Category: RVing Safety Tips

Wildfire Safety

It’s summer! The days are longer, the sun is brighter, and the temperatures are higher. Do you know what this means for most of the western United States? If you guessed Wildfire Season you guessed right. It’s a sad reality for many western states. From May to October wildfires present tremendous risk to our National Forests and a huge potential to destroy them. Wildfires can begin in a heartbeat and spread within minutes.  Do you know Wildfire Safety while camping or boondocking?

It Could Happen to YOU!

Recently, I stayed at Lake Cochiti campgrounds. Just as I settled in, I received notice to evacuate due to wildfires spreading only five miles away. I was close to the Cerro Pelado Wildfire near Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’d been watching the smoke come over the ridge for a few days. But, I was told it wouldn’t cross over into the campground. Well, that assumption and information were DEAD wrong.

When I had to rush to pack up and leave, it got me thinking. I spend a lot of time in forests. I need to arm myself with more information about what to do in case of wildfires.

A few months ago, I released a video about preparing for weather emergencies, but I didn’t talk about wildfires. And the honest answer is I didn’t know how to talk about it. I’d never experienced it as a danger while boondocking. Well, now I can talk about wildfire preparedness. I’ve done the research to find tools, apps, and resources to help me prepare. Having armed myself with knowledge, I feel safer while camping on public lands and I don’t fear getting caught in a wildfire. I’ve done the work, so you don’t have to start from scratch. 

Ready? Let’s dive into how to stay safe if a wildfire breaks out while you are camping or boondocking.

No time to read and want to listen to the original video about my wildfire experience from my YouTube Channel? Click below.

Tips & What You NEED to Know

Boondocking on public lands adds an extra element of danger for recreational vehicle dwellers. I’m sharing what I learned about boondocking safely in national forests (since that’s where most of the wildfires are), tools for staying informed on fires in your area, and how to be prepared if you need to evacuate.  

Tips When Boondocking Near Wildfires

#1 DO NOT GO OFF-GRID!
If you are within 100-miles of a wildfire, stay within range for cell signal. You need to have your location, GPS, and emergency alerts on at all times. High winds accompany wildfires and can change at any time, changing the direction without warning.

#2 KNOW Where You Are. You need to know the closest towns around you.  Remember, boondocking in a forest alone means no one will be there to tell you to evacuate or what town to head to or away from. After you are settled, take a look at what type of emergency alert system the towns use. If a town near you gets evacuated, YOU NEED TO GO! Don’t stay, pack up and get moving to safety. 

Pro Tip:

Three places to check for alerts: Facebook for local Fire or Police, the National Forest Service for the forest you’re in (follow them on Twitter for FAST, real-time updates), and the City Government Offices near you. Some cities will use an emergency alert system to notify the town of evacuation in the event of a wildfire. Call the City to find out if you can sign up for text/phone alerts, but stay proactive and alert in case phone alerts fail.  

#3 Don’t Camp Alone. While solitude is great, (and you all know how much I like camping alone!) in this situation, if you know you are near wildfires, there is safety in numbers. You never know who might have a resource, like a HAM Radio, to help receive information about the fire and evacuation notices.  

#4 Make a Plan. Prepare ahead of time! Have an evacuation plan, know how you came in. Find an alternate route out, if possible. If you think you might need to make a quick getaway, bring all your things inside and stowed for travel, bring in your awning and anything else that will take you more than 5 or 10 minutes to pack up. Look at the towns around you and find their emergency evacuation routes. Know your way out!

Helpful Resources and Apps for Wildfire Alerts

Wildfire Safety Resources

FEMAFema.gov and available in your app store. You can sign-up for email and text alerts. You can enter up to 5 locations and you can change them as you move around. Make sure you locate towns north, south, east, and west of where you are camping.

National Weather Service: Website weather.gov and available in your app store.

Clime App: Fire Weather Alerts

Fire, Weather & Avalanche CenterFireWeatherAvalanche.org and search FWAC in your app store: This website/app will show you how big the fire is, containment, weather conditions, smoke drift, and more.

