RV wipes out, totaled, only 20 minutes after couple buy it

Photo: Washington State Patrol. (Click to enlarge.)

A couple’s new trailer was totaled 20 minutes after they bought it on Tuesday in Poulsbo, Wash. The couple, from Auburn, Wash., were heading south on SR-3 in the center lane around 3 p.m. when the travel trailer began to sway behind their Jeep Cherokee, according to Washington State Patrol Trooper Chelsea Hodgson.

The driver told troopers she was unable to regain control and the trailer flipped over in the left lane and landed on its top. “Unbeknownst to them, the trailer has pressure treated 2×6 boards underneath, making the trailer heavier than they believed,” Hodgson said. No one was injured and no traffic citations were issued. From komonews.com.

From the editor: Keep in mind this Quick Tip we published recently in our RV Daily Tips Newsletter: If your trailer starts to sway, a natural reaction will be to hit the brake pedal – a sure-fire recipe for a major disaster! “Applying trailer brakes manually will usually dampen a sway, and cause the trailer to follow the tow vehicle rather than to jack-knife.” How do you do it? Reach down and slowly slide the manual override lever on your trailer brake controller to apply braking power to the trailer, while keeping your tow vehicle freely rolling. From Trailers & Fifth Wheels Made Easy

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44 Thoughts to “RV wipes out, totaled, only 20 minutes after couple buy it”

  1. I also wonder if they had a brake controller in their Cherokee and if it was set up properly. If not, just stabbing the brakes to avoid a road hazard can let the trailer “push” the tow vehicle, especially if you’re in any kind of a turn such as a lane change. Of course, the bigger the tow vehicle in relation to the trailer the less this effect comes into play. And failing to load the trailer for 10% to 15% of its weight on the tongue doesn’t give you enough extra traction on the rear wheels of the tow vehicle. Another thing I’ve seen and experienced is the pendulum effect of the trailer bouncing the tow vehicle up and down from going over a bump in the road. Without a weight transfer hitch to shift trailer tongue weight to the front wheels of the tow vehicle it can cause the front wheels of the truck to lose traction. Any of these things by themselves might not cause a wreck. But add up two or more of them and it can create a perfect storm you can’t recover from.

  2. Gregg

    I feel for the driver of the jeep. If that person would have properly done all of the homework necessary, it may have prevented the entire thing. Like most everything, if you do not understand how it works, you WILL have problems. Yes, they have things like road side service for those that don’t know or can’t fix a flat tire. When it comes to towing and driving an RV, there is alot MORE to learn and respect than putting gas in it and driving 70mph down the fast lane….. oops, towing 70mph in the fast lane? Not in California. Towing ANYTHING, 55 in one of the 2 slow lanes ONLY. In California I have seen alot of idiots, yes I said it, from towing U-Haul trailers doing 80mph in the fast lane and car pool lane to motorhomes and buses weighing well over 15 tons doing the same. I do not want to be anywhere near them when they fail to stop in time. Just the other day I had a motorhome pass me using the fast lane while I was doing around 65 to 70 in the middle lane. (California highway speed limit). It really doesn’t matter how much money you have, the real question here is, Do you really have NO respect for the other drivers on the road? PLEASE, do your homework, obey the traffic laws, and and be a COURTEOUS driver. It will only benefit YOU. SAFE TRAVELS.

    1. Rick

      So true. What is really scary is that when you leave California where there are restrictions on what lanes any vehicle towing can be in, does not apply. In Nevada/Arizona 18 wheelers/ any “towing” vehicles can be in any lanes. It blows my mind on what can happen when the “weekend warriors” towing at speeds of 70 or more have no regard for their own safety as well of those around them.

    2. Eric

      Second worst mistake of my life buyig an RV with bad info and greedy sales!

      The first was: leaving the womb!

  3. J.O.

    When I was looking for a brand new trailer, I needed a light weight one, as my towing capacity is 5000 lbs (I have an SUV). One guy at one RV place was adamant that I could buy and tow a trailer that was 4900 lbs as it was “under” my towing capacity! When I told him that you should never go close to your max AND that the food, water, and belongings would take me well over capacity, he told me the towing capacity was just a “guideline”. I walked away from that idiot and found a second hand trailer that weighs 3300 lbs.

