The average camper trailer, per an article on our site, is 24 feet long and about 5,200 pounds. Campers can be smaller, like the 19-foot 2015 Jayco Jay Flight 19RD. That camper weighs 3,715 pounds. They can be bigger as well, such as the 32-foot long 2017 Cherokee West 274DBH. It’s a whopper at 7,705 pounds.
Can the average camper tip over then?
Yes, certainly. Fishtailing is a major cause of camper tipping. While it’s rare, strong winds can also threaten the stability of your camper.
In this article, I’ll explain what other conditions could tip your camper and how you know you’re about to tip. I’ll also include what to do post-tip as well as throw in some helpful pointers for avoiding future stability issues.
How Do Campers Tip Over?
There are several ways your camper can tip over. Let’s talk about each one.
Fishtailing. Jackknifing. Trailer sway. Whatever you want to call it, it’s terrifying if it happens to you.
Fishtailing occurs when your camper begins to move separately from your towing vehicle. The hitch must be located near the rear axle for trailer swaying to be a possibility. While usually the hitch will keep the gravity of your towing vehicle and your camper pretty much even, when gravity becomes disrupted, your camper sways.
What else causes fishtailing? There are plenty of other factors. For instance, if the weight distribution of your camper is off, you could jackknife. Remember that it’s important to move the weight evenly across the entirety of your camper, not just in one or two corners.
You also can’t put too much weight near the hitch. This is where tongue weight comes into play, which is the amount of downward force the hitch can handle before fishtailing becomes a possibility. It should be between nine and 15 percent of the total weight of your camper.
If you fail to correct a fishtailed camper, then it could drag your whole rig down with it. Worst yet is it can cause many accidents as the camper collides into other vehicles on the road.
There are RV speed limits in states across the country. Some states are more generous, like Alabama, which lets you drive 70 MPH. Maine, Louisiana, and Colorado (as well as other states) let you go even faster at 75 MPH in an RV. Nevada is by far the fastest with a limit of 80 MPH.
Just because you can go that fast doesn’t mean you should. After all, you have to be ready to stop at a moment’s notice. Not only does your towing vehicle have to roll to a complete stop, but so does your camper. That takes longer than you’re accustomed to with thousands of pounds behind your towing vehicle.
The faster you drive, the longer it takes you to stop. While I always recommend driving within the speed limit, there’s no need to push the outer limits in a towing setup or even an RV. It can be easy to start accumulating speed since you’re driving your familiar truck or SUV, but be weary. Making fast turns and other maneuvers can send your camper tipping.
Finally, although it’s very rare, inclement weather like high winds can tip your camper over. Knott Laboratory, in a 2009 study, said that it’s possible to add extra force (like 3,440 pounds extra) just by a generated crosswind of 35 miles per hour. Yikes!
That’s not exclusively from inclement weather, either. If a large semi-truck or other commercial vehicle were to rush by you on the highway, they can also create a nasty crosswind.
Generally, winds need to exceed 55 MPH for you to be at risk of tipping. That’s why this happens so rarely. Those are considered “strong gale” winds and are enough to pull roof shingles off and otherwise degrade buildings. You’d be driving in near hurricane force winds, which can be life-threatening.
How Do You Know if You’re about to Tip?
If you’re about to tip, you’ll know. Your camper may groan, creak, or make an otherwise obvious noise indicating what’s about to happen. If you’re in the camper, you may feel it pulling towards the ground. As you probably know, you shouldn’t have passengers in your camper while driving, so hopefully no is back there if tipping were to occur.
What to Do After Tipping
A tipped-over camper is not a pretty sight. It can be shocking if yours did fall, and rightfully so. Here’s how to handle it.
Exit the Vehicle
Even if your towing vehicle isn’t damaged, you don’t want to sit in there. You never know if the camper was damaged to the point where it could spark an electrical fire or even explode. Move away from the vehicle and get to safety.
Call the Police
This is an accident like any other, even if it’s on a larger scale than most car accidents. Thus, you need to contact the police. Let them know there was an crash. Tell them where it was and inform them of the make and model of your towing vehicle and your camper.
Wait until the police arrive. Let them take down your statement. If you hit any other motorists while fishtailing and tipping, be those vehicles parked or in motion, the police will have to speak to those parties as well.
Consider Getting Medical Attention
If you or your passengers were injured or believe you were, you might want to go to the hospital. Sometimes injury pain doesn’t start for several days, sometimes even several weeks post-accident. It’s better to get seen and cleared by medical staff than deal with potential chronic pain.
Get Your Camper Towed Away
Your camper can’t sit on the road blocking other motorists. If you have a towing company you’d prefer to take care of the job, get in touch with them. Otherwise, your camper will be towed to a yard that’s most convenient to where the accident happened.
Find a Repairperson/Get a Replacement Camper
Depending on the damage done to your tipped camper, you’ll either have to get it fixed or get a new one altogether. Repairs can be quite costly, and they’re not always covered under your insurance.
How to Avoid Tipping
Maybe your camper tipped once and you survived to tell the tale. Perhaps you never want to tip, so you want to take some extra precautions. I can’t blame you. Here are some ways to avoid tipping your camper:
- When your camper is parked, use stabilizers, jacks, wheel chocks, and the like to keep it upright.
- Don’t park near trees. Seriously. This can be particularly challenging when staying at a campsite, but make it a point to do your best. Parking near or underneath trees puts your camper in potential danger. High winds can make thick branches move, which could theoretically tip your camper over. Even if that weren’t to happen, branches can break and fall right through your camper or towing vehicle.
- If you can park your camper near a hillside or a wall, you can negate most strong winds. Note that I didn’t say park on a hill, because that opens a whole new can of worms…
- So yes, don’t park on a hill. I talked about gravity before between the towing vehicle and the camper, but here’s a different application of gravity. Gravity doesn’t want to keep heavy things propped up on a hill. If your hitch were to let go, your camper would be toast.
- If your camper has slide-outs, then make sure they’re all in. This stabilizes your vehicle somewhat.
- The same goes for your awning. If you’re not using it, don’t leave it out.
- Drive with the wind, not against it. That means face in the same direction as the wind is blowing. Fighting it won’t end well if you want to keep your camper upright.
- On that note, reconsider whether you want to drive in strong winds in the first place. If it’s not necessary, then why put yourself in potential danger?
- Ensure you have a compatible hitch for your camper. Check all the lugs, bolts, and parts to make sure there are no loose or missing screws. Lubricate the hitch if need be.
- Drive within a reasonable speed limit. Take turns and corners extra slow. It may feel like you’re lumbering along, but it’s for your own safety.
- Finally, avoid semi-trucks and other large commercial vehicles when driving on the highway. If you can safely navigate it, then pull over a lane or two away from the truck. If you must drive beside a large vehicle, then try to match their pace (without going over the speed limit). This should avoid them generating a potentially dangerous crosswind.
Camper trailers can indeed tip over. Fishtailing, taking corners too fast, and driving in windy conditions can all cause tipping. Wind can be generated from semi-trucks and other large vehicles as well, putting your camper at risk.
If your camper happens to tip, treat it like you would any accident. Exit the vehicle, call the police, file an official report, and consider medical attention. By following the list of safety techniques to follow, you can avoid any future instances of camper tipping. Good luck!