Ready.gov/wildfires: National service to help people prepare for disasters and emergencies.

Smokeybear.com: Learn more about Wild Fires and Wild Fire behavior. The more knowledge you have, the more confident you will be when needing to respond in this type of situation.

TIP: You can GOOGLE search the fire name to find more specific and updated information as well! Stay proactive and know the name of the fire(s) in your area. Typically, this search brings up a link to local information reported about the fire and possible Facebook pages to follow for local police and fire.

Wildfire Safety prepared

Stay Alert, Stay Safe During Wildfire Season

Having accurate, current information about your surroundings can be critical for anyone living a nomad life or even if you are just a recreational camper. Knowing how to stay safe near wildfires while camping or boondocking and having a safety plan can be the difference between life and death for you. Literally. 

Wildfires are fierce and unpredictable and often uncontainable. Know your surroundings, and have a plan. Be prepared, be happy, be free, and be safe this summer.

Other Resources from Carolyn’s RV Life:

RV Life Extreme Weather Survival Guide Vid

Extreme Weather Safety Blog

Tips for Keeping Your Dog Cool in Your RV

How to Stay Cool in Your RV During the Heat of Summer

Escaping the Heat in Florida’s Blue Springs Park (click below)

Have a question for me or want to chat about RV Life? Check out my Roadside Chat with Carolyn Video Call HERE: Live Calls with Carolyn and Personal Video Messages – Carolyn’s RV Life (carolynsrvlife.com)

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel by clicking the icon above for more RV Life How-To and Not Tos.

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DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.

RV Living Safety Tips

RV living can feel exhilarating, challenging, and scary simultaneously. After setting out in my RV in 2016, I’ve learned a lot about RV Living safety and dealing with fear. Most of my encounters with strangers have been overwhelmingly positive, friendly, and harmless. This doesn’t mean that I’ve never been afraid or questioned whether I’m in a dangerous situation.

From Fear to Freedom

I am a huge proponent of showing, through my travels and experiences, that the world is NOT a scary place. The media bombards us daily with images and commentary sensationalizing worst-case-scenarios of the human experience. Daily news stories leave many people convinced the world is scary and danger lurks in every corner. When we live in fear, we restrict ourselves. We can’t fulfill our dreams when we’re afraid to live. How did I overcome my fears? By getting out there and living my life, researching, studying, and taking precautions.

Experience and preparedness give us a greater sense of empowerment, especially as women traveling alone. Fear is a natural response to certain situations. It brings out the fight or flight instinct in everyone. Pay attention to how a situation is making you feel. If you are uncomfortable, do not talk yourself out of how you feel! So many times we dismiss our gut instincts instead of taking a minute to validate what we are feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s probably a good reason. Don’t let your fear paralyze you. Instead, use it to get yourself to safety. Remember, YOU are your #1 priority!

RV Living Safety Tips

Lessons Fear Teaches Us

Fear is a primal instinct. Our bodies and minds are always on the lookout for threats to our safety and well-being. However, allowing fear to overtake our thoughts can distort reality and keep us from rational thinking. Fear can protect us or cripple our ability to live freely and make decisions. How we handle fear reveals a lot about us. Is your fear protecting you, or is it limiting you?

If You Haven’t Had a Crazy Experience, You Will!

RV and nomad life are not for the faint of heart. You will encounter unique people and challenging situations. You may even have to face and continue to deal with the same fears daily. I’ve had some interesting encounters over the years. Knocks on my door in the night, interrupted showers, and headlights glaring into my RV from big noisy pick-up trucks, to name a few. I’ve learned a few things about where to camp and where not to camp. I’ve learned where you might run into some sketchy situations or where it might take a scary turn. Whether or not I’m in danger or feel the area might put me at risk, I’ve learned to quickly assess a situation and rely on my gut instinct to keep me safe.

Below are the six best tips for RV living and camping safety.

