By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Snow White’s nemesis hit the fan when her magic mirror told her she wasn’t the fairest one of all. Your RV mirror might cause you to hit the fan, too, if you find your motorhome has suddenly crunched a gas pump or other hard object. RV insurance companies will chime in: One of the most common claims among motorhome clients are damages resulting from tail swing. What is this dastardly damager, and how can you avoid it?
Perhaps the easiest-to-understand illustration of the tail swing phenomenon is found on the playground: The physics of a teeter-totter. When one end goes up, where does the other end go? Obviously, down. Now turn the teeter-totter on its side – when one end goes right, the other goes left. When driving your motorhome, when you turn the front of your coach left, the rear of the coach will go right.
Now compound the issue. The longer the motorhome, the more likely you are to experience tail-swing issues, particularly when the fulcrum point – your rear axles – are farther from the rear-most portion of the coach.
HERE’S A COMMON SCENARIO that catches many new motorhome pilots in a bind. You’ve just finished dumping your tanks, and feeling happy with success, you climb behind the wheel, hit the key, let off the brake, and slowly, cautiously, pull ahead, turning to the right to clear the dump station. But in a moment, an ear-splitting crash, and a gut-sinking bump cascade through the coach. Your left rear quarter has just impacted one of those dratted steel posts at the corner of the dump station. Yes, depending on the length of your rig, and the placement of the rear axle, your coach rear-end can travel inches, even feet, in a swerve away from the centerline.
Protect yourself from this problem by using your mirrors when making a turn, not just when backing up, but when going forward as well. Fuel stations and parking lots are places where these kinds of accidents often occurred. Taking out a fuel pump is bad enough – taking out a pedestrian is unimaginable. Backup cameras don’t work going forward, and even if they did, they probably won’t show you the rear corners of your coach.
You may need to add an additional mirror to your outside array, or tilt your existing mirrors down just a bit to see the corners of your coach. If your coach has a remote adjustment switch for your mirrors, use it. Train yourself to do this – looking in the left mirror when pulling ahead right, and the right mirror when pulling ahead to the left.
While it seems tail swing issues are more problematic for motorhome drivers – maybe it’s because we’re not accustomed to such issues when driving the family car – it can also affect those pulling trailers. So hey, everybody, use that mirror – even when pulling ahead!