You’d pretty much have to live in a bubble to have missed the many news articles, social media posts, etc. about the explosion of RV sales in the shadow of COVID-19. In general, the figure I’ve heard is sales are up by 30%. And, specifically, in June they were 90% higher than June of last year. That’s crazy. But also, kind of understandable. As cabin fever started a few months into isolation combined with that time period at the beginning of summer when people turn to the idea of vacations, an RV became a solution to the problem. It is a relatively safe way to get from place to place and, once at your destination, you are in your own bed, kitchen, space. Thus, reducing possible exposure to the virus. So, today I thought I’d offer a few tips to avoid newbie RVer mistakes.
It was actually the combination of all those sales and some RV projects I tackled over the summer (related to my own early mistakes) that got me thinking about newbie RVer mistakes I hope this article might help others avoid.
About a year ago, I wrote an article on the same topic. In that one, I wrote about the four big-picture newbie RVer mistakes. But the recap of those big newbie RVer mistakes are:
- Treating RV Life Like a Vacation
- Trying to Do Too Much, to See Too Much
- Not Seeking Out Community
- Thinking RV Life is a Cheaper Life
Today’s list isn’t quite as big picture. It’s smaller and not nearly as startling. Still, they are very real. So, on to the 4 new newbie RVer mistakes and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Not Reading Manuals or Understanding Warranties
It is so easy not to read manuals. Most of us do it. While I’m definitely in this group, I do always file manuals along with my receipt for an item. (You might remember a photo of a receipt for a little cooler I bought in 1989!) Though I’ve noticed a trend in recent years. You probably have too. Items, more and more frequently, don’t come with the manual. Companies, first, seem to assume you won’t read it anyway. Second, that even if you read it, you probably won’t keep it for future reference. So, therefore, they make them accessible online.
Now, I’m torn because you know I love anything that helps the planet. Printing less manuals means less trees destroyed and less manuals ending up in landfill. But I love having the physical manual in my files, accessible anytime regardless of whether or not I have an internet connection.
But I digress. This newbie RVer mistake isn’t about the form the manuals take. It’s about not reading and being familiar with your new (or new-to-you) rig. When you are new to RVing, you think a lot of your sticks-and-bricks knowledge will transfer to the RV. And it just doesn’t. So, you are learning tons of new processes, systems and equipment with RV life. Reading manuals can help decrease frustration that comes with the learning curve.
Probably more important than the manuals are the warranties. Many people have experienced that situation where you have a warranty on an item, something goes wrong and then you learn that the particular thing that went wrong isn’t actually covered in the warranty. It’s infuriating.
Knowing exactly what your warranty does and doesn’t cover will save you from surprises later on. On an RV, it’s also worth noting that while the dealer or manufacturer of an RV will have one warranty, the components that make up the RV might have different warranties. That different warranty will be issued by the company that makes the component.
For example, on my Oliver, Oliver provided a one-year warranty on the trailer (though during my on-site factory visit, I was told two years) but then the components such as the refrigerator, the water heater, the radio and television had separate warranties by the companies that made those components. And they were not necessarily for that same one year as the Oliver.
The newbie RV mistake is simply not understanding where you can seek relief if something goes wrong after you purchase your RV. My advice, as much as possible, is to walk into the deal with your eyes open. Reading manuals and understanding the warranty is one way to do that.
Mistake #2 and #3: Buying Things for the RV Too Soon and Decorating Too Soon
These are similar but I wanted to call them out as two different things so each mistake is clear. In the excitement, energy and momentum of buying an RV, the urge to jump in and start making it homey is strong. The urge to buy gadgets and gizmos and items other RVers say are must-haves is strong. The urge to buy things that you think will make RVing life easier is strong. But I offer you a caution here. You very well could end up buying things that, a short time later, end up at Good Will. Then you are mad at yourself for wasting that money, time and effort.
My advice (advice, I did not heed but, in all fairness, I hadn’t heard other RVers talk about it) is to settle into the RV, really settle in. Let some time go by before you buy anything except the absolute essentials like food, towels, a pot, and a broom as well as the essentials for camping such as sewer hose, water hose, water regulator, leveling blocks and the like. It’s hard to show restraint and patience when you are so excited but it will be worth it.
I can give you silly and serious and pricy examples of the mistakes I made.
Not Tragic, But Still a Few Mistakes
In your mind, it might be brilliant to have a certain type of storage container for all your grains and pastas. You go out and buy a dozen of them. And a month later, you realize you are battling to get the container out of the cabinet every single time because they are two inches too tall to be ideal.
I bought a white and light gray bath mat. Even at the time, I had this niggling in my brain that said white was a bad idea. But I loved it so I bought it anyway. Within a week, the white was no longer white and it wasn’t the kind of dirty where laundering could turn it white again. Now, you might say I couldn’t have known. But here’s the thing, I’d brought a drying mat for dishes with me. It was a light color with dogs on them. It wasn’t long before it had coffee and other food stains. So, I knew buying anything light colored was an ill-advised idea. But I did it anyway and was sorry. The gray and white bath mat and the dog-print drying mat were soon both replaced by plain blacks ones.
Most Serious Mistake
But my biggest mistake (one I made in the first month of owning the trailer) was thinking I needed a shampoo dispenser attached to the wall in the bathroom. I also bought a dish soap dispenser for the kitchen. The dish soap one was smaller and I attached it with Command strips. But the shampoo/conditioner/soap one was bigger and came with a package of silicone glue that said it was safe for fiberglass. So, I hung it.
