Ten Tips for RV Safety

1. Essential Propane Tank Know-How

From refueling to inspecting the exhaust system, propane tank operation and maintenance is a big job. And although propane tanks are deemed safe for RV travel, there are some key tips to help ensure an enjoyable ride:

  • No matter how big a home-town fan you are, never paint your tank a dark color, which more readily absorbs the sun’s rays and can cause the tank to overheat and explode.
  • Don’t travel with the stove, oven or heater burners lit.
  • Never refuel while any propane appliance, or the engine, is running.
  • Make sure older propane tanks are checked to ensure they have an overfill protection device and check intake and exhaust vents for birds nests and other blockages.
  • Avoid refrigerator fires (powered by propane). Have your propane tank regularly checked by a certified dealer to ensure lines are in good shape and that they are not leaking.
  • Install a propane gas detector.

2. Conduct a Pre-Drive Safety Check

Many accidents are caused by simple forgetfulness: leaving doors unlatched, awnings up or steps attached. Create a step-by-step checklist, and like a pilot on a jet, conduct a “walk-around” visual inspection before driving away. A preflight checklist should include:

  • Making sure bay doors are closed and latched.
  • Double-checking tow bar and safety cables.
  • Disconnecting all power, TV, phone, water and sewer lines.
  • Retracting jacks, steps, and awnings.
  • Looking under the rig for signs of fluid leaks.
  • Checking oil, transmission and coolant levels.
  • Checking air brakes, parking brake and tow brakes.
  • Making sure stove, oven and heater burners are not lit.
  • Checking the propane tank for leaks and intake/exhaust lines for blockages.
  • Inspecting tire inflation pressure and tread wear.
  • Making sure smoke and propane leak detectors are working.
  • Checking your surroundings (weather, overhangs and ground hazards).

3. Go Easy on the Brakes

RVs use air brakes rather than the typical hydraulic brakes found in cars. They have a very different feel: easy does it. There is a slight delay when applying the brakes, but don’t overcompensate with a hard, fast push on the pedal which will cause an abrupt stop.

4. Practice S.A.F.E. Cornering

RVers must compensate for the extra weight, height and length of their vehicles when cornering. Practice S.A.F.E. cornering:

  • Slowly approach the turn. It’s much easier to speed up in the corner than have to brake.
  • Arc the turn, careful to not arc the first swing in the opposite direction, confusing drivers behind as to where you really intend to go.
  • Finish the turn completely. Drivers make a common mistake when they straighten before the back end of the vehicle has cleared the pivot point.
  • Experience is key. The best way to become a good RV driver is practice, practice, practice.

5. Follow the Rule of 20 Percent

Fully loaded rigs have slower acceleration and take longer to come to a full stop than autos. To compensate, add 20 percent to everything you do, from increasing your following distance and judging if you have enough clearance, to safely merging into traffic.

6. Know Your Height

Sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many people forget the extra height of an RV while driving. Hitting bridges and overhangs are some of the most common accidents. To avoid getting hung up – literally – try this simple trick: put a sticky note on the dashboard with your exact clearance.

Another vital fact: a typical RV is 8.5ft. wide; the typical highway lane is only 10ft. wide. This gives you about a foot-and-a-half to work with.

7. Break Out of a Rut

Driving on secondary roads has the advantage of being beautiful but the disadvantage of being narrow. If you feel the front wheel slipping off the road into a rut, follow these easy steps:

  • Take your foot off the gas, and gently brake. Jamming the brakes can get you deeper into the rut.
  • Keep your RV steering forward.
  • Once slowed down, gently turn to the left and get out of the rut, slowly back onto the road. Over-correction by jerking the wheel left could cause you to jack-knife.

8. See and Be Seen

Always use turn signals. Be sure to allow sufficient distance so motorists around you can anticipate. For example, the California Department of Motor Vehicles recommends signaling in the last 100 feet before you turn. A very common accident is caused by an RVer slowing to begin a turn and an impatient driver behind attempting to pass at that same time. And always drive with your headlights on. It seems like a vehicle this big would be easily seen, but you would be surprised how many accident reports say, “I never saw them coming.”

9. Avoiding Unexpected Blowouts

Blowouts can mean big trouble. And tires normally fail for one of three reasons: improper inflation, worn tread or an overloaded/overweight vehicle.

Over time, ozone and UV exposure contribute to cracks in tires, especially on the sidewall. To avoid cracking, regularly wash tires with mild soap, water and a soft brush, removing ozone build up. Dirt is also a tire killer, acting as an abrasive that inhibits the tires’ natural wax protection.

Keep tires covered (including the spare) when your RV is not in use to prevent ozone and UV damage. Additional tire care hints include:

  • Watch your pressure: Underinflation and overinflation can both lead to blowouts. To help prevent this, check the inflation pressure of your tires at least once a month and always before starting a trip. Do this when tires are cold, as heat generated during driving temporarily increases air pressure. Never remove air from a hot tire, which may result in underinflation when the tire cools.
  • Block and level your RV each time you plan to keep it in one place for a couple of days or longer. This will help avoid unnecessary stresses that lead to excessive tire wear.
  • Make it an inside job: If you pick up a nail, do not have it fixed by installing a plug from the outside. Have the tire dismounted and a repair made from the inside. This is the only way to properly inspect for damage to the inside sidewall.
  • Avoid tire products that contain petroleum-based substances. Products containing alcohol or petrochemicals may create and accelerate deterioration and cracking, in addition to stripping the tire of its ozone protection. Some silicone oils found in such products may cause similar damage.
  • Get the Seven Year Itch: Any tire on an RV that is over seven years old should be replaced, even if it has no apparent tread wear.

10. Tips for Backing Up and Maneuvering in Tight Places

Many hazards such as overhangs, low branches or anything sticking out of the ground are not visible from the driver’s seat of an RV. The best way to avoid these obstructions and to ensure overall safety when backing up is to get an assistant to stand outside of the RV to help guide you into a confined or congested area. Here are a few tips for getting into and out of close quarters:

  • Pull out of an area with the RV’s front facing forward. That makes it easier to see traffic conditions.
  • If you can’t avoid a tight spot, backing in is generally recommended, as long as it is not prohibited by the parking lot.
  • Develop a set of hand signals with your assistant or purchase inexpensive walkie-talkies so there’s no misunderstanding.
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