Editor's note, this is a primer of information about RVing. The rest of The Companion contains more detailed information.
A Primer For The New RV’er
All of us living the RV lifestyle were new to this once. We made mistakes. We wondered where to find stuff. We worried about what we should be worried about.
Hopefully, this will be of some help. It is organized in several general categories - making decisions about buying an RV, driving and maneuvering your RV, campground or campsite stuff, at home or in storage, and a few last odds and ends.
The intent of this article is not to give you detailed information but rather, to introduce you to a number of topics, thus helping you enter this lifestyle with a bit more comfort. I will try to avoid things that are specific to certain makes, models or years. Instead, I hope to give you subjects to think about, give you resources you can turn to, and suggest some approaches to things we all do. Also, the information here is not irrefutable. There are differences in RV’s, particularly older ones so that what we talk about here may not apply to your unit. There are certainly a number of other descriptions for types of camping, and the definitions I provide may differ from what others use.
Finally, I had help on this article from a number of folks. Thank you, all.
Topics in this article:
Buying Your RV
In The Driver’s Seat
At Home Or In Storage
Odds and Ends
Odds and Ends
Buying Your RV
This seems like a good place to start. You are thinking about getting an RV, but - what kind? There are motorhomes, Class A, B, and C. These letters refer to the design of the RV, not the quality. Class A RV’s look like buses. Class B RV’s look like a van on steroids. Class C RV’s have a truck cab in the front, have a boxy area above the cab, and have a box shape behind the cab. There are Fifth Wheel trailers, characterized by a high front extension that connects in the bed of a pickup truck. There are Travel Trailers that hook up to a trailer hitch. These vary greatly in size, ranging all the way down to tiny teardrop campers. There are Pop-Up trailers that unfold into a camper with canvas sides. There are Slide-In campers that fit into the bed of a pickup truck.
While some of what follows is applicable for any and all RV’s, the primary focus of this article will be on Class C motorhomes.
It can be pretty confusing, so here is the first tip - Find a reliable and experienced RV mentor and keep their phone number close. That person can help with some of your early questions. I was very lucky in that regard. My mentor knew and knows more about electrical systems in RV’s, and little ways to live the life well, than anyone else I know. As a new person to RV’ing, how can you tell if they are reliable? Beats the heck outta me, but try. The second tip - when you have found a possible RV selection, check it out using the Consumers Guide to RV’ing, RV.org. That site will allow you to compare RV’s by varying manufacturers. Third tip - you would not buy a house without having a competent home inspector go over your prospective purchase. An RV is a much more complex item than a home. Have your prospective purchase checked out by a competent set of people. You will need a good mechanic to evaluate the engine, transmission, brakes, steering and suspension of a motorhome. You will need an RV inspector to evaluate the body and the appliances of your RV. With their help, you will be much more likely to make a good purchase.
When making a selection, you need to determine if the RV will have enough capacity for your needs. The biggest issue is weight. Your cargo carrying capacity (CCC) is how much weight in terms of people, water, waste, gas, books, pets, food, games, clothing, in other words, everything that is not a physical part of the RV, can be carried. That number can be surprisingly small in some RVs. A second number you will need to check before buying is the gross combination weight ratio or GCWR. That is the total weight of everything - the RV, people, fluids, cargo, tow hitch, and any car or trailer being towed. Do not exceed those numbers. (This next point is for after you buy, but as long as we are talking about weight, once you own your RV, load it up with everything as if you are starting a trip and take it to a truck scale that can tell you your axle weights. Your owner’s manual will tell you the maximum load per axle. Ideally, you will be able to find a place that can weigh all four wheel positions, so you can also see if you are balanced side to side.)
If you buy new from the factory, they will give you a quick orientation, but there is something that they skip, and that you should know. Ask to be shown the location of the hidden 50-amp fuse. If you lose your 12V power, this is something to check, but you will be tearing your hair out trying to find it on your own. And these days, I have very little hair to spare…
In The Driver’s Seat
Bunches of little things here, and a few more significant things…
- When you pull out and drive for an hour or so, then realize that you forgot to bring something, that can be frustrating. A checklist of must-have stuff can be useful. So what should you carry with you? This depends on your skills and physical abilities, on where you camp and how you use your rig, and varies greatly. My rig is crammed full of tools and some spare parts. Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about this in the Forum. It is worth searching for and reading what people carry to help you make your own decisions.
