Going on a trip in your RV, whether it’s a new motorhome or a used one, can mean anything from a long weekend to an extended road trip. The items on your RV pre-trip checklist depend on where you are going and the duration of the trip you are planning. That said, there are essential mechanical preparation checks and RVing basics that everyone should review before setting out in their RV.
Let’s take a look at what those are and when you should do them. Use this prioritized checklist to prep your RV for travel.
1+ Months Before RV Road Trip
Start with a Roadworthy Check-up (ideally, 3-6 months before your trip). Before you even think about heading out on the road, you need to check your RV’s condition and ensure it is safe and ready for travel. The last thing you want to do is end up stranded and have to deal with mechanical or electrical issues instead of enjoying your vacation. Consider having your RV inspected by a certified technician at least annually while you perform regular preventative and condition-based maintenance. Remember, an ounce of prevention outweighs a pound of cure.
The Big 4 in RV Trip Preparation
These top four checks will go a long way in avoiding costly repairs down the road. So, allow for plenty of time, a month or more, to check these items in case you find issues.
Check the roof. UV and water deteriorate the roof sealant coating over time. Regular care, preventative maintenance, and periodic inspection can maximize your RV roof lifespan. RV roof replacement can cost $300+ per linear foot (labor and materials) while resealing your RV roof can cost $250-$500 total.
- If your RV roof is walkable, be sure to walk it so you can closely check for damage. Otherwise, use a ladder to inspect the condition of your roof from a safe vantage point. If you’re not comfortable at heights, have an expert do a roof check at your nearest Camping World Service Station.
- Make sure there are no cracks or broken seals around anything.
- Rub your hand over the roof surface to check the sealant for a chalk-like feeling. White residue on your hand indicates the roof coating is deteriorating. While this is normal wear, this means it’s time to reseal your RV roof.
- If needed, thoroughly wash your RV’s exterior to help with visual inspection and water leak detection.
Check those tires—on your RV and tow vehicle if you have one. Remember to check all spare tires, too. Tire blowouts are a leading cause of RV accidents. If your rig is in long-term storage, the tires should still be raised off the ground to reduce load weight stress and distortion.
- Look for wear and tear in the tread and sidewalls.
- Check tires for age. Even if the tire tread looks “like new” as a safety precaution replace tires past the manufacturer’s published lifespan. As mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the manufactured date code is stamped into the sidewall as the last 4 digits after “DOT.” The first two digits are the week (out of 52 weeks per year) and the last 2 digits are the year it was made. Generally, RV tire lifespan is around 6 years. After that, tires are on borrowed time.
- Check for correct tire pressure as tires lose about 2-3 PSI per month in storage. Also, look for air leaks.
- Check tire lug nuts for tightness as well as wear.
Time-Saving Tip: While you’re checking this area, look under the RV for fluid leaks and holes housing unwanted little guests. Check the RV’s underbelly and look on the ground for evidence. Also pay attention to any rust or cracks on the chassis frame.
Have your RV, from a fifth wheel to a travel trailer, completely mechanically checked, or do it yourself. It’s also wise to check your tow vehicle maintenance as well. Towing adds stress on the tow vehicle, increasing the frequency of routine maintenance.
If this is your first road trip of the RV season, you can bundle this pre-trip inspection with your RV’s annual maintenance technician check. If the technical manual recommends specific maintenance be done by a certified technician, then take it to a professional. Do not disregard warnings or suggestions in the manual and double-check the warranty requirements. Bottom-line, make sure these key components are checked:
- Brakes, Axles, and Differentials:
As needed, adjust your brakes, grease your axles, and check your differential fluid level. If you don’t feel comfortable getting underneath your RV for this check, schedule a maintenance service appointment with your nearest Camping World Service Center. If you have already had an annual maintenance service check completed by a certified RV technician, then confirm that the service falls within the mileage guidelines recommended in your owner’s manual.
Fluids are the lifeblood of any motorized vehicle. Inspect the level and condition of these essential automotive fluids by looking at the dipsticks and fluid reservoirs located under the hood—engine oil, radiator coolant/antifreeze, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, windshield washer fluid. To check your freon level, you’ll need an AC recharger with a gauge kit.
