Life Threatening Winter Blast: Dumb Winter RVing Mistakes to Avoid

Even the best home on wheels can only give limited protection from cold weather. The rest is up to you. Don’t learn winter RVing mistakes the hard way. If severe weather is approaching, it’s time to get serious about keeping warm, safe, and enjoying this year-round lifestyle.

RVing is now a year-round activity. Many RV owners are bypassing the RV storage lot to take part in winter camping.

According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), “RV ownership has increased over 62 percent in the last twenty years with a record 11.2 million RV owning households.” A University of Utah study reflects these findings by revealing that more visitors are exploring the state’s national parks in winter than ever before.

Here are some helpful resources:

Can you be comfortable RVing in winter? And safe?

Winter RV camping doesn’t have to be brutal. But even snowbirds that travel south for winter can get caught in unexpected snow storms. You can be warm, safe, and comfortable in cold temperatures if that happens to you. Just don’t wait to learn how to do it the right way. If you’re planning an RV trip during the winter but are unprepared for winter weather you may never want to do it again.

12 dumb winter RVing mistakes you want to avoid

Wherever you travel in your RV, make it your goal to avoid these common cold weather blunders. Don’t learn them the hard way so that you can enjoy four seasons of fun.

Clean snow off slide toppers before retracting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

1. Not clearing snow off the slide-out roof (before retracting it)

In winter, carry a ladder and something that easily removes snow from RV rooftops. This lesson will hit home if a sudden snowstorm catches you by surprise. Don’t forget to look up before retracting your slideout. A massive pile of heavy snow accumulated on the slide-out will cause the motor to stall, sometimes with disastrous results.

2. Delaying RV generator maintenance

Is your RV generator prepped for winter weather? Make sure it operates efficiently before your comfort depends on it. Even starting a well-maintained generator can be tough in freezing weather. Generator starting is especially rough if you have an external model.

Understand your RV maintenance needs. A well-running machine may be the only thing between you and freezing temperatures inside the RV.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

3. Keeping the fresh water hose connected

Don’t wait for the first hard freeze to teach you the agony of thawing your drinking water hose with a hair dryer. When the weather starts to go bad, fill your RV fresh water tank with water and disconnect and stow your RV drinking water hose. You’ll be glad you did when you can still use water from your water tank and not the campground bathroom.

Alternately use a heated water hose available at most RV dealers and stores selling RV supplies.

Read more: Winter RV Camping Must-Have: Heated Water Hose

4. Forgetting to check propane levels before departure

Use a propane safety tool like the GasStop to alert you when your RV propane supply runs low. Always carry two full tanks especially if you’ll be cold weather boondocking in remote areas. If not, you could end up getting stranded in a remote campsite without fuel to keep you warm.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

5. Not carrying an alternative heat source

If your RV’s propane furnace isn’t keeping your RV comfortable enough (or if you’re running low on propane), it’s time to purchase another heat source. Just be sure to choose a space heater that is safe and practical for your situation. Some can be dangerous if knocked over and will require electric power. Be sure to review the safety risks of using electric heaters before making your purchase.

Check this out to learn more: How to Prevent and Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV

7. Skipping extra insulation

You aren’t throwing money down the drain by purchasing extra insulation. Add it to your rig and you’re already better off. The RV insulation most commonly used to retain indoor warmth during cold temperatures is Reflectix insulation material.

This lightweight stuff can be cut to the size of your RV windows and ceiling van vents. Lay it over them and you have one more way to keep cold out. Many RVers also use Reflectix in summer to keep the heat out.

8. Plugging an electric space heater into a 20-amp circuit

Using electric space heaters inside an RV is not inherently dangerous. But not being smart about how you use supplemental heat sources can sometimes end in an RV fire. Don’t leave a space heater turned on when you’re away from your RV or overnight. A pet could easily knock it over and burn your RV down. Or an electric cord can overheat and start a fire. That’s why we never use the high setting on our space heater.

Read more:

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

9. Not opening cabinet doors on freezing cold nights

Keeping RV cabinet doors open at night is one of the best tricks to prevent frozen water lines.

Leaving your cabinet doors open allows for warm air from within your RV to circulate exposed pipes under sinks and vanities. When you keep your cabinets closed, you prevent air from warming them, essentially keeping them isolated in cooler air.

By keeping cabinets that contain pipes open whenever possible and maintaining adequate heat levels throughout your RV, you’re taking crucial steps towards ensuring that your plumbing system remains intact even during winter’s worst conditions.

10. Check your seals and furnace vents

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to help prevent a cold RV is to keep up with your maintenance! Make sure there are no cracks or gaps in the seals around your windows to avoid unnecessary drafts in your RV. You can repair the seals with some caulking or completely replace the seals if needed. 

11. Blindly following Google trip directions without checking road conditions

We’ve all read about drivers who don’t invest in an RV trip planner and end up paying the price by getting lost, or worse. Don’t tempt fate by blindly following your GPS as it can lead to deadly consequences. Always verify that road conditions are safe for us before heading out.

Here are some articles to help:

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

12. Don’t learn RV lessons the hard way

Create enough camping checklists and soon the list of summer and winter RVing mistakes grows shorter. The positive side of learning from common mistakes is that you will have plenty of great campfire stories to share with friends and family.

Cold climate winter camping is not the best time to attend the RV school of hard knocks. It pays to talk to more experienced RVers about winter camping. Learn from everyone else’s mistakes, so you can avoid them in your awesome RV travels.

Worth Pondering…

No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.

—Hal Borland (1900-1978)

10 RV Fire Dangers and How to Avoid Them

In this article, I cover the most common reasons that RVs catch fire and what you can do to prevent it

Modern campers are designed to be quite safe but RV fire dangers still exist. Something can always go wrong. For example, if the wrong piece breaks or you don’t take the necessary precautions, a fire can start inside your RV. This is dangerous to you, your possessions, and the vehicle itself. RV fire dangers should be prevented at all costs. 

In order to decrease the chance of explosive situations, it’s best to plan ahead. For instance, you can purchase and install smoke detectors throughout your RV. This will give the earliest possible warning if something goes wrong. Additionally, you can study your RV appliance manuals.

Learn how to safely install them and avoid dangerous setups that might start an RV fire. 

As long as you’re careful and follow a good RV maintenance schedule, you should be able to minimize RV fire dangers. At the very least, you’ll be better equipped to deal with a fire. Use common sense as well and keep flammable objects away from hot items and unplug electrical devices when you’re not using them. 

Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. RV propane leaks

One of the biggest fire dangers in an RV is the propane system. Most RVs have a heating system that’s powered by propane plus additional appliances that use this type of fuel. Although using propane is usually quite safe, a leak can be disastrous. A single spark can send the entire vehicle up in flames.

>> Related article: Safety Dance

To prevent propane leaks, make sure you have a propane/LP gas detector installed in your RV. Sometimes you might be able to smell the leak but by this point the damage is usually done. It’s better to have an advance warning system so you can get to safety.

