Basic Safety for Towable RVs
                                                               The third article in a series especially for novice RVers
                                                                                       By Warren Petkovsek

     Greetings, friends and fellow towable RV enthusiasts! Today we’re going to examine how you can make your experience with your towable RV safer and more enjoyable. Do any of you remember that feeling of abject terror you had the first time you hooked up to your new rolling home and pulled it down the road? I sure remember it. In fact, I still get that feeling when I hook up and go somewhere, especially if it’s been a month or two since our last trip. Oh, I guess it’s not really fear any more; just a healthy respect for all the things that could possibly go wrong and damage the rig, ruin our trip or worse. We’ve all heard the expression “knowledge is power”, but to me knowledge is security. During my career as a unit operator in the petrochemical industry I have found that the more I knew about my job the less stress I felt (while still maintaining a healthy respect for all of the dangerous stuff that we manufactured). Let’s discuss some ways that we can increase your level of security while towing and still maintain respect for what can go wrong.
     The first thing that you must do when preparing for a trip in your RV is make sure that both your tow vehicle and your trailer are in good (and therefore safe) mechanical condition. Please don’t cut corners here. ‘Remember the old expression “pay me now or pay me later”? Sever and expensive damage can occur if certain maintenance items are overlooked. You are also placing yourself and your family in danger if everything isn’t up to standard. A few of the things you should take care of are common to regular automotive maintenance anyway and you are probably somewhat familiar with these things, but let’s review anyway.
     For starters, check the tires, belts and hoses in your tow vehicle. I have a regular schedule for checking these items anyway, but I always check them again before a trip even if I just recently did it as part of my regular schedule. To make matters simpler I have developed a written checklist to help me get ready for the road and to be sure that I don’t forget anything. What’s that you say? You don’t have time to fool with something like a checklist? In reality you don’t have time to not have a written list of some kind. Ask the poor guy that was camping next to us that dropped his fifth wheel on the bed rails of his new pickup. He hitched up, raised the landing gear, closed his tailgate and drove off without checking that his hitch was latched securely. He severely damaged both his new truck as well as his trailer and now you will never catch him hitching up without a checklist in his hand. All of the problems I have seen people endure while trailering could have been prevented with a good check list. My son is a pilot in the Marine Corps. These are the most proficient and best trained aviators in the world. They can recite from memory every procedure and emergency drill word for word. They don’t forget any detail and there are never any short cuts. They will never leave anything out and this is all indelibly engraved in their memory. Guess what. They still use a written checklist for things such as preflight inspection. Well, If it’s good enough for those guys it’s good enough for me and I’ve never had a problem or a mishap when I’ve used my checklist. Here’s the list that I use. The items are in no particular order. It’s specific to fifth wheels, but it can easily be applied to regular travel trailers and even motorhomes. You can use it as it is or customize and modify it for your specific needs. Here goes:

     Before leaving Home:

      Close overhead vents (so road dust won’t get sucked inside).
      Check the propane system for leaks with soapy water and then turn propane off (that’s right – OFF) and   close the  valves on the
       bottles – more on this later. 
      Secure cabinet door handles (to keep them from flying open while traveling).
      Lower the TV antenna.
      Secure the sliding bedroom door (once again to prevent travel damage).
      Latch the shower door (see above).
      Appliances and thermostat are off.
      Check brake lights, tail lights, turn signal lights, clearance lights and side marker lights.
      Check awning latches (I also add velcro straps for added security).
      Disconnect and store the electrical cord.
      Check that interior and compartment lights are off.
      Check that lug nuts are torqued to 90# to 120#.
      Check tire inflation pressure on trailer and tow vehicle. Use maximum inflation pressure printed on the tire sidewall and check
       the tires when they are cold. 
      Slides are in.
      Lock exterior storage compartments.
      Lock entry door deadbolt.
      Fold up and secure the entry steps.
      Double check the hitch and safety chains (if applicable).
      Raise the trailer landing gear or front hitch jack.
      Close the truck tailgate if applicable).
      Remove and store tire covers (you really should be using these. More on this in a later article). 
      Write down the mileage (odometer reading).

Upon Arrival at Camp:

      Look for overhead obstructions before backing or pulling into a campsite.
      Check for slide-out clearance (trees, utility poles, ect.).
      Establish a water level in the fresh water tank (I travel with mine nearly empty to save weight).
      Check for good 110 volt electrical current (use a volt meter) before plugging in.
      After plugging in to electricity check that the refrigerator and appliances are working properly. 
      Chock the trailer wheels before unhitching.

Before Leaving Camp:

      Lower TV antenna (or unhook park cable).
      Close overhead vents.
      Secure cabinet door handles.
      Turn off heat or air conditioning and water heater
      Secure the sliding bedroom door.
      Latch the shower door.
      Dump and flush the gray and black water tanks and add chemicals.
      Check that water and electrical lines are unhooked and properly stored.
      Check awning latches. Don’t forget the Velcro straps.
      Check that stabilizer jacks are up and that the blocks are stored.
      Check that interior and compartment lights are off.
      Turn off the propane and close the valves on the bottles.
      Recover and store wheel chocks after hitching up.
      Slides are in.
      Lock outside compartments and dead bolt entry door.
      Check that lug nuts are torqued 90# - 120#.
      Check tire inflation pressure on the trailer and the tow vehicle. Use maximum inflation pressures printed on the tire sidewalls and 
       check the tire pressure when cold.
      Remove and store the tire covers.
      Check brake lights, tail lights, turn signal lights, clearance lights and side marker lights.
      Raise and secure the trailer entry steps.
      Double check the hitch.
      Close the truck tailgate (if applicable).
      Raise the landing gear or front hitch jack.
      Check that nothing is left in camp and that the campsite is cleaner than you found it.

