RV Safety and Maintenance Checklists

How to maintain your RV for safety

RV on the road
Tom Fowlks / Getty Images

You're ready to embark on your long-awaited vacation. Everyone's excited, scurrying around, loading supplies, gear, and essentials into the RV. You're looking forward to getting on the road, but be careful to make time for the single most important thing you need to do before you leave. That one thing is doing a complete safety check of your RV.

Not only should you do a safety check before you go, you should stop every couple hours and do a walk-around check of hitches, tires, brakes and anything that can cause an accident or damage while you are traveling.

The question is, "What needs to be checked" And the answer is easily found in one of the many checklists that are available to RVers and campers. These checklists can be lengthy, but doing safety checks becomes a habit, and they do go more quickly than the length of the list might suggest.

What does an RV checklist look like?

There are as many different checklists as there are reasons to check your RV. Some help you do a walkthrough before you take possession of your RV from the dealer or rental agent. Pre-trip checklists help you get off to a safe and well-prepared start. Others are specific to 5th wheels, travel trailers, pop up trailers, motorhomes, or leaving a campsite, or preparing your RV for storage.

The RV Forum offers several free RV checklists for most of these situations. Item # 3 on the RV Forum RV Checklist takes you to George A Mullen's RV Trip-Preparation Check List. This interesting list covers most of what you need to do for any planned absence from your home, as well as many things to check on your RV. But there are more extensive RV specific checks that you should do routinely.

Item # 6 on the list of checklists is C. Lundquist's Travel Trailer Check List for Arrivals and Departures. This list more clearly defines the many pre-trip things to check under "Departure" and isolates them from those related to closing up your stick home. When you understand the reasoning behind each checkoff item, you will remember them better and can determine which are optional and which are not.

For example, this list advises to fill your water tank 1/3 full for travel. Weigh that against both the additional weight and the force of the water sloshing as you drive, and your sensitivity to unfamiliar water supplies. The first two will reduce your fuel mileage, and the sloshing can affect balance and how easily you can control your RV. This is true for motorhomes and trailers

On the other hand, if you need to boondock before you get to a water supply, you may find that you need the water. Decide before you go if there's a chance you will need water on the trip or can it wait until you reach your destination. Naturally, if you're planning on dry camping you'll want to fill up with water at least close to your destination.

Item # 10 is Bob and Ann's Fulltimers' Checklist covering a daily, enroute and startup checklist. Full-time RVers are aware of the function of every feature of their homes. They don't miss much, but one thing that's easy to overlook is turning off the propane before moving out. Make sure you do that. It only takes a spark, and if you'll notice, the hitch chains hang sparkingly close to the ground.

Item # 13 is a nice graphic checklist for motorhomes.

Be sure to check out our checklist resources at the end of this article.

Develop Your Own List

Once you review several lists you might prefer to make your own list. Many full-timers break their list into one for all outside checks, and one for listing everything inside. I recommend switching roles every now and then so that you're at least familiar with what to check and how to check everything.

We pull a trailer, so we lock down everything inside, put the coffee pot in the sink, TV on the floor, lock the shower and toilet doors. On one trip, we forgot to batten down a sliding door, which slid back and forth until it broke it's lower track and jammed closed. It took a couple hours to remove the door so we could get into the bedroom to sleep that night.

Other inside checks include draining water from all the pipes, making sure everything is turned off, closed and latched, and that there's access to tools, food, the toilet or anything you might need on the trip.

If you're driving a motorhome make sure that there are no loose objects that can fly around and hit someone if you stop or swerve quickly.

As I mentioned in my 10 RV Safety Tips article, the list of things to check outside your RV includes everything: tires for damage and air pressure; tanks; doors; compartments; awnings; windows; propane tanks; hitch connections; weight and balance; electrical connections; hoses; levels; landing gear; connections to the tow vehicle; brakes; lights, vents closed and much more.

This lengthy list might seem overwhelming if you try to memorize it, but truthfully, after you've done your walk-around check a few times you'll have it down pat. It takes only about 30 minutes including putting things away and hitching your tow vehicle to your dinghy, 5th wheel or trailer. The peace of mind that comes from knowing you started out safely is irreplaceable.

Mid-Trip RV Checks

RV drivers/towers are recognizing the need to do the same kind of periodic rig checks as commercial truckers do. Driving a long distance brings on drowsiness. Stopping for refreshments and stretching your legs is refreshing, and a good time to check your hookups, connections, tires, lights, brakes, etc.

At least once per trip, check all of your fluids. A good time to do that is when you are fueling up. Better to discover a fluid leak at a service station than in the middle of nowhere.

In the event something goes wrong on your trip, you have the added information that it must have been something that came up after your last check.

Updated by Camping Expert Monica Prelle