Follow these refueling tips and reminders so you don’t get caught short of a fuel stop.
By S.B. Jackson
Hoover Dam has long topped our “must-see” list. Unfortunately, a dozen trips in and around Las Vegas through the years had failed to take us within viewing distance of the 4,360,000 cubic yards of concrete that make up this man-made wonder. Finally, last summer while en route from Phoenix to Las Vegas, there it was on the map “” Hoover Dam!
Perched on the edge of our seats, we cleared a Homeland Security checkpoint and started up the winding, twisting roadway toward the dam. The weather was perfect, traffic was moving, and the camera was loaded. Just as we rounded the corner that would present our long-awaited glimpse of one of the largest dams in the world, the “Low Fuel” light came on.
Now, as you probably know, nothing sends a jolt to the pit of a person’s stomach faster than the sight of that “Low Fuel” indicator “” especially when the last thing you can logically expect to find nearby is a place to fill up.
“Don’t worry,” my pilot muttered through clenched teeth. “We should still have 20 or so miles to go before the tank is empty.”
I may not be the brightest technical bird in the bush, but I know enough to realize a sending unit in the fuel tank trips the “Low Fuel” indicator light, and if this sending unit is not calibrated, we could be looking at a dead stall in much less than 20 miles. Perhaps our coach would stop cold someplace along the 1,244 feet of roadway stretching across this dam, where running out of fuel won’t just mean traffic tie-ups and a tow truck, but also the unwanted attention of some nearby Homeland Security agents. Forget sight-seeing. This potential petrol problem made it difficult to even focus on the road.
It’s not a good idea to play games with the fuel level. The cost of losing is too steep. Follow some basic steps to be sure that running out of fuel never happens to you.
When your fuel gauge reaches the half point, find a fuel joint. Beware of falling into that common assumption of filling up the tank after you reach a destination. Occasionally, the highway may lead right into the heart of a city, far from any fuel stop that can accommodate an RV. I say this based on prior experience that includes one hair-raising rush hour when we crawled through suburban traffic on nothing but fumes. And that was before cell phones were all the rage, making us just as desperate to spot a pay phone.
Some roadways out there haven’t added much more in the way of roadside service since the pioneers passed by in Conestogas, so it doesn’t hurt to map out refueling points ahead of time. Fuel stop directories for big rigs are available at most RV supply outlets, and they really help take the guesswork out of road signs. (The FMCA road atlas lists Flying J stations.) Beware when relying on billboards; we once followed a roadside directive to a fuel stop known for catering to RVs, but after a white-knuckled journey through traffic congestion, it turned out to be a decades-old station equipped only for automobile traffic. If the sign doesn’t say the station is large truck- or RV-friendly, it’s likely to have low overhangs, narrow driveway entrances, and corners tight enough to challenge a bicycle rider.
When you locate a fuel station and prepare to fill the tank, wear shoes different from those you use to walk on the RV carpet. Store the “fuel shoes” in an outdoor bay. Put on disposable rubber gloves to keep fuel from coming into contact with your skin, and if you have to go inside and pay, be sure the RV entry door is securely locked before you walk away. Busy fuel stations often request that you move the vehicle away from the pumps as soon as fueling is complete to allow room for the next in line. When you exit the fuel station to return to the roadway, go slowly and carefully monitor turns to avoid colliding with low concrete barriers or overhangs.
The RV fuel system includes a pump that moves fuel from the tank to the engine, and one “” possibly two “” filters to screen out impurities. The system requires regular maintenance to stay up and running. Perform the fuel filter changes on schedule. That’s the best line of defense against gunk working its way into the fuel pump and injectors. The next best weapon is a clean source, which is generally found at popular fuel stations where quality of supply commands repeat business.
And, by the way, glancing at the gauge after filling the tank is a quick way to calibrate the full mark. Also, don’t rely on your assumptions of how many gallons remain in the tank once the “Low Fuel” light illuminates. Too many outside factors can reduce that number. For example, twists and turns in a canyon roadway will slosh fuel away from the pickup tube. And remember another thing “” your generator won’t operate on less than a quarter-tank of fuel.
We all may gripe about the roller coaster cost of fuel, but when you’re driving over an attraction that sees more than a million visitors each year, price is irrelevant. We didn’t run out of fuel that day at Hoover Dam; however, the only thing we saw of the dam was a few nervous glances at the intake towers to determine how much farther we had to go. From now on, the fuel tank gets replenished before a destination, not after. Maybe the next time we’re in the neighborhood of “America’s Dam,” we can take time to actually look at the thing.