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5. Trailer Sway
Ohhhh I’ll never forget the first time I towed our Airstream home. My fingers were so deprived of blood I’m surprised I didn’t get gangrene. After dropping more money on that thing than anything we’d ever bought before except our house, I was absolutely terrified of damaging it. TERRIFIED. I didn’t want anyone even looking at it let alone hovering dangerously close in the lane next to me while I drove. Yet there I was, cruising down the freeway at a “safe” 55 mph, while armies of aggressively stupid drivers doing 85 roared past, seemingly taking great pleasure in cutting off the slow poke with the shiny metal RV. I had never towed anything that big or heavy before and had zero sense of what it should feel like. Every bump. Every passing car and truck. Every gust of wind. Everything made me jump out of my skin like a cat hit with a cattle prod.
“WHAT WAS THAT! WAS THAT SWAY?! IS THE TRAILER SWAYING??”
Oh. No. Everything’s fine.
<90 seconds later>
“OMG WAS THAT SWAY?! IS THE TRAILER SWAYING??”
The intense fear of that first tow was exacerbated by the facts that the trailer was completely unloaded and I was towing it right on the hitch ball—no anti-sway apparatus included. The low weight made the trailer prone to porpoising while the absence of an anti-sway hitch fueled my paranoia like gasoline on a dried up Christmas tree. (Porpoising, if you’re unfamiliar, is exactly what it sounds like: an uncomfortable bouncing motion that undulates from the nose of your tow vehicle to the tail of your trailer.) We made it home safely, but barely.
I know what you’re thinking. “DID THE SWAY NEARLY GETCHA??!”
No. No, it turned out that trailer sway wasn’t the enemy I needed to fear most that day. Instead, it was a concrete pillar under a bridge that nearly did me in.
I’ve towed nearly 14,000 miles since then. These days, trailer sway rarely even enters my mind. I’ve yet to experience anything close to the type of sway that would require manual intervention, let alone the uncontrollable variety. Even in 50 mph cross winds, our Airstream feels as secure as a tank. How is this possible? Dumb luck? Do I just possess more raw towing talent than anyone who has ever towed before? Is it because my truck is so BIG and STRONG? I suppose there could be an element of luck, and the size of our truck relative to our Airstream’s weight is certainly beneficial, but I mostly attribute our apparent immunity from sway to our ProPride hitch. Even though I’ve never used any other hitch, it’s hard to argue with 14,000 miles of uniformly positive experiences. Personally, I wouldn’t tow with anything else.
Bottom line: Get a ProPride and stop worrying about trailer sway.
Back when I was agonizing over which hitch to get, there were two videos that really helped me make the decision. If you’re interested, here they are:
4. Changing Lanes In Heavy Traffic
A fancy hitch won’t help you navigate heavy urban traffic, unfortunately. Only experience will save you.
Changing lanes in heavy traffic can be stressful even when you’re not towing a trailer. How do you do it safely when you have 30+ feet of additional vehicle behind you? What do you do if other drivers won’t let you in?? How do you know when you’ve got enough room??? AHHHH!!!
Shortly before we got the Airstream, we got caught in heavy bumper to bumper traffic on a freeway outside Los Angeles while towing a twelve foot U-Haul. At the time, my Ram 2500 was brand new and felt terribly unwieldily after years of driving a comparatively diminutive Toyota Tacoma. Between the brand new, oversized truck and the twelve extra feet of U-Haul, every time I changed lanes I felt like a big dumb dog with a huge stick trying to maneuver through a narrow passageway. This only got worse as darkness descended upon us, making it even harder to determine the distance between our entourage and the two beams of light emanating from the lane next to us. If this is how it feels towing a dinky U-Haul, I thought to myself, I’m never towing the Airstream in heavy traffic!
And I didn’t. For a long time, we simply planned our trips in way that either avoided urban freeways altogether or ensured that we passed through them during early morning hours when traffic was light. Looking back, this was a good approach. Towing a trailer is a skill. Skills take time to hone. Nothing you read, watch on YouTube, or hear from other people’s experiences will ever match what you learn by doing. As I racked up the miles towing our Airstream, my comfort in a variety of situations naturally increased. Changing lanes on lightly trafficked, four-lane roads was a low-risk means of developing my ability to judge safe distances between our rig and other vehicles. As my comfort increased in these light-weight situations, I found myself less and less fearful of changing lanes in heavier traffic. Even though I’m still clearly more cautious than your average RV driver—judging by what we witness on the roads—when necessary, I feel little anxiety about aggressively changing lanes in order to head off a wayward driver. Thinking back to my earliest towing experiences, it’s amazing how much you can learn in a year’s time.
