Caravan Drivers Guide. Full version

Edited by: Frank C Tecca, The Vette Set

This Caravan Drivers Guide was prepared by editing and expanding the Caravaner's Guide written for the 2003 Corvette Caravan to Bowling Green.  Since that was written for a super-long caravan traveling the national highways, I have adopted the best features and expanded the guide to cover the specific needs and problems experienced by drivers in short caravans as well.

If you only remember one thought from this article, please make it this one: If you use your head before your right foot, you=ll end up being a courteous, safe and reasonably lawful Corvette Caravaner.  Some of us like to get out on a back road by ourselves once in a while and let her rip, but with a group, we are going to have a better time if we try not to drive too aggressively.  The leader is not responsible for your actions.  If you drive irresponsibly or violate the law in the process of caravanning, you shall accept the consequences.  The caravan is not a race.  There is no prize for getting there first.

 

Getting Started 

Generally, everyone meets at a specific location at a specific time.  Be there at least 15 minutes early, with your car gassed up and ready to go.  You will not put your fellow caravaners in a good mood by forcing them to wait for you to arrive.  And, since they have taken the time to prepare their cars properly, they will not look kindly on you if you ask them to wait for you to get gasoline.

When leaving the meeting spot and forming a caravan, a good leader will wait for a large gap in cross traffic to enter the roadway, and stay in the slow lane to allow all the cars to safely enter the roadway and fall in behind him.  If metal vehicles interrupt the flow, that is ok, they may want to turn right at the next intersection.  As the leader continues down the road slowly, all Corvettes will fall in line and interrupting vehicles will have changed lanes and moved on.  Then the leader can set the pace.

 

On the Road

When a caravan has to go through a STOP sign, the caravan may be interrupted by a metal vehicle between nearly every car.  Again, the leader must drive slowly until everyone catches up and the interrupting vehicles turn or move out of line.

At a traffic signal the caravan will stay together unless the light turns red before the entire caravan has cleared the intersection.  When this happens, it is imperative that the leader is advised (to be covered in the Radio paragraphs).  The front portion of the caravan must stop or slow substantially until the rear portion catches up.  Only then, can the pace be reset.  Remember that the rear portion of the caravan may not know the destination or the route selected by the leader.  I have seen several instances where the rear portion of the cut off caravan has had to select a new leader who chose a completely different route to the caravan=s destination.

Freeway On-Ramps present a special problem.  As the front of the caravan accelerates up the ramp to freeway speed, the rear portion, still on city streets, is still driving slowly.  By the time the last car accelerates up the ramp the first car can be almost a mile ahead.  If he is traveling at legal freeway speed, the following cars will have to significantly exceed the speed limit for a long period of time to catch up.  The bears watch for speeding Corvettes.  On entering the freeway, the leader must travel slowly (45-50 mph) in the right lane until all the Corvettes driving at legal speeds catch up.  Metal cars that have infiltrated the large gaps caused by the accelerating Corvettes will be forced out by the slow speed or they will exit via one of the off-ramps.  When all Corvettes have caught up, the freeway pace can be established.

Most of the time the caravan will be traveling at the posted speed limit or slower in order to keep the group together.  Long range trips on the Interstate highways are run at higher speeds, usually 5-8 mph above the posted speed limit.  From experience, we know there will be drivers who want to run faster.  If you believe the caravan is moving too slow, exit the main group and run at a speed at which you are comfortable.  If you choose to leave the caravan at a high velocity, remember the Abears@ are out there polishing their Ka-band radar guns and you=re an easy target.  There will be those who like to travel well below the speed limit. If that=s you, just slow to a speed you choose.  If you know where the caravan is going, you may choose your own speed and your own route, no one will mind.

On multi-lane highways, generally a caravan should Adrive right and pass left.@  Exceptions might be if the caravan leader needs to move into the left lane to stay on the route at an interchange or intersection.  Otherwise, the leader should stay in the same lane most of the time and only enter the left lane to pass significantly slower moving vehicles.  The leader must remember that the entire caravan has to follow his passing maneuver.   If the caravan ends up driving in the left lane and another car wants to overtake you, momentarily move right and allow it to pass, then re-enter the caravan. 

