In our over four years of full-time RV life, we’ve made our fair share of mistakes. RV mistakes are going to happen; it’s inevitable. The more you can educate yourself BEFORE buying or renting an RV for the first time, the less likely you are to make any of these potentially costly mistakes.
If you are new to RVing, you may be thinking, “I spent all this money, but I don’t have a clue what to do and, most importantly, what not to do.” You have to learn to drive it, back it up, park it, dump the tanks and perform regular maintenance. Together, this can present a recipe for disaster if you are not prepared. That’s why I’m sharing this list to spare you some aggravation and inconvenience because guess what? We’ve made many of these mistakes so that you don’t have to. You’re welcome!
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Common newbie RV mistakes that could cost you
1. Limited education and research will lead to many RV mistakes
There are so many decisions you’ll need to make when it comes time to choose an RV for your family’s road trip. Which RV is right for your crew? Do you want a travel trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome? And which floor plan should this home on wheels include?
There are so many models and manufacturers that deciding what will work best at first glance might be impossible. Trust me–Don’t give in to overwhelm! Give yourself ample time and research before making any RV purchase, as buying impulsively with no rhyme or reason could cost more than just money later down the line if mistakes were made during the decision-making process.
Since we took our time shopping for our RV, we have been fortunate to have found an RV model that works best for our needs. Before we stepped foot on a lot or went to an RV show, we made a list of our non-negotiables: fifth wheel, 1.5 baths to make guests comfortable, larger master bath with double sinks, opposing slides for a larger living area, washer and dryer hook-ups, solar-ready, and outdoor TV.
All the research, planning, and education allowed us to avoid the costly RV mistake of choosing the wrong model and having to trade it in later. I have seen folks that trade in their RV once a year, and that wouldn’t work for our budget since RVs lose value when you leave the lot, just like a car.
After you’ve purchased your first RV or a different type, you’ll likely have many questions as you embark on your first family trip. To prepare for this and give you peace of mind later, make sure to ask the dealer lots of important questions during purchase and walk-through. Don’t rush through this important process and if they allow, grab your smartphone and video procedures you may likely forget.
2. No practice or education before driving off the lot
There are different types of RVs, and they each handle differently, so make sure you get instruction on how to drive or tow them before getting your hands on one. Some dealers offer courses, especially if you’re buying a large Class A RV.
Driving or towing an RV is an adventure all on its own. You have to consider the different centers of gravity, wider turning radiuses, and height that will constantly make you at risk for accidents. Driving becomes much more difficult if there’s no preparation beforehand. An accident may lead to major repair costs or, the greatest cost of all, someone’s life.
Practicing your skills is the best way to feel confident in any driving situation so you can avoid this common RV mistake. Make sure you take advantage of any help provided, and don’t leave the lot until you’ve practiced enough for your peace of mind. For more information on driving an RV, check out 11 Tips For Driving an RV.
3. Backing up without assistance is a rookie RV mistake
Every time you back up in a campground or RV park, expect there to be an audience. It’s inevitable. If you don’t see them right away, be assured they are looking out their tinted windows. Talk about creating more stress when your palms are already sweaty. We’ve all been there!
Backing up can be the most costly RV mistake. I have found more and more RV parks are putting in pull-thru sites to accommodate novice drivers. The best way to avoid swiping another camper, careening into a ditch, or hitting a tree while backing up is practice, practice, PRACTICE! If your dealer does not provide free training classes on how to back up properly, find yourself an open parking lot where you can train like a pro with a friend or spouse.
How do you avoid a collision at the campground while backing up? The best thing to do is use a backup camera and/or spotter. Many newer RVs are already equipped with a backup camera, but you can purchase one aftermarket. Some campgrounds have an escort to help you back in. They are usually pretty experienced at helping with this sometimes stressful task. If there is no escort, a good spotter, your travel partner, or spouse should be talking to you (via phone, walkie-talkie) every step of the way. To avoid arguments and accidents, it’s wise to decide ahead of time on instructional words you will consistently use and hand signals if out of earshot.