- You are no longer driving a car. Your RV is slower to accelerate, takes longer to stop, and is sluggish on turns. You may have heard people advise using the 2-second rule when driving a car? (Maintain at least 2 seconds of travel time between you and the vehicle in front of you.) Well, in an RV, think more in terms of 3 or 4 seconds.
- Before backing into a site, either you or, if you have one, your co-pilot should walk it, looking for obstructions or anything that needs to be avoided. A good way to remember this is the mnemonic GOAL: Get Out And Look. If you are backing in at night, get out and set cones or other markers for use as guides, making sure to use something you can readily identify in the back-up camera if you have one, or your mirrors. The camera has an array of infrared LED illuminators that are very useful for night use. The factory back-up lights have been enhanced too, making the mirrors useful at night.
- Unless you can see a way out, be careful about driving into someplace. You may have to back out.
- If you are towing a car, you cannot back up without damaging the car’s steering system and the tow bar. If you HAVE to back up, disconnect the car, back up, then re-connect the car.
- Bear in mind that most of today’s cars cannot be towed with the wheels on the ground, and you probably cannot accommodate the added weight of a trailer or a dolly, on which you are carrying the car. Read the car owner’s manual carefully. When I was getting started I was looking for a car I could tow. A Hyundai was advertised as being flat towable (four wheels on the ground). When I read the manual, it confirmed that. The car could be towed with all four wheels on the ground, for a distance not exceeding 15 miles, and not above 15 mph. So, beware.
- Even if someone is directing you, YOU are responsible for your rig. I do NOT trust campground staff to direct me. When I was 6 months into the RV lifestyle, a staff person told me to follow him. He jumped into a golf cart and took off. When he pulled waaaay to the right, so did I. I stopped when I hit the 10” thick overhanging branch, putting a hole in the fiberglass front cap of my 6-month-old rig. It was MY fault, not his. I was the driver.
- If you have a co-pilot, discuss and agree on hand signals. Two-way hand radios or cell phones can be an effective way to communicate if instructions are clear, concise and precise. For example, “a little more” is not as useful as “one more foot”. Remember, if a copilot is helping you park, don’t move your vehicle unless you can clearly see where they are, and that they are out of your way. You don’t want to run them over. That could ruin your whole day!
- Watch that rear overhang! When you turn one way, it swings the other way.
- When parking, if you are on any grade, put the rig in neutral with the brake on, set the parking brake, then put the rig in park. If you put the rig in park without the brake being set, it can roll a little, putting a load on the transmission, making it hard to shift out of Park when you next startup.
- Read the Tow/Haul information in your Ford or Chevy owner’s manual. With the weight of your RV, it is equivalent to always towing and hauling something. The Tow/Haul switch, if available, adjusts transmission shift points, as well as helping on downgrades. Getting the Tow/Haul to downshift may not be clear. I apply the brakes, slowing to a speed near my target speed. I then release the brakes and re-apply them, slowing until the transmission downshifts.
- Now for a biggie - mountain grades. You have an automatic transmission, but you have more spots on your gearshift beyond just Drive, Reverse, and Park. These can help with steeper grades. In brief, borrowing from Andy Baird, “avoid steep roads if you can (consult Mountain Directories); check the weather; downshift at the top of the hill, before descending; brake on the straightaway, not on curves; and stop and cool off”. Don’t worry if traffic behind you is backing up. Climbing a hill, pushing the engine too hard is not a good thing. As to downhill runs, if you have tow/haul, and are using it, your manual will tell you that pressing and releasing the brake will downshift the transmission to help control your speed. It will. But, if the grade is too steep or too long, it may shift to a higher gear to avoid RPM’s that are becoming too high. I personally prefer to manually control the gear on serious grades. On a long but moderate grade, I will shift down one notch. If I find I have to apply the brakes quite frequently to keep the speed and RPM’s down, I will brake to a lower speed, then shift down another gear. This continues until I am in the lowest gear. If I STILL am using the brakes a lot, I will look for a turnout where I can stop and let everything cool down a bit before continuing. The best thing I can suggest is to be thinking ahead, anticipating what is coming, and make any changes in advance of when they are needed.
