I was overwhelmed during my orientation and walk-around on my first RV travel trailer. After researching the different models for over a year, I felt that I was ready to buy the travel trailer and start a full-time RV life. When I saw the delivery manager standing by my new coach I knew there were two ways to approach this, write down everything he said or simply pay attention and learn. I chose the latter. Honestly, I don’t think I retained twenty percent of the information shared with me during my one-hour orientation. Driving away from the dealership I found myself wondering, am I really ready for this? Do I know everything I need to know to live a full-time RV life?
What do I need to know before buying my first RV?
When buying your first RV taking time learning about electric, water pressure, condensation, air conditioning, tires, and water systems is paramount. The first thing to know is that this RV is literally a house on wheels. The technology incorporated into every system of these rigs comes from years of feedback that existing owners have shared. Most tell us what preventive maintenance is required. The time invested in the care and developing an awareness for what the future holds is time well spent. The following is what I have discovered in my years of living in an RV full time.
First Time RV Buyer: Helpful Hints
These are the eight systems you should be familiar with:
- Battery maintenance
- Water pressure control
- Condensation awareness
- Air conditioner maintenance
- 30 amp vs 50 amp service
- Fuses and fuse box operation
- RV Tires, care, and upkeep
- Freshwater, gray water and black water systems
To better prepare you for the onslaught of questions you might have as a beginner, I put this article together to help fill that void.
The following is what I have discovered about the different RV systems in my years of living in an RV full time.
How to take care of RV Batteries
When you hooked up to 120 volts AC the electric system can run at full power. Otherwise, you need at a minimum, one or two fully charged 12VDC deep cycle batteries. This battery is not maintenance free like the battery in a new car. Most batteries in RV’s are marine grade and the water levels need to be maintained. This is critical in extreme cold. Optimum water levels help keep the battery charged. A dry battery will freeze and crack making the battery useless and lead to a multitude of problems with the functionality of the:
- LP leak detector
- CO detector
- Fluid level gauges
If a battery is completely down the 12VDC system will not operate until the battery is charged with an automatic external battery charger. Automatic chargers shut off when the battery is fully charged. Never overcharge a battery, this can cause a meltdown or even an explosion.
With deep cycle batteries costing hundreds of dollars to replace, checking the water levels seems minimal. The manufacturer fills the battery cells with electrolyte. As an end user, you can use distilled water.
The main connections to the battery are the positive and negative cables. The red cable is the positive and the black cable is negative. Power can be disrupted if the cables are broken.
Visually inspect that the :
- Battery posts are free of corrosion
- Connections to the battery are tight
- Cable terminals are clean
The battery posts, connections, and terminals that can be cleaned with a solution of baking soda and water.
When checking a battery make sure the power is disconnected. Any spark from the negative cable indicates that there is still a draw on power. This could be as simple as a light switch being in the on position. Turn all light switches off.
First RV Water Pressure Regulator
Have you ever turned on an outdoor water faucet and watched the water shot out six feet from the hose?
This is absolutely too much water pressure to run through your RV. Campgrounds are notorious for having water pressure in excess of 80 pounds per square inch.
Some campgrounds will even have a sign in the front office to notify you of the high water pressure.
An acceptable range is a safe and consistent 40-50 PSI (pounds per square inch). Water pressure regulators are built to stay within this range. Most inexpensive regulators will have a threaded fitting on both ends made of brass with a step-down unit in the middle.
This add-on device is made to fit in between the receiving end of your hose and the campground faucet. It is a simple inline installation.
Making the connection at the faucet will avoid high-pressure water running through your hose. We don’t want to take chance the hose bursting due to high pressure. Yes, you need one, most consider a water pressure regulator device a necessity. With the average price below $20, you may even want to keep a spare on hand.
Can Condensation damage my first RV?
Insurance Companies consider you a Full-time RVer if you stay in your coach for more than six months a year. Living in this tiny home for extended periods of time can create issues with condensation. A condition that is similar to the water beads that develop on a glass of water sitting on the dining room table.
RV’s are sealed and tight. There is not a lot of moving air coming in from the outside. The inside can become saturated with moisture rather quickly. Moisture accumulating on the inside of the rig from high humidity becomes a problem that can literally cause trim and fittings on the unit to detach and peel. This can be alleviated by increasing the airflow, opening vents, cross ventilation through two windows or opening the curtains from time to time.
If you consider yourself a resident and stay inside for long periods of time you might even consider a dehumidifier. Either way, precautions should be taken to prevent a build up of condensation.
Roof Air Conditioner Maintenance.
The full-time RV life camper of today wants all the creature comforts of home while on the road. By living in a house we have developed a very small range of temperatures that we can tolerate. Don’t let your first RV stay be a shock to your system because of a nonfunctioning air conditioner.
If the air we spend most of our time it is not between 68 and 74 degrees we tend to be uncomfortable. With that being said, the air conditioning system in our first RV might need some attention before each road trip. Most importantly, the filters need to be changed monthly. Air conditioners need unobstructed air flow. A clogged filter will overwork your system.
The newer filters can be cleaned, dried, and re-installed. Re-usable filters also eliminate unwanted trash. If you want maximum efficiency a clean air filter is the best place to start.
Travel trailers go through intense wind resistance and shakedown when being towed. This may result in loosening connections, joints, and seals.