Taking your time and being patient with each other will go a long way to avoid any damage from this RV mistake. Check out These Pro Tips for Backing Up a Trailer for expert advice with great visuals on backing up.
4. Disregarding weight limits is a dangerous RV mistake
It’s not just a costly mistake to overload an RV; it can be downright dangerous. Every RV has their own gross combination weight rating (GCWR) clearly marked on a label on the rig. The GCWR considers the dry weight of the camper from the factory plus everything you add to it, such as people, food, clothing, sports equipment, etc. The sticker example below shows the numbers you must add together to get the GCWR of your RV.
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)
It doesn’t take long to start accumulating weight. The most intentional RVer can make mistakes and find themselves overweight. The best way to know for sure if your RV is overweight is to go across an approved CAT scale at a truck stop or RV dealership and pay a small fee to get a printout of your weight.
It can be unclear when learning about RV weight limits. That is why I rely upon the experts, so there’s no misinterpretation of weight limits. I found a helpful article for you from RVSEF, Understanding Your Truck and Trailer Weigh Report. It provides a better understanding of overall weight measurements, including axel, tongue, and hitch weights.
Take the weight of your RV seriously because if you are involved in an accident and are found to be overweight, your insurance claim may not be paid, and you could also be fined. YIKES, this could be an expensive RV mistake.
For more information, check out How to Avoid the Dangers of an Overweight Trailer.
5. Overlooking clearance limits on all sides, top and bottom
Memorizing your RV height and width is as important as knowing its weight limits. You can easily damage your RV and other property if you don’t pay attention to these measurements.
The height and width specifications will be in your RVs owner’s manual; however, taking measurements of your own is the best way to avoid a costly RV mistake. Measure from the ground up to the highest point on your RV, such as an air conditioner or antenna. If you’ve added any after-market additions to your roof or beefed-up suspension, this will help you discover your true height. We added a couple of fantastic fan covers that are pretty tall and got new leaf springs as part of a recall that added a few inches.
Now that you’ve measured for the height and width limits of your RV. mark them somewhere in your RV that is easily accessible when driving. We put ours on the inside of the visor on the driver’s side.
While traveling, pay close attention to the clearance hazard signs of tunnels, bridges, and drive-thrus (fuel stations, banks, etc.) with a canopy. In my former life, I was a branch manager of a bank, and let me tell you; it was a regular occurrence to have someone hit the top of the bank drive-thru canopy and cause damage to their vehicle/RV and the bank.
I always map our RV routes in advance, and the tool I use religiously for planning and locating clearance hazards is RV Trip Wizard. When you initially sign up for the tool, load your RV height, and the route map will show you the low clearance hazards on your route.
If you sign up for RV Trip Wizard, you will receive access to the popular RV Life app for free – $40 value and includes campground reviews and more. RV Life will also provide the cool feature of a free RV GPS, saving hundreds of dollars and offering peace of mind. For more information about RV Trip Wizard and the RV Life app, check out this recent post – RV Trip Planning Made Easy – Top Tips and Tools.
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 will bottom out. This will lead to getting stranded or ripping off a bumper.
6. Not performing regular tire safety checks plus maintenance
Now let’s talk tires. Tires on your RV and tow vehicle, if applicable, should be checked regularly for pressure and wear. When traveling on the roads, tires are the most used part of your RV, and the last thing you want to experience is a tire blowout. This can cause a major accident with serious damage, possible injuries, and delays.
Some owners purchase a tire monitoring system for added peace of mind. These systems will alert you if pressure is getting low before and while you are driving.
Another important part of RV maintenance is to cover your RV wheels if you are stationary for a while. Tires in the direct sun can easily develop tire rot.
Check out 5 Ways to Avoid Tire Blowouts for more detailed information about tire pressure and wear.
7. Insufficient walk-around before hitting the road is a common RV mistake, even for veterans
When we are towing the RV, I refer to it as a rolling earthquake. Everything is constantly shaking, the rig and your belongs. To alleviate any damage and avoid the added expense of this RV mistake, you must go through a checklist before hitting the road. Not just the first time, but every time. It’s so easy to become complacent and feel like a newbie when you forget this important step.