  4. S Brandt

    I don’t know that it is the same dealer, but I have heard horror stories about some Seattle area and Poulsbo RV dealers not using due care in matching units to tow vehicles. There are so many out there who don’t realize the dangers and it is up to the dealers to stay informed and inform their customers.

    1. Robbie

      We bought our Class A from Poulsbo RV. They have serious incompetence problems with their sales and service staff. I’ve been back and asked questions that I knew the correct answers just to see how they responded.

      Not satisfactory at all, and just downright scary!

    2. anne

      It wasn’t purchase from a dealer but from a private party on craigslist they said.

  5. Steve

    This looks like a very good or bad example of how bad some rvs are built. Go to KOMO news in Seattle and look at all the pictures of the CRAPY construction of the trailer deck. What a crime!!! Bottom line is buyer be ware.

  6. Captn John

    Salesman at CW told a customer he could not buy a 5er and they would not install a hitch in his truck. Buyer went off the cliff, loud and vulgar! Saw the same truck a year later at a local rally ~~ pulling an even heavier 5er bought same day CW refused him.

  7. Bob Gash

    All are excellent comments; however, sadly, the issue of overloading seems to be an unregulated, industry-wide problem.

    I recently read a review of a $171,000 class B motorhome that had a whopping 370 lb(!) total carrying capacity.

    The reviewer “gushed” about the build quality and features, but only barely mentioned the unit should probably go on a bit of a “diet”.

    Also, I’m sure all of us have witnessed trailers and motorhomes with obviously under-inflated tires – it’s a true wonder there aren’t more accidents like the subject of this article.

    [Ex: we’re currently parked next to an older trailer with extremely low tires on both axles. When I mentioned he might check them out and that I have an air gauge and compressor, he declined, stating “I know they’re nearly flat – oh well, it’s always something”.

    Mike and Chuck could likely write all day long on the subject of travel safety, but it seems the most dangerous/scary owners would simply claim “that’s the other guy”…

  8. Tom

    In 2004 I purchased a 34’ travel trailer, I sold my half ton pickup and purchased a new Dodge 3500 Cummins diesel to pull the trailer. The trucks specification were rated for the weight of the trailer plus a safety factor. I also purchased the best and newest of electric brake control technology.
    My error was quickly pointed out by the service manager at the RV dealership, the new trailer was higher and 3.5K lbs. heavier than my old unit. The friction sway control and trunnion mount I wanted to use was maybe okay for my old unit but not rated for the new trailer. His recommendation a complete new hitch assembly built and rated for the load, $600.00 later, I was still a bit skeptical but was assured it would be safer and cheap insurance considering the total investment. The service manager assured me if you ever got the old set up into an emergency braking scenario and it starts to jackknife it would be a disaster.
    On my way home with the new truck, hitch and trailer it was very windy and rainy, we crossed an elevated area with strong cross winds. My wife looked behind us and the trailer was swaying a bit in the stiff wind but immediately corrected itself and followed behind. From the driver’s seat I could not feel or see the swaying or any indication of the crosswind. The dealer was right the proper rated hitch and sway control was worth every penny.
    Even thou I had towed many older and smaller trailers many thousands of miles with hitches that were adequate for the application there was a point where there useful life had been exceeded by my upgrading.
    When I purchased the new trailer I knew a large tow vehicle was required but in my ignorance I did not give much thought to that critical hitch connection. I am pleased that the service people at the dealership had my best interest and highway public in mind. The RV dealer weighted my set up on scales at local aggregate yard and spent quite a bit of time setting up my hitch and brake control to efficiently control the trailer.
    A few years later I was rear ended while towing the trailer by an uninsured, unlicensed, drunk driver with a borrowed car. In dealing with the car owner’s insurance company I mentioned that I wanted all of the towing components replaced on my truck along with the replacement of the trailer, totaled. They told me there was no indication of mechanical failure so they would not cover the hitch. My response was I will keep the copy of your denial and if there is ever a component failure I will hold you responsible. One week later my truck was in the RV shop having all of the hitch components replaced and my trucks frame inspected at the dealership for any failures along with a certifying letter of its roadworthiness.
    I have since upgraded to a diesel pusher and when I purchased the components to attach my toad they are all rated for the max towing capacity available, many more pounds than any vehicle I intend to tow. For the few dollars more I feel it is just a larger safety factor. It is cheap insurance for my investment and all our safety on the highways.

