Before setting out on that “Maiden Voyage” with your brand new, or new to your RV, there are some things you should know and be prepared for. Here are some little tips and tricks the seasoned RVer learns the hard way such as campground restrictions, where to find dump stations, great gadgets you should never leave home without, and much more.
Gadgets and Equipment
Let’s start with some cool gadgets and equipment that I’ve come across in over 30 years of RVing and developing troubleshooting programs for the RV industry.
- Proper Extension Cord – Your rig is probably either 30 amp or 50 amp so be sure to get an extension cord that is rated for that capacity and don’t go over 25’. Heavy duty cords at the hardware store are only 10-15 amp.
- Surge Protector – The Surge Guard brand is great as it will tell you the voltage at the campground source (you want between 112-126 volts, no higher or lower), the amp draw your rig is pulling, and will shut the system down if there is a power surge or drop in voltage.
- Non-Contact Voltage Tester – This handy pen-shaped device is used to detect power at an outlet, extension cord, or power cord going to an appliance. If something isn’t working in the unit, it’s usually a switch or breaker somewhere “downstream”. A quick test helps identify the component not working.
- Drinking Water Approved Hose – Don’t use just any garden hose to supply water into the rig. Get an approved drinking-quality hose and keep it stored in a sanitary plastic container away from the mess of a dump/service station.
- Pressure Regulator and Water Filter – Campground pressure coming from a well/pump system can be more than your fittings and connections can handle. A pre-set filter at 40 psi will keep your rig from flooding, and an in-line filter such as the Shurflo brand helps filter sediment, rust, lime, and several other contaminants that can plug up a water pump or fixtures quickly.
- Quality Dump Hose w/Clear Adapter – A quality dump hose is one that has different-sized screw-in adapters for the dump station and will stretch out to reach those hard to get to dump stations It folds down into an easy-to-store length inside a protected plastic bin with all the adapters. Adding a clear, see-through adapter to the dump valve helps to see when clear water is coming through.
- WiFi Extender – Even if the campground claims to have a wireless internet signal commonly referred to as WiFi, does it reach your site? There are several WiFi extender products on the market such as the Winegard Connect that boosts the signal and the speed.
These are just the basics, you’ll develop a list of parts and accessories that fit your specific type of RVing.
Getting Your Rig Ready for the Road
- Connecting To Your House/Garage – Most RV owners bring the RV to their house and plug into a garage outlet to cool the refrigerator down and pack the RV for the trip. What they don’t realize is the typical garage electrical outlet is only rated for 15 amps and usually “ganged” to other outlets that have an air compressor, refrigerator, freezer or other appliance connected to. When you plug your RV into the outlet, the refrigerator will typically draw anywhere from 6-10 amps so most owners think this is fine. However, your converter will periodically charge your house batteries which will draw another 3-9 amps depending on the size. Now we are getting dangerously close to the 15 amp limit on most house systems! It’s a good idea to have a qualified electrician install a dedicated outlet for your RV – 20 amp minimum – so you can rest assured that there is enough power for your rig.
- Cooling Down Your Refrigerator – Another part of plugging into the garage before a trip is to cool the refrigerator and food inside. If you start with a warm refrigerator and warm food, it may take you several days to get the food down below 40 degrees! It is best to let the refrigerator cool down empty with a 5-pound bag of ice in the freezer and cool your food down in the house or garage refrigerator.
- GVWR/GAWR – Every RV has weight rating that owners need to be aware of and understand. First is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) which is the total weight the RV can weigh with all fluids and accessories. Motorhomes must also factor in the weight of people riding in the unit. Travel Trailer owners will be in the truck when running down the road, so the GVWR is determined for stopping, tires, axles, etc. Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the weight that can be on individual axles, so you may be ok in overall GVWR. However, if you are heavy on one axle, you could have issues with stopping, tire failure, and overheated bearings. You can find these weights by going to a Cat Scale usually at larger truck stops. Visit www.catscale.com to find the nearest scale and put individual axles on different platform scales. You may need to shift some items around if you find too much weight on an axle, or not take as much stuff if you are over GVWR!
