Preparing Your RV for a Summer Road Trip

The Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to the summer travel season, with many families either hitting the road or planning to do so within the following summer months.

The Memorial Day weekend kicks off those lazy, hazy days of summer. Drive carefully and arrive safely at your destination. Pictured above is Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Byway, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s something magical about a summer road trip. It’s a travel tradition that’s steeped in history but re-made fresh every summer by families across the country.

In 2011, it’s time to refresh that tradition once again.

Hitting the open road can be the highlight of any summer camping expedition but don’t let preventable maintenance issues put a damper on your vacation.

In 2010, AAA responded to 9.3 million motorists who found themselves stranded on the side of the road, with more than half a million of those breakdowns taking place during the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Before you hit the road, check to make sure your recreational vehicle is roadworthy, and that you’re prepared in case of emergency.

LP Gas Safety

“The most important things to consider are your tires, brakes, and propane,” Peter Bowring says. “Number one—check your propane every year.”

The Red Seal accredited technician says that he finds a startlingly high number of nightmare repair jobs on RV propane systems, reported the Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) Star-Phoenix. “I have a picture of a time when a guy tried to fix the propane himself—there’s nothing left of his trailer! They’re super safe trailers but when you start mucking with them and using handyman fixes it becomes a safety issue.”

If you use propane properly and do some basic safety checks prior to use, then you and your family should have a safe and worry free trip. (Credit: iStock)

“If you use propane properly and do some basic safety checks prior to use, then you and your family should have a safe and worry free trip,” stated Eric Skehor, provincial gas safety manager for the BC Safety Authority, in a recent news release.

Fortunately, explosions due to propane leaks and carbon monoxide poisonings are rare, but they are still a risk worth thinking about before hitting the road in your RV.

“The propane system in an RV must be well-maintained and properly used, just like everything else in your vehicle,” says Skehor.

Propane smells like rotten eggs. If you think you smell propane in your RV:

  • Get everyone out of the RV immediately
  • Don’t smoke, light matches, operate electrical switches, use either cell or telephones, or create any other source of ignition
  • Turn your gas off at the main cylinder, if safe to do so and you know how
  • Call the area fire department emergency number or 911

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is colorless, odorless, and potentially deadly. Here are some safety reminders to prevent CO poisoning:

  • When using a propane stove or oven, open a vent or window and turn on the range hood fan to let out any possible carbon monoxide and never use stove burners or the RV oven for space heating
  • Never use portable propane camping equipment inside your RV (e.g. camp stoves, barbecues, lanterns, catalytic, or radiant heaters)

Have everyone leave the RV and get medical attention if an individual shows physical symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning like: headaches, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, impaired judgment, lack of physical coordination.

A summer road trip is still the best way to see America, see its natural wonders, national parks and monuments, historic sites, and big-name tourist attractions. Pictured above is Ocmulee National Monument, near Macon, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not to travel with the refrigerator operating on propane. Many RVers see no danger in running the refrigerator on propane while on the road. They say they have traveled for years without problems. Generally it is legal to travel while using propane, but keep in mind that it is illegal to have any open flames while near a service station fuel pump. And some tunnels and bridges may have restrictions too.

Other RVers claim that traveling with the propane on is a disaster waiting to happen. In an accident a broken propane line could trigger an explosion, a fire, or both. They feel that the only safe way to travel is with the propane tank valves closed!

When traveling, we turn the propane OFF at the tank.


The brakes are just as important as the propane. “Check to see if they’re worn and take the trailer into a shop at least every few years to have your brakes checked,” Peter Bowring advises. “When the trailer brakes aren’t working it affects the safety of your whole family and if you get pulled over you’ll be fined.

Tire Safety

Inspect the tires. Check for cracks, worn treads, and correct tire pressure.

“Make sure your tires are in good shape before you leave for a vacation and take the trailer into a shop to have it serviced if you’re not sure what you’re doing.” Bowring always checks that tires are within their expiration date and that they are the proper type and size for the trailer. He advises that car tires should never be used on an RV.

You can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 per cent by simply keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure, according to Underinflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 per cent for every pound-per-square-inch drop in pressure of all four tires. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the proper level of inflation (not the tire itself, which shows the maximum tire inflation pressure), and be sure to check the tire pressure when the tires are cold, as internal pressure increases when the car has been on the road for a while and the tires heat up.

Before your first weekend getaway, it’s a good idea to open up your RV, flush out the antifreeze, run out the awnings, and make sure the appliances and detectors are working. Throughout the season, do a complete walk around each time you take your RV on the road. Check the brakes, lights, and air pressure in the tires.

Note: Dangerous fire conditions around the state of New Mexico have closed some forest areas and campgrounds that have not seen such restrictions in several years. And bans on campfires and smoking are in effect all over the state.

The entire Lincoln National Forest has been closed by fire or fire danger, as have the Manzano and Gallinas mountains in the Cibola National Forest and some campgrounds in the Gila National Forest.

Open fires and fireworks are banned at El Malpais and El Morro National Monument.

Fire officials warn people to be vigilant if they decide to recreate outside over the long weekend.

A 25,000 acre Tire Fire which is currently burning between Clovis and Portales was caused by a tire blowout.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend, and thanks again for visiting!

Worth Pondering…
Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot


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