Beginner RV Owner Mistakes to Watch Out For

Buying your first RV is an exciting time with plenty of room to make these top five beginner RV owner mistakes. Here’s how to avoid some common newbie blunders:

Learning RV Lessons at the School of Hard Knocks

new RV owner mistakes around the campfire
New RVer mistakes are not uncommon

The day we closed on buying a new RV (our first), the sales guy handed the keys to us and said “Have fun out there!” as he began walking away. My spouse and I looked at each other in total shock, thinking He’s just going to hand it over without any instruction? We stopped him and asked “Can you at least show us how to hitch up?” “Oh yeah, sure!” He gave us a ten minute trailer hitching lesson and the rest was up to us. He went back inside and we jumped into Portland, Oregon traffic. We had no clue what we were doing.

Since that day, we’ve made quite a few beginner RV owner mistakes. Some we’ve repeated, some we haven’t. But over the last 15 years all those lessons taught us how to go from newbie RVers to seasoned RV drivers. Are we experts? Not yet.

Our Top 5 Beginner RV Owner Mistakes

What we love most about this lifestyle is that we are always learning new things! Talking to RVers in person and in RV discussion forums keeps our skills fresh and our RV out of the repair shop. But if I were to give any advice to rookie RVers hitting the road today, here are the biggest newbie RV mistakes that might impact your lifestyle.

1. Under-estimating RV driving times

Before smart phones came along I literally mapped out our routes old-school style, on paper maps. Gauging distance between destinations was the easy part. But I always under-estimated the amount of time it takes to drive an RV from Point A to B.

What nobody told us is that RV driving is so much more tiring than passenger car driving. Keeping a heavy vehicle steady, at a safe distance from other cars, and making safe traffic maneuvers is way trickier and mentally tiring than doing those things in a typical car. Your body also physically feels the challenge. Four hours of RV driving can feel like eight hours of driving a car.

New RVer Lesson Learned:

I no longer rely on Google Maps to give me an estimated time of arrival. Instead, I use RV LIFE Trip Wizard to help me plan our routes. The app customizes RV safe routes for us, based on our destinations and:

  • the height and weight of our RV
  • going around low clearances
  • knowing when to expect steep grades
  • preparing for any tolls or propane restrictions

2. Leaving jacks down (or other accessories out) and driving away.

The RV lifestyle keeps you on your toes. If you don’t have a campsite check list for set up and break down, chances are good you will skip an important step on your way in or out and break something. Many RVers like us have endured this costly lesson at least once.

One of our most memorable beginner RV owner mistakes happened while boondocking in the desert. We spent several days in one huge dispersed campsite, without unhitching our truck from trailer. The day we left, we packed up, turned the key, and drove away. Then we heard the Thud! The truck wouldn’t move. My spouse tried to accelerate again, but the truck wheels spun. We got out, looked around, and saw our newbie RV mistake: we forgot to put the scissor jacks back up!

new RVer mistake with scissor jacks
True new RVer mistake story!

Newbie RVer Lesson Learned:

The forward jolt bent our scissor jacks. My spouse literally had to dig them out of the ground by hand before we could retract them and pull away. On that day, we wrote a campsite checklist of every important step to set up and break down camp. Fifteen years later we have it committed to memory.

3. Keeping exterior RV lights on all night

Exterior RV lights left on at night seems like such a little thing. We humans naturally tend to leave the porch light on all night. Maybe we need to go outside to walk the dog at 3 am. Or we use exterior RV lights as rodent prevention. But what we don’t realize is how much our little lights flood the terrain around us. Exterior house or RV lights impact the night sky that we all enjoy when we go camping.

RV exterior sensor light

New RVer Lesson Learned:

Get an exterior motion sensor light for RVs. Newer ones let you set the sensitivity level and radius of interloper activity. And the best part is, you and your neighbor can hang out under starry skies and actually see them!

