USING YOUR RV SAFELY
By Gary Motley
Master Certified Technician
Over the past few years I have written articles on many aspects of RV maintenance. Recently I have been paying more attention to safety. Often when a unit comes into our shop and I have a few minutes I have given it a quick once over for safety. Based upon some of the information I have uncovered in my studies I have been able to discuss unsafe situations with many of my valued customers. They have always seemed thankful. Here are a few subjects I have discussed with my valued customers.
Escape Windows/Hatches: It was sometime in the middle 70's (I believe) when code required an escape hatch or window to become mandatory in all RV's. I have seen these screwed or glued in to render them either useless or close to useless. Be certain you know where your escape device is and how to operate it. Except for the zip style you might even operate it and be sure all concerned know how to use it properly. This is a good time to mention you should have a gathering point away from your RV if evacuation becomes mandatory. This is how you will know for certain there is no one still inside your rig. Do this at each place you stay (not a bad idea at home or in the workplace either).
Carbon Monoxide Detectors: You should have at least one CO detector in your bedroom. The middle of the ceiling is the best location for this. You can, however, place it on an inside wall at least 8" from the ceiling and 4' up from the floor. Do not put it in the corner as this can easily be a dead air space and the poisonous gasses can round the corner and not get to the detector easily. Your detector should be of a design approved for RV's. A household type is not really designed for the moisture, vibration and wide temperature swings in a RV. If you install a detector into your 12VDC system be sure the polarity is correct. Another interesting fact about CO detectors is they do not go off immediately when they detect CO. They must sense a certain level of CO for a certain period of time before they alarm. A second detector in the driver's compartment is always a good idea. Remember CO is lighter than air so it rises. CO detectors have a 5 to 8 year life. Check your owner information for further details.
Smoke Detector: Always leave your smoke detector working and in good order. Do not take it out or remove the battery. Cleaning a smoke detector and replacing the battery may reduce the number of false alarms. You also have the option of installing a photoelectric detector in place of what you now have. They are less sensitive to smaller particles. If you get a photoelectric smoke detector be sure you read the directions and follow them as to cleaning and testing. It is a good idea to install a smoke detector at the dash or under it if possible. That bird's nest of wiring many manufacturers put under the dash is a common source of 12VOC RV fires. Install a smoke alarm in the bedroom and hall, here again not in a corner where there is a dead air space. If your present smoke alarm goes off while cooking you could move it to a prescribed location. Some smoke alarms have a false alarm control feature. This will control kitchen cooking false alarms. Do not install a smoke alarm in a damp, humid area such as a bathroom with a shower.
Propane Detectors: Unlike CO, propane is heavier than air. As a result, propane detectors should be installed close to the floor. These detectors often have a dual function. They detect propane and sense low voltage on the 12VDC battery. I have had many customers leave their home to bring me their RV because of the propane detector beep. When they got to my shop, the beeping in their unit had stopped. On the way their engine alternator charged the battery and the propane detector sensed proper voltage so it quit beeping. Many things such as hair spray and deodorant can set off propane detectors.
Other gases, which can cause the detector to alert, are the vapors from fuel, liquor, alcohol, colognes, wines, adhesives, lacquer, many cleaning agents and intestinal gases (dogs and humans). Propane detectors are so sensitive they will alarm at only 20% of the air/fuel mixture needed to ignite. Many propane detectors are wired to a shutoff in the propane system. Read your individual owner's packet for specific information on your model. The major safety issue I see here is a customer removing them or unhooking them. This is a definite safety no-no. You should check your propane detector monthly. Do this with a butane lighter after you extinguish the flame and let the gas escape into the detector.
Battery connections must be tight.
Battery connections must be tight.
Battery Safety: Batteries put off a hydrogen gas when charging. This can be explosive. Your batteries must be properly vented to the outside. Keep your vent caps on tight and check your fluid level often (at least every 4 weeks). Use only distilled water. If your battery appears swollen replace it immediately. When unhooking a battery, unhook the ground first. Unhook your battery if any welding is done to your coach. Remember that anytime you hook up or unhook a battery and something in your coach is on, there is a spark although you may not see it. You should make certain all your 12VDC connections are tight. A loose connection can easily be a heat source for a fire to start. This is true on the 120VAC side also.
Genset Safety: Keep your genset clean. This means oil that may seep and the cooling fins. This is also a good idea to help your genset cool better. Keep your genset compartment clear of any rags, oils, tools, etc. This is for venting purposes, as well as, fire safety. Check you genset exhaust system for leaks, cracks, etc. and repair immediately. Your genset exhaust should extend at least 1" past the outside edge of your coach. The genset exhaust gas should always be carried away by the wind. You should not sleep while your genset is running unless you have an operating CO detector. If you do any additional wiring between the genset and shore cord it must be properly wired. A back feed from the generator to the shore power can cause a big bang. An improperly wired changeover switch can also cause polarity problems and possibly 120VAC shocks. Inspect your genset fuel lines for cracks or seepage on a regular basis and repair them as necessary. This is also a good idea for the whole coach.