The caravan is usually spread out most of the time with the faster drivers who maintain smaller headways driving in the front of the caravan and the slower, or more cautious drivers, falling to the back of the caravan.   If the guy behind you is racing up to you and riding your rear bumper because you like to fall back and keep a very large headway between you and the car in front of you, wave him around you.  You can keep your large headway behind him.  He won=t mind and it will lower his blood pressure as well as yours.   If you keep a very large headway all the time, expect cars  to pass you.

For those that like to follow very close, remember, you still must allow other cars to pass across the caravan as they merge into or out of other lanes.  Please be most vigilant of this on the Interstate, near interchanges, entrances and exits.  Caravanning in a manner that has cars following each other so close that non-caravan vehicles cannot pass through or across the caravan, besides being arrogant and unfriendly, is illegal.   So, if you still want to caravan like Dale Jr. and Tony Stewart in the draft at Daytona to keep others from invading your space, the cops are out there, waiting for you.

Often we find that a long caravan must use multiple lanes to navigate through very tight urban congestion; or that metal cars are playing with the caravan by trying to be part of it, or splitting up the caravan by forcing you into another lane.  At these times it is often dangerous and impossible to slip every Corvette into line at the end of the caravan.  The best and safest way to solve the grouping problem is for the errant Corvette to navigate through traffic in an adjacent lane until he can come along side the caravan.  Then the adjacent caravan car should fall back and create a space for the errant Corvette to fall in line.  The last Corvette in the caravan has all the power.  He can effectively slow and hold up the metal cars following him until the errant Corvettes can re-group.  At these times it doesn=t matter where your position is in the caravan, it matters more that the caravan is kept together so no one gets lost. 

There is another unattractive aspect to this issue.  There are idiots and fools on the road.  Nothing angers a type-A personality more than a bunch of Corvettes, slowing down and/or blocking traffic.  Real aggressive jerks can be provoked into doing something dumb like cutting off caravaners or running them off the road.  Please avoid situations where the closeness of caravan vehicles could set up problems like this.

 

Truckers: Most are White-Knights, but a few are Dark Lords 

The trucking industry is enhancing our nation=s economy through Interstate commerce.  Truck drivers do that in vehicles which weight as much as 80,000 pounds and are not capable of Corvette like passing and breaking maneuvers.  For our own safety, let=s cut the truckers some slack, but if you decide to cut them off instead; be careful ... you might find yourself looking up at the front axle of a Peterbilt.  Experience in other events involving caravans tells us that, while most professional truck drivers drive in a safe, prudent and understanding manner, there are truckers who do not.

There have been cases of Corvettes being >boxed= by three big trucks then run off the road by truck drivers who care little if they kill people or not.  A few of these incidents were unprovoked, but others were provoked by the caravaners who cut-off, blocked or otherwise impeded trucks moving on the road, or harassed or mocked truckers over the CB radio.  If you find yourself in a situation where you=re considering driving or using your two-way radio with intent to harass truckers, keep in mind two thoughts:

1) Such action may provoke retaliation and those truckers who decide to retaliate might do so against other, innocent Caravaners not involved in your harassment campaign. 

2) Trucks outweigh your Corvette by a factor of about 25 so you=ll probably be on the losing side of a road rage confrontation like that.  An 18-wheeler can easily squash a Corvette.  Bottom line; leave the truckers alone...even if they make you angry.

 

The Danger of Rubber-Banding

Long caravans of cars running close to each other have a tendency to change lengths when the caravan leader or other caravaners make speed changes.  This is called Arubber banding@.   As the caravan speeds up, the distance between cars increases.  As the speed change migrates rearward, the rate of the increase will also increase.  The first car speeds up.  The next speeds up a little more to catch the first.  The third car speeds up even more to catch the second and so on.  Once the middle drivers notice the speed change, they end up accelerating briskly.  This can end with the rear-most cars having to rapidly increase speed by 40-50 mph after the leader=s speed only went up 10 mph.  Once mid and back runners get the speed change accomplished, they immediately have to slow down to avoid running into the back of each other once they decide they have caught up.

The reverse of this is also true and potentially more dangerous:  the lead car slows, the next car takes a split second to react, then slows more.  The third car, uses up distance in reacting then slows even more abruptly, and so on.  In short order, if people are following closely, you=ve got drivers way into ABS trying to stop and even people colliding.

The caravan Leader is aware of the rubber band phenomena and will always make speed changes slowly.  If the Caravan is running tight, drivers in the middle and rear portions of the caravan must be acutely aware of this rubber band phenomena and learn to anticipate its affects.  

