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DON’T BECOME A VICTIM OF RV LOCK-IN (or, how to fix an important safety fault.)

August 12, 2011 by · 6 Comments 


We had pulled into a rest area/welcome station just across the state line.  Due to our RV’s longer length, we had to park with the big trucks.

While Nancy took Oscar for his walk, I popped into the camper to complete a quick check of the contents then closed the door and headed to the Men’s rest room.

Upon returning to the truck, I saw Oscar sitting in the front seat looking out the window.  The assist handle next to the camper’s only door was jutting out in the open position.

Figuring that I had neglected to move the handle in to the transport position, I snapped it back in front of the camper door and made myself comfortable in the driver’s seat of the truck, all the time assuming Nancy had left Oscar in the truck and made a visit to the Lady’s rest room.

An unusually long period of time had passed and I was getting worried about Nancy.  Then, a trucker rapped on my door indicating for me to roll down my window.  He looked up and said, “Hey, mister, your wife is locked in your camper and can’t get out.  She wants you to come back and unlock the door.”

Assist Handle locked in front of door

Unknowingly to me, Nancy was in the camper when I moved the assist handle to a locked position in front of the door.  Back in the truck with the engine running, the A/C on and the windows rolled up there was no way I could hear her calls for help.  Fortunately, a passing trucker had heard her call for help from an open window and summoned me to rescue her.

We all got a good laugh out of the episode but I had to promise I would always double check before moving the assist handle to the travel position in front of the door.

It was about a week later when we were sitting around one evening with our newfound friends, Bob and Mary from New York, that we retold our story of the accidental lock-in.  Much to my surprise, they were not laughing.  Apparently, there was a good reason for their solemn faces, as we were about to learn.

While at a campground in Florida Bob and Mary awoke one morning to find themselves locked in their camper.  Ultimately, Bob had removed one of the emergency escape windows in the rear of the camper and managed to crawl out.  Walking to the front side of the camper, he discovered the assist handle that had been moved in front of the door.  Almost immediately, he heard his neighbor calling out the window of his camper for help.  His assist handle had also been moved during the night to obstruct his exit from the camper’s only door.  In all, fourteen known campers had been encroached upon during the night having their assist handle locked in front of the door.  It was “assumed” that some mischievous youngsters had decided it would be a good joke to play on the residents while they slept.

Assist Handle locked in left position - does not cause door to be blocked.

But the story does not end there.  Bob shared a report of yet another instance where the assist handle was locked in front of the camper door while the chain securing the owner’s portable generator was cut and the generator stolen.  Unable to get out the camper’s door, the owner was unable to get any identifying information about the thieves that would help to recover his stolen generator.

I began to become more concerned about the ability to be locked in by a stranger in a few seconds and decided to come up with a method to prevent or at least slow the ability to lock the assist handle in front of the door.  The thought of being trapped inside the camper in an emergency, like a fire or bad storm, also deeply concerned me.  This was a major safety issue to me; I wanted to be sure that I always had control over my ability to open the entry door.

Of course, the problem seems to be of most concern to campers with only one door on their RV that use the popular folding assist handle.  Campers with a “back door” frequently do not have the folding assist handle found on “front doors”.  This isolates the majority of problems to fifth-wheel campers, but some travel trailers and motorhomes can easily have the same issues.

I have two methods – both of which I have incorporated into my assist handle.  One is extremely simple to implement using only a piece of aluminum  and two screws.  The other is more complex but allows use of the assist handle as designed when needed.  The later also serves to stabilize the handle so it will not accidentally move if pulled on in a sideways motion – like might happen if a person were to fall or slip on the camper steps.

My method #1 uses a piece of 1/8” thick x 3/4” wide aluminum flat bar stock.  This stock can be found at most any hardware store in sections 2 feet or longer.  You will have enough leftover stock to share with some friends.  This method does NOT require removing the assist handle – all work can be accomplished “as is” on the camper.

The stock is cut, filed or sanded smooth and then drilled with a 3/16” bit so some stainless steel #8 x 1/2” sheet metal screws can be inserted.  A 1/8” pilot hole is drilled in the plastic handle support for the screws.  I selected aluminum and stainless steel due to their resistance to rusting.

As you can see from the photos, the aluminum stock completely prohibits the handle from being moved so it can lock in front of the door.  The left folded travel position or fully open positions are not compromised.

Tools Needed:

  1. Hacksaw to cut aluminum stock
  2. Drill and bits – 3/16″ and 1/8″
  3. Metal file or sandpaper
  4. Phillips #2 screwdriver

Parts Needed:

  1. 1/8″ thick x 3/4″ wide flat aluminum stock
  2. Two #8 x 1/2″ long stainless steel screws

All parts are available at hardware stores or home stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Method #2 requires more time and materials.  It also requires removing the assist handle from the camper.

Original parts removed from base.

