Welcome to RV Mishaps, a content series written by RVers about problems they’ve encountered on the road, how they solved them, and lessons learned. Have a mishap story of your own that you’d like to tell? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I planned a 3-month road trip around the U.S. after I bought my first towable RV. With only 1 week of practice I set out on my journey; I was 2 months in and I found myself in beautiful South Dakota. When I checked in at my RV resort the sun was shining and a big breeze was flowing, but the owner warned me it was set to get cold that night and to make sure my propane was full. It snowed 10 inches that night, so I stayed an extra day at the resort. Due to a family emergency, I had to return home but I was extremely nervous to drive in the snow.
What Went Wrong
The next morning I needed help getting out of my spot because the snow had built up around my tires. I shoveled in front of all of my tires and threw a bit of road salt out, but I still had to get pulled by a truck.
I made my way down the highway cautiously and every time someone passed me, I got even more nervous. The road was clear for a half-mile, then it became snow-covered and I assumed there was ice underneath. I took things very slowly, but after one wrong move, I saw my trailer going sideways in my rearview mirror. That was it. I took a deep breath and lightly hit the brakes—because you’re supposed to embrace a skid, not overcorrect—and turned the wheel, but it was too late.
It all happened so fast, but I am very lucky that myself, my dog, and the camper all came out with no physical damage. However, my dog and I were emotionally shaken. After a few moments, I got my composure and started with a call to my insurance. Despite my insurance assistance being 4 hours away, a tow truck drove by after just 5 minutes. He was headed to help another car and asked if I needed help, so I was dragged out and pulled off at the next exit. After my incident, the highways were closed down for 24 hours, but I was able to park safely.
There’s nothing wrong with waiting out the elements. But if you find yourself having to drive, whether it’s because of an emergency, work, or anything that you can’t wait for, here are some things to keep in mind.
Invest in Your Tires
Although it may cost more upfront, the right tires are the best asset for preventing hydroplaning. Worn tires have less ability to scatter water. The tread designed to move water from beneath a tire is not as deep, making water channeling a challenge. Replace worn tires before the rainy season. Drive slower in the rain; driving faster doesn’t allow your tires to channel or scatter the water. Snow chain attachments can be a reasonably priced option as well and range from $75 to $250.
Don’t Use Cruise Control
When you’re driving in severe conditions, slow down and be cautious. Stay alert and don’t use cruise control. Don’t drive over puddles, because you don’t know their depth or if the water is frozen. It’s also unwise to be switching lanes often; the less dramatic movements you make with your vehicle the better.
Practice Preventative Driving, Not Reactive
If you feel yourself starting to hydroplane, don’t brake hard or make sudden turns. Ease your foot off the gas until the car slows down and you can feel the road beneath you again. If you have to apply the brakes, pump them gently. Stay calm and be aware that your trailer may sway more than usual, but don’t react aggressively to fix it. Instead, focus on getting your tow vehicle back on track and the trailer will follow suit. The worst mistake I made was freaking out that my trailer was sideways. I focused on that and not where I was in the tow vehicle. This caused me to go sideways in the front as well and I couldn’t correct both at the same time.
What to Do If You Hydroplane
If you end up on the side of the road because of hydroplaning, here are some tips on who to call and what to do.
Call your insurance. Usually, this gets you the best service for the lowest price depending on your provider. In my situation, my insurance was the cheaper option because the situation was covered in my policy; however, they were going to take 4 hours to get to me. I searched for local services to see if I could find a faster option and bill it to my insurance later. It takes a bit longer to get paid back and you need to have pictures and evidence of what happened.
Another great resource is 411 or calling the local police station to see what options are available. If you research ahead of time, many states have roadside assistance that they provide either for free or they’ll bill your insurance company. In Georgia, I had a flat tire and called 411. They sent someone to help me change the tire and I billed my insurance later. Make sure to take pictures, get receipts, emails, and any other evidence to get that money back. Most likely you’ll have to pay for it upfront and then get a refund later.
The best way to avoid hydroplaning is preventative maintenance and waiting out the weather. If you have to drive, be cautious of your surroundings, take it slow, and have the right gear for your vehicles. If you find yourself hydroplaning in your RV, don’t overcorrect. The last step is to get help by calling your insurance.
Before you head out on any trip, check local websites for emergency numbers ahead of time, just in case you don’t have cell phone service. And pre-download apps like Togo RV, Campendium, Roadtrippers, Gas Buddy, and Good Sam to help you along the way.