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RV Safety by Mark J. Polk of RV Education 101

  • Wednesday, July 20 2005 @ 05:37 am UTC
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RV News and Stories by Mark J.Polk

I recently received an email from someone that was considering purchasing an RV. After explaining their interest in RVing there was one short question. “Are RV’s dangerous to own and operate?” After giving this some thought, I realized that this one short question covered a very large spectrum. There was no quick or easy response. I responded by saying that in most cases it’s not the RV that is dangerous, but the individual that is operating the RV. I gave some examples of unsafe acts that I have witnessed, like carrying a full spare LP gas bottle inside the RV, sleeping in the RV with the generator running, and never weighing the RV or checking the inflation pressure in the tires....

I told them when they begin their RV search the first thing to verify is that the RV manufacturer is a member of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). If they are, the RV will have an oval shaped RVIA seal displayed on the exterior, usually by the entrance door. This seal means that the RV manufacturer is in compliance with more than 500 safety requirements regarding electrical, plumbing, heating, and fire and life safety. These safety requirements are established under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A119.2 Standard for Recreation Vehicles. This should put to rest any concerns you may have about the RV itself being safe when it is manufactured.

I explained that the next step is to educate yourself on the systems of an RV and what is required to operate the RV safely and properly. If you’re going to be towing a three or four ton travel trailer, or driving a six ton plus motor home you need to understand the importance of proper hitch work, weights and driving techniques. I also explained that anytime you are dealing with petroleum products like LP gas and gasoline generators there is cause for concern, but if handled properly there is nothing to worry about. In no particular order, I offered them the following advice concerning RV safety.

Take care of your RV’s tires and they will take care of you. When you’re not using your RV keep the tires covered to protect them from the damaging affects of ozone in the air and UV rays from the sun. Invest in a quality inflation pressure gauge and check the tire pressure in all tires every time you use the RV. Check and adjust the pressure when the tires are cold, before you move it. Maintain the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. Consult the owner’s manual for proper tire inflation and never exceed the maximum pressure located on the tire sidewalls.

Weigh your RV and tow vehicle. The only way to know if the weight is properly distributed and that you are within the allowable weight ratings for the RV and tow vehicle is to have them weighed. Look for certified platform scales in your yellow pages under moving companies or truck stops. When you weigh your RV and tow vehicle have them fully loaded for travel to include passengers, cargo, fuel, personal belongings, and full fresh water and propane tanks. Verify that you do not exceed any manufacturer weight ratings such as, the Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (GVWR), Gross Combined Weight Ratings (GCWR), and Gross Axle Weight Ratings (GAWR). NEVER exceed any manufacturer weight ratings. It is quite possible to be within the weight ratings, but still exceed a tire rating. This is why you must weigh each axle end separately to insure that the load is within the capacity of the axles, wheels and tires and to see if the load is properly distributed.

Have the LP gas system inspected every spring before using the RV. Take your RV to a qualified service center and let them check the LP gas system for proper appliance operating pressure and to check the system for leaks. Familiarize yourself with the odorant added to LP gas to assist you in detecting a leak, and what to do if there is a gas leak. If you smell LP gas or the leak detector alarm goes off:

Extinguish any open flames and pilot lights.
Do not touch electrical switches.
Shut off the gas supply at the tank valve(s) or gas supply connection.
Open the doors and windows and leave the area until the odor clears.
Have the LP gas system checked and repaired by a qualified technician before using the system again.
It is not recommended that you travel with the LP gas turned on. If you do have the gas on while traveling turn off each individual pilot light, appliance, and the main gas supply before refueling.

The onboard generator makes your RV fully self-contained. It allows you access to 120 volts when there is no shore power available, but keep in mind that carbon monoxide is deadly! NEVER sleep in the RV with the generator running! Before you start and use the generator inspect the exhaust system. Do not use it if the exhaust system is damaged. Test the carbon monoxide detector every time you use the RV. Know what the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are:
Muscular twitching
Intense headache
Throbbing in the temples
Weakness and sleepiness
Inability to think coherently
If you or anyone else experiences any of these symptoms get to fresh air immediately. If the symptoms persist seek medical attention. Shut the generator down and do not operate it until it has been inspected and repaired by a professional.

I finished my response by explaining that in my opinion these were some very real concerns that all RVers need to be aware of. I also mentioned that this is a very short list. There are many other safety issues involved in owning and operating an RV, but by practicing common sense, and through education, RV ownership is not only safe, it’s lots of fun.

Happy Camping!


RV Education 101 is a North Carolina based Company that produces educational videos on how to use and maintain your RV. Mark Polk, the owner, started in the RV industry as an apprentice technician in the early 1970's. After retiring as a CW3 from the military (where Polk was an automotive maintenance technician, and was in charge of some very large maintenance operations throughout his career) in 1996, he got back into the industry he had a passion for. Polk has an extensive background in RV sales, service and management. He felt so strongly about educating the consumer that he left his position as an RV Sales Manager in 2000 to devote himself full time to his company. Mark’s program includes instructional videos and other materials to make your RVing lifestyle even easier. Mark also provides the RV Savvy segments for the RVTV program and can be seen on the Outdoor Channel. You can order Mark's complete line of RV Education 101 material from www.rveducation101.com

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