Safety for RV Life

RV Living Safety Tips for When You Arrive at Camp

Tip # 1 The biggest thing to remember for RV living safety is to be ALERT at all times and TRUST YOUR GUT INSTINCT.  Just because you pull into a campsite, it does not mean you are now in a protective bubble. I’ve learned 99.9% of people are friendly and helpful. However, I have camped in a few locations that made me feel more on guard than others. You are not being fearful when you have your guard up. You are being alert and prepared! If someone or something doesn’t feel right, it is OK to say, I don’t want to be here and leave.

Some warning signs that a campsite might not be safe – or peaceful:

  1. Lots of garbage, especially beer cans and such. If it looks like a party spot for locals, I skip it.
  2. Drug paraphernalia. Yes, I’ve seen needles– even in the forest. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to camp in someone’s shooting up spot.
  3. Unfriendly locals. If the locals drive by and sneer at you, or worse, get out and harass you, GO!
  4. Homeless encampments. I prefer to steer clear of areas where people have taken up permanent residence. The sad fact is, there’s more crime in places like that. And even if you’re not in danger, these areas also attract people who could harass you for money and other favors.

If you are a solo female traveler, you will also want to watch the video below for more tips.

Tip #2 Have an escape route.  It’s important to know how you will exit your campsite. You want to be able to leave your parking area quickly without turning around. You should always park with your nose facing the way out. If someone is trying to break into your RV, leave whatever is outside and drive away.

Tip #3 Always leave your keys in a strategic place at night.  Select a place close to you and easy to access at night in the dark. This goes along with tip #2. If you have to flee in the middle of the night, you want to be able to grab your keys and jump in the driver’s seat quickly. The last thing you want is to be fumbling around and having to turn on every light to find your keys.

RV Living Safety Tips for When Encountering Alarming Situations

#4 Don’t Panic!  Take a minute to breathe, collect your thoughts, and remember you are the #1 priority to take care of! Just because someone is knocking or calling to you from outside, does not mean you have to immediately respond. Take your time to put your thoughts and a strategic response together. This leads to my next tip in RV living safety.

#5 Don’s admit you are alone!  If you are camping or traveling alone, do not admit you are alone. Answer in the plural. (“Yes, WE’RE camping here…” ). Carry an extra camp chair and put them both out. Put a pair of Size 14 men’s shoes outside or in the dash. To see how I handled a situation like this check out this latest video on a midnight visit by some persistent locals.

#6 Don’t open your door for anyone.  While most people are not wanting to harm you, you never know when a situation may become dangerous. You don’t have to open your RV door to communicate. You can speak through the door or ask the person to go to your driver’s side window, but do not roll down the window. Asking them to go to the driver’s window, means you can also drive away quickly if needed, as you will be sitting in the driver’s seat ready to go.

Stay Safe, Stay Prepared, Stay Fearless, and Travel On

So there you go, six simple RV living safety tips. These are my very basic tips to help keep you safe while traveling and living your best RV life. Check out my list of videos below from my YouTube channel for other helpful tips and shared experiences as I travel and live in my RV. Be sure to like and subscribe to my YouTube channel for videos on How To while living in an RV, Tips, Tricks, and more! If you are looking for more RV Life resources, visit my resource page here.

And as always…

BE HAPPY, BE FREE, BE KIND. ♥ Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more RV Life How-To and Not To.

Video Links:
Scary Visitors in the Night
Trusting Your Gut Instinct
13 Safety Tips

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel by clicking the icon above for more RV Life How-To and Not Tos.

DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.


Safety Tips for RV Living and Extreme Weather

Weather Safety Tips for RV Life

Living and traveling full-time in my Class C RV since 2016, I have experienced more extreme weather this year than any other time. I have encountered tornado watches in Wyoming, windstorms that knocked down trees, and blocked forest roads causing difficulty to get out. I have been in heavy winds in the desert, to the derecho (which is a long stream of wind and thunderstorms), that I had to escape in Wisconsin. With these real-life lessons, I’ve learned it is imperative to know safety tips for RV living and extreme weather.

