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.
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Kendall lives with his wife and their two cocker spaniels full-time in their RV currently in Mexico. He is one half of DashboardDrifters.com and the co-founder of RVSpotDrop, a web service for full-time RVers.
“What to do once you are stopped and safe?” Not mentioned, but critical. Change your Fruit of the Looms!!!! Yours are DONE!!!!!
Also, not mentioned, just as you exit the roadway into the ramp, hit the accelerator to the floor…..like hitting the gas…..not the brakes….at the instant of a tire blowout. Aids in maintaining your rig and tow in tension under control rather than in compression and jack-knifing.
Should you encounter a runaway ramp need event, you won’t remain calm. Your performance will drop at least to the lowest level of your preparation and practice. As in most potentially life-threatening scenarios, you will probably experience tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, loss of fine motor skills, sharply elevated blood pressure and heart rate. Your physical condition may critically impact your outcome. Rapidly increasing speed, rapidly failing brake effectiveness, sharp curves, slower traffic ahead, oncoming traffic, slick roadways, your inexperience, …..your SCREAMING significant other and kids,….,,et el…..you are in for an E-TICKET RIDE!!!!
What did Mom always say? Something like “an ounce of something, is worth something…” Wish I would have listened more closely. Mom and Dad have been gone 11 and 14 years, respectively. Still getting smarter every year. Old too soon; smart too late. Got the old down pat; working on the smart……a journey, rather than a destination, for me. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Think Pre-Need Critical….avoid the ramp need.
–Do NOT rush the grade descent. Slow and considered makes safe.
–Use the summit and mid-grade Brake Check Turnouts. Enjoy the scenery…once stopped….and take a break, consider your preparation before starting the descent. Envision your safe descent, your emergency actions. Cool the brakes. Be sure they function correctly. If in doubt; turn out!!!
–Know where/how far/how many/type/which side…think multi-lane, divided roadway…..the ramps are located. Check maps/GPS/summit brake-check turnout signage/other truckers at summit for ramp locations/type.
–Monitor your location with respect to ramps during descent. A good co-pilot is invaluable here.
–Make the descent in a controlled, slow, considered manner. Patience makes safe.
Also, if equipped with an engine/jake brake, know how it works, how to utilize properly, confirm its proper function, be sure it is engaged prior to descent, before needed. Jakes save brakes.
Also, for diesel rigs, know about runaway diesel engine condition. A runaway diesel in conjunction with a downgrade WILL overpower your braking system.
Those diesels “have pull.” Typically caused by a secondary input of hydrocarbons into the intake….further explanation beyond comment space; raising awareness for your further self exploration…..diesels will run on almost anything hydrocarbon. No, turning the ignition off will not stop it. Typically, turning off the primary fuel supply will not stop it, other than if due to stuck injectors, failed fuel pressure regulator. You typically must close the intake to stop the condition. Intake shut off valves monitor the engine speed (revolutions per minute) to trigger the intake shutoff valve in an over rev situation. Know if your diesel is so equipped. If not, consider installing one, . Without a shutoff valve, on a parked runaway diesel, spraying a fire extinguisher into the intake will typically plug the intake air filter choking the engine down, without major damage/cost…..if you know where the extinguisher is and where the air intake is located. A plastic tarp pulled tightly over the air intake canister can also choke off the intake. Also, know if your rig has multiple intakes/filters to be choked.
Be prepared; be professional; be safe.
Margery Ann Conklin says
I plan to travel to Arizona and this is amazing advice. I’m nervous just thinking about it and found this article very helpful. I did not know they had the emergency ramps. Thank you Arizona highway department. I hope to never have to use these ramps. Safety to all.
Howard Martin says
I agree with the comments in the article but would only caution about downshifting if you are in a front wheel drive vehicle. While still on the roadway, downshifting is great as you have traction. Once you are on the runaway ramp where traction is limited, downshifting, unless your wheels are absolutely straight, could introduce a los of control.
Practice slowing to 5mph or stopping without using your brake at all! Starting on a flat freeway at the speed limit and going to half speed heading on to an exit. It’s possible with a gasser even though a diesel with engine brake is easier.
I almost used the steep ramp shown in the article driving a 40ft Gulfstream 35k lbs towing a 25ft trailer weighing 15k lbs. Extremely greatful the Jake brake, M11 Cummins, Alison transmission and smoking drum brakes were able to slow me down from 70mph to 20mph.
Going thru the Rockies on the way to Donner one year, a trucker shouted on the CB his brakes gave out. Soon a hay wagon passed me and headed off an exit, brakes smoking. Rolled through the stop sign and onto the entrance ramp. Don’ t remember anything past that moment so the trucker didn’t cause a disaster. Are CBs still needed? My Nissan Rogue has an engine brake. Happy travels. Stay safe.
Roy Voeller says
Been RV’ing for years now. Soon to be a retired 35 year veteran truck driver. ALL THE INFORMATION in this article is spot on and the comments as well. As for the question if CB’s are still needed… I feel that every RV’er should have a CB radio. Even if only an inexpensive battery operated portable type unit. There is so much to be gained from being able to communicate with other drivers on the road. We all help each other when needed.
All valid points, but the crux of this situation needs more discussion. Folks these days have a need for speed. If the speed limit is 60 they’ll do 70, if 70 they’ll do 80. All the while trying to reduce the distance between two points with speed. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “My diesel will haul my 40ft 5’er at 80 mph, no problem”. I’ve seen them on the highway demonstrating just that. I would have preferred this article be re-titled “How to avoid having to use the escape lanes”. The old saying that what goes up must come down is true. If you’ve made an ascent up a long steep grade you’re going to have a descent that coincides. When you reach the crest you had better be in the gear in which you want to descend, and at or below the max speed you want going down, otherwise you’re going to burn your brakes up trying to achieve it going down. There is no shame in descending a steep grade below the speed limit.