I bought a travel trailer this year and made tons of RV mistakes in the school of hard knocks. In this post I want to share some of the blunders I’ve made with my trailer, as well as mistakes I’ve seen from other RVers as we’ve traveled around.
The 27 Big RV Mistakes Every Newbie Should Avoid
Hopefully, you can learn from my RV mistakes–and those that I’ve seen other RV newbies make. Here’s how to keep your trailer or motorhome in pristine condition.
Leaving the Awning Open
At the family reunion this summer, my brother-in-law set out his RV awning on a hot day. Then he went to the store. The wind picked up suddenly, and the awning tore apart in a matter of minutes before I could make my way over there to fix it.
Lesson learned: Always retract the awning during anything more than a light breeze. Never leave your RV with the awning open 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, check out our step-by -step guide about how to repair a torn RV awning.
Street Parking Alongside Trees
My neighborhood has beautiful tree-lined streets. 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. One day I was trying to be careful while parking. But I still made one of the most common RV mistakes when pulling away.
The trailer hit a thick limb and tore 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
Relying on the built-in carbon monoxide detector is a big RV mistake. Seriously big. 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 the detector when it’s an actual emergency!
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!
Not Checking RV Tires Before Driving
RV tires are the #1 most common point of failure. RV tire blowouts are 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:
- using cheapo tires from the manufacturer or choosing cheap tires when you buy them
- driving too fast (over 35mph) on gravel roads
- overloading 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 RV tires should last.
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. Unfortunately it resulted in their entire rig flipping over into the ditch beside the road. Nobody was hurt but it didn’t look like the camper trailer survived.
Lesson Learned: Don’ take curves too fast. You have a much higher center of gravity in an RV.
This type of accident usually happens for one or all of these reasons:
- uncontrolled fishtailing
- driving in strong winds
- 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.
Buying a Cheap Backup Camera
My RV backup camera is necessary equipment. I was hesitant when I bought this wireless backup camera on Amazon. I wondered if it was really a necessary expense. It was! The RV backup camera has saved me so many times! For example:
- 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!
Lesson learned: 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.
My RV backup camera 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. This way I know if I’m holding up traffic behind me and need to pull over. Read my review of the Furrion backup cam here.
Not Knowing My RVs Distance-to-Empty
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.
Check out this Guide to Motorhome Gas Mileage, including 21 examples of specific motorhomes.
Using RV Stabilizers as Leveling Jacks
I didn’t make this big RV mistake this year, but I learned about it. I asked the repair guy at Camping World:
What is the most common RV repair that could be easily avoided?
His answer: people using the stabilizers to raise up the trailer to change a flat, or just generally cranking them too high.
Lesson Learned: The stabilizers on your RV are not leveling jacks.
RV leveling jacks should 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.
Neglecting to Winterize the RV
Your RV holds a lot of water. You really do need to winterize, BEFORE the temperatures at night hit 32 degrees (0 celsius).
Lesson learned: Even when tanks are empty a small amount of leftover water at the end of the camping season can cause trouble in the winter.
Learn how to store an RV in the winter without causing damage.
Not Waiting for 4×4 Low to Activate
This big RV 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.
Lesson learned: I didn’t realize is that my truck takes about 2 seconds of sitting in neutral before it kicks into 4×4 LOW.
My truck 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.
Moving the Slide Without Checking for Obstacles
Many RVers place a TV just outside the slide on a side wall of the bathroom exterior or the bunk exterior. That’s what I did. And 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.
Lesson learned: Check everywhere–outside and inside the RV–when closing or opening the slide.
Forgetting to Check Ground Clearance
I let my friend borrow my travel trailer last week and this was the mistake he made. He went up a rough dirt road and the bottom-front of the trailer contacted the ground. The impact bent the stabilizers. It was an inexpensive and quick RV repair, but it’s something I’ll be more careful to avoid in the future.
Lesson learned: drive slowly to avoid bottomming out.
It isn’t a real big deal to replace RV 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.
Traveling Without Essential Gear
There are a few essential RV items to have with you 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.
- DC-powered Air compressor for RV tires. This is the one that I bought. I recommend it 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.
- First aid kit in case of a human emergency
- Basic tool kit that stays IN the RV
- And these other things to buy for your new RV.
Neglecting the RV Walk Around
My wife and I have developed a “walk around rule” which has saved us DOZENS of times. Each of us separately walks 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.
It can be easy to forget to lock one of the storage cabinets under the RV. This 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’s also easy to forget to retract the stabilizer jacks, or the stairs, etc.