Additionally, you should have your propane tanks inspected at least once per year. Keep them well-sealed when they’re not in use. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Unattended electric space heaters

Lots of RVers supplement their heating system with an electric space heater or two. These heaters can keep your vehicle warm when the temperature drops. However, it is an extra heat source and it’s definitely one of the top RV fire dangers you will face. 

There are numerous space heaters to choose between and some are safer than others. Most models come with safety features so they will automatically turn off if they get too hot or are knocked over. Do not use outdated models without these features.

In addition, be careful where you set up a heater within your RV. Make sure it’s not close to any curtains, paper, or other flammable materials. 

RV refrigerator and microwave © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Loose items near the RV stove/oven

Speaking of heat sources, take a close look at your kitchen setup. RV kitchens tend to be a bit small and crowded. You only have a limited amount of space for all your appliances, ingredients, and utensils. 

Unfortunately, a crowded, small RV kitchen can lead to disaster. Do everything you can to keep your stove top clear. These surfaces can easily start a blaze if a loose towel or cord touches them. Unplug and store all your electrical appliances when they’re not in use. Try to keep the cords tucked away. 

>> Related article: 9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Of course, you should also practice safe kitchen practices. Don’t leave the stove unattended. Keep the surfaces as clean and uncluttered as possible. 

Be aware of fire risks outside the RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. RV grills and campfires

Fire dangers often come from inside the RV but sometimes the bigger risk comes from the outside. RV grills and campfires aren’t usually a problem especially if you’re careful. But they can create a fire hazard. 

Keep campfires at least 25 feet away from your vehicle. Sparks and embers might still fly up but they usually won’t cause a problem from that distance. Keep your gas cap firmly closed. Protect your propane tanks and any spare gasoline you might have on hand. 

The same precautions apply to portable camping grills. It might be tempting to cook underneath your RV awning but the smoke, grease, and heat can create dangerous conditions. 

Check the undercarriage for potential problems © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Loose undercarriage wires

There are numerous fire dangers that are clearly visible but sometimes danger lurks below. RV undercarriages can sometimes become damaged without us realizing it especially if we travel on particularly rough roads. An underbelly that been scraped or otherwise damaged presents an increased fire risk.

Loose wires and fuel lines might come into contact with heated engine parts and begin to melt. This is incredibly dangerous because you may not even be unaware of the problem. 

To address this issue, crawl under your RV and check for any loose wires, mechanical parts, or fuel lines that may be damaged. Secure anything that’s hanging down and check for any mysterious leaks or smells. Keep a fire extinguisher in the RV just in case a spark flares up.

Be ware of tire safety © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. RV dryer lint

Not every RV has a washer and dryer on board but those that do are at a greater risk of catching fire. RV dryers in particular are dangerous because of the heat they produce. If you aren’t diligent about cleaning the lint trap and the various vents, shedding fabric can catch fire. 

>> Related article: Electric Space Heater Safety Tips for RVers

Make sure you always empty the lint trap of your dryer before you start a new load even if you don’t feel like there’s much buildup. Also pay attention to the temperature of the dryer once a load finishes. If it feels unusually warm or has a burning smell, call a tech to check it out. 

A place for everything © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. RV electrical system problems

There are a variety of reasons why an RV electrical system might develop issues. If things start to go wrong with the wiring, it’s easy for a stray spark to start a fire. 

Be proactive and don’t use a ton of different appliances at the same time. Crowding outlets can lead to trouble. Unplug appliances as soon as you’re finished using them and avoid using extension cords. 

Inspect your RV walls and wiring for signs of rodent damage. If these little critters start nibbling on the wires, the whole system could go down. Rodents are also one of the top fire dangers for RVs. 

Finally, check your RV’s 12-volt connections/hookups. Loose connections can lead to a spark which can cause a fire. 

8. RV refrigerator malfunction

It seems a bit strange that an RV refrigerator could cause a fire but it does happen. Check to see if your model has been recalled.

Clean your RV vents on a regular basis to prevent dust buildup. If air movement becomes blocked the refrigerator can become overheated. In addition, keep your refrigerator as level as possible especially if you have an RV absorption refrigerator. These have boilers that can easily overheat if they’re tilted to the wrong angle. 

Don’t overlook the RV tires, wheels, and breaks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. RV wheels and brakes

Don’t overlook the mechanical parts of your RV as well. When you’re traveling at high speeds with a heavy vehicle, things can heat up very quickly. RV brakes and wheels take on a lot of the stress. They need to be kept in great condition.

Follow an RV maintenance schedule to rotate your wheels and repair/replace the brakes as needed. 

Careless use of space heaters is a major cause of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Deep-cell batteries

Finally, make sure you maintain and replace your RV batteries on a regular basis. If the battery acid boils away, it can overheat and catch fire. Batteries have even been known to explode. Check the fluid level of all deep-cell batteries monthly and add distilled water as required.

>> Related article: 16 Must-Have RV Accessories

In conclusion

Although we hope it never happens, we should always be prepared for the worst. By being diligent, properly maintaining our RVs, and practicing cooking safety, we can reduce the risk. Since we can’t completely eliminate it, planning ahead and practicing evacuation can ensure the whole family stays safe.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

Safety Dance

There is nothing in this world as wonderful as an RV road trip but nothing so terrible as having it ruined due to a safety issue

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, so it’s best to prevent tragedy before it has the opportunity to occur. RV owners need to be aware of this and other potential issues as they travel.

The recent tragic carbon-monoxide-related death of three friends vacationing in Mexico is a somber reminder for everyone to pay attention to safety. While this certainly applies to all of us in our daily lives, this article will address RV safety. RV owners must be constantly aware of several safety-related issues to help protect their units and their families on the road. Let’s start with combustible gas.

Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and colorless gas often formed by incomplete combustion in propane and natural gas appliances. Since most RVs have several propane appliances on board, they are prime candidates for carbon monoxide to be present—thus the importance of annual propane system maintenance by an RV service professional.

During a yearly inspection, an RV technician will thoroughly examine the propane system and appliances for proper operation. This includes checking for leaks, proper pressure, and appliance condition.

At the very least, the RV’s furnace, water heater, and fridge (unless it’s a residential unit) all utilize combustion. If these appliances are not regularly checked and maintained, the burners may become damaged or drift out of adjustment and potentially result in incomplete combustion and CO emission.

Electric heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instance, a furnace burner operates inside a sealed combustion chamber that vents outside the RV. Heat inside the RV is generated by blowing air across the combustion chamber and into the living space. If the combustion chamber becomes damaged or is not completely sealed and the burner does not have the correct fuel or air mixture, carbon monoxide can result and leak into the RV. So, if the appliances are not regularly maintained, there is a risk of CO entering the living space. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer that is difficult to detect before it’s too late.

>> Related article: 9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

The best way to protect your family from the dangers of CO, both in your home and your RV, is to have working carbon monoxide alarms installed. If your CO alarms are battery operated, be sure to replace the batteries twice per year. If you live or travel in an area where daylight savings time is observed, I recommend replacing the batteries in your propane and CO alarms when you change your clocks. Otherwise, set yourself a reminder to replace the batteries.

Be safety aware at all times © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If your detectors are wired into your RV’s 12-volt system, monitor the power LED on the alarm to make sure it is green. Test these devices regularly for proper operation; your CO alarm will have a button that should be pressed once a month or so for this purpose. Carbon monoxide mixes with air; therefore, CO alarms may be placed at any height from floor to ceiling.

Finally, be sure to replace your CO alarm every 10 to 15 years as indicated in the manufacturer’s documentation. The device should have a manufacture date stamped on the back.

Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I know it can be tempting to take the batteries out of your RV smoke alarm after it goes off for the tenth time when you are just making toast. Don’t do it. Working smoke detectors really do save lives. Test your smoke detector monthly and change the batteries twice a year around daylight savings time. 

Like carbon monoxide, propane gas is odorless and colorless; however, ethyl mercaptan, an odorant that smells like rotten eggs, is added to propane and natural gas for safety reasons. A propane detector will sense the presence of propane in the air long before the ethyl mercaptan is smelled by humans.

Be safety aware at all times © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Treat the propane detector the same as the CO alarm including regular testing. Propane gas is heavier than air; therefore, detectors must be placed near the floor in an RV. While propane is generally an extremely safe energy source, it is important to respect it to eliminate risk wherever possible. To this end, always make sure to turn your propane containers off during travel. It is illegal in some places to travel with open propane containers, but even if it’s legal, it doesn’t make it safe.

>> Related article: 30 RV Hacks and Tips for a Successful Road Trip

Make sure you have at least one working fire extinguisher in your RV, although I recommend owning at least two. Most RVs are sold with one 2-pound fire extinguisher. This is not large enough to handle a significant fire. I recommend installing at least one extra extinguisher (type A, B, C). One should be near the main entry door (likely the place where the factory-installed extinguisher will be located) and one in the rear especially if the bedroom is in the back.

Be safety aware at all times © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may opt to install additional extinguishers and/or a fire-suppression system in the engine bay and behind the fridge. The extinguishers should be at least 5 pounds in capacity. Have the extinguishers professionally inspected yearly and make sure you know how to use them. This is something RV dealerships don’t show you when they perform the walk-through on your new RV.

In other safety considerations, ensure all your exterior lights are in proper operating condition. This includes clearance lights and running, tail, brake, fog, and signal lights. Lights should be checked prior to each trip.

Regularly inspect tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you have a trailer or a motorhome, have the chassis serviced regularly and inspect the brakes and tires. RV tires tend to age out before they wear out. They often will not show signs of wear, even as they begin to reach the end of their life. It is important to have your tires regularly inspected by a professional tire technician. Tires last an average of five to seven years from date of manufacture. However, this varies widely and tire manufacturers recommend visual inspections by experts on a regular basis.

>> Related article: How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

It is also important to run the correct tire pressures for your RV. This is not usually the tire pressure listed on the sidewall of the tire but based on the weight of your RV and each wheel position.

Be safety aware at all times © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trailer owners should ensure the towing systems are well maintained and operated properly, specifically the coupler, equalizer, safety chains, wiring harness, and breakaway cable. Motorhome owners who tow another vehicle also must be vigilant about inspecting their towing equipment on a regular basis.

>> Related article: On the Road Again: Summer Road Trip Safety Tips

It is fundamentally important to properly maintain all RV systems to help avoid damage, injury, or death to yourself or others. Resist the temptation to take these systems for granted.

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.

9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

In this article, I cover the most common reasons that RVs catch fire and what you can do to prevent it

When you head out on the road with your RV, regardless of the type, you are probably thinking about rest stops and your eventual camping spot. Fire safety probably doesn’t cross your mind. However, fire risk is a real concern with RVs, so you need to be prepared. 

According to data published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are nearly 2,000 devastating RV fires every year. An RV fire can start anywhere whether you are on the road or parked.

Being aware of potential fire hazards in your RV and taking steps to mitigate your risk of a fire can go a long way to keeping your RV safe.  

Older models are more at risk of fire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Which RVs are most at risk of a fire?

According to a NFPA report on fire hazards associated with RVs, older models of RVs have fewer and less advanced fire safety measures. They also have older engines and equipment that is more likely to fail which is a common cause of RV fires. Most fatal RV fires occur in older models of RVs.  

If you own an RV that is more than 10 years old, you should upgrade your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Also ensure your fire extinguishers are adequate for the size of your rig and handy in the kitchen, bedroom, and living areas of the RV. Every year, it’s wise to get a full inspection of your rig to find out about potential problems before they become fire hazards.   

While there are a number of things that cause RV fires, doing a few things will help reduce your risk of a disaster. Here are nine fire hazards and what you can do to mitigate them.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Malfunctions of the RV electrical system

Many RV fires originate from malfunctions in the RV electrical system. Here is what you can do to lessen the risk of an electrical fire in your RV:

  • Make sure any electric space heaters run at their lower wattage setting. Usually, space heaters are set at 1,500/750 watts or 1,200/600 watts. You should only run a space heater at 750 or 600 watts in your RV. 
  • Always plug your space heater into a wall outlet; never use an extension cord.
  • Don’t overload your electrical outlets by plugging too many things in at once. For example, if you plug a space heater into an outlet, you shouldn’t have anythng else plugged in.
Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mice, rats, and squirrels love to chew through cable and wire housing in vehicle engine compartments and the RV’s living compartment. If any of these critters have invaded your rig, inspect your wiring for any signs of nibbling and do the necessary repairs immediately. 

>> Related article: On the Road Again: Summer Road Trip Safety Tips

Don’t leave small electrial appliances plugged in when you aren’t home.

Inspect your rig’s 12-volt connections before each trip. Loose connections can cause shorts that ignite combustible materials in the RV.

Carbon monoxide detector © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Propane system leaks

Propane system leaks are one of the top causes of fire ignition in RVs. It’s important to have your propane system inspected regularly.

In addition to detecting propane gas leaks in your RV, there are a few more ways you can prevent your RV’s propane system from causing a fire. 

Never drive your RV with propane on. Everything in your RV is jostled around while you drive. If there is a leak when the propane valve is open, it just takes a spark from a flat tire or the little flame in your RV’s propane fridge to ignite it. 

Make sure your RV propane/carbon monoxide detector is working and up-to-date. RV propane/carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every five years.

RV refrigerator and microwave © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Your RV refrigerator

Your RV refrigerator can be a fire hazard due to manufacturing defects. Dometic and Norcold have both recalled certain models of their RV refrigerators over the years because they could catch on fire. The boiler in absorption RV refrigerators can also overheat and become a fire hazard when the fridge is not kept level.  

4. Wheels and brake system

When your RV’s wheels and/or brakes get too hot, they can ignite materials around them. Be sure to check your tire pressure when your tires are cold. Get your wheels and brakes inspected regularly and before long trips.

5. Stuff near your RV cooktop

Having combustible items anywhere near your RV cooktop can lead to disaster. Because RVs are made with far more combustible materials than a traditional home, a fire in the galley can rapidly get out of control.  

>> Related article: The Safety Checklist for When Your RV is Parked

Keep combustible items like paper towels, plastic, and wood well away from your cooktop when you are cooking.

Don’t store cooking oils or fats close to your cooktop.

Always stay in the kitchen/galley area when you are cooking and keep an eye on things.

Smoke detector © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Not having a working smoke detector

I know it can be tempting to take the batteries out of your RV smoke detector after it goes off for the tenth time when you are just making toast. Don’t do it. Working smoke detectors really do save lives. 

>> Related article: Electric Space Heater Safety Tips for RVers

Test your smoke detector monthly and change the batteries twice a year around daylight savings time. 

Be aware of fire hazards near the RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Portable grills and campfires too close to the RV

Portable grills should be at least 12 feet from the RV and campfires should be at least 25 feet away from your RV and any fuel source. This makes setting up a gas or charcoal grill underneath your RV awning a really bad idea.

Electric system and surge protection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Not having adequate fire extinguishers in your RV

You should have a 2.5 lb fire extinguisher in each area of the RV. A fire extinguisher is required near the doorway of the RV, so manufacturers meet the minimum standard for this. But if there is a fire in the galley of the RV, the extinguisher can either be out of reach or precious seconds are wasted accessing it. 

>> Related article: Raise Your RV IQ with These Tips

Fire extinguishers are classed according to the type of burning fuel that is being extinguished. A Class ABC fire extinguisher will put out the types of fires common in RVs. Here are the types of fires that each class extinguishes.

Class A – Ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, rubber, fabric, or plastics.

Class B – Flammable liquids and gasses, including gasoline, oils, paint, lacquer, and tar.

Class C – Fires involving live electrical equipment.

9. Gasoline and propane   

Gasoline and propane present an immediate fire hazard when stored incorrectly or when there are leaks or spills. Storing gasoline out of the sun and well away from the RV or tow vehicle is a good idea. Generators should be set up a safe distance from the RV.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In conclusion

Although we hope it never happens, we should always be prepared for the worst. By being diligent, properly maintaining our RVs, and practicing cooking safety, we can reduce the risk. Since we can’t completely eliminate it, planning ahead and practicing evacuation can ensure the whole family stays safe.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

Prep Your RV for Spring Travel

Spring shakedown

Spring has sprung and if you’re a seasonal RVer you’re likely itching to hit the road. Slow your roll, though. Before you head for the nearest campground, spend some time with your RV and make sure it’s prepped for the travel season ahead. This includes taking steps to dewinterize the plumbing system and so forth. It’s also a great time to perform general maintenance tasks including a close inspection of the exterior and a check of all on-board systems.
Here’s to a fun-filled spring RV season!

Family road trip to the Smoky Mountains includes hiking © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What better way to shake off winter than to enjoy a family RV trip? And what better time than now? Spring is upon us which means it is a good time to take the RV out of storage. Even if you have been using your RV over the winter, these spring shakedown tips should provide some good reminders.

A spring road trip may involve the family pet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the batteries were in storage, install them in the RV. Make sure to properly connect all wires. Seek assistance if necessary, as it is important not to mix up the wiring. Make sure the batteries and connections are clean, tight, and dry, and check the fluid (electrolyte) level. Plug the coach in to shore power or connect a battery charger to make sure the batteries are fully charged.

A spring road trip may involve a visit to an animal farm or zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you live in a cold climate, the first step in spring is to dewinterize the coach. Locate the low-point drains and close them if they are open. These low-point drains may be hidden behind a cabinet or panel but they should be labeled. The outside shower may also act as a low-point drain.

Related: Your RV Camping Checklist: 10 Essentials for RV Travel

A spring road trip may involve hiking © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re unable to locate all the low-point drains are, look for water pouring out from under the RV when the city water is turned on in the next step. The drains may have valves or threaded caps. Close the fresh water tank drain valve or install the drain plug. If your RV has a water pump winterization bypass, make sure to close the bypass valve (set it to normal operation).

A spring road trip may involve birding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Close all faucets in the RV, and turn off all plumbed appliances such as water heaters, on-demand systems, dishwashers, and washing machines.

Connect and turn on the city water. Go inside the RV and turn on each hot and cold faucet one at a time until there is no aeration or pink antifreeze flowing out. Don’t forget the outside shower. If the RV has a dishwasher, flush the system by running it through a complete cycle with no dishes. For a washing machine, run it through one warm wash and spin/drain cycle.

A spring road trip may include a national park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turn off the city water and fill the fresh tank. Turn on the water pump and open all faucets one more time to purge the pump and hoses. Leave the taps open until all air and antifreeze is out of the lines. Take note of any cycling of the pump after the faucets are turned off especially during the camping season. If this persists after all the air is purged (which can take a long time), it can also be an indication of plumbing leaks. Keep an eye out for wet areas and/or loose plumbing fittings.

Dewinterizing a coach may start here © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Install the water heater drain plug/anode rod (if the anode rod is more than ¾ worn, it should be replaced) and close the water heater bypass valves. These are either on a plumbing panel or at the back of the water heater. There are one, two, or three valves, so make sure you set all of them to the correct positions. The water pump cycles while the water heater fills. Once the pump stops, open the hot water faucets slowly and carefully as the air space created in the water heater often causes an initial high-pressure air release at the faucets. Do this for all hot water faucets until the air dissipates. If the RV has a water filter, release the water pressure and install a new filter in the bowl.

Related: Yes, You Can De-winterize your RV: Here is How

Check your fridge and microwave oven © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you didn’t do so last season, it is important to have a propane system inspection performed by a licensed RV dealership. The professional technician inspects the LP system to make sure no leaks exist, the appliances are in good shape, and the operating pressure is correct. An annual inspection helps to keep the propane system and appliances working properly and safely.

Connect and turn on city water © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turn on the propane and test-fire the appliances. It is a good idea to light a stove burner first, as this allows you to observe when the propane displaces the air. Make sure the furnace and water heater light, reach the correct air or water temperature, and then go out. Ensure the furnace repeats its cycle. Light the fridge, but note that it may take a few tries to light due to air in the lines.

Connect to sewer and flush the system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Test the air conditioner and fridge 120-volt functions as well as other appliances such as the washer/dryer, dishwasher, fireplace, etc. Test the 12-volt lights and fixtures looking for proper operation and burned-out bulbs. If the RV has a 120-volt energy source for the water heater, start with the electric element before firing it on propane. Make sure it starts to get warm on 120 volts and then flash it up on propane.

Look for signs of winter damage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look for any signs of moisture, mold, or mildew inside the unit. If you find any, clean and dry the area, and ascertain whether it is condensation or a water leak that needs to be addressed. If you are not sure, you can have an RV service center inspect it or see whether it recurs during your travels. Clean and dust the inside of the unit, make the beds, and repack anything you removed during storage.

