By Mark Polk
RV Education 101
It’s a new year, and depending on where you reside, a new RV camping season is upon us.
When you take your motorhome out of winter storage and prepare it for camping, one important aspect to keep in mind is RV safety. Safety is paramount when it comes to using and enjoying our motorhomes. From pre-trip inspections to setting up and actually using the RV, there is always an element of RV safety involved.
Let’s take a look at my top 7 RV safety reminders for a new camping season.
1. Tires. I could easily write an entire article on this topic alone, but I will try to sum it up in a few sentences. There are many reasons for tire failure on motorhomes. In addition to overloaded and under-inflated tires, there is the concern for aged tires. Tires are designed and built to be used. The rubber used in tires ages faster when they are not in use, so more use results in longer tire life.
The problem is many motorhome tires don’t get used as often as the tires on our automobiles. When tires are manufactured, compounds are added to help protect the rubber from weather cracking and ozone damage. For these compounds to work effectively the tire needs to be rolling down the road, heating up and flexing, so the compounds can work their way to the surface of the tire and protect the rubber from damage. When tires sit idle for periods of time they start to dry out, causing them to age faster.
If your motorhome tires show signs of weather cracking or other damage, or if the tires are more than 6 years old, have them inspected by a tire professional. A simple tire inspection can save you lots of time, money and headaches.
2. Weight issues and concerns. This is another topic I could write an entire book on. Many motorhomes traveling down the road are overloaded, especially older motorhomes. To avoid becoming a statistic related to overloaded motorhomes it is important to understand how to properly weigh your motorhome.
Always keep in mind that weighing your RV is a snapshot in time. Weights can and do change according to how you load and distribute the weight in your RV, and based on many other factors. Get in the practice of weighing your motorhome periodically to stay within all weight ratings, and whenever an overload condition exists, resolve the problem before using the motorhome.
The easiest way to summarize this important safety topic is to direct you to a site where you can download informative brochures with easy-to-understand worksheets on weighing your RV. Go to www.bridgestonetrucktires.com and click on the “Brochures & Catalogs” tab and then on the “For RV Owners” tab. Download the PDF file and head to a set of scales.
3. Carbon Monoxide safety. Carbon Monoxide (CO) gas is invisible, odorless and deadly. Carbon Monoxide is created when any fuel is burned; this includes gasoline, propane, natural gas, wood and coal. It is extremely serious when combustion byproducts are not vented outside. Carbon Monoxide is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States each year. As for RVs, CO gas can result from exhaust leaks from the vehicle engine or generator, improper use of portable gas-powered heaters, improper adjustment of LP-gas fired appliances, and/or somebody else’s vehicle or generator when camping in close proximity to you.
Important reminders about carbon monoxide:
- Inspect the generator exhaust system before using the generator, every time.
- Avoid leaving windows down and roof vents open when in close proximity to vehicle and/or generator exhaust.
- Follow all directions and safety cautions and warnings when operating gas-powered heaters.
- Never use the range burners or oven to heat the RV!
- When cooking with the range burners use the range fan and always leave a window cracked open for fresh air and ventilation.
- Have the LP-gas system inspected by a professional annually, or whenever a repair is made to the system.
4. RV fire safety. For starters it’s a good idea to have more than one fire extinguisher available in your motorhome. I keep an additional fire extinguisher in an outside compartment of our RV, just in case. Try to get in a habit of inspecting your fire extinguishers periodically and before each trip. Look to see if the arrow is pointing in the green area in the sight gauge. If it reads empty or needs charging, replace it or have it recharged immediately.
Inspect all components of the extinguishers to make sure they are in proper operating condition. Inspect the safety pin, handle or trigger, sight gauge indicator, inspection tag, hose or nozzle, tank, and labeling. Monthly you should turn dry powder extinguishers upside down, tap on the bottom of the extinguisher and shake it so any powder that settled on the bottom is released. If the powder is packed in the bottom of the extinguisher it may not discharge properly, or at all, when you need it.
Important reminders about RV fire safety:
- If a fire starts, get everybody out of the RV and away from the fire safely.
- Have somebody call 911 for help.
- Most important, do not risk your personal safety. If you cannot extinguish the fire in the first minute or so, let the professionals handle it.
- Remember the word PASS. PASS is an easy way to remember how to use a fire extinguisher, especially during an emergency. PASS stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep.
- In the event of a fire always remember you save lives first and property second!
- Test smoke alarms monthly and before each trip.
- Replace the battery in smoke alarms twice a year when you change your clocks for daylight savings time.
- Instruct everybody in the RV on an emergency escape plan in the event of a fire.
5. LP-gas safety. Your motorhome has an LP-gas leak detector to assist in leak detection. LP-gas leak detectors are located close to floor level because LP-gas is heavier than air. Before each trip make sure the LP-gas leak detector is operating properly.
What to do if you smell LP-gas or if the leak detector audible alarm goes off:
- Extinguish any open flames and pilot lights.
- Do not smoke or touch electrical switches.
- Evacuate the RV and turn off the main gas supply.
- Leave the door open and do not return until the odor clears.
- Have the system checked out by a qualified technician before using it again.
6. Emergency escape plan. Know in advance what to do in the event of an emergency, when everybody has to get out of the RV quickly and in an orderly fashion. The National Fire Protection agency requires that RVs have emergency escape windows. Make sure everybody knows where the escape window is located and how to use it. It’s a good idea to practice using it so you are familiar with how to get out of the RV in case of an emergency. Have an emergency escape plan for the front of the RV and the rear of the RV.
Emergency escape plan safety reminders:
- Time is your biggest enemy. It only takes one minute for smoke to fill the RV.
- Design an escape plan specific to the needs of the individuals in the RV.
- Sketch your plan on paper and indicate which windows and doors can be used to escape.
- Review the plan with everybody.
- Instruct people on where the emergency escape window is located and how to use it.
- Practice your escape plan so everybody can get out of the RV in case of an emergency.
- Designate a meeting place outside where everybody will meet.
7. Free RV safety E-course. All motorhome owners should understand and practice these safety tips and reminders. To assist with RV safety training, RV Education 101 is offering a free 13-minute RV safety E-Course. Visit http://rvvideosondemand.com/?page_id=40 to access the free RV safety training. The program material is protected, so you do need to go through a simple registration process to access the training video. Follow the prompts and fill out the basic information. Next, set up your username and password, which will provide access to the RV safety training material.
|RV expert Mark Polk owns RV Education 101, a North Carolina-based company that produces and sells educational videos, DVDs and E-books on how to use RVs. Mark has more than 30 years of experience in RV maintenance. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1996 as a Chief Warrant Officer Three, specializing in wheeled and track vehicle fleet maintenance operations. He and his wife, Dawn, started RV Education 101 in 1999. They travel with their two boys in a 35-foot Type A motorhome.