Don’t get me wrong. I still hate driving in heavy traffic, regardless of whether I’m towing or not. (Doesn’t everyone?) But sometimes, despite your best efforts, it’s unavoidable. Accidents happen. Roads get closed. Plans change. Bad weather can sweep in suddenly and unexpectedly. Gaining comfort towing in ideal conditions, ironically, makes it easier to cope with the suboptimal situations you’ll inevitably encounter.
The moral of the story is this: If you have anxiety about changing lanes in heavy traffic, build your confidence by towing in more ideal conditions as much as you can. Over time, you may find that your fears of heavy traffic fade without any deliberate effort on your part.
3. Merging Onto Freeways With Short On-Ramps
While changing lanes in heavy traffic is a challenge that can usually be avoided, absurdly short freeway on-ramps aren’t as easy to evade. You can abort a lane change if the circumstances aren’t safe. Merging, on the other hand, is a binding commitment. Like marriage. You can get out of it, I suppose, but all you’re doing is exchanging one set of problems for another. Most ramps give you plenty of runway to judge when to move leftward, but some will just dump you on to the freeway like yesterday’s garbage. The very worst ones are both short and sharply curved, leaving you with a piddly length of straightaway to accelerate while negotiating with other drivers who, often times, reeeally don’t want to let you in.
If the freeway’s clear when you’re entering, the shape and length of the ramp doesn’t really matter. Obviously. But what if you end up driving along side a string of tailgating 18 wheelers or a phalanx of cars all sandwiched together? How do you thread that needle?
The one thing thing I’ve learned here is this: People will almost always move out of your way. This is true for two reasons, neither of which has anything to do with concern for your well-being. The first is simple self-preservation, possessed by nearly everyone. (Lunatics and drunks exempted.) The other reason is because people do not like to slow down. For any reason. For any amount of time. Even a few seconds is too much of a sacrifice for most drivers. They’ll never that time back!! Truckers, especially, will yank their rigs over into the next lane like their lives depend on it when they see someone ahead who is about to compete with them for the same patch of freeway. Their desperate attempts to save trivial amounts of time and fuel can be borderline reckless as they squeeze their enormous rigs between other truckers and passenger vehicles like fleeing rats darting through an impossibly small hole in the wall.
This is all good news for the nervous RV captain. When you merge, it’s like you have a giant sign on your rig that screams “ALL TRAFFIC – YIELD TO ME!” Other drivers—truckers and passenger vehicles alike—will typically scatter like cockroaches, allowing you to merge safely.
Note that I said people will “generally” move out of your way. Not always. Sometimes you’ll have to thread the needle a bit as you scooch your rig in between other vehicles. Doing this little dance can cause your blood pressure to spike, especially if you have to exert some pressure in order to get other drivers to take the hint. “IMMA COMIN’ OVER BUDDY, WHETHER YOU WANT ME TO OR NOT! NOW SCOOCH!” You’ll get used to it. Just don’t overplay your hand and get yourself into a road rage incident. 🙂
Today, even though I seldom fret over sketchy on-ramps, I’m still known to call out “OKAY, HOLD ON TO YOUR BUTTS!” as I stomp down on the gas pedal and wait for the cockroaches to scatter. “HERE I COME, READY OR NOT!” I used to do this when I was legitimately nervous. Now it’s just for fun. (Not sure Jill finds this ritual as amusing as I do. 😬)
Bottom Line: Just like changing lanes in heavy traffic, time and experience will make scary on-ramps less and less intimidating.
3a. Cruising In The Slow Lane
Cruising along in the slow lane can present similar challenges as merging on to a freeway because doing so means constantly negotiating with merging traffic. (Now you’re one of the cockroaches! 🪳) There have been a few times when short, sharply curved on-ramps have suddenly dumped merging traffic immediately next to us and it’s REALLY FREAKY. It feels like there is NO WAY we’re not crashing right now. Your grip tightens. You hold your breath. Your eyes widen. Your stomach clenches. You watch helplessly as the other vehicle sails toward you. And then, like two professional fighter jets at an airshow, the other vehicle alters its trajectory at the last minute in order to remain parallel with you, barely avoiding a collision. The lane markers worked! BUT THEN THEY STILL HAVE TO MERGE BECAUSE THEIR LANE IS ENDING AND YOU’RE RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER OMGGGGGG!!
(Really, who designs these freaking ramps? Sheesh.)
In these (admittedly rare) situations, I almost always slow down to encourage the other car(s) to zip past me. Nine times out of ten, that’s all it takes to make everyone happy. I rarely try to accelerate ahead because that’s a race I’m not likely to win. But every so often, we’ll encounter someone who is firmly intent on letting us go ahead—even if they’ve already got a good lead on us. They’ll brake to slow down, allowing the gap between us to get uncomfortably tight. If I have no other choice, I’ll take the bait and pull ahead but it’s really funny how predictable people are. Even when this happens, it’s virtually guaranteed that 90 seconds after passing them, they’ll change lanes and fly past us in the other lane. Why not just do that in the first place? 🤷♂️
The best way to avoid square dancing with merging traffic is to stay out of the slow lane. This of course depends on the number of lanes available, but if traffic is heavy enough that merging vehicles is a source of stress, you’re likely on a major freeway with at least four lanes. Cruising along in the second slowest lane is great for this—especially if the freeway has frequent “exit only” lanes on the right. (I’m looking at you, California State Highway 91!! 🤬)
2. Getting Gas
After we got serious about buying an RV, I started eyeballing every gas station we passed during our normal daily routines. How the hell am I going to maneuver a 30 foot trailer through that maze of cars and fuel pumps? I wondered. This fear only got worse after I misjudged a turn and nearly sideswiped a concrete pillar with our Airstream on the very first day of ownership. (Yesss, that’s the second time I linked to that post. But it’s such a good one! Five stars. Highly recommended. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️)
If you have a diesel truck or motorhome, I have good news for you! If you get an Open Roads fuel card, you’ll get access to special VIP fuel pumps that are large enough to accommodate 13 foot tall, 70+ foot long tractor trailers. That’s right! You’ll be fueling in style with the big dogs, pulling through luxury fuel bays that have plentyyyyyyy of space for your RV no matter how massive it is. Oh yeah, and you’ll also get discounts on the fuel! Talk about win-win.
I was ecstatic when I first heard about this fuel card, also known as a TSD Logistics fuel card. (TSD Logistics owns and operates Open Roads.) All my anxieties about pulling our Airstream through a labyrinth of tightly arranged fuel pumps and clueless drivers went away. And although I still consider the trucker lanes something of a godsend, piloting your puny pontoon boat through a sea of massive cargo ships is not without its challenges. When our chosen truck stop is largely vacant, it’s a dream. But when it’s crowded, it can be quite intimidating—especially when you’re new. Truckers fling their rigs around like newly licensed teenagers, and are often in a tremendous rush. Sometimes the lines for the fuel pumps can become unruly as everyone jockeys for the shortest one. More than once, when we weren’t desperate for fuel and the diesel lanes looked like a zoo, we aborted our plan and looked for another place to stop. Other times, we had no choice but to dive in, drive cautiously, and wait our turn. Like everything else I’ve talked about in this post, time and experience eases all anxieties. Today, I’m more annoyed than intimidated by crowded truck stops. Here are some tips I’ve learned for successfully navigating these freighter-infested waters:
- If you’re brand new to towing, I’d try and avoid the most popular stations. Speedway and Yesway stations, on average, are less popular than Love’s or TA Travel Centers. Unfortunately, the less popular truck stops also tend to be less “pleasant” bathrooms. (Coincidence? I think not.)
- Before your first foray into the diesel lanes, learn the prescribed etiquette. This is important to understand, even though truck drivers themselves often disregard the protocol. We recently had to wait about 15 minutes after fueling for the trucker ahead of us to move his rig about of the way. Turned out he was just sitting in his truck, not paying any attention to who was behind him. Looking back, I should have knocked on his door and asked him to move along.
- Confidence in your ability to back up your rig is important. It won’t come overnight, but developing this skill will make navigating congested areas much less stressful. Without it, you have nowhere to go except forward, and sometimes that’s just not the best option. I recommend backing in to 90° parking spots as often as you can for the practice. Look for spots that have plenty of space on either side so you can over- or under-turn without consequence. I myself haven’t gotten to the point where I can confidently back into spots with trucks on either side, but I’m getting closer all the time.
