In Case of an RV Fire

Be Prepared

At best, a fire in your RV can delay or ruin a vacation. At worst, it can mean injury, financial loss, and even death. Unfortunately, RV fires are one of the largest causes of motor coach loss in America today. The following tips can help you recognize the most common bus fire hazards and protect yourself from the damage and injury fires are notorious for causing.

* Develop a plan of action before a fire occurs.

* The first rule of RV firefighting is to save lives first and property second. Get yourself and your family to safety before attempting to extinguish a fire. Only if you can do so without endangering yourself or others should you use firefighting aids on hand.

* Re-emphasize to everyone aboard that objects can be replaced, people can't. Never stay behind or re-enter a burning coach to retrieve anything.

* Review with everyone the "Stop, Drop, and Roll" rule so they know what to do when clothing is on fire.

* Choose a rallying point where everyone will meet immediately after escaping, so everyone can be accounted for. Get help. Adults and older children should know how to dial 911 or 0, and how to get emergency help on any CB, VHF, or ham radio available.

* It's crucial to know your location so firefighters can find you.

* Make sure visitors can open the front door. Not all manufacturers use the same lock and latch assembly.

* Have at least two escape routes-one in the front and one in the rear of the coach. As soon as they're old enough, teach children to open hatches and emergency exits.

* Practice unhooking your tow vehicle as quickly as possible to avoid spreading the fire to other vehicles.

* Show travelers how to unhook electricity (screw-on cords can be tricky) and how to close propane valves, in case either of these measures is called for.

Safety Tools

There are plenty of fire and life safety tools that can save lives, but for them to be effective, they must be in working condition and you must know how to use them properly.

* You should have three fire extinguishers for your coach - one in the galley, one in the bedroom, and one outside of the coach in an unlocked compartment or in your tow vehicle. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguishers and understand which extinguishers are effective on various fires.

* During your monthly inspection, check the fire extinguisher gauge to determine if there is pressure in the extinguisher. If the gauge indicates empty or needs charging, replace or recharge the extinguisher immediately. To test non-gauged extinguishers, push the plunger indicator (usually green or black) down. If it does not come back up, the extinguisher has no pressure to expel its contents. If you need help testing your fire extinguishers, check with your local fire department.

* Invert and shake your dry-powder or dry-chemical extinguisher monthly to loosen the powder. The jarring of the coach does not loosen the powder; in fact, it packs the powder, which may make your extinguisher ineffective.

* Do not pull the pin and expel the contents to test your powder extinguisher. If you use a portion of the powder extinguisher, have it refilled or replaced immediately. When you have a fire extinguisher refilled, ask to shoot off the charge first (most refill stations have a special place where this can be done safely). This lets you see how far it shoots and how long a charge lasts.

* In a compact galley, all combustibles-from paper towels to curtains-are apt to be closer to the stove, so use even more caution in your coach than you do at home. A box of baking soda-the ingredient in powder extinguishers-can be used in lieu of a fire extinguisher for minor galley flare-ups.

* If you have a quick-disconnect fitting on your water hookup, it can be unhooked instantly to fight a fire. If a nearby coach is burning and you cannot move your coach but can safely stay close enough to keep it hosed down, you may be able to save it.

* Make sure all travelers know what the smoke alarm sounds like and what to do when they hear it. Test your smoke detector regularly.

* Deadly, invisible, odorless CO usually results from exhaust leaks or misuse of heating devices. Be sure to put your CO detector in the bedroom. The proper location is on the ceiling or on an inside wall at least eight inches from the ceiling and at least four feet from the floor.

Volatile Fluids and Gases

Gasoline and propane can pose an immediate, explosive danger. Though diesel fuel is less volatile, it dissipates more slowly, so it remains a danger longer. Deal at once with any leaks or spills, and use all fuels in adequately vented areas.

* Liquid petroleum gas, like gasoline fumes, tends to pool in low spots in the coach until a spark sets it off. Newer motorhomes are equipped with an automatic shut-off for when its sensor detects an LPG leak. If you have a leak, be sure to shut the propane off at the tank.

* Driving with propane on can add to the danger if you are involved in an accident or have a fire. Most refrigerators will keep food cold or frozen for eight hours without running while you travel. Shut the propane off at the tank.

* Even if the flame on your galley stove goes out, gas continues to flow and could result in an explosion. A stove should never be left unattended or used to heat your coach. Open propane flames release high levels of carbon monoxide.

