miles on the interstate burned up five of the six injectors on the Cat C-7 diesel.
My worst mechanical issue was driving out of Phoenix on a hot day. While climbing Bumble Bee Hill on I-17 the engine overheated bad enough that I lost most of my coolant. The mechanic found that the thermostat was sticking closed. That was an easy fix. But then it got worse. Back on the road toward Flagstaff climbing another hill I heard a horrendous noise from the front of the engine. When I pulled over, I found the radiator fan shroud had disintegrated and fallen into the fan. I had to hold up in a motel for a week while the fan and shroud were being replaced.
We swallowed an intake valve in our Cat C-9 powered coach. Because the ensuing shrapnel blew into the intake and then into every cylinder, it required a total in-frame overhaul. It took me a week to find a shop that would do the work, and then three weeks to do the overhaul. We left Salt Lake City on July 2nd, having never completed the trip we had planned, and headed back home to Olalla, WA. That was the first time I’d had to be towed, and it was a real learning experience. Unfortunately, the overhaul tech had missed one small detail, and that resulted in two more breakdowns in the next month before that little detail was discovered and finally repaired. It was a VERY bad summer.
I was just cruising along when my engine suddenly stopped. It turned out that an engine oil cooler line had blown apart and drained my crankcase of all the oil and that caused the engine to seize. I had to replace the engine because of a $20 part that failed.
Last year I left Red River, New Mexico, heading over the pass to Eagle Nest. I pushed my CAT diesel hard up the pass to avoid holding up traffic. Cresting the pass and heading down the other side, I flipped on the exhaust brake and coasted down the other side. When I stopped in Eagle Nest for a break to walk the dog, I heard my CAT engine knocking badly. We limped into a local RV park to hunker down and try to make arrangements for repairs. There were no local repair shops and no mobile mechanics that would come up into the mountains to make repairs. With the online assistance of a retired CAT mechanic, I made the troubleshooting diagnosis of a failed injector (that took a week). I ordered the injector from CAT in Albuquerque and scrounged tools and supplies locally (that took another week). Finally got the injector replaced and all has been well. The lesson I learned is this: When you push your diesel engine hard going uphill, stop at the top and let the engine idle to cool things off. The injectors use the incoming fuel to stay cool. By immediately flipping on the exhaust brake and continuing, I removed all cooling from the hot injectors. The heat cooked the injector tip closed. (I’m lucky I did not destroy more than one.)
I was driving on a two-lane highway when a truck’s retread tire piece flew off the tire. I swerved right to avoid the tire missile but it hit the trailer and ripped the sewer handles off the black and gray sewer. I wish they would outlaw retreads.
I hit a piece of debris on US-2. This apparently broke a fuel (gas) line and sprayed fuel onto the manifold and exhaust. The resulting fire took 22 minutes to consume the truck. We were able to disconnect the fifth wheel and drag it away from the fire. We had to borrow a truck from a friend to get the trailer home.
Relying on a TPMS was my big mistake. I was alerted to a smoking flat tire on the RV by a passing car. It was not just flat, it was smoking! Fortunately, it didn’t burst into flames but it was sure hot. The tire pressure monitor, screwed onto the valve stem, still indicated 80 pounds of pressure for a half-hour AFTER I pulled over! Guess they’re not very reliable.
We had a right front tire blowout on our Class C while going around a corner at 60 mph. Fortunately, we didn’t crash. The tow truck driver was amazed that we didn’t end up in the ditch. Our TPMS system was not working at the time, which I repaired immediately after the incident. Our tow bill was over $700 and the tire was $250. The moral of the story…. stay alert and take advantage of technology when available (TPMS).
A tire exploded on the Interstate in Missouri, of course on the highway side. My husband is well prepared to address this but the issue was other traffic would not slow down or move over, making it very dangerous for him to change the tire. It was very scary. I did call the State Patrol (*55) and they showed up about halfway through the tire change…but before that, it was very dangerous for my husband. Note to self…move over for vehicles disabled on the road!
While traveling east on I-10, the inside dual on the passenger side blew out and the entire set left the motorhome. I could see one tire coming down beside me as I gently moved the motorhome off the road and brought it to a stop. I have and had TPMS, but probably the battery went dead and I did not realize the tire was low.