Because Arubber banding is a part of normal Caravan movement, it is advisable to resist attempting to follow another caravan car too closely.  Most accidents which occur in caravans are rear-end collisions caused by following too closely combined with Arubber-banding.

Two-Way Radios 

The modern caravan leader will use a General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) (HT5) radio for communication.  In the past, Citizen=s Band radios have been the choice of caravans; however, newer GMRS and Family Radio Service (FRS) equipment have some technical advantages for caravan use.

GMRS HTs having 4-watts output power will transit between two and three miles.  GMRS units with external antennas can transmit to five miles and perhaps more.  Less powerful FRS equipment transmitting on the one-watt FRS frequencies is good for a mile or so.  The lowest cost FRS HTs working on the half-watt FRS frequencies are good for up to 2 mile at best.

Prices for GMRS/FRS radios vary widely from about $30,00 for a low-cost half-watt unit to nearly $300.00 for high-end, 15-channel, 4W commercial grade equipment.  Many of the more costly GMRS radios will also transmit on the seven, 1-W FRS frequencies.

Some of the fun of caravanning is to get on the radio and jabber with your friends, when you=re on the official Caravan frequency please observe some radio discipline: 1) Listen first, then push-to-talk.  When you want to transmit, before you key the mic, listen a bit.  If someone else in talking, wait until they are finished speaking, then transmit.  This keeps us from Astepping@ all over each other.  When more than one transmitter keys up and they are all close together, often no message gets out at all and the only thing you hear is a static-ridden squeal.  2) When you key-up to transmit, remember that the radio takes a split second to switch from a receiver to a transmitter.  If you key the mic and immediately start talking, the first part of your first word will often be cut-off.  The right way to use a two-way is to key the mic, wait a fraction of a second, the start talking.  3)  At the start of the event, the caravan leader will announce a ACaravan Channel.@  This will be the radio frequency used by the caravan leader to broadcast official caravan information.  The way to do that is use other channels for chit-chatting.  4) Smoky Reports.  Caravaners want to know where the cops are hiding; however, if you are in a long caravan it is not necessary for everyone passing the cop to make a report.

In every caravan it is most necessary for the leader and the last car in the caravan to have a radio on the same frequency so the last car can report any changes in the caravan grouping   Often the caravan is cut off by a red light.  The leader needs to know that the caravan has stopped and he must react accordingly by waiting for them to catch up.  Also, any changes in direction without a full caravan must be reported back to the stopped group.  Mechanical failure of a caravan car or minor accident must be reported to the leader so he can stop the caravan.  Finally, if the caravan is more that 10-12 cars, there needs to be a radio in the center of the group.  Sometimes he has to relay info from the last vehicle to the leader.  A myriad of other situations could occur which the leader must know about in order to make an appropriate decision.

 

Stops on the Way

There are a number of reasons to stop at locations that are not specified in the trip plan.  Most often, these are bathroom breaks.  Less often, they are mechanical breakdowns or flat tires.  Unplanned stops should never be caused by empty gasoline tanks.  A very large caravan requires buddy groups, where all buddies stop and assist the injured party while the caravan continues.  Small caravans should all stop, assist, and remain until the problem is resolved.   In my experience, most caravans will never continue on without one of their members.  The caravaners with radios must watch the caravan and notify the leader whenever a car leaves the caravan.

 

Tips for car Preparation

When long caravan trips are planned and driving is through remote areas of the country you should prepare your car to minimize mechanical failure.  Make sure your tires are in acceptable condition for the trip.  If your oil change interval will come up during the trip, change your oil and filter before you go.  Lube the chassis, service the transmission and axle and change the fuel filter if necessary.  Maybe you need new shocks.  If you haven=t had the front-end aligned in a while, do that too.  If you are driving a pre 84 car and haven=t adjusted the steering box in a long time, or it's never been done, do that.  

Make sure your cooling system is functioning properly and all its parts, including the radiator, water pump, belts and hoses are in good condition.  Inspect the front of your radiator to insure it=s not blocked with debris.  If your car has electric cooling fans, make sure the system works properly.  If you car has air and you have notice it isn't as cold as it should be, have the HVAC serviced.  It=s a good idea to carry a spare serpentine belt with you at all times.   If it should break, finding a special part along the route on a holiday can be impossible.