Tire Safety: There is a lot of good information on tires. The best source I know of is the RV Safety Education Foundation. Their web site can be accessed at www.rvsafety.com. Since there is so much good information there I am going to touch on very little about tires.
1. Anytime a tire gets 5 years old or older it is suspect.
2. You should get a tire weight/pressure chart for your tires and weigh each tire individually and follow the instructions as to weight and tire pressure.
3. Check your tire pressure regularly and thump those tires each time you stop.
Here again I would recommend you contact the RV Safety Education Foundation for extensive tire knowledge. They also have a lot of other good information on safety. Visit their web site for more extensive information.
Fire: Prevention - Protection - Extinguishers - Fighting
1. A small antifreeze leak can cause a fire when the liquid boils out and the residual ethylene glycol ignites. Check for antifreeze leaks and repair them.
2. Keep your engine clean as the oil, etc. on the engine can ignite. Same is true for your transmission. The grime itself may not ignite but a fuel leak or 12VDC spark could combine and cause problems.
3. Do not have any flammables close to the open flames of your cook stove. I have advised many customers to move wood spice racks, pot holders, paper towel holders, etc. over the years.
4. Anytime you have not started your refrigerator for a few weeks check the back and the flue of your refrigerator for bird nests, etc. I have rebuilt the back of a good number of refrigerators from this problem.
5. Be careful where you drive with a really hot vehicle. Catalytic converters and exhaust pipes can ignite dry grass and fields.
6. Driving with the propane on to run your refrigerator and/or heater is a subject of much discussion. There are many different schools of thought. The new OPD on trailers throws another twist into it. Much of the basis for this article was from a web site, RVAA.com. I would recommend you access this web site for a substantial article on the pros and cons. With this information you can make an informed decision for yourself.
7. Be aware that baking soda can be used if nothing else is available and the fire is small. The water hose hooked to your RV can be cut quickly if need be for a fire. You can cut it more easily than you can unscrew it. Remember don't use water on a grease fire. It will only spread the fire. Use baking soda, fire extinguisher or a soda.
8. If you find yourself in a fire situation, save lives first and property only after you have saved lives. Only fight the fire if you can do so safely.
9. You need 5 fire extinguishers with your RV. By the front door, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, somewhere outside the RV easily accessible (not locked up) and one in your tow vehicle or toad.
10. Check your fire extinguishers monthly. Different types have different ways to check them. Your local fire department will always be glad to help you.
11. Anytime you use a portion of a fire extinguisher have it serviced. When you have your extinguisher serviced you might shoot it off first to get a feel for how it shoots (most refill stations have a place designated for this).
12. Because the jarring and shaking of your RV while traveling tends to pack the contents be sure to invert fire extinguishers monthly and shake a little and listen that it is not packed solid.
13. Learn the PASS method of using a fire extinguisher. Pull (the pin) Aim (the nozzle at the base of the fire) Squeeze (the trigger) Sweep (from side to side).
14. An ironic thing about fire extinguishers is the NFPA requires a 10BC fire extinguisher in you RV while A is the type needed to put out most RV fires. A good way to remember A is it is the type of fire that leaves Ashes (wood, paper, rubber, etc.).
15. One other thing I will mention is the importance of caution when pulling up to a gas pump. Your brakes, exhaust system, etc. can be real hot. It may be a good idea to pull off and cool off before you pull up to the pump.
16. Before pulling up to a gas station extinguish all flames (refrigerator, water heater, etc.) in your RV. Take steps to alleviate any static electricity that may cause a spark.
17. Before you leave take a few minutes and do a walk around (tires, plugs, etc.).
Hope this article helps you become a little better prepared to safely use your rig. I will again mention there is a lot of safety information in the two web sites I mentioned. I would highly recommend you access these if there is anything you would like more information on. I have tried to address many of the situations I see in my shop, as well as, information from much reading and many seminars. This is not intended to be all- inclusive.
Remember: Common sense can go a long ways toward safety.
For further safety information there is now a nonprofit organization dedicated to the safe use of your RV.
The RV Safety & Education Foundation is a nonprofit organization with its principle place of business in Merritt Island, Florida. It is dedicated to the improvement of recreation vehicle safety, with a focus on consumer education. The organization is tax exempt under Internal Revenue Section 510(C) (3). RVSEF began as A’ Weigh We Go (AWWG) in 1993 as an RV weighing program, including seminars on RV Weight and Tire safety.
RVSEF, as was AWWG, is not a consumer, nor industry “advocate” program. But rather a “safety advocate” program. RVSEF does not rate, endorse, or criticize products or services. It does not get in involved in disputes between RV owners and their dealers or manufacturers. It does not teach or publish opinions that cannot be validated, but sticks to the facts.
Today RVSEF brings safety education to over 100,000 RVers and RV enthusiast annually, through seminars at over 100 RV rallies, dealer shows and industry events as well as life on wheels education conferences.
RVSEF exist solely through industry support. the supporters are sincerely interested in the safety and welfare of the RVing public as well as the health of the RV industry. Visit our "supporter" page for more information on the companies.
For more information please visit WWW.RVSAFETY.COM.
Thanks for reading this and happy RVing.
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