* If you store your coach, be sure to check the flue before starting your refrigerator on propane. Birds and inspects can build nests and clog the flue, causing a fire or excess carbon monoxide to enter your coach.

* A dragging brake can create enough friction to ignite a tire or brake fluid. Some of the worst fires are those caused when one tire of a dual or tandem pair goes flat, scuffs, and ignites long before the driver feels any change in handling. At each stop, give tires at least an eyeball check. When tires are cool, tap your duals with a club and listen for a difference in sound from one tire to the next. You can often tell if one is going soft.

* A pinhole-size leak in a radiator or heater hose can spray antifreeze on hot engine parts. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol concentrate and water. When the water boils off, the remaining ethylene glycol can self-ignite at 782 degrees F. During your monthly fire inspection, check all hoses for firmness, clamp tightness, and signs of leaking.

* Rubber fuel lines are commonly used to connect metal lines to the electronic fuel injection system, or to the carburetor in older coaches. Check all the lines and connections between the fuel tank and the engine on a monthly basis. If there is any sign of a leak, have the lines replaced and the entire system inspected by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.

Other Fire Hazards

Have any wiring in your coach done by a capable electrician, and use common sense in using any electrical aid. Check all 12-volt connections before and after every trip. Most coach fires are caused by a 12-volt short.

* Batteries produce explosive gases. Keep flame, cigarettes, and sparks away. Be sure your battery compartment is properly vented. Keep vent caps tight and level. Check your battery monthly. Replace swollen batteries immediately. Use extreme care when handling batteries-they can explode.

* Grease, oil, and road dust build up on the engine and transmission, making them run hotter. The grime itself usually doesn't burn, but if combined with a fuel leak or short-circuited wire, a fire could start. Keep your coach's underpinnings clean, and it will run cooler, more economically, and longer. A hard-working engine manifold can get as hot as 900 degrees F. The heavy insulation in the compartment reflects the heat back to the top of the engine, and a fire can easily break out. Inspect your radiator and have any problems repaired by a qualified person as soon as possible.

* A hot exhaust pipe or catalytic converter can ignite dry grass.

* Spontaneous combustion can occur in damp charcoal. Buy charcoal fresh, keep it dry, and store it in a covered metal container. Rags soiled with auto wax or cleaners that contain petroleum products or other oil-based cleaning materials can also spontaneously combust if disposed of in a combustible container. Put dirty cleaning rags in a metal container with a lid.

Fighting Small RV Fires

Without question, the first rule of RV firefighting is to save lives first and property second. Your priority is to get your family safely out of the RV and then, if you can do so without endangering yourself or others, use the firefighting aids available to you.

To be most effective at fighting a fire, you must know the purposes and limitations of your equipment, as well as how to properly maintain and use it. Don't wait until a fire breaks out to try to figure out what to do. Take your extinguisher out now and have a look at it to make sure you're prepared to use it if the time ever comes. The time you save could mean the difference between minor damage and major disaster.

The Parts of a Fire Extinguisher

Most portable fire extinguishers for home use consist of six main parts you should be familiar with.

* Cylinder: This is the body of the extinguisher. It is pressurized and holds some combination of extinguishing agent and expellant gas.

* Handle: This is nothing more than a grip for carrying or holding the extinguisher. The type of handle design may vary according to the manufacturer. Lifting an extinguisher by the handle will not cause the unit to discharge.

* Nozzle: This is at the top of the extinguisher where the extinguishing agent is expelled and often has a hose attached.

* Trigger: This is usually a short lever mounted above the handle at the top of the extinguisher, although some units differ. The unit will discharge when you squeeze the trigger.

* Locking Mechanism: All portable fire extinguishers must come with some type of locking mechanism to prevent accidental discharge. The mechanism must be removed or released for the extinguisher to work.

* Pressure Gauge: The effective range of an extinguisher and its ability to expel all of its agent both decrease as pressure drops. Check the pressure of your extinguisher on a regular basis. Have it recharged if pressure drops below normal operating level.

Fire Extinguisher Markings

It is essential that the type of fire extinguisher you use is appropriate for the type of fire you are fighting. If, for example, you spray water on a grease fire in the kitchen, the water will cause the grease to splatter, and the fire will likely spread. If you put water on electrical equipment that is on fire, you are putting yourself in danger of electrical shock. Depending on their intended use, they use a variety of extinguishing agents (water or chemical) for putting out a fire.