Why is this a big deal? Your brakes depend on a non-compressible fluid pushing the brakes on. If the brakes get too hot from too long or too frequent use, that fluid can boil, at which point the contents of the brake line become compressible, and you will no longer have any brakes. So, think ahead, plan ahead, don’t let anyone rush you, take your time and get down safely.
Here is a really good link on the subject:
- TPMS - You will see lots of discussion about this. It stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System. As the driver, you are responsible for your vehicle. If you do not have a TPMS but you check your tire pressure before embarking, you will know precisely what your tire pressure USED TO BE. You do not know what it is now. If you tow a car, and it has a tire go flat, you will not feel it. I know someone who left a campground and drove 30 miles towing his little sports car with high-end tires and wheels. His tires were okay when he left. Thirty miles later, when he pulled into his destination, the right front tire on the car he was towing was gone. Completely gone. The wheel was chewed up and the rotor was damaged. It cost him $1600 to get back on the road. More recently, I know someone who got a set of new tires and started out. The next day, his TPMS gave him a low-pressure alarm. He had 25 psi in his front right tire, and that meant he was close to destroying his new tire. His TPMS warned him and he was able to deal with it. So, get a TPMS.
- A final small driving tip - load your RV so you are balanced side to side. An unbalanced rig will not handle as nicely as a balanced one.
First, let’s define a few terms. Full hookup camping means you have sewer, water, and electric connections. In sites with partial hookups, it is usually designated as a site with electric. That electric hookup can be 30 amp, which is what my rig uses or, in some cases, it may be 50 amp. Electric sites usually (in my experience) include water. Dry camping is camping in an established site but with no hookups of any kind. Dispersed camping is camping in an area designated for camping use but without established sites. Boondocking is camping at a spot where camping is permitted but there has been no particular construction to create a place to camp, e.g. no picnic bench, fire ring, or anything else often found in camping locations. Such sites are usually tucked away. (Again, these definitions are not universal.)
Finally, there is Walmart camping. Walmart’s corporate policy is to permit RV’s to stay for one night in their lot, usually at the more remote area. However, some jurisdictions regulate overnight parking, prohibiting this. Before settling in for the night at a Walmart, ask inside if it is allowed. [and many other big box stores like Lowe's. Get creative, we once parked at small-town courthouse, darn safe as it was also the Sheriff's office - open all night]
When camping with full hookups, your sewer hose should normally have a fitting on the end to seal the opening into the sewer. If you do not have such, you can still use the site and can dump, but you will keep the sewer closed when not actually dumping, and you must exercise considerable care to not spill when you do dump. If you do not have a sewer hookup at your site, you will need to use dump stations.
The manual recommends not dumping the black tank until either your trip is over OR you are at least 2/3 full, so there will be enough velocity formed by dumping to wash the solids out with the liquids. When you can, clean the tanks. Larry Wade has posted some excellent info on cleaning out your tanks. It is worth tracking that down and reading it.
Most Class C RV’s have two separate waste tanks. One holds water from your sink and shower drains and is known as the grey tank. The other holds waste from the toilet and is known as the black tank. Some waste plumbing systems have two separate gate valves and sewer hose connections, one for each tank. First, make sure you know which valve is which if you have two separate dump valves as I do. Some units use a single connection with two gate valves. The black tank valve will almost always be a 3” valve, while the grey tank valve may be either 3” or 1.5”.
1) Start with the black tank. Be sure the valve is closed unless you want to look like Robin Williams in the movie, “RV”. Closed means that the handle, or BOTH handles if you have a single connection, is pushed right up against the black plastic valve body.
2) With the handle closed, twist off the valve cap and attach the dump hose. The dump or sewer hose is a corrugated, flexible 3” hose. It is normally stored in some exterior-accessed space. Mine is behind a small access door. I have seen them stored in a 4” x 4” rear bumper, and coiled up in side compartments. Make sure you HAVE a sewer hose before you hit the road.
3) With the dump hose attached, place the end into the opening at the dump station.
