7 Common Costly Mistakes While RVing

1. No Practice Driving or Towing an RV

One of the most common mistakes of new RVers is assuming they don’t need any practice or training to drive or tow an RV, but this is insanity.  Most RVs are much longer, heavier, and taller, than anything else you have ever driven or towed, and they handle differently. The turning circumference of a motorhome or trailer requires much wider turns.  The higher clearance of these vehicles requires that the driver diligently pay attention to overhead obstacles of all types, and the weight of RVs significantly increases stopping distances and maneuverability in an emergency. 

In addition to these challenges backing an RV is especially difficult even with a back-up camera because you can’t see the position of the tires or the rear corners of the RV.  Regardless of the size of the RV, backing a motorhome, trailer, or 5th wheel, without a spotter is the #1 biggest mistake of RVers, and it routinely results in damage to both the RV and to the surrounding environment.  We have seen RVers stuck in landscaping, high centered on large rocks, back into the picnic tables, hit a utility pole, and run into trees in an RV park. In addition to not using a spotter while RVing, many people also become impatient when backing, so they back to fast, over-correct in their steering and forget to watch the position of the front of their rig because they are focused on the back.  

The best advice for new RVers is to take your RV to a large empty parking lot and practice 90 degree corners, practice backing, work with your spotter to establish signals and communication, and repeat these procedures until you confidently know how to corner, stop, back, correct a bad angle, and maneuver your RV.  If you don’t learn these skills in an unobstructed place, you will (no doubt) eventually need to take your RV to the body shop for repairs.

2. Disregarding RV Height and Weight Limits 

As noted above most RVs are much larger and heavier than cars or trucks and you need to pay attention to the manufacturer’s specified dimensions and weight limits.

The total height of your RV should be a number that is imprinted in your brain, because when you’re traveling down a highway at 60 MPH and you see a warning sign of a low clearance ahead, you don’t have time to go look up your RV’s dimensions.  

If you add anything to your roof, such as a wi-fi antenna, weather station, solar panels, fan covers, or a large air conditioning shroud, then you may need to recompute the actual height of the RV.  There are many roads that simply cannot be driven in a large RV, but they are not always well marked and many parks, campgrounds, and boondocking sites, have low clearance branches, rocks, powerlines, or other obstacles that must be avoided.  

Always be aware of the total height of your RV.

In addition to the height restrictions there are always weight limits for RVs.  Every RV has two weight specifications. There is the “empty” weight of the RV as it was manufactured and the “carrying capacity” of the RV. The carrying capacity determines how much gear and supplies you can safely load into your RV and in many cases, it is a much smaller number than you might think, for a vehicle as large as a motorhome or trailer.  Everything you put in your RV contributes to the carrying capacity.  One gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, so a full 50 gallon tank of fresh water adds 400 pounds of total weight to the RV.  Propane, black and grey water tanks, that are full, add weight. Your food, supplies, clothes, pets, and pet supplies all add to the total weight and if it’s a motorhome the total weight of all the people and pets in the RV must also be calculated into the carrying capacity of the RV.

Many RVers ignore these limits and even add extra places for more gear, such as rear bumper shelves, and bike or kayak rack on the back of the RV. But ignoring the weight limits can be dangerous because the extra weight can put unnecessary pressure on the drive line, axles, tires, coupling devices (and if the RV is being towed) the extra weight may exceed the carrying capacity of both the RV and the truck that is towing the trailer.

3. Not Performing Regular Maintenance, Including Tires

Another mistake RVers make is ignoring regular maintenance to keep their RV in optimal operational condition.  First of all, this is a safety issue, but it also impacts the amount of enjoyment you will get from your RV.  If your RV is sitting in your driveway under a blue tarp, and it needs new brakes, batteries, tires, or the roof recalked, you’re less likely to want to take it out for a weekend of adventure.  Performing regular maintenance on your RV is just one of the costs of owning it, and even if you have an extended warranty, these routine maintenance issues will not be covered by the warranty.  If your refrigerator or air conditioner malfunctions, your warranty will help you with those repairs, but batteries, brakes, and tires, are not going to be covered, and tires are probably the most important maintenance issues to prioritize because a blowout at highway speeds could be deadly.

Before buying an RV, make sure to take the proper steps to find the right vehicle for you!

4. Failing to Do Your Research

Not doing all the research when purchasing an RV is another major mistake of RVers.  Many new RVers don’t have any idea what type, size, floor plan, and amenities they need in their RV to meet their own camping style, so they end up buying an RV that could be too large, or too small, or don’t have the features they need.  This leads to stressful and unpleasant camping experiences which will ultimately lead to a trade-in or the termination of the whole camping experience.  

