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Facts To Consider Before Making An RV Your Home - Part 1 of 3 Hubs

Updated on July 13, 2015

I am writing this article from home. A 38 ft Dutch Star RV

I've spent most of my life living in a residential home. I've spent this past year living in a 38 ft Newmar, Dutch Star, Class A, Diesel RV, traveling through over a dozen states across the country and back. Starting out from a very cold Michigan and driving my home to the warm East Coast then southwest through several other warm states and eventually driving back to the cold state of Michigan for holiday time with family. There's great rewards to embarking on a journey like this but it also had some pit falls that I did not see coming so I had to learn and deal with them the hard way. I am putting my experiences into an A - Z list of pros and cons with all the details and sharing them with everyone that is considering the possibility of making an RV their Home. There's going to be much to cover so I'm writing this in a 3 part series of Hubs. I'm adding a poll at the end of this article so you can select specific topics of interest that I can address in the follow-up parts of the series.

Home Sweet Home

Home base while traveling through Hazelhurst, GA
Home base while traveling through Hazelhurst, GA | Source

My objective in this article is to inform and help prepare you for living on the open road.

The A - Z List

Acquiring the home that will suit your needs, fit your budget and be reliable through the best and worst situations you can imagine is the best place to start. You need to start your planning way ahead of the actual time that you want to be departing for the open road. Dona, my beautiful spouse, and I started communicating about traveling and living in an RV about a year before we made it happen. We spent 6 months looking at our options for acquiring a mobile home. Both of us had local jobs, an apartment with a lease and our daily lives centered around everything in our hometown. We each made a list of things that we considered vital to have if we left our jobs, apartment and our hometown. After comparing notes, we determined the size and classification of RV that we would have to obtain in order to have the vital necessities on our list. A vehicle / home of this scale would be a six figure investment for us and that was not an option. We started looking online and found hundreds of listings for pre-owned RVs that fit our desired classification but for personal reasons the sellers were listing to sell their vehicles at a small fraction of the original prices. As we diligently continued our search, we received a call from a friend informing us of a local "For Sale By Owner" RV that appeared to be in our classification and price range. We made an appointment with the seller to go look at the RV. After looking at the RV and talking with the seller, we learned this vehicle was originally purchased for $190,000.00. It had dozens of nice up-grades in amenities, a dedicated maintenance record and many brand new items added that had not even been used. The seller was a retired master mechanic and had put great care into this RV but because of his own personal circumstances was now looking to sell it and was only asking half of the actual book price of the vehicle which at the time was already 12 years old. We found an RV that would suit our needs, fit our budget and would, very likely, be reliable through the best and worst of situations.

Basics and Common Sense

Basics and common sense issues are best absorbed by staying right where you are and living onboard your RV in your hometown, comfort zone, for at least one month. You have to become familiar with all the vehicles systems. Your residential house or apartment does not have a diesel engine, tires, air compressors that lift it off the ground with inflatable air bags, hydraulic leveling stabilizers, a built-in diesel generator with batteries and a power inverter for transforming DC to AC electrical currents and self contained holding tanks for fresh water, grey water, sewage and liquid propane fuel. To some level, small or big, your RV is going to have some very amazing systems to keep you sustained on the open road and you will need to know how to check fluid levels, read gauges, check pressures, and operate all the mechanical and electrical functions throughout your RV before you put it in drive and head out to the highway. Allow yourself time to learn and do routine system checks, fill and empty all the on-board holding tanks, connect (Safely) to grounded electrical supplies, fill your main LP tank (Safely) by having all systems OFF before fueling and last but not least, making sure that everything onboard is ready for travel. Yes, even Class-A, air-ride coaches that promise to travel like you are on a magic carpet are going to hit bumps, pot holes, and your home on wheels is going to bounce and vibrate like an earthquake at some point during your travel. I'm going to end the basics and common sense with, "Batten Down The Hatches" and have a Routine Checklist of everything that need be prepared and completed in a specific sequence prior to traveling. Make a habit of following the checklist each and every time that you go from docking to all systems go, let's travel.

