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.
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.
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 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 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: