How to Use a Gas Station While Towing a Fifth Wheel RV

How do you find gas stations that are RV friendly?

Is there an app for that?

Well, yeah. The Allstays Camp and RV does show all of the truck stop type stations.

But.

We don’t drive a diesel truck. And not all of the truck stop gas stations are gasser RV friendly. Flying J is (often with dedicated RV lanes). Love’s is not (the pumps are placed too close to the building for us to fit through).

Truck stops are typically on major interstates. We sometimes drive those, but are often on smaller backcountry highways instead.

We often gas up at stations not specifically designed for big trucks or RVs.

Here’s what we’ve learned about gassing up while towing our fifth wheel RV:

Nimble = Good

Our first fifth wheel was 30’ long. Our current one is 34’ long. Gas stations are definitely a place where shorter and smaller is easier.

Consider your travel routes when shopping RVs. Yeah, that 43’ fifth wheel has a ton of space. But you might only be comfy fueling up in truck stops while towing.

Do you always want to be on interstates?

Gas Up Before Hitch Up

I’ll try to gas up the truck the night before we hitch up and leave. It’s always easier without the trailer attached.

But there is a limit. If gas is 10 miles out then I’ll wait until we are hitched up and rolling.

Shop at 1/2 Tank

Our truck has a 26 gallon tank. It’s small for the gas-hungry 8.1L engine. This means our range is small. Maybe 200 miles per tank at the outside.

We had a scare once - almost running out when in the middle of nowhere.

So we learned. We try to start looking for gas when we hit 1/2 tank. This approach saved our butts one time when the only station for miles ran out of gas on I-10 in California. We had enough gas left to turn around and drive back 30 miles to fill up.

We’ve adapted to shopping for gas more often. It’s not as much of a hassle as you might think. We usually need a restroom or snack break anyway.

Forget Price

I don’t even look at gas prices when we are towing. I’m more concerned with finding a gas station I can get in and out of easily.

Saving a $1.50 on a fill-up isn’t worth the stress of a tight station or damage to the RV.

The Approach

The first thing I look at is the approach to the pump.

Is it straight in from the road? Or do I have to swing around some pumps after getting off the road?

Is there enough distance from the road to the pump to let me get the whole trailer off the road? I don’t want to block traffic in the street. I don’t mind tying up some room in the station for a few minutes.

The Exit

The next thing I look for is the exit path.

Can I go out a different road than I came in? Is there a way out that doesn’t involve 90-degree turns out of the pump lanes?

Outside Lane Open?

If there isn’t a dedicated RV lane, I’ll always look for the outside lane first. It’s not always the easiest, but usually is. Using the outside lane can prevent you from having to make hard turn in between pump lanes and gas station building.

We can usually scope out the approach, exit, and lane availability in a couple of seconds.

Gas Station Layouts

Here are some typical gas station layouts, listed in order of easiest to hardest to navigate while towing a fifth wheel RV:

Dedicated RV Lane

The ideal gas station arrangement offers dedicated RV lanes.

A dedicated lane means the approach and exit are sure to have plenty of clearance. Some of them eliminate the canopy to eliminate overhead clearance issues.

Bonuses of the dedicated RV lanes often include:

  • Long-arm windshield squeegees
  • Propane fillup
  • Fresh water
  • Dump stations

Flying J has the best dedicated RV lanes. We know many RVers that fill up there exclusively.

Pump Lanes Parallel to the Street

Smaller gas stations in town will often have the fuel pump lanes running parallel to the street. They have drives at either end for entry and exit. The station building is behind the pump lanes.

We favor parallel pump lanes. If we can get the outside (closest to the road) lane it makes for an easy approach and exit while towing.

Pump Lanes Angled from the Street

Some gas stations angle the pump lanes to ease access from the street.

We can use these if we can get an outside pump. Or if the angle makes for a clear exit path from a middle pump lane.

Pump Lanes Perpendicular to the Street

Many gas stations have the gas pump lanes running perpendicular to the street. The pump lanes basically run into the station building. While towing this makes for an easy approach but a hard exit.

