Spring Shakedown Cruise: Taking a Short Trip for RV Maintenance

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March 19, 2020

RV with window shades at campsite.

So you’ve taken your motorhome out of storage and completed all the necessary de-winterizing tasks. This is an ideal time for a weekend trip in a nearby RV Park. Providing it’s open for the new season, you can probably get that perfect spot for a camping getaway. Early spring means the driving to and from will have far less traffic than normally encountered during the height of the season. Camping nightly prices may well be lower also at this time of year. Off-season time frames generally offer quieter tranquil stays with less campground vehicle and foot traffic. An RV shakedown cruise is a good time to enjoy a little bit of RV camping.

This is more than just a maiden voyage of the new year’s season, if only for a weekend getaway. In fact, a short camping trip makes for a great dry run. This is an opportunity to make sure all of the RV’s systems are in working order after the long winter hiatus. A shakedown cruise shouldn’t be a chore: it’s an opportunity for an early-season trip.

Motorhome at campsite.

Photo: Getty Images

Early Spring Weekend Trip

But be prepared for the driving environment you are about to enter. If you are hitting the open road early, you should be aware of some of the conditions that may be different than encountered during the normal warmer weather outings.

Weather in the early phases of spring can bring heavier precipitation and nighttime freezing temperatures in some regions. This, combined with the snow meltdown, can increase the driving challenges under some circumstances. Frost-damaged, potholed road surfaces and the erosion of soft road shoulders can be experienced at this time of the year. Additionally, some weather conditions can cause debris, such as mud or rock fragments, to be washed out onto the roadway, creating obstacles.  Black ice can also be encountered, even on a sunny morning that has warmed to above the freezing temperature.  The winter runoff in shaded areas can remain frozen well after the day’s temperature warms up.

Road Trip in the Camper Van. Summer Vacation Time on the Road. RVing Theme.

Photo: Getty Images

During the cooler weather, caution is needed if the route will be taking you through higher elevations. While daytime temperatures may be in the high forties in the lower elevations, freezing conditions may be experienced at altitudes of four thousand feet and above. The average temperature change ratio to elevation is three-and-a-half-degrees Fahrenheit for every one thousand feet. This is called the normal lapse rate, but it can vary during unstable weather conditions. Having an outside air temperature indicator, or adding an aftermarket unit, can be of a benefit here.

Pay special attention to those “Falling Rock” warning signs. During the spring runoff, often rock can become unattached and fall onto the roadway. Generally, these are relatively small pieces. However, they can damage tires and underbody, if struck. On the extreme side, I have encountered displaced rock pieces the size of a bedroom dresser that tumbled onto the pavement. A reduced speed through these areas can provide additional maneuvering and braking time should it be required.

RV parked by a lake

Photo: Getty Images

Checking Your Vehicle

Keep in mind that your vehicle is still making the transition from being in storage to moving on the highway. So you should keep an eye on how well it is managing the change. Plan to make a stop when you have traveled about an hour to do a walk around. Check each tire and wheel visually for any signs of abnormalities, like oil leaks. Axle seals can fail after being idle for an extended period of time. This is especially possible for vehicles equipped with oil-filled wet hubs. Check beneath the engine and driveline for any signs of leaks.

When you arrive at the campground, conduct a thorough survey of the selected site before backing into it. Make sure that the picnic table is clear of the docking area. In some cases, the tables are moved for ground maintenance during the off-season. Also, if the site is not made of paved or concrete-based material, it’s a good idea to walk the area you will be driving on to confirm it is stable and not soft.  Observe the overhead clearance to ensure that no limbs or branches have been damaged over the winter and maybe too low for your rig height.

RV patio campsite near River.

Photo: Getty Images

RVing Refresher

Hopefully, you have made sure that you have brought all the manuals for the RV and its components.  It is surprising how we forget how to operate or program a piece of equipment since the previous season.  Also, do not forget to confirm you have loaded your tools for making any necessary adjustments that might need attention.

Well, during your stay you can now reacquaint yourself with the features and workings of your RV.  You will have the jump on any quirks that have emerged since the prior year.  Just remember the old saying, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!”  Unless you get bored.  Then it is, “If it ain’t broken, fix it anyway.”

Need new equipment for your spring trip? At Camping World & Gander RV and Outdoors retail locations, you’ll find all the supplies you need along with some fun extras like kayaks, barbecue grills and more.

Have fun and enjoy the early start of the camping season.

Peter Mercer — Getting The Jump on The Camping Season