4. Looking for that “perfect” RV campsite

When we first started RVing, I had a vision of what I wanted our RV campgrounds to look, sound, and feel like. Rustic but comfortable, in the wilderness but near conveniences, with level, private, and beautiful campsites. But during our first year on the road I was plenty surprised to learn that those “perfect” campsites are unicorns. I used to pitch a fit when we couldn’t find one. On more than one occasion we left campgrounds in search of the perfect site, only to give up looking in frustration.

New RVer Lesson Learned:

Today I accept that there are no “perfect” campgrounds, just great ones. Sometimes you land in a lovely spot, other times you don’t. But each location has something to offer if you change your attitude and look for the good things in that location. Now, if we land in a spot that doesn’t rock our world, it’s usually because I didn’t do my pre-trip research on Campground Reviews. When that happens, I just change how I look at things and suddenly, the things around me change and life is good again.

5. Not studying up on road conditions

I’m still amazed that we survived our first few years on the road. As native West Coasters unfamiliar with the intricacies and RV driving risks back east, we didn’t know what we were getting into once we crossed the Mississippi River in 2007. That’s when roads magically narrowed, bridges got lower, and these crazy highway “jughandles” cropped up from out of nowhere. More than once we found ourselves on fast moving turnpikes and in places where no RV should ever travel.

Rookie RVer Lesson Learned:

Don’t ever leave on a trip into unfamiliar territory without studying road conditions and possible obstacles. There is simply no excuse to travel without something like RV LIFE Trip Wizard to help you navigate away from solid objects that can do lots of damage to your prized RV.

Dumb RV Mistakes are How We Learn

RV camping fails and other beginner RV owner mistakes are not always a bad thing. Failing is how we learn to be better RVers. Nobody gets on the road without making at least one. Which ones have you made? Share below, we’d love to commiserate with you!

This post may contain affiliate links or mention our own products, please check out our disclosure policy here.
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 6 comments
Werner Henzler - May 12, 2022

I am a proud owner of a 1974 GMC had the engine redone produces 519 pounds torque and 320hp
Decided to tow my jetta behind the motorhome and drive it to the storage yard
Pulling the car with all the great dyno numbers above felt very sluggish
Other drivers waved at me, not because I was in an unusual motorhome but the brakes on the Jetta were smoking and I had forgotten to undo the hand brake….
Do up a checklist and add to it as you learn from your new mistakes!!

Reply
    Rene Agredano - May 13, 2022

    WOOOOWWWWW Werner, that’s super scary. I’m glad you were OK.

    Reply
Terry - May 12, 2022

“checklist of every important step to set up and break down camp. Fifteen years later we have it committed to memory. “
Friend of mine called me to tell me that she had bent the tongue jack on her new trailer. She has full timed for fifteen years.
When you think you got that cheklist memorized, remember your HUMAN, pull out the checklist and follow it step by step, not once, but how bout three times. Inside and out. Take a few extra minutes and perhaps save hundreds of dollars.
Put Glenda’s tongue on myself, two months later, the part was $250.
Terry

Reply
    Rene Agredano - May 13, 2022

    LOL! So true! Thanks Terry.

    Reply
Joe-n-Doe - May 13, 2022

On our second day on the road with our first RV (we are now on number-4) a seasoned RV Road Warrior shared some sage advise we use when planning our road trips.

Number 1: 8×4….when dead heading drive no more than 8 hours or 400 miles, whichever comes first.

Number 2: If your traveling companion wants to stop and either smell the roses or take a look-see at some off the wall spot along your route of absolute no interest to you do it. Tomorrow you might want to do the same.

I agree with the author, RV LIFE Trip Wizard and it’s companion Campground Reviews are great trip planning tools, especially when traveling with children or grandchildren. At least from our perspective they are. When traveling with little ones we are less inclined to boondock in the wild or in a wild parking lot. I always seek out an RV park that has a pool, some other similar amenity, or attraction the kids can use to burn off all the energy they have stored up during their day of travel. It also gives them something to look forward to after a day on the road.

Reply
    Rene Agredano - May 13, 2022

    Joe-n_Doe, I love the #2 advice! Do garage sales count?

    Reply

Leave a Reply: