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How to Avoid a Costly RV Breakdown – Make a Pre-Trip Walk Around of Your RV

This post was updated on March 15th, 2024

Nothing will ruin your RV outing faster than finding yourself stranded alongside the road.

Mechanical breakdowns are most often the result of overlooked maintenance or something that should have been noticed before you pulled out of the driveway.

rv broken down by side of road
Try to keep this from happening to you

Professional drivers, especially those driving 18 wheelers across the country for a living, are required to do a daily inspection before hitting the open road.

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The purpose of this walk around is to verify that all appears well before they start their long day behind the wheel.

In fact, the Pre-Trip Inspection section is one of the toughest parts of the Commercial Driving License exam.

Here’s a great video showing how the pros do a pre-trip walk around:


The Basics of an RV Walk Around

Many breakdowns can be prevented by simply checking your RV over before heading out on your trip.

Five minutes spent before you drive off can not only save you from wasted time sitting on the side of the road, it can also save you from the costly expense of having to be rescued on the road.

Although there are several types of RVs and many different manufacturers, a general safety walk-around will still be effective for any RV or trailer combo.

1. Start at the Front Bumper

The best way to start an RV pre-trip inspection is at the front bumper. If you start at the same place every time, you’ll be less likely to forget to check something.

Open the hood and check the tightness and condition of the belts, hoses, and engine fluid levels. Make sure all battery connections are snug and nothing looks burned or broken.

underside of RV rig
Check for leaking fluids – simple and effective

Actually checking the engine compartment is the best approach, but as an acceptable second choice at least bend down and look for any fluid leakage on the ground.

The assumption is if it was full and hasn’t leaked, it’s still full.

Not a fool proof system, but it’s better than ignoring the possibility of low fluid levels all together.

2. Check Your Lights

With the headlights on, and the emergency flashers flashing, you can verify your lights work.

The most thorough check would be to go through the effort of checking high and low beams and turn signals.

But if you are making the inspection without an assistant, verifying low beam and flashers will tell you that you have driