The 27 Mistakes I Made With My RV This Year

I bought a travel trailer this year and have been learning a lot from the school of hard knocks.  In this post I want to share some of the mistakes I’ve made with my trailer, as well as mistakes I’ve seen from other RVers as we’ve traveled around.

Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes–and those that I’ve seen–and keep your trailer or motorhome in pristine condition.

Leaving the Awning Down

While at the family reunion this summer, my brother-in-law set out his RV awning on a hot day and then went to the store.  The wind picked up suddenly, and the awning tore itself apart in a matter of minutes before I could make my way over there to fix it.

Lesson learned: Always take down the awning in anything more than a light breeze, and never leave your RV with the awning down even if it’s not windy when you leave.

After a few hours with 6 people working on it, we were able to fix the awning.  Fortunately, none of the poles actually bent, they just became disassembled.

My wife whipped out the chain saw to cut down the tree limbs sticking out over the street after I ran into them and caused some damage on the camper.

Parking On Tree-Lined Streets

My neighborhood has beautiful tree-lined streets, so when I park my RV against the curb in front of the house, I have to be very careful to make sure the tall RV behind my truck doesn’t hit the limbs.  Even though I was trying to be careful, I still made the mistake when pulling out last week.

The trailer hit a thick limb and tore part of the roof.  Whoops!  Needless to say, I broke out the chainsaw and amputated the limbs sticking out over the street.

I can HIGHLY recommend this for your trailer. WAY better than the built-in one and much safer in my opinion.

Using the Built-In Carbon Monoxide Detector

The built-in carbon monoxide detector in an RV is terrible.  Seriously terrible.  Yes, it keeps you safe, but they unfortunately go off when they are low on power.  Which means they go off all the time if you are using battery power for the heater at night.

When they go off, they usually don’t tell you if it’s going off because of low power, or if there is an actual emergency.  This creates a “carbon monoxide alarm that cried wolf” scenario.  You may not believe it when it’s an actual emergency!

So, I replaced my built-in carbon monoxide detector with this carbon monoxide detector that has a 10 YEAR sealed battery in it.  I’m protected for 10 years and don’t have to worry about that pesky alarm!  Genius!

Failing to Check the Tires Before Every Trip

RV tires are the #1 most common point of failure, and the most likely reason that you’ll eventually end up on the side of the road with cars zipping past you.

There are three things that, I believe, cause the most problems for RV tires: (1) simply using cheapo tires from the manufacturer or choosing cheap tires when you buy them, (2) driving too fast (anything over 35mph) on gravel roads on the way to campsites, and (3) putting too much weight in the RV or not balancing the axles so too much weight is on one set of tires.

Lesson learned: Check your RV tires before every single trip.  No excuses.  It’s worth a minute to check because it can save an entire camping trip.

Taking Curves Too Fast

I didn’t necessarily make this mistake this year, but it’s a mistake that I saw a fellow RVer make and unfortunately it resulted in their entire rig flipping over into the ditch beside the road.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt but it didn’t look like the camper trailer survived.

There are usually three causes for this type of accident (1) uncontrolled fishtailing, (2) driving in too strong of wind, and (3) taking curves too fast.

You know all those road signs about sharp curves that you usually ignore when driving a car?  When driving a motorhome or towing a trailer, those signs become extremely important.  Don’ take curves too fast.  You have a much higher center of gravity in an RV.

Cheaping Out on the Backup Camera

For me, a backup camera on an RV is not optional–it’s necessary equipment.  I was hesitant when I bought this wireless backup camera on Amazon if it was really a necessary expense.  It was!  It has saved me so many times!  So I guess this one is a mistake I actually avoided 🙂

When I’m at the gas station and need to backup and twist around with cars moving all around me, when I’m backing into a camp site and want to watch out for stumps and tree limbs, backing the RV into the storage facility without someone to direct me, and many other situations, show have saved me from doing damage to my RV.

