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Old 04-10-2003, 11:40 AM   #1
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The ultimate disaster - Airstream rollover

A story from rec.outdoors.rv-travel
Here is the link

The ultimate nightmare for RV travel. Lessons?
  • Good towing vehicle with long wheelbase?
  • Sway control?
  • Slow down?
  • Be thankful it wasn't even worse? After all, A/S are only stuff .
Anything else?

I ran into a similar situation with my unit but at much lower speeds, about 30 MPH. Someone pulled right in front of me and I had to move into the opposite lane (without incoming traffic, thankfully) to avoid that vehicle. It was some country road. My towing vehicle is a F250 HD with X-cab, my unit is a 32' Excella but I was towing it dry. (No sway control). Still scared me as it was my first towing experience.


A friend of mine just posted this sad story to my list last night... I got his permission to relay it...... it's why I have a Hensley.

"Fellow Airstreamers,

So that others may learn from my misfortune, I must relate some sad news. Yesterday April 4,about noon as we were traveling north on I-24 just a few miles out of Murfreesboro, TN. I had to make a sudden lane change to avoid another vehicle. This induced a yaw motion in our trailer. The 8 thousand pound trailer was pushing our 6 thousand pound Suburban around like a toy. When it appeared we might collide with another vehicle I tapped the brakes. This caused the trailer to roll and then flip the Suburban. When everything stopped we found that both Sandy and I were OK. Just scrapes, bruises and a few glass cuts.

I'm sure the Airstream and Suburban are both totaled. Sandy and I were checked out at the local hospital and are now staying with our daughter near Shellbyville, TN.

Since we are full-timers nearly everything we own is in the truck and trailer at some impound lot. I have borrowed a pick-up truck from my brother to salvage what I can of our stuff.

For the record: I was using a Reese dual-cam hitch with one friction sway control. Trailer weight, tongue weight, tire pressure, etc. were all within specifications. I was driving about 60 MPH. I had never had a yaw (trailer sway) problem with this hitch.

What have I learned? Just because your rig is well behaved in strong winds and not bothered by passing semis doesn't mean all is well. If I ever tow a large trailer again it will be with a Hensley or Pull-rite hitch!

We are currently looking at a B190 van. I know, too small to full-time in. Lets just say it's a timid first step towards motorhomeing. I don't feel like towing anything right now.

One more thing, the forged steel hooks on the ends of our safety chains both snapped in two. The broken ends look like tiny bobbles in the metal. Hydrogen imbrittlement? If I need safety chains in the future I'll use screw type carabineers as I have in the past.

For now we feel lucky (or blessed) that no other person or vehicle was damaged and we walked away with only minor scratches. Just shows how tough the Suburban is. The ER doctor said she had seen the accident site on her way in to work and thought the victims must have been "life lined" away and would surely be in intensive care.

As has been said here in the past, if yaw starts accelerate if you can safely, tap the trailer brakes but avoid using the tow vehicle brakes to bring the trailer back under control. Easier said then done! Once an increasing yaw begins it's most likely too late for that to help.

Sorry to be so negative, it's been a bummer the last couple of days.



Justice - When you get what you deserve. Mercy - When you don't get what you deserve
Grace - When you get what you don't deserve
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Old 04-10-2003, 12:16 PM   #2
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The 8 thousand pound trailer was pushing our 6 thousand pound Suburban
The usual commun sense rule is "never pull a trailer heavier than your tow vehicle"
A $3000 hitch will make things even worse: your wallet will be lighter and your trailer will still outweigh your tow vehicle.

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Old 04-10-2003, 12:33 PM   #3
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very scarry stuff

"Never pull a trailer heavier than your tow vehicle"... is that for real? I undestand it was the yaw motion being induced from the lane change and then that motion was exacerbated by the sudden braking. The concept of having the heavier vehicle then would be to prevent the rollover. Do I understand that all correctly?