My Sequential Checklist for All Systems Go

Diesel Engine
Oil, AntiFreeze, Air Filter
Check levels & Condition
Diesel Generator
Oil, AntiFreeze, Fuel/Air Filters
Check levels & Condition
Air Pressure / Lug Nuts Tight
Condition / Treads
Low / High Beams, Brakes
Signals / Markers
Tow System Connection
Safety Chains, Elec. Brakes
Trailer Lights, Tires, Straps
Slide Outs / Awnings
Fully Retracted
No Obstructions
Hydraulic Leveling Stabilizers
Fully Raised X 4
Leveling Pads Stored
Docking Connections
Electric, Water, Dump Hose
All Disconnected & Stored
Basement Compartments
All Closed / Locked
Roof Components
All Down / Locked
Windshield & Mirrors
Clean & Proper Position
Start Engine
Allow Warm Up
Air Compressor
Fully Inflate Front & Rear Bags
Check Leveling Pin Secure
All Dash Gauges
Proper Readings
No Warnings!
Checklist going from docked to driving. The main adjustment when going from driving to docking is deflating air bags, activate Hydraulic Leveling Stabilizers BEFORE Slide Outs are activated. This is a safety issue so always stabilize before expanding

Driving and Emergencies

Driving and Emergencies is the most serious section of this article. Unless you are a professional driver of large coach type vehicles you are in for some new and dramatic challenges driving a mobile home for the first time. There are many factors to be aware of before you ever put it in drive and go down the road. A 35 to 45 ft vehicle that weights in the approximate 20 to 50,000 pound range does not maneuver the same as your mini-van or even your monster truck with a lift kit. Now, add a small car trailer or even a large 20 to 24 ft enclosed trailer onto the tow system and suddenly you are driving the equivalent of an eighteen wheel tractor / trailer. Fairly simple things like turning a corner, changing lanes and backing up are going to be very different and require adjustments, extra caution, compensation, extra caution, slow / steady / judgement and extra caution. It only takes a fraction of a second while turning a corner or changing lanes for a small car to suddenly appear out of nowhere and be right in your intended path. Blind spots and gaps, both in terms of 60 ft distance and up and down from the height that you will be driving at are all the way around you. The best, most important driving skill you need to know and practice is use Extra Caution. Take a slow, steady approach to turning, steering, and backing up. Use every mirror, camera and electronic turn signal that you have at your control to warn other drivers and proceed to maneuver your vehicle slow and steady. Something I already hinted about is road conditions. No mater how nice and smooth an RV is designed to ride, once you get out there on the interstate highways, it is going to be a test on your nerves. There are no smooth roads anywhere in this country! If they are not pitted, cracked, sloped, uneven, caved in, or demolished, they are under construction with cement barricades and down to one very narrow lane that will shave the pin strips off the side of your RV if you blink too long! On the other hand you will encounter some areas where you go from a passing lane that no one can pass in to suddenly you are on a seven lane highway where drivers are zipping past you, around you, and seemingly under and over you so fast that it may give you Whiplash! Heaven forbid that you miss an exit on a seven lane highway and need to turn around your 60 ft mobile home. Don't count on GPS navigation systems to get you everywhere on a dime because infrastructure is changing faster than GPS can keep up with it and there are no turn arounds for houses on wheels. This is one of the major cons and it's going to happen often so just be prepared to adapt and overcome. Any kind of emergency that occurs on the open road can become more serious when your caught in heavy, fast moving traffic or worst case situation is severe weather conditions. No matter what happens out there, do your best to get off busy roads and use extreme caution in severe weather. Just before I began working on this article, we observed one of the worst highway traffic mass casualty incidents in history. Here in the cold, ice and snow covered roads of Michigan, drivers get used to the slippery conditions and let their guard down. This unfortunate reality led to over 190 vehicles crashing and even catching fire on our I-94 highway in Battle Creek, Michigan. Don't let your guard down. Finally, I want to encourage you to plan and prepare for emergencies by doing the following: make sure everyone traveling in your RV knows how to find and use the emergency egress window. There is an escape window installed in every mobile home and it may save your life in an emergency. Have a well stocked first aid kit onboard and have a commercial grade ABC fire extinguisher inside the RV and a second one in an exterior basement compartment that can be accessed readily in case of a fire. Make sure there's working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detector onboard your RV and when you are using appliances that run on LP fuel make sure there's adequate ventilation by opening a window or a roof vent. If you ever smell a strong odor of gas, get out of the vehicle, leave it open and shut off the main gas valve. Contact a qualified service professional to check for leaks and make any repairs.

