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Most RV and motorhome owners have without a doubt experienced the challenges of driving their beloved rides in high stormy winds. It is not an encounter that any driver would look forward to!
One common concern of most RV owners is if high winds can indeed flip an RV, and just how much wind can an RV withstand? Keep on reading to find out more.
How winds affect driving an RV
The wind isn’t something to ignore when driving an RV. A common problem experienced when driving an RV during high winds, particularly if it’s being towed or is a travel trailer, is that the tow vehicle could uncontrollably veer into other lanes.
This not only presents a problem to the driver of the RV, but also to other drivers driving on the same road. The veering of the RV is normally caused by winds blowing on the sides of the RV known as cross or side winds. And that veering, unfortunately, adds to the wind’s force and this could cause your trailer to eventually tip over.
Headwinds, on the other hand, are a totally different case. Straight on winds make your vehicle feel quite bumpy, an occurrence known as bucking. Even though such winds are considered to be safer in comparison to crosswinds, they still shouldn’t be approached lightly.
It is also crucial to have a clear understanding of how your RV behaves while on the road because RVs are different with regard to weight and balance. It can, therefore, take varying degrees of wind before things turn bad for different RVs.
Will high winds flip your RV?
Every time you cruise down the highway your RV is constantly being battered by the wind. As that air in motion comes into contact with the front of your vehicle, a high and strong pressure that is converted into a force is created. That force’s intensity is referred to as wind load and RVs are only capable of withstanding a particular degree of it.
To determine the wind load on your RV you will have to do the calculation. You can, however, calmly drive your RV in a straight line since the bodies of RVs can tolerate headwinds in highway speeds. Note that wind only becomes an issue when it is blowing against a vehicle that is in motion; it causes your trailer to sway.
When an RV is stationary or parked, cross-winds can also create damage but for different reasons. Such winds can destroy slide-out toppers and ruin awnings, among other damages. Unfortunately, it is still challenging to be quite specific regarding how high winds flip over stationary RVs. The good news, on the other hand, is that this hardly ever occurs.
Various studies have been conducted to investigate the wind speeds that can flip vehicles. According to the majority of them, whether an RV will be flipped by severe wind depends on:
- Wind duration and direction
- Shape and weight of the vehicle
- Debris impact
- Progressive damage
- Wind gusts
How much wind is considered too much?
Unfortunately, there is no specific or correct answer to this question since there are several rig designs as well as specific configurations out there. Factors like the weight of the RV, angle of departure (distance from the center of the back axle to the back bumper), body height, and distribution of weight, tire pressures, together with the presence of steering aids all affect the handling of RVs in severe winds. Driver experience and skill also play a role in the assessment of safe speeds.
In general, in case you start feeling uncomfortable when driving in high winds, just slow down. A common reaction when driving in strong winds is to over-steer. What most drivers don’t know is that over-steering actually increases the vehicle’s instability resulting in possibly dangerous situations. Experience and time, however, helps in forming the skills required to minimize this.
Nonetheless, if you are still not comfortable with the wind despite reducing your driving speed, you should then consider taking pulling over at a suitable place and sit out the wind.
Let us now talk numbers
Winds as little as those moving at 10 miles per hour can affect your RV. The effect, however, dramatically increases at wind speeds of about 15 to 20 miles per hour. Wind speeds approaching 30 miles per hour might not be safe for some recreational vehicles to drive in at highway speeds, especially if the conditions include embedded gusts.
Luckily, sustained strong gusty winds aren’t a common occurrence. Such winds are instead linked with short-term weather conditions and patterns, like squalls and fronts passing through. With that said, it is better to wait these out at the nearest rest stop.
Another wise way of dealing with a windy day is to re-route your entire trip through a service road or a slower secondary highway. Driving your RV at a speed of about 35 miles per hour is not subjected to similar wind effects as those found on highways and higher speed freeways. Even though re-routing your trip might take longer, you will most likely enjoy it more and even spare some time to take in the beautiful scenery.
How to feel safer in your RV during strong winds
Most RV drivers who have suffered strong windy storms confirm what the studies revealed. The weather is hardly ever strong enough to flip over RVs. Below are some useful tips to help you reduce the impact that crosswinds might have on your rig as much as possible:
- Have your rig’s rear point towards the direction the wind is blowing from.
If you are capable of re-positioning during a windy situation, having the back of your rig face towards the direction of the oncoming wind makes a huge difference. This considerably reduces the total surface area facing the looming wind, which makes your rig a lot more stable all through the storm.
- Deploy your leveling jacks or stabilizer
This is another useful tip. Increasing the total number of contact points between the ground and your rig will significantly increase the stability of your rig.
- Retract your rig’s slides
In case your rig has pop-outs of slides, retracting them further reduces your profile surface area and betters your center of gravity. This considerably reduces the chances of your RV flipping over.
A lot of rigs also feature slide covers. Slide covers are basically awnings that roll out on top of slides for debris and rain run-off. The covers are normally quite vulnerable to damage in strong winds, which is why retracting them during windstorms is a good idea.
- Utilize your tow vehicle as a wind barrier
This is, in fact, one of the top tips. If you have a toad or a tow vehicle, positioning it in between your rig and the wind, preferably broadside, creates an effective barrier that “breaks” the wind before it gets to your rig.
This trick increases the stability of your rig in strong winds, which in turn significantly increases your safety. This trick could even buy you a couple of hours to nap during a severe storm.
Other useful tips include:
- Remain hitched up to your fifth-wheel or trailer. Remember, any additional contact with heavy objects increases the stability of your RV.
- Always stay informed. You could have a weather radio or alerts sent to you from a weather app.
- Move your RV away from overhanging trees. Parking your RV under a tree makes it more likely to suffer damage from falling branches than from the wind itself.
Stabilizing your RV
Stabilizing your recreational vehicle when it is parked significantly reduces how much the wind can rock it, which in turn makes routine tasks like, cooking, sleeping, and even eating more comfortable and easier to achieve.
Motorhomes featuring hydraulic leveling jacks are stabilized by these leveling jacks. However, if you are using leveling blocks beneath the tires for stabilizing your RV, the body will continue bouncing on the suspension and springs since it is still being rocked by the wind or internal movements; not unless you include stabilizers.
Most trailers feature scissor-style stabilizing jacks, which you can manually crank down in order to control any bouncing and help with leveling. You may even utilize the camper jacks found in truck campers to stabilize your RV. Just make sure that you have them retracted before moving your RV or you risk tearing down the camper into bits.
Another cost-effective option for motorhomes and trailers are jack stands. Jack stands are available in a set comprising four aluminum pyramids having adjustable extensions at the top. Placing each one of these stands under all corners of your RV so that it connects the body and frame to the ground considerably increases stability.
The standard stabilizers are normally not tall enough for most motorhomes. You might, therefore, have to place additional blocks beneath them or require special high-rise stands for them to be used on some motorhomes.
All in all…
Driving your RV in strong winds requires a great deal of caution and skill. Do not let the winds get you off-guard! Hopefully, the above tips will help you feel safer and much more comfortable when riding out severe highs from within your RV.