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Take an RV Shakedown Cruise and find those problems early?

Updated on November 16, 2017
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life and he shares his knowledge of motorhomes and other RVs.

Take a Shakedown Trip in your RV

So you have purchased a NEW (newer?) RV, so, now what are you going to do?

Over the past forty years or more, I have owned (along with the Bank) a number of RV’s, from travel trailers, to fifth wheelers to Class-A Motorhomes. And, along the way, I have had some interesting problems occur soon after I purchased each one of them.

Some of these problems were just small, even humorous, things that you talk about over a fire with friends, years later.

But just as often I have had some nearly disastrous things occur that scared both my wife and I at the time they happened.

All of these problems, whether small or large, happened unexpectedly and, after all of these years with the different motorhomes we have owned, we have developed our own method for managing any such problems.

What I have learned to do, is to take a Shakedown Cruise.

My Fleetwood Bounder getting a PDI (Product Delivery Inspection)

My Bounder sitting in the Bay at LazyDays going through its PDI (Product Delivery Inspections.
My Bounder sitting in the Bay at LazyDays going through its PDI (Product Delivery Inspections. | Source

Shake out those hidden problems fast and when you are ready for them.

First of all, a Shakedown Trip is not a Cruise of course. And its not a real Shakedown like years ago, when I was in the Navy. But, it is a kind of “getting to know each other trip” for my wife and I and our new RV.

Every new RV owner needs to do is "get to know their RV", understand how everything functions, learn its idiosyncrasies, and figure out its special little controls and accessories.

Sure, you may have owned other RV's and you may feel comfortable driving it out and onto the roads of America right away, but after you have owned or driven a few different ones, you learn that every RV has its own personality, which is what I call the design differences that are built into every RV on the road.

And honestly, your RV needs to get to know you.

Just like you have habits and memories of your old Motorhome, how to make it work and function properly; your newer RV probably has several newer; limitations and operating procedures for the new owner to understand in order to operate it safely.

So, I have found that the best thing for me to do is, “to do nothing”; nothing different at first, that is.

Just incase my RV breaks down while on the road, I keep an Emergency Beacon Flare Kit like this one right at my entrance door.

Sure, Research and Study is necessary too, but living in your RV is the best way to find problems.

Oh sure, I read through all of the newer and different manuals you get in that big suitcase-like bag with each new RV.

I also talk to friends that have a newer Rig than mine about the good and the bad of their experiences. And I even do a little research on the web to enlighten myself on what the rest of the RV world has to say about this newer RIG of mine.

It all helps!

I can attest to the fact that this kind or self-education does help you start out traveling much safer with your new RV from what you pick up doing such research.

But, in my opinion, nothing is as good for you and yours to do than to get out there, as soon as possible and “just do it”. Just live in your Motorhome or other RV, as soon as possible, for at least a week or two if possible.

You don't have to go far, but you should go to a nearby Campground and just live in your RV.

Me, I usually pick a campground that is relatively inexpensive with full service sites which isn't too far from my home.

As we drive to the selected campground, we closely monitor how it and all of the installed accessories such as a Navigation system, Rear camera, and such, operate and function on the road.

If all goes well, once we get to the campground, we quickly hook up our RV, and start using this new rolling home of ours. If there are problems, we document them for later when we can contact the dealer or the manufacturer and find out more about what we experienced that concerned us.

Once in our campsite though, we try to operate and use everything in the RV; the fridge being first, of course, and then the AC, the Furnace, as well as all of the appliances and accessories.

We use everything that can operate on either the campsite power or the 12-VDC power (inverted from the Coach batteries) making sure the batteries and Inverter all function well under load.

And we use the propane stove, as well as the fridge (if it is a 2-way fridge) in Propane mode. And we even run the furnace several time to make sure everything operates OK and there are no Propane leaks.

At least a couple of times we will run the generator for a couple of hours and check that it operates well at; no load, half load, and near full load. All the while, we functionally check the electrical appliances to make sure they have no problems.

As i mentioned, when I have an Inverter in my Rig, I load the 12-VDC system up and make sure it is operating well enough that my all of my electrical devices can run properly on the converted voltage supplied by the Inverter.