This method requires removing the pin from the plastic holder that secures the handle and replacing it with a 5-1/2” section of 1/4” threaded rod.  You will need to drill a 1/4” hole in the bottom of the plastic holder so the rod can go all the way through.  The spring action inside the holder is retained with an added nut to apply pressure where the original retainer was positioned on the now unused pin.  The ends of the rod get a polished cap nut.  A drop of Super Glue on the rod threads is used to hold these three nuts secure.  The locking portion in my project is a wing nut.  But, if more security is needed, it could be replaced with a standard 1/4″ nut requiring a 7/16” open-end wrench for operation.  When the wing nut is spun upward to seat against the plastic holder the handle cannot be moved at all.   The piece of threaded rod extending down from the mounting bracket allows the handle to be lifted and moved normally when the wingnut is retracted.  If this section is too short, the handle will not be moveable by lifting.

I concluded the use of the wing nut would probably suffice and be easier for me to operate yet offer enough discouragement to any offender so that they would walk away and look for easier prey.

Rod, spring and compression nut in place

I am sure there are other ways that will be conjured up to serve the same function – perhaps something from the manufacturer of the assist handles.  In any event, modification adds an additional layer of safety that you should consider implementing.

Just in case, always check your emergency exit windows and be sure you have a way to get to them and out of the camper.  Often it can be a rather long way down from the window.  Pillows thrown out the window onto the ground below might prevent a nasty hurt or broken bone should you fall during decent.  A folding emergency escape ladder similar to those used for swimmers to get into ski boats might work well for this.

New bolt lock in place.


The 5-1/2″ threaded rod extends out the bottom of the plastic holder.  Inside the spring and a compression nut hold the rod in position.  The cap nuts prevent accidental cuts or scrapes, and look better.

In this photo the wing-nut is spun upward on the section of threaded rod below the plastic holder.  This locks the handle in any position desired and prevents movement in any direction.

Spinning the wing-nut down allows normal operation.  The lower cap nut also keeps the wing-nut from coming off and getting lost.

You can substitute a regular 1/4″ nut for the wing nut to add security, but you will need to keep a 7/16″ wrench handy to move the nut.

Lightly oil the rod threads occasionally to prevent rust and allow smooth movement of the locking nut or wing nut.

Both cap nuts have a drop of Super Glue on their threads to keep them from coming loose.

Of course, the bottom cap nut is the last piece to be installed.

Tools Needed:

  1. Two 7/16″ open end wrenches or pliers
  2. Drill with 1/4″ bit
  3. Phillips #2 screwdriver
  4. Hacksaw
  5. File or sandpaper
  6. Tape measure.

Parts Needed:

  1. 1/4″ threaded rod – cut to 5-1/2″ long.  #20 thread pitch.
  2. Two 1/4″ x 20 cap-nuts
  3. One 1/4″ x 20 hex nut
  4. One 1/4″ x 20 wing nut
  5. Super Glue or thread locking compound.
  6. 3-in-1 machine oil,  WD-40 or similar lubrication/rust inhibitor.
  7. Sealant for screws returned to camper sidewall to hold plastic brackets in place (water seepage preventative)

All parts are available at hardware stores or home stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot.



6 Responses to “DON’T BECOME A VICTIM OF RV LOCK-IN (or, how to fix an important safety fault.)”
  1. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy Randy,

    I hope you didn’t just give a bunch of drunks a ‘ play a joke idea’… That is scary!!! I don’t have one of those assist bars, but they are common nowadays and my ‘glass grab-bar is sun-cracking, so, I’d
    have probably replaced it with one… Now I won’t, unless I use your modification… Thank you !!!

    Smooth roads, clear skies & balmy breezes !!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Doug says:

    Our first rig was an 8 foot camper on a ’77 F-250. I would leave the tail gate in place as extra security for the camper while on the move. When parked, it made an ideal fromt porch to help in getting the boys, then 4 and 6, in and out of the rig. I realized on night, the gate could be closed and we wouldn’t be able to get out. The next day I bought a padlock to snap into one of the latch receivers on the box. The tailgate could not be closed.

  3. William Weed says:

    I just wanted to thank you for this information and a solution. We many times stay in remote locations and the thought of being locked in is somewhat scary. So thank you very much for sharing how not to be a victim of youngsters having fun or someone committing a theft. There is little doubt in my mind that your article may save someone from an injury or even save a life.

  4. wayne says:

    seems to me that the manufacturer should be thinking of this security weakness and making adjustments to eliminate the problem

  5. Jim Dukes says:

    I had this problem occur with a 2006 Holiday Rambler Ambassador motorhome. However, the fix was not as simple. A small retainer clip had broken inside the front door mechanism disabling the door handle and the door could not be opened from the inside. Once I removed the panel and exposed the interworkings of the latch mechanism, I replaced the broken retainer with a small washer and cotter pin, eliminating this problem from reoccurring. I might add that this was not an easy task due to assesibility, but possible with patience, needle-nosed pliers and a pencil magnet. If this happens to someone else, they should be aware that you can (by streaching) reach the outside door handle through the small window by the passenger seat. Incidentally, the linkage inside the latch mechanism was well greased and I found no reason for the clip breaking.

  6. Bill B says:

    Reading this article scared the bejabbers out of us. Within 30 minutes of reading about the problem, I had an aluminum finger stop on our unit. Thank you so much for bringing this issue to light. I have also discussed the issue with other RV owners and they, likewise, had never heard of such a problem, but can certainly see the what a danger it is and will be taking similar action to improve their safety.

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