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10 Common (And Costly) RV Mistakes

Published on July 21st, 2020 by Tina Klinefelter
This post was updated on May 26th, 2023

Class C motorhome in foreground of picturesque landscape.
Avoid these 10 common RV mistakes at your peril. Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

10 Common (And Costly) RV Mistakes

Purchasing an RV is stressful enough and you haven’t even driven it off the lot. Add driving, parking, full or part-time living, and RV maintenance to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. Pay attention to and learn from these costly RV mistakes.

1. Not enough research and education

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You are making a huge mistake if you don’t do enough research on which RV is right for you and your family. There are so many manufacturers, models and floor plans that it can make your head spin.

Giving in to the overwhelm and impulsively buying something that doesn’t meet your needs will be a costly mistake in the long run. Not only will it cost you money to sell one RV and purchase another, but it will also cost you precious time and create frustration.

Once you find the right RV for your family, learn as much as you can about it before embarking on a trip. This begins with purchase. Most dealers will give you a comprehensive walk-through (kick the tires) of your rig. This is your time to ask ALL the questions!

Whatever is keeping you up at night about owning this RV should be discussed to limit costly mistakes. If you are still a little confused, video tape the areas of instruction that you may not remember later.

2. Driving or towing off the lot with no practice or education

You just learned everything you need to know about the AC unit, so apply this same logic to driving or towing your RV. You may be experienced in owning other RVs but every one is different in the way they handle and practice will limit future RV mistakes. Some dealers offer courses especially if you are buying a large Class A RV.

Small RV on winding road in remote area.
Driving an RV is not the same as driving a car. Photo from Flickr.
m01229 from USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Driving or towing an RV is unlike driving a car. The centers of gravity are different, turning radiuses are much wider, and height makes you a moving target for wind gusts. Without practice and consideration of these limitations, accidents will happen resulting in major costs and in some cases, even death.

Take advantage of any help provided and don’t leave the lot until you’ve practiced as much as possible to feel comfortable. For more information on driving an RV check out 11 Tips For Driving an RV.

3. Backing up without help

It’s inevitable that every time you are trying to back into a tight spot in an RV park, everyone is watching you. Now the situation has become even more stressful and your palms are sweating. We’ve all been there!

Small RV parked in forest between trees.
Backing up RV between 2 trees. Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

Backing up can be the most costly RV mistake. This may be a reason why so many RV parks are putting in more and more pull-thru sites. The best way to avoid going into a ditch, swiping another RV, or a hitting a tree while backing up is to practice, practice, practice. If your dealer does not provide free training, go to a large parking lot with a spouse or friend to practice backing up.

Another best practice here is to either use a backup camera or spotter. Some campgrounds even provide an escort. Both are ideal because then you have most angles covered to avoid a collision.

A spotter should be talking to you every step of the way either via phone (sometimes cell coverage is non-existent) or a walkie-talkie. Deciding on verbal and hand signals ahead of time will go a long way in reducing stress when communicating with a spotter. If your RV did not come with a backup camera, you can review this list of Best RV Backup Cameras Under $250.

Patience, deep breaths, and taking your time will go a long way to avoid any damage. These Pro Tips for Baking Up a Trailer provide expert advice with great visuals on the logistics of backing up.

4. Ignoring weight limits

It may shock readers to note that the data actually reveals that over 50% of existing RVs exceed at least one safety rating, typically due to owner overload and mishandling of their stowed cargo.

Gary Bunzer, RV Safety & Education Foundation (RVSEF)

Besides being a costly RV mistake, overloading your RV can be downright dangerous. Every RV regardless of size has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) that is clearly marked on a label on the RV.

The GVWR is the dry weight of the RV plus any cargo (food, clothing, blankets, kayaks, people and every other single item you load into your RV). It can all add up so fast and even the most intentioned RV owner can make mistakes here.

That is why it’s important to get a clear picture of your fully-loaded weight and the only way to do that is by getting your RV weighed at an approved scale. Most truck stops have these scales available for a fee.

Due to a wide range of misinterpretation of weight limits, refer to RVSEF’s Understanding Your Truck and Trailer Weigh Report for a better understanding of overall weight measurements including axle, tongue, tow vehicle, and hitch weights. If you are involved in an accident and are found to be overweight, your claim will not be paid and you could be fined as well.

For more information, check out How to Avoid the Dangers of an Overweight Trailer.

5. Disregarding clearance limits, above, below and side to side

After learning the weight limit of your RV, next memorize the height, width, and length limit. Not knowing these numbers can lead to costly RV mistakes as you can damage the top of your RV, the AC unit, mirrors, bumpers, and other property. Take the infamous 11-foot 8-inch bridge for example, which has claimed all too many RV AC units:

Each RV manufacturer gives you these specifications but err on the side of caution and measure for yourself from the ground to the top of the highest part of your RV, usually an AC unit, for height.