Fires extinguishers are divided into classifications based on what type of materials are burning. The most common classes are A, B, and C. Following is what each class includes.

* Class A: Ordinary Combustibles-wood, cloth, rubber, paper, many plastics, fiberglass, basically anything that leaves an ash.

* Class B: Flammable Liquids-gasoline, oil, and oil-based paint.

* Class C: Energized Electrical Equipment-wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery, and appliances. Class C does not include fires involving the 12-volt equipment found in all coaches. Once you de-energize or unhook from shore power and turn off your inverter or generator, a fire that occurs is a Class A fire rather than a Class C fire.

The National Fire Protection Association requires that all motor coaches have a portable fire extinguisher that is effective on both Class B and Class C fires. The guidelines do not require that your extinguisher have a Class A rating, which would make it effective in extinguishing fires involving the materials, like wood and cloth, that make up the interior of your bus.

It's possible that your NFPA-approved fire extinguishers won't be effective to fight a fire in your bus. Check your extinguisher's markings so you'll know what materials it will work on. Ideally, you should have an extinguisher with symbols for all classes on it. But in order to get a multi-use dry chemical extinguisher effective on just a small fire, you'd have to purchase a large, heavy extinguisher, which may not be ideal for RVers. Perhaps a better solution is to purchase a noncorrosive designer foam extinguisher. This type is effective on Class A and Class B fires, which make up over 90% of all RV fires. Designer foam extinguishers are user-friendly, environmentally safe, and convenient for RV travel.

While the NFPA does not require that you carry more than one fire extinguisher, don't take chances. One fire extinguisher is simply not enough. RV Alliance America's Fire & Life Safety instructor, Mac McCoy, recommends having at least two extinguishers inside of your coach-one near the door and one in the bedroom-and an additional one in an unlocked outside compartment or in your towed vehicle. Make sure that everyone traveling with you is trained to use the extinguishers.

Checking Your Fire Extinguishers

Once you've determined that you have the right type of extinguishers, the next priority is to keep them properly maintained by checking them periodically. Check the fire extinguisher gauge to determine if there is pressure in the extinguisher. If the gauge indicates empty or needs charging, replace or recharge the extinguisher immediately. To test non-gauged extinguishers, push the plunger indicator (usually green or black) down. If it does not come back up, the extinguisher has no pressure to expel its contents. If you need help testing your fire extinguishers, check with your local fire department.

Do not pull the pin and expel the contents to test your powder extinguisher. If you use a portion of the powder extinguisher, have it refilled or replaced immediately. When you have a fire extinguisher refilled, ask to shoot off the charge first (most refill stations have a special place where this can be done safely). This lets you see how far it shoots and how long a charge lasts.

Invert and shake your dry powder or dry chemical extinguisher monthly to loosen the powder. The jarring of the coach while you travel down the road does not keep the powder loose; in fact, it packs the powder, which may make your extinguisher useless in fighting a fire.

How a Fire Burns

In order for fire to occur, four elements must be present:

* Fuel (wood, paper, cloth, gas, oils, fiberglass)

* Oxygen (air at between 17% and 19%)

* Heat (brakes, engine compartment, exhaust system, transmission)

* Chemical Chain Reaction (batteries, refrigerator)

If any one of these four components are missing, a fire cannot burn.

Extinguishing a Fire

There is a simple way to remember the steps to using your extinguisher to fight a fire-it's called the PASS procedure. These are the four steps to follow:

* Pull the Pin: This unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge the contents of the extinguisher.

* Aim Low: Point the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.

* Squeeze the Lever Above the Handle: This discharges the extinguishing agent. Releasing the lever will stop the discharge.

* Sweep from Side to Side: Moving carefully toward the fire, keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until flames appear to be out.

When using an extinguisher to put out the surface flames, make sure to totally saturate the fuel so that it's cooled. Otherwise, the fire can flare up again. This is when having an additional fire extinguisher is important. If you use your only fire extinguisher to stop the fire and don't have another one to cool the area down, the fire could restart again and you won't have anything to fight it with.

Besides fire extinguishers, if you have a quick-disconnect fitting on your water hookup, these hoses can be unhooked instantly and be used as a tool to fight a fire. If a nearby vehicle is burning and you cannot move your coach but can safely stay close enough to keep it hosed down, you may be able to save it.

