What to Do When You Lose Your RV Brakes
Having to use a runaway ramp is something most of us will hopefully never have to do. That being said, it is important that you have a plan if you ever do find yourself in a bad situation.
We have all seen them on our travels, long, intimidating arms, darting off from the roadways, often in mountainous terrain, with a sandy pit at the end.
How many times have you driven past a runaway ramp and thought to yourself, “Man, that would suck”?
That thought is probably correct. It would suck, but it would be much better than the possible outcome of not having it if needed.
Most of us will travel many miles and never have to use a runaway ramp or even put much thought into it as we cruise by. However, part of being a responsible RV owner is knowing the risks involved in driving and towing and safely meshing with everyone else on the road.
This involves, of course, ensuring your rig is in safe operating order and that you are alert and driving within the limits of both your vehicle and yourself. Avoiding emergency situations is the best plan of action but knowing what to do in an emergency is key.
What are highway runaway ramps?
Runaway ramps are constructed to allow vehicles that are having braking problems to safely stop. They perform two critical functions in an emergency situation. Firstly, they get the affected vehicle isolated from other traffic. Secondly, they help that vehicle to get stopped.
Other emergency situations which would prevent a vehicle from safely navigating the upcoming section of the road may also be a reason to use a runaway ramp, however, braking is the main reason behind them.
Runaway ramps are typically a long, sand and/or gravel-filled lane that is connected to a steep downhill section of the main road.
These ramps allow a moving vehicle to be slowed gradually in an as controlled and harmless way as possible. The idea, therefore, is to avoid a dangerous crash and limit harm to occupants and damage to vehicles.
The most common runaway ramp seen is the long ramps that use an uphill path and usually sand towards the end to slow the vehicle.
Depending on the area, there may be different types of emergency stops. Some are flat lanes with more sand and barricades from surrounding traffic. In some locations, mechanical arrester-style ramps are being utilized. These are essentially stainless steel netting that catches the vehicle and slows it in a short distance.
How do you get on a runaway ramp in your RV?
You are approaching a steep grade or bending mountain pass and upon checking your brakes you realize you have a problem. This is a terrible situation to be in and will be without question stressful and likely trigger panic in many.
As with any emergency, the number one thing to do is remain as calm as possible. Having a plan and knowing you are as prepared as one can possibly be for such a situation will benefit you.
After taking a deep breath, there are a few steps to take to get on the runaway ramp safely:
- Make sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up and awake to brace themselves.
- If you are on a multilane road, you are going to want to get in the lane needed to take the exit.
- Turn on your hazard lights.
- Signal with your horn and headlights to relay to traffic you’re in trouble.
- If possible, use downshifting to try to slow your rig.
- Depending on the brake issue, your emergency brake may still help slow you down a bit. If you use the emergency brake, apply it gradually.
- If available, use your trailer brakes to assist in slowing and keeping your trailer straight.
- Aim to exit as close to the center of the ramp as possible.
- Make any last-second adjustments to ensure your trailer is as straight as possible.
- Grip the steering wheel firmly and hold your rig as straight as you can.
- Stay fully engaged until your rig has come to a complete stop.
- Once stopped, put your vehicle in park and apply the emergency brake, and cut the wheels to one side. This will help eliminate the chance of the vehicle rolling backward.
What to do once you are stopped and safe
What will likely be a matter of seconds may have seemed like an hour. Once you are stopped, make sure your vehicle is not moving, specifically rolling back.
Make sure everyone is safe and there are no immediate dangers such as fire. If you need to exit your vehicle, ensure it is stable and there is no chance of shifting or rollover.
At this point, you will need assistance in recovering your rig. Most likely you’ll be having it transported somewhere it can be inspected for repairs.
Easier said than done, but try not to get stressed or upset about the damage to your vehicles. This was your best decision and outcome. Personal safety always comes first.
Traveling safely is a large responsibility and can’t be taken lightly. Taking all the steps to ensure a safe trip and knowing you and your rig are operating safely will make you a more confident and safe driver.
Always ensure your RV maintenance is up-to-date to prevent situations like this. Use an online tool such as RV LIFE Maintenance to not only keep all of your documents in one place, but to also receive timely reminders when maintenance is due to help you avoid costly repairs and potentially serious accidents.