For me, the backup camera is a choice between spending a little money now to buy one, or spending a lot of money later to fix my RV.  It has saved me multiple times when I saw a danger in the wireless backup cam that I would have missed otherwise.

The install was a piece of cake (under 10 minutes), and it has worked flawlessly.  I even look at it when I’m on a winding mountain road to know if I’m holding up traffic behind me and need to pull over.  It’s really handy.  Read my review of the Furrion backup cam here.

Not Knowing My Range

I just got back from a camping trip where I learned this lesson the hard way.  I was planning to visit the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon.  It’s an incredibly cool but also very remote area.  I filled up gas in the last tiny town and started driving to the desert.

My 2011 F-150 gets 8 miles to the gallon when I’m towing my 25′ travel trailer.  Sure enough, the gas gauge hit half a tank before we made it to the camp site.  Knowing we’d have to make it BACK, we had to stop our trip.  We were only 20 miles from the camp site, but we wouldn’t have enough gas to get back to the nearest gas station. We had to turn around and find a new camp site.  We had an extra 5 gallon gas tank, but we’d need some of that for the generator, so we didn’t want to risk it.

Lesson learned: Check the range of your rig on a tank of gas before heading into very remote areas.  Also, you can’t have too many gas cans.

I put a new foot on my winch pole and installed new stabilizers after bending them.

Using Stabilizers as Jacks

I didn’t make this mistake this year, but I learned about it.  I asked the repair guy at Camping World what the most common repair is they see that could be easily avoided.  His answer was people using the stabilizers to raise up the trailer to change a flat, or just generally cranking them too high.

The stabilizers on your RV are not jacks.  They should just lightly touch the ground to keep the RV from bouncing as you walk around, and that’s it.  If you continue cranking them to raise the RV a little, they are likely to break.

Neglect to Winterize

Your RV holds a lot of water–even when the tanks are “empty”  even a small amount of water can cause trouble in the winter.  You really do need to winterize, and BEFORE the temperatures at night hit 32 degrees (0 celsius).

Wait Longer in Neutral for 4×4 Low to Activate

This mistake was really one of not knowing my truck, since it was new and towing for the first time.  We were coming out of a steep incline in a dirt road from a camping spot.  The truck lost traction and started digging a hole.  Bummer.

We tried multiple times and couldn’t make it up the steep incline before the truck lost traction again.  I put the truck into 4×4 and tried again and again.

What I didn’t realize is that this truck takes about 2 seconds of sitting in neutral before it kicks into 4×4 LOW.  It kicks into 4×4 high immediately.  So although I THOUGHT I was in 4 wheel drive, I actually wasn’t.  As soon as it engaged, we got out immediately.  We wasted a bunch of time filling the hole with branches and rocks and all sorts of things, which turned out to be wasted effort. Lesson learned.

Closing the Slide on the TV

Many RVs place a TV just outside the slide on a side wall of the bathroom exterior or the bunk exterior.  Twice I’ve come extremely close to ripping my TV off the wall because it is on a tilting bracket that gets caught in the slide.  Check everywhere–outside and inside the RV–when moving the slide.

Also, check for the RV park power box before extending your slide.  That’s a common one to hit.

Not Checking Clearance and Ripping Off Stabilizers

I let my friend borrow my travel trailer last week and this was the mistake he made.  It isn’t a real big deal to replace stabilizers.  For $70 you can easily pick up a couple stabilizers and bolt them on in 20 minutes.  Still, it’s not exactly fun when you make a mistake like this.

In this case, he was going up a rough dirt road and the bottom-front of the trailer contacted the ground–bending the stabilizers.  In this case it wasn’t a real big deal.  It was an inexpensive and quick fix, but it’s something I’ll be more careful to avoid in the future.