Always leave large fires to the fire department, and only fight small fires that are contained, within reach, and that you can fight with your back toward a safe escape. If you have the slightest doubt if you should fight the fire, don't attempt it! Instead get out and away fast.

RV Fire Safety at the Fuel Pump

It is always important to shut off all engines (including generator) and to extinguish all pilot lights (oven, refrigerator, water heater and furnace) before fueling your RV - but here is a scenario you may not have considered:

You've just finished pulling a 12-mile, 8% grade, and you're now below a quarter of a tank of fuel as you come down the other side of the hill. Off in the distance is a truck stop where you can get fuel and something to eat. You're riding the brake and shifting down as you head for the truck stop. After a white-knuckled 15-minute trip to the bottom of the hill, you pull into the fuel island.

STOP! Do not pull up to that pump!

Your catalytic converter could be at 4,000 degrees. Your transmission could be around 350 degrees, and the brakes are definitely too hot to allow a quick stop. Coming to a sudden stop after a long haul involving a steep grade causes the temperature in your converter and transmission to continue to rise. With your engine off, your coolant is no longer bleeding the heat from your engine. These factors may be enough to ignite gasoline fumes near the pump.

What you should do instead is pull off to the side of the station and allow for a cooling-off period. Let your vehicle run for about five minutes to cool down. Go in and have lunch and sit where you can see the vehicle if possible.

After you have taken care of yourself, go ahead and fuel your rig. Be sure to check the oil and transmission fluid levels. Kick the tires and make a complete walk-around inspection. Now that both you and your rig are fueled up, enjoy your trip.

RV Driving Tips

Always wear your seat belt while operating your RV. Seat belts function primarily to keep you in the vehicle, even in the seat, if the vehicle leaves the highway or is involved in a collision. Turning

* When turning corners, use the push-pull steering method. Place one hand at the twelve o'clock position and pull down while pushing up with the other hand.

* The most common complaint drivers have about other drivers is their failure to use turn signals. Turn signals are valuable for communicating your intentions to other drivers. If you don't signal, other drivers have no way of knowing what you are going to do.

Entering and Exiting the Freeway

When entering a freeway, use the first portion of the on-ramp to look back and find a gap in traffic to move into. Use the second portion of the on-ramp to build up speed so you can move into the gap at approximately the same speed that traffic is moving. Merging can be difficult with an RV. You must take into consideration your vehicle's additional weight and slower acceleration and ease onto expressways very carefully.

A solid white line on an entrance to a freeway is a traffic control line and should not be crossed.

When exiting a freeway, move into the far right lane half a mile to a mile before your exit. Doing this avoids your having to find a gap in traffic to move into at the last minute. Waiting usually means slowing down in the second or third lane, which makes the process of moving over more difficult.

When the white line markers that separate the lane you are in from the one next to you begin to appear more frequently (more than twice as many white lines), that means your lane is separating from the main highway. If this happens and you do not want to exit, signal and try to move over one lane as quickly as possible.

If you travel in the right lane on the freeway, do not attempt to slow down for traffic entering a freeway, unless required by law. Maintain a steady, consistent speed and allow entering motorists to adjust their speed to the speed of traffic. This prevents you from slowing down the traffic behind you and allows for an overall smoother flow of traffic. If the lane to your immediate left is clear, move into it temporarily to allow ramp traffic to enter the expressway uninhibited.

Heavy Traffic

Maintain a steady, consistent speed, close to the speed limit.

If you are uncomfortable in heavy traffic and want to avoid traffic bunch-ups, one of the easiest ways to do this is to drop your speed to about two miles per hour less than the prevailing traffic speed. Once the bunch moves on, you may be able to resume your old speed and travel between bunches.

Passing

Side-view mirrors should be adjusted so that you can just barely see the side of your RV. This reduces the size of your blind spot. Adjust the convex mirrors to include blind spots, keeping in mind that objects may appear farther away than they actually are. Rearview mirrors can have the same effect.

If you see traffic building up behind you, the first thing you should do is place your vehicle to the far right of the lane you are traveling in to let the vehicles behind you clearly view traffic without pulling out into the lane of opposing traffic. Find a safe place to pull over and let the vehicles pass, even if you are traveling the speed limit or slightly above it.

If you must pass another vehicle on a two-lane road, consider how much time it will take to get around that vehicle. Rather than waiting for a clear area to pass and then accelerating to passing speed, drop back and start acceleration so you are already at passing speed when it is clear to pass. Doing this will help you to get around the other vehicle more quickly.

