Tales From the Road

RV Nightmares: From Annoying to Messy to Costly

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Tales From the Road

Tales From the Road

During the pandemic, many people are looking to RVs for their vacation needs — even when they've never been in an RV before. If you're thinking of hitting the road in an RV, consider some of the nightmare stories that can happen while on the road — from losing important items to being lost in flood or fire danger zones. Whether you're considering buying or renting an RV, learn from the experiences and mistakes of others, and at the very least prepare as best you can to handle anything that comes at you other than that big open highway.

Related: 18 Reasons You Really Don't Want to Buy an RV

Sewage Catastrophe

Sewage Catastrophe Inside the RV

A running toilet at home makes continuous noise, but a running RV toilet will spew. RV Travel blogger Chuck Woodbury cautions would-be buyers to look at the floors when considering buying a used RV. "The toilet was the culprit," he says of one couple's problematic used RV. "The valve malfunctioned and opened inside the toilet and the water flowed. The couple didn't check the toilet and went out for two hours while the sewage from the black water tank flowed up and out."

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Trash Disasters

Tossing a Husband's Ashes out with the Trash

It's easy to lose something important in the tight confines of an RV. Laura Fahrenthold, who wrote "The Pink Steering Wheel Chronicles: A Love Story" about spreading her husband's ashes while on an RV trip across the U.S. and Canada, learned that the hard way. While on the journey, a bag of her husband's ashes accidentally went out with the McDonald's meal trash — requiring a dumpster dive to get them back. 

Fire Risks

A Gas Station Fire Ruins an RV

When an RV hits a gas pump, the resulting fire can kill. RV blogger AxleAddict shared a scary story on the website about one RV driver's costly mistake. "An older gentleman who purchased a shiny, new motorhome had never driven a big rig before ... he chose not to take an RV driver training class. Shortly after heading west, he pulled into a truck stop to fuel up. Because his driving skills were so poor, he cut the turn into the pumps too close, hit them. They caught fire and so did his coach. Both were totally ruined."

Related: 20 Ways to Save Money on Gas for Your RV

Dirty Dumping

A Terrible Mess at a Dump Station

Author Dr. Susan Shumsky lives in an RV and has encountered problems in teaching her family how to use some of the trickier features. "On one occasion I taught my grandnephew how to use the dump station," she says. "The poor kid was trying to dump the black water tank, but he hadn't attached the hose securely. What ensued was a waterfall of crap spewing everywhere! A decade later he told me the experience had traumatized him for life!"

Related: Boondocking and Other RV Terms You Need to Know

Asking for Towing Trouble

A Flipped Camper Due to Brake Failure

When pulling an RV instead of driving one, the brakes are crucial and need to be checked constantly. YouTuber SimplyRVing shared a story of a brake fail nightmare that resulted in her camper flipping. Before getting out on the road, make sure your brake controller is properly configured. If you're unfamiliar, the brake controller is what turns on the trailer brakes when you activate the tow vehicle brakes.

Related: Renting a RV? These Are the Features You'll Want — and Some You Won't

Pinned Partners

Getting Pinned By an RV

Make sure to be aware and prepared when unhooking a towed vehicle. Bloggers Heath and Alyssa Padgett unhooked a car they were towing behind their RV. The twist? Heath didn't put the car in park position so it pinned him against the RV, and Alyssa couldn't hear him over the sound of the air conditioning. Luckily, Heath was rescued by a neighbor before he was crushed. 

Related: 30 Biggest Mistakes of First-Time RV Drivers

Runaway Rides

A Runaway Ride

Shumsky warns of the risks of parking on an incline. "Decades ago my RV was parked in a steeply inclined driveway of a friend." When her travel partner tried to move the RV, he didn't expect the trailer to keep rolling. "We discovered the trailer was down the hill about 100 feet, smashed against a tree. Sean explained that the trailer started to roll and he tried to hold on to it. He hadn't put any chocks on the wheels, because he assumed that somehow the trailer was equipped with magical brakes."

Related: 12 Roads You Should Never Drive in an RV

Sticky Situations

Getting Stuck Between Signs

Travel blogger Elizabeth Newcamp, creator of Dutch Dutch Goose, had to rely on the kindness of strangers who didn't speak English when her family's RV became stuck between two signs in France. She says: "My husband ended up running to the nearby French farm and asking the farmer who spoke no English for help, so it was a bunch of signing and using broken French. He helped us out of the pickle by getting into the driver's seat. We only had a bottle of Italian red wine to give him for his help!"

Rough It During Short Stays

A Power Blowout

Travel Inspired Living blogger Tonya Prater was a full-time RVer whose stay at one camp ruined her refrigerator. "A power surge knocked out our converter box, circuit board, and refrigerator," she says. "Something that could have been avoided if we'd purchased a $100 surge protector for our older camper. Instead, we had to pay for repairs, replace the refrigerator, and stay in a hotel for several nights while the RV was being repaired."

Related: Best Portable Generators

Bumpy Rides
djedzura / istockphoto

A Bumpy Ride and a Sick Kid

Not all RVs have good suspension systems. Sleep science coach Bill Fish says that after renting an RV for a vacation, the bouncy ride had him and his family flying out of their seats. "Game pieces flying, no chance of trying to make any meals, and our youngest had unrelenting car sickness. I got a cut on my lower back due to a spring in the seat that turned into a staph infection and ended up in the ER." Though he and his family survived, he says he will never drive an RV again.

Transmission Trouble

Transmission Trouble

Shumsky discovered a clueless road service technician created more problems than he solved. When her RV stalled going uphill, she called for towing assistance. "A guy showed up to tow me up the mountain to Elko to get the RV fixed. But he didn't disconnect the transmission, and he drove very fast up the mountain at breakneck speed. The entire transmission had to be replaced. And by towing the RV improperly, he bent the frame of the RV." Years later, that bent frame resulted in an electrical fire that nearly set the RV on fire.