4) It may be wise to use a rock or two to hold the hose in place. If it kicks out of the hole when you open the valve, things get very messy very fast. I am used to doing this, so I often just place a foot on the hose to keep it in place. So far, that has worked. May it ever be so…
5) Grab the handle and pull to slide open the dump valve. BE READY TO SLAM IT CLOSED IF THERE IS A PROBLEM! Let the tank drain as much as it will. If you have a hose to rinse the black tank this is the time to do that. Alternatively, give it a few good toilet flushes. When done, close the black tank valve. If material remains in the hose, elevate the hose, starting at the rig and working your way to the opening, so the hose has drained fully before disconnecting it.
6) If you are using a single outlet with two gate valves, it is time to open the grey tank valve. It will flush residue out of the Y-connection and will flush out your hose.
7) If you have two separate dump valves, remove the grey tank cap, make sure the black tank valve is closed, remove the sewer hose from the black tank valve and connect it to the grey tank valve. Open the grey tank gate valve. The grey tank water will flush out the hose.
8) When the tank is empty, close the valve and remove the hose. If there is a rinse hose available, rinse the surfaces of both valves and replace the caps, then rinse the sewer hose, inside and out. I then hold up the hose by the fitting and compress the corrugations for a few feet to push out any residue residing in the corrugations. I shift my hold down and repeat until I have cleared the entire hose. I then put it away, do a visual check that both valves are closed and both caps in place, wash my hands, and off I go.
NOTE - it is recommended in the manual to add a few gallons of water to the black tank at this time. If you are actively using the system, I have not found this to be necessary, but if I am going to be driving I will do so to help rinse sludge off the lower tank walls and bottom. If you are putting the rig away after a trip, this is essential. Allowing sludge remaining in the tank to dry is a REALLY bad idea. I heard of a person who had a rig where both black and grey tanks merged at a single outlet. The person had a campsite with full hookups. They hooked up their sewer or dump hose, opened both valves, and proceeded to use the system until ready to leave. They then left, thinking both tanks were empty. The grey tank was. The black tank was not. Liquids had run out but solids had formed a mountain. They needed professional help to get the tank cleaned out.
You have two electrical systems - 12V DC and 120V AC. Let’s deal with 120V AC first.
Your 120V AC can come from a cable connected to an electrical pedestal at your campsite, commonly called shore power, or from your generator. In some cases, an inverter can provide 120V AC using a 12V DC input, but I think that is beyond the basics, so let’s stay with the main stuff.
Your cable connecting to the pedestal may be permanently connected to your RV, as in older models, or maybe something that you need to connect. To make that connection, the outlet end of the cable pushes onto the plug in the wall of the RV, then must be twisted clockwise until tight. The black plastic ring then should be aligned so it can slide onto the connection until seated, at which time it locks by twisting to the right, just like the outlet. Take the other end of the cable and go to the pedestal. Make sure the circuit breaker in the pedestal is switched OFF, then push the plug into the pedestal outlet. Then, switch the breaker ON. Plugging in with the breaker on has the potential to damage some of your electrical stuff.
Pedestals are not always wired properly and are subject to voltage irregularities and surges. A polarity checker will check for improper wiring but does nothing else. A surge suppressor can handle some “dirty” power but can let some leak through. An “EMS”—Energy Management System is a better choice, but it costs more.
An EMS detects not only miswiring at the pedestal and protects against voltage spikes, but it detects poor quality current and low/high voltages and clamps the power to the rig (at pre-set levels) to protect against damage to the rig's wiring and appliances. The EMS re-sets itself and resumes providing power to the rig when the supply is within specs again. Since low (and high) voltages are significant issues that can damage wiring and appliances and are far more common than voltage spikes/surges, an EMS, although more expensive, offers a much wider range of protections. About 9 1/2 years ago, I was at a campground that got hit with a power surge due to a motor vehicle accident. My EMS got fried, but my “stuff” was fine. About half the rigs in the campground lost all their electronics.
So, at minimum, get a polarity checker. If you can afford is a surge protector, then get that. But if you really want to protect your equipment, get an EMS. Here is a link for one manufacturer to various devices and what they do:
If you see lightning or hear thunder, it is a good idea to unplug the cable from the pedestal. Turn the breaker off, then pull the plug. Lightning can travel a LONG way through a power line before it tries to slam into your RV’s system. Don’t let it in.
Your generator will deliver 120V AC to your system. Both the generator and the shore power feed into your system through an Automatic Transfer Switch or ATS. If you are not getting power into your rig, you may have a popped breaker on the pedestal or the generator, or you might have a bad ATS. There is considerable stuff published, including here in the Companion, about the ATS.
Your air conditioner and microwave run only on 120V AC. Your refrigerator uses either 120V AC or propane. Either way, it also uses 12V for the control systems.
Your 12V DC system operates your radio, your lights, your furnace (with propane), your refrigerator (with propane), and water heater (with propane), your fans and in many cases, your TV. The power comes from batteries. If your batteries are conventional, deep cycle or marine batteries, they will vent hydrogen, so they can only be stored and used outside. If you are keeping batteries inside, they MUST be sealed AGM batteries or the much more expensive Lithium Ion batteries. The batteries will be charged from a variety of sources including 120v AC from the generator or shore power, going through a converter into the batteries, or from the engine alternator or a solar charger. Keep your batteries between 100% and 70%. Regularly discharging them below 70% will shorten battery life. To that end, if you do not have a battery monitor that shows % you may want to add a battery monitor to you list of future purchases.
Your water can come from your fresh water tank and pump, or from a hose connected to a campsite water supply, commonly called a hydrant, or a hose bib. What you do to manage water depends in part on which source you are using as well as how you use your rig. If you are out weekends occasionally, with an extended trip once or twice a year, you probably should drain the fresh water tank between use, and sanitize the tank periodically. If you use it every weekend, this may become less important. As a full-timer, I have not drained or sanitized my tank in ten years. This is because, in part, even if I have a water supply at a campsite, I do not hook up to the water supply for daily use. I use my pump so that the water in my tank is regularly being used and replaced. It is not sitting unused, so microorganisms have little time to develop.
When you drain your tank to put it in storage, the fresh water tank is drained by a ball valve near and below the fresh water tank, probably tucked in the corner of a storage compartment. The drain valve should be closed when done, lest insects and small critters crawl into your tank.
There are mixed opinions regarding the use of a filter when filling your water tank. Many use filters, typically when in a campsite that has a water hydrant. The filter will slow the flow rate significantly, making filling the tank a slow process. Conventional filters will do a good job of removing any sediment or particulate materials, and some can remove some dissolved materials such as chlorine. They will not remove microorganisms or heavy metals, nor can they make hard water soft. To remove microorganisms, you need a filter with a pore size of 0.2 microns or smaller. The flow rate will be VERY slow. I do not use a filter and have never had a problem, but that might change with my next fill. (I choose not to use a filter because I usually do not have a hydrant at my site and using a filter really slows the fill time.) I have heard of others not using a filter who have had sediment come into their tank.
When filling the fresh water tank, there is either a little screen or a small hole near the fill opening. It is there to vent the tank and, as the tank nears full, it will spit and sputter. Keep it clean and clear.
If you DO connect the RV to city water, be sure you are using a pressure reducing connection. City water pressure in campgrounds can be high enough to damage your plumbing.
Many of us turn our water pump off when going away from the rig or when sleeping. A leak in the system could lead to that pump emptying your fresh water tank into the interior of your rig. Along those lines a few battery powered leak detectors are a good thing to have. I have three - one under the pump, one under the bathroom sink and one behind the toilet.
Your hot water comes from a water heater that runs on propane and 12V DC. You might choose to leave the heater on all the time but many of us do not. We turn it on in the morning, then turn it off in 20 to 30 minutes. We will have warm water all day unless several people are taking showers.
Your water heater does need some care. It needs to have a compressible air space called an air bubble, and it needs to be periodically flushed to remove deposits of calcium and lime in the tank. Instructions for both are available in the Lazy Daze manual, in the water heater manual, and in the Companion. If you do not have a sufficient air bubble, it makes your pump’s task harder and pressure in the lines can rise to the point that your system develops leaks.
The air in the air bubble becomes absorbed by the water. This absorption can happen in a month or so, so re-establish the bubble as needed. Some clues that the air bubble needs to be restored include a pump that turns on as soon as you open a faucet and turns off as soon as you close it and water flow that seems to increase and decrease with the pump cycling on and off. There should be some lag in the pump response time, and the water flow should be relatively steady.
If you are re-establishing your air bubble, a few points deserve emphasis. First, do not do it unless the water has cooled, lest you burn your hand. Second, make sure you have opened a faucet so as water flows out of the tank, air can come in to replace it. Third, when done, let the handle of the pressure relief valve snap down hard so it seats itself properly. Don’t lower it; snap it down. Finally, wipe the heater surfaces dry, then close the faucet and turn the pump back on. A day later, look for any sign of dripping or leaking at the pressure relief valve. If there is any sign of dripping, open and snap closed the valve again. Repeat, until there is no sign of a drip.
Your water heater will need to be flushed occasionally. The frequency depends on your usage and your water supply. I do it 3 times a year. Dissolved lime and calcium sediment will condense and accumulate in the bottom of your water heater. To protect the heater and preserve its efficiency, you need to flush that stuff out. Look for a how-to video online. Short form, you remove the drain plug from the water heater when the water is cool. Let it drain. Connect a flush tool to a hose and work it in and out of the tank, spraying the jet back and forth over the bottom of the heater, washing the sediment out. It takes me about 20 minutes of flushing before I no longer see flecks of white stuff coming out.
You may experience sluggish flow in your faucets at times. This often happens to me after I have flushed the water heater. The most common cause is particulate matter, formed in the water heater tank and stirred up by flushing, gathering on the strainers or at one of the points of constriction in the system. Tracking down just where the constriction is located can be a pain, but is not something that requires urgent attention. Enjoy your campground stay and deal with the low flow later, as long as you have enough flow to manage until then.
Quiet at night, and minimal light that might infringe on your neighbors at night…
It matters. Your refrigerator can be damaged or destroyed if you are sufficiently off level for a long enough time. Some use blocks under the tires to level. Some use mechanical devices such as hydraulic systems. Some hunt until they find a very level campsite. Whichever you choose, if your refrigerator is on, and you are not driving, you should be level. How level is “level”? It doesn’t have to be perfect. In the Lazy Daze manual it says that you should be level enough to walk around comfortably. That will vary too much for me. I use an 8” torpedo level and I want to be no more than a half bubble out of level.
Most of us have a TV antenna on the roof called a batwing antenna. The antenna is raised and lowered by a crank on the ceiling. Its alignment can be changed when raised by pulling down the disk with a pointer behind the crank and rotating that disk. Before trying to lower the antenna make sure the pointer is back in its original position, else you could damage the mechanism.
The antenna has a pre-amplifier built into its head. The signal comes down to a plate on the wall where a coax cable connects between the plate and the TV. Next to that coax cable is a tiny little button. That is for an amplifier. It draws power from a nearby rocker switch. Here’s the thing - if the amplifier is not on, you will not get a signal from the antenna for the TV. If the amplifier IS on and you have connected to a cable TV hookup in the campground, you will not get the cable signal. To get cable, the amplifier must be off.
To optimize your broadcast TV viewing, you need to aim the antenna. I do it by raising the antenna, then I do a scan with the TV to see HOW MANY stations I get. I then turn the antenna 60 degrees by pulling the alignment plate down to unlock it and turn it left or right, and scan again, noting the number of channels I get. A third time, again 60 degrees, and check. I then return to the one that gave me the most channels, then rotate 180 degrees for another scan.
I now know the approximate direction I want to use. By tweaking the alignment about 20 degrees left and right I can see if the channels I am watching get snowy or stay clear. When I have tweaked the alignment as best I can that way, I do a final scan and settle down to watch TV.
Why 60 degrees? Why not 90? I used to do 90, but realized I was doing more scans before I could identify the best alignment. I found 60 to be easier and more efficient.
Note that the alignment with the most channels may not be the best for you. At Caballo Lake State Park in NM, the commercial stations all come from an antenna 15 miles due north of the campground, but PBS comes from an antenna 30 degrees to the right and 4 or 5 miles away.