Going Unprepared

There are a few items that, I believe, are absolutely essential to have with you in the trailer so that you can prevent issues from ruining your trip.  My first few trips I packed these items from home, but after forgetting them a few times, I just bought a separate one of each of these to keep stored IN the trailer so it’s there when I need it.

Each one of these items is a link to get the item on Amazon.

Neglecting the “Walk Around Rule”

It can be easy to forget to lock one of the storage cabinets under the RV, which can be extremely dangerous if a block of wood, jack, or something else were to fly out and go bouncing down the freeway behind you.

It can also be easy to forget to take up one of the stabilizer jacks, or to fail to fold up the stairs, etc.  There are a dozen or more things you need to remember before pulling out from a campsite.

My wife and I have developed the “walk around rule” which has saved us DOZENS of times.  Each of us separately simply walk completely around the RV and truck once before we drive away.  NEARLY EVERY TIME we do this, we find something we would have missed otherwise.

portable generator for an RV

I absolutely LOVE my generator. For a portable, it’s perfect, but sometimes I think I’d pick an RV with an onboard generator for my next RV upgrade.

Failing to Change Generator Oil Every 100 Hours

Okay, I didn’t make this mistake with my generator, but I did make it with another small engine (my lawn mower)  this year and destroyed it.

Just remember at the start of each camping season to put new oil in the old generator to keep it humming.

Set Locked Hitch on Top of Ball and Drive Away

I made this mistake once with my boat and it almost caused a major disaster.  I lowered the front jack so the boat hitch lowered down onto the trailer ball.  HOWEVER, I was distracted and forgot to open the lock.

Then, I hooked up my chains and everything else and started to drive.  Fortunately, I only made it three or four feet before I suddenly recognized my error since I felt some odd bouncing on the trailer and fixed it.

Lesson Learned: To ensure the ball is locked in place, lower it down and then raise the jack again to make sure it picks up the back of the truck.  That’s the only way to be certain it’s locked and properly seated.

Fall Asleep at the Wheel

Goes without saying, but if you’re going to die in your RV, it’s probably going to be because of this one.  Pull over when you’re even slightly drowsy!  Fortunately I never fell asleep while driving my RV this year, but I certainly saw lots of wrecks and I’d bet that a significant number of major freeway wrecks are from falling asleep.

This is one reason why I am buying a Tesla.  It drives itself!

Neglect to Check Your Roof Seals

Roof seals should be checked twice a year to make sure there are no cracks, tears, or anything else.  Even a hairline crack can spell disaster!  For me, I think it’s worth having the people at the dealership do the checking because they are financially incentivized to find something, and I want to know if there’s ANY potential for water intrusion.

I haven’t made this mistake yet in my first year, but as I’ve looked at other RVs (considering a fifth wheel), it’s the mistake that others have made that has ruined many RVs.

Put Down the Winch with a Stabilizer Jack Still Down

I have made this mistake twice now, but fortunately I caught myself before doing major damage to the jack.  The jacks cannot hold the weight of an RV.  They are for stabilization only.

So if you power down the winch in the front to lower the RV onto the ball, then the stabilizer jack will almost certainly bend.  It’s easy to put three down, get distracted, and forget the fourth stabilizer jack.

Lesson learned: Do a full walk-around of the RV before powering the winch down.

Use Toilet Paper that Doesn’t Dissolve Quickly

This isn’t really a mistake I made this year, but rather a discovery that led me to prevent a mistake.  I almost bought the expensive “RV toilet tissue” to prevent it from clogging the drains in my trailer.

Instead, I just went with Charmin Ultra Soft after watching this youtube video that shows that it does BETTER than the RV toilet tissue.  Surprisingly, some of the RV toilet tissue did not perform well in this test.

Believing Your 5th Wheel is “Half Ton Towable”

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things I’ve been looking at is trading in my trailer for a fifth wheel.  I absolutely LOVE the layouts in fifth wheels for having a family.  However, I own a Ford F-150 half ton.

