Common RV Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

It doesn’t matter if you are a brand new RV owner or a seasoned RV owner; we all make silly mistakes at some point in time. I usually encourage the use of checklists to help avoid making some of the more common mistakes. When you use a checklist it’s not as easy to forget or overlook a certain step or procedure. But you can’t have a checklist for everything you do in or on your RV. With that said, in no particular order I want to offer some tips on how-to avoid some common mistakes RV owners make.

RV Odors from the Holding Tank

Another RV mistake RV owners experience is odors from the black water holding tank. Most of this odor related problem is associated with the way the RV toilet and black water holding tank is designed. RV holding tanks use a vent pipe that goes from the holding tank to the roof of the RV. This vent pipe is designed to vent gasses and odors from the holding tank to the atmosphere. The problem is, odors accumulate in the tank and can’t really be vented outside because there is no air pressure to help force the gasses (odors) up and out of the roof vent. When the air pressure is higher in the holding tank, than it is inside the RV, the odors escape into the RV by way of the toilet when you flush it.

Some of this can’t be prevented, but there are a couple things that help. One is to use plenty of water. The water level in the black water holding tank will help control odors. You need to get in a habit of adding additional water to the holding tank whenever you flush the toilet. It is absolutely necessary you keep the water level above the contents of the holding tank to help control odors and for the tank to drain properly. Another problem is folks don’t always add enough water after they empty their holding tanks. You need to know what size holding tank you have and make sure you add enough water to completely cover the bottom of the tank, at a minimum every time you empty the tank. Holding tank treatments help control odors too. Every time you empty the black water holding tank you need to add a treatment to assist with odor control and help break-down the contents in the tank. A third line of defense against holding tank odors is to add an aftermarket roof vent cap designed specifically to help pull the gasses and odors from the tank and vent it outside.

Extending and Retracting Slide-Outs

Slide out tipsAnother common problem is when you extend or retract slide-outs in your RV and something in the way ultimately gets crushed. If you have slide-outs in your RV this may have already happened to you. If it’s a motorized RV the driver’s seat is often times the culprit. You start to extend or retract the slide-out and the next thing you know it’s hitting the seat. I accidentally crushed the RV owner’s manual packet on one occasion and the clothes hamper got in the way another time. The only advice I can offer is to check and double check everything in the path of the slide-out prior to extending or retracting it. Most importantly don’t forget to check the area outside the RV (see photo) prior to extending any slide-outs! I have witnessed extensive damage to RV exteriors caused by not inspecting the area prior to extending the slide-outs.

Dead RV Batteries

Check your batterySomething else that will happen, if it hasn’t already, is you forget to turn off the battery disconnect switches and the next time you use the RV the battery is dead. This has not happened to me in a long time, but it has happened. The last thing I do before walking out the door is turn the battery disconnect switches off. If your RV doesn’t have battery disconnect switches you need to really check and make sure all the 12-volt devices in the RV are turned off. It would probably pay to disconnect the negative battery cable or purchase and install an aftermarket battery disconnect for the RV battery.

Power Pedestal Problems

Another common problem is failing to turn appliances off prior to connecting or disconnecting the RV from electricity. This can be a costly mistake too, especially if it damages the air conditioner. Always make sure all of the appliances in the RV are in the off position prior to plugging into or unplugging from an electrical source. While on the topic of electricity another good habit is to make sure the circuit breaker at the power pedestal is in the off position prior to plugging or unplugging the RV power cord. Plug the power cord in securely and then turn the breaker on.

Not knowing or monitoring the height of your RV

Know the heigh of your RVDamage to the top area of RVs is one of the top five RV insurance claims filed. Your RV has what is referred to as soft and hard clearances. An example of a soft clearance would be a radio antenna.  An example of a hard clearance would be the air conditioner. You could hit the radio antenna and do little or no damage to the RV, but if you hit the air conditioner chances are there will be major damage. The way to avoid this kind of damage to your RV is to know and monitor the height of your RV. Park the RV on a level surface and measure the height from the ground to the tallest hard clearance item on the RV. Record the measurement and post it where it will serve as a constant reminder. When you are at the campground have a spotter watch for low hanging tree branches and other obstacles that might damage the RV.

Backing the RV into a site or parking space without a spotter

If you back the RV without a spotter I can almost guarantee that eventually you will hit something. An easy way to avoid this is to always use a spotter.  Establish hand signals you both understand and always keep the spotter in view when backing the RV. If you can’t see the spotter, stop the backing maneuver. Always watch for children and pets, especially when backing at the campground. When in doubt of what’s behind you stop, get out and look.

Not properly matching the tow vehicle to the trailer

This is a big one! It’s extremely important that you understand weight ratings and how much your tow vehicle can safely tow. A simple rule I always apply is the tow vehicle’s towing capacity should be equal to or greater than the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the trailer you are towing. This way, even if the trailer is loaded to full capacity, the tow vehicle is still rated to tow the weight. Towing with a mismatched tow vehicle and trailer combination can be deadly.

RV Pre-Trip Checks

RV pre-tip checksI mentioned earlier that using a checklist can be helpful. Checklists are really helpful when performing pre-trip checks prior to moving the RV. You have probably seen an RV traveling down the road with the TV antenna up or the steps out just waiting to hit something, and resulting in expensive repair bills. The easiest way to avoid this and other problems like this is to follow a simple pre-trip checklist prior to moving the RV. In addition to using a checklist I always make one final walk-around of the RV just before pulling out; you might be surprised at what you overlooked or forgot.

If you are interested in detailed checklists that you can use for almost any RV and camping scenario check out our best selling Checklists for RVers E-book

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Happy Camping,

Mark J. Polk

RV Education 101
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