If you are a beginner to RVing and the RV lifestyle, this guide will help you RV like a Pro!
We learned a lot through trial and error, starting with the basics will help you to avoid some of the errors we made. This will also walk you through the mechanics of your RV. It can be somewhat daunting starting out, I know it was for us. I hope this post will make starting out less stressful.
Disclosure -This posts has affiliate links.
1. How Does Your RV Power Work?
First, your RV has two different sides of the equation when it comes to power. There is the AC side, where you can plug into shore power. And the DC side which is your 12-volt which is responsible for turning on your lights, and other related activities which will be explained.
Before going further about your RV power system, one important device which shows you how much power you have left in your batteries is the battery monitor system. Besides letting you know how much power you have left in your battery, the battery monitor system lets you know whether you’re charging your batteries or whether you’re drawing power from your batteries.
12 Volt DC
When you come into your RV system and you want to turn on your lights, this is actually working off your batteries, which is the 12-volt side. The other equipment that operates off your 12-volt system is your slides. You’re not dependent on shore power for those slides to go in and out.
Also, the fan for your heater. You will be using propane to create the heat however, the fan is responsible for blowing out that warm air throughout your RV.
This is the side that gives shore power to all of your equipment inside your RV. So, if you need to run a hair dryer, or you have a normal TV you want to watch, microwaves and toaster ovens, and every other appliance that might take more than 12-volts of electricity. These are the 120-volts appliances you typically use in a house.
50 amp or 30 amps?
Well, before your RV can use shore power, you should be able to connect it to an electrical pedestal you find at an RV park. These pedestals are usually a rundown gray box or a gray box with a 30, or 50 amp plugin, which is with a breaker, to enable you to plug in.
Below are a few features that distinguish a 30 amp power cord from a 50 amp power cord
30 amp RV power cord has three prongs. These prongs are the ground wire, neutral wire, and the 120-volt hot wire. And a 30 amp RV can have a maximum of 30 amp or 3600 watts of electrical power. These are most common in smaller RVs.
For larger rigs such as travel trailers, and fifth wheels with two air conditioners and dryers and washers, a 50 amp power service is used. A 50 amp power cord has four prongs. There are two 120 volts 50 amp hot wires, a ground wire, and a neutral wire. The two 50 amp hot wires make it possible for you to have a maximum electrical power of 100 amp or 12,000 watts.
We highly advise that you carry along with an adapter of either a 30 to 50 amp or a 50 to 30 amp with you when going to a new RV park since some RV parks have one of the two. Also, we highly recommend that you use a surge protector to help notify you when there is a problem with the wiring of and also help you deal with the issue of voltage surges.
Generators For RV’s
When you’re out there in the wilderness for sure you will need an alternate source of power since you aren’t hooked up to any source of electricity. Also, you wouldn’t be able to solely depend on your solar panels for electrical power. Well, one of the best alternative sources of power is a generator.
What Is the Best Type of Generator For RVing?
An Inverter Generator, why, because they are relatively quiet. This makes them pleasant to have them running at a campsite. On the other hand, for open frame generators, they offer plenty of cheap power at the cost of noise, making them terrible at RV campgrounds.
Moreover, inverter generators produce clean sine wave power. This is safe for all your portable electronic devices including phones, laptops, and tablets.
Also, inverter generators offer excellent fuel economy, often adjusting power output to match demand.
How Do You Select the right Generator Size for your RV?
Choosing the right size of a generator all depends on what you’re going to be running on your camper. Every rig has some different size and has different appliances that draw different power. So, different generators can be used for different rigs.
Below are the different sizes of generators available based on their wattage: i 2000 Watt Generator
The 2000 watt generator can supply you with an electric current less than 20 amps. This makes it great for RVers who want to just plug their rig in and enable some of the outlets to charge small electrical devices. These include cell phones, TVs and appliances like that.
The 2000 watt generator isn’t something you will want to run your microwave, air conditioner, electric water heater, or refrigerator running on.
Most RV’s have devices in them where you can have your hot water heater and refrigerator running on gas.
So, basically, the 2000-watt generator allows you to charge your RV battery, watch TV, and charge your small appliances.
If you plan on boondocking during the summer when it’s hot out there, and you have no option but to run the air conditioning off of your generator, then the 3600-watt generator is what you need.
With a 3600-watt generator, you can run a 135 BTU air conditioner together with the converter, and a couple of other devices.
Propane and How it’s Used in an RV
The propane in your rig has many functions. From heating, refrigerating, cooking, to hot water, and barbecues, you rely on your propane . So let’s take a look at what you need to know about propane.
Age of Propane Tank
Once your propane tank passes that 10-year mark from your manufacturer date, ensure to take them to a propane shop to have them re-certified, other you wouldn’t be able to get them filled.
Propane Tank Size
The propane tanks that you have in your RV are usually two 30 pound propane tanks. These are slightly bigger than what you will find in your normal barbecue propane tank. The normal barbecue propane tank is a 20-pound tank.
A 20-pound tank can hold up to 5 gallons of propane, whiles the 30-pound tank can hold close to 7 gallons. Therefore, the two 30 pound propane tanks, will hold up to 14 gallons of propane. The ratio of the poundage to the gallon is 1 gallon of propane: 4.2 pounds. So keep in mind that the tanks are made in pounds, but the propane is bought in gallons.
Position Of Propane Tank in Your RV
If you have a class A or a class C, your tank is actually going to be mounted to your rig. This can go one of two ways. If you like to be able to pull out your tanks and not have to move your entire rig to go get propane, then fifth wheels and travel trailers are the way to go.
But for class A and class C, you would have to move your whole rig, but you wouldn’t have to lift anything heavy. So you just pull up they fill up the propane and you’re ready to go.
If you haven’t bought an RV yet, this might play into some of the reasons to either go for a class A or C or a travel trailer or fifth wheel.
How Long Should Your Propane Tanks Last?
When not using the furnace to heat your RV, your propane tanks should last for a long time. The furnace is the number one consumer of your propane. So in an actual sense how long your propane tanks might last will depend on the season you find yourself in.
When it’s cold in the winter and you have to use your furnace to keep yourself warm, you should keep in mind that a 15,000 BTU furnace can consume up to 1 gallon in 6 hours. Therefore, a 30,000 BTU furnace will consume 1 gallon in 3 hours. So you can see how fast the furnace can gobble your propane.
Well, during the summer when it’s all hot and you do not need your furnace that much, then your tanks should last under a gallon a day. Thus, with the heater on low if you need some warmth at night.
How To Monitor the Propane in Your Tank?
It is a good idea to get to know how much propane you have left in your tank. Well, for RV’s that are class A and class C rigs, they usually come with a gauge that notifies you on the amount of propane you have left in your rig. For other types of rigs, you will have to purchase a propane tank gauge to enable you to check the amount of propane left. You can also get a tank check which you put on your tanks and they tell you how much propane you have left via an app on your smartphone.
Can I Drive My RV with the Propane On?
The answer is yes. Is it safe to drive your RV with your propane on? No, although many RVers do, it is risky! There are four schedule-80 pipes present in your rig. These pipes connect your propane tank to your RV. And should any of them get broken in a collision, what happens is that it’s going to fill your bays up with propane. And if it finds an arc or a spark, it’s going to light it off.
It is highly recommend that you turn your propane off when driving your RV. You can set your refrigerator to run off the battery, which should keep it cold up to four to six hours of driving, you shouldn’t lose more than four degrees.
Another thing you can do is to get the cube fridge fan. These run on 2 D batteries, and what it does is to circulate the air. This is because, all the cooling is done on the top shelf of the refrigerator, and you want to get them on the down shelf. So what the fan does is to circulate the air to the down shelf of the refrigerator, and this will help keep it cold while you’re on the road.
2. RV Height
When buying an RV, do not forget to note it’s height. The higher it is, the more challenges you will face on the road. This is especially true in the eastern part of the United States where many bridges on many highways wouldn’t accommodate a tall RV. Bridges in the western part of the country tend to be higher.
Tip* – I keep a post-it note inside the sun visor of our tow vehicle(truck) with the height of our fifth wheel as a reminder.
You could have your RV air condition ripped off or your RV when driving a tall RV through a low clearance overpass or bridge. It does happen!
All but the smallest RVs are 9 to 15 feet high. Some go well over 13 feet. American inter-state highway bridge offers of 15 feet of clearance to accommodate large vehicles. So there is generally no problem with RVs on these superhighways.
Factors that Affect Your RV Height
RVs with spacious basements will add height to an RV. High ceilings also add to overall height. Therefore, if you plan to spend a lot of time on back roads, then maybe RVs with big basements and high ceilings are not a good idea.
Many RVs are taller than what’s noted in their owner’s manual since air conditioners and satellite dishes could add a few inches or more.
How Do You Know the Height of a Bridge or a Clearance Overpass?
Well, some signs on bridges or overpass may state there are certain heights. But one or two coatings of new asphalt may lower the clearance. Some GPS units are designed for RVers to steer you away from lower bridges and underpasses.
We use a Truckers Road Atlas (Rand McNally) which list low clearance bridges and overpasses.
So, before you head out on your first RV trip, ensure to measure the height of your rig and add at least four to five inches just to be sure. Write down the final number and place it by the steering wheel in plain sight then just be careful to watch out for low bridge ahead signs.
3. All About RV Tires
To avoid a tire blowout while you are on the road, or your tires wearing off early, you have to make sure that you have inflated your tire to the right pressure. A Tire pressure monitoring system is great device to monitor your tire pressure even while your driving. This will be our next purchase!
To find your tire size on the sidewall of your tire. A lot of tires size starts with a letter. Let’s take an example of a tire with size LT 225 75 R16. The LT means Light Truck tire. This is what you’re going to see most of the class C RVs. The 225 represents the width of the tire. The number 75 means the height is 75% of the width of the tire. The R means the tire is a Radial tire. And finally, the number 16 is the rim size. The rim is the wheel your tire goes on.
Your tire size is one important thing you need to know when you go to replace your tire, and for inflation information. (Add this info to your post-it note)
Knowing Your Gross Axle Weight Rating and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
Before going to inflate your tires or replace them, two weight ratings you should know are the GAWR and the GVWR. These can be located on a placard on the side of your rig or the tongue. To make this easier, assuming a trailer has a GVWR of 12,000, this means that your rig can haul a total of 12,000 pounds, including the trailer weight and all it’s content inside. Also, assuming the GAWR of your rig is 6000 pound, this means that the pound per axle is 6000 pounds.
How To Use an Inflation Chart
Now you know how to select the right tire size, and also the GAWR and GVWR of your rig, you can now use the inflation chart to determine your tire’s PSI so they can be inflated properly. What you want to do when using the inflation chart is to go to the box where you see your tire size. And depending on whether your tire is a single axle or a dual axle you can determine the right tire pressure for your rig.
Summary of Part 1
- As a beginner, it’s important to understand how your RV electrical system works, and which part of the system does what. Now for those of you that will find yourself in various RV parks, it is important that you know whether they have a 30 amp service or a 50 amp service. And just in case you’re not sure, ensure to carry an adapter with you. Also, before connecting to an external power source, ensure that you do the connection via a surge protector to enable you to deal with power fluctuations.
- Secondly, if you will like to go to the wilderness or boondock as a newbie, it is important that you have a generator with you since in the wilderness you wouldn’t be connected to an external power source. And even though you should get the generator that best suits your financial situation, we highly recommend that you buy an inverter generator which might be quite expensive but will be worth it at the end. This is because, they are far less noisy, and they are also fuel efficient. Depending on your electrical requirement you might require either a 2400 watt or a 3600 watt.
- The importance of Propane and all the functions it offers, just remember the risk involved if you don’t turn your propane off while driving. Know when your tanks needs to be recertified. By keeping a battery operated fan in your fridge will help in keeping in cold and running efficiently.
- Also, one important factor newbies tend to overlook is the height of their rigs. Ignoring the height of your rig can be an exorbitant mistake. This is because when you pass through a tunnel or a low clearance overpass you could end up destroying your solar panels, and even your air conditioning unit. Well, this is something that would cost you a lot to repair. So we advise that you survey the part of the country you want to travel to and ensure that they have bridges and overpasses with the right height for your rig. Always measure the height of your rig, and do not forget to add five to 6 inches.
- Finally, one of the main causes of RV accidents is due to having a tire blowout. To avoid any form of tire burst or early wearing of your tire, it is important that you have the right tire inflated to the right pressure. Using an inflation chart is the best way to do this, but before using the inflation chart, ensure that you know your tire’s size and also GAWR and GVWR. These are the two important information to know before inflating your tire. I again, strongly recommend that you stay away from those cheap tires that are made in China!