Be prepared for any possibility when you see a vehicle stopped by the roadside. Give that vehicle a wide berth. Someone could open the door and get out; someone could suddenly come around from the other side to make a driver change; or the vehicle could suddenly pull out into traffic without warning. If possible, move to another lane until you have passed the stopped vehicle.

Braking

RVs are larger and heavier than autos and therefore take more time and distance to stop. Maintain at least a four- to six-second interval between your vehicle and other vehicles. You can determine this distance by observing the vehicle in front of you. When the rear bumper passes an object, such as a sign or mile marker, start counting. You should be able to count four seconds-one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, one-thousand-four-before your front bumper reaches the same marker.

To know what is going on ahead of you, look 15 to 20 seconds ahead. That way you'll have advanced warning if you need to take action.

Whenever you see a condition ahead that may force you to make an unplanned stop, tap your brake pedal three or four times to warn vehicles behind you that you may make a quick stop. Remember that following cars can't see around RVs because of their large size. Use your brake lights to communicate to traffic behind you.

Cover your brakes. When you approach a situation that makes you uneasy, place your foot over the brake pedal without actually touching it. This reduces reaction time if your hunch proves correct and you need to quickly apply the brakes.

Stay aware of what is going on behind you as well. Check your mirrors frequently.

Backing Up

Back in, not out. When you pull out front-forward you can see the traffic conditions and are not dependent upon another person. In addition, most of the time it's easier to maneuver in tight places by backing in.

If you must back out, get out and look things over before doing so. Confirm that there are no overhangs, low branches, or anything sticking out of the ground that you might run over or that could damage the undercarriage of your RV. Many hazards are not visible from inside the vehicle.

Use your horn as a warning device when necessary. Honk two or three times before backing up if your vehicle is not equipped with a reverse beeper. A light tap can also be used to warn someone who doesn't see you, such as a pedestrian or cyclist. In dangerous situations, such as an impending head-on crash, you can use a constant pressure on the horn to warn other drivers.

Pulling Over

Use your flashers whenever you are stopped near moving traffic or when you are in a lane of traffic proceeding slowly up a grade.

Use your emergency flares to warn other motorists that you are broken down and parked on or near the highway surface.

Other Driving Safety Tips

You should be able to recognize road signs by their shape and color.

Use your headlights to make yourself more visible to oncoming traffic.

If your right-hand wheels leave the roadway, do not jerk the steering wheel to try to bring the wheels back onto the roadway. Instead, remove your foot from the accelerator, apply pressure to the brake pedal in an effort to slow the vehicle, and keep your steering wheel in a straight-ahead position. Slow the vehicle enough to enter the roadway without swerving onto it.

Position your vehicle so that other drivers can easily see it. Avoid traveling in others' blind spots. When you must travel through another operator's blind spot, do so as quickly as possible.

RV Load Distribution and Weight Safety

Loading the RV

Improper weight distribution and heavy items shifting during travel can have an unfavorable effect on the handling, ride quality, and braking of your motorhome.

Proper weight distribution is critical when loading the motorhome. Each manufacturer has taken into consideration the location of appliances, cabinets and additional components for proper weight distribution side to side, as well as front to back. When loading food, clothing, cooking utensils, tools and other items, be sure to distribute heavy items evenly throughout the RV. They should also be placed in such a way that they do not shift during travel.

Understanding Weight Ratings

Many motorhome manufacturers have joined the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. RVIA has developed a set of standards used on a data plate included on each RV produced by participating manufacturers. In motorhomes, the RVIA data plate is located inside one of the cabinets in the kitchen, bath, or bedroom. On travel trailers and fifth wheels, the data plate is located outside near the front of the unit or, in some cases, in a cabinet door inside the RV. On pickups it is located on the doorpost. Following are weight terms and their definitions adopted by RVIA, including the terms and updates added in September 2000.

Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the maximum weight an axle can carry. It is determined by taking the lowest combined value of the axle rating, spring, airbag, suspension and tire rating.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the total weight the vehicle has been designed to carry.

Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) is the weight of the motorhome as built at the factory. For motorhomes, that includes full fuel, engine oil and coolants. The UVW does not include cargo, fresh water, LP gas, occupants or dealer-installed accessories.