Our worst breakdown was a tire blowout on my 2014 Jayco. We were about 10 miles into the trip when suddenly one tire went to pieces on the travel trailer. I had just checked all tires prior to leaving the house (all topped off at 65psi) no obvious issues. The toughest part was changing the roadside tire only a few feet from the travel lane on I-10. I placed traffic cones about 500 feet behind me and was worried that someone would drive by too closely while I was laying on the ground trying to set the jack under the TT. It took me twice as long to change out the tire, being ever cautious of the traffic whizzing by at 70 mph just a few feet from me. We made it safely to our destination about an hour late, but with no spare tire.
You know that surprise feeling you get on a two-lane road when out of nowhere someone is trying to pass you? Now imagine that vehicle is your own tow vehicle! A pin in one of my tow arms had worked its way free and my jeep was weaving over the center line behind me. Still makes me shudder. Bought locking pins at the next TSC store.
The scariest incident just happened this week. I felt the wheel pulling to the left when we drove out of the campground. Stopped twice, checked tires, inside setup (brake controller, etc.). Could see no reason. Got on the highway; a few minutes later, the tail started wagging the dog—wildly! Fortunately, I was able to hang on but came within inches of sideswiping another car. It turns out the Blue Ox tow bar had locked up. Pulled over and took two of us with hammers and lots of jimmying to get it loose.
On our cross-country trip while towing our Jeep, I got distracted while un-hooking. We drove off and when we returned to hook up the Jeep, everything between the MH and Jeep except for the tow bar was missing. No break-away cables, no emergency brake cable, no electric cable and no pins that go into the base plate. After three days, we were able to obtain the missing items at three different RV stores.
The tow brace on my car fractured the frame it was attached to. The whole front end was loose and could have separated from the car. Fortunately, I noticed when I unhooked the car. It just reinforced to me the importance of always checking the solidness of the tow brace and the hitch and having a braking system (which I have always had) that will stop a car that might have separated from the motorhome. I see too many discussions on forums on whether a towed braking system is necessary if the vehicle is under 2,500 lbs. or 3,000 lbs. or 4,000 lbs. Yes, yes it is. You have a responsibility to the safety of everyone else on the road.
We were driving on I-10 across Louisiana in our motorhome, towing our Honda CRV behind us. When we arrived at our destination for the day we went to unhook the car only to find it almost unhooked itself on the way there. One side of the front end of the car was pulled away from the rest of the car, and the attachment point for the tow bar was loose and wobbling on that side, as it was only held on anymore by the other side. After having it looked at, we found the Blue Ox baseplate that was on the car had snapped on one side. We were very lucky we didn’t lose the car going down the highway!
After an 8-hour drive, we heard an awful sound from the back of our Redwood. We were three miles from the KOA and our custom kayak/E-bike rack broke from the hitch and was dragging from the safety chains! Three blocks later, we were able to get over to the right lane and off the main highway. Our expensive E-bikes took the hit, requiring several hundred of dollars in repair. Of course, our old cheapy kayaks survived without a scratch!
We were hauling our car on a trailer behind us when, within a 100-mile stretch, three of our four straps holding the car broke. The area we were driving through was very rural with small communities; we had no way of buying new straps to replace them. The car had shifted on the trailer to a position where we couldn’t back it off, so we were forced to continue onward until we reached a large city that had a store where we could replace the straps, buy a floor jack to lift the car and move it back. It was a scary time wondering if the car would stay on the trailer and we drove on pins and needles, because with every bump and ripple in the road the car would dance and move.
On our trip to Alaska this summer we hit some rough roads and the receiver broke loose from our motorhome and the car and safety cables went with it. Luckily the car went into the ditch and the tow bar dug into the ground and stopped it although the bar got bent. The next day we drove 150 miles to a small town called Tok and found a guy to weld the receiver back on the motorhome and being there was no tow bar to be found we finished our trip with a bent tow bar.