Many people check the tow capacity of their truck and the weight of the RV and say they’re set.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

I’m not saying that there aren’t half ton towable fifth wheels.  I’m just saying that usually when someone thinks their rig is half ton towable–it isn’t.  You really need to check into EVERY number to stay safe on the road.  Usually, pin weight is the sticking point.

Burner Blow Out Instead of Turning Off

This is another mistake that I learned about this year that I was able to avoid.  We all know the danger of carbon monoxide in RVs.  I learned that one common cause of poisoning is when cooking with the stove, if your burner blows out instead of being turned off, then the propane is still being piped into the RV.

You can easily install these below your bumper to increase the weight that your bumper can hold.

Too Much Weight Mounted on the Bumper

This is another mistake that I almost made but fortunately a friend was able to talk sense into me before I did it.

When we first bought our travel trailer, we had an SUV so there wasn’t a convenient place to store the generator.  Inside the SUV made it smell like gas in the car, and inside the trailer had the same issue.  So I wanted to mount my AWESOME Champion generator on the bumper.

That would have been a huge mistake.  The bumper on many RVs just can’t handle that kind of weight.

Soon after, we got a truck so we were able to simply store it in there, but I also learned about these bumper supports that you can put on the back of the RV to fix this problem as well.

Leaving it Uncovered

Another mistake I’ve seen others make this year is leaving your RV uncovered.  I guess this is more of an opinion than anything else, but I’m a firm believer that you’ll save money in the long run by paying for a covered spot at a storage facility or getting a cheap carport at your house.

All it takes is one hole in the roof during the winter and you could let in a tremendous amount of water.  I’d venture a guess that the number 1 killer of RVs is water intrusion.  If it costs you an extra $30 per month at the storage facility, but makes your RV last longer and need fewer roof repairs, I have to think it would pay for itself many times over.

The photo on the left is on a Class A. The photo on the right shows the open pipes on a Class C. To be clear, there ARE Class C RVs that have enclosed pipes, but many or most don’t. On the other hand, almost all Class A RVs do have enclosed pipes.

Thinking Your RV is Four Season When it Isn’t

I learned this year that “four season” to an RV salesperson does not mean “four season” at all.  I was amazed how many sales people showed me “four season” trailers with obviously exposed lines, tanks, and pipes.

My recommendation is to do some inspection on your own before you buy.  Get on your back on the concrete and look underneath the rig.  Are there obvious lines that have no insulation or heating?  Do a little inspection and don’t trust the marketing.

Leave the Ceiling Vent Open Before it Rains

I made this mistake one day and fortunately found the mistake before leaving it too long.  I accidentally left the ceiling vent open.

We were sitting down as a family enjoying a nice game of Clue when I suddenly realized that I’d left the vent open in the bathroom and was able to close it and clean up the little bit of water.  No big deal.

Just be sure to close it before driving in a storm or leaving it in storage.

Buying My RV from Camping World–HUGE Mistake!

I purchased a brand new Rockwood MiniLite 2504s (watch my video review of my Rockwood trailer here) this year.  I love my trailer and I’d probably choose it again if I could go back in time.

HOWEVER, I would not have purchased at Camping World, and I would have gone in with a different expectation.  First of all, Camping World gave us wonderful treatment until the instant that we gave them our money.  The instant the deal was done, the customer service became PATHETIC.

Our trailer has spent more days at Camping World being fixed than we’ve had it away from Camping World–no exaggeration.

Our Rockwood has had a few minor issues (entertainment system didn’t work on delivery so it was replaced, two pieces of trim became loose, etc.)  Small things.  Yet, Camping World has had the trailer in for MONTHS to fix them.

I would never, ever buy from Camping World again.  Period.  If you’d like to get a good deal on an RV, check out these tips.  Very helpful.

Comments

  1. Another wonderful post. Good selection on the generator and we already switched to the Charmin Ultra Soft at home because of having seen that video a year ago or so.