When you travel, pay attention to the clearance signs of bridges, tunnels, and drive-thrus with a canopy. It is advised that you plan your RV trip in advance and a great tool to locate these low clearance hazards is RV LIFE Trip Wizard. When you sign up, load in your RV height and the map will show this hazard on your route. You can also load your pre-planned route on the RV LIFE App for RV-safe GPS directions from your phone.

The clearance under your RV is also important to get familiar with. They all have varying clearance and you can find yourself stuck on a rock or unable to move up steep grades because you bottom out and can get stuck or rip off a bumper.

6. Not checking tire pressure and wear every time

One of the most important parts of your RV to check on a regular basis is the tires for pressure and wear. They are the most used part of your RV when moving down the road and the last thing you want to happen is an RV tire blowout. This can not only cause you delays but could cause a serious accident.

Check out 5 Ways to Avoid Tire Blowouts for more detailed information about tire pressure and wear. Some owners purchase a tire pressure monitoring system for added peace of mind. These systems will alert you if pressure is getting low before and while you are driving.

7. Incomplete walk-around, inside and out

Remember that when your RV is rolling down the road, it provides an earthquake effect on your rig and your belongings. Every time you are ready to hit the road, you should go through a self-made checklist to ensure everything is in good working order and secured.

Some common and costly RV mistakes if this step is missed: shattered shower doors, broken closet doors, chairs breaking a window, bumpers falling off, slides not fully in, broken leaf springs, propane leaks, hitch not properly secured, steps not stowed and so many more.

Make sure to also disconnect everything like electric cords and sewer/water hoses. Don’t laugh, this has happened more than once! Not only is it costly for your rig but now you’ve destroyed campground property!

8. Leaving the awnings out

It’s a beautiful sunny day with no wind in any direction. You go for a 6-hour hike and come back to see your awning ripped from your RV and the neighbor’s RV has a broken window from where it smashed into! Yikes!

Always put your awning in or make sure it’s securely tied down to avoid the RV mistake of having to replace it and possibly pay other damages.

Old RV in woods covered with snow.
Don’t make the mistake of leaving your awning out during a storm. Photo from Flickr.

9. Dumping things that don’t belong into the tanks

We’re going to talk about the dirtiest part of RVing, the gray and especially black tanks. Proper maintenance and care needs to happen to avoid the RV mistake of a clogged or overflowing tank that requires a costly repair.

Always keep your black tank closed until ready to dump. And use more water than you think normal when flushing waste, especially solids into the black tank. The more water that is in there, the easier it will be to flow out and avoid clogs. After dumping, it is a good idea to also fill the tank and flush that out to clear any stuck debris on sensors or in the tank.

It is recommended that you use fast-dissolving toilet paper. The debate continues, Do You Really Need RV-Safe Toilet Paper? You can be the judge of that.

You can also experience clogs in your gray tank. Do not put food, grease, hair, or anything other than liquids in the tank. You can purchase a sink strainer to catch any unwanted items before they go down the drain.

10. Not checking the weather

Any seasoned RVer will tell you that the most unpredictable part of this journey is the weather. The only way to prevent being surprised by a tornado, high winds, fog, or hail is to keep a close eye on the weather any time you plan to leave the RV and especially when you are planning a trip. This includes checking the weather along your route as well.

RV on highway surrounded by fog and rain.
Driving in foggy weather. Photo by Flickr.

Because you may not have cell signal, having a battery-operated weather radio is always a must.

RV mistakes happen

You do not have to have a special license or training to drive or tow an RV. The risk of making RV mistakes rests firmly on the shoulders of the owner. The more you know and the more you practice consistent behaviors related to RV safety, the less costly it will be for all.

Plan your RV-safe routes with RV LIFE Trip Wizard, now included with RV LIFE Pro. You can also share your experiences and learn from others on forums such as iRV2 Forums.

4 thoughts on “10 Common (And Costly) RV Mistakes”

  1. the first fifth wheel we bought was a 40 ft. cardinal. we took our first trip right off the lot and went to San Antonio, we entered the camp grounds and were real careful not to hit any tree or others objects on the way in. We had a full thru site, and I missed all the trees at the site, except the overhanging limb that hit the corner of the fifth wheel. forgot to watch the height clearance. The fifth wheel we have now is higher and believe me we check the clearance before we full in.

  2. You are wrong about needing a special license to drive an RV. There are many states that require getting a special CDL license and driving test. Since each state is different, you need to check with the DMV for the requirements.

  3. The statement regarding not having to have a special license is incorrect. That depends on the state you are in. Before example in Texas if you I drive a Class A RV that is over 26000 lbs you are required to have at least a Class B exempt lisence. If you towed vehicle is more than 10000 lbs you would need a Class A exempt license
    Please check with the licensing authority in each state to insure you have the proper license.


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