1. How To Back Your RV into a Campsite?
Backing your rig into a campsite can be one of the most stressful aspects of RVing among new RVers. We will take you through a couple of different tips to help you out and possibly make it a little bit easier for you.
Don’t Be Embarrassed When You’re Backing It Up
Everyone’s been there! If this is your first time doing this, then it will take time and take patience and most importantly it takes practice. Like anything else, the more you do it, the more you practice, the better you will get at it. So, don’t be nervous, just take your time, give it a couple of tries, pull forward, back up and eventually you will get there.
Utilize Other Campers
A lot of times, one of the big reasons we go camping is to meet our neighbors, have fun with other people and most of them will be more than willing to help. There are some great veterans out there that have backed up trailers for years, and they won’t just tell you to move the trailer from left to right, they’ll actually tell you to crank your wheel all the way to the left, that will straighten the back all out. And also give you a little better tips than what the standard person will give you.
Rather Than Having Your Hand at the Top Of the Wheel, Instead Put It at the Bottom.
This way, it allows the feeling to be more natural when you’re backing up. You want the trailer to go to the right, you will turn your wheel to the right, you want your wheel to go to the left, you’ll turn your wheel to the left. Otherwise, if you have it on top it is actually reversed, and this is what usually messes up most first-time RVers.
This will help you to be able to see around the sides of the RV which again if you’re backing up by yourself, will just give you a little more vision.
You’re definitely going to need them, while there are several brands out there, getting a Camco leveling block should do the job for you. The reason being, each one of these blocks is about one inch thick, It is also good you get a graduated level to tell you how many inches you are off from both front and back as well as left to right. You can utilize this information to know how many blocks you need to stack under each tire. This can be useful and save you a lot of time and headache.
Now you have your RV backed up, the next thing you will have to do us to hook up your RV and below is a guide to teach you how it is done.
2. How to Hook Up Your RV at a Campsite
Step 1: before plugging in your RV, be sure that the circuit breaker is in the off position. Depending on the amp service either 20 or 50 or 30 amp service offered by the pedestal at the campground, connect your RV’s amp cord to corresponding amp service at the pedestal. If the pedestal doesn’t offer the amp service of your RV, then you would want to consider getting an adapter.
When done connecting your 50 or 30 or 20 amp cord to the pedestal, be sure to turn on the amp breaker that corresponds to your RV amp service.
Step 2: To get your fresh water hose hooked up, be sure to use a white hose for your drinking water. Ensure that it contains no chemicals that can harmful to drinking. When breaking down your RV, don’t store your white drinking hose with the hose you use to flush your black tank or other similar gear. You don’t want to contaminate your drinking hose. It’s also a good idea to have clorox disposable wipes to clean the ends of hose along with your hands to avoid cross contamination.
Step 3: Before connecting the water line to the faucet of the city water source, be sure to spray the faucet with some Lysol or Clorox to kill any bacteria or virus that could be on the faucet. This is because the last thing the faucet was likely used for was when the previous camper rinsed out their sewage hose.
Step 4: When done, connect your Y valve to the faucet so that if you need to use water while the RV is hooked up, you have an additional faucet. To protect your RV from high water pressure system, be sure to use a water pressure regulator.(Absolute Must Have!) Don’t blowout your plumbing do to high water pressure. Every Campground is different. Don’t skimp on this purchase! Get a water pressure regulator!
Step 5: If you need to fill your freshwater tank, you can do that by turning on your tank fill, and leaving it on until the tank is full. Turn the tank fill off when the tank is full, so you can run the RV off city water, in the park during your stay.
Step 6: To get your sewer line hooked up, you will need a sewer hose with a clear sewer elbow and an adapter to connect your sewer hose to the park’s sewer outlet., and finally a sewer hose support. Do not forget to use gloves when handling a sewer line.
Before connecting your sewer line, double check to make sure that both your black and grey tank valves are fully closed, and then remove the cap from the sewer line. Then clip your clear sewer elbow unto the RV sewer line outdoor outlet. Lay your sewer hose on top of the sewer hose support, and pull the elastic band tight across the top.
