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Five Tips for Buying an RV

Quarantines and shutdowns have ended in some places. Other areas are seeing a rise in positive tests for COVID_19. However, one thing has recently become evident. RV sales are booming. In our last article I mentioned a conversation with a RV dealer who has seen a sharp increase in their sales. Other RV dealerships are reporting the same thing. A recent article in the Kansas City Star referenced an RV dealer who has seen recently seen increased sales. People want to get out of the house, and they want to travel. Some RV industry experts have asserted that people are looking for an alternative means of traveling. Instead of flying or staying in hotels, more people are turning to RVs. Is this a sign of the times, or just a temporary blip in the RV market? I don’t know. Time will tell. However, if you are wanting to get out and buy an RV here are five simple steps you can take to make the process less stressful.

Step Number One: Do Your Homework

There are many different types of RVs to choose from. You can choose from driveable or towable, large or small, slides or no slides, the options may seem endless. Finding the RV that fits into your lifestyle can be a challenge. Fortunately, all major RV manufacturers have great websites with floor plans, photos and videos of almost all the models they offer. There are Facebook groups devoted to almost every manufacture and type of RV being manufactured today. Spend some time looking at manufactures’ websites, going through their virtual tours. Spend some time on Facebook. You will be able to find a lot information about the pros and cons of nearly every make and model of RV. Remember though, what I like in an RV and what you like are going to differ. My needs are different than your needs. So, any opinions you receive from your research is just that, someone’s opinion. You will ultimately have to make the decision of whether the RV you are considering will work for you and your lifestyle.

Step Number Two: Slow Down

With the surge in RV sales you may feel pressured to buy the first RV you find. This pressure may come from within or we may experience external pressure that is placed on us. Have you ever y heard the expression “hast makes waste?” Well, it turns out that there might be something to that expression. Research has found when we must make a choice among many options, we feel rushed because there is so much more information to consider and process. Research has also found that the feeling of regret comes from feeling rushed, not from being rushed. It’s not about how long you take to reach a decision, but whether you felt you took enough time. If you don’t give yourself the time you feel you need to make a choice, you will tend to undermine your satisfaction and regret your decision, even though that feeling of regret may be unwarranted.

Slowing down when considering a lot of information makes sense. But you might be reading this wondering what information I would need to consider, other than do I like the RV, and can I afford the payments. Well, buying an RV is a lot like buying a house and buying a vehicle, all at the same time from the same place. Once we have selected our specific make and model of RV, given our many options, we need to thoroughly evaluate the RV. Is it structurally and mechanically sound? Where will I store it. Will it accommodate my list of needs and wants? How often will I use the RV? Can I maintain the RV, or will I have to find someone to do so? Am I comfortable towing or driving a big RV? Can I back up an RV this big? Those are just some of the many things to slow down and consider before making the big purchase.

Step Number Three: Get to Know Your Salesperson

As with anything there are good RV salespeople and bad RV salespeople. Three years ago, when we were looking for our current RV, we meet both types. One of the worst made a bad used car dealer seem like a great person. During our search I visited a big-name national RV dealer. You know, the one that flies large American flags in front of all its dealerships. I was simply looking and had no intention of buying, but this salesperson would not take no for an answer and he would not listen to my list of needs in an RV. He showed me a several RVs and then informed me he was going to show me one that was “going to be it.” When we walked into the model his only comment was “this is the one for you.” Again, not listening to what we wanted or needed. He insisted I call my wife and have her come by, even though I assured him that she was at least two hours away and that with three little kids this was not going to happen. He then insisted I Facetime her or call her, so we could “make the deal happen.” After all, “I didn’t want to walk out of the door and let someone else buy the RV.”

The best salesperson we had took the time to get to know us and ask questions about what our experience level was, how were we going to use the RV. He took time to explain how items on the RV worked and how his experiences were with living in an RV, including what he liked and did not like about the RV lifestyle. He never pressured us to buy an RV because someone else might. In the end, guess which dealer got our business.

As we slow down during the buying process take time to get to know your RV salesperson. Ask them some questions and make sure they understand your needs and wants when you are looking for an RV. How long has your RV salesman been selling RVs? Sure, they can explain how the systems worked, but have they personally owned or used an RV to go camping? For example, can they explain the pros and cons of an RV type refrigerator versus a residential refrigerator? This is something to consider, depending on how you plan on using the RV. Are you always going to have full hookups, or do you want to do more boondocking? Can your salesman help you understand what type of RV will fit best with what you intend on doing with the RV? Having a good RV salesperson will help us slow down and not feel rushed to decide.

Step Four: Thoroughly Consider How You Are Going to Use the RV

You have looked at all the different types of RVs and have taken your time doing research and finding the right RV. Have you taken time to thoroughly consider how you anticipate using the RV you are about to purchase? Are you going to use it occasionally, will be you traveling more frequently, possibly looking to go fulltime in your RV? What types of places do you anticipate camping? Will you be camping at all inclusive RV resorts, full hookup campgrounds with plenty of Space, or boondocking without hookups at all? Did you know that many campgrounds in our national parks were built when RVs were smaller? Therefore, many large RVs with slides are not able to fit into the campgrounds within national parks.

Step Number Five: Have an Independent Inspection

Why would I need an independent inspection when I have taken your advice and slowed down during the purchasing process? Afterall, I am handy and know a thing or two about vehicles and houses. I think I can look at an RV and make sure there is nothing wrong with it. Besides the RV is new and just came from the factory. Additionally, the RV dealer is going to do a predelivery inspection, they will find out if there was anything with it. You want to charge me how much for an inspection? All of these are reasons, or objections I have heard when people did not want to have an independent inspection prior to purchasing an RV.

Sure, you are probably handy around the house or with vehicles, but have you invested several thousand dollars in certifications and equipment to properly inspect an RV for potential life-safety issue. Can you inspect the propane system for leaks, or can you tell is a slide is out of alignment and needs adjusted? Would you be able and comfortable with getting on the roof and inspecting it for cracks or leaks that might allow water to get into the RV? Can you look for signs of water damage in the wall of the RV? Once water gets into the RV it will not take long to destroy an RV as walls start to come apart and mold starts to grow. These types of problems can be expensive to fix or even deadly.

Just because the RV is new, or the dealer has done a pre-delivery inspection does not mean there can be things wrong or missed. I have seen new, high end units, where plumbing was not connected from the factory. There have been issues with roofs not being properly sealed from the factory or sealing that has already failed. There have been issues with leveling systems that were not functioning. All of these were brand new units that the dealer had previously completed a pre-delivery inspection. You should also consider who the dealer is doing the pre-delivery inspection for. Are they really performing it for you, or are they performing it to cover themselves? When you hire an independent RV inspector, they will be working for you and have your best interest in mind. An independent RV inspector will provide you a detailed written report of the RV’s current condition. The report should contain numerous photographs depicting areas of concern, so you understand what the inspector is describing. An independent RV inspector should be looking at the RV from top to bottom, outside and inside. They should be testing every major system and appliance on the RV. They should be evaluating all the important life-safety devices on the RV. An independent RV inspector should take several hours to complete the onsite inspection, not just take a few pictures and go through a one-page check list. Have you ever heard the saying “you get what you pay for?” This is so true when it comes to RV inspections. If an inspector only takes a few pictures, goes through a one-page checklist and is done in an hour do you think there is a chance they missed some things or did not properly evaluate the RV?

So, while RV sales are booming it might be tempting to rush out and buy the first RV you see. Please take some time to slow down and don’t get rushed. When we rush there is a propensity to miss things or to feel regret later, after we have purchased the RV. Buying an RV can be a pleasant experience, when you keep these five simple steps in mind.

Winter RVing and Frozen Propane

Summer camping or winter RV camping. What is your preference? People use their RVs in different ways. Some only use their RVs occasionally for taking a weekend trip or family vacation in the summer. Others, use RVs for an extended time each year, often escaping the cold northern winters. There are still others who, because of jobs or family commitments are not able to go south for the winter. They live in their RVs during the cold winter months. This winter we have found ourselves living in our RV during the cold weather. Temperatures have recently been in the teens and single digits. There is even a possibility of negative digits as well. Some aspects of winter living in our RV have gone as expected. Others well let’s just say we have learned some lessons about how to better handle cold temperatures.

Winter Landscape

One area I previously wrote about was winter camping and propane use. When a propane cylinder gets colder the rate of vaporization slows. As our recent temperatures were heading lower, we experienced this firsthand. We were going to be more stationary, we had previously bought a 100 lb. propane tank. We wanted to fill up less often, so having a larger tank was a good option for us.

After filling the 100 lb. propane tank we were not getting sufficient propane flow to meet our demands. This problem was apparent when the RV’s furnace would not start. The furnace would start normally. However, the flame would quickly go out. While there was initially enough propane pressure in the system for the furnace to start, the system could not sustain enough propane pressure for the furnace. The pressure of the propane in the system would quickly drop to below 10 inches WC. This drop effectively starved the furnace, causing it to shut down.

Fixing Our Propane Problems

So, how did we fix the problem with having enough propane flow? Well, we used a combination of different types of insulation and heat tape. For the 100 lb. propane tank we took heat tape, wrapped it around the tank from top to bottom. Next, we wrapped the tank in the silver bubble insulation. Finally, we built an enclosure for the tank from foam insulation, sealing the seams with sliver foil tape.

Propane Regulator with Frost

However, we were also starting to have problems with the propane regulator developing frost on the outside. It was just a matter of time before the propane regulator froze up completely. To prevent the regulator from freezing, we added heat tape in the propane bay, wrapping it around the 30 lb. propane tanks and regulator. Once the heat tape was in place, we stuffed loose insulation into the propane bay to feel in the gaps. Over night the ambient outside temperature was 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature of the propane tanks in the propane bay were measured at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The propane regulator was measured 59 degrees Fahrenheit. I am confident we will have no other issues with the propane tanks or regulators for winter RV camping this season.

Propane Tank temperature, ambient outside temperature at 14 degrees Fahrenheit
Propane regulator temperature , ambient outside temperature at 14 degrees Fahrenheit

If You Are Buying a RV, Do You Really Need to Have It Inspected?

Have you considered purchasing a new or used RV? If so, you have probably concluded the internet is full of advice, some good and some, well you get the idea. One such area is the question of should you have an inspection before buying a RV. There are opinions on both sides of the debate. Your RV dealer may tell you they have already done a “PDI” inspection and there is no need to have an inspection performed. Perhaps you have even considered an inspection and thought the cost was prohibitive.

We were recently part of a team that inspected one hundred brand new travel trailers. We want to talk about the results of these inspections. Read through the results and then you can decide for yourself if you should consider an inspection before buying a RV.

Travel Trailers to be inspeted

The travel trailers in this sample were all manufactured in 2020 and were brand new at the time of inspection. All travel trailers in the sample group were a mixture of different manufactures and dealers. The travel trailers were towable and had an approximate retail value of between $25,000 and $30,000. All had Slideouts and came in a variety of floor plans. The dealers who supplied the travel trailers were required to have inspected them before delivery. They were required to be delivered and ready for immediate occupancy. Out of one hundred brand new travel trailers there were one hundred and one inspections performed. One unit was inspected twice, due to initial issues that precluded it from being fully inspected the first time. All inspections were performed by NRVIA certified inspectors, utilizing a prepared template. This was done to ensure all travel trailers were inspected to the same standards.

Out of the 101 inspections, 85 had documented issues. Even after being inspected by the dealer the documented issues found ranged from minor to major life safety issues. For purposes of analysis the issues were divided into the following categories: Life Safety; Electrical; Air Conditioning; Furnace; Exterior and Roof; Water Systems; Appliances; Furniture and Interior Décor; and Other.

Life Safety Issues

Life Safety Issues accounted for nine issues found, or 3.52% of total issues. This may not seem like an extreme number or high enough to cause concern. However, it is important to note that life safety issues are generally defined as something that if not corrected or fixed before the RV is occupied could seriously affect the life and safety of any occupants. Examples included a LP detector that was not operable when tested and had to be replaced. Another LP detector was installed, but did not have any power supplied to it. A third LP detector was wired to a light switch. Every time the switch was turned off power to the LP detector was shut off causing the LP detector to not function. For clarification, the role of the LP detector is is to detect a propane leak and alert the occupants to potentially dangerous levels of propane. Further issues included no fire extinguisher and a fire extinguisher that was not installed within 24” of the door as required by code.

Electrical Issues

Electrical issues accounted for twenty-four issues found, or 9.38% of total issues. These issues included such things as missing power cords, electrical outlets that were not functional and had to be replaced, missing or failed GFCI outlets, and inability of the convertor/charger to charge house batteries on the travel trailer.

Travel Trailer Electrical Box

Air Conditioning Issues

Air conditioning issues accounted for seven issues found, or 2.73% of total issues. These issues included thermostats that were not functional and needed to be replaced and broken tabs on the air conditioning grill.

Furnace Issues

Furnace issues accounted for three issues found, or 1.17% of total issues. Among the issues was one furnace that would not operate at all due to a bad sail switch that needed replaced before the furnace would come on.

Exterior and Roof Issues

Exterior and roof issues accounted for seventy issues found, or 27.34% of total issues. Most of these issues were from a lack of sealant on the roof seems and seals or sealant that had already cracked and needed to be replaced to prevent water incursion into the travel trailer.

Water Systems Issues

Water issues accounted for sixty-two issues found, or 24.22% of total issues. Issues included a water heater element that was burned out, leaking faucets and other various water leaks, issues with water pumps, and missing handles on both black and grey water drains.

Appliance Issues

Appliance issues accounted for sixteen issues found, or 6.25% of total issues. These issues included an inoperable television, an inoperable exhaust vent in the kitchen, and broken refrigerator handles.

Furniture and Interior Décor Issues

Furniture and interior décor issues accounted for fifty-four issues found, or 21.1% of total issues. These issues included furniture not secure to the floor, misaligned door and drawer fronts, and window shades that were not aligned or would not stay up.

Other Issues

Other issues accounted for eleven issues found, or 4.3% of total issues. These issues included tires with low tire pressure, missing spare tires, inoperable propane quick connect fittings, and a bad stabilizer motor.

Travel Trailer Brakes

Conclusion

If you have read through the entire article you might be wondering if all RV dealers and manufactures are bad. The truth is that I know several dealers who are honest, good and dependable. Conversely, there are others who are not as quick to take care of the customer. With the high number of RVs being bought over the last few years I have personally observed dealers who exhibited an attitude of indifference towards customers. The belief was that it really did not matter if they sold the RV to the customer, as someone else would buy it. To an extent that is what you get when it is a sellers market. I wrote about our experience inspecting these travel trailers for two reasons. First, I wanted everyone to understand that buying an RV is not like buying a house. There are going to be issues, even if the RV is new. Secondly, when you are buying an RV take your time and don’t rush. When you rush it can be hard to make the right decision about which RV to buy and which dealer to work with.

Further, when buying a RV consider that over 85% of the RVs we inspected had issues. Even after being inspected by the manufacture and supplying dealers. Those issues ranged from minor issues to major life safety issues that could affect the safety of any occupants. To recap, the travel trailers inspected were all manufactured in 2020 and were brand new. If you plan on buying a new or used RV it is likely to have issues that will need to be addressed efore you can enjoy your RV. The question is will you be able to spot the issues yourself or do you trust the dealer to find and fix them for you? Ultimately each person who purchases an RV will make the decision if they want to have an independent inspection before purchasing an RV.

RV Winter Camping and Propane Use

Fall is the time of year many people winterize their RV and put it away until the spring camping season. For those of us who live in our RV full time or like to go camping in the winter we should be making preparations for the cold winter temperatures ahead. Making sure your propane tanks are full is one way to combat those cold winter temperatures. Even though you have made preparations, have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to find the inside of your RV freezing and your furnace not working? If you are like me your first thought was probably I was out of propane. Especially, when it seems like you just bought propane. How could the tanks be empty already? Well, it might surprise you the tanks most likely were not empty, but the propane can’t evaporate quickly enough to meet the demand of your furnace. Let me explain.

When you buy propane you are buying a liquid that has been compressed approximately two hundred and seventy times. So, the propane molecules are really cold and tightly packed into the propane cylinder. In other words, those propane molecules want to get out as quickly as they can. Once the liquid is in our tank it starts to boil or evaporate because propane boils at negative forty four degrees Fahrenheit. Remember I said it was was really cold. It is actually this vapor that is formed from the liquid propane we use in our furnace and other appliances.

Appliances are usually rated in terms of BTU’s or British Thermal Units. My furnace is rated at 40,000 BTU’s per hour. A BTU is a measure of the amount of energy required to raise or lower one pound of water one degree. One pound of propane is equal to 21, 960 BTU’s. My thirty pound propane tank holds 7.2 gallons of propane weighing approximately 30.24 lbs. This potentially gives me 664, 070 BTUs from my thirty pound propane tank. Remember though, our propane tanks should only be filled to eighty percent of their capacity as room has to be left in the tank for the propane to vaporize and expand. It is the rate of vaporization that can sometimes make it seem like we are out of propane during the winter time.

In winter the cold temperatures will effect the rate of vaporization by causing it to slow down. As the temperature gets colder the amount of BTU’s available from our propane will decrease. Continuing with my thirty pound propane tank let’s assume my tank is sixty percent full. At twenty degrees Fahrenheit the propane will vaporize at a rate that will produce approximately 50, 400 BTU’s in one hour. When the temperature drops to zero degrees Fahrenheit the rate of vaporization will slow down producing approximately 25,200 BTU’s in one hour. Now let’s assume my same propane tank is twenty percent full. At twenty degrees Fahrenheit the rate of vaporization will produced approximately 30,240 BTU’s in one hour, while at zero degrees Fahrenheit the rate of vaporization will only produce approximately 15,120 BTU’s in one hour.

Earlier I said the furnace in my RV is rated at 40,000 BTU’s. That’s 40,000 BTU’s per hour if my furnace were to operate continually for one hour. Most RV furnaces are designed to cycle several times per hour and not run continually. However, looking at our example above if my tank is twenty percent full and it is zero degrees Fahrenheit outside the propane is vaporizing at a rate that only produces approximately 15, 120 BTU’s per hour. If my furnace runs for five minutes six times times per hour it would have ran thirty minutes and used approximately 20,000 BTU’s of propane. But the rate of vaporization would not have produced that many BTU’s, so I could have potentially woken up in the middle of the night to a freezing RV and thought I was out of propane. So, is there anything we can do about this, or are we doomed to waking up in the middle of night to freezing temperatures inside our RV?

One trick when it gets cold is to place an electric blanket around your propane tank. The electric blanket will effectively warm the tank. The warm tank will increase the rate of vaporization which will in turn increase the amount of BTU’s available in an hour. So, the next time you wake up in the middle of the night and your furnace is not keeping you warm it might be time to bring out the electric blankey. Your toasty warm propane tank will thank you for it by increasing the rate of vaporization of the propane producing more BTU’s than your sad cold propane tank.

Five Super Easy Tips for a Safe Camping Trip

The 2020 summer camping season is well under way. Though it looks different than previous years. COVID -19 has changed the way we interact with other people. One interesting aspect is the increased sales of recreational vehicles. I recently talked with a RV salesman I know. He reports seeing a large increase in sales of RVs. Camping World recently ran an ad that they are looking to buy your RV. RV industry magazines have indicated most all dealers across the United States have experienced similar increases in RV sales, both new and used. I believe this speaks to the fact that people are ready to get out and travel. Though, they may be seeking an alternative to hotels and airplanes.

So, before you hit the road with your family and friends please take some time to look at your RV from a safety perspective. If you have recently purchased a new or used RV, or if you are getting the RV that you have owned for some time take time to familiarize yourself with it and some of the important safety features of your RV. I want to provide you with five tips that can help you look at your RV and make sure it is road worthy before you head out. While these tips don’t encompass all aspects of what you should be looking at, they are provided to get you thinking about RV safety before you head out.

Tip Number One: Check Your Tires

It is tempting to look at your RVs tires and not give them another thought. The truth is there is nothing between you and the road except for you tires. Your tires handle a lot of abuse and have an important part in getting you safely to your destination. At best a blown tire is an inconvenience on the side of the road. More often though, a blown tire can cause significant damage to your RV either underneath the RV or on the side of the RV, leading to costly repairs and lost time camping. Sometimes, a blown tire can cause loss of control, resulting in a crash.

So, do more than just look at your tires. Tires can appear to be in good condition even when they should be replaced. When looking at your RV tires look at the tread, noting any unusual wear patterns and the condition of the tread. If you see anything unusual, it may be time to have them replaces, or at least have them looked at by a professional. Additionally, take time to locate and note the DOT date on the tire. All tires have a DOT date code stamped into their sidewall. Think of the DOT date code as a “born on date.” The DOT date code indicates the week and year the tire was manufactured. Most tire manufactures recommend your tires be replaced anywhere from six to ten years. Knowing when your tires were manufactured will tell you if they should be replaced regardless of how what condition they appear to be in. Again, if you re in doubt about whether to replace your tires or not, it is best to have a tire professional look at them and advise you.

Finally, check the air pressure of you tires before your trip. Your RV manufacture is going to list the recommended maximum air pressure. Pay attention to this and do not exceed the recommended maximum air pressure. Further, if the air pressure is to low your cargo carrying capacity can be affected, resulting in an inability of the tires to safely handle the weight of the RV and any cargo.

Tip Number Two: Check your Smoke Detector and LP/CO Detector

Smoke detectors, LP detectors and CO detectors are important life-safety items in you RV. They sit passively in your RV and most people never give them another thought. Sure, we might change out the batteries once or twice a year in the smoke detector. However, these detectors do expire and should be replaced. Take a minute, look at your detectors and find the date they were manufactured. This date will be stamped on the back of the device. Usually, you will have to remove the detector from the ceiling or wall in order to find the manufactured date. If you find these detectors are older than five years it is time to have them replaced. As the detectors age the internal sensors start to lose their effectiveness. It’s not worth the risk to take a camping trip and not know if your smoke detector of LP detector is going to operate properly, should you have a fire or LP leak. If you are not comfortable doing this or have any doubts about whether or not your detectors should be replaced have a qualified RV technician handle the job for you.

Tip Number Three: Check Your Fire Extinguisher

The humble fire extinguisher sits by the entrance door. If you look at it, there is probably a thick layer of dust and dirt covering the fire extinguisher. Have you ever taken the time and looked at the little red or white fire extinguisher that came with your RV when you purchased it? Do you know if it would work if there was a fire in your RV?

Before you take your next trip take time and look at the gauge on the fire extinguisher. Is the fire extinguisher fully charged? If you have never taken the opportunity to use a fire extinguisher go buy one and practice. If you have kids let them practice discharging a fire extinguisher. It can be a fun fire safety lesson for them. Our kids learned a lot from getting the opportunity to use the fire extinguisher. I am confident now that if there ever was a fire in our RV, they would know how to use the fire extinguisher.

Tip Number Four: Know Your Towing Capacity

While this one really applies to towable RVs or fifth wheels, it is important to discuss. All to often people choose to tow a travel trailer of fifth wheel that really is to heavy for the vehicle they are using. To illustrate this point let’s look at a recent example of a pre-purchase inspection, though I am not using the real numbers from my inspection. The point is the same, if the travel trailer was loaded with its maximum allowed cargo weight, the total combined weight of the trailer and cargo was going to be more than the tow vehicle could safely tow. In this case, the travel trailer weighed 7,500 Lbs. and had a cargo capacity of 1,000 Lbs. for a combined weight of 8,500 Lbs. The chosen tow vehicle had a maximum weight it could tow of 8,000 Lbs. Do you see the problem?

All to often I talk to people who really have no idea of just how little their vehicle can safely tow. Sometimes they simply rely on the RV salesman’s advice if they can safely tow their chosen trailer or fifth wheel. Do your own research. Verify for yourself that your vehicle can safely tow your chosen trailer and cargo.

Tip Number Five: Remember, Your are Driving/Towing a Large Vehicle

Many large RVs can easily be almost the height of a semi-truck trailer. My own fifth wheel is forty-three feet long and almost 14 feet high. It is big and knowing those numbers is important for me. It doesn’t take long to find pictures on the internet of what happens when people don’t know how tall their RV is. When driving an RV remember your stopping distance is going to be much greater than a normal daily driver. Along with knowing your weight, height, and stopping distance remember to keep your speed down. Keeping your speed down is going to assist with stopping, especially if there is an emergency in front of you.

Adventures in RVing

This blog is titled Adventures in Rving. It could have easily been called Mistakes we have made as RVers. Ask any RV owner and they will readily admit to making their share of mistakes along the road. It’s going to happen. Either as a new or seasoned RV owner things will happen and you will make mistakes. After two years of full time RV living, we have certainly had occasion to make our share of mistakes.

Fortunately, the mistakes we have made have not resulted in serious issues with our RV. But if not caught soon some mistakes can lead to serious safety problems or could leave you stranded. So, here are some of our adventures and lessons learned, along with stories we have heard from other RVers.

Pay Attention to Your RVs Height

After owning our RV for less then one week we had our first collision with an overhead power line. Picking up our brand-new RV from the dealer we spent the next few days loading everything into the RV. It was now time for our first trip where we would be driving halfway across the country. Everyone said their goodbyes and loaded up. Pulling out of the drive I saw a low power line, but surely there would be plenty of room to get under it. After all, it was not a problem when we brought the RV home. Going under the power line I heard something unusual, but everything seemed fine. Moments later my wife, who was driving our other vehicle behind me, called and said something fell off the RV. Stopping in the middle of the road I got out, walked to the back of the RV and saw the TV antenna lying in the middle of the road. We hadn’t even owned the RV for one week and already had our first RV adventure.

So, know the height of your RV and pay attention to those low hanging power lines, tree branches and bridges. Just because your RV fit under a power line one time doesn’t mean it will fit the second time. Some Rvers put a little sign with the height of their RV on the dashboard of their vehicle when they are driving. When coming to a bridge with low clearance this reminds them how tall their RV is.

Get Some Practice Driving Your RV on Short Trips First

Okay I did not follow this tip. When looking at large fifth wheels we were not able to really appreciate how big “big” was. It wasn’t until we were taking delivery of our new fifth wheel and hitching up to our truck for the first time that I realized how big “big” was. After the initial shock I thought about navigating through city traffic and onto the interstate where I would have to drive for almost one hundred miles with a cross wind to get the trailer home. After a brief stop, we would be driving a very long distance. Those first trips towing a forty-three-foot fifth wheel were very stressful and exhausting. Learning to drive the fifth wheel, taking corners, and backing up have been some lessons we have learned along the way. But if you have time and can find a place go to, like an empty parking lot, practice turning and backing your RV. It will boost your confidence in your ability to drive your RV.

Your RV Can and Will Catch on Fire

It happened after owning our RV for less than six months. The power converter started shooting out sparks and flames for what seemed like forever, though it was probably only a matter of seconds. The entire fifth wheel had the burned electrical smell and the incident pretty much scared everyone. While this was not a mistake it certainly was an adventure. It was only through the protection of the Lord that the entire fifth wheel did not burn up. I was afraid we might have sustained some serious damage and had no idea if the RV was safe. With some help of a great dealer we were able to determine that the problem was the power converter. They assisted us with running a battery charger directly to the batteries, so we could still charge the batteries and use all the 12-volt appliances until a new power converter could be installed.

Since replacing our power converter and we have not had any other problems. However, I probably should have paid attention to signs that things might not be right. Before the power converter burned up, we were having little power surges and low voltage issues. Had I investigated further would I have found the issue with the power converter? I don’t know. But pay attention to little things that are not normal and learn to investigate. Additionally, this was a good learning experience for our family about fire safety in the RV. We bought another fire extinguisher and let the kids practice deploying the fire extinguisher. We wanted them to know what to do if another fire happened. We also made an emergency evacuation plan for the family, just in case something was to happen.

Have a Spotter and Good Communication

Driving or backing up an RV in a confined space can quickly lead to trouble. Add in water faucets, picnic tables and power poles you have some pretty tight quarters to try and maneuver an RV around. If you spend any time in a campground you are going to see someone getting into a hurry trying to maneuver into a camp site. You will never regret having a spotter to help maneuver into and around tight spots.

Having a spotter will aid you especially when backing up, as you can’t see everything, and it is harder to accurately judge distance. Sure, back up cameras help. But being able to have someone watching multiple angles provides another level of safety. However, every spotter needs to remember if the driver can’t see you in the mirror, they can’t see your signals. Work together as a team and don’t get into a hurry.

If the Camp Site Does Not Look Right, Move On

On a trip through Georgia we were tired and decided to stop for the night. Looking ahead we found a campground and called for a reservation. Arriving after dark we were greeted by the campground host who promptly lead us to a site and quickly left. My wife and I were left to unhook and level our fifth wheel. However, the site was on a hill and nowhere near level. We didn’t know enough to ask for another site. Therefore, we proceeded to unhitch the fifth wheel and level the trailer. Because of the angle between the truck and fifth wheel we struggled to unhitch. After unhitching we were not able to get the trailer level, no matter what we tried. It appeared as if the fifth wheel could topple over and tumble into the lake below. Struggling with this for over an hour in the dark was frustrating, especially when all we wanted to do was go to bed. We finally ended up hitching the truck back up and just going to bed.

We have since that night we have made it a policy to make sure we get out and both my wife and I agree that we can fit into the camp site before unhitching. So far though we have not had any problems.

Have a Pre-Trip Routine and Keep It

Having an RV can certainly lead to spontaneity when you see something along the way you would like to stop and explore. Perhaps you find an area you would like to spend a few extra days at. Having an RV gives you the freedom to do so. However, there are a few areas where you need to have a routine and make sure you follow your routine all the time.

One area we have worked at establishing a routine is in our pre-trip departure. Our Pre-trip routine begins even a few days before leaving on a trip. We start making sure things like our tires are in good shape and have plenty of air. Additionally, we will start looking at our route to see if there might be road construction along the way. We also start monitoring weather along the route and at our destination. There has been one occasion when I did not follow my own plan and discovered a flat tire that had to be replaced before we could leave. This caused lead to a delay in our leaving and caused our trip to start with some stress.

Recently it was cold and windy while we were hooking up the fifth wheel and truck. I got in a hurry and missed a couple of steps in my routine. When I discovered the missed steps, I had to go back and fix them. Not a big deal, but it would have taken less time if I had slowed down and made sure I followed the routine.

There was a video On YouTube that clearly illustrated the importance of having a routine and following it. Someone had bought a new fifth wheel and was hitching it up to move to a new camp site in the same campground. They also had a new hitch which they had never used before. So, having a new hitch and new fifth wheel they hitched up and failed to do safety checks to make sure they were safely hitched up. As they started to pull out of the campsite the fifth wheel came unhitched and dropped down onto the bed of the truck. Failure to follow a routine, especially when hitching up a new trailer and hitch could have caused major damage to their truck and fifth wheel. I also wonder if the rush to film resulted in some short cuts they would not have normally taken. I don’t know. However, videos like this point out the dangers of not sticking to a routine and making sure you don’t get rushed.

Know Your Travel Pace and Don’t Push It

On our last trip we wanted to make a certain point the first day. Leaving early, we traveled approximately thirteen hours. By the time we stopped for the night we were tired and ready to quit. I briefly entertained the idea of taking a little break and pushing on through the night to reach our destination. I quickly realized this could be a bad decision as we were tired, and it was nighttime. There are several schools of thought regarding how long or how far to travel in one day.

One rule I have heard of is the 330 rule. I first heard this from the RV Lifestyle Podcast. When traveling they make sure they find a place to stop when they have traveled 330 miles or when it is 3:30 p.m. Traveling though Tennessee recently during a rainy day I knew I was done and did not want to drive through Knoxville, Tennessee during a rainy rush hour. So, we found a campground and stopped by 3:30 p.m. While we did not intentionally set out to follow this rule, I can say we stopped early enough to feel rested and ready to continue the next morning.

Another rule I heard of recently was the 2-2-2 rule. Less Junk, More Journey talked about this rule in a video. They explained you don’t drive more than 200 miles, get to your destination by 2p.m, and stay at least two nights.

Regardless of what rules you go by one thing should be understood. If you are feeling tired or exhausted pull over, take a break or stop. No destination or schedule is worth having an accident over.

So, there you have it. Some of our adventures over the two years of living full time in our fifth wheel. No doubt we will have other adventures along the journey. Let us know what adventures you have had during your RV travels. Thanks for reading.

How Do I Inspect an RV?

If you are considering purchasing a new or used RV you may have also thought about what happens if you buy a “lemmon,” or a “project.” When you are purchasing a RV take time to thoroughly evaluate its condition, both inside and outside. As a certified RV inspector and certified RV technician I have spent a lot of time and money learning how to inspect and repair RVs.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the things I have found during various inspections and how you can evaluate a RV before you hire an independent RV inspector. This is not meant to be an exhaustive guide to inspecting an RV. However, we want to offer some practical advice you can use when considering your next RV.

Remain Neutral

RV manufacturers and dealers do a really good job of selling the RV lifestyle. Their marketing campaigns are designed to help you see yourself in whatever RV you are looking at. It can be hard to not walk into an RV and immediately see you and your family enjoying many travel and camping adventures. However, it is important to remain as neutral as possible when evaluating any RV. If you become attached to an RV, you are likely to miss or overlook warning signs about the RV or the dealer. Failing to remain neutral and thoroughly inspect an RV could be a mistake.

Smells

Smells can tell a lot about the RV and how it might have been used. When you first open the door to an RV or when you first step into the RV take a deep breath of air. What do you smell? If your answer is a musty or moldy smell beware. There may be possible water damage. Water leaks can cause very serious problems that are expensive to repair. Once you are inside the RV open the refrigerator and freezer. Did you notice any unusual smells from either? Further, when you enter the RV do you smell pet odors or does it smell like someone has smoked in the RV before?

Water Damage

Water damage can quickly lead to expensive and time consuming repairs. Any opening in the roof or RV is a possible entry point for water if not properly sealed. Areas where the walls meet the roof are another possible entry point for water. Once water gets into a roof or wall it can travel further into the interior walls causing mold and delamination of the wall materials.

When I inspect an RV I systematically look for any signs of water damage or areas of water intrusion. The water damage may not be readily seen, but through a careful analysis of what I have observed the RV will start to tell you a story. Looking at the pictures below you will notice a transition between the roof and front cap. A large portion of the trim piece is not covered by sealant. Additionally, there is a large gap forming between the trim and the transition between the roof and curbside wall. This large gap provides a path for water to enter the RV. Looking over the side of the RV the circled area indicates some ripples in the sidewall, a sign that the wall has started to delaminate, or come apart. The last picture shows the interior closet opposite to where we observed the possible delamination on the outside. The first thing I notice is a shelf that has swollen, likely from water damage. Typically, I am not a fan of moisture meters in RVs as they can be misleading. Moisture meters can only tell you if water is currently present, not if there has been previous damage. However, I chose to use a moisture meter on this section of interior wall and immediately obtained very high moisture readings, when verified against other sections of the same wall.

When you are considering an RV can you get on the roof? As a certified RV inspector I almost always start my inspections on the roof. Getting on the roof allows me to look for items that are broken or missing or damage to the roof that will allow water intrusion. The pictures below show examples of missing plumbing vents, cracked vents, dry and cracked sealant, and a missing TV antenna.

Tires

Evaluating tires can be misleading when you consider most RVs do not travel very much. Therefore, it is possible you will not see very much tire wear when looking at a used RV. As a certified RV inspector I am looking for the DOT date on the tire. This four digit code will tell you which week and year the tire was manufactured. If I inspect an RV and find a tire that is older than five years old, I would recommend that the tire be replaced. The pictures below are from inspections conducted in 2020. One tire was manufactured in the 53rd week of 2017. The other tire was manufactured in the 18th week of 2010, over ten years ago. When you consider the cost of tires, this can be a point of negotiation with the seller.

Frame, Chassis, and Undercarriage

When inspecting an RV, you want to look at the frame, chassis, and undercarriage, especially for signs of any damage or bent components. Are there any indications of drag marks, bent components, excessive rust? If so, these could be signs of damage. When looking at a motorized unit do you see any fluid leaks coming from the engine. If so, I would investigate further. Repairing such leaks from the engine could be expensive. Looking at these areas of an RV may require getting under the RV, which can be difficult and dirty. If you aren’t comfortable or able to do this, I would encourage you to consider hiring a professional RV inspector. It is important to look at the underside and hidden parts of any RV. When you just look at the pictures online they rarely show pictures of these important areas.

Opening cargo doors can reveal rust on the frame

Maintenance Records

Are there any maintenance records available for you to review? If so, do these records indicate when the oil and other engine fluids were last changed? Maintenance records can give you an indication as to how well the previous owner took care of the RV. Always ask about any maintenance records and request to see them.

Test Drive

If you are buying a motorized RV from a dealer or individual it would be a good idea to arrange for a test drive. Either with the owner driving the RV and you going along for the ride or perhaps you feel confident enough to drive the RV. Either way during the test drive listen to the RV. Do you hear unusual sounds from the engine or are there a lot of squeaks and sounds from the RV itself? If you can drive the RV is there excessive play in the steering? These would all be areas that would warrant further inspection by either a professional RV inspector or technician.

Final Thoughts

While the above is not an exhaustive list of everything that should be inspected on an RV prior to purchase, it does offer some ideas of important areas to look at. Take your time and don’t get rushed into a decision. If you look at a RV and still feel it is a possible candidate, then it makes sense to hire a certified RV inspector. As a certified RV inspector I will spend several hours, up to ten or more on large class As, inspecting the RV. We will also provide a detailed written report along with pictures. This report will give you the most complete picture of the current condition of the RV.

Campground Tips for Kids from Kids

If kids were in charge and writing an RV blog about camping what would their advice be? The other day I was wondering what kinds of camping tips kids would give. So, I asked our kids about it and what follows are their top tips, along with my explanation and commentary.

Tell your parents where you are going

Yep, that one came from our oldest daughter. Often when we get to a campground the kids are just like us. Ready to get out of the truck and get some exercise after riding all day. It can be easy for them to run off and for us to lose track of them while we are sitting up the RV. One thing we have done is have the kids remain in the vehicle until we get the fifth wheel situated on the site and unhooked. That way we don’t have to worry about them getting caught in a blind spot while backing up the truck or fifth wheel. Once we have the fifth wheel situated and unhooked everyone can get out of the truck and help with getting the rest of our camp set up.

No touching other people’s campers and cars

Our youngest already knows to be respectful of other people’s things, especially when it comes to other people’s RVs and vehicles.

Respect other people

Along with respecting other people’s campers and cars, our oldest wanted to make sure that kids know to respect other people. Sometimes we adults need gentle reminding from our kids on things that really matter in life.

Empty your sewer in the sewer pipe

Our middle child wanted to give his input and wanted to make sure everyone knew the importance of properly emptying their black tanks. If anyone needs further instruction and you see us at the campground feel free to ask our middle child how to hook up and empty your black and gray tanks. He will be glad to help.

No littering and help pick up trash

Again, our youngest is quick to remind us about what so many people easily forget, especially when they are breaking camp after their camping trip. It only takes a couple extra minutes to walk your campsite and pick up any little pieces of trash that might have gotten away during your camping trip.

Don’t touch anyone else’s dog unless you ask

We always talk to our kids about not petting other people’s dogs unless we talk to the person first and ask if it’s okay. Especially if we have never seen this dog or person before. You just don’t know how the dog will react. Some dogs just don’t like kids. Especially when you have three relatively young kids who are full of energy. Other dogs love kids and thrive on the energy. It is always best to ask before touching a strange or new dog.

Don’t let your dog go out without a leash

Our youngest loves dogs, but let’s be honest, no one likes being chased around the campground by a dog they don’t know. It’s also going to be a violation of the campground rules, most likely.

Have fun

Most campgrounds have fun things for the whole family to do.  Maybe a playground or pool. Some have nature trails and hiking. A few campgrounds have had community rooms with games and books. The point is get out there, explore and have fun. You may have traveled all day or several days. So, just have some fun, which leads to our next tip from our middle child.

Explore the campground

While having fun make a point to explore the campground and see what fun things there are to do. Make a game of finding the playground, pool, or community center. It keeps the kids engaged in exploring and makes it fun for them.

If you want to make friends take the time to talk to them

Again, our oldest has some pretty simple advice that everyone can use. We adults often are narrowly focused on ourselves and making sure we get our things done. If you are camping take time to introduce yourself to your neighbors and get to know them a little bit. You never know what new friends you may make.

Know where the playground, sandbox and pool are

The kids all agreed one of the first things you need to know is the location of the playground, sandbox, pool, and other fun things for kids to enjoy. At one of our last campgrounds in Tennessee, our camp site was directly across from a play area for the kids. While we were sitting up camp the kids were able to go to the playground. After riding all day this was a great opportunity for them to run around and get some energy out. Every time we pull into a campground for the first time the kids are all looking to find the pool and all the other fun things to do.

