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Old 07-01-2015, 11:49 AM   #1
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Two Airstream rollovers in a month

I am a fire fighter with the Fort Ellis Fire Dept. in Bozeman, MT. We take care of the Interstate for about 12 miles outside of Bozeman to the Bozeman Pass.
I participated in two recent incidents that give me pause.

Three weeks ago, we responded to a vehicle rollover with entrapment, on a downhill grade coming off the Bozeman Pass.
Imagine my surprise when I saw an upside down 23 ft. Airstream ripped off from an right-side up, but rolled older Ford Explorer.
We transported both individuals, both older. Apparently a trailer tire had blown and the trailer pushed the tow vehicle
360 deg, then rolled in the ditch, disconnecting from the vehicle. The tow vehicle was packed with camping items.

Last week, we responded to a vehicle rollover with entrapment, on a downhill grade coming off the Bozeman Pass.
Imagine my surprise when I saw an upside down 23 ft. Airstream still attached to an upside-down new Tahoe (this was a rental package).
We did not transport individuals, but they were extricated by civilians before we got there. They were upside down hanging from seatbelts.
Apparently the trailer started to sway, and eventually pushed the tow vehicle 400 deg, then flipped. The tow vehicle was packed with camping items.

Both these incidents happened within 100 yards of the other on a downhill grade on a four lane road, in broad daylight, and good road surface.

Both these vehicles may have had enough "towing capacity" to haul the weight of an Airstream. I doubt, however, that either had the gross vehicle
weight rating for the tongue weight plus all the gear in the back, plus passengers. Hence, when the trailer experienced an event that caused
it to sway or turn, the trailer drove the tow vehicle. Way back in 2009, I posted an example on Air Forums of why even a Tundra is inadequate (as are all 1/2 ton
vehicles for the deceptively easy to tow (but still heavy) Airstreams). Its almost as if everything will feel fine, until it doesn't.

I tow my 25' with a 3/4 ton. That puts it in the midrange of gross vehicle weight rating, not at the top. Over 70,000 miles the trailer has never tried to drive my vehicle (at least not yet).


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Old 07-01-2015, 11:55 AM   #2
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Thanks for posting this. Again a reminder that many folks are towing with an inadequate tow vehicle.

Yes, almost anything can pull an Airstream, but not all can safely control or stop one! This should come as a warning to those with an equipment mismatch despite havi g a big fancy hitch or a reinforced vehicle hitch. That does nothing to increase the towing capacity of the tow vehicle!

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Old 07-01-2015, 11:58 AM   #3
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You say one was a rental package so add to the equation possible inexperienced tow vehicle operators.

Do you know what a learning experience is? A learning experience is one of those things that says "You know that thing that you just did? Don't do that."
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Old 07-01-2015, 12:07 PM   #4
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thanks for the sobering reminder Hank
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Old 07-01-2015, 12:14 PM   #5
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Good information and good post, thank you. The examples are the only reason we tow our 30' with an F350 Crew Cab 6.7 Diesel. We have camped and towed and or MoHo for that whole period, learned tow vehicle is key to a safe trip.

We will be passing thru your area in about three weeks.

Thanks Again


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Old 07-01-2015, 12:17 PM   #6
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I get worried when I hear of 34 ft trailers being pulled by a minivan or other small vehicle. My rule of thumb is that the tow vehicle should be close in weight to the trailer. I had a sway event pulling my trailer and I got it back into control but if I had a light tow vehicle, it may not have ended that well.

One false argument I hear is the trailer has it's own brakes so it does not matter how small the tow vehicle is. Smaller tow vehicles handle better etc etc. When it hits the fan, the object with the bigger mass wins. I think often trailer brakes don't work correctly, have never been maintained, and they are crude drum brakes that might put out 50% of what a good disk brake system would. Also many times one wheel is stronger than the others causing the trailer to sway when brakes are applied.

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Old 07-01-2015, 12:18 PM   #7
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Thanks for posting the warning. Glad none of the people were seriously hurt.

I'm surprised this type of thing doesn't happen more often. On the highways I often see overloaded tow vehicles pulling box huge trailers with incorrectly set up weight distribution to add. Saw a Hyundai Santa Fe pulling what looked to be a 31ft trailer with slides the other week. I was quick to pass him.
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Old 07-01-2015, 12:19 PM   #8
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A roll over never happens with a big truck?
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Old 07-01-2015, 12:22 PM   #9
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Thank you for posting the details of these incidents. Hearing about these makes us think about towing safety.

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Old 07-01-2015, 12:26 PM   #10
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The problems were probably not only with the tow vehicles, but with the tow-vehicle and trailer setup and operating procedures.

For example, if the trailer is set up to allow sway or tires blow at the wrong moment, even a large pickup may have problems.

