Managing the nail-biting thrill of a crowded fuel stop

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

photo: free the image on

If you’re a fulltimer, or even if you’re not, you may be driving the largest vehicle you have ever driven. Great for living quarters, but another matter when it’s time to fuel up your rig. Maneuvering in and out of the fuel station can become anything from a challenge to a nightmare. Swinging your rig around in a confined, tight area with plenty of “targets” you can hit can make even some experienced RVers break out in a sweat. What can you do to make fueling up easier?

Planning ahead can considerably reduce the anxiety level. If you fill up your tow rig while unhitched, that’s a great plus. Of course, on long runs you’ll no doubt have to fill while hitched up. Some thinking about the layout of the fuel station can make life easier. As an example, you’ll usually find that fuel stations where the fuel islands are parallel to the street access are easier to get in and out of. If the islands are perpendicular to the front of the building, then – unless there’s a pretty fair amount of space between the fuel islands and the building – you may have far more trouble maneuvering.

So here’s where a little advance planning can help – with technology. If you have a fair idea of your route, use your Gas Buddy to help you find those great fuel prices, and look to see if there’s a photo of the fuel station available – in many instances, there are pictures posted by users. Does the photo indicate the fuel island layout? Another techno application that can help: Google Streets and Maps. Bring up the street address of the station, then use “satellite view” and zoom down to where you can see the layout of the station. Advance planning also means fueling up before you’re at the panic level. One RVer says he fills up when he’s around 100 miles of an empty tank.

Some stations naturally lend themselves to RV-friendliness. Most Flying J truck stops have designated RV islands, designed for getting big rigs in and out with ease. It helps here, too, that these islands have both gasoline and diesel. That’s great if your motorhome motivates on diesel, while your toad car (which you forgot to fill up before hitching up) desires gasoline. If your only interest is in diesel, then fueling up on the truck island will make access and egress a breeze.

If you do find yourself at a fuel station where you’ll need to make a turn to get out of the island, it’s best to not pull in too close to the fuel island. Try and allow yourself three feet between the side of your rig and the island. That will make it easier to turn the rig without fighting tail-swing – and it’ll make accessing your basement storage (if needed) much easier. Of course, you may cause a bit of inconvenience to the folks using the next island over, so if you can, use an outside island (which makes getting out even easier). If you’re on the inside, by all means stay with your rig while you fuel and then get thee away from the island as soon as you’ve completed fueling – makes for good “RV public relations.”

Other tricks? Some RVers suggest that if the prices are fairly close, you may be better off spending a few cents per gallon more for fuel to have the choice of easier in-and-outing.

If you find yourself in a station where the islands are perpendicular to the building and it looks just “too tight” to get out, it may be easier to back your rig out, provided you don’t have a toad behind you that prevents it.

If you use the guidebook “The Next Exit,” you’ll find stations that are RV-friendly outlined in red print. And another thought on advance planning. If you’ll be back this way, make notes on stations that are easy (or difficult) to get in and out of.




6 Thoughts to “Managing the nail-biting thrill of a crowded fuel stop”

  1. Marty

    I love your article because honestly I thought it was just me who gets stressed. The other challenge I have is finding the diesel pump. I practically have to drive around the gas station to find it and that doesn’t work most of the time due to the layout.

  2. Tommy Molnar

    If we’re camped somewhere (even boondocking), I’m willing to unhook and drive 20 or so miles just to avoid having to negotiate RV unfriendly fuel stops.

    Having been a truck driver for 30 years, getting in and out of fuel stops while hooked up is not that bad for us, even if I have to back out. The problem is OTHER folks who either don’t know what I’m trying to do, or are just plain rude and don’t care to be courteous.

  3. Drew


    Just a guess- is your rv a Fleetwood model? If so, I emailed and phoned them about that ridiculous fuel fill location about a year after we bought our rig. Their response was “Sorry you don’t like that”. -Boy that really was satisfying don’t you think?

  4. DMason

    Makes a huge difference where your filler is, too. Never thought about that when we bought our current Class A. Filler is on the back wall (not toward the back of a side wall, but ON the back wall). We tow a small car, too. So we need even more space to get in, get the back of the RV to the pump, and then to get out again. Even the Flying J type RV lanes can be difficult since they lead you out almost on the bumpers of the cars parked at the convenience store. We try hard to get a good look at the gas station before we pull in, just in case.

  5. rvgrandma

    We have stopped at many that say RV friendly only to see the pumps perpendicular with cars parked in front of the building (this seems to be the norm now). No way can we safely pull in, fill up and out without hitting cars. We even pulled into one station that advertised RV friendly. Sure they had a separate island for RVs but when you pull out it is a 90 degree angle. We got there to find a pickup and 5th wheel stuck. I have no idea how he ever got out of it without hitting the pumps. I loved it in Yuma – the truck stop there had separate islands for autos, rvs and trucks.

  6. jrw

    Just added an auxiliary fuel tank into the bed of my truck. Only 20 gallons but that gives more distance than I usually drive in a day. Too many drivers in regular stations that are inconsiderate of a 43′ 5er so I only use truck lanes when the camper is hitched.

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