Calling for roadside assistance can be a troubling experience, but having the right information at your fingertips can help to minimize the anxiety and ensure that you obtain the help you need.
By John L. Hawkins, F395477
Few things are worse than experiencing a breakdown while traveling in your motorhome. Sitting on the side of the road in a vehicle with mechanical issues can leave you feeling helpless, anxious, and more than a little flustered. Here are a few simple pointers that can make a bad situation a little better.
Know Your Motorhome
This may seem to be an odd statement, but really, how well do you know your motorhome? Can you provide specific information about the vehicle quickly and concisely? When you’re stopped on the side of the road in need of assistance, it’s important that the proper personnel and equipment be sent to tend to your special situation. To do that, the service provider or towing company needs detailed information about your motorhome so that they make educated decisions about your dilemma and respond accordingly.
What follows is a guide to help you compile the essential information about your motorhome that you must have at hand when making the call for assistance. To alleviate the stress of having to remember or find this information during a time of crisis, a good idea may be to create your own roadside emergency chart with the following information listed.
- The make and model of your motorhome.
- The length of the motorhome.
- The weights of your motorhome, including the total weight of the vehicle along with the individual front and rear axle weights. It’s important that you provide axle weights, which can be added together to find the gross vehicle weight.
- The distance between the front bumper and the center of the steering axle. Use a tape measure and record the measurement in inches. When noting this measurement, also list the front axle weight alongside. If you decide not to create a roadside emergency chart, these two pieces of information are critical and should be committed to memory.
- The type of suspension used on your motorhome. This is critical for the towing company, because it will determine what type of truck is sent. A truck-style “I” beam axle, usually found on motorhomes with a chassis cab (Type C) or production Type A motorhomes with front-engine power, can be towed with frame forks without causing damage.
Motorhomes equipped with an “A” arm suspension (also known as an independent front suspension) with either spring or air should be towed using a tire lift mechanism. This type of front suspension is found on most pusher motorhomes. Prevost XL and H coaches have a very strong pull ring just forward of the “A” arm box that can be used for frame forking, but tire lifting is the suggested towing method. When a tire lift mechanism is used, the potential of damage to the undercarriage of the motorhome is dramatically reduced.
- Note the location of your generator. If it’s positioned at the front of the motorhome, make sure that this information is provided. The tow operator typically will have to remove the exhaust pipe and muffler if the generator is mounted in the nose. If you happen to run the generator while waiting for service to arrive, understand that the tow truck operator may have to wait until the exhaust system cools before these parts can be removed.
- The height of your motorhome from the ground to the highest fixed point. This is usually measured to the air conditioner housing or satellite dome, but other equipment may be higher.
In the vast majority of towing situations, a motorhome MUST be towed with a tow truck or wrecker. If a towing company shows up with a large trailer that tilts back and loads your coach from the rear, the overall height once it’s on the trailer likely will exceed the height restrictions for public streets and highways, and thus be illegal. Depending on the condition of your motorhome, this might be your only towing solution, but it is dangerous and should be done only as a last resort. Make sure that you have this discussion with the company providing the service and that they have signed off for the liability.
Know Your Service Provider
Just because you have purchased an annual plan with an emergency roadside assistance company does not mean the person you initially contact understands your specific needs. Nothing is wrong with clubs or policy programs, but don’t assume that the person on the other end of the line has all of the details needed to make the best decision in regard to your motorhome. The following information will help guide you through the calling process.
- When you call the emergency roadside assistance number, you are reaching a call center. The representative who answers does not know exactly what your motorhome looks like or have other vital information about the vehicle. So it’s important for you to politely take charge of the situation from the start. Tell the person that you are going to provide critical information and that you would like him or her to repeat the information back to you to make sure that what has been written down or typed into the computer is correct. This is where you provide the information written down on your roadside emergency chart.
- Make sure that you ask the representative for his or her name, and provide the person with your cell phone number so that he or she can call you back in the event the call is disconnected before completion.
- Once the representative has taken down all of the pertinent information, request that he or she ask the company that will be providing the roadside service to contact you before sending out help. I have been in the towing and recovery business for more than 34 years, and I know that towing companies appreciate receiving accurate information from the start so they can send the appropriate personnel and service vehicle the first time. This also will reduce your time stranded on the road.
Do not be surprised if, when you describe your motorhome, the towing company declines and recommends another company that can provide the service you require.
- Law enforcement might be your service provider. If you are pulled over on the side of the road and a police officer stops to assist, provide the same information from your roadside emergency chart as if you had placed the call yourself.
You should know that law enforcement agencies typically work with a number of towing companies on rotation, so they will call the tow company that is next on their list. But that does not mean that the company contacted has adequate resources for your situation. It is your right to get the proper service and equipment and not be forced to take only what is offered.
If you provide the law enforcement officer with the information listed on your roadside emergency chart, he or she will understand that you are a knowledgeable person in need of the right service. If you have made a call for assistance and then an officer pulls up to assist, make sure you let him or her know that you’ve already called for assistance. This will eliminate the possibility of the officer also making a service call and two towing companies showing up to perform the same task.