Filters are condition-based replacement items that protect your mechanical systems from damage caused by particulates. The exact location of each filter type differs based on the vehicle’s make and model. If the non-reusable filter has served its purpose filtering contaminants and gunk, simply replace it. When possible, clean reusable filters for maximum usage.
- Engine Air Filter:
This filter is located inside of a housing connected to the engine block. When removing the engine air filter from its housing, remember its orientation—the orientation matters for some models.
- Cabin Air Filter:
Although motorhomes are built on truck and bus chassis, when the outside air intake has been relocated to the enclosure containing the heater and AC evaporator core, the dash HVAC system may not come with a cabin air filter. Check your owner’s manual to confirm your configuration.
- Oil Filter:
Remember to replace it when you change your engine oil. The oil filter is attached to the engine block.
- Fuel Filter:
If your fuel filter has a clear window, visually inspect the condition of the filter paper and the color of the fluid. If the fuel filter is not see-through, then pay close attention to your engine performance. Watch for decreased fuel efficiency, rough idling, and engine stalling. The fuel filter is located along the fuel line in between the fuel tank and engine, sometimes underneath the vehicle and other times inside the engine compartment.
- Engine Air Filter:
- Belts, Hoses, and Wiring:
Since you’re already in the engine bay, perform a visual inspection of the condition of the belts, hoses, and wires—essentially, everything else visible under the hood. Check for looseness and material deterioration—such as cracking, holes, fraying, and exposed wires.
Visibility is critical for safe driving. Test headlights, tail lights, turn signals, and hazard lights/flashers.
The road, and even the trails, accommodate drivers of all skill levels. Your horn is a safety device to alert others of your approach, especially when the other driver seems unaware of your presence. When you’re traversing a winding grade, those you’re sharing the road with will appreciate the safe use of your horn.
RV Hitch and Tow
Make sure your hitch and towing equipment are in good order. Your hitch and tow setup should be compatible with your load capacity. Check for corrosion, wear, and loose parts while inspecting the following items:
- Fifth wheel trailer kingpin and fifth-wheel components. Before hooking up to your tow vehicle you will need to install a lube plate or add grease to the fifth wheel hitch skid plate surface. Remember to lubricate the rest of the moving parts to protect the inner workings of your hitch as well as prevent a stuck hitch release.
- Conventional trailer hitch components and tow vehicle rear receiver opening. If your tow vehicle is equipped with an aftermarket frame mount hitch, inspect the bolts or welds.
- Weight distribution hitch components and sway control system components.
- Tow dolly components and accessories.
- Pay extra attention to the coupler mechanism and all hitch pins used in your hitch and tow setup. The hitch coupler and pins prevent your RV and tow vehicle from disconnecting during travel.
- Check all bolts because road vibrations can loosen bolts over time.
- Check all cables, electrical connections, and chains.
- RV bumper hitch. Although this hitch is not rated to tow a trailer or vehicle, if your RV uses this hitch mount attachment for hauling bicycles, cargo, or other accessories then remember to check the bumper fastener (clamp or bolt-on).
Inspect and Prep RV Systems
Check or have your RV’s internal functions completely checked. These inspection points can also be scheduled with your RV’s annual maintenance service. If you RV full-time, your RV systems should be regularly maintained and ideally, you’re already vigilantly monitoring these items.
Completing these checks also tests RV circuits for issues. Inspect for damage, corrosion, and loose or stuck parts. As needed, use the recommended compatible conditioners, lubricants, and fluids to protect and maintain these components:
- Open and extend steps, slideouts, slide toppers, awnings, windows, and any patio decks. These should be retracted and closed during storage. Note whether these items move freely. Pay attention to the condition of all latches, hooks, hinges, and any movable parts. This functional test also pre-checks your coach batteries.
- Check slideout seals, visible mounting points, and visible slide mechanism components.
- Check topper and awning fabric as well as arms, tubes, and visible wiring.
- Check window seals. Look for chips, cracks, and leaks in the glass.
- Check the seals around doors, storage compartments, and any patio decks.
- If you skipped washing your RV earlier, it’s a good idea to thoroughly wash your RV exterior to help with visual inspection and water leak detection around the windows and doors.
- If necessary, de-winterize your RV. You can test the campground/city water hookup as part of this step when you pressurize the water system.
