How to Take an RV Shakedown Cruise to Find Problems Early
Take a Shakedown Trip in Your RV
So you have purchased a new RV, or maybe just a newer RV. 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, in each one of these, soon after I purchased it, I had some unexpected problems crop up.
Some of these problems were just small, but some were near disasters that scared both my wife and me.
After all of these years with different motorhomes we have owned, we have developed our own method for managing such problems.
What we have learned to do is to take a Shakedown Cruise.
My Fleetwood Bounder Getting a PDI (Product Delivery Inspection)
Shake Out Those Hidden Problems Fast
A shakedown trip is not a cruise, of course, and it's not a real shakedown like years ago when I was in the Navy. But it is a “getting to know each other" trip for my wife and I and our new RV.
Every new RV owner needs to get to know their RV: understand how everything functions, learn its idiosyncrasies, and figure out its special little controls and accessories.
After you have driven a few different RVs, you learn that every RV has its own personality and its own design differences. You will have to understand your new RV's limitations and operating procedures in order to operate it safely.
And honestly, your RV needs to get to know you.
You can read your manuals, do research on the web, and talk to your friends about different models, but, in my opinion, nothing is as good for you and yours than to get out there, as soon as possible and “just do it.” Just live in your motorhome or other RV, for at least a week or two if possible.
I have found that the best thing for me to do on this shakedown cruise is to do nothing; nothing different at first, that is.
Pick a Nearby Campground
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 an inexpensive campground with full-service sites not too far from my home.
As we drive to the campground, we see how the vehicle functions on the road, including its accessories such as the navigation system and rear camera.
If all goes well, at the campground we quickly hook up our RV and start using this new rolling home of ours. If there are problems, we document them so we can contact the dealer or the manufacturer and find out more.
Once in our campsite, we try to operate and use everything in the RV: first the fridge, of course, and then the AC, the furnace, and all the other appliances and accessories.
We use everything that can operate on either the campsite power or the 12-VDC power converted from the coach batteries, making sure the batteries and converter (inverter, whatever you want to call it) all function well under load.
And we use the propane stove, as well as the propane mode of the fridge, if it is a two-way fridge. And we run the furnace several times 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.
I load the 12V DC system up and make sure it and the converter are operating well enough that my all of my electrical devices can run properly on the converted voltage.
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, of course, I restart the engine and charge the chassis battery back up.
Then there are such things as the adjustable roof TV antenna, the automatic satellite antenna, the stereo system, and all of the 110-VAC receptacles (especially the GFI ones). And I check that my slides work smoothly when opened and closed several times.
Just in case my RV breaks down while on the road, I keep an emergency beacon flare kit like this one right at my entrance door.
Didn't the Dealer Check It Out First?
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 my latest rig at LazyDays in Florida, and they, like better dealers these days, performed their “PDI” on my rig; that's "Product Delivery Inspection." The dealer has a certified tech operate a new or used rig and confirm that everything works before the buyer takes possession of it.
My rig did have a conscientious PDI performed on it, and after purchasing it, we drove it thirty miles or so to my home, without even a hint of a problem.
Our Recent Shakedown Trip
Our most recent shakedown trip was to a campsite in North Fort Myers, Florida, just 1-1/2 hours drive from my home in Ruskin.
We had been in our campsite, hooked up, for a couple of days. We had found a few small problems with our new (older) motorhome already and were planning to make an appointment with the dealer as soon as we got home.
Then guess what happened?
My Surprising Shakedown Problems, Which I Fixed Myself
Here are a few of the more concerning problems we found that are worth mentioning.
Problem 1: Engine Battery
Before we were able to start 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.
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.
A lot of RVers forget to disengage their chassis battery from the electrical system in your RV when they 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 draw a minor amount of current even if they are not being operated: things like power awnings, storage area lights, front over-dash fans, and the dash radio.
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" 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 so that 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 our "hitting the road" checklist, and made the short hour-and-a-half drive, in good time.
The first inkling I had of an actual problem was at the campground gate, when I shut the engine down to check in and came back out to the RV. The engine didn’t even click when I turned the ignition switch.
Well, 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.
I found my multimeter had died. “More fun?" I asked myself as I calmly beat the now useless meter against the nearest palm tree.
Luckily, a friend was traveling with us and he was also “shaking down” his new fifth-wheeler, so he rooted around and found his own multimeter—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 as hey say, and the battery itself looked like it was brand new. But a closer look at the battery labels told us it was actually three years old.
Later, that first day, we made a trip to the closest 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, every time I started the engine, but it held its charge well, so I 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 electrical problems of some kind, it’s just a matter of time. When you do have a problem, a multimeter is invaluable for diagnosing such problems.
While my multimeter was sitting around in my garage, I had no idea it had gone bad. So it was actually a good thing, I guess, that this shakedown cruise revealed that I had to get another one. It was better than finding out when I was truly on the road and some electrical problem cropped up.
This is my favorite Multimeter that I keep in my RV for checking any electrical circuits, fuses or wiring.
Problem 3: Indoor Lounge Chair
Our RV has a pretty standard layout. 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 when I am writing or watching TV at night, so we automatically migrate 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 bounce around as you travel down the road. My chair, 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 stopped me about 20 degrees from where I wanted it to be for watching the TV. It wasn't a bad thing, but it is a nuisance. So I set myself a new task for when I got home; I would move this mount and set up things so my lounge chair would be aligned properly, for me.
Problem 4: Wiper Blades
The wiper blades were OK, but a little hard from age and sun exposure, so I replaced them.
Problem 5: Entrance Light
The lightbulb over the entrance door was bad, so, I went to the popular RV parts store Camping World and purchased an LED replacement for it. This replacement would give me adequate light at my door, and because it was an LED bulb rather than an incandescent one it would use much less current and have a much longer life before it went bad on me.
Problem 6: Loose Gaskets
I found 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. After that, the doors sealed properly.
These problems were not disastrous for us, but we did find them fast and took care of them right away.
A Successful Shakedown
But, again, this is why we took our “shakedown cruise”: 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 87-degree temperatures under a bright blue Florida sky, actually wishing we could get a couple of hours of blowing rain to test my roof and slide gasket seals. Crazy, huh?
Preparing for Your First RV Trip
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2015 Don Bobbitt