    1. Good stuff. You’re correct that overkill is added insurance when something goes wrong. If the roadways and weather and other drivers were always 100% perfect, then we could get away with loads way in excess of legal limits. But the world is full of crazy and unexpected events that we’re sometimes dragged into. A few years ago I was zipping across the country on one of my coast-to-coast drives, and there was a severe weather alert with horrific wind gusts. Right in front of me only a few hundred feet away one of these gusts flipped a semi-truck and trailer right on it’s side while traffic was moving maybe 40 mph. But most of the gust missed me in my Sprinter and I just felt a big slap on the side of my van. That’s also why I upgraded my Sprinter to the highest load rated tires I could get, played with tire inflation for best handling (80 psi rear and 70 psi front), and added air bags just to reduce the sway. I was also careful when loading to keep the heavy gear near the floor and the lighter gear near the roof. One time I got lazy and let someone else load my van without watching them pack, and within a few miles down the interstate I could feel that something wasn’t right as I was getting more body lean than expected. So I pulled into a rest stop and took an hour to unload and repack the entire load. I know I’m a good driver, but I look for every advantage when the s**t hits the fan.

  9. Jay French

    Mike Sokol’s comment above concerning people buying the largest trailer they can afford but not matching it to rated towing capacities of the towing vehicle is especially noticeable in the “Deep South” where everyone owns a truck but I have noticed F150’s pulling huge trailers as a rule rather than the exception.
    It does upset my wife when she has to follow me in the 2nd pickup with the golf cart plus generator in the bed. That little Cajun in no way will I trust pulling any trailer. She wonders why I won’t put it in the bed of my truck since we are going the same place & it will “Fit”.

  10. Royal

    The first comment answers the question about extra weight from added wood. Previous owner must have done repairs with wood that he figured would not decay. Just could not figure why heavy wood would be added to a new trailer.

  11. Bob

    It is my understanding this was a craigslist purchase, therefore the entire responsibility lies with the buying person. When I first read the story the it was stated their “new” trailer so I assumed it was a dealer screw up in the hookup and education of the customer. There are so many people who don’t research anything before purchase, just 2 days ago I saw a SUV come off I 24 wb to go to the local KOA. Instead of a W/D hitch they were using the class 3 hitch under the bumper with a straight receiver adapter that caused the front of the trailer to be at least 8-10” higher than the back. I can imagine how that hookup handled, plus the hitch weight had the SUV nose high. Some people are so ignorant I don’t believe anybody could offer info that could save them and everyone around them.

  12. Will

    Just got back from a month on the road. If I had a buck for all the overloaded pickup-trailer combos I saw, I’d be rich. Hey guys, if your rig and trailer looks like a V from the side, you have a problem.

    It seems like families want to take everything but the kitchen sink on their 4th of July camping trip. I can’t tell you how many pickups were loaded with coolers, bikes, and the proverbial full sized backyard BBQ!! Really?

    Weigh that sucker when it’s loaded and you’ll really be surprised!! Check your GVWR sticker. I suspect a lot of folks are running 1,000# or more over their truck’s capacity.

  13. D Wheatley

    There is a good video on youtube about loading trailers and swaying that applies here “trailer sway 101”

  14. Janet Groene

    I always recommend that towing customers get a three-way consult to match up the trailer with the tow car and the hitch including a professional hitch installation. There is always the chance that the right hitch on the right tow vehicle for the right trailer is installed by the wrong do-it-yourselfer.

  15. I wonder how many of you have actually tested your trailer tongue weight after loading up for a trip. As you should know, the weight on the hitch should be between 10% and 15% of the actual trailer weight. So if your trailer weighs 5,000 lbs loaded, you need between 500 and 750 lbs on the tongue. A trailer with a GVW of 10,000 lbs needs 1,000 to 1,500 lbs on the tongue to be safe. Your first warning of overweight is simply the hitch on your truck. Note that a Class III (3) hitch is only rated up to 500 lbs of tongue weight, so 10 times 500 lbs equals 5,000 lbs max trailer weight. Thus a class IV (4) hitch is rated for 1,000 lbs of tongue weight and 10 x 1,000 = 10,000 lbs of trailer. And a class V (5) hitch is rated for 1,200 lbs of tongue weight and 12,000 lbs max of trailer. Of course there are other considerations such as your truck’s rated towing capacity, how much bed loading and people loading you have in your truck so as not to exceed the GCWR, etc… And remember that water in your holding tanks weighs 8.3 lbs per gallon.

    My point is that most of the math for figuring out safe towing weights is really simple, as long as you know the basic formulas. And of course there’s wiggle room in the calculations, so nothing is going to blow up if you get to 110% of rating. But if you’re running at 110% of rated load (or above) you’ve given up a big safety margin that you’ll need if something goes wrong. I believe this is another reason why so many tires blow on trailers, too much weight from all the stuff.

    Of course, this is just a quick review of tongue weights as they relate to actual trailer weight, but if I get time I might write a full article on the math and geometry of trailer loading. Hey, math is good for you since it explains how the world around us operates…

    1. Wolfe

      Excellently stated points, Mike. Your point about Class-3 trying to tow larger (8-11Klbs) trailers is especially commonly violated.
      One aspect/question I’ve run into which muddles this all up is WDH’s where the head itself claims to be rated for the huge trailers and then physically has a Class-3 shank. Sold that way, but doesn’t add up for the reasons you mentioned. Since “it fits,” folks put the huge trailer on the too-small tow and get in trouble. My suspicion (?) is that you’re probably expected to swap the C3 shank portion for an actual C5 shank if you want to use the head near the rating on the plate? Many folks I’ve seen use a C3>C5 sleeve even when using a correct-sized tow vehicle, so maybe you can confirm whether using a C3>C5 sleeve properly allows the full tow rating or is another dangerous dealer skimp by creating a weakpoint between strong truck and strong WDH?

    2. Rob

      Hey Mike, this accident was tragic and luckily no one was injured. On the Facebook trailer groups, there are constant arguments about people towing illegally. Especially when it comes to 1/2 ton trucks and SUV’s, The dealership and the manufactures will state you can tow an 11000# trailer with their 1/2 ton. You can’t make these people understand the problem is the payload limitations, not to mention that 1/2 ton truck frames, brakes and tires etc aren’t made for extreme duty, most 1/2 ton trucks have a max payload of say 1500 to 1700# based on the basic truck weight. The manufacturers don’t weigh the trucks off the assembly line to state it’s actual weight with options. The buyers don’t also understand that you have to subtract anything that’s in that truck from that payload number like human’s, dogs, gear and any add on’s like running boards etc. So a family of 5 in a 4 door 1/2 ton has to subtract most likely 650# for humans and another 250# for any gear, tools etc. So actual payload or tongue or pin weight ends up being about 800#. Until the end of time, the male species will coin the phase my truck pulls it fine. Rant complete.

    3. Rob

      Thanks, Mike,

      You have an excellent way of explaining technical info, unfortunately, some guys (I believe many men are just of the mentality if it can sit on the hitch and roll down the road it’s just fine). You would have to be completely living in the woods to not have the info required today to load and tow a trailer safely. Hundreds of great videos and posts on Facebook and Youtube explaining exactly what the rules are and how to calculate tongue weight, payload etc.