- Inspect the water heater. Make sure to put that drain plug back in if you removed it. Check panel wiring for dry rot and debris.
- If you have a gas/electric refrigerator, remember to check the panel wiring for dry rot and debris as well.
- Check the condition of your HVAC system components.
- Sanitize the freshwater tank if it’s been six months or longer.
- Check for mold, mildew, and unwanted critters inside the refrigerator, bathrooms, under sinks, inside closets, and the rest of the RV interior.
- Check your batteries—coach, chassis, tow vehicle—for corrosion, fluid levels, and recharge (as needed).
- Safety checks on your propane system. Start with the propane system turned off. Pay attention to any propane odor. Look at your propane tank label to confirm whether it needs recertification. Inspect the propane hoses and seals for cracking. If no visible issues, then open your propane tank to bubble test for propane leaks. If no leaks, continue onto the next check.
Functional Test RV Systems
Before testing, inspect all exhaust and intake openings and remove any nests or debris found inside. Test run remaining RV systems.
- Inspect and run your generator. As needed, change filters and fluids according to the manufacturer’s technical manual. If you regularly use your generator while RVing, then plug it into your generator for testing the electrical appliances. This better simulates your real-world usage.
- Test run all your electric and propane appliances to make sure they work—
- Stove (Begin with the stove in case you need to bleed any air out of the propane lines.)
- Water heater (Start the water heater soon after so it can heat the water while you test other appliances.)
- Water pump (While testing the water heater, you’ll also test run the water pump.)
- Vent fans
- Confirm any dual or 3-way gas/electric appliances run properly for every option.
- Lights (Check to make sure all lights work—interior lights and exterior auxiliary lights. Proper lighting helps with security and to deter theft.)
- If you did not have to de-winterize your RV, also test run the campground/city water hookup.
- Inspect your jacks for dents, bent or twisted metal, stripped threads, loose bolts, and corrosion. If your RV has electric or hydraulic jacks, also look at the motor, wiring, electrical connections, hydraulic hoses, and hydraulic fluid level depending on the jack type. As a precaution, refer to the jack manufacturer’s technical manual before performing preventative maintenance. Repair methods can vary across manufacturers of the same type of jack.
- Temporarily pull your RV out of its storage spot. This flexes the tires for oil dispersion within the rubber components. This also tests your jacks, hitch setup, and trailer brakes and lights. With the RV out of the way, recheck the storage parking space for evidence of leaks.
1 Week to Pull Chocks
About a week before your trip is where the bulk of the road trip planning needs to occur. It’s also the ideal timeframe for an RV Ready Check-In. Doing all this a week out gives you enough time to get it done without having to rush. It’s best to discover any issues and troubleshoot whether you need replacement parts before hitting the road.
Prep for Your Travel
- It’s smart to contact campgrounds at or near your destination and make a reservation. In some locations, drop-ins aren’t allowed. Many popular campgrounds fill up fast, and you need to plan well in advance.
- If you are a first-time RV owner, leverage Camping World’s expertise to fill in any knowledge gaps. In addition to online resources, there’s the Camping World YouTube channel. Plus, you can always visit the nearest store for professional advice on your specific RV model and lifestyle setup.
- Reconfirm fluid levels are satisfactory for your motorhome, tow vehicle, and generator. If something has changed since your Roadworthy Check-up, re-inspect for leaks.
- Recheck your battery holds a charge. If the battery charge indicator is not showing full/max, then re-inspect the battery for the root cause.
- Recheck the black tank level. The sensor should indicate empty. If it isn’t reading empty, then you know an issue with the sensor is at play—either something is stuck to it or the sensor needs replaced.
- Confirm the number of additional propane tanks and gas cans you think you’ll need for your destination plans if any. Make sure you have enough cargo straps to secure these flammable items. Check all propane and gas containers for leaks before filling up or stowing in your RV. Fill or exchange propane cylinders.
- Inspect your fire safety systems—smoke alarm, carbon monoxide detector, LP detector, fire extinguishers. Be sure to carry the recommended number of fire extinguishers. With towable RVs, keep one in an unlocked compartment of your tow vehicle.
