Breakdowns are the last thing anyone wants to think about but being prepared will save a massive headache and a pile of cash if things go south. Managing an RV or a trailer adds a layer of complexity to any breakdown. Luckily, a number of resources exist that can bail you out of everything from highway stops to remote campgrounds.
The investment in a quality roadside assistance plan is well worth the minor upfront expense. Many insurance carriers offer a plan as an add-on to your policy. Consider carrying this plan and a AAA plan for worst case scenarios. If you have a habit of heading way off-road, both plans can work to maximize your mileage on a tow. At the least, carry a single quality plan with free towing for at least 50 miles. Carry more miles if possible because it increases the number of mechanic options. Rather than finding the closest mechanic, you can find the best and most specialized mechanic for your vehicle.
Safety is First Priority
The absolute first concern during a breakdown is safety. Do your best to pull off the road and find a safe place to park. RV’s and trailers are often big and they present a hazard to yourself and other drivers. If you can’t get off the road completely, set up an emergency cone or a road flare to warn other drivers about your breakdown. Also, set the emergency blinkers to add visibility while showing the vehicle is not moving.
After the vehicle is shut down and parked safely, take a big deep breath and make a plan. If you are lucky enough to have a car in tow, make an assessment of the damage and consider self-repair. A blown radiator hose for example is pretty simple and you can find a new hose and clamps in the next town. Replace the hose, fill the fluids and get back on the road.
If the damage is unknown or more serious, consider towing directly to a mechanic. Basic tire changes and dead batteries are often fixed on the road through a quality roadside assistance plan however.
An RV will require a special tow truck, but they will also tow the entire thing in one shot. Special tow trucks are frequently used for RV’s, semi-trucks and other big rigs. A trailer adds another element however. In most cases, you must disconnect from the trailer and have the truck towed first. Some tow trucks will have a hitch and can manage pulling the trailer with the tow vehicle on the flatbed. A fifth wheel configuration is less common however and you must find a separate tow vehicle to pull the fifth wheel.
When you call roadside assistance, be very specific about the type of trailer configuration you are using. If a fifth wheel hitch is not available, towing the vehicle on a dolly with the trailer attached is possible depending on the vehicle. In some cases, dropping the drive shaft is required to prevent damage to the transfer case and transmission. Dropping the shaft will allow the wheels to spin freely.
Keep an Emergency Kit
Being stranded can last for a few hours or a few days depending on the location and access to services. The one major benefit about breaking down in an RV is the ability to sit tight with a comfortable bed. Think of the event as an unexpected extra couple of days for camping. Always keep an emergency store of water, especially when traveling through the desert and dry areas. Water is absolutely critical and 5 or so gallons means you can relax. Snacks and easy store foods like pasta will keep you fed and happy while waiting for a ride.
If you don’t have cell service, an emergency GPS system is a life saver. The SPOT satellite system or a Garmin with messaging means you always have a line of communication with the outside world. Some services even have a feature to send for a tow truck directly and they include a roadside assistance plan with the price. Others offer non-emergency assistance services and some even have the ability to send text messages via satellite. Avoid the serious emergency calls as they may send a helicopter and use other unnecessary life rescue services. Simply use the tow truck feature if available or send a text message with your coordinates to a trusted friend or family member to help you find assistance.