An elderly couple were recently found dead in their recreational vehicle. They died when carbon monoxide seeped into their motor home.
The couple had parked their RV at a nearby campsite and were running its auxiliary generator. Like the engine exhaust pipe, the generator exhaust pipe runs underneath the passenger compartment and out the rear end of this motor home.
This generator exhaust pipe, however, had holes in it from normal corrosion over time. The couple died when carbon monoxide leaked from the exhaust pipe and through the floor of their motor home.
When the family asked us to investigate this accident, we were surprised to discover that the RV had recently received its annual state inspection sticker. We were even more surprised to learn that this RV, with its corroded exhaust pipe, would still pass a state inspection.
It turns out that our motor vehicle inspection laws only cover engine exhaust pipes. They do not apply to auxiliary generator exhaust pipes. Although the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from a corroded pipe is the same, inspection stations are not required to inspect auxiliary generator exhaust pipes.
Unfortunately, many RV owners assume that all exhaust pipes are inspected when they get their annual inspection sticker. As a result, more than a dozen RV fatalities from leaking generator exhaust pipes were reported during the last decade.
The RV industry has long been aware of this unchecked carbon monoxide hazard. Most manufacturers now route the generator exhaust pipe directly out the side of the RV, instead of underneath the passenger compartment. Since 1993, all manufacturers have installed carbon monoxide detectors in new motor homes. Nonetheless, it appears that nothing is being done by the RV industry to alert people of this hazard in many older motor homes.