Just recently, I was under another tornado watch in Arkansas. I found out the next day after waking up I was only a hundred miles from the tornadoes that wreaked devastation across four states. My heart and thoughts are with everyone affected by that horrible devastation caused by those tornadoes. Sadly, I think severe weather occurrences are only going to get worse. So it’s critical to know how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, especially if you live in a vehicle.

Be Prepared Living on the Road or in Sticks & Bricks

Living as a Nomad, either in an RV, bus, or car, we are at higher risk than any other group. What puts us at higher risk? We’re often in unfamiliar places. Living in California most of my adult life, I know what to do and where to go for help if there was an Earthquake. I was familiar with the community and the resources offered. Nomads do not have that familiarity. We are at a disadvantage, especially if we are moving a lot. We probably won’t know the surrounding area, where the safe places are, where to get help, and in some cases, we don’t even know what to expect from the weather.

Weather Safety Tips for Nomad Living

As I was lying in bed the other night, I started getting alert after alert on my phone for a tornado watch. My first thought was that I don’t know what to do if a tornado hits! I don’t even know if there are warning signs before a tornado hits. This situation got me thinking about other nomads and newbie RVers. So, I decided to put together the single most comprehensive bad weather/extreme weather safety guide out there. I will share how to stay safe in tornadoes, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, high wind events, earthquakes, flash floods, and extreme hot/cold temperatures. Everything you need to stay safe while living in your vehicles and traveling is right here in one place.

Here is a baseline guide of seven things you need to have in an emergency. These are general tips for just about anything, whether living a nomadic lifestyle or even a static lifestyle, that will help you be prepared in an emergency.

7 Safety Tips:

1) Keep a cell phone charged and a charged backup battery.

2) Have clean water and food ready.

3) Fill your gas tank.

3) Have a bug-out bag packed with a flashlight, cell phone charger and backup battery, a transistor radio and batteries, a flashlight, water purification system, and your important papers (ID, Passport, medical records, prescriptions, bank info, etc.) and don’t forget your Vet records for your pet.

4) Have a plan for your pet.

5) Know your area- what weather is it prone to?

6) Be familiar with the nearest shelter/grocery store/gas station/hospital/vet/ have emergency phone numbers on hand for the area.

7) Have a reliable weather alert system in place.

These are general safety tips to help you be more prepared in case of a major emergency. Now let’s talk about specific weather types you may encounter while traveling the country and how to stay safe.

Specific Weather Conditions

The first one is not weather-related, but still an environmental threat: Earthquakes. In California, it is common for people to jokingly say, “It feels like earthquake weather today.” Really, there is no scientific evidence that weather changes cause earthquakes, and there are no warning signs. Here are important things to know and do in the event of an earthquake.

Earthquake safety for full-time RVers

Earthquake Safety Tips

  • Drop, cover, and hold on to something sturdy and stable.
  • Protect your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • Get out of your RV if parked under power lines.
  • Follow the 7 Safety Tips I listed above.
High wind and living in an RV

Heavy Wind Safety Tips

Wind as low as 10 miles per hour can cause problems when driving an RV. Always be aware of this. I have encountered some pretty heavy wind while driving, and it is not a fun experience. The wind can flip your RV around like a soccer ball. Most RVs can withstand winds up to 75 miles per hour when parked. So remember, it’s usually safer to be parked during a wind storm.

  • When parked, point the nose of RV into the wind and hold on. It takes a lot to flip an RV, especially a Class A or C.
  • Avoid parking under trees, find a clearing to prevent injury or damage from falling trees or limbs.
  • If boondocking, think about if you can get out if trees fall and block the roadway. How remote are you? Either stay closer to town or carry a chainsaw or an ax to remove fallen tree branches.
  • Secure everything down, on, and around your RV. You do not want to have to go out in the storm and risk injury during a storm to save your favorite camp chair!
Thunderstorm safety tips for RV dwellers

Thunderstorms Weather Safety Tips

Midwest weather in the summer and fall usually consists of rain and thunderstorms. How do we stay safe in our RVs during severe thunderstorms?