- Tires – Most RV owners have incorrect air pressure in their tires. Proper pressure is not the amount stamped on the side of the tire, this is maximum pressure at maximum weight which means this is only the pressure you should put in if your rig is at maximum GVWR. The only way to find proper inflation pressure is to weigh the rig and find the weight on each tire. Then go to the tire chart which you can find at www.rvsafety.com and check dual or single application and the weight. Over-inflating a tire creates a rounded effect and less tread on the ground. Check your tires every day you hit the road, and not just at a glance. Most tires look the same even with 10 psi difference which lowers your carrying capacity by 25%! Make it part of your pre-trip checklist or install a Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS) so you know the pressure and temperature. When not using your rig for more than a couple days at a time, cover the tires to prevent UV rays from drying the sidewall and causing weather checking.
- Buy a Good Laser Temperature Tester – When traveling, check your tires, axles, and brake drums once a day to ensure that nothing is overheating. You will typically see a 20+ degree higher temperature than ambient outside temps. However, if the bearings are starting to get dry, the brakes are set to high on trailers, or the tire pressure is going down, the temps will spike and you can save yourself a ton of money and a lot of headaches by being proactive.
- Dump Stations – Once you get on the road, it’s good to know where you can legally dump your waste water tanks! In the past, it was easy as most rest stops had dump stations, however, as they are being remodeled and replaced, dump stations are being phased out as budgets are cut and some people do not clean up after themselves very well. A great website is http://www.sanidumps.com/ which lists dump stations throughout the US and Canada.
- Campground Restrictions – For years, the rumor has been that nothing over 30’ is allowed in National Parks. Although there are length restrictions in some campgrounds in National Parks, there is not a nationwide limit. For example, in Yellowstone National Park there are 12 campgrounds, 7 of which have no restrictions. Some have restrictions due to tight turns getting in and out of the campground. Total, there are 2,150 campsites in Yellowstone and thousands more around the perimeter within a short driving distance. Also, there are no driving limitations on the main roads going through Yellowstone National Park. For more information visit https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm. Whatever National Park you are going to, visit the nps.gov site for that park to plan your trip.
- Traveling With Pets – There are some precautions and some preparation required if you are traveling with pets.
- First, contact your local Vet and get all medical records, current vaccinations, and a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) or health checkup and carry the records with you.
- Make sure your pet is restrained while traveling either with a cage secured in the vehicle, or leash/tether attached to a seat belt or other approved secure device. A 10 lb. pet is a 500 lb. projectile in 60 mph sudden stop! I
- f your pet is a finicky eater, make sure you have enough food for the trip or can easily get more. Nothing worse than switching food and having stomach trouble! Same for water!
- Your pet may not tolerate the hard water available at the campground so you may need to bring or buy bottled water. Test this before you find out the hard way.
- Develop a routine for potty breaks while on the road and at the campsite. You spent a tremendous amount of time training your pet when and where to go the bathroom at home and now you are disrupting the “routine”. Be patient and develop a new routine for stopping at fueling stations or rest stops and at the campground.
- Check the campground for engine fluids, broken glass, dump stations, and other issues that might be dangerous for pets. Engine antifreeze is lethal as well as the exhaust from the neighbor’s generator.
- Do a thorough walkaround before setting up camp.
- Never leave your pet in a vehicle without ventilation. If the power goes out and the AC does not cool, temps can get dangerously high. Leave roof vents open and tip out windows for air circulation.
- Do not attach a metal leash to your pet and your RV. If there is an electrical spike in the campground source or even a minor hot skin short in your RV, the conductive metal transfers the electricity and could be fatal. Use a non-conductive leash or connect it to a grounded stake.
About the author:
Dave Solberg: Managing Editor, RV Repair Club
For the last 25 years, Dave has conducted RV maintenance and safety seminars, developed dealer and owner training programs, written RV safety and handyman articles, authored an RV handbook reference guide and logged over 100,000 miles on the road in an RV.
RV Repair Club is your go-to online resource for enthusiasts who want quality RV maintenance, repair, and upgrade information – a community where passionate RVers can come together to gather knowledge and share their experiences.
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