By Mark Polk, RV Education 101
It does not matter if you are a brand-new RV owner or a seasoned RV owner – we all make silly mistakes at some point in time. I encourage the use of checklists to help avoid making some of the more common RV owner mistakes. When you use a checklist it’s not as easy to forget or overlook a certain step or procedure. With that said, in no particular order I will offer some tips on how to avoid 7 common mistakes RV owners make.
1. RV odors from the holding tank
One common problem RV owners experience is odors from the black water holding tank entering the RV. Most of this odor-related problem is associated with the way the RV toilet and black water holding tank are designed.
RV holding tanks use a vent pipe that goes from the top of the holding tank to the roof of the RV. This vent pipe is designed to vent gases and odors from the holding tank to the atmosphere. The problem is, odors accumulate in the tank and can’t really be vented outside. This is because there is no air pressure in the holding tank to help force the gases (odors) up and out of the roof vent. When the air pressure is higher in the holding tank than it is inside the RV, the odors escape into the RV by way of the toilet when you flush it.
Some of this cannot be prevented, but there are a couple of things you can do to help. One is to use plenty of water. The water level in the black water holding tank helps control odors. You need to get in a habit of adding additional water to the holding tank whenever you flush the toilet. It is necessary to keep the water level above the contents of the holding tank. This helps control odors and allows the holding tank to drain properly.
Another problem is RV owners do not always add enough water after they empty their holding tanks. You need to know what size black water holding tank you have. Make sure you add enough water to completely cover the bottom of the tank every time you empty the tank. Holding tank treatments help control odors too. Every time you empty the black water holding tank you need to add a holding tank treatment to assist with odor control and help break down the contents in the tank.
A third line of defense against holding tank odors is to add an aftermarket roof vent cap designed specifically to help pull the gases and odors from the tank and vent it outside.
2. Extending and retracting slide-outs
Another common problem is when you extend or retract slide-outs in your RV and something in the way gets crushed. If you have slide-outs in your RV this may have already happened to you. A good example is a motorized RV when the driver’s seat is often the culprit. You start to extend or retract the slide-out and the next thing you know it is hitting the seat. I accidentally crushed the RV owner’s manual packet on one occasion many years ago. My advice is to check and double-check everything in the path of the slide-out prior to extending or retracting. Most importantly, do not forget to check the area outside the RV (see photo above) prior to extending any slide-outs! I have witnessed extensive damage to RV exteriors caused by not inspecting the area prior to extending the slide-outs.
3. Dead RV batteries
Something else that happens is you forget to turn off the battery disconnect switches, and the next time you use your RV the battery is dead. This has not happened to me in a long time, but it does happen. The last thing I do before walking out the door is turn the battery disconnect switches off. If your RV does not have a battery disconnect switch you need to make sure all the 12-volt devices in the RV are turned off. You may want to have an aftermarket battery disconnect installed for your RV battery.
4. Power pedestal problems
Another common problem is failing to turn appliances off prior to connecting or disconnecting the RV from electricity. This can be a costly mistake, too, especially if it damages the air conditioner. Make sure all the appliances in the RV are in the off position prior to plugging into or unplugging from an electrical source.
While on the topic of electricity, another good habit is to make sure the circuit breaker at the power pedestal is in the OFF position prior to plugging or unplugging the RV power cord. Plug the power cord in securely and then turn the breaker on.
5. Not knowing the height of your RV
Damage to the top of an RV is one of the most common RV insurance claims filed. Your RV has what is referred to as soft and hard clearances. An example of a soft clearance would be a radio antenna. An example of a hard clearance would be the air conditioner. You could hit the radio antenna and do little or no damage to the RV, but if you hit the air conditioner chances are there will be major damage.
The way to avoid this kind of damage to your RV is to know and monitor the height of your RV. Park the RV on a level surface and measure the height from the ground to the tallest hard clearance item on the RV. Record the measurement and post it where it will serve as a constant reminder. When you are at the campground, have a spotter watch for low-hanging tree branches and other obstacles that might damage the RV.
6. Backing the RV into a site without a spotter
If you back the RV without a spotter, I can almost guarantee eventually you will hit something. An easy way to avoid this is to always use a spotter. Establish hand signals you both understand, and always keep the spotter in view when backing the RV. If you cannot see the spotter, stop the backing maneuver. Caution: Always watch for children and pets, especially when backing in at a campground. When in doubt of what is behind you, stop, get out and look.
7. RV pre-trip checks
Checklists are helpful when performing pre-trip checks prior to moving the RV. You have probably seen an RV traveling down the road with the old style bat-wing TV antenna up, or the steps still out, just waiting to hit something – resulting in expensive repair bills. The easiest way to avoid this and other problems like this is to follow a simple pre-trip checklist prior to moving the RV. In addition to using a checklist, I always make one final walk-around of the RV just before pulling out. You might be surprised what you overlooked or forgot.
There are many other common mistakes we make as RV owners make, but eliminating these 7 mistakes is a good start.
To help solve these problems and more, check out our online RV Checklists e-book course.