  • You are safe from lightning inside your RV as long as it has an aluminum/steel frame, which most have.
  • If plugged into shore power, unplug and turn off all electronic systems in case of a lightning strike to prevent damage. 
  • During heavy thunderstorms, watch out for flash flooding. Know if you are near a stream, river, or creek that could overflow and drag you down. Washes in the desert that may look like they have been dry for years can rage in a matter of seconds. When you see them filling with water, get on high ground!
  • Hail can damage your RV solar panels, vent covers, and roof. It’s best to find shelter for your RV, if possible.
Tornado preparedness for nomads

Sleeping in a Tornado’s Backyard

I was a hundred miles from the crazy tornadoes that ripped through four states on December 11, 2021. I was under a tornado watch for 12 hours. For those not living in tornado alley, in case you did not know, the weather service issues a tornado watch and then a tornado warning. A tornado watch is not as serious as a warning. With a tornado warning, you need to be hyper-vigilant and pay attention to what is going on around you. The tornado watch was supposed to end at Midnight.

As I tried to go to sleep, I kept getting alert after alert on my phone, updating the situation to let me know what was happening in my area. I could see lightning all around me. I started thinking, “Will I know if a tornado is coming? What will I do? Should I stay in my RV?” I want you to remember that just because you are only under a watch, this does not mean you are not in danger! Tornadoes can change directions in an instant. Below are ways I found you can stay safe during a tornado while staying in your RV or vehicle.

Tornado Safety Tips

  • Watch for a rotating and/or funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, and listen for roar like a freight train.
  • If you are driving – PULL OVER! 
  •  Do not stay in your RV! Get out and seek shelter.
  • If under a tornado warning, find the nearest shelter. Visit the Red Cross website here and zoom in on the map. Do not assume a shelter is open!
  • Seek shelter on the ground floor of a concrete building or basement stay away from outside walls, windows, and doors.
  • DO NOT go under an overpass or bridge.
  • If no shelter is available, lay flat on the ground in the lowest level you can find, like a ditch. Always beware of flash flooding zones.
  • Use your arms to protect the head and neck.

Tornadoes also come with the danger of unpredictability because we often do not always know the direction they will continue to travel in. I would rather stay where I am than be on the road in severe weather. Just because we live on wheels, it does not mean that it is always an option to drive away. Hurricanes also come with this same danger.

Hurricane safety for RVers

Hurricane Season is Real

Did you know there is an actual hurricane season? Right now, this schedule is fluid because of the changing environment. The current seasons to be aware of for hurricanes are:

Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season: May 15 – November 30.

Atlantic Hurricane Season: June 1 – November 30.

Central Pacific Hurricane Season: June 1 – November 30.

Emergency sirens sound to alert residents of a hurricane (or tornado) approaching. Most communities in hurricane/tornado regions use sirens, so find out if the area you are staying in uses emergency sirens. Remember, you do not want to prevent yourself from hearing the sirens at night, so do not sleep with headphones or ambient noise playing too loud. Follow the below guidelines to stay safe during a hurricane in your RV.

Hurricane Safety Tips

  • Pay attention to Hurricane Evacuation Zones on your weather alert channel or App. If you are in one – LEAVE! 
  • DO NOT STAY INSIDE YOUR RV! Get out of your RV and find shelter, like listed with tornado safety.
  • Be aware of the high risk of FLOODING. Be mindful of where you take shelter! 
  • DO NOT walk, swim or drive through floodwaters. Just 6 inches of water can knock you down and drag you away. One foot of water can pull a vehicle away.
  • If you are stuck, find a sturdy building or hill and park your RV on the opposite side from the wind.
  • Check to ensure all doors and windows are closed and locked to prevent water damage.
  • Park on a level spot.
  • If you are parked and on leveling blocks, roll-off of them for better stabilization and less chance of wind coming under and flipping your RV over.
  • There are some techniques for anchoring your RV with wheel chocks, stabilizing jacks, etc. Visit VEHQ.com for a complete How-To Guide on anchoring.

