RV Maintenance: Are You Ready to Hit the Road?
WORDS AND DIAGRAMS BY JOSEPH VAN WOERKOM
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CARAVAN & MOTORHOME
In all the ASQA accredited driving and towing courses that I run, trainees have to demonstrate that they can successfully perform pre-departure checks. These checks are vital to ensuring that the vehicle they are about to use is fit for travel, both to and from the destination.
For vehicles this involves external, under-hood, under-body and in-cabin checks. Caravans are similar except that they obviously don’t need under-hood checks.
The reason for doing pre-departure is two-fold. Firstly, by going through the checklist each time before setting off you will become more familiar with your rig and will pick up on things that might require attention before they completely fail. And as any ‘bean counter’ will tell you, it always costs a lot less to replace something before it fails than to wait for it to fail and have to fix it on the road.
The second reason for going through the checklist is to ensure that you have collected everything from your campsite and stowed it securely so that nothing will get damaged while travelling.
What you’re checking is that everything on the outside of the vehicle or caravan is stowed securely and can’t move while underway. This is especially important if you intend travelling on rough road surfaces where vibration will ensure that Murphy’s Law applies: anything that can move will move.
One of the items that RVers need to pay special attention to is the roll-up awning. If you’re wondering why, just imagine what could happen if the awning deployed while you were travelling at 100km/h on the freeway.
To prevent this from happening, make sure that the awning is set to the ‘roll up’ position, the travel lock on each support arm is locked in place and the adjusted knobs are securely tightened. To add further security, wrap a self gripping strap, such as Velcro One-Wrap, high up on each support arm. That way, even if the travel locks fail, the support arms are held firmly in place.
Also ensure that all external windows, doors, hatches and drop down tables are firmly shut and locked where possible. Apart from the added security, locking these items will make them less prone to opening due to road vibrations.
If you have a wind-up TV antenna or satellite dish, make sure that it is properly lowered and locked in the travel position otherwise it will be a magnet for any low hanging branches. Even the wind pressure from travelling 100km/h might be enough to cause costly damage.
Of course, you have disconnected and stowed your mains cord, fresh water and sullage hoses haven’t you? Also don’t forget to retract the corner stabilisers and entrance step.
Since there is a lot to remember we suggest using a written checklist. If laminated in plastic and a marked off with a water-based marker pen, the list can be re-used indefinitely.
One thing that is often overlooked is to check whether the tow coupling has been set to the ‘engaged’ position. If left in the ‘released’ position, the tow coupling can separate from the tow ball or pin and the drawbar will drop, hopefully to be caught by the safety chains. If the safety chains are not crossed, the draw bar could easily drop to the ground with disastrous consequences. Note that the safety chains should only be connected to the towbar with rated shackles.
The condition of the breakaway brake controller battery should also be checked to ensure that it has enough energy to hold the brakes on for a minimum of 15 minutes. On most controllers this can be done by pressing the ‘test’ button on the front of the unit. For NSW registered caravans, the tow vehicle must also be equipped with a battery monitor that is viewable from the driver’s seat. Note that all trailers over 2000kg GTM must be equipped with breakaway brakes.
When a weight distribution hitch (WDH) is used you need to ensure that the spring bars are installed corrected with retaining clips in place (where needed). WDHs that use chains for tensioning should be set to the predetermined number of links with any free links hanging from the bottom of the top link and the A‑frame brackets secured with the safety clips.
The last thing to check is that all electrical connectors are securely connected. This include the mandatory 7-pin or 12-pin plug for signalling lights and (usually) electric brakes and can optionally include one or more high current Anderson plugs and a Wozza-style cable for a rear view camera.
Of course, don’t forget to remove and stow the jockey wheel. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen!
UNDER BODY CHECKS
Under body checks are arguably the most important of them all. But they’re often the most neglected as they are more difficult – these checks will involve getting down on your hands and knees so that you can inspect the underside of the RV.
The things that you are looking for here are any signs of loose, missing or damaged items such as springs, shock absorbers, U-bolts, suspension bushes, water and gas lines, water tanks and electrical wiring.
Loose items are often signalled by being cleaner or brighter in colour compared to nearby items. Tell tale signs of damage to shock absorbers, water lines and tanks include small patches of wetness or damp mud sticking to these items and no where else.
Tyres also need to be checked regularly. Things to look for include obvious damage to sidewalls or tread, uneven tread wear (which indicates possible wheel alignment problems) and cold inflation pressure (see Insider View in issue #201).
Wheel bearings on caravans can be easily checked by grasping the top of each wheel firmly and rocking it in and out. Even the slightest movement can be felt and sometimes heard. Very slight movement can be tolerated but if the top of the wheel moves by more than 1mm the bearings will need to be adjusted.
Finally, the brakes on each wheel can be simply checked to determine if they are being energised. This is best done with two people; one moves the manual braking lever on the electric brake controller in the tow vehicle to about the half way position and the other listens at each wheel in turn for the hum that should be produced by the electromagnet.
Just as for the outside of the RV, the inside should be checked to ensure that everything is stowed securely and can’t move while underway. That means that there’s nothing sitting on the bench top, table or any other flat surface. In fact, everything moveable needs to be inside a cupboard or drawer where it can’t move about.
Even when stowed, items can be damaged by banging into each other or against the storage container itself. You can minimise this by fitting all storage units with non slip matting and ensure that items have company so that there is less area for them to move about in. In situations where there is lots of space, place items towards the front of the RV. This will save them the trip when you apply the brakes, as vehicles tend to brake a lot quicker than they accelerate.
Make sure that all drawers and doors are firmly shut. A quick look around is all that’s needed if the RV is equipped with locks that pop out when unlocked and are flush when locked. If not, you need to physically check each door and drawer in turn.
Don’t forget the microwave oven turntable. These items usually cost more than a replacement microwave oven and are easily broken if they rattle around or fall out of the oven. To protect it, either wrap in a towel, place some bread or other bulky soft items on top or remove it and place it under a bed pillow.
Similarly, to protect the TV while travelling either remove it and place it under a bed pillow or lock the TV arm and then strap it to the arm.
If the RV has a 3-way fridge which doesn’t automatically select the energy source, make sure that you turn it from gas or 240V back to 12V, otherwise it won’t work while travelling. Speaking of gas, it’s also a good idea to burn all the gas out of the lines by lighting a cook top burner after the gas bottles have been turned off.
Most RVs are now equipped with automatic electric water pumps which can turn on and pump out all your tank water should a water line fail or a faucet open while travelling. To prevent this, fit an isolation switch and make sure it’s turned off.
Finally, make sure that all windows and hatches are secured shut. If travelling on dusty roads, open the scupper hatches if these are fitted. The pressurised air entering these hatches will minimise the amount of dust that gets sucked it.
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Got a great maintenance tip to share with your fellow RVers? Got a technical question you need answering? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Drop us a line at [email protected] or jump on our Facebook page to get in touch with Joseph or any of our experts.