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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. If your awning does tear, you can find a step by step guide we wrote all about how to repair a torn awning, here.
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.
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. How long do camper tires usually last? Here, you can find an article we wrote answering that commonly asked question. Go ahead and read it to see how long your tires should be lasting you.
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 campsite 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.
In this article, you will find a giant guide to motorhome gas mileage that we recently wrote, including 21 examples of specific motorhomes.
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).
Here, you can find an article we wrote that includes a guide on how to store an RV in the winter without causing it any damage.
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.
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.
- Air compressor for tires that is powered by a cigarette lighter (The link is to Amazon for the one that I bought and can recommend for travel trailers, fifth wheels, and Class B motorhomes. I probably wouldn’t recommend it for Class A and C motorhomes, which need a more powerful compressor.) I HIGHLY recommend you get this!
- First aid kit
- Basic tool kit that stays IN the trailer so you can be sure you have it on hand.
- For more things you’ll need to buy with a new trailer, check out this post.
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.
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.
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.
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.