Make the bed and pack for a spring road trip © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you have a generator and didn’t do so in the fall, change the oil and filter. Unplug the shore power, start the generator, and make sure it runs properly and supplies power to the RV.

Test the awning for proper operation. Perform a visual check of the sealants on the outside of the RV that may have opened during or before storage.

Related: Prep Your RV for Summer Travel

All ready for spring travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inspect the tires for cracks, abnormal wear, or other damage. Since RV tires generally age out before they wear out, they should be replaced within about seven years of ownership. Note that tire manufacturers recommend not running on tires more than 10 years old regardless of how good they look and recommend professional inspections on a regular basis. A tire shop can give you the best advice on this.

Spring has sprung © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The manufacturing date is embossed on all tires in a four-digit format with week and year of manufacture. Don’t take chances with old or damaged tires on your RV. For more on tire safety, click here.

Check the outside lights and make sure the emergency breakaway switch plunger operates properly and is undamaged. Inspect the seven-way trailer plug on your truck and trailer and make sure the pins and sockets are clean, dry, and undamaged. Have the trailer brakes and bearings inspected and repacked annually.

Spring has sprung © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Test the slideouts for proper operation including topper awnings. If possible and safe to do so, carefully mount the roof of the RV to inspect the sealants and roof components. Going up on the roof generally is best left to a professional for safety reasons.

If you have a motorhome, check all engine fluids, belts, etc., and get a service if necessary. Start the engine to ensure it is running properly and is charging both battery banks.

Springtime in the Rockies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note that not all of the above may apply to your RV depending on type of RV, age of the RV, and options the manufacturer included.

Make note of any deficiencies you encounter. This allows you to either investigate them yourself or provide a detailed list to your RV service provider and/or vehicle mechanic.

Wild rose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you have other items on your spring shakedown checklist, add these to my suggestions. Following these tips should bring you better peace of mind for your spring and summer travels.

Read Next: 12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need to have all the answers. What you need to do is be curious and open-minded enough to learn.

—David Fialkow, co-founder of General Catalyst

30 RV Hacks and Tips for a Successful Road Trip

Road trips are still very much a trending means of travel and here are some tips to know before you plan one

Traveling by RV is amazing. You have the freedom to choose your routes and move based on your schedule. Preparation is vital for the success of any road trip.

Adapting to the RV lifestyle can be overwhelming—overwhelmingly fun. Sure, there are a few things here and there to get used to but, overall, it’s an adventure you’ll wish would never end. The beauty of a road trip is the journey—it isn’t just about reaching your chosen destination. With that being said, it’s important to remember that the journey is often long and proper preparation is the key.

To relieve any stress or anxiety you may have about the RV lifestyle and to help elevate the fun of it all, I’ve gathered 30 RV hacks and tips to help ensure your next trip is your best trip.

Ambassador RV Resort, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Create an RV Departure Checklist

There are certain RV camping essentials you need to take with you such as your RV paperwork (insurance, registration details, roadside assistance documents, and road maps). Whether it’s a physical copy or one stored on your phone, having a checklist available can save you the trouble of leaving something behind or having to turn around once on the road.

Kitchen essentials © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Kitchen Essentials

If you plan to prepare meals in your RV (and why wouldn’t you?), you’ll need to ensure you have all the equipment and supplies you need. For example, you’ll require bowls, plates, cutlery, cups, pots and pans, knives, chopping boards, and matches. You’ll also need to pack products to clean these items once you’ve used them such as sponges, detergent, and trash bags.

Bedroom essentials © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bedroom Essentials

The RV checklist for the bedroom includes linen and bed sheets, duvets and blankets, pillows, and laundry essentials. You might also want to pack towels in your bedroom because RVs usually lack storage space in the bathroom.

Related: Best Preparations for an RV Road Trip

4. Bathroom Essentials

Fully stock your bathroom with your bathmat and toiletries. Toiletries could include a toothbrush, toothpaste, liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner, lotion, deodorant, and a hairbrush. And don’t forget the toilet paper and bathroom cleaning products too.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Clothing Essentials

Nobody wants to go away and realize they only have one pair of underwear and socks, so make sure you pack your clothes carefully. Work out the number of days you’ll be away and decide which clothes you want to take and how frequently you’ll do laundry.

Your clothing pack list should also be influenced by the location and time of year. For example, if you’re going on vacation to the coast make sure you pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and your swimsuit. If you’re heading to the mountains be prepared for all four seasons.

Music © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Entertainment Essentials

You won’t spend all your time outside and on the go, so you’ll want to pack some entertainment. The type of entertainment depends on you and your family and the amount of space you have in your RV. Some examples of entertainment essentials include music, movies, laptops, games, puzzles, toys, and books. 

7. Personal Essentials

Personal essentials you’ll need during your RV travels include your smartphone and charger, credit card and cash, and campground and RV park confirmations. Another personal essential might be medications.

Shopping for groceries at a farmers market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Grocery Essentials

A major positive about RV travel is that you are self-sufficient meaning you can be off-grid and explore the backcountry. However, if you’re planning on going off-grid and away from stores make sure you think about the grocery packing list. Since you’ll need sufficient food in your RV to last during your time in the backcountry, pack plenty of canned goods, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and cereals.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Planning the Best Summer Road Trip

9. Camping Essentials

Whether you plan to go off-grid or not, you’ll also need camping supplies. These may include flashlights, maps, pocket knives, a compass, water filters, and ropes. If you plan to do specific camping activities such as hiking, fishing, or kayaking, you should also pack these items.

Connections for fresh water and sewer systems © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. First Aid Essentials

Accidents can happen which is why it’s important to be prepared and ensure your first aid kit is fully stocked. Ensure that your kit includes bandages, band-aids, antiseptic wipes, disposal plastic gloves, a thermometer, and any other medications or creams you might need. You might want to pack some insect repellent and bite and sting ointment. 

Familiarize yourself with the items in the first aid kit and know how to properly use them. Check your first-aid kits regularly, at least every three months, to replace supplies that have expired.

If you travel with pets, pet first aid manuals are also available.

Columbia Sun RV Resort, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Sunglasses

When hitting the road in your RV, you’ll a good pair of sunglasses, regardless of whether you’re heading to the beaches or to the mountains. No one wants to stare into the sun for hours on end, not to mention that driving without sunglasses can be dangerous. Do yourself (and your eyes!) a favor and remember your shades.

12. Turn the propane valve OFF before traveling

This should definitely be on the departure checklist, but fire safety is worth stressing more than once. Traveling with your RV’s propane valve open is a fire hazard. With all the shaking that occurs on and off the road, propane connections can loosen or come apart entirely while in transit.