Extreme Heat and Cold Safety Tips

We’re going to be seeing more extreme heat and cold in the years to come. It’s difficult to escape the heat and cold when living in an RV. So what do you do? You can change your elevation.

  • For heat – go HIGH! Higher elevation is always cooler. Learn how to prepare for warmer weather and stay cool with this video. Click here to view.
  • For Cold – go LOW.
  • Plugin to shore power or use your generator so you can keep things warm/cool.
  • Winterize/summarize your RV. Watch the video below for Winter RV Living MUST Haves!
  • Stay in a hotel if you can when temperatures are extreme.
  • Protect your Pet! Extreme heat and cold can be dangerous to your pets too!

You can visit my Shop Page here to view items I use to heat my RV. Visit my Amazon Store here for more ideas for your RV.

Resources/Tools to Use

NOAA

Now let’s talk about some of the best resources that you can use to stay safe on the road when encountering extreme weather. The first tool I want to tell you about is the NOAA all-hazards radiofrequency. Did you know 98% of the population is under their radio frequency? Visit www.weather.gov/nwr for a list of radio stations where you can get up-to-date weather information.

CLIME APP

The second one is the App called CLIME. This App is the NOAA Weather Radar Live app that is an all-in-one weather tracker and uses your GPS signal to alert you on conditions where you are in real-time. This App, by the way, told me I was under a tornado watch. It sent alerts to me on the tornado status and thunderstorm status. I had my alerts turned on for both. I received a notification every time lightning struck within five miles. The app uses real-time radar and enables you to see which direction the storm is going. Monitoring the storm around me and saw I was just on the edge of it. Using the App, I escaped the derecho up in the Midwest. I just barely missed it! I drove out of the path of the storm using this app as a guide.  

“Ryan Hall Y’all”

The final resource I want to tell you about is a guy on YouTube. This guy is amazing! His information is better than most weather stations or weather channels. He’s called Ryan Hall Y’all. You can follow him on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. He seems to be an amateur meteorologist and avid weather enthusiast that borders on expert predictions. I’ve been keeping an eye on him for awhile, and he is good at predicting the direction storms are traveling and new storm development. Ryan is very thorough and very meticulous about his data.  I think he is an excellent resource. I have subscribed to his channel and am now going to be using his information for planning purposes. Check out his YouTube channel here

Stay Safe, Stay Happy, Stay Free

I hope you found this helpful and a resource that you will refer to time again, in your RV life and maybe even in your regular sticks and bricks life. Check out the video I posted with all this information as well! 

Here are some quick resources I used to put this guide together.

Ready.gov  for all emergencies 

State Farm Hurricane Tips 

Hurricane Survival Guide

Another video you might like from my channel about high winds: Surviving Crazy Winds in an RV: https://youtu.be/B3wUldsSCuk

And as always…

BE HAPPY, BE FREE, BE KIND. ♥ Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more RV Life How Tos and Not Tos.

Carolyn's RV Life on YouTube

CaroynsRVLife.tv

DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.

How to Drive an RV on Mountain Roads Without Killing Your Brakes!

I recently drove my 29’ Class C RV over two mountain passes in one day. I climbed from sea level to over 7000 feet,  back down to about 4000 feet, back up to 7000, and finally down to 4000’ again. This is a lot of work for a six-and-a-half-ton RV built on a van chassis.  And as my brakes smoked and spewed the toxic odor of burning brake pads, I realized I had a lot to learn about driving a big Class C Motor Home on mountain roads. The more I drove, the softer my brake pedal became; I had to push it almost all the way to the floor to slow down.  I eventually pulled over to let the brakes cool and that helped, but it didn’t take long for the pedal to get spongy again and by the time I reached the bottom of the grade I was barely stopping at all.  (You can read the whole harrowing story here). I was able to get to the bottom safely by pulling over to let my brakes cool and using low gear, but it was nerve-wracking, to say the least!