      1. So true. And while I’ve watched dozens of these videos, and many of them are great, few of them go into the geometry and math of how this actually works. For example, large semi-truck trailers can move the rear trailer axle forwards and backwards depending on the load distribution in the trailer. Of course if we move the axle to its rear-most position, this tends to shift the weight onto the 5th wheel of the semi-truck. And if you move the trailer axle forward you now shift the trailer weight off of the semi-truck and onto the trailer wheels. However, I get truck drivers telling me that shifting the trailer axle changes the weight of the entire truck. When I explain the geometry of how it actually works and that they haven’t changed the mass (weight) of their entire truck by even one atom, they think I’m making it up. Same for load-leveling hitches. Nothing is changed as far as the combined weight of your tow vehicle and trailer. Instead, what the spring action of the load-leveling hitch does is try to pick up the rear axle of the tow vehicle, which then shifts the weight from the trailer tongue to the front wheels of the tow vehicle. It’s all about weight distribution, not changing any actual weight.

        Not sure when I can get the time to write up this kind of article and make a demonstration of the principles of trailer loading, but it sure will be fun to do.

  16. Wolfe

    As soon as i read “Jeep” I knew the problem. As others have said, totally absurd to tow more than a popup behind a micro-truck.

    True story: my dealer tried to sell me a 12000lb trailer to tow begind my Suburban – WAY over tow rating! I don’t think even half that weight (@TR) would have been great to do. My current truck is rated to tow 14000, and I drag 9K typically, making it drive nicely instead of on the edge of catastrophe.

  17. squeakytiki

    They should have watched the video…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWd8ml9mFMo

  18. Bill & Kitty BATEMAN

    If you don’t know your gcvwr and stay below it … anything untoward happening while towing cannot be labeled an “accident” … It is intentional disregard for life, limb and property. Also, regarding tow weight ratings … they mean nothing if your tow rig is packed heavy and your trailer is at or near max tow weight … if you do not know your “combined vehicle weight” (total weight of tow vehicle and trailer as driven) then you are derelict in your duties as a driver.
    Oregon allows anyone to use a highway weigh station free of charge if it is not “open” for attended weighing of commercial vehicles. The weigh stations are still operable even when “closed” and not attended. Same in Alberta Province, Canada I believe.

    1. Yeah, sort of like trying to take a 50 mph turn at 100 mph really isn’t an accident. It’s stupidity….

      1. Wolfe

        That’s silly… Everyone knows the laws of physics are suspended for self-declared “safe drivers”! 🙂

        If I only told you how many times my safety students defended their bad practices with “…but it’s never killed me BEFORE?!”

  19. Jacques Lemieux

    The point about not enough truck for the trailer is a good one. Another question related to that for me is: What is the responsibility of the dealership to help the customers they sell to know whether or not the tow rig is a good match for the unit the salesman is desperately get sold? Maybe none legally, but ethically I think there is major responsibility on the part of the dealership. I love to hear opinions on this.

    1. The problem is that customers often want the biggest trailer they can afford, but don’t want a dedicated towing vehicle. While many trailers really need a 3500 dually (or bigger), most casual RVers don’t want to be driving a dually most of the time. So I see a lot of 2500 SRW pickups that are really too small for the huge 5th wheel trailer they’re asked to haul a few weekends a month during the summer. That’s the problem with making a compromise selection for a truck. It’s really too big to drive to work and get the groceries during the week, but it’s really too small to haul the trailer with all the goodies we pack into them. I wonder how many readers actually weigh their rigs before taking them out the first time. I always get the weights of any new trailer I’m towing. Understanding towing capacities and trailer weights are vitally important to safety on the road, but I’ve never seen any RV dealerships in my area offering a newbie trailer towing class.

    2. Wolfe

      There are laws against car dealers knowingly selling an unsafe vehicle, but a trailer may be legally treated as an unsafe “accessory” the user added to their safe vehicle. A good lawyer could make a case for willful endangerment by the dealer (especially if they installed tow equipment on an incompatible tow), but i don’t know how successful you’d be since drivers are ultimately responsible for the safe operation of their rigs. This accident should certainly try!

      1. PeterD

        When I first looked at travel trailers I knew very little about towing one. I had a midsize SUV. I asked the salesman if my vehicle would tow a particular trailer. He said, sure no problem. Fortunately, I did my homework and avoided disaster. My SUV would have towed it off the lot, no problem, but it would have been very dangerous on the highway. I think some salespeople just want to make a sale. Your safety is none of their concern.