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Old 04-10-2003, 01:06 PM   #4
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another rollover

I have been pulling trailers for years but my rollover was at about 30mph with a Suburban and a 23' Hi-lo...drunk pulled out of a bar and I had to swerve hard towardside of road to miss him and even with Reese anti-sway bars , trailer jacknifed and since there was no where to go to without hitting somone, I could not give it the gas and pull out, so I locked up brakes and trailer rolled and then truck....all was totaled with 2 wreckers and a flatbed to pick up pieces....I and my dog walked away with a few fun but it never will stop me traveling with a trailer or a motorhome...but I am much more careful, that's for sure...jem
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Old 04-10-2003, 01:09 PM   #5
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"The usual commun sense rule is "never pull a trailer heavier than your tow vehicle" "

If enforced, that would lead to the removal of every 18 wheeler from the roads.

Once yaw is induced, you have several forces at work, all of which are multiplied by leverage. The trailer will lift the rear end of the tow vehicle, reducing traction. It will exert side-to-side loads which will push the rear end of the tow vehicle back and forth. This in turn will lead to severe understeer-oversteer oscillations at the front end.

With the leverage involved, a 4,000 pound trailer can quite easily overpower the control of a 6,000 pound truck.

Not a comforting thought, I know.

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Old 04-10-2003, 01:11 PM   #6
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This is what we have read on a lot of other forums. The consensus seems to be that the heavier vehicle will have the greatest say in where the pair wants to go. A lot of other factors play into that of course, like wheel base & center of gravity.

I read not long ago of a court case where a similar roll over to the one discribed here, resulted in the death of an innocent driver.
Safe towing is something that we are very vocal about: we do not want to be appearing in similar headlines.
A lot of people are lucky to get away for years with unsafe towing rigs. We hate to read about "band aids" approachs. There is no substitude for a good combo trailer/tow vehicle.

All this speech was not addressed to anyone who posted in this thread. It's just something I have to post a few times a week, so I will feel better when taking the road.
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Old 04-10-2003, 01:35 PM   #7
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Tony's story definitely is a sad one. An accident that I hope will not ever happen to my family or myself, or anyone else for that matter.
I would be hesitant in stating that a Hensley would have avoided this accident, or any other high $$$ hitch system. I am sure that a reeeaaaly good hitch system will add extra safety, but not when we're talking 8000lbs out of control! A driving mistake is often impossible to undo.
A very old motorcyclist once told me his secret of surviving cycling for 60+ years. He said:" Pretent you're invisible, and no one else can see you".
I use this technique whenever i tow my trailer, or ride a motorcycle, or to a certain extend whenever i drive a motor vehicle. It has kept me out of many dangerous situations.
I also take my entire rig out to deserted industrial areas on weekends, and go through panic stop and other driving exercises, two or three times a season. This is where I learned that my rig wanted to pull sharply to the left in panic stops, and that one of the trailer brakes was not activating. I immediately got new brake calipers for the van, and repaired a connection near the backing plate on the malfunctioning trailer brake. Now it stops nice and straight, and I know what it's going to do when the unavoidable happens. Oh, and I go slow when I tow my Airstream. If I'm in a hurry, the Airstream can't come.....
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Old 04-10-2003, 02:55 PM   #8
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To try to be ready for anything that might happen is a great idea. But, we are wondering ourselves how it will work in the "real world".

Our worse nightmare: among other places, I-95 south of DC , at least 4 lanes of CRAZY traffic. Must use 2nd lane from right to avoid colliding with stream of incoming traffic who don't know the meaning of "YIELD". All the time, cars passing us on the right and the left, cutting right back in front of us, everybody going well over 65 in 55mph zone.
We are trying to prepare ourselves for the day these idiots will change lane at the same time, colliding in front of us. We have very little chance of roll over in our case, but it will be a real blood bath.
There is only one thing that would reduce the carnage: no braking, close our eyes and keep the course. If we try to avoid some moron who did a dangerous maneuver, and if we change lane ourselves, we will most certainly run into innocent people. A car or a truck. Either case, it's not going to be pretty.
How do you prepare for NOT braking and not changing lane in a case like that ? A split second decision.... The theory is a good thing,...but...
(we try to avoid roads like this one, but a lot of times, we cannot. We unfortunatly cannot take it slow on some of those roads. And the AS always come with us. We live in it)
Your comparaison with motorcycles is a good one. Having had an accident myself, I have learned one thing: be ready for anything stupid other people will do. And in the end, they will surprise you by doing stupid things you thought were not possible.