Common and costly RV mistakes you could encounter if this step is missed: broken dishes, shattered shower doors, busted closet doors, chairs smashing a window, bumpers falling off, slides not fully in, propane leaks, hitch not properly secured, steps not stowed, and so many more. Also, don’t forget to disconnect everything like electric cords and water/sewer hoses. This may seem obvious, but this has happened many times! Not only is it costly for your rig, but now you’ve destroyed campground property!
The moral to the story, have a checklist and don’t rely on remembering. Download a free checklist above to save you time, money, and frustration.
8. Not securing the awnings can be a costly RV mistake
It was a beautiful day with no wind in any direction, and you went for an incredible 6-hour hike. You come back to your RV to discover your awning was violently ripped from your RV and your neighbor has a broken window from its impact.
I’ll admit, this happened to us. We went to sleep on a late fall night only to be awoken by high winds and a loud crash. We had left our awning out, and the wind flipped it up in the air, and it ripped off. The supports and canvas flew up over our RV and landed right in front of the RV next to us. Thankfully no one was hurt, and we were the only ones to experience any damage, but it could have been much worse.
A best practice is to get in the habit of always putting your awning in when you leave or make sure it’s securely tied down to avoid the RV mistake of having to replace it and possibly pay for damages. Please don’t rely on the weather report because it can change in an instant.
9. Disposing of items that don’t belong in the tanks
The dirtiest part of RVing, the gray and especially black tanks, doesn’t have to be challenging. Proper care and maintenance will help you avoid the RV mistake of a clogged or overflowing tank. This could require a costly repair.
Keep your black tank closed until ready to dump. Use more water than you would think necessary when flushing waste, especially solids, into the black tank. The more water in the tank, the easier it will be to flow out and avoid clogs. After dumping, you should occasionally fill it with water and flush it out right away to clear any stuck debris on sensors or in the tank.
A recommendation to avoid clogs is fast-dissolving toilet paper. I will warn you, there is much debate about whether you need to use this type of toilet paper, We choose to use it, but many use typical home toilet paper. 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. To avoid these RV mistakes, we use a sink strainer to catch unwanted items before they go down the drain.
10. Not researching the weather can be a scary RV mistake
No matter how much planning you do in your RV life journey, you can’t always prepare for unpredictable weather shifts. A best practice is constantly checking the weather manually or using alerts to avoid being surprised by a tornado, high winds, or hail. Check it when you are leaving the RV and before you leave on a travel day.
Because you may not have a cell signal, having a battery-operated weather-alert radio is essential for peace of mind.
11. Not asking for help
Many of the RV mistakes listed above could be avoided if RVers, new or veteran, just asked for help. Any time you don’t know the answer or wonder “should I do it this way or that?”, don’t guess. There are so many resources available to you. Simply, do an online search for whatever you are unsure about and the knowledge will come flooding in.
Some of our favorite resources continue to be campground hosts, RV neighbors, YouTube videos, online owner forums for our RV manufacturer, and other full-time RV friends. The apps we use most for navigation and overnight stays are RV Trip Wizard, RV Life, Campendium (campground reviews and free camping coordinates), Harvest Hosts (free camping at wineries, breweries, farms, and more), and Hipcamp (unique stays not in campgrounds),
Take advantage of all the opportunities available to you. Don’t allow your pride to be the reason you make costly RV mistakes.
I guarantee you, RV mistakes will happen
A special license or training is not needed to drive or tow an RV. Avoiding RV mistakes rests firmly on the shoulders of the owner. My advice is the more you know, the more you educate yourself on what you don’t know, the more times you ask for help, and the more you practice consistent behaviors related to RV safety, the less costly it will be for all.
Now, you have the tips and tools to get out there and have. a safe but fun RV trip. If you have more tips and tools, feel free to comment with those below. The more we help each other, the better all our RV experiences will be.