        1. Sadly, that’s probably the case many times. I’ve occasionally moved a really big and empty cargo trailer from one side of our parking lot to the other with my Nissan Frontier. But I would NEVER take it out on a road of any kind, and certainly not the interstate.

          1. Monty

            I used to tow a 3800# travel trailer with a Nissan Xterra.

          2. I see that an Xterra has a rated towing capacity of 6,000 lbs, so that should give you plenty of margin. I have a Nissan Frontier Pickup with a rated towing capacity of 6,300 lbs and a factory installed Class-3 hitch. I installed a Prodigy P3 brake controller, and it does great with my two trailers, a single axle rated at 3,500 GTWR and a tandem rated at 7,000# GTWR. Most of the time I have about 2K# to 3K# of gear in my tandem trailer, and maybe 1,500# in my single axle trailer, so I’m well within weight limits. The Prodigy brake controller is a real step-up from my dad’s old dumb brake controller which needed constant adjustment to be doing anything at all. The Prodigy is really smart so once I get the trailer braking action dialed in I can pretty much forget about it as road conditions change. I wonder how many readers really know how to adjust trailer brakes?

    3. Bob Robinson

      Great comment: Dealers are responsible not to sell unless the vehicle is qualified to handle the towable load or fifth wheel..Lazy Days in Tampa area refused to sell me a trailer that exceeded my Chev.2500 due to I had a 3:73 rear axle ration and needed a 4:10 gear to raise my correct ability..even tho I have “E” tires and a 6.0 engine..just as it came from the factory. If I had the 4:10 gears then it was rated at 10,200 towing but the 3:73 gear was only rated for 8600 and the used trailer was a bit to heavy for my truck. They told me that the dealer can be sued in court for failing to advise properly as they know what’s required and even tho I have “Timbrens” in the rear and 8 foot box and tires and engine ..they would not sell for fear of lawsuit. I had the 750 weight distrusting bars and years of towing experience ..NO sale from them. They use the VIN# to determine what’s proper. Some of the rigs going to Florida are actually scary and in the slow lane and a hazard for sure..

  20. Sherry

    What is the advice if towing a vehicle behind a motorhome and a sway begins? I’ve towed with a Class A with no problems, and may want to tow a car with my next Class C.

    1. Bill

      Too many variables, but I would give it a little gas, then slowly come to a stop on the shoulder, unhook, have someone drive the toad to nearest dealer, and sell it. Then I would kick myself for not researching the combination properly, and start a new search (and research) for a suitable toad.

  21. Roy

    A fishy story. The weight would have been on the manufacturer ID build tag. Definitely more weight than a ‘Cherokee’ could tow with or WITHOUT said treated boards. We tow with a Grand Cherokee and it’s rated for 6200# factory tow package. The idea that she was in a ‘center lane’ indicates she was also the recipient of the dread “Over-Speed, Over-Weight Reward”.

  22. I wonder if they had enough truck to tow that trailer. Most of the 2018 Cherokee models are only listed for a max 2,000 lbs towing capacity. https://www.jeep.com/jeep-capabilities/towing.html

    Also, towing experience counts for a lot. While I’m not an OTR truck driver, I have many hundreds of thousands of miles pulling trailers of all sizes across the country in all kinds of weather conditions. Most seasoned RVers with a lot of towing experience already know about avoiding fast lane changes, allowing for longer stopping distances, watching bridge height, etc… But many newbies think it’s just tow and go.

    I don’t see how the small amount of additional weight from treated 2×6 boards would affect trailer handling. That sounds really fishy to me. And Mike Schwab is correct that moving belongings forward in a trailer to get the proper ratio of hitch weight is vitally important to EVERY trailer being towed. And the driver of the tow vehicle is ultimately responsible for any misloading problems. I always supervise my trailer loads since I’ll be the first one at the scene of the accident, with the trailer coming in a few milliseconds later.

  23. Mike Schwab

    And once you get it stopped you move belongs forward.

    1. Bob

      When you get it stopped you probably won’t have to move everything forward, it’ll do that in the emergency stop. Lol

      1. Wolfe

        “Cop: What was the last thing to go through your brain before the accident?

        Driver: The jack from my trunk.”

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