It is very easy to forget that the antenna is up and to drive off that way. I use a colorful piece of rope or a ribbon tied to the crank handle when the antenna is up, making it less likely that I will forget to lower it. Remember that it must be aligned to lower it. It can’t be turned at an angle, else trying to lower it could damage the mechanism.
Getting satellite TV is possible in an RV. How that is done varies greatly. There is an article in the Companion about how to do it.
The toilet should have water standing in the bowl between uses. The standing water is what blocks fumes from the waste tank from coming up into the RV interior. When done, flush by pressing down the flush pedal and keeping it down until the bowl is clear of waste. You can hasten that by using the hand spray attached to the toilet. Don’t close the flush mechanism until the bowl is clear, lest you push waste into the seal area. When the bowl is clean, release the pedal and let it snap up. It is not meant or intended to be released slowly and gently. Doing so may allow it to leak.
If the toilet does not hold water in between uses, get some white vinegar and pour it into the bowl and let it soak a bit, then brush the edges of the seals. Rinse. Repeat if needed. If water still leaks out of the bowl, most likely the upper pair of seals need to be replaced. There are detailed instructions for doing this elsewhere in The Companion, and there are videos online about how to do it. It is a fairly straightforward task that is not hard to do, but demands some care and attention to detail to do well.
If you use your refrigerator other than when plugged in, or use your water heater, your furnace, your stove or oven, you are using your propane. Here are some things to know. First, in the tight spaces in an RV, it can be easy to “butt dial” one of the knobs on the stove, turning it on slightly. If you smell gas, look there first. If the knobs are all off and you are smelling gas, get out of the rig. Open the access door to the propane tank and turn off the valve that controls propane flow. Don’t turn it on again until you have found the source of the leak. And don’t look for the leak with matches… We’d like to keep you around for a while.
When you get your propane or your gas tank filled all ignition sources must be off. That means the furnace must be switched to the OFF position. The refrigerator must be switched OFF at its panel, not unplugged in the outside compartment. Unplugging it just assures that it is running on propane, not electricity. The important reason for switching it off at the fridge’s control panel is to prevent it from trying to spark and ignite. Your water heater must be switched OFF. These do not have to be done a block away from the gas pumps. Pull in, get up and switch everything off, then pump your gas.
For a propane fill, I turn my propane supply valve off rather than letting the propane fill person do it. I do so because that valve has a small needle valve with a brass seat. Some propane guys have grips like gorillas. If I turn it off, I will turn until it is snug, but I am not leaning on it. Tightening it too much can damage that seat, which would require replacement. When I turn it on, it is the same. I open it until it is snug but I don’t crank down on that knob. If you do not know which knob turns off the propane valve, ask the propane fill person to show you, the first time you fill up. When filling with propane, all persons and pets should be outside the vehicle.
When the gas or propane tank is full, as long as there is no heavy odor of gas or propane near the rig, you can turn stuff on and drive away. Immediately after a propane fill, there WILL be vapors but, if you go inside and pay for the propane, by the time you come back out it will be safe to open the valve, go inside, and turn the water heater and refrigerator on again.
One last note about propane - in storage, turn the valve off.
Camping in cold weather brings out more issues. The cab is a huge source of heat loss. Find a way to insulate the cab from the rest of the rig. A lot has been written about that in the Forum and in the Companion. Your mentor is likely to have good information on that.
If you are in weather below freezing, and you are keeping the interior in the ’60s or warmer, the only thing you need to do about your fresh water supply is to open cabinet doors and access panels to areas like the water pump. Run your water heater for 20 minutes before going to bed. Your fresh water supply won’t freeze.
Your grey and black tanks, however, CAN freeze, but that is probably okay, right up until they are full and you need to dump. If you are camping in sub-freezing temperatures, plan to be out of there and someplace warm enough to thaw those waste tanks before they are completely full. I once froze my grey tank completely, and I was in Florida for a week before I stopped hearing ice banging around in the tank. Plan accordingly
Lastly, your furnace will use propane far quicker than any other appliance. Keep an eye on the propane level so you do not run out.