With all that, happy safe trailering to all.
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Old 04-10-2003, 03:26 PM   #9
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Other moral of the story.....Taking out the other vehicle that cause the problem is sometimes the best alternataive. Suburban would have still been totaled but the camper may not have been. Only reasons I wouldnt is somebody going in opposite direction had crossed the line or children in other vehicle. Then I might take my chances with an out of control trailer.

I have had a trailer get loose on me and just about flip my truck as a result. It was a small home built cargo trailer I have weighing about 2700lb with cargo consisting of most of my sisters worldly possessions. It has a 3500lb axle and never felt it was overloaded.

Scary Scary ride that was. Tore the trailer up pretty bad. It became airborn and sideways at about 65 MPH. The tow vehicle didn't have enough motor to accelerate out of it like many people advise to do.

It was so violent that every time I tried to correct, the trailer jerked the truck the other way. I finnaly got to the point where I knew I was going to roll and praying that the roll cage was going to save me. I locked it down to try to shed off as much speed as I could before the roll. I was desprate and nothing else I was doing was helping. It really seemd to be making it worse.

My 63 year old mom with heart problems was along for the ride. When I locked it down was right as the trailer was bottoming out the trucks suspension and the tounge mounted trailer spare tire was dragging. Some how that action was enough that when I locked it up everything came back inline and I got it back under enough control to stop. The trailer was still bouncing at this point and kept trying to send us off the road. I let off the brakes at that point to get the steering back and got it stopped.

Mom and I then proceded to sit on the bumper for the next 15 minutes and chain smoked half a pack of cigarettes. Finnaly got my legs to quit shaking and walked the road to look at the skid markes...all 300ft of them and the first 250 of those were all trailer with the two dashes you could tell were from the spare tire. The trailer has no brakes. The skids were from it sliding sideways. The last 50feet with the truck tires locked up with about the first 10ft having the thrailer spare dragging.

The tow vehicle is decidely off road biased and has soft flexible suspension. There was so much weight transfer was going on that the spare tire that normal has a good 12 inches of air under it hit the ground three seperate times!!!!!!!!!! To fully appreciate this you need to understand that if I just dumped the tailer on the groound without the tounge jack the hitch would be about 2 inches off the ground resting on the spare.

I had to wrap a come-a-long around the back of the trailer to hold it together and drove the rest of the trip at 45mph.

Both the truck and trailer had major changes done to them after that. The truck had two leafes added to stiffen up the rear suspension. Stiffer shocks added as well. Hurt it off road but actually made on road performance much better.

I had to build a New frame for the trailer. I ended up adding 2ft to the front of the unit as well as some extra tounge weight. The distance from the ball to the trailer axle was increased 3ft in the process. A major contributing factor to my e-ticket ride was the stubby trailers CG shifted behind the axle centerline when it got bouncing and was lifting on the truck. Before the rebuild I had about 65lb of tounge weight level and it weighed 950lb empty. I could lift the tounge and the trailer till the rear touched the ground and it would stay that way because of the body weight.. I lifted the tounge after it was loaded and it was an easy 160-180lb. We were carefull to load it with the heavy items in front. but I guess it wasn't enough

After the rebuild, with new longer frame, It ended up about 1100lb and 120lb of tounge weight empty. It doesn't even come close to trying to stay when it's leaned back. Very stable now and put several hundered miles on it since then with no trouble. I do a fair amount of back country camping with that trailer serving as a one person camper.

Learned a lot form that experiance and have learned even more from this forum. That truck will never move the A/S at more then 5mph. It has a front reciever and it makes moving the A/S around to park it here at the house easy but it's just not going to be safe to use on the road. After a lot of reading here I'm going to add brakes to the trailer. It's light and unloaded never felt I needed them but with a full load it's a safety concern. If I had them when it got out of control on me They may have made that situation better. Just got lucky is all.

With some luck I'll have a Tow vehicle tomorrow. Made an offer and the seller is mulling it over tonight. If they take the offer then I'll have a 2500 Suburban as the 59's tow rig and it weight close to double what the trailer does empty.