The exit can be hard because you need to:

  • Do a hard 90 degree turn
  • Avoid safety poles on the inside of the turn
  • Leave room for tail swing on the outside of the turn
  • Avoid the station building and cars parked in front of it
  • Block pump lanes and building-side parking spots while doing this

Don’t rule out this arrangement altogether. Often you can fuel up on the outside pump lane, then circle around the back of the building and back to the street. Or out a side entrance. Or you can make use of large parking areas next to the pump lanes.

We avoid the Loves chain because their stations are laid out with:

  • Perpendicular lanes
  • Not enough space between pump lanes and station buildings to maneuver
  • Often no way to circle around back

We’d guess most RV mishaps while fueling up take place at gas stations with perpendicular pump lanes.

People either cut the corner too soon and impact the safety pole on the inside of their turn. Or they forget about tail swing and the RV hits the pumps or poles on the outside of the turn.

Grocery Store Fuel Stations

Grocery stores like Wal-Mart, Meijers, Sam’s Club, and HEB sometimes have fuel stations. These are often located in a corner of the store parking lot. Usually these types of gas stations don’t have as much “apron” of pavement around them, and we just can’t fit with the trailer attached.

Sometimes the end lanes are accessible from the bigger store parking lot so we do still check them out.

A Sampling of Fuel Stops

I’ve taken a few photos while gassing up. Photos are marked up with yellow arrows showing exit paths. Red arrows show station “pinch points” that I keep a special eye out for:

A dedicated RV lane. Just swing to the outside/right as much as possible so the trailer is straight by the time you reach the pump. Exit straight to the road. (1/1)

A dedicated RV lane. Just swing to the outside/right as much as possible so the trailer is straight by the time you reach the pump. Exit straight to the road. (1/1)

Another dedicated RV lane. Approach was straight from the road. Beyond the pump is space to turn around - the Class A just did that and is headed back to the road. (1/2)

Another dedicated RV lane. Approach was straight from the road. Beyond the pump is space to turn around - the Class A just did that and is headed back to the road. (1/2)

Arrows lead the way to the turnaround space. Class A exiting. (2/2)

Arrows lead the way to the turnaround space. Class A exiting. (2/2)

My favorite non-RV lane arrangement - the outside spot on pump lanes that parallel the road. (1/1)

My favorite non-RV lane arrangement - the outside spot on pump lanes that parallel the road. (1/1)

Perpendicular lanes here, so I choose the outside lane. The approach was not straight-in. We came from the right side of the photo. I had to drive past the pump far enough before turning to give the trailer clearance. (1/2)

Perpendicular lanes here, so I choose the outside lane. The approach was not straight-in. We came from the right side of the photo. I had to drive past the pump far enough before turning to give the trailer clearance. (1/2)

But the exit is easy - just swing to the right and circle out through the big parking area. (2/2)

But the exit is easy - just swing to the right and circle out through the big parking area. (2/2)

Another outside pump on perpendicular lanes. This one had a large parking area next to it. I could just circle in, fuel up, and circle out. (1/1)

Another outside pump on perpendicular lanes. This one had a large parking area next to it. I could just circle in, fuel up, and circle out. (1/1)

In the middle on angled pump lanes. Approach was straight from the road. Exit is easy - big parking lot, no building in the way, and exit onto side street. (1/1)

In the middle on angled pump lanes. Approach was straight from the road. Exit is easy - big parking lot, no building in the way, and exit onto side street. (1/1)

An inside spot in perpendicular pump lanes is my least favorite. The approach is easy - almost straight from the road. (1/3)

An inside spot in perpendicular pump lanes is my least favorite. The approach is easy - almost straight from the road. (1/3)

But my exit is hard. I have to clear the pole on the left and the building on the right. I was glad those parking places were empty. Note how far I am away from the pumps - trying to give myself clearance around them while exiting. (2/3)

But my exit is hard. I have to clear the pole on the left and the building on the right. I was glad those parking places were empty. Note how far I am away from the pumps - trying to give myself clearance around them while exiting. (2/3)

If we had a longer RV and had parked closer to the center I'd have to worry about the RV tail swinging right and hitting the pumps or pole on the other side. (3/3)

If we had a longer RV and had parked closer to the center I'd have to worry about the RV tail swinging right and hitting the pumps or pole on the other side. (3/3)

Exceptions

As you see in the photos, we do make exceptions. If we are running low on gas and the station looks tight but doable I’ll take it. Or if there aren’t any other options I’ll try a station that isn’t ideal.