Net Carrying Capacity (NCC) is the maximum weight of all occupants, personal belongings, food, fresh water, LP gas, tools, dealer-installed accessories, and tongue weight of the towed vehicle that can be carried by the motorhome. (NCC is equal to or less than GVWR minus UVW.) It is beneficial to know the NCC when purchasing a new coach. It tells you how much weight can be added to the coach and still remain within the GVWR on the coach. The term Cargo Carrying Capacity is replacing NCC in new RVs.

Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) is a newly adopted term that is comparable to the previously used NCC. CCC is equal to the GVWR minus UVW, the weight of fresh water in the tank and hot water heater, the weight of propane in the tank, and the SCWR. Following is an example of the CCC calculation.

* GVWR 22,000 lbs.

* Less UVW - 16,000 lbs. Less 20 Gallons Fresh Water x 8.3 lbs. Each - 166 lbs.

* Less 16 Gallons Propane x 4.5 lbs. Each - 72 lbs.

* Less SCWR (4 x 154 lbs.) - 616 lbs.

* Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) 5,146 lbs.

* Sleeping Capacity Weight Rating (SCWR)?is another term recently adopted by RVIA. It's calculated by multiplying 154 pounds times the number of sleeping positions as defined by the RV manufacturer.

* Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)?a term that was developed for the trucking industry? is the combined weight of the truck and a trailer with brakes. It means that the engine horsepower, the cooling system capability and the transmission and differential have been designed into the vehicle to handle this much weight. It assumes the trailer or thing being towed would have its own braking system. The recreational vehicle industry adapted this term to mean the total weight the vehicle has been designed to handle, including the weight of a tow vehicle or trailer. It does not mean that the braking system has been designed to accommodate that much weight.

* Each RV owner is responsible for knowing the loaded weight of his or her vehicle. Use the worksheet below to help you find out if your vehicle weighs what it should according to the data plate found on the wall in the driver's compartment.

* Take your RV to a truck stop, where they will weigh it for a nominal fee and provide you with a weight receipt that shows front axle and total vehicle weight. RVers with travel trailers and fifth wheels will receive a weight slip that shows pickup weight and unit weight separately. Weighing your RV at a truck stop is only the first step, however.

* When the opportunity arises, you should take it to a professional weighing agency such as A'Weigh We Go?perhaps at an FMCA rally?to determine what your vehicle weighs at each of the corners. You need to determine if your vehicle is overweight on the corners as well as on the axles. Remember that the generator or other heavy items may have an effect on a particular axle.

* The actual Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) should be determined with the RV fully loaded, including fuel, propane, water (if you normally carry water when traveling), personal items, and the normal number of people usually carried. The gross weight shouldn't exceed the GVWR placed on the vehicle by the manufacturer.

RV Weight Information Worksheet

Copy the figures from the data plate in your RV in the first column. Then enter the actual weight figures in the second column and compare the two. If the actual GVWR is higher than the label figure, your vehicle is overloaded. If the GCVR is higher than the label figure, the motorhome and car or truck and trailer together weigh more than the vehicle was designed to pull.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): The maximum permissible weight of the RV. GVWR is equal to or greater than the sum of the UVW plus the NCC.

Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW): The weight of this RV as built at the factory. For motorhomes, this includes a full load of fuel, engine oil and coolants. The UVW does not include cargo, fresh water, LP gas, occupants, or dealer-installed accessories.

Net Carrying Capacity (NCC): The maximum weight of all occupants, personal belongings, food, fresh water, LP gas, tools, dealer-installed accessories and, for motorhomes, the tongue weight of the towed vehicle that can be carried by this RV. (To calculate the weight of water, multiply number of gallons times 8.33 pounds per gallon.) NCC is equal to or less than GVWR minus UVW.

Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC): Comparable to the previously used NCC, CCC is equal to the GVWR less UVW, the weight of fresh water in the tank and hot water heater, the weight of propane in the tank, and the SCWR.

Sleeping Capacity Weight Rating (SCWR): Calculated by multiplying the number of sleeping positions as defined by the RV manufacturer by 154 pounds per position.

Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR): The value specified by the manufacturer as the maximum allowable loaded weight of the motorhome or truck with its towed trailer or towed vehicle.

Consult your owner's manual for specific weighing instructions and towing guidelines.

RV Towing Safety

Mobility and maneuverability can be difficult with motor coaches as large as 45 feet. To make the most of their travel experiences, a growing number of RVers are towing additional vehicles, referred to affectionately as "toads," for use once they've reached their destination.