To prevent leaks check the tightness of the mounting bolts annually. At the same time take a look at the caulking or weather seal to see if it needs to be redone.
Checking that the seals are airtight is also a good investment of your time. We don’t want the seals around mounted devices to separate, unfasten or leak our precious conditioned air.
Check the Roof frequently.
Roofs run hotter than any other structural part of your coach. Its the highest horizontal surface and closest to the sun. Direct sunlight can make the roof 20-25 degrees hotter than the rest of the coach.
With a 105 degree roof, the air conditioner is working overtime to bring the inside temperature down 30+ degrees. Allow the air conditioner ample time to reach the desired temperature.
The difference between the 30 amp service and 50 amp service?
Campgrounds have both 30 amp and 50 amp service available.
As a rule of thumb:
==> 30 amp service means that you have one air conditioner.
==> 50 amp service means that you have two air conditioners.
These services require 110 volts, not 220 volts.
If you have two air conditioners ask for a 50 amp lot. Two air conditioners cannot run on 30 amps. Attempting this will Tip a circuit breaker or blow a fuse in a matter of seconds.
The 30 amp plugs and 50 amp plugs have different set-ups and hook-up differently for a reason. The plug is set up for the required service. Buying a step-down conversion adapter to supply 50 amps through a 30 amp shoreline cord will only lead to problems. It could even damage your electric power converter and must be avoided.
First RV Fuse Box Location.
Fuse boxes are mounted conveniently in the path of wire runs. This can be on a wall, in a cabinet or under the bed. If needed consult your manual for the location.
There is also a section in the manual on how to change a fuse with helpful hints on how to avoid blowing fuses in the first place.
One example I can think of is making sure the air conditioner, microwave, and TV are turned off before plugging the coach into the electrical service. As a rule of thumb, turn off the circuit breaker in the electric box before plugging in your shoreline cord for service. If the breaker is on when you arrive at the pad it is a good sign the last tenant forgot this step.
What you should know about RV Tires
If I bought an RV today I would tow it straight to the tire store and have the wheels balanced and aligned.
If you ever wonder why things fall off the wall and why the trim is loose it is probably the result of “shakedown” from the vibrations of the wheels and tires.
Most RV manufacturers align the tires but rarely balance them, this makes no sense to me. One bad thing causes another bad thing.
Uneven weight distribution in a wheel causes the wheel to shake and vibrate. This “radical” motion is felt all the way through the coach.
Bad alignment can cause uneven wear on the tires and force the whole rig to pull to the left or push to the right. Having the wheels and tires balanced and aligned is a good investment.
First RV Tire Inflation.
Maximum inflation is actually a good thing when talking about RV tires. Inflating your tires to the properly maintains safety parameters and lengthens the life of your tires.
On the sidewall of the tire, you will find the “maximum inflated pressure” as recommended by the manufacturer. Proper inflation is Maximum Inflation. You want the tires inflated to the recommended maximum tire pressure.
If your first RV is a towable rig, this number can be found in a second location listed on the specification tags found on the front left side.
Also on the tag is the GVWR or gross weight limit. Overweight rigs are unsafe and also very hard on your wheels, tires, and axles.
First RV basics on Fresh Water, Grey Water, and Black Water
Fresh Water is potable water, the water you can drink.
Grey Water is the water that goes down drains like the sink and shower.
Black Water is what is flushed down the toilet.
Freshwater is available on demand. An electric pump “pushes” the water to the sink or shower from the fresh water tank. Listen for the water pump. You can hear the pump operating almost instantly when water is pulled from the fresh water tank.
The majority of all water tanks on an RV are made of Polyethylene. This amazing material is sanitary, durable and lightweight. Water tanks very seldom require maintenance or repair.
Before you take your new rig out for the first time the fresh water tank should be sanitized.
Follow these 7 steps to sanitize a freshwater tank:
- Empty the tank completely
- Fill the tank halfway with fresh water
- Add a cup of bleach to the tank
- Fill the tank up completely
- Pump the water through the entire system by running a quart of water through the faucets
- Let this solution sit for up to eight hours
- Drain the entire system including the hot water tank
To remove the odor of the bleach mix a cup of baking soda with a gallon of water add pour it into the empty tank. Fill the tank completely. This solution can remain in the tank for several days before emptying the whole system again.
You are now ready to fill the water tank with fresh, potable water.
Be sure to drain the fresh water tank when not in use. Water has been left in this tank for a long period can stagnate the water and build bacteria making the water unsafe.
It is also important to empty the water tanks during cold or freezing weather conditions. The average water tank will hold around 40 gallons of water that weighs approximately 350 pounds. Weight is always an issue on RV’s, having all that water sloshing around while going down the road could lead to safety issues.
Grey and Black water tanks are both dumped at the dump station or transported to the dump station via a dumping cart. Both have a color-coded handle to distinguish the two:
- Grey water has a grey handle
- Black water has a black handle
Travel trailers normally have one draining port for both tanks.
These eight things are very important to know before buying your first RV.
If I had it all to do over again I would have taken the time to consult in a veteran or even someone living the full time in an RV before I bought my first RV. This time investment would have saved me literally thousands of dollars in replacement costs and some mistakes made that I really don’t want to mention here.
Thanks so much in taking the time to read this before buying your first RV My hope is that it will not cost you as it did me in not knowing this. Feel free to share, this kind of advice may be just what the people camping next to you need to know.