Connect your sewer adapter to the city sewer outlet, and then make sure it is tightly connected to avoid spillage.
Summary of Part 2
- If you’re a first-time RVer looking to backup your RV, do not forget to utilize any of your neighbors that might have a better knowledge about backing up your RV. Please, do not be embarrassed when doing it for the first time.
- For hooking up, ensure that you have an adapter with you just in case the RV park’s pedestal doesn’t have your RV amp service. In addition, do not forget to turn off the breakers before connecting your RV amp cord.
- For hooking up your water and sewage, always spray the tip of the city water source’s faucet with Lysol or Clorox before connecting your valve. And make sure your black tank and grey tank valve is closed before you connect your sewer line.
1. How to Empty the Black Tank
Regardless of whether or not you’re fully hooked up, the number one rule about the black tank is that; IT MUST ALWAYS STAY CLOSED. You should never leave the black tank valve open, even when you’re fully hooked up. If you do so, you will discover that the liquid is going to run out of the tank and the solid is going to build up.
Dumping the black tank is something that is best done when you’re fully hooked up and have water and sewer connection. The dump station is great for dumping the grey tank but you should try and avoid dumping the black tank unless you’re fully hooked up.
Dumping your black tank at the dump station has two problems:
First, you can’t always rely on there being a hose connection there that will connect to your black tank rinse.
The second being, it takes a long time for you to empty your black tank properly. Because, at a dump station, you’re going to have people lined up behind you sometimes particularly in popular areas like a national park. So, it is better to do it in a campsite that you’ve paid for the night, and you’ve got a sewer connection so, you can do the entire thing properly without anybody rushing you.
Having a black tank rinse feature is crucial for maintaining your black tank in clean conditions. If you don’t have one, there are other options available. These include wands and other hose attachments that you can put down the toilet and flush out the tank. However, nothing works better or more thoroughly than having your own black tank rinse attached to the RV.
One thing you should keep in mind is that, do not dump the black tank every time you pull into a campground or a dump station. Because two people shouldn’t fill the tank any faster than about one to two weeks.
As said earlier, ensure to keep the black tank valve closed, and leave it that way until you get about 3/4th of the tank full. And what you do when you see 3/4th of the tank full on your indicator, is that you go and close the grey valve. While you’re hooked up, the grey valve can stay wide open, and you can let the water from your sink and shower run right out through the sewer line and use as much water as you feel to and not have to worry about filling up your grey tank.
Now that it’s time to dump the black tank, you want water in the grey tank, because you want that big flush of grey water to rinse out the sewer line after you dump the black tank. So if you have your black tank 3/4th full, close the grey tank valve and leave it closed overnight, so you can wash, shower, cook and do dishes and put some water in the grey tank then you can dump the black tank the next day.
Right before you dump the black tank, the first thing we recommend for you to do is to clean your toilet. Rule number one for cleaning the toilet, as a matter of fact, rule number one for cleaning and flushing the toilet is to turn off the fan. This is because if you do not turn off the fan before flushing the toilet, and you open the gate valve, you may find out the only other air inlet into the black tank is up on the roof.
That plumbing vent up on the roof allows air into the tank, and if you have the fan on when you open that gate valve, where do you suppose that air is going to come from to go out the fan? It is going to come up and out of the toilet. So, never flush your toilet with the fan on.
So, as part of cleaning the toilet, make sure to clean down below the gate valve. This may mean stepping on the pedal and holding it down or, if you have an electric toilet, you can push the buttons on the side, and then hold the gate valve open.
Once the gate valve is open, thoroughly clean the around the seal of the gate valve. Ensure that if there is anything that has gotten stuck there, you want to clean it out. When done, flush it down several times, about 3-4 times.
One thing to note about the seal at the bottom of the toilet is that it’s crucial that the toilet’s seal holds water. That little water at the bottom of the toilet is the primary barrier to odors coming out of the black tank.
Now you know all these, you should be set to dump your tank. You do not necessarily have to wait overnight to dump your tank, however, you should wait overnight when you aren’t dry camping so you can get some water in the grey tank.
When you pull up to a campground and you have water in your grey and black tank, you can go ahead and dump the black tank. Because you already have the water you need to flush out the sewer line after you dump the black tank. So this is the only reason you will have to wait overnight.
