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Practice helps when parking a large RV

April 24, 2004|by JEFF JOHNSTON/Motor Matters

It can be an RVer's most chilling nightmare: The need to back an RV into a campsite parking spot. If it's dark the situation is almost untenable for some drivers. It doesn't have to be a bad thing, of course, and a few tools and procedures can be used to make the job painless and almost fun.

There is probably no other RVing situation that has caused more family grief than backing up an RV, especially when it's a tow rig and trailer. That's not necessarily so any more.

First, it helps to practice at backing the trailer. Do so by day, in a large clear parking area, when there's no pressure to perform - as in a campground situation with other traffic waiting to get by. For some drivers, pressure also comes from having the camping neighbors observe the parking progress.

Some RVing handbooks, such as those available from The Affinity Group at www.rv.net or 800-489-2361, include sections on backing and maneuvering an RV. Those guides can be a big help for someone who's learning.

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The trailer acts opposite the direction the steering wheel is turned, so start by placing your hand at the bottom of the wheel. That gets the trailer headed in the right direction. From there on, it's all practice.

The next step you take is to have a helper with a two-way radio to guide you back. This process makes you look like you really know what you're doing. Simple FMRS radios are available for less than $35 per pair, and can save your marriage, to say nothing of money spent on expensive damage repair.

First, park the rig and walk back to examine the parking spot. Look for low-hanging branches, short fenceposts that are below mirror eye line, close-in tree trunks or other things that leap out and grab the fragile bodywork on an RV. Discuss any obstructions with the backup helper so you know what to avoid. Agree ahead of time how far back the rig should come, and what's the best stopping point when parking. This initial walk-through will save you grief later.

Next, agree to a set of known instructions. For example, "More left" means the trailer has to come left more, not that it's too far left. These instructions are far more civilized than waving arms, pointing (which the driver can't see anyway) and screaming all over the campground. This is really appreciated by your neighbors during campground quiet hours.

While backing, the helper should stay in radio contact so the driver knows he or she is on the job. Keep up a stream of chatter, as in "Doing well, keep coming back . . .just a few more feet . . . missing the limb just fine . . . no problems . . ." and so on.

There is another tack on the ease-of-backing angle that has worked well for me in the past. Back then, I carried a handful of small penlight-style flashlights in my camping gearbox. When I had to back into a campsite after dark, and I was alone, I'd use the penlights as "runway lights" of sorts.

I'd set the lights down on the driver's side of the campsite parking spot facing me, in the tow rig, spaced out so they were arranged from the road access point to the back of the site. Those penlights served as beacons, and as long as I kept them in sight while backing, I knew I was on the right track. The light reflecting in the RV's shiny sidewall was reassuring while cautiously moving rearward.

A new light product has replaced those battery-hungry flashlights in my travel kit. They're called Mini Flashers, and they're made by Pelican, the company responsible for superb, watertight and nearly-indestructible, camera and equipment cases. The part No. 2130 Mini Flashers are tiny, weighing about 1/2 ounce each, and powered by two alkaline coin-type cells. They feature a bright, flashing light-emitting diode with a 10,000-hour lifespan, and the batteries will power the light for up to 130 hours. That's a lot of campsite parking time.

The Mini Flashers are submersible, so rain won't harm them, and visible up to 1/2 mile away. They're also handy as safety flashers if you need to stop next to the road after dark.

I keep a half-dozen of these little lamps on hand, and laid down along the campsite road in place of the flashlights, they make a fine guide for those late-night arrivals. Combined with the helper with the radio, campsite parking is painless and trouble-free.

For more information about the Mini Flashers, contact Pelican Cases, www.pelican-cases-flashlights.com, or phone 800-882-4730.

Copyright Motor Matters, 2004

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