Connected water hose with pressure regulator © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Create a Campground Setup Checklist

A setup checklist will ensure everything is set up as it should be. You checklist should include:

  • Check the site for low hanging branches or obstacles on the ground
  • Locate the electrical, water, and sewage hookups
  • Pull your RV in, close to the hookups, and level it with blocks or stabilizing jacks, if necessary
  • Make sure the circuit breaker on the pedestal is turned off before connecting the power cord to the electrical pedestal
  • Connect the water hose using a pressure regulator
  • Attach your sewer hose to the drain hook-up and dump the black water tank followed by the gray water tank—be sure to wear disposable vinyl gloves for this process
12 Tribes Casino RV Park, Omak, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. RV Tool Box

A basic tool kit could quickly become your best friend. You never know when you’re going to need a screwdriver to tighten/loosen something or a hammer to pound something in place.

Related: Prep Your RV for Summer Travel

Just about anything in your RV that can snap, crack, rip loose, tear, bend, leak, spark, or fall off will do exactly that at the most inconvenient time. Something will need to be tightened, loosened, pounded flat, pried, or cut. To help you deal with everyday problems and annoyances, maintain a well-equipped tool box in the RV (always store on curb side).

Vista del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Gorilla Tape 

Gorilla Tape is a brand of adhesive tape sold by the makers of Gorilla Glue and available in several sizes and colors including camouflage, white, and clear. Gorilla Tape can solve many problems while on the road—and you can do most anything with this stuff. RVers have used it to temporarily repair a sewer hose, keep a driver’s side window from continually falling, and even affix the coffee maker to the counter so that it doesn’t move during travel.

The Lakes and Gulf Resort, Chowchilla, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Assorted Fuses

Vehicle fuses can blow at any time so it’s a good idea to keep extras around in a variety of sizes. But remember—something caused it to blow in the first place. Address the original issue as soon as possible. 

17. LED Flashlight

Flashlights are a must-have on any road trip. 

Orange Groove RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Deep Cell Batteries

Batteries are life. They keep everything running especially when you’re off the grid. Batteries also die if you don’t keep them adequately filled so they can maintain their charge. Check batteries monthly and add distilled water as required.

19. Potable Drinking Water Hose

RV potable water hoses are lead and BPA free. I recommend traveling with two hoses since you never know how far your RV will be parked from a city water connection.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Heated Water Hose

A heated RV water hose is required for winter camping. This product will give you safe drinking water even when temperatures dip below freezing. These hoses cost $100 or more, depending mostly on length, but will save you a lot in frozen pipes. A heated hose has a heat strip along the side of the hose that heats up when plugged into a 110-volt electrical connection. Some brands are rated to keep water flowing at minus 40 degrees.

Sewer hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. RV Sewer Hose

A high-quality sewer hose is essential to avoid any unpleasant leaks or malfunctions. I prefer Camco RhinoFLEX kit that includes a 15-foot hose, a fitting that connects to your RVs sewer outlet, an adapter that fits any sewer connection, and storage caps for each end. The durable hose is reinforced with steel wire so you can shape it as needed. Also carry a 10-foot extension—you’ll be glad you did.

Related: 12 Simple RV Maintenance Tips

22. Disposable Vinyl Gloves

Emptying the RV black water tank is probably the most common reason to have disposable vinyl gloves around. But, they can also be used for a variety of other things like cleaning and handling food. Yes, you should absolutely use disposable gloves for sewer tasks.

Sewer hose and translucent elbow fitting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Translucent Sewer Hose Elbow Fitting

If your sewer hose kit doesn’t come with a transparent connector, I recommend adding this accessory to your list. Clear connectors will give you a good idea of when the tank has been fully emptied. That way you won’t be stuck guessing when a good time is to close the connection.

Sewer hose support © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. RV Sewer Hose Support

This product helps to hold the sewer hose in place and prevent a failed connection between the RV and dump station. It’s a recommended accessory if you’re camping at a site for long periods of time and want to avoid other travelers from tripping or moving your sewer hose connection. Also, some areas require the use of a sewer hose support.

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Heavy Duty RV Dogbone Electrical Adapter

Every RVer needs to carry a few power adapters often referred to as dogbones to make sure that they can connect to whatever power is available to them. These power adapters will have a smaller, lower amperage plug (male blades) on one end and a larger/higher-amperage receptacle (female terminals) on the other end. Look for UL-listed versions of these adapters preferably with rigid grab handles. They do not change the power output.

Recommended electric adapters include:

  • 50-amp RV plugged into 30-amp source
  • 50-amp RV plugged into 15-amp source
  • 30-amp RV plugged into 15-amp source

26. RV Stabiliser Jack Pads

Prevent hydraulic or electric jacks from sinking into the ground by using RV stabilizer jack pads. Available in sets of four they are solidly constructed of durable polypropylene with UV inhibitors. Interlocking for convenient storage they are available with a handy strap.

Not a good way to treat tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

27. Tires

Check the age of the tires—RV tires usually age out before they wear out. Check the sidewalls for cracking. Use a high-quality truck tire pressure gauge to check that all tires are properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can increase fuel consumption by up to 4 percent, according to International Energy Agency. Proper inflation also reduces the incidence of tire failure and blowouts.

Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

28. Electric Management System

There are four electrical issues an RVer can encounter while traveling: surges, miswired pedestals, high/low voltage, and wiring issues inside the RV. We’ve had a power surge, situations where pedestals were miswired, and both high and low voltage situations. Fortunately, our Progressive Electric Management System has protected us from all of these situations.

Check out the units available from Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard. Both portable and hardwired units are available.

Sunny Acres RV Park, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

29. Carbon Monoxide Detector

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced when fuel is burned. LP-gas, gasoline, or diesel-fired equipment in and around your RV creates CO. Most of the gas appliances vent to the outside; however, a blocked flue, exhaust pipe, or even a breeze in the wrong direction can bring CO inside the RV. Generators are frequent offenders especially in tight quarters such as an RV rally where the exhaust can flow from one RV to another.

CO detectors generally have a 10-year lifespan from the time they are first activated. If the CO detector in your RV uses a battery, it should be replaced annually. Use only the type of battery recommended by the manufacturer. Many, but not all detectors have a low-battery and/or an end-of-life signal.

Hidden Lake RV Park, Beaumont, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Smoke Detectors

Everyone should be aware of smoke detectors mounted in RVs. The simple act of making toast can set them off as can smoke from a campfire or outside grill. They can be annoying but they will save your life in the event of a fire. All they require is a new battery every year.

Sea Wind RV Resort, Riviera Beach, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other considerations

Other considerations, supplies, and equipment include fire extinguishers (one in the galley, one in the bedroom, and one outside of the RV in a basement compartment, plus one in the toad/tow vehicle), NOAA weather radio, heavy-duty whistles, emergency waterproof matches, jumper cables, ice/snow window scrapers, work gloves, and blue tarp.

Now that you know the top 30 hacks to make your road trip more fun, are you ready to hit the open road? Plan your route with one of the many online tools available today and don’t forget to take photos of what you see. Happy travels!

Worth Pondering…

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

—Stephen Covey

Yes, You Can De-winterize your RV: Here is How

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the ice has thawed—do you know what that means? It’s time to de-winterize your RV!

The snow and ice have melted, temperatures are rising, and the sun is making its way out of hibernation—it’s finally spring! And, you’ve probably itching to take your recreational vehicle out for quite some time now. But before you get too excited, you’ll need to de-winterize your RV properly for warmer weather.