Then I discovered three things. First, I didn’t like showering in the trailer so rarely did. Second, I constantly bumped the dispenser causing it to fall off the brace that I attached to the wall. It was annoying but not tragic as I never—not even once—put shampoo, conditioner or soap in it. Why? Because, third, despite the packaging promising no drips, every once in a while, a drop of dish soap would drop from the dispenser in the kitchen so I knew their promise wasn’t true. And in the bathroom, it would have dripped right on to the bathmat.
Recently, I decided to deal with that big mistake. It took more than an hour for me to remove the dispenser. Actually, the dispense came off quickly. It took an hour to get the silicone glue off bathroom wall. By the way, orange oil (or Goo Gone) didn’t work but the internet said to try WD-40 which just sounded weird to me. But it worked the best though the project wasn’t perfect. Scratches and slight damaged fiberglass remain.
I cannot tell you how many times since I hung it, I wished I hadn’t. If only I’d waited, been more patient, I would’ve realized that dispenser was a terrible idea for me. At the very least, I desperately wished I hadn’t permanently affixed the thing. Why didn’t I ignore the package and just hang it with multiple Command strips?
When it comes to hanging things and general decorating, if you cannot restrain yourself from making early purchases, at the very least I recommend attaching things with Command strips (or hooks), museum putty and suction cups. You still might end up with things you don’t want but at least you won’t have drilled a hole or otherwise made a permanent change to the RV.
Most Expensive Mistake
If you don’t count the fact that I bought an extended wheelbase van when I would’ve been so much better off with a regular wheel-base (you can read about my tow vehicle and why I don’t like the extended wheel-base HERE), then the most expensive mistake is the backup camera I bought early on that has yet to be taken out of the box.
When I first started RVing, people would see me getting in and out of my van, going back and forth trying to get the ball and the coupler (the thing that goes over the ball so the trailer and van are hooked together) lined up, many suggested that I needed a backup camera for my van, better than the one that came with the van. Thinking they must be right, I researched and then ordered one, specific to hooking up a trailer.
And would it hurt for me to use it? No, of course not. Would it save time? No doubt it would. But here’s the thing: I kind of like getting in and out of my van, going up and back to get them lined up. And, yes, it can take a zillion times (okay, 20 or so) sometimes and I can get frustrated when I’m just a smidge off. But I still kind of like it.
Since a backup camera isn’t an essential item to start, if I’d only waited a few months, I would’ve figured out that I didn’t need one. Now, as mistakes go, I got off pretty light with a $200 purchase I don’t use. But still, it would be nice to not be lugging that backup camera box around and, even nicer, to have that $200 in my pocket.
Sometimes, even now, people will see me going up and back trying to line up and come out and ask if I need help. I don’t but I always accept it because I think it’s so nice that people offer and having a person say “a couple inches to the left” or “straighten your wheels” can significantly decrease the amount of time it takes me to get all lined up.
Mistake #4: Not Staying Near Point of Purchase for Shake Down
In my case, buying new and from the factory, as I said, meant my trailer came with a one-year warranty. On top of that I was dealing with a fantastic company that stands by its product so, I admit, this isn’t one that I practiced but in hindsight would strongly recommend to anyone. And that is to stay near your point of purchase and use the rig, test all the systems, drive it, etc. That way if anything needs addressed—from small things like bolts shaking loose to big things like a refrigerator not working—you can take it back to where you got it.
Now, I realize this statement comes with a lot of caveats. First, none of this will apply if you purchase from a private seller. Second, it may not even apply when you purchase from a dealer. Be sure to know what you are getting into before you get into it (see mistake #1). Even used rigs might come with a 30-day warranty. This is where knowing exactly what a warranty covers will save you a lot of headache and, potentially, heartache. Maybe even pocketbook-ache.
So, even if it’s inconvenient to stick around, to test everything, do it anyway.
Even though I stuck around for two weeks after my purchase, I didn’t know to test everything. I was plugged in so one thing that didn’t get tested was my inverter. But when I left and spent a few days getting to my next spot, I boondocked and couldn’t figure out why the inverter wouldn’t come on in the mornings for me to make coffee.
A few months later, I decided to address it. So, I ended up taking it to an RV place in California. Turns out, at installation, the they connected the inverter backwards. Basically, the wires crossed. Thus, the first time I turned on the inverter, it fried. Now, had I tested this in those first two weeks, Oliver could’ve address it.
In the end, Oliver addressed it. The California RV shop ordered and then replaced my inverter. Oliver worked and communicated with them and I never saw the bill. So, I got lucky. Most stories will not end that happily.
As you look to purchase an RV, new or used, I hope this article combined with my first one on the subject can help you avoid some very common newbie RVer mistakes. If you aren’t a newbie, what mistakes did you make early on? I’d love to know what experienced RVers would caution newbie RVers on.
Links to Relevant Posts:
- RV Life: 4 Newbie Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
- Pink Cooler Travels 5,000 Miles
- My Trailer’s Tow Vehicle: Introducing Violet
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- Lumistick 8 Inch 100 Glow Sticks Bulk Party Favors
- AmazonBasics Cat Scratching Post and Hammock
- Escape Proof Cat Harness with Leash
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