- Optional: Add deodorizer to your black and grey holding tanks. This allows plenty of time for it to address any lingering or developing odors. This tip really depends on your preference and sensitivity to smells.
Restock and Stage
- Put together a meal plan and be ready to prepare food at the campground.
- Shop for food and supplies you’ll need on your trip.
- If this is your RV’s first outing, outfit it properly.
- Stage the gear you plan to use at your destination—hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, and more.
- Pack or stage laundry (remember the towels!). If needed, wash laundry that you plan to take with you.
- Check tools and spare parts inventory. Stage any tools until load-in.
- Check to make sure that your first aid kit is complete.
- Gather all of the important paperwork, like insurance and health documents, and have them in one place.
- Gather all required medications for your family as well as any pets.
- Prearrange any obligations to be covered while your gone—for example, bills, mail delivery, packages.
- Plan your route and print copies of maps and directions (in case you don’t have internet access or phone signal). Good Sam members can use the exclusive Trip Planner to research a travel route with height clearance search filters.
- As you gather and stage these items, build a cargo packing plan.
Day Before Hitting the Road with Your RV
It’s time to load supplies and gear. Doing these items the day before departure saves stress and gives you time to reconfigure your storage plan if needed. Also, time to do a double-check of the following:
- Double-check tire pressure on the tow vehicle and RV.
- Double-check awnings are secured.
- Double-check exterior-mounted cargo—bikes, kayaks, coolers are secure.
- Double-check walkie-talkies are charged.
Safe Load Limits
Avoid overloading and remember to account for any liquid weight.
- When loading and packing your RV and tow vehicle, take note of the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). Try your best to balance the load weight evenly across the axles from front to rear and side to side.
- For driving and braking safety, do not exceed the Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR).
You’re almost ready to get in your RV and hit the road, it’s essential to take some time and make sure you’re totally prepared for your trip.
Travel Safety Checks
Even if you checked these yesterday, it’s a wise practice and good habit to do a walk-around just in case anything changed. Because anything could happen, even in your own driveway. Run through the travel safety checks:
- Clean all windows, mirrors, and cameras. Everything you do to increase your visibility will help you maneuver more easily and safely.
- Verify all appliances are turned off and stored. Remember the fridge, and use safe settings for travel. Certain states prohibit RVers from operating propane refrigerators in transit. While this practice remains hotly debated, RV refrigerator manufacturers do not officially oppose these regulations.
- Verify hookup hoses/connections are closed. Remember to check your propane tanks, hoses, and valves.
- Final Walkthrough Verification. Walk through the interior of the RV to make sure stuff is secured. Check inside all cupboards and the refrigerator to secure items that might move or shift while traveling. Close all internal and external doors and cabinets and lock them if necessary. Secure any additional gas cans and propane tanks. Open any toy hauler garage exhaust vents.
- Avoid clearance issues. Check all antenna and vents to sure they aren’t up before pulling out. Close roof vents except those for ventilation. Make sure any moving parts are secured. Ensure all external RV items such as steps, decks, and handrails are properly stowed.
- Remember to remove wheel chocks as well as raise jacks and stabilizers before pulling out. Also, remember to grab your leveling blocks underneath the jacks and stabilizers.
- Final Walkaround Inspection. Do a thorough walkaround inspection of the RV, tow vehicle, and hitch pins. Touch everything to make sure it’s secure and ready to go.
Fueled and Ready to Go the Distance
Your journey is ready to begin. Here are a few things that will make your travels more comfortable with fewer inconvenient pitstops.
- Pack the fridge and the cooler. While it won’t derail your adventure, the meal plan you put together for the campground will be tastier if you packed the ingredients. Pack the cooler so you minimize opening the fridge until you reach your destination.
- Fill containers for drinking water. Keep them and the cooler within the passenger area for easy access.
- Fill the potable freshwater tank to your preferred level if you are boondocking, but remember that carrying a lot of water with you adds a considerable amount of weight to your rig. Try to do this closer to your campsite.
- Fuel up the vehicle if it isn’t already.
With every item on this RV trip preparation checklist marked off, you should have a safe and enjoyable trip. With this comprehensive checklist and some savvy RV hacks, you’ll be the smartest camper at the campground.
How do you prepare for your RV trips? Anything you’d add to this checklist?