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LAUGHING DOWN THE ROAD
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RV Tips


Getting Your RV Ready to Roll for Summer by Anne Sponholtz

The birds are chirping. The grass is growing. The TV weather forecaster is smiling. Spring has arrived, and it's time to crank up the lawn mower. What, you say? You're a road tripper? Well, then, put that lawn mower back in the shed. The grass will wait. A road trip is calling. Anne Sponholtz gets you rolling with some tips for a spring RV road trip.

Genealogy Road Trip!

Inspecting an RV for a road trip often means getting rid of mud dauber nests, sometimes found in the hot water heater compartment.

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Photo by Anne Sponholtz

As a road tripper, I am always looking for an excuse to hit the road, so when spring rolls around, I know just how I'll be celebrating - in an RV. There are thousands of us across America planning that spring road trip right now. You, too? Whether you're an old hand or a newbie, there are some things you should do before you roll that RV down your drive and out into the sweet, springtime air.

Rent or Own, It Makes Little Difference

If you haven't already gotten hooked on RVing, you can rent an RV and try out the lifestyle. The only bad rental experience I've heard was from friends who discovered in the night that they had rented some hungry fleas at no extra charge. Many RVers do travel with their pets - it's one of the perks of the lifestyle - so be sure to check the rental company's policy about eliminating such unwanted guests.

Except for arranging for the rental, most of what it takes to get ready for a road trip is the same for renters as for owners. A good rental company will check out your vehicle thoroughly before you leave the lot, but it pays to go through the following checklist yourself, too. It's a great way to become familiar with your RV and it will also build some confidence for the road.

What's Happening Under the Hood?

If you don't live in the Sunshine State, as I do - or in one of the many other states where RVing is a year-round activity - you have some extra work to do to bring your RV out of storage. Most important, you need to open the hood and peek at the engine. (You need to do this even if your RV is a motor home that is not kept in winter storage, or if you use your truck to haul a fifth-wheel or another vehicle to haul a travel trailer.) Mechanic I am not, but I can spot split hoses, check the oil level and read any other dip sticks. If you have any doubts about how things look, take your vehicle to a mechanic.

Outside Inspection

You don't want to be driving down the road and find that your awning is flapping in the breeze (as Robin Williams did in the hilarious movie "RV", so make sure it is secure. Check the brake lights, backup lights, taillights, headlights, porch light and any other lights. If you have an onboard camera for viewing what is going on behind the RV, check it out, too. For some reason, mud daubers enjoy RVing. Check outside cabinets and vents for these wasps and remove their nests, as they can impair the workings of some of the systems. Also check the roof to be sure the vents are closed and the TV antenna is down.

Some RVers travel with the propane gas on to keep the refrigerator running. There is much debate about the safety of this practice, but I tend to side with those who recommend against it, mainly because I'm a scaredy cat. When traveling long distances in a single day, we will turn on the gas and refrigerator during stops for lunch or sightseeing or shopping, and sometimes we will keep the refrigerator running with the generator. Since we rarely travel extremely long distances in a single day, our refrigerator stays cold enough to keep food safe. But every refrigerator is different, so I think it's wise to invest in a remote reporting thermometer for your fridge.

Don't forget to check your tires. Be sure to purchase an air pressure gauge designed to test high-pressure RV tires. Dual tires can be tricky to inspect, so we get those tires checked by professionals. While you're having your tires inspected, check out this video, which describes how to handle a blowout on an RV. When my husband and I were coming home from a road trip the other day, the car in front of us had a blowout. The driver apparently had no idea what to do in such an emergency and ended up going into the oncoming lane. Fortunately, no cars were in that lane, but it could have been a disaster.

Inside Inspection

Keep those batteries in good shape. Our RV has a chassis battery and two house batteries. We check the house batteries for water on a regular basis. Unfortunately, most house batteries are installed in hard-to-check locations. My husband and I split up this chore. He is in charge of unlocking the battery compartment and taking the caps off the battery, while I stand by armed with flashlight and distilled water ready to check the levels.

Be sure everything in the cabin is secure and all cabinets and drawers are properly closed. I can't tell you how often I've made a left turn on the way out of town only to hear clang, clatter, crash. Sure enough, I've failed to latch the pantry. Makes me so mad at myself.

Also check that all appliances and other gadgets are working. Keep the air conditioner filter clean, and double-check the smoke, carbon monoxide and gas alarms. (I "check" our smoke alarm constantly. No matter how many fans I have running or windows I have opened, the darn thing goes off whenever I'm cooking.) Keep an eye out for water leaks - they are an RV's worst enemy. The overflow hose on our water tank is located under our sofa. It fell off not long ago, but because we were vigilant, we avoided what might have been a major repair.

It's what no one wants to talk about, and few of us RVers really like to deal with. Dumping and maintaining the holding tank. Yuck! But it is a necessary evil. There is nothing worse than having a holding tank turn into the source of odor in your RV. To make sure that does not happen, before any trip, I always inventory our supply of toilet paper made especially for RVs, as it breaks down quickly, and I make sure I have on board plenty of the products designed to eliminate odors and clogs. On a recent trip, I had a chance to test Thetford's newest line of certified-green products, when I used its Eco-Smart Toss-Ins. We had a good number of guests visiting our campsite, including youngsters who often make lots of trips to the head just to watch the RV toilet flush. I was pleased with the outcome of the new product. It did the job and the bonus was it gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you know you are somehow helping the environment.

Should You Make Reservations?

If anyone tries to tell you RVing is suffering in this recession, tell them to think again. Just try booking an RV site in a state park, private park or resort in Florida the week before or after Easter. It's slim pickins. Sure, it's always fun to take off in an RV to parts unknown with no particular plan in mind, but when spring emerges and the itch to travel hits so many road trippers, it is probably best to reserve your RV sites well ahead of time. Of course, there is always the option of boondocking - for example, staying the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot - something I've yet to try. But if not knowing where you'll be at bedtime bothers you, plan ahead. Personally, I think trip planning is one of the best parts of the adventure.

Packing

Having home-cooked meals, at least some of the time, is one of the biggest advantages to RVing. We are big breakfast eaters, and dinner is pretty hardy, too, so our meals take some planning. I make a list of essentials for each meal, each day, and it is thorough. If I am planning a meal of hot dogs, for example, my list should include both the hot dogs and the condiments, because there is nothing worse than realizing you've forgotten some important ingredient when you are in the middle of the woods. It's not too bad forgetting the mustard, but forgetting the hot dogs is not a good thing. Just ask my family.

I carry all the food and other necessities on my list to the RV in a laundry basket. It holds tons of stuff and is easy to carry. I keep it easily accessible in the house, and when I wash the RV sheets or pick up RV supplies, that's where they go. Having those items in the basket eliminates that mad dash around the house trying to find everything as we head out the door. Since we take off in our RV at least once a month, I usually keep a suitcase packed with a swimming suit and a few days' change of clothes. It's just one more packing chore that is out of the way. My husband, on the other hand, packs separately for each trip.

When packing everything you think you'll need - clothes, food, GPS, magazines, CDs, books, movies, computers, fishing gear or other recreational equipment you may be taking along - be careful not to overload the RV. (All RVs have posted weight restrictions; ours is in one of the cabinets). And remember, the less weight you carry, the better your gas mileage.

Time to Roll

Checklist completed? Then it's time to take off on your spring RV adventure. Have a blast. Just don't forget the hot dogs.

Anne Sponholtz
April 17, 2009

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