Until recently, we thought what fun to be on an excursion with our Scottish terriers in our motorcoach. We are relatively new to the world of recreational vehicles, having owned one for only a few years. Due to a tragic accident, our attitude has become more diligent about safety and maintenance. A one-vehicle accident ended the life of our friend and her four dogs while traveling in her motorhome.
When reading this, please know, that years ago I took a powder puff mechanic’s course at a junior college and it was far too technical for my mind. My husband, Louis, and I are not experts in vehicle maintenance but recently we have learned a lot more and we continue to investigate the safety aspects of RV travel. This article is written from my heart in the hope that it will make you more aware of your responsibilities to yourself and your loved ones.
We prepare for a dog show, making certain the dogs are groomed, x-pens stowed, dog food, show leads, towels, clothes for the ring, etc. Oh yes, don’t forget to take the dogs! And finally, after so much preparation, we are off. Well, we aren’t going very far – just down the road to a show. Does it matter that our RV is not used often? Does it matter that our tires are 7 or 8 years old? Of course not! Those tires have only twenty or thirty thousand miles on them, and the tread is great! We will just be gone for the weekend and the show is nearby. We could have just made a dead wrong decision for ourselves, our family, our friends and for our dogs!
Have you ever thought about escaping from a vehicle that is 8 feet wide? Possibly the motorhome is lying on its side and the escape route is through a window or door. This exit could be that far above your feet and certainly out of your reach. We own a bus conversion and now have on board a 10-pound sledgehammer in the hope that if something like this happens to us, we can break out the laminated windshield or a window. This hammer is strapped to the floor near the driver’s seat. Plan your escape routes ahead of time – moments may be precious. If you have every possible exit in your mind, the chances of escape are better whatever your vehicle type. Use your seat belts and have means available for cutting yourself free if necessary. Remember the fire drills we took in school or a dormitory? Plan your exit options from any area of the vehicle, as that one option might be all that is available to you.
Our dog crates on board are resting in a tray that was designed by the manufacturer of our coach and it is bolted thru the floor of the bus. Each kennel has a sturdy nylon strap, which is also bolted through the floor. Hopefully, it will secure their safety whatever happens to the vehicle. We have been told that elastic straps do not often hold in a crash. And, these elastic straps did not hold in the accident that claimed our friend and her dogs.
We carry no propane on our coach, but most recreational vehicles do. Propane is extremely flammable and explosive if it should ignite. You must take every precaution to insure that the propane systems are in perfect working order. If a propane leak should develop due to an accident, it will quickly fill the vehicle with an explosive mixture of poisonous gas. Propane should be turned off at the source when you are on the road and must, by law, be turned off at fueling stations. All of us have experienced the explosive ignition of propane when lighting a barbecue grill. Use the greatest caution when dealing with flammables in your RV in an accident, they could become your worst enemy. Carry and know how to use your fire extinguishers. It is believed our friend and her dogs would not have died if the propane cylinder had not exploded, leaving little or no time for rescue by her husband or other people who stopped to help.
It is not uncommon to see RV’s ten years of age and older driven less than twenty thousand miles since new. The tire tread is excellent, yet the vehicle sits for long intervals of time exposed to sunlight and the environment. We then get into them and pull onto the open road, traveling at highway speeds with no thought for the potential for tire failure. Tire problems are very common for RV owners. We recently spoke to an owner of a five year old motorhome who that day had sustained two blowouts within twenty miles of leaving home. After the second blowout, he had all his tires replaced. His motorhome tires had only twenty thousand miles of use.
The family motorcoach association has an excellent website (www.fmca.com). This site offers articles that will help you understand the importance of weight and tire safety. Many of the tire manufacturers publish guides which are useful references in maximizing safety.
You must know the age of the tires on your vehicle. The US Department of Transportation requires manufacturers to mold into the sidewall of every tire produced the date of manufacture. This may appear on either the inner or the outer sidewall. You should find a string of numbers and characters following the characters DOT the final three numbers will tell you when your tires were produced. The first two indicate the calendar week of the birthday year starting with (01) for the first week of January. The third number indicates the year, so (089) signifies the tire was made in the eighth week of 1999. It is conceivable that it could also indicate the tire is a 1989 model. Beginning in 2001, the manufacturers went to four digits, the first two digits indicating the week and the second two digits, the year of production. Some interpretation is needed. A dealer can readily interpret this number for you. Consensus in the industry is that the life of an RV tire ranges from five to seven years. Consider replacing those tires if they have reached that age regardless of their appearance or remaining tread. We recently discarded the eight tires on our bus along with half their tread for no better reason than that the tires had reached their sixth birthday.
The weight of an RV is a more complicated subject. Read the literature by the manufacturer of your vehicle. You will find most tire manufacturers publish such literature also. As you explore this subject, you discover you need to weigh each of your tire positions with the vehicle fully loaded with all the fuel, liquids, cargo and passengers you intend to carry. The margin between the unladen weight of the vehicle and the load capacity of your tires and other components is often surprisingly small. A certified scale can weigh the vehicle for you. These scales are available at most truck stops, grain elevators and co-ops.
When we leave home, we all expect to return. Don’t let an accident happen that might be avoidable with proper maintenance. Since motorhomes are generally not used like our family cars, they need different care, different preventive measures. Oftentimes those roadside wreaths are on stretches of straight roads with little traffic – makes you wonder why, doesn’t it?
Will we keep on traveling in our motorhome? You betcha! We will just be more aware of recreational vehicle maintenance and we will ask more questions of other RV’ers to see what their experiences have been. Be diligent about weight issues and tire care. These have been the most frequent and recurring problems experienced by fellow RV’ers we have visited with.
We want to see you at the dog shows and we want you to get home safely.
Note: This was written after our friend Ilene Stewart was killed alongside four of her Scottish Terriers while traveling in her motorhome in California last year. Ilene had won Best Brace with two of the dogs killed in the accident a month before, at Great Western. As a tribute to them the Scottish Terrier Club of California is dedicating their show, held in conjunction with Great Western this year in Ilene’s and her four dog’s memory.
Copyright 2003 by Canis Major Publications. All rights reserved. Used by permission.