We’ve only had to back out of fuel stations a few times in 6+ years on the road.

And we’ve never had to drop the trailer to get gas.

Don’t Sweat It

Some RVers carefully plan out each drive day and where the fuel stops will be. They can then use Google Earth to inspect the fuel station layout.

We don’t do that. We like to stay flexible, often changing our schedule or route mid-way.

We keep an eye on our gas gauge and on the road ahead. If it looks like there’s a long rural stretch ahead we might fuel up early. If we know we’ll be in populated areas for a while we’ll push it past a 1/2 tank.

We’ve always been able to find a workable fuel stop when we needed it.

What’s Your Experience?

If you are already ditched what’s your experience fueling up? Do you plan each fuel stop before hitting the road? Do you use the diesel truck lanes at truck stops?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

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10 Comments How to Use a Gas Station While Towing a Fifth Wheel RV

  1. Picture of Eric Eric February 20, 2017

    What an in-depth post on a topic I would have never thought to cover in a million years ... well done guys!

  2. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink February 20, 2017

    That’s us - find the obscure topic and detail the crap out of it..;)

    Thanks Eric - we’ve actually had a few emails from people and seen comments in FB threads about new RV owners being scared of manuevering that big rig through a gas station.

    It just took us a while to get enough photos to make a complete post.

  3. Picture of Tom Baker Tom Baker February 20, 2017

    Had fuel problems 1st time out with our fifth wheel. Speedway advertised a travel plaza on I69 in DeWitt Michigan. Pulled in and was one way in and out. Could not go around building and was straight to the building. While making my approach was making sure to miss the pumps with the front and caught a baggage door on a red bollard at pump. Luck was with me and only got a stripe and no bad damage. had to jockey around to get out lucky again that it was late at night and nobody in station. Had to jockey around several times to get out. Thanks for the suggestions for future use.

  4. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink February 20, 2017

    @Tom - ugh! And on the first trip too!

  5. Picture of Kevin Kevin February 21, 2017

    I too experienced the ‘joy’ of squeezing into tight fuel stations with our last truck and a fifth wheel. I did not fully realize how small some stations were until I was towing. The other thing I had to watch was the angle of some of the ramps to the road. The hitch was getting close to the bed rails a few times due to significant angles and ramp grade differences.

    I now have a diesel truck and truly appreciate being able to use the semi lanes at fuel stations now. I have plenty of room!

  6. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink February 21, 2017

    Thanks Kevin! Any issues with truckers not wanting you in those lanes?

  7. Picture of J Walden J Walden June 23, 2017

    Having to gas up while hitched is my biggest stressor.  It’s being able to quickly determine whether or not the station will work for me.

    What’s the best way to “scope out” a gas station to determine if it is workable or not?  Seems like I either have to block traffic while I stop and look, or it’s too late and I have passed it.

  8. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink June 23, 2017

    Hey J -

    For us we got quick at evaluating by practicing.

    Certain chains are better or worse so you can learn to watch for the brands you prefer.

    And sometimes you just have to block traffic.

  9. Picture of Stephen Lusch Stephen Lusch May 18, 2018

    I would like to know about experiences with fifth wheel heights in stations. My new one is 12’ 9”

  10. Picture of Olivia Wendell Olivia Wendell July 09, 2018

    We had the exact same issue and after (cough) breaking our back window trying to jack knife the truck and rig leaving a gas station we started a list of gas stations we liked. Eventually this list morphed into a map/blog. If anyone has any gas stations they like I’d love to hear about it so I can add it to our list. For those who don’t want to pre plan out the stops the blog is assessable on your phone, so you can see if there’s a stop we’ve documented coming up. Rvislands.com

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