I'll even monitor my chassis (engine) battery and turn on certain lights and things that use this power source, just to see how they handle a load; then I restart the engine and charge it back up, of course.

Then there are such things as; the adjustable roof TV antenna, the automatic Satellite Antenna, the Stereo system, along with all of the 110-VAC receptacles (especially the GFI ones). And I check that my slides work smoothly when opened and closed several times; and on and on.

I keep a Small, convenient Air Compressor, like this one, in my RV just in case I have a tire with low air pressure. I check the tires before every drive.

Here is what I did on a recent Shakedown trip of my own.

Recently, I was sitting in a campsite in North Fort Myers Florida. It was only a 1-1/2 hour drive on I-75, south of my home in Ruskin, Florida, so the trip was a simple one.

We had been in our campsite, hooked up and were still pushing buttons for a couple of days and then guess what happened?

We had already found a few small problems with our New (older) motorhome so we were going to make an appointment with the dealer as soon as we got home. At this point, you might ask; didn’t the dealer check out your Rig before you bought it? Well, of course they did,

I purchased the Rig at LazyDays in Florida, and they, like so many of the better dealers these days, performed their “PDI” on my Rig; that's Product Delivery Inspection.

This is the latest thing done now for the buyer when purchasing New and Used RV’s; getting the dealer to have a certified tech functionally operate and confirm that everything works before you take possession of your new Rig.

My Rig did have a conscientious PDI performed on it, and after purchasing it, we drove the thirty miles or so to my home, without even a hint of a problem.

This is my favorite Multimeter that I keep in my RV for checking any electrical circuits, fuses or wiring.

My surprising Shakedown Problems that I fixed myself

Oh, I mentioned a few problems, didn’t I?

Even after this short period of time in the campground, I had already found several ”problems” that I definitely did not want to be finding while traveling far away from home, or on a vacation.

But here are a few of the more concerning problems we found, that are worth mentioning;

Problem-1: Engine Battery.

Before we got to go on our little shakedown, I had my Rig stored for a couple of weeks, occasionally going in and out of it to store things that I knew I would need when we next traveled.

As luck would have it, the day we were to pull out, we settled in our seats, strapped our seat-belts on and then? Well, the engine didn’t start.

You RV owners out there probably just shrug this off like I did. It’s not uncommon to find you left something on in your RV, or forgot to throw the “battery disconnect” switch to off while storing your RV.

I don’t know why, but this little thing happens to a lot to RVers; not disengaging your Chassis Battery from the electrical system in your RV when you are not on the road.

You see, your RV, unlike your car, has a number of things that are connected to the Chassis electrical system that will, over time draw a very minor amount of current; things like; power Awnings, storage area lights, front over-dash fans, dash radio, and such even though they are not being operated.

Honestly, the average camper’s poor memory is often the reason for a lot of the things they find going wrong on an RV.

So, again, I wasn’t worried, I just held the AUX START (a booster switch) down and then started my engine. No problem. For you novices out there, a Motorhome has two battery systems, the Main (or Chassis) battery, and the Aux (or Coach) batteries.

This booster switch momentarily connects both battery systems together, and when your engine battery goes dead you can still start the engine by momentarily connecting both batteries in parallel.

Anyway, we started the engine, performed out "hitting the road" checklist and then we made the short hour and a half drive, in good time.

The first inkling of a problem was when I had shut the engine down to check in at the gate to the campground and came back out to the RV. The engine didn’t even click when I turned the ignition switch.

Well, I calmed myself and thinking to myself, Let the Games Begin, we pulled our RV across the campground and into our assigned campsite. Then we hooked up and I took my trusty multimeter out to check the battery.

My multimeter had died. “More fun?", I asked myself as I calmly beat the now useless meter against the nearest Palm tree. (Just Kidding?)

Luckily, a friend was traveling with us and he was also “shaking down” his new fifth-wheeler, so he rooted around and found his multimeter.

The Gods finally smiled on me and my friend's meter was a good one. But a quick check of my battery told us that the chassis battery was my culprit and it needed replacement.

The whole engine compartment of my RV looked pristine, clean as a pin they say, and the battery itself looked like it was brand new. But, a closer look at the battery labels told us it wasn’t, but it was actually three years old.

Later, that first day, we made a trip to the closest a popular auto parts store and picked up a new battery. Then it was a quick drive back to the campground and I installed the new battery into my RV.

For the rest of the stay I kept a close eye on the battery, starting the engine a number of times but it held its charge well, so finally uncrossed my fingers and started to trust my new battery.

Problem-2: My Multimeter

I recommend that every RVer own a good multimeter. And if you are not technical at all, you should still get one and have someone show you how to use it safely.

With all of the accessories and appliances in today’s RV’s, you’re going to have problems of some kind, it’s just a matter of time. when you do have a problem, a multimeter is an invaluable tool for any RVer to own when diagnosing such problems.

I had no idea that my meter had died just sitting in my garage, and finding that I had to get another one now rather than when on the road and some electrical problem cropped up was actually a good thing, I guess..

Problem-3: Indoor Lounge Chair

Our RV has a pretty standard layout and the living area has a Sofa and a Lounge Chair. My wife has a bad back and she prefers being able to move around on the Sofa so that’s hers.

I, on the other hand, love sitting in a nice recliner sofa when I am writing or just watching TV at night, so we automatically migrated to our favorite seats as soon as we had everything set up in the campsite.

Now, this new problem of ours is a simple one actually.

The lounge chair in an RV is mounted to a specific spot on the floor of the RV, so it won’t end up bouncing around as you travel down the road, and mine, as expected, was firmly mounted. For you novices out there, this mounting system also has a stop to keep the chair from swiveling too far in either direction.

Mine, it seems, was not set right. It stoped me about 20-degrees from where I want it to be when I am watching the TV. It wasn't a bad thing, but it is a nuisance. Now I have a new task when i get home, I will need to move this mount and set things for my Lounge chair to be aligned properly, for me.

Problem-4; Wiper blades

Actually, I did find a few really small things I needed to replace the wiper blades which were OK, but a little hard from age and sun exposure, so I replaced them.

Problem-5; Entrance Light

And, The lightbulb over the entrance door was bad, So, I went tothe popular RV parts store, Camping World, and purchased an LED replacement for it. With this done, I will have adequate light at my door, but there will be much less current consumed by an LED bulb rather than a incandescent one, and it will have a much longer life before it goes bad on me.

Problem-6; Loose gaskets

I did find that I had loose gaskets on two of the exterior storage compartment doors. Checking closer, I could see that I only had to add some silicone rubber to the underside of the gaskets and close the doors to hold them in place. So far, they have stayed set and the doors seal properly.

These last problems were definitely not disastrous for us, but we did find them fast and took care of them right away.

In Summary, my Shakedown Cruise philosophy worked out great for me.

But, again, this is why we took our “Shakedown Cruise”, in order to root out these little problems and fix them before we hit the road on a longer trip.

In fact, most of that week we were sitting around our campsite, in 87degree temperatures, under a bright blue Florida sky, actually wishing we could get a couple of hours of a blowing rain. That would have tested my roof and slide gasket seals. Crazy, Huh?

by Don Bobbitt, 2015

Preparing for your first RV Trip

© 2015 Don Bobbitt


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Your experience of traveling and camping in your RV makes an interesting read. Once I worked at the Permit and Licenses Division for Motor Vehicles and the pictures of the RVs which came in with the applications were the nearest I came to them. Seems like enjoyable adventure, for the most part.

    • Don Bobbitt profile image

      Don Bobbitt 2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Billybuc- Thanks for the read and kind comment.

      Things for my wife and I are OK. As I tell friends now when they ask me how I am doing; "Well, I woke up this morning!". That's my new standard, I guess.After that, I go over the aches and pains, take my mound of pills and get into whatever interests me.

      Luckily, I get to run away in my RV when I can. We don't travel as far as we used to do years ago, but we take short trips to cheap campgrounds and see the sights and more importantly, we meed new and often interesting people. I hope you are still, "Pushing the wheelboro uphill, yourself?" I know I'm still enjoying your writings. Keep on Truckin' my friend.


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't have an RV and I haven't had a vacation for four years, but I do have time to stop by and say hi. I hope all is well in your world.