About ten years ago we were hauling our 36-foot 5th-wheel on two-lane Rt. 82 and 62 from White Sands National Monument, heading east through TX. We hit ice unexpectedly on a long downhill. It was harrowing with the fiver swinging from side to side but my husband was finally able to control it. Luckily there was no other traffic around. He was really shaken up but I had been napping and initially thought it was a dream! We stopped at a little city park in Seminole that evening and counted ourselves very lucky to have escaped any damage other than growing a few gray hairs!
Our Ford F-250 was under warranty when a turbo let go as we stopped for the night while traveling in the mountains of West Virginia. Before it could be repaired, we were caught in one of the deadliest and most destructive derechos in North American history. There was no power for miles around, uprooted trees, etc. When I called Good Sam Club to come to our rescue, the response was “We can’t get to you because you are in a disaster area.” The part couldn’t be ordered as all communications were down, and it was the week of the 4th of July. Our one-night stop lasted 8 nights. We were fortunate that our 5th wheel was not damaged as a travel trailer was tipped over, and totaled. We took our cat and sat in the truck parked, hugging a building, while the storm lasted—we were safe.
We were coming back from a camping trip with two other couples in my rig, on the I-10 freeway heading West through Palm Springs, CA, when we entered the worse windstorm I’d ever experienced. Within a mile or two, I heard and felt a loud banging sound from my passenger-side roof. Pulling over to investigate, I found my patio awning had self-deployed and was about to jettison to who knows where? Luckily I had a long rope. Two of us climbed to the top battling at least 40-50 mph winds and were able to secure the awning to both A/Cs, the batwing antenna and whatever else we could use. We were fortunate to be able to limp home and make repairs.
Our worst mechanical mishap was while towing our 2017 Cedar Creek on a 60 mph county road along the corn fields in Northeastern Colorado. A bolt that holds the rear leaf spring set to the hanger had fallen out. Noticing that the 5th wheel was dog legging it to one side, I cut our speed down to 25 mph and 15 or 20 miles later was able to pull off the road to discover what had happened. Fortunately, we pulled into the parking lot of a farm and heavy-duty equipment scrap yard. I was given, by the owner, a bolt to replace the missing one, and in two hours we continued on our way. I eventually removed every nut on a bolt tied to the two axles, applied Blue Locktight to them all and feel better that I know all nuts are less likely to fall off. The hardest thing about this mishap was trying to answer my wife when she asked me, ‘What caused the bolt to come out?’ I’ll let y’all fill in an answer.
We were driving in Canada, returning from Alaska, with our cab-over camper. With my wife driving at 60 mph on an excellent section of highway, our right rear tire and wheel departed ways, basically passing us as we slowed. After rotor repairs, the tire shop manager told us it looked like somebody “borrowed” three lug nuts as viewed by the damage to the wheel.
Our bearings overheated and the spindle failed, to the point that the ENTIRE WHEEL came off the axle. I had TPMS, but the spindle failed so fast that the temperature didn’t indicate a problem before it was too late. It would have been an amazingly lucky outcome if not for being in UP Michigan 100 miles from any dealer or tow service that could help.
Driving home with our new travel trailer the left wheel was smoking badly and drivers waving frantically at us. We pulled into the station and the wheel fell off. It was Sunday, all dealers closed. Learned not to travel on Sundays.
On our first venture in the RV the wheel fell off the tow dolly! I looked in the side mirror and saw showers of sparks coming from the axle. I pulled over, and a local resident came by and told me where I could get new studs pressed into the hub and a shop where I purchased a new rim. Three hours later we were on our way!
I had a single axle 22′ Aspen 5th wheel and a 1983 F-150 SC 4X4. Coming back to CO from SOCAL my rear axle snapped at the bearing. The only thing holding the wheel on was the tin bearing keeper with three #10 screws. I limped off the road, pulled rear driveshaft, put it in 4wd and used front drive to the next town. I bought a used axle and new bearing and reassembled it, then drove all night back to Denver.
While driving a two-lane highway in Washington I hit a deer. I thought she had turned and run off the other way but then she turned and came back. This was the first week of an 8-week trip. Fortunately, no damage to the mechanical part of the motorhome. Unfortunately, killed the deer.