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Copyright 2004. The Good Sam Club, 2575 Vista Del Mar Drive, Ventura, CA 93001. Reprinted from the February 2004 issue of Highways with permission. For subscription information, call (800) 234-3450.

By Jeff Crider
GSC Highways
Friday January 23, 2004

"The last thing you want to do," Linda Dragan says, "is buy something 27 feet long and not know what to do with it."

It's an interesting thought, and one that gave Dragan and husband Ron pause as they stood outside Vans RV Center in South Windsor, Conn., considering whether they should purchase a travel trailer. The Dragans had never owned an RV before and were somewhat intimidated by the prospect of pulling a trailer, both from a safety and operational standpoint.

But Vans RV Center had a unique sales approach.

After whetting their appetites with tours of several units, the dealership loaned the couple an instructional video about how to operate a travel trailer. The video, produced by Mark Polk of RV Education 101 in Fayetteville, N.C., covered everything from weights and towing to campground setup, leveling and operating a trailer's water, holding-tank, electricity and LP-gas systems.

The video was so good, Dragan says, that she watched it five times and gleaned enough information from it that she felt she and her husband could safely operate the unit. So they headed back to the dealership and purchased a 27-foot slideout-equipped SunLine travel trailer that they planned to tow with their Toyota Tundra.

"We had never owned an RV before," Dragon says. "But the video gave us confidence in buying the product."

So much, in fact, that she subsequently scoured the Internet to find Polk's website at www.rveducation101.com and ordered all of his instructional RV videos, plus a couple of his e-books.

Unfortunately, however, many consumers are not so well informed before they hit the road in their RV. So, consider the statistics compiled by Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire and the Recreational Vehicle Safety Education Foundation:

  • Almost 25% of all recreational-vehicle enthusiasts on the road today have overloaded tires, which can impede normal brake performance while increasing their chances of having a blowout.

  • Four out of five RVs in one recent survey had at least one underinflated tire, and a third of those were dangerously low to the point of inviting failure.

  • Nearly 40% of RV users say they go six months or more without checking their tires, even though tires in good condition can lose between 1 and 2 pounds of inflation pressure per month.

  • 85% of motorhomes and campers on the road are unevenly loaded or have their loads out of balance by 400 pounds or more.

    Statistics like these highlight the fact that many RVers are not aware of even basic things they should do to safely operate their vehicles.

    The problem, says Polk, is two fold: Dealers do not typically allocate enough time to properly educate their customers about the fundamentals of RV operation and safety, and even when they do make a sincere effort to do so, consumers often find themselves overwhelmed by a barrage of information that may involve everything from appliances and holding tanks to tow hitches, slideouts and the general maintenance and safe operation of the vehicle itself.

    "You can give somebody the best walk-through," Polk says. "I gave walk-throughs myself. But it's a matter of retention. And when you cram that much information in a two-hour period of time, they're probably retaining about 25% of that. And if they don't go out and use that (information) themselves within a week of purchasing, they're not going to retain it."

    That's precisely the way the Dragans felt, even as they were previewing several units.

    "Our concern came with not knowing if we would remember all that we were learning," Dragan says. In this context, Polk's instructional videos helped fill the information void and gave the Dragans a resource they could go back to again and again, whenever they needed a refresher course.

    The video series, which encompasses popups, travel trailers as well as Class A and C motorhomes, also addresses the persistent problem of vehicle overloading.

    "It happens every day," Polk says.

    The reason?

    "The ample storage space in many of today's RVs gives people the illusion that they can carry more than they really can," he says.

    And overloading, Polk says, can easily lead to blowouts and other safety hazards. But people often don't know how much weight their RV is really designed to carry or how much it weighs when ready for the road.

    Another place to find comprehensive information is in The RV Handbook from Trailer Life Books. Written by Bill

    Estes, publisher of MotorHome and Trailer Life, it is considered the bible for the RV road warrior and is packed with checklists, photos, schematics and charts - as well as plenty of sound, user-friendly technical advice.

    There are other avenues, such as the following, where consumers bolster their knowledge of RV safety.

    Good Sam RV Safety Rally

    The annual Good Sam RV Safety Rally, which is sold out for 2004, offers classes and safety instruction at a campground in New Carlisle, Ind. For more information about the 2005 rally, call 866-457-7354 or www.goodsamclub.com.

    Good Sam's Defensive Driving Courses

    Offered at many state Samborees and at the Great North American RV Rally, the courses provide extensive instruction. Visit www.goodsamclub.com for more information.The course is offered at the following state Samborees:
    • March 4, Arizona
    • April 22, North Carolina
    • June 3, Idaho
    • June 21-24, Kansas,Great North American RV Rally
    • June 3, Nebraska
    • June 11, Connecticut
    • June 24, New Jersey
    • June 26, Washington
    • Oct. 15, Virginia
    • Nov. 17, Florida
    For more information about Samborees and scheduled Good Sam's Defensive Driving Courses, call Member Services at 800-234-3450.

    Life on Wheels

    Offered at four locations throughout the year, the program includes general RV and safety information. Visit www.lifeonwheels.com or call 866-569-4646. The course is offered at the following locations:
    • May 14-17, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green
    • July 12-16, University of Idaho, Moscow
    • Aug. 6-9, Northampton Community College,Bethlehem, Pa.
    • Aug. 27-30, Des Moines Area Community College,Ankeny, Iowa
    Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire

    The company has developed a free booklet titled Rx for Light Trucks, RVs, Mini-Buses & Ambulances that can be obtained by calling 800-543-7522 or by visiting the company's website at www.tiresafety.com.

    The Recreation Vehicle Safety Education Foundation

    Based in Merritt Island, Fla., the foundation assists RV owners in understanding the various terminology regarding weight and load specifications, and provides information about the potential hazards and expenses that can result from traveling in an RV when exceeding established ratings for tires, axles, hitches and the vehicle itself. Visit www.rvsafety.org or call 321-453-7673.

    Good Sam Chapters of Saskatchewan

    Some local state or provincial Good Sam Club chapters think that RV safety is so important they plan their own RV safety clinic. In May, the Band City Good Sams of Moose Jaw hold a clinic and safety check for chapter members and the community. In all, seven safety clinics are held in seven Saskatchewan cities by the 12 Good Sam Club chapters in that province. For more information, contact Jim Affleck at 306-949-2565.

    Polk, meanwhile, is continuing to expand his video selection. At the time of this writing, he was working to complete a video that addresses issues involving RV towing, weights, hitch work and backing.

    "I think this is the most crucial one we've done to date," he says. To order the new video, visit www.rveducation101.com  
    or call 910-484-7615.

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    150 Bay Ridge Rd
    Harrells, NC 28444

    Phone (910) 484-7615
    Fax (910) 484-8276 or (206) 339-8626
    E-mail: info@rveducation101.com


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