Some equipment you may need during this process are:
- A pair of gloves: a lot of people use disposable gloves, you can use heavy-duty reusable gloves but ensure to wash them after.
- A length of garden hose for flushing out the black tank.
- A backflow preventer to prevent any water from going back into the fresh water system, from the black tank flush
- Attach the anti-backflush valve to one end of your hose, and attach that end to your sewage rinse point on your RV.
- Attach the other end of your hose to your water source and ensure that you have a Y valve attached your city water connection at the campsite. When you have a Y valve attached, you can have water available for activities like flushing the tank, washing the RV if allowed, and anything else you might need the water for.
- For your sewer line connection, we recommend you have a clear sewer elbow connector from your black tank to your sewer disposal. This is because, with a clear sewer elbow, you can know when your black tank is actually clean. And though what you might see could be disturbing, it is a crucial part of maintaining and cleaning your black tank.
- To start dumping, turn on the water to about half way open and allow the black tank to flush slowly. When done go to your sewer line connection on your RV, and pull the black valve down.
- While the sewage is being drained from the black tank, go back to the city water source and slowly turn the tap all the way up.
- When done sit back and allow the black tank flush to do its job of washing out the tank.
- Allow the black tank to flush out for about 5 minutes. One mistake most people make is that when the black tank flush starts getting clear they assume they are done, Well, the truth is you’re not nearly done. And this is where the clear sewer elbow comes into play to show you that you aren’t done yet.
- To show that you aren’t done emptying your black tank, close the black tank valve, and stand by for about a minute. And then, you open the black valve again. And you will realize that more sewage will be flushed out. So if you were to assume that you’re done emptying your tank after the first flush, you would still have had some sewage left in your tank. And this is the reason we recommend a clear sewer elbow.
- When done with the 8th step, close the black valve and then leave it closed till your tank fills up. For you to know whether your black tank is full or not, you will have to go to your black tank sensor to look. Keep checking the sensor till you realize that the tank is full. Do not leave the tank to fill up and come back 20 minutes later. Because the last thing you will want to do is to overfill your black tank. Because it is going to come out from the vent pipe of the roof.
- When you check your sensor and you realize that the black tank is completely full, or the full signal on the sensor starts blinking, head outside, and pull the black( open the black valve). This will flush out the black tank again, with clear water and also get rid of any debris left in the tank.
- If you still see a lot of debris flowing out as you flush the black tank with clear water, fill your tank one more time and then flush it out again as indicated in step 9 and 10.
- When done, turn off the water flow from your city water source to your black tank flush and allow it to drain out from your black tank. With this, you can know that the black tank is completely empty When done do not forget to close the black valve, and the pull the grey valve.
- Now it’s time for you to go to the toilet inside your rig for the acid test about how clean your black tank is, To do this, you open the gate valve of the toilet and turn the fan on.
Now with all the windows in the RV closed, it will take about one second before you know whether or not your black tank is clean. If the black tank is clean, you should feel the air blow up out of the toilet from the top of the roof through the black tank. And you should smell nothing from the toilet.
- The first technique you can use is to scrape out any buildup on the bottom of the tank by pouring about 5 to 10 bags of ice down the toilet and what you need to do is to go for a drive.
As the ice melts and begins to shift around the bottom of the tank, it’s going to scrape off whatever is on the bottom of the tank.
- Another technique to get rid of stubborn debris is to dissolve two cups of water softener into one gallon of hot water and add one cup of laundry detergent, and then put the mixture down the toilet into the black tank. When done, fill your black tank with water and let it sit for 24 hours. Drain the black tank and you should be ready to try the sniff test one more time.
Now your black tank should be clean and empty.
In conclusion, a quick recap of some key points above:
- Always leave your black tank valve closed.
- Turn off the toilet fan when cleaning the toilet.
- Emptying your black tank at a dump station can be stressful as a beginner, don’t let that rush you. If at all possible camp at full hookup campsites to get the hang of it.
- Ensure that you have a clear sewer elbow connector for the sewer line connection.
- Do not leave your black tank to get overfull! Your sensors might not be correct.
Now, after reading RVing Basics for Beginners you’ll be RVing like a Pro in no time! Doing your research is critical, but nothing prepares you better than just getting out there and doing it! Hope this was helpful!
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