Winter is over? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you could take your recreational vehicle to a service center, many choose to de-winterize the RV on their own. It’s not too difficult, but if you don’t follow the proper protocol you could end up discovering winter damages halfway through your first trip. Not ideal, to say the least.

So, without further ado, here’s some advice for a seamless de-winterizing process!

No more winter? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A quick note: Make sure you stay with your RV throughout the entire de-winterizing process. It will likely take the better part of a day but if you leave in the middle of the task you might come back to an unintended swimming pool in your beloved RV.

Charge Your Batteries

When de-winterizing your RV, you’ll want to check your batteries for any wear and tear, including cracks that may have developed from frozen water. Batteries lose power in cold weather so it’s likely they’ll need to be charged and reconnected to your RV.

Prep your RV for spring travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Propane Power

Next step, propane power!

To start, make sure everything is turned off when testing the propane system. Then, open the valve about ¼ of an inch and check for any propane leaks by smelling the inside of the RV or by putting a soapy sponge by the connectors to see if any air bubbles appear. Assuming that you don’t find a leak, test your gas appliances and let them run for a few minutes. (It may take several minutes or more for the gas to work its way through the lines). If things shut off, try turning them back on—there may be air pockets in the line that just need to be pushed out.

Once inside the RV, also check for any water damage (this doesn’t have to do with propane but its good practice regardless). Inspect all vents and the areas surrounding the AC unit which tend to receive the most water damage. Finally, look inside cabinets and closed spaces—there may be some unwanted critters that snuck their way into your RV.

Prep your RV for spring travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flush the Water System

The most important step to de-winterizing your RV is prepping the water system for use. When it comes to winterizing your RV, you probably followed one of two methods: using an air compressor to get all the water out of the vehicle or adding non-toxic antifreeze to your tank to ensure no water turned to ice over the cold winter months.

If you went the air compressor route, you won’t have to deal with draining antifreeze and can move along to prepping the water heater. If you did add antifreeze, you’ll have to make sure it’s out of your drains and into your holding tanks before you sanitize the system.

Prep your RV for spring travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the anti-freezers, connect your water hose to a fresh potable water supply and fill your tank. Then, run water through every faucet, both hot and cold. You’ll also want to test toilets, showers, the refrigerator’s ice machine, and dishwasher during this time. Once the color from the antifreeze is gone and you have clear water, you can turn off the water supply drain pressure from the system using low point drains. At this point, you can install all filters back into the system that you removed during the winterization process.

If your coach is equipped with a water heater, you’ll need to install a drain plug, open the water heater valves, and close the by-pass valve on the water heater. This ensures that your antifreeze doesn’t get into your hot water tank. Turn on the fresh water supply, open the hot water faucet until the water heater is filled, turn on your faucet, and wait until the water flows through without any air.

Prep your RV for spring travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, We Sanitize!

Next, sanitize the RV water system by using a household bleach-water mixture (roughly a quarter-cup of household bleach for every 15 gallons of water that your fresh water tank holds) and flushing it through your water system.

Prep your RV for spring travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First, make sure all drains are closed (for obvious reasons). Next, fill the tank with the sanitizing mixture, turn on the pump, run it through the hot and cold faucets, close the faucets, and let it sit for at least three hours. Drain the bleach mixture, refill your fresh water tank with potable water, and flush out the system to get rid of any remaining bleach (no one wants to drink bleach water).

Finally, check your holding tank levels and dump excess waste if necessary at a suitable waste disposal site.

Not the way to care for your tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check Your Tires

During the harsh winter months, your tires may have taken a beating. Check for any cracks or irregular bumps, and use a tire pressure gauge to measure the psi. (Check your user’s manual for recommended psi or utilize your RV’s tire-pressure monitoring system).

Worth Pondering…

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.

—W. Bruce Cameron

Getting Your RV Ready for Summer Travel

It’s finally time to pull the RV out from the garage or bring it home from winter storage

With the snow melted and the campgrounds opening, it’s tempting to jump in and head off right away. But prior to setting out, RV owners need to perform some basic and routine maintenance to ensure that their weekend getaway goes smoothly.

RV exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exterior Inspection

The first thing to do is a visual inspection of your RV exterior. Check to see if any damage was sustained over winter, looking especially for evidence of water leaks. In particular, focus on the roof and caulking around windows, vents, air-conditioning unit, and doors. Look for cracks, holes, stains, separations, and leaks. Also, check for nests and evidence of chewing activity.

Roll out the awning and inspect it for tears. Check the fluid levels and top them up as necessary. Inspect hoses for any tears or holes, and valves for leaks.

Ensure your RV and tow vehicle/toad have had all required maintenance.

Wash the exterior in the shade with a mild soap remembering to clean the tires.

Not the way to care for tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tire Check

Check the age of the tires—RV tires usually age out before they wear out.

Check that all tires are properly inflated. Improperly inflated tires means more money for fuel. Under-inflated tires can increase fuel consumption by up to 4 percent, according to International Energy Agency. Proper inflation also reduces the incidence of tire failure and blowouts.

Clean the tires and rims and inspect them for evidence of any splits or cracks in the sidewalls or between the treads. Treat these seriously and get them repaired before you head out for your first camping trip. Don’t forget to check that your lug nuts are tightened.

If you have a travel or fifth wheel trailer you may need to pack wheel bearings.

RV exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Battery Check

Check your RVs batteries and top off cells with distilled water. Be sure to replace multiple battery banks together. If your batteries need to be cleaned, make sure they are disconnected and use a hot water and baking soda mixture to clean them. Wear safety glasses and latex gloves.

Connecting to city water © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Propane Tank Check

Check your propane tank, as seals can dry out over the winter. First, make sure you have everything turned off, you aren’t around any smoking flames or sparks, and your propane leak detector is turned on. Open the valves on your tank and smell for leaks. Check the valves and regulators by using a soapy water mix. If you find any leaks, have a professional inspect and repair them.

RV exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Generator Test

Test your generator, if you have one. Use the prime feature until your indicator light turns on for the fuel pump, run it for 20 seconds, and the generator should start more quickly. You will have to crank it until it starts otherwise, as there will likely be a lack of fuel in the lines. Let the starter rest to cool after 15 seconds of cranking. Don’t forget to check the oil and air filter.

RV utilities © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flushing Water Lines

Remove the antifreeze from your water lines. Make sure the water heater bypass valve is in the normal position and all of your taps are closed. Turn on the cold water tap that’s closest to the water pump, and run water until it’s clear. Do this for each cold water tap, toilet, and shower.

Then repeat for the hot water taps, toilet, and shower. Open up the bypass to allow water to fill the tanks. Use a city water connection and turn on the cold and hot water faucets and run to let air escape until the water flows steadily. Inspect all faucets and pipes for leaks, as well as the water heater, drain plug, and valves. Switch the fresh water pump on; if it comes on 20 to 30 minutes later, this indicates a pressure drop or leak. If it doesn’t come on, you’re good to go.