Related: 32 Lies Your Mechanic Has Told You

What if the RV Breaks Down

Stranded with Mechanical Trouble

One of the biggest RV nightmares for anyone is being stranded in a strange or desolate stretch of road. Fahrenthold had an RV breakdown due to overheating while in New Mexico, but was lucky enough to find an honest mechanic to help.

Slide Problems

Underwear Trapped in a Slide

A hydraulic or electric slide room is an add-on to an RV that moves outward from its side wall to make more interior living space. A slide can be a nice perk, but also can be unsafe and have other types of problems as well. Bloggers Heath and Alyssa share on their site how a stuck slide caused them to be unable to access their underwear.

Related: 32 RV Accessories to Make Road Life More Luxurious

RV Campgrounds in All 50 States
Arina P Habich/shutterstock

Discovering Toxic Materials Inside the RV

Many experts agree that simply hitting the road in an RV can pose a health problem. ABC News reported in 2007 that the RV industry has resumed using cheaper, formaldehyde-based materials, despite them being outlawed in the U.S. more than 20 years ago. And AxleAddict wrote about the problem in 2018. 

Car in the natural tunnel of trees on a country road.

Hitting a Tree with the Top of the RV

Knowing your RV height clearance is another bit of intel that one needs to consider when hitting the road. "Many RVs sit high, so when you put that kind of height together with an overhanging branch, you've got the recipe for problems," RV blogger AxleAddict writes. "One newbie was pulling out of a park and forgot to look up. Even though she was driving slowly, her roof hit a heavy tree branch, and she was unable to stop in time to keep it from doing major damage ... It was a very expensive repair."

Related: 22 Important Things to Consider Before Buying an RV

Lost Keys
Jerry Pittman

Keys Locked inside the RV

When traveling in an RV, leave at least one window open. On Facebook, Jerry P. wrote about accidentally locking the keys inside his RV, though his wife Nell ultimately "saved the day." "This was in my parking lot, and Nell was the only one that could go through the window!" he wrote.

Creatures Large and Small
Martin Belli/istockphoto

Watch for Creatures Large and Small

Be prepared to see nature and all of its creatures when traveling in an RV. Happy Camper Wives blogger Jessi Smith writes that beautiful locations can come with creepy critters. "Our campsite was next to a pond and was simply gorgeous, but one morning we spotted nine water snakes slithering across the pond. Gross. And so many bugs. From stink bugs, to stick bugs, to bugs we are convinced are from 'Space Odyssey.' You will encounter bugs, snakes, and spiders when you camp."

Sand Traps

Watch for Sand-Clogged Filters

Some hazards of RVing in the American desert are wind and sand. Mobile RVing warns that sand and dust clogging an RV air filter can affect engine performance, and RVers should monitor the filters on a regular basis to prevent breakdowns.

Related: The Coolest Off-Road RVs for Battling Rough Weather

Pricey Campsites
Criminal Minds

Be Aware of Criminals and Laws About Arming Yourself

An RV in the boondocks can be alluring to a criminal mind. Open Road blogger David Helgeson posts that carrying a weapon can hurt more than it helps. "You're very likely providing one for the trespasser to use against you or in their next burglary. If you do carry a weapon, are you prepared to actually use it?" For those who do arm themselves, it's important to know that laws vary from state to state.

Related: What It's Really Like to Retire in an RV

Passenger POV at the street signs at French Belgium border

Paperwork Snarls While Traveling Abroad

Dutch Dutch Goose blogger Newcamp cautions RV enthusiasts to request all required papers in Europe. "If you have a rental car from Croatia, there is a special document (green form) required to drive your car out of the country. Make sure you ask for this document when you rent your car or you will be in serious trouble at the border. The rental car company knew our plans to drive the length of Croatia, but did not offer the document until we asked. Expect to pay up to $100 for the paperwork." 

Related: 10 Countries Where They Love RVs as Much as Americans Do


Longer Than Usual Work Delays

RV blogger Laura Nunemaker shared how her New Year's Eve was dampened by an RV breakdown. "Thankfully, we pay for CoachNet," she says. "Otherwise, that tow would have been over $1,000. But we also already knew going into full-time RV life that if you need mechanical work done by someone else, be prepared to wait. It's not at all the same as having work done on your car." 

Related: How to Find Places to Boondock or Free Park in Your RV

Length and Width of the RV

Ever Changing Rules and Laws for RVs

In the U.S., each state has unique laws regarding RVs. There are often different limitations on how large or wide an RV can be to drive on a freeway, while others have varying rules about how long you can stay before you're considered a legal resident (and thus need to pay taxes and register your vehicle). There are groups like Xscapers that offer education about laws impacting RV owners and advocate for their rights.

seniors reviewing bills

Prepare for High Operating Costs ...

Usage and maintenance bills can add up for RV owners. One couple nearly went bankrupt due to owning an RV they couldn't really afford. Travel blogger Bill posted his tale of woe on The Virtual Campground. "Six months of being flat broke, with over $15,000 in credit card debt, $30,000 in school loan debt, and $30,000 in debt on our RV, were unlike anything we've ever experienced. It was truly rock bottom."

Related: The Most Outrageous Luxury RVs Money Can Buy

... And Policy Limits
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/istockphoto

... And Policy Limits

Most RV manufacturers have limited parts and labor-only warranties. Consider investing in a supplemental insurance policy to cover breakdowns, and displacement and lodging charges that can happen. One irate poster in the RV Forum wrote about the nightmarish experience of his RV breaking down, only to learn his new RV policy only covered fixing the part — not the $2,600 spent trying to get his family and belongings back home.

Related: Where to Buy an RV Across America