Although a towed vehicle can eliminate the concerns of how to get to the grocery store or to that sightseeing destination, towing an additional vehicle behind your motor coach can bring with it a host of different problems if not done properly and safely. There are two major considerations when it comes to towing safety. First, both federal and state laws dictate certain standards for towing, like weight restrictions and required equipment. Second, there are safety measures beyond what the government requires that can make your adventure more worry-free if you practice them.

The first thing that the law requires you to have before attaching a vehicle to the coach is a properly rated tow bar. This is very important, especially if you are planning to tow a heavier SUV or a full-size vehicle, such as a Suburban. Tow bars are available in a variety of weight-carrying classes. A Class III tow bar has a 5,000-pound capacity, whereas a Class IV tow bar is rated for 7,500 pounds. It is crucial to check the weight capacity of the receiver on the back of the coach as well. Fortunately, many coach manufacturers are installing receivers rated for 10,000 pounds.

Another legal requirement when towing is that you have at least two safety cables or chains. The safety cables must be attached to the motor coach and the towed unit and must be crossed under the tow bar assembly to help prevent a breakaway. Your safety cables must be rated in the same class as your tow bar. For example, if your vehicle requires a Class IV tow bar, it will be necessary to purchase Class IV-rated safety cables as well.

The base plate, which must be installed on the vehicle being towed, is another necessity for safe towing. The base plate should properly designed and, like the tow bar and safety cables, properly rated for the weight of the vehicle being towed. It is also imperative that the base plate be bolted to the vehicle, rather than welded to the frame.

The law also requires that the towed vehicle have operable lights. The lights should be wired to operate from the motor coach and must include brake lights, turn indicators, and running lights while traveling at night.

Laws can vary from state to state. Check with your state to make sure you are staying within its guidelines.

Although not all states require a breakaway system for towed vehicles, experts agree that it is highly advisable to have one. The purpose of the breakaway option is to bring the towed vehicle to a stop if it becomes separated from the motor coach. Most manufacturers offer breakaway systems as an additional option to supplemental braking systems.

A rear-vision camera, if wired to be on when you are traveling, is a great asset when towing a vehicle. Although it does not provide a close inspection of the hookup, it allows you to monitor any changes that might indicate a problem. The rear-vision camera can be especially helpful in passing situations to let you know when you have cleared the vehicle being passed.

Another way to monitor the towed vehicle is through a device called a tire monitor. The tire monitor has an indicator that lets you know if the air pressure in the tires of the towed vehicle changes. Whether it's a slow leak that will eventually deplete the tire or debris on the road that punctures the tire and causes it to suddenly lose pressure, the tire monitor is designed to warn you that there's a problem.  Without this monitor, if a problem occurs with one of the tires, you will not be able to see or hear it and may be unaware of the situation. A loss of tire air pressure could cause devulcanization-blow-out from overheating-or loss of control of the vehicle, which could result in serious damage.

In the more common radio frequency-type systems, some RVers have experienced system failures. Things like low batteries and having the monitor installed too far away from the tow vehicle have been identified as the culprits in many cases. There is a new type of hard-wire installation believed to be fail-safe because it doesn't rely on radio frequency. This type of system has each of the four tires wired up to one single wire leading to the monitor in the dashboard, which makes it more dependable.

In addition to having the right equipment, keeping your equipment maintained and in good working condition is also important. Proper maintenance can enhance performance and extend the years of use. Manufacturers offer accessories-like tow bar covers and protection shields-to help protect your towing equipment and vehicle. A tow bar cover keeps the tow bar clean and protects it from the ultraviolet rays of the sun while the coach is in storage. A protection shield prevent damage to the front end and windshield of the tow vehicle from road debris and rocks.

Following are some quick tips to follow for the safest towing experience possible:

* Don't cut corners when purchasing your equipment-make sure the quality and performance meet the highest standards.

* Do a walk-around inspection at every stop to spot any potential problems before you get back on the road.

* When hooking up the towed vehicle, make sure the tow bar is almost perfectly horizontal.

* Don't back up when your towed vehicle is hooked up to your coach-you could damage both the front end of the towed vehicle and the tow bar.

* Teach your traveling companion the basics of unhooking the towed vehicle, in case an accident requires that this be done.

* Towing a vehicle behind your RV can be very convenient if it's done safely. Make safety a priority and take the extra step to make the most out of your RVing experiences.

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