Getting Mail and Packages
If you are out for a weekend or a week, this is not an issue but longer trips may call for a variety of strategies. You can receive mail at any post office near you. Have it sent to you, General Delivery, at that Post Office. That works for up to 2 weeks at any post office. If you will be in one area for substantially longer, you can rent a PO Box. I rent one in the northwest in the summer and in New Mexico in the winter. As a full-timer, I use a mail forwarding service. All my mail goes there, all year round. If I am traveling, they will send it to me, General Delivery, to a post office ahead of me on my route. If I have a PO Box somewhere, they send it there, once a week. Your instructions may well be different, but that has worked well for me.
Packages are different. The Post Office usually cannot accept a package from Fedex, UPS, DHL or others unless some postage has been paid to the post office to do so. The post office calls this service “the last mile” delivery. Shipping charges include postage fees and provide for the commercial carrier transporting the package to the post office, and the post office accepts the package and delivers it to you. In general, if you are in a commercial campground, they can accept Fedex and UPS packages. That may not be the case in public campgrounds such as BLM, Forest Service and Park campgrounds. You may be able to find a local service such as The UPS Store or similar where you can have a package delivered for a fee, or if there is a UPS Customer Service Center, they can accept and hold a package for you marked “Hold For Pickup”.
Okay, we covered the campground stuff. Now it is time to leave. I suggested having a checklist for starting out so you don’t forget stuff to bring. Well, many of us have a checklist of things to verify before pulling out. It is likely to include checking that the antenna is down, that all cabinets are closed, that all items that can shift are secured, and so on. After completing the checklist items, do a walk-around the rig. Look low to make sure the waste valve caps are on, all wires and hoses disconnected and stowed, and the steps stowed. Look high to make sure the awning is fully seated and the antenna is down. Check all lights. Make sure hydraulic levelers are retracted. Pull forward and retrieve any leveling blocks and stow them. Taking a minute to do a careful check of everything outside can really save the day. If you are towing a car, after hooking up, do a careful visual check and a physical (pull and tug) check.
At Home Or In Storage
Turn the propane off. Turn off the refrigerator and empty it, leaving the doors open. Put a good amount of fresh water in the toilet so the seals stay wet, then dump the fresh water tank. Thoroughly clean and dump the waste tanks. Read what Larry Wade had to say on this.
If you are facing cold weather, winterize your RV. There are several ways to do this but they revolve around either blowing out the lines and draining the water heater or using RV antifreeze solution or both.
Odds and Ends
Some rigs have a lot, some have a little and some have none. If you plan to camp under the trees, solar panels will do little for you. You need open sky above you. Avoid shadows from tree limbs, structures and utility lines. In the winter in northern regions, you will get very little benefit from solar panels unless you have a lot of them. Of course, if you plan to be plugged into shore power, you won’t need solar panels.
A good solar setup can allow you to be an electricity hog like me without the need to run your generator. To get maximum benefit, I pick sites with open skies, and I hope for clear weather.
Nobody can tell you how many panels you need without having an understanding of where, when and how you will use your RV, what your electrical needs are, and what you want your system to do. For many, one panel is enough. I have five, and I could use six. If you have solar, or you are thinking of expanding an existing system, the smartest thing you can do is to work with a pro who knows what questions to ask, and knows what will work for you.
First and foremost, the manuals for your equipment are the most authoritative source of information. Use them. In fact, the Manual should be the first resource to which you turn. Your secondary source probably would be knowledgeable people. That would include your mentor, people in the Forum that seem to have a good handle on the subject, and professional service people. Third would be The Companion. Fourth would be discussions, sometimes heated, in the Forum. If you need but don’t have a Manual for one of your appliances, the chances are good that you can find one at http://www.manualslib.com
Where to camp - you can turn to any of the following for help.
- My favorite put together by one of our former members
Another such is the Allstays app.
- To reserve a spot in a public campground -
- Information about camping possibilities -
- Camp Ground Reviews
When registering or reserving a site, if you are towing a car, that usually does not count as a second car with a separate fee. If the second car is driven in, then you may have to pay more for it.
You may want to have a roadside assistance plan. This is basically someone you can call for help when you are stuck on the side of the road. I have CoachNet. I have called them once in 10 years, but when I called, I really needed help and they got me that help.
Ken F and friends - May 27