Location Of Your Breakdown
It is very important to give the accurate location of where you are. If you are on an interstate or turnpike, provide the name of the road, what direction you are heading, and the nearest mile marker. To get to your location, a tow truck might have to pass you and come back. Do not be alarmed if you see this happen. If you have stopped on a secondary street or a rural area, provide the road name, your direction, and the estimated mileage from a known landmark or other street. If you have a GPS system, you can use it to provide more detailed information about your location, such as coordinates, nearby streets, etc.
- It is very important to let the towing company know where your coach is stopped, its orientation to the road, and the situation surrounding it. If you’ve pulled off the highway and one tire is on the shoulder but the other is on the grass at a slope, this is important information for a tow truck operator. The same is true if you have become disabled in a downtown area with heavy traffic, perhaps next to a concrete barrier, and very little room to work on your motorhome and maneuver the tow truck.
If your motorhome is stuck, supply detailed information as to how bad you are mired and in what type of element (snow, ice, mud, grass, etc.). You also will need to estimate the distance from the motorhome to the nearest high ground or solid ground.
- Tell the towing provider how many people are in your group. It is against the law to ride in the motorhome while it is being towed, and a tow truck might have room for only one or two passengers. Most companies will provide additional transportation for a large group if told up front.
- It may surprise folks to know that more tow truck drivers lose their lives annually per capita than firefighters or police officers. This happens when they or the vehicle they are servicing is hit by another vehicle. This is a dangerous job, and you need to stay in a safe place away from the motorhome and tow truck while the service personnel do their work.
Mechanical Items On Your Motorhome
Depending on the type of motorhome you have, there may be several other mechanical items that will have to be accessed, disconnected, or removed before the motorhome can be towed.
- If your motorhome is equipped with air brakes, the manufacturer should have a recommended access point to connect into the air system. Let your tow truck operator know where the connection point is as soon as he or she arrives. Access to the air system is important for several reasons. First, it is necessary to release the air brakes so the motorhome can be moved. It’s also required to air the system up “” and keep it aired up “” throughout the duration of the tow. Finally, in areas with steep grades, the motorhome’s braking system will be needed to help slow the vehicle combination when going downhill.
- You also need to know the make and model of your transmission, whether it is an automatic or manual, and whether the vehicle is equipped with a driveshaft and half shafts.
The driveshaft or half shafts will need to be removed prior to the motorhome being towed to prevent transmission damage. A driveshaft connects the transmission to the drive axle, and it can be short and difficult to remove. Thus, the service provider may opt to remove the half shaft out of the center of the drive axle. If this is done, they will seal the half shaft openings with cardboard or specially designed covers to keep the gear lube in the axle housing. Make sure either the driveshaft is disconnected or the half shafts have been removed before the motorhome is towed.
The service provider will have to run an air line, electrical line, or both types of lines to the rear of the motorhome. From the tow truck to the back of the motorhome, that’s nearly 60 feet of wiring. There is no way to safely accomplish this other than to run the lines along the side of the motorhome. Once the wires have been routed and connected, the tow truck operator should attach split tennis balls or use shop rags tied in knots along the wiring to keep it from rubbing against your motorhome’s finish. The farther the motorhome is being towed, the more critical it is for this type of protection. If the towing company does not have anything to provide protection, then you should gather some towels from your linen closet and tie them to the lines to provide a buffer between the lines and the motorhome.
The Cost Of The Service
In 2010 a new tow truck capable of towing a motorhome was a $250,000 to $400,000 investment. Towing providers are nearly 100 percent family-owned operations, and when making the towing call, they have to provide a successful outcome for their customers.
So before you hire a towing company, ask up front for the expected fees and costs. There may be a charge just to come out to your motorhome. There also may be a mileage cost that could start from pickup to drop-off, or begin after a certain number of miles traveled. There may be fees for disconnecting the driveshaft or removing the half shafts. There may be hourly charges, for service rendered on the side of the road, or for working in densely populated areas where heavy traffic can affect travel time. Find out the costs first so there are no surprises later.
The towing and recovery business plays a significant role in the world of transportation, supplying a much-needed service to the automotive public. When it comes to towing high-end motorhomes, these operators must have plenty of knowledge and experience. And like any business that supplies you a service, the job should be done responsibly and professionally. The information that you provide at the beginning of the process will be greatly appreciated and alert the operator to the fact that you have an understanding of the service that is going to be provided. Remember, the towing service did not cause your breakdown; its job is to transport your motorhome to a location where it can be fixed. This service is made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year no matter what the weather is like.
I personally hope that you never have to use any of the information you just read, and that the roadside emergency chart you created remains hidden away in your glove box or wherever you keep your important paperwork. But if you do have the misfortune of needing roadside assistance, you should now be better prepared to respond to the situation with confidence. Good luck and safe traveling.
John L. Hawkins has worked in the heavy-duty towing industry since 1976 and in tow truck design since 1982. He is vice president/general manager of the Large Wrecker Division of Miller Industries, a company based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that’s been building towing and recovery equipment since 1990.