Another area where RVers fail is in not doing enough research to understand how these complicated vehicles actually work.  RVs are not cars or trucks. Most of them have jacks, slide outs, multiple types of power, AC from shore power or a generator, DC from batteries, and inverters to convert DC power to AC power (so the TV, refrigerator, coffee pot, and hair dryer work when not plugged into shore power).  Most RVs have an LP system for the water heater, stove, and furnace.  There are often wifi boosters, complicated entertainment centers, and GPS systems built into the RVs.  They also have freshwater tanks, black and grey water holding tanks, and other features that are unique to RVs.  It takes time to research all these systems and learn how they work.  Additionally, RVs are all different, so not only do you need to understand the general function of these systems, you also need to know how they work in your unique RV.  

Finally, if an RVer is buying a used RV, even more research is needed to be sure that the used RV doesn’t have any hidden defects that may not be readily apparent.  It may be a systemic problem with that year and model or a unique defect like mold, dry rot in the roof, jacks that bleed off compression, a slide out that won’t retract completely, or some other problem.  If you’re buying a used RV from a dealer or a private person, it would be worth the extra cost to have that RV inspected by a professional before the purchase.

5. Not Securing Everything Before Departing

Not having a departure checklist is a common mistake of new RVers.  You need to check everything on the inside and outside of your RV to be sure it’s ready for travel.  The cabinet doors need to be closed. The shower stall doors locked down, the sliding door on your closet can slide open quickly and break the mirror if it’s not latched in the closed position.  The jacks, slide outs, steps, and antenna must be retracted and secured. All the basement doors must be latched and locked, the hitch, coupling device, brake line, or dinghy tow bar must be checked, as well as the taillights, brake lights, and turn signals.  

Anything you leave unsecured on the counter will probably be on the floor when you arrive at your next destination, and if you didn’t make sure the refrigerator door is closed and latched all your refrigerator contents could also be scattered around your RV when you stop. Always check and recheck the interior and exterior and use the GOAL system before you depart.  Goal stands for Get Out And Look at your RV before you depart. Do a slow walk around, make sure you’re not leaving a water pressure regulator, sewer attachment, or other outside gear in your site, and that goes for your pet and pet supplies. We talked to one RV park owner that noticed that an RV was gone, but the dog was still tied up to the picnic table.  The park staff had to call the owners, to let them know they had forgotten their dog! 

6. Not Having the Right RV Insurance          

Another common mistake RVers make when getting into the new world of RVing is to make wrong assumptions about insurance for their RV.  Some people think if their RV is a trailer, and it is attached to their truck, that their truck insurance extends to the RV, but that is only true for liability coverage and only when the two vehicles are coupled together.  If you wreck your truck and 5th wheel in an accident and the 5th wheel also damaged someone else’s property, the damage to the other party would be covered, but your loss would not be. 

There are unique insurance policies that pertain to trailers, motorhomes, and truck campers, and you will need to discuss these policies with your insurance broker as they pertain to your specific RV.  Some polices can be suspended in the winter while the RV is in storage, but that might not be prudent if your RV could be damaged by severe weather, falling debris, or other hazards.  Saving a little money on monthly insurance premiums could end up costing you more than you save.  If your insurance broker is not well versed in RV insurance you can get your questions answered here

Always be sure to have the right insurance coverage for your RV.

7. Being Afraid to Ask for Help from Seasoned RVers!

The last major mistake RVers make is not accessing the expertise of seasoned RVers and industry experts. With the availability of the internet today, you can discover almost anything you need to know about RVing and get this information directly from seasoned pros.  If you need to know how to replace an RV toilet or whether installing lithium batteries is worth the extra cost, you can readily find that information. If you need to know how to work from the road while full time RVing, or what the winters are like in North Carolina or Tennessee, other RVers have already been down that road and are willing to share their knowledge and wisdom with you.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The community of RVers are a magnanimous and generous lot, who are always willing to share their knowledge and experiences. 

Avoiding these 7 common RV mistakes will greatly enhance your safety and your enjoyment of the exciting new world of RVing.  Be brave, be curious, be adventurous, but above all, be smart!

About Peggy Dent

Peggy Dent is an author, writer and full-time RVer, currently traveling in the US and Canada. She's driven a motorhome more than 130,000 miles and learned the secrets, delights, and pitfalls of RVing through her own experiences. She shares her knowledge and insights in numerous RV industry publications. You can contact her through her website at www.apeninyourhand.com