- Note that despite the wide availability of truck stops that work with the Open Roads fuel card, occasionally you will have to visit a ‘normal’ gas station. Over time, you’ll develop the ability to quickly scan and assess the suitability of a given station before you commit and enter its driveway.
To learn more about the Open Roads fuel card, scroll to the bottom of their FAQ page and you’ll see a number of ringing endorsements from various RV YouTubers.
If you have a gas engine, unfortunately, you’ll be limited to consumer fuel lanes. However! Many truck stops have dedicated RV lanes designed for larger vehicles just like yours! If you’re new to all this, I recommend using tools like Google Street view to scope out gas stations before you arrive. That’ll remove any last minute guesswork during your trips.
1. Tire Blowouts
Ahhh, my number one fear.
I’m not sure how often RV tire blowouts actually occur in the grand scheme of things, but I sure see a lot of posts about them in the Airstream Addicts Facebook group. Seriously, I see at least one post every week from someone who had a blowout. Are trailer tires more prone to blowouts than other tires? Or am I just exposed to so many blowout stories via the internet that my perceptions are off base? It’s hard to say. Regardless, it’s an experience I’d rather avoid. Aside from the peril of changing a tire on the shoulder of a busy road, a blowout can do substantial damage to your RV—not to mention your day.
While the risk of a tire blowout will never be zero, I’m far less worried about them than I used to be. Here are five reasons why I’ve learned to chill out.
First, we use Goodyear Endurance tires which have a much better reputation for performance and reliability than trailer tires of the past. It seems like before this model came on the market in 2017, trailer tires were notoriously prone to catastrophic failure, which is why they were commonly referred to as “China Bombs” (due to their country of manufacture) and “Maypops” (’cause they may pop. get it?). Goodyear Endurance tires are manufactured in the USA. 🇺🇸 🎉
Second, we use a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). I’m really surprised how often folks post about blowouts online and when someone responds by asking if they were using a TPMS, the blowout victim says, “What’s a TPMS?” If you don’t know, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a tool that monitors your trailer tires and sounds an alarm if the air pressure becomes too high or low, or if the interior air temperature reaches unsafe levels. Low pressure can cause heat to build up which, in turn, can cause the tire to go boom. 💥 A TPMS is an early warning system so you’re able to attend to tire problems before a blowout actually occurs. We use a TST 507. It’s very popular and we’ve been mostly happy with it, but it also has a penchant for false positives. From what I’ve read, that’s a common problem with all these systems, but I’d definitely do some research before pulling the trigger on one. They’re not cheap.
Third, I’ve now had two experiences swapping out tires on our Airstream. The first time was because a screw had punctured the tread causing a slow leak. The second time was because we discovered horribly uneven wear on the inside of one tire. Both times I was able to change the tire under controlled circumstances in a safe location. Looking back, I’m super grateful for both those experiences. They were colossally inconvenient at the time, but they served as excellent practice runs for the inevitable day when I’ll have to swap out a tire on the shoulder of a busy road. In all of my 45 years, I had never before changed a tire. If you haven’t either, I highly recommend practicing in the safety of your own driveway so you’re better prepared if you ever have to do it under less controlled, more dangerous circumstances. It’s not rocket science, but a stressful situation could certainly make it feel that way!
Fourth, we always carry a lug wrench, torque wrench, tire inflater, and leveling blocks that can be used for raising one tire off the ground. Obviously, if you have a problem and you don’t have the right tools to fix it, you’re kinda screwed. 😬 I should probably also get a bottle jack, but since our trailer is a dual axle, it seems just as effective to use leveling blocks—something we carry with us by default.
And finally, fifth, I got in the habit of visually inspecting our trailer tires at least once each travel day. About halfway through a recent 650 mile journey, I noticed that the inside tread of our driver’s side rear tire was virtually gone. The other three tires still looked like new. As soon as we arrived at our destination, I swapped out the worn tire for the spare. If I wasn’t in the habit of looking for damage, who knows how quickly the tire would have worsened to the point where a blowout was a serious risk.
In conclusion, I am incapable of writing short articles
This was supposed to be a “quick and easy” one. 🤣 I hope you found it useful and entertaining, despite its… um… “comprehensiveness”! Happy towing!