     Well, that’s my checklist. Please feel free to use it or develop one of your own, but please use a list and don’t trust your memory. I’ll get into some horror stories about that later.
     In the checklist I mentioned that I turn off the propane appliances and close the valves on the propane bottles before I hit the road. “What?!” you say, “Won’t the food in the refrigerator go bad?”  No it won’t. You can travel all day with the refrigerator turned off and the food will barely warm up at all unless you open the door. If you stop for lunch or whatever you can start up the ‘fridge on propane and let it catch up a little before you hit the road again, but this is probably unnecessary. The reasons for closing the valves on the propane bottles are fairly obvious and they are safety related. None of us plan on being involved in a traffic accident, but they happen every day. Do you really want all that propane gushing out of damaged lines and propane bottles? Trust me; that is bad stuff and you don’t want to take that chance. Remember – I made propane for a living and I know what I’m talking about.
     Let me give you another little propane related tip. Even though you and I will close off our propane bottles like the trailer manufacturers recommend most people don’t. Yes, it’s true. They just don’t want to believe that something bad can happen to them. That stuff is for other people. Besides, they don’t want to risk the beer getting a couple of degrees warmer. Because of this prevailing attitude we must assume that every travel trailer, fifth wheel or motor home that we see traveling down the road has their propane lined up and the refrigerator operating. What does this mean? It means that there is a pilot light burning to cause a thermocycle which circulates the ammonia coolant for the refrigerator. This flame can be up to an inch high. What do you think happens to this flame when these folks pull into a gas station to refuel? Well, the flame certainly doesn’t put itself out yet people who wouldn’t even think about lighting up a cigarette while fueling or tolerate anyone else who would will mindlessly pull up to a gas pump with their RV refrigerator running and that big pilot light burning away. These must be the same idiots that talk on the cell phone while driving or fueling up. What’s that you say? “My truck burns diesel fuel so there is no risk of explosion.” Well why don’t you take that cell phone out of your ear and LISTEN UP! Even though that may be somewhat true for diesel fuel, there are many other motorists pumping gasoline at that station. In fact, due to the length of your trailer their gas pump may be much closer to your pilot light than you are. Gasoline vapors are extremely volatile and could light off causing a massive explosion and fire even if none is spilled. A small spill like overfilling your tank can increase this likelihood one hundred times or more! I feel so strongly about this that I will never even pull into a gas station if there is another RV there and if one pulls in while I’m filling up I will turn the pump off and leave immediately (Don’t worry; I pay at the pump). If you don’t get anything else out of this article I hope you take this warning seriously. I made gasoline for a living too.
     Enough of that; I even scared myself. Let’s move on to something else like hitching up. I bet that all of us have either had a mishap due to improper hitching or we have seen this happen to someone else. I had my little utility trailer come unhitched a couple of blocks from my house because my well-intentioned neighbor wanted to help me by hitching up for me. Being the kind soul that I am I let him do it rather than hurt his feelings. Well, I wasn’t going very fast when the trailer came loose. The trailer wasn’t loaded up yet and the only damage was a bent tongue jack on the utility trailer and a slight unwanted modification to my truck bumper. The safety chains prevented a much more serious accident. ‘More on this later. Was I upset at my neighbor? Heck no although it was kind of fun to watch him going on a massive guilt trip. He avoided me for weeks after that. I was really mad at myself for letting him hitch up for me and not checking behind him. Now if I’m hitching up my trailer and you offer to help I will tell you “no” and I’ll tell you why. Furthermore, if you want to strike up a conversation with me while I’m hitching up I will ignore you and I don’t care if you think I’m rude. That’s just the way I am, but I haven’t had a trailer come unhitched since that day.
     I mentioned safety chains earlier. I’m amazed at the number of people that either don’t use the chains at all (even though they are required by law) or they hook them up in a way that they will come loose if the trailer is separated from the tow vehicle. Well, these chains work and the story I just told proves it. Oh, you will possibly get a little damage, but the chains could easily save a life in the event of a mishap. Remember – you are responsible for what the trailer does if it comes unhooked.
     Earlier in my checklist I mentioned torquing the lug nuts to the proper specifications. This is important. You would not believe how loose those things can get especially if you make some sharp turns like I have to do to back into my driveway. The reason for this is the strain on the tires and wheels while turning. Look at your tires in the mirrors sometime while making a sharp turn and you will see what I mean. I may be the only RVer in the world that travels with a torque wrench. Laugh if you want, but I’ve never had any lug nuts fall off like some people I know.
Well, I could go on and on about RV safety, but I may have to save that for another article. The main thing I wanted to relate to you concerned the checklist and the propane. In the meantime, drive defensively, keep your equipment in good shape, use a checklist and enjoy the trip. Happy trails!

Warren Petkovsek has been an avid RVer for over several decades.  He lives in
Lumberton, Texas with his wife, Myra.  A former teacher, band director and
professional musician, Warren is now retired from the petrochemical industry.
In addition to being a freelance writer he is also a school volunteer, a Texas
State Park volunteer and has been a Boy Scout Leader for many years.
Warren would be delighted to answer any RV related questions that you
may have and would be delighted to send you some or all of his other articles.
He can be contacted at .

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