If you are walking your dog, make sure you pick up his poop

Our youngest was very specific about this tip and wanted to make sure that all the pet owners were watching their dog to make sure they picked up after their dog.

If you have a campfire, make sure you have S’mores

Every time we even think about having a campfire the kids are asking if we can make S’mores. Making S’mores seems like an American tradition and its hard to have a campfire and not think about making this delicious gooey snack. As I was writing this, I started thinking what an opportunity to get to know your campground neighbors. If possible, take time to invite your neighbors over and get to know them over a delicious gooey S’more. S’mores are also a great opportunity for families to come together and enjoy each other’s company.

Snacks always help

When camping everyone is in and out of the RV and always hungry. One of the things we have found that works well is for everyone to have their own bag or plastic bin for snacks. That way they are free to pick whatever snack they want, if it is from their bag or bin.

If you are riding your bike watch out for snakes

Okay, so maybe there are other things to watch out for when riding your bike besides just snakes. But, depending on the time of year and where you are riding your bike snakes could be a problem. Last Year we were riding our bikes in a park in Charleston, South Carolina, when we saw a man standing in the trail ahead of us. As we got closer it was evident, he was watching a snake in the middle of the trail. The snake was a very large and poisonous copperhead snake. Fortunately for us the snake got tired of being in the trail and slithered off into the woods. So, be sure and watch out for the snakes when riding your bike.

Keep the fire in the firepit

Parents pay attention to this one. Our middle child likes to explore his world around him and that includes digging in the firepit if left unattended.

Watch out for cars when riding your bike

Look quickly. You might miss our middle child zooming by on his bicycle. Kids you must watch out for those cars and RVs in the campground. As large and long as some RVs are it is easy for the driver to not see you and have no idea you are behind them. An easy rule to remember for both drivers of RVs and everyone else is that if you can’t see the driver of the RV in the side mirror, they can’t see you either.

Help your parent’s setup the camper

All right kids please make sure you help your parents with setting up camp. RVs are getting more and more high tech. We can control all most everything on our RV from our phone. So, parents instead of calling the dealer or manufacture when you forget how to control something on your RV it is very likely that your kid can figure it out. You might consider just giving them your phone and watch them help you out of a jam.

Make sure when you are having fun you say “yay.”

What more can I say about this advice offered by our youngest. Always full of energy, she is sure to let you know when she is having fun.

Make sure you look for Deer

We have stayed in several campgrounds that have abundant wildlife. One of our favorite things is to look for and count the deer we see on the way into the campground.

There you have it. Our kid’s top campground tips for kids from kids. Our kids have been living with us fulltime in the RV over the last two years. They have had a chance to learn a lot about campgrounds while traveling and staying in different campgrounds. So, who better to offer advice for kids new to camping than those who have some experiences to share? Looking at the tips they offered I can think of specific times while camping where these tips have been practiced and I know we have had special family times as a direct result of many of these tips. Thanks for reading.

The Dangers of Owning an RV and Why an Inspection is Important

Owning an RV evokes visions of summer road trips with our family or camping in out of the way spots. Yes, owning an RV can be very enjoyable. However, if we are being honest we have to admit that RVs are mechanical vehicles with lots of moving parts and things that can and will break.

Not long after purchasing a fifth wheel trailer the power converter failed and caused a fire that could have destroyed our trailer. The fire caused the trailer to fill up with smoke and sent sparks out into the hallway onto a rug by the front door. The sparks and smoke only lasted a few seconds before power was shut off. So, the power converter failed and had to be replaced. Sometimes things on an RV break or just wear out with use.

This is an example of why it is important to have an inspection conducted when looking to purchase a new or used RV. Would an inspection of out fifth wheel found that the power converter was about to go out? Probably not. But, there are many things that an inspection can and will find. A recent inspection for a customer of a brand new fifth wheel found that there was a lack of sealant on the roof. Though the sealant was intact, the lack of sealant could allow water to work its way into the fifth wheel and cause mold and other issues inside of the fifth wheel.

If you are looking to purchase either a new or used RV don’t overlook the benefits of having an inspection performed by a properly trained and certified RV inspector. Having the peace of mind from a certified inspector will give you a true indication of the current condition of the RV. Contact us to discuss your inspection needs and how we can assist you by providing an inspection for you.

Is My RV’s Air Conditioner Okay?

It seems pretty simple. Set the temperature and forget about your RV’s air condition. All is good until you notice the air conditioner is working harder than normal, or worse it just quits. Taking the time to clean your air conditioner will help it run more efficiently and will keep you cooler. It is a good idea to look at your air conditioner at least twice a year, or sooner if you notice problems.

Air Conditioner coils that are clogged with dirt

Many RVs have two or even three air conditioning units that work hard to maintain a cool and comfortable temperature inside of the RV. Just like anything mechanical our air conditioners need some maintenance in order to work efficiently and help us avoid costly repairs. If you have not looked at your air conditioners now would be a good time to do so. When you look at your ceiling you should see filters on the ceiling that filter the return air. Most of these filters are easily accessible by the RV owner and can easily be washed in the sink to remove dirt. Just make sure they are dry before reinstalling them into the return vents. This is also a good time to take a close look at the unit on the roof of the RV.

If you are not confident in doing this or getting on top of your RV then consider hiring a mobile tech to come and look at your air conditioning units. It is common for the air conditioner coils to get clogged with dirt that does not get trapped by the filters inside of the RV. One the coils get clogged your air conditioner has to work harder to cool the air, and does not do so as efficiently as clean coils. In addition to cleaning the coils we want to examine the fins on the coils for bent or damaged fins. Bent or damaged fins can also cause the air conditioner to not work as efficiently.

Cleaning your air conditioner coils can be done by using a coil cleaner product from one of the big box home improvement stores. Just follow the directions on the canister and disconnect the electricity from your unit before working on the air conditioner. When using water to flush the cleaner and dirt from the coils only use a small amount of water at low pressure so you don’t cause damage to the fins or flood your RV.

Cleaned coils with towel in duct to keep dirt from entering RV