Fuel and Generator

At a glance you only see the big, shiny coach roll by with chrome wheels spinning and its grace is gone in a glance. What you don't see is the amazing matrix of systems inside the compartments all the way around the RV. Systems vary with different RV Classifications, lengths and slide outs. I'm going to use my home as an example for this section because I have become a very educated by experience RV resident. Fuel and Generator is your completely free to roam source of power. The 38 ft Dutch Star that I live in has two recessed nozzle inlets for pumping diesel fuel into either side of the rig and a 70 gallon fuel capacity. The coach / front compartment has a pull-out mount with a 7500 Cummins Onan diesel generator that can be started with electric switches located right on the generator or from the drivers main control panel. This generator starts soft and runs so quiet that you don't hear it running when you're inside the RV. If you're outside standing near by it's still so quiet that you are not distracted by it. This is a real pro if you're outside grilling and enjoying the outdoor fresh air. You can block out the mild sound of the generator with a CD player or radio playing at a respectful volume. The really awesome pro of this type of onboard power supply is you don't have to be connected to a land line electrical supply for all your onboard AC or DC power needs. You can run this onboard power plant while you're docked or driving and it will run non-stop for a solid week and only use half a tank of diesel fuel! That's a lot of power on very little fuel consumption. The only con to this system is you must keep an eye on the generators oil level, anti-freeze level, the oil filter, air filter and most important of all the diesel fuel-line-filter. Keep these fluids at the required level, the filters clean, and this power plant will run efficiently 24/7 until you shut it off!

New spare filters for onboard generator

New, back-up spare filters for Cummins Onan Generator.
New, back-up spare filters for Cummins Onan Generator. | Source

Heating interior, basement and holding tanks.

This is the final topic that I will cover here in part - 1. Heating interior, basement and holding tanks. If you are new to the concept of RV living, you are probably wondering how important is it to have interior heat, basement heat and holding tank heat when RV living is really best suited for travel to warm places. It is certainly ideal to be in warm, tropical, places when you're living inside an RV but sometimes it just doesn't happen. I've already been to many places where it is very warm and sunny during the day but once the sun goes down the temperature can drop below freezing. Such a place that I just experienced was Columbia, South Carolina! Only a couple hours away from miles of beautiful, sunny, beach and the Atlantic Ocean but once the sun goes down the freeze alerts go out. Many long term stay RV residents in this area keep their RVs equipped with winterized gear and plenty of LP fuel just for the serious drop in temperature that comes with nightfall. Things that are vital to consider about heating is it will be needed at some point and if you end up in a cold state like Michigan it will be running 24/7 to keep warm, and keep all the plumbing and holding tanks from freezing. We are docked in Michigan at this moment and have to rely on LP Fuel, the furnace putting heat into the basement area via a special basement heating fan and electrical heating pads that are installed around all the holding tanks to assist at keeping them from freezing in severe, low temperatures. Another very important consideration is having to pack up the RV and go from docked to driving every time the onboard LP tank gets low. In this rig and at the current winter temperatures our 40 gallon LP supply last about 4-5 days and then it's time to pack up everything and drive the rig to an LP refill station. This is a very dreadful con to RV living! The time, inconvenience, expense, and planning for having enough fuel to get through weekends and holidays. It's a critical con when nothing is open except a U-Haul depot with propane filling station that is ten cities away. On that note, I did my homework and found a device that can be mounted to the onboard LP main tank between the shut-off valve and the regulator that will allow you to connect an external, portable, tank to your system and even attach a second LP supply hose for fueling a gas grill. So now, we keep about 1/2 of our onboard LP main tank full and use the Extend-A-Stay connection and a few 30 lbs portable tanks to keep our heat going without having to drive the RV away from our dock site every time we get low on fuel. I'm adding a link for this very helpful device and a video that demonstrates how simple it is to connect it to your system. I currently use it and it is a must have if you're going to winter in an RV or be in an RV park on an extended stay. Be sure and submit your input on the poll for the next 2 parts to this series and feel free to comment. Until then, Thanks for reading and I wish you the best!

Marshall Extend-A-Stay Propane Kit for RV

Extend-A-Stay Propane Valve Installed

External LP tank connected to the Extend-A-Stay gas valve.
External LP tank connected to the Extend-A-Stay gas valve.

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The view at breakfast

Pull Through RV Park in Georgia
Pull Through RV Park in Georgia | Source


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