RV interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interior Inspection

Clean the interior of the RV and do another visual inspection. Vacuum the carpet, and clean the floors and other surfaces as necessary. Be sure to air it out. Check to ensure your appliances are working.

Test smoke alarms and CO and LP gas detectors, and replace the batteries as necessary. Check fire extinguishers, and refill first aid kit and emergency kits as needed.

RV interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, you can repack your RV and stock up on all your necessities.

Worth Pondering…

A bad day cleaning the RVing—is better than a good day—working.

Methods of Heating Your RV

How to stay warm in an RV during colder weather

In an earlier article we discussed the cold weather limitations of recreational vehicles and things you can do to reduce heat loss plus when RVing in cold weather.

Once the heat loss has been minimized, it is time to consider methods of heating your rig.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s best to use a combination of heating methods when dealing with extreme cold weather while RVing.

A word of caution: Be very aware of the dangers associated with each heating method and take proper safety precautions to avoid an RV fire, asphyxiation, carbon monoxide poisoning, or even death.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make absolutely certain you have a carbon monoxide, smoke, and LP gas detector in good working condition. Change batteries annually.

Never use your oven to heat your RV.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electric space heaters are cheap and can help in reducing your heating costs if you’re NOT on a metered site. Some RV parks forbid these or will charge you extra.

We use our electric heater during the day while at home and the RV furnace at night on a low setting (between 50 and 55 degrees) and in the mornings to take off the chill.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s portable heater models include a variety of safety features that help take a lot of the concern out of using them. A heater equipped with a tip-over protection switch will automatically shut off if it’s tipped over for any reason, and cool-touch housing prevents accidental burns on the exterior. These are useful safety features, particularly in areas with active children or pets.

Space heaters with overheat protection switches function in nearly the same manner. They use a temperature sensor, detecting when internal components become too hot. When an unsafe temperature is detected, the switch automatically shuts off the unit to prevent overheating.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be certain to check for these safety features when purchasing a new electric heater. As a safety precaution, shut off and unplug for the night and when you’re away from the RV.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Educating yourself about the safety hazards that come with the improper use of portable heaters will help you achieve better peace of mind as you keep your RV warm, comfortable, and fire hazard-free during the winter.

Once you have your rig insulated and warm, the next consideration is how to get the moisture out so dreaded condensation inside the RV does not occur.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the course of a day living in the RV, you put a great deal of water vapor into the air space. Showers, dishes, cooking, heating, and our own breathing all contribute and it needs to be expelled from the RV. Left unchecked the condensation can quickly build up on all the windows and some walls and lead to mold.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use the stove vent and fan when cooking, especially when boiling vegetables on the burner top. The quicker you can get the moisture out the better. Use absorbent cloths for removing moisture. Wipe down the shower stall and any condensation that builds up on the windows.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are numerous small portable, dehumidifiers on the market that are suitable for use in your RV. Place one near the shower and in various locations inside the RV and in basement compartments.

RVs are not designed for this weather but you can survive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs aren’t designed for cold, but you can survive!

But the best advice of all is “The RV has wheels, Go South!

Worth Pondering…

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.

—W. Bruce Cameron

Raise Your RV IQ with These Tips

Steering RV owners both new and seasoned in the right direction with these tips

Your recreational vehicle is a vacation home wherever you want it, whenever you want it. It is freedom and security in equal measure. It’s Lewis and Clark on turbo-charge.

Whether you just bought your first RV or you have owned one for a while, nothing beats the ease and freedom of walking into your unit and hitting the open road. 

Before setting out on your next adventure, consider the following five tips to raise your RV IQ.

Travel with Propane Off

Travel safely with the propane turned off at the tank © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a common topic discussed around the campfire, and it is a bit controversial. The best I can do is to offer my personal opinion. It really is safer to drive with the propane supply turned off at the tank.

Travel safely with the propane turned off at the tank © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I believe that having the propane on while traveling increases the risk of a fire if you are involved in an accident. If a gas line is damaged or broken, and the propane tank supply valves are open, there will be a release of potentially explosive propane gas. That’s a bad thing. For this reason, I choose to run with the main tank valve off.

Travel safely with the propane turned off at the tank © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, many folks will say: Hey, I’ve been running with the propane on for XX years, and nothing bad has ever happened to me. That may be true, but having the tank valves open increases your risk—it just does.

Travel safely with the propane turned off at the tank © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many RVers want the propane on in order to run their fridges while traveling. Most folks find that, for the average trip, the refrigerator will maintain a low enough internal temperature to keep your food fresh. It is also possible to freeze some blue ice packs the night before and use them in the refrigerator compartment to help keep everything cold while traveling.

Extension Cords

If using an extension cord be aware of the dangers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you use an extension cord to plug in your RV to the shoreline power, it’s essential that you utilize the right one. We’ve seen it happen far too many times: an RV owner uses a standard orange extension cord with a 15 amp rating to run their 30 amp power center. This is asking for trouble as the excessive power draw can overheat the cord and connection which can melt the cord and possibly cause a fire. 

Give Me Forty Acres

Practice tow bar safety © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When I’m hooked up to drive down the road, my setup is 58 feet long. That’s 38 feet of rig, almost 15 feet of Chevrolet Equinox, and a few feet of tow bar.

As most of you know, when towing a car with an RV, you should not back up. Some tow systems allow it for very short distances, but most advise never to do it; depending on the manufacturer, you will void your warranty.

Practice tow bar safety © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not an equipment or skills issue; it’s a physics issue. If you have experience backing trailers, you know that trailers move opposite to the rear of your tow vehicle; you can end up in a jackknife situation very quickly when in reverse. But, here’s the critical difference between a trailer and a toad: a toad has a steering wheel, and the toad’s tires can turn in all directions! You simply cannot back a toad the same way as a trailer. It will end up turning “Every Which Way But Loose,” as Eddie Rabbitt sang for that Clint Eastwood movie.

Practice tow bar safety © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since you can’t back up, it’s important to know your turn radius.You may wish to practice doing circles in a parking lot.

Install a Clear Sewer Hose Elbow

Clear See Through Elbow sewer hose connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No one really wants to see what is going on inside the sewer hose. They make those things brown or black for a reason. But the truth is that by installing a clear elbow at the end you can prevent a lot of potential problems down the road. Seeing what is going on in your hose allows you to check for undissolved toilet paper (in which case you might want to switch brands), to know ahead of time if a clog is about to happen, and to have visual confirmation that the tank is done emptying. Also, when you’re performing a black water flush you can easily see the color of the water, and when it runs clear be confident that the tank is clean.

Move Over Law

Practice safety © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always be aware of emergency responders, including tow providers, when they are on the side of road assisting motorists.  More than 150 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed since 1999 after being struck by vehicles along America’s highways. Each year tow company drivers are also struck and killed on the side of the road. Let’s do our part and be sure to change lanes. And remember, it is the law.

Practice safety © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.