Here is my little weekend set up.
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Old 04-10-2003, 03:42 PM   #10
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This story doesn't jive with me...

For the record: I was using a Reese dual-cam hitch with one friction sway control.
I thought the Reese Dual Cam hitch system had buit in sway control. IF this a true story, could it be, that the added the friction sway control bar contributed to the accident?

I tapped the brakes. This caused the trailer to roll and then flip the Suburban.
Once again, IF this is a true story, it sounds as if a blown or faulty tire caused the accident. Or the tow vehicle was equipped with a "cheap" or misadjusted brake controller.

This is beginning to sound like a "Hitch Salesman" story.

No offense to anyone who owns a Hensley. I'd love to have one myself someday.
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Old 04-10-2003, 05:42 PM   #11
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Uwe brought up an excellent point: Practice your skills. Knowing what your rig will do in an emergency situation and how to react properly could save your life.

I ride motorcycles too. Rode for 15 years and 300,000 miles before taking a training class. I started getting nervous about pushing my luck, so signed up for some schools on race tracks. The lessons and the experience handling my motorcycle at high speeds saved my bacon at least twice on the road; once when a truck in front of me dropped a load of metal tubing on the road, and once when I crested a blind corner and found the road covered with gravel. In both cases the wrong reaction would have put me down on the asphalt, causing expensive and painful noises.

The moral of the story: When in doubt, gas it.
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Old 04-10-2003, 06:16 PM   #12
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Pick I thought about a hitch salesman too. BTW when is that Hensley patent s'posed to expire?
So I called the Tennessee Hiway Patrol. There was a suv/trailer incident at Milemarker 78 on I-24 on 04-04-03. Shame on me and you for doubting. However it is my nature these days. Sorry ipsofacto, it is just your incomplete secret profile I guess.

I wish Tony and Sandy the best, and wish they would join us and detail how the insurance is going to treat them.
Wouldn't it be helpful as well to learn what the Excella brings salvage and who buys it? If it were mine and I had the room I'd see what the insurance co would take after settlement to sell it back to me. No title transfer usually it's already in "my" name. Parting it out "might" be cost effective.
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Old 04-10-2003, 07:14 PM   #13
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These are some sobering post.
After 35 years of towing boats I thought I knew quite a bit about towing but when I hooked up the 31 ft AS I was scared to death knowing I was in a whole new concept of towing.
Lucky I have had no panic stops "yet" and I am greatful I found this forum. I have changed a lot of missconceptions I have had on how to stop in a real emergency but based on experience I just dont see how I could put the trailer brakes on manually while speeding up in time to avoid a serious accident. It just depends on where you are and whats around you and reaction time !!!

I totaled out a boat and trailer when someone pulled out in front of me. I tried to swerve but as soon as I started loosing control I went ahead and plowed into the poor guy at full throttle trying to keep the boat from pulling me off the raod into a ditch. It was that or end up upside down in the ditch. I walked away OK but he was taken away in an ambulance.
I know I did the right thing at that time but with the AS I would think even attempting to swerve would no longer be an option.
Things may seem to go in slow motion but you probably only have one chance to do the right thing.
I like the idea of practice and tried it but was reluctant to slam on the breaks at greater the 20 mph. I think I will go back and try it at 30 !!!!!!!!!!

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Old 04-10-2003, 07:29 PM   #14
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I had to slam on the brakes once on I-5 in Central California when some nimrod pulling an enclosed car trailer pulled out in front of me. I was doing 60 mph and had no room to move over. I could see the driver's face in the mirror, so knew he saw me, but he pulled into the right lane from the shoulder anyway.

Luckily, I had practiced panic braking at lower speeds, and had a good idea how my rig (Ford E350 and 26-ft SOB) would respond. When the trailer started swaying I reached down and clicked the brake controller to one notch more sensitive, which pulled it back in line. I managed to slow down enough to miss his trailer by about 10 feet - much too close for comfort at that speed. He then proceeded to accelerate to about 70 mph and merge into the left lane. About 20 miles later I saw him on the side of the road, with a CHP officer writing a ticket. Justice was served.

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