Since purchasing new, we have towed our 19' 2002 Bambi with three different models of Jeep Grand Cherokee. Before our buying the trailer, the internet contained many warnings about towing with short-wheelbase vehicles and the Grand Cherokee was also mentioned in that regard. As a result, we immediately bought a Hensley Arrow, have subsequently been very careful to replace the Bambi's tires based on age, not wear, and regularly check tire pressures. Even in emergency situations (and there have been a couple) our total setup has performed very well.

My point? There is no single solution, such as tow vehicle size, to safety while towing.

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Old 07-01-2015, 12:36 PM   #11
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Wow, this hits too close to home. We live in Bozeman and drive the pass often our F150 and 28' International with going over to Livingston and Paradise Valley.

The winds on the pass can be fierce. I don't know if that could be a contributing factor.
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Old 07-01-2015, 12:36 PM   #12
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Thanks for posting this information. there are some forum members that speak about modifying X5's and Land Rovers and rebuild the hitches in Canada and other places. Luckily hopefully all worked out well. I have a 30 foot Classic and I tow it with a GMC Denali 3500 crew cap and a Hensley Hitch. I have heard all the issues with big truck, hitch two expensive and on and on.

Everyone must make up their mind for themselves. When I picked up m trailer at Arbogast in Ohio I had to sign a statement what I was towing it with.....

THanks again for the info

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Old 07-01-2015, 01:24 PM   #13
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Of coarse the tow vehicle size isn't the only factor

But to minimize the effect of towing with a small wheelbase, light weight vehicle would be misleading.

There is a reason that smaller tow vehicles need custom, and or expensive hitches.

Driver experience for sure plays a factor, as well as the drivers concentration level. That's one of the reasons that I worry when people advise newbies about using smaller tow vehicles.

Also…another factor is people who aren't familiar with towing in the mountains. Going slow helps a lot. Riding the brakes has it's problems. Some mountain drivers are in the habit of just stopping , so as not to overheat the brakes.

One of the reasons for my " opinion" is that I drove from Aspen to Vail in snow covered roads. 5 vehicles were spun out in the median. 4 were jeeps. In all fairness to jeep fans, I realize that some 4 wheel drive owners get a false sense of security and therefor get into trouble.

I am NOT trolling, or trying to start an argument. But I have the right to my opinion and people looking to buy a tow vehicle deserve to hear both sides of the story. More than once I have read posts where people stated their opinion then instructed people who disagreed not to respond. Nut's to that, when it comes to safety
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Old 07-01-2015, 01:30 PM   #14
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Perhaps you can comment on uncovered facts?:
I suspect a combination of;

overloaded rear of SUV
improper and late braking and downshifting
controller adjustment
unfamiliarity of mountain driving technique
unfamiliarity with towing (rental?)
panic and improper overreaction to event starting

I would bet it was coincidence that they were both ASes. No trailer is immune to the above suspicions.

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Old 07-01-2015, 01:35 PM   #15
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I also think ASes give many a false sense of "sports car like" handling. How many times do we read of those driving 70, 75, 80 mph....and "I don't even know it's back there".


It's back there and has a lot of mass, crude brakes (compared to autos), crude suspension (compared to autos). It WILL wag the dog, when push comes to pun intended.

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Old 07-01-2015, 01:35 PM   #16
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We tow with a very stable 25' Airstream/ProPride hitch/Ram 1500 combo. No reservations whatsoever about safety because we never travel overweight or with poor weight distribution.

Apparently the issue in these accidents is overloaded and/or improperly loaded combinations; that is the limitation of light duty tow vehicles. It is good to drive home that point.
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Old 07-01-2015, 02:14 PM   #17
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The AS manual for my 1973 31' depicts a car towing the AS.

I suspect most AS can likely be safely towed with a 1/2 ton truck, especially a modern 1/2 ton PROPERLY equipped.

Note: The older models tended to weigh less per Ft.
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Old 07-01-2015, 02:18 PM   #18
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Down hill,too fast then hit the brakes too hard? Just a thought.
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Old 07-01-2015, 02:19 PM   #19
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This is an interesting thread that should be used by an instructor in a course on accident investigation. Most safety professionals who are trained in discovering the root cause of accidents, will also get some use from it. I am neither so will not comment on the accidents, but I will comment on some of the conclusions expressed so far, based on the experience of Nelly Mclung.

Nelly was a suffragette who taught school on the Canadian Prairie during the prohibition period. In order to teach the evils of alcohol consumption to her pupils, she inserted a worm into a glass of whiskey. The worm promptly perished. She then sought an opinion from her eager students on the potential impact of alcohol to an individual. She was astonished to hear that little Johnny figured that if he drank lots of whiskey, he wouldn't get worms. Jim

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Old 07-01-2015, 02:19 PM   #20
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Two Airstream rollovers in a month

Indeed, but older cars weighed much more than modern equivalents!

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