7 common RV owner mistakes and how to avoid them

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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

Slide-out hits object when it is extended

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.

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Jim
12 days ago

I use a dowel cut off at the distance of the slide that goes furthest out and a black mark at the distance for the other slide. That way I can measure before having to even partially put the slides out.

CeeCee
12 days ago

On our trip last fall, the battery disconnect switch by the door of our MH inadvertently got turned off. Be aware that if this switch is off, nothing that requires 12 volt such as furnace, fridge, lights, etc., will work. We were camping in below freezing temperatures at the time. DH was looking for fuses, circuit breakers, broken connections, anything that might be the cause of the problem. If your 12 volt stuff doesn’t work, check this switch. It may save you much troubleshooting or a service call.

Dan
12 days ago

RV common mistakes

Jeff Arthur
12 days ago

When backing with a spotter use the term driver & passenger for your backing

Betty Danet
13 days ago

We have a tall 5th fifth wheel. When we had it at MorRyde for the first time, they advised us to measure it’s height when hooked up to the hitch. Makes sense that it might be different than just sitting. Ended up at 13’5″. Whew!
Also about the slides. Easy to check when pulling them in. Not so much when extending. Things can move around when traveling and end up behind the flanges. Ask me how I know. 🙄 Now I open the slides just enough to check clearances before opening all the way.

Gary
13 days ago

Bad advice on the holding tank treatment. Not needed. It’s a holding tank, not a septic tank.
Lots of water it the key.

WEB
12 days ago
Reply to  Gary

That is so true! Why add enzymes to help break down the poo when doing so, one of the breakdown items is methane gas. Just creating more stink when you think you are trying to eliminate them. :-/ I will do a Geo Method before a long trip though.

John
13 days ago

There use to be a series of conferences called Life on Wheels that we attended. I wish there was something today for “newbies”. We learned so much.
We have 2 lists 1 inside and 1 outside chores. Never think I’ll remember that.
I can’t believe how many pedestals we find with the breaker still on.

Leonard Rempel
13 days ago

Bingo! On our second trip I had to turn around and I told my wife not to bother getting out to check the back. Yup, hit a big boulder! Minimal damage, but lesson learned! Now ALWAYS a spotter and a Furrion back up camera. This newsletter is a great and valuable resource to us. Thanks for all you do!

Richard Hughes
12 days ago
Reply to  Leonard Rempel

The back up camera should be on everyone’s list. We put the monitor on the useless rearview mirror of our RV and with it and the hitch cam that came on the unit, we have all around view when backing.

Larry Lee
13 days ago

Using walkie-talkies during backing procedures improves communications tremendously!

Roger B
12 days ago
Reply to  Larry Lee

If you both have cell phones it works even better than walkies. Even better if the drivers phone will Bluetooth through the radio.

Larry
12 days ago
Reply to  Roger B

…….or maybe Zoom or even Face Time? 🙂

Jim
11 days ago
Reply to  Larry

Larry…hahahaha

Richard Hughes
13 days ago

We use the bands that go on the steering wheel. Each item has a wrap and they don’t come off until we are both there to agree that things are done. We installed an additional rear view camera and that gives a full view while backing in and driving down the road.

Tom
13 days ago

First amplified bat wing I had was found on the ground after leaving the roof of an RV underway. Used it to replace a non-amplified version.
When backing, use the whole forearm to signal. Little hand waves are difficult to see from the driver’s seat.