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Operating Your Rental RV Safely, by Mark Helmlinger

During his ten years of field work for NASA, Mark Helmlinger has rented many RVs and driven them under every possible circumstance. His tips, derived from hands-on experience, are a must-read resource for anyone considering renting a recreational vehicle.



Mark Helmlinger
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When you rent an RV, allow enough time to drive it around the block (at least!) before heading off for the hinterlands. Pick it up early in the day in case you need to swap it for a better one. Get it up to freeway speed. Exercise all of the features yourself. What happens is that the previous renter could have seriously abused the unit in a way that the service guys can't see right off. Some problems may surface that only actual use will find: alignment problems, differential and transmission problems, hydraulic problems, air conditioning, and generator.

Check tire wear patterns, sidewall shape, and inflation. (In particular, check inside the dual wheels that are typically under-inflated which makes them overheat -- the tire can actually rip through the floor in a blowout.) Does the vehicle "pull" in one direction or other? Does the steering wheel shimmy, or are the tires balanced poorly in a way that is really annoying at highway speeds? Listen for other funny vibrations and noises. Does the parking brake (usually a foot pedal) actually work? Can it hold the RV on a hill? Can you get it out of park on a hill? This is also a good time to learn the RV's turning radius and practice backing up safely. In addition, make sure you know your RV's height, so you'll know whether you can make it under a low bridge before you rip off the air conditioner.

Make sure all dashboard controls work. Make sure mirrors are firmly mounted and can adjust to the needed position. Check the leveling system. Do the gate valves for emptying the grey and black tanks work smoothly without sticking? Do they close all the way? Nothing is more of a bummer than a little bit of sewage splashing all over you when the dust cap is taken off. Especially someone else's sewage!

Next> Check Inside the RV
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Mark Helmlinger

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