    Unfortunately, other than for safety concerns, I doubt there will be much improvement in trailers being built without problems. On the safety side the government has already been handing out some hefty fines because of failure to recall or track safety issues. Unlike the auto market, where after World War 2 the Japanese dominated because of our throw away views in society. Then Dr. Deming worked it all out with Ford Motor Company where Quality was Job One. The US auto market learned and came back to what it is today. Lack of true competition will most likely prevent any great improvements in the RV industry other than in some of the smaller companies which build a nice unit. Most of those smaller companies build out of a the typical mass market price points where most are not willing to pay for quality given how quickly an RV depreciates.

    No wonder so many people fix their own trailers when they can given how long a dealership keeps it. Other than major repairs and when one wants to use their warranty. Fortunately, there are mobile repair techs.

    If you get a chance, check out Augusta RV and their business model. Really like their Ambition fifth wheel. But – they are costly. You get what you pay for really does apply to the RV industry.

  2. Just a note about RV repairs…we bought a very large standard bumper tow TT 4 years ago, and had it for two years before we traded it for a huge class A. It was very nice, and was our first foray into RVing. My experience is that pretty much anywhere you buy it, the customer service is great until the cash hits the dealership account. Then, its horrible. You make an appt for service…three weeks in the future. But the reality is that you are making a drop off appointment not a repair appt. Then, they tell you that it will be 3-4 weeks before they check the problem, then order parts, that usually take 6 weeks to arrive, then another 2-4 weeks in the queue to have the repair done. This is not unique to Camping World…it’s pretty much everywhere. So, my advice, is to keep an eye on the TT/RV year round. As soon as you notice a few issues in January-February, get it in to the shop, so you have it back by mid-late May, in time for camping season.

    BTW, I enjoyed your video on trailer length for national parks. What I’ve discovered is that anything much more than 22-24′ makes it really hard to tow a trailer into ANY state park in California. (Ours was 35′, our new RV is over 40′, limiting us to private RV parks and resorts for the most part). We went to the RV with the idea that it would be for long cross country trips, and that we’d add a small TT, 22′ or so, later on to enjoy the state parks closer to us. I grew up tent camping with my folks in Yosemite. At my age now, I’d hesitate to tent camp anymore.

  3. I made my first rookie mistake and I am surprised I didn’t see it written anywhere in any post, so I will share to hopefully prevent someone else from doing.

    I opened my faucet after boon docking to help drain the water out, then left the faucets open. The next time I went camping I hooked up to city water… the drain stopper must have fell in place and plugged the sink. Very quickly the faucets filled the sink and started to flood my RV.

    Yikes. I guess that is why they call them rookie mistakes. Luckily I caught it quickly and was able to clean up all the water with 3 beach towels.

  4. This was very useful, thanks. I agree totally about Camping World — they almost caused us a MAJOR issue this past week after having our new travel trailer in the shop for weeks. I took it in for them to replace a bent electric jack. Unfortunately, in doing so they removed the cable for the breakaway switch. We picked it up , drove off, and went over a mile before another driver waved us over to alert us that the brakes were smoking. We had to stop on the road — no shoulder available — and direct traffic while we prayed the trailer wasn’t about to catch fire! When we called them, the person on the phone new immediately what the issue was and said she was sending someone to help us. Turned out it was just a friend of hers who brought us a replacement cable! We appreciated him, but Camping World was to blame and should be at least acting concerned.

  5. Jim, I have a question for you. I noticed that you had a Dodge Durango Hemi when you first bought your 2504S, but it appears you now have an F-150 according to the photos. So my question is: was it a mistake to think the Durango Hemi was adequate to tow the 2504S? If so, why? I ask this because I am thinking about the exact same setup (a Dodge Durango Hemi w/2504S).

  6. Amazing article, You have explained every point in a good manner and in a efficient way. The ideas are amazing and content is good.
    Keep it up.