Lesson learned: always do the RV walkaround before, during and after travel.
There are a dozen or more things you need to remember before pulling out from a campsite. Make a list and memorize it.
Failing to Change Generator Oil
I didn’t make this mistake with my generator. But I did make it with another small engine (my lawn mower) this year which destroyed it.
Lesson learned: check your RV generator manual and follow the maintenance recommendations.
At the start of each camping season to put new oil in the old generator to keep it humming.
Setting Locked Hitch on Top of Ball, Then Driving 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 driving. Fortunately, I only made it three or four feet before I recognized my error after feeling some odd bouncing on the trailer.
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.
Falling Asleep at the Wheel
If you’re going to die in your RV, it’s probably going to be because of this one. I never fell asleep while driving my RV this year, but I certainly saw lots of wrecks. I’d bet that a significant number of major freeway wrecks are from falling asleep.
Lesson learned: Don’t drive too long or too far. Pull over before getting sleepy!
This is one reason why I am buying a Tesla. It drives itself!
Neglecting RV Roof Seals
Check roof seals twice a year. This is to ensure there are no cracks, tears, or anything else. Even a hairline crack can spell disaster! 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.
Lesson learned: Have the people at the dealership do the checking. They are financially incentivized to find something. They will tell you if there’s any potential for water intrusion.
Powering Down the Winch with Extended Stabilizer Jacks
I have made this mistake twice now. Fortunately I caught myself before doing major damage to the jack. Stabilizer jacks cannot hold the weight of an RV. They are for stabilization only.
If you power down the winch in the front to lower the RV onto the ball, then the stabilizer jacks will almost certainly bend. It’s also 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.
Using the Wrong Kind of RV Toilet Paper
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 went with Charmin Ultra Soft after watching this youtube video that shows that it does BETTER than the RV toilet tissue.
Lesson learned: you don’t need to buy expensive RV-safe toilet paper. Surprisingly, some of the RV toilet tissue did not perform well in this test.
Towing a 5th Wheel with a Half Ton Truck
One of the things I’ve been looking at is trading in my trailer for a fifth wheel. I 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.
Lesson learned: Know your RV’s GVWR (and why it matters). You really need to check into EVERY number to stay safe on the road. Usually, pin weight is the sticking point.
Blowing Out the Stove Burner (Instead of Turning It 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. If not, you need to.
I learned that one common cause of poisoning is when cooking with the stove.
Lesson learned: always turn your stove burner off at the dial. If your burner blows out instead of being turned off, then the propane is still being piped into the RV.
Mounting Too Much Weight to the Trailer Bumper
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 to the RV bumper. That would have been a huge mistake. A friend was able to talk sense into me before I did it.
Lesson learned: The bumper on many RVs just can’t handle that kind of generator weight.
Soon after, we got a truck so we were able to simply store it in there. But I also learned about these RV bumper supports that you can put on the back of the RV to fix this problem as well.
Storing the RV without a Cover
Another mistake I’ve seen others make this year is leaving your RV uncovered. 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.
Lesson learned: If it costs you an extra $30 per month at the storage facility, but makes your RV last longer and need fewer roof repairs, it will pay for itself many times over.
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.
Assuming Your RV is Four Season When it Isn’t
The term “four season” to an RV salesperson does not mean “four season” to manufacturers. I was amazed how many sales people showed me “four season” trailers with obviously exposed lines, tanks, and pipes.
Lesson learned: Do a little inspection and don’t trust the marketing.
Get on your back on the concrete and look underneath the rig. Are there obvious lines that have no insulation or heating?
Leaving the RV Ceiling Vent Open During Rainy Weather
I made this mistake one day. Fortunately I found the mistake before leaving the RV ceiling open too long.
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. I cleaned up the little bit of water that came in. No big deal.
Lesson learned: Keep the RV ceiling vent closed during bad weather, while driving and when you store the RV.
Buying My RV from Camping World
I purchased a brand new Rockwood MiniLite 2504s (watch my video review of the 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. I also 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 actually used it. 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.
Lesson learned: I will never, ever buy from Camping World again. Period. Instead, I would know how to get a good RV deal with these tips.
I hope you can learn from the common small and big RV mistakes people make. Don’t let these rookie maneuvers happen to you. Remember, no-hassle RVing usually begins with the RV owner. Keep learning how to keep your RV in pristine condition and you’ll be rewarded with years of trouble-free RVing.