Driving RV Mountain Roads

Once I was on flat land again I did research to learn what I’d done wrong to make my RV brakes overheat and fade on the mountain passes. Here is what I learned.

Know Your Route and Prepare Ahead of Time!

I’d driven my Class C RV on plenty of mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada’s, so when I glanced at the Google map and saw the squiggly lines of switch-backed mountain roads, I thought “piece of cake”. What I learned that day is that not all mountain passes are alike. Everything from the length of the grade, steepness of the grade, road conditions and weather can impact travel on mountain roads.

The Lesson: Plan your route ahead. Ask others or do research on the route before you go. My mistake was doing both passes in one day. The grades on both were very steep and very long, causing me to use my brakes a lot! I should have done one pass and rested my brakes at least a couple of hours before tackling the next one.

Driving up to toward Winnemucca, N

Safety First – Know the Condition of your RV

The one thing I had going for me that day is that I’d recently replaced my front brake pads, calipers and rotors. My rear brakes had been inspected and the drums replaced. I knew my brakes were in good shape. So, as I was mentally trouble-shooting what was causing my brakes to slide and smoke, I could deduce they were overheating. However, “to safely control a vehicle, every braking mechanism must do its share of the work. Brakes with excessively worn pads or rotors will not provide the same degree of braking power. If you are not sure about the condition of your braking system, have it inspected by qualified service center.” (Source: FMCA, “Mountain Driving: Let Your Engine Do the Work”)
The Lesson: Keep your vehicle maintenance up to avoid dangerous or even deadly RV brake or engine malfunctions on dangerous roads. If my brakes had been old and worn out, a caliper had gotten stuck or I had a brake fluid leak my situation could have had a very different ending.

 Use Your Motor Home  Engine to Slow You Down!

You should also “shift into low gear before starting the downgrade”,  advises the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA). FMCA also states, “with motorhomes, a rule for choosing gears has been to use the same gear going down a hill that you would to climb the hill. However, new motorhomes have low-friction parts and streamlined shapes for fuel economy. They may also have more powerful engines. This means they can go up hills in higher gears and have less friction and air drag to hold them back going down hills. For this reason, drivers of newer motorhomes may have to use lower gears going down a hill than would be required to go up the hill.

Usually you want the lowest gear that will keep the motorhome at or near the speed you want in negotiating the downhill. For example, if you’re going down a six-percent grade and wanted to go 35 mph, you would start downshifting and using the brakes to get to an engine rpm that will enable you to maintain a speed at or near 35 mph.”

The Lesson: I drove a stick shift for years and if my RV was a manual shift, downshifting would have been a no-brainer. But with an automatic transmission, I’m always unsure when I should shift into low gear.  A rule of thumb, according to RVers Online who attended an RV Driving School is that if your “RV accelerates more than 5mph going downhill then you need to shift to a lower gear”. How helpful! I will be remembering that!!

On the edge of the Anza Borrego Badlands

Proper RV Braking on Steep Downgrades

RV and Motorhome brakes overheat from excessive use – or “riding”.  Riding your bakes on long steep downgrades will cause your brakes to fade- or with consistent use, to stop working completely.

The Lesson: The goal for safe RV and Motor Home driving on mountain roads is to keep the brakes cool enough to keep working. You can do this by letting up on them for 3 seconds for every 1 second of application. (Source RVersOnline.org)

What to Do if Your Brakes Overheat

If you’re driving your RV or Motor Home down a hill and notice smoking, burning brake odor and/or brake fade, pull over as soon as you are able to do so safely and let the brakes cool. Turn off the engine and test the brake pedal if, after sitting a while, the sponginess disappears and the brake pedal becomes firm again, most likely your issue is brake overheating. It’s best to let your brakes cool completely before getting back on the road; that could take an hour or more depending on weather conditions.

Overheating your RV brakes can cause permanent damage to your pads, rotors and calipers. If you do overheat them, it’s best to get them checked out by a brake service center as soon as possible.

Do you have any RV driving safety tips you’d like to share? Or how about a scary story to share? Leave your comments below!