  7. If you own an RV this is your ultimate guide. These are RV mistakes that you should avoid on a regular basis. You can avoid these RV mistakes to keep it in good running condition. The most important thing is to check your tires to ensure smooth running.

  8. I didn’t realize that the most common repairs are needed when people misused the stabilizers. My husband and I recently got an RV, and we used the stabilizers this way. I didn’t realize that this could cause problems, but I’ll definitely keep that in mind for the future. I’ll take my RV to a repair shop to see if they need to be fixed.

  9. Checking your tires in the morning each travel day is good but that is no substitute for running a TPMS that will warn you if you get a puncture. If you get a puncture you can destroy a tire in just a few miles and that could lead the $thousands in damage to the RV. I cover the advantages of using a TPMS in my RV Tire Safety blog. http://www.RVTireSafety.net

  10. Campingworld customer service is terrible. They had my FR class A for 6 wks. We only had it 5 days. EXCUSES,EXCUSES,EXCUSE. Thanks for a great article. As newbies it is nice to read about others mistakes so as to possibly avoid them.

  11. Dropped mine while camping at disney fort wilderness. Did’nt hurt the trailer but my bed sides did have a small crease where the trailer landed. I built an aluminum flatbed for my truck.

  12. Excellent information! Bought our first travel trailer from camping world spur of the moment 3 weeks ago. Same response, soon as cash hit the table all pleasantries disappeared! Won’t buy from camping world again.

  13. I agree 100% about Camping World. All they care about is the sale.

  14. My husband and I have just purchased our 1st Travel trailer and we are staying at our family’s property. The driveway is not level so they had to use jacks higher on one side then the other.
    When we walk inside we feel movement. Is this normal?
    Thank you

    1. The “jacks” are not JACKS to level your camper, trailer, 5th wheel or whatever! You need levelers, squares of sturdy plastic, or even pieces of wood to put under the tires to level the trailer. The stabilizers are to stabilize the trailer – to keep it from rocking when you’re in it. When you use the stabilizers, they are to hit the ground and as mine are manual, I give them one more pump so they are steady on the ground. I’m not being ‘nasty’, I just want you to use the stabilizers as intended, and save yourself replacement money when they bend. The first thing that helps is to stop calling them jacks … call them what they are – stabilizers.

  15. Very good article. A lot of good advice. I second the purchase at camping world. We had a $30,000 camper for 3 months free and clear. We had to call and tell them they weren’t getting paid by the bank because the pasted the loan approval time frame. We have several things that need fixed but we are waiting until end of season for that exact reason.

  16. Here’s my Camping World story. Went in to look at some TT’s. I was led to a salesman’s office where apparently their policy was to get your email, phone number, address and what your interested in buying.. Ok, I gave him my email and phone number but I didn’t think he needed my address at this stage so I refused. He kept insisting he have my address and I kept telling him I wasn’t comfortable with it. So, get this, he stands up and says he was done and wasn’t gonna show me any trailers. I was flabbergasted. I initiated a complaint that made its way to their Denver office and I was offered $50.00 to go back into their store. Needless to say I bought a trailer from their competitor. True story.

  17. After living and traveling in my older 5th wheel all I can add is….. this is all good stuff. They should print this blog and hand it out with each title transfer!!!

    My most recent lesson, TIRE AGE!!! After 7 years they need replaced as almost every mfg recommends.

  18. Jim,
    A wench is typically a pejorative term for a woman engaged in pleasures of the flesh. A winch is a machine that typically coils a rope or chain to lift or haul.

    This is a great article and a good guide for a check list so those errors are avoided.

    Happy trails, David

  19. Leaving the Awning Down While at the family reunion this summer, my brother-in-law set out his RV awning on a hot day and then went to the store. Lesson learned: Always take down the awning in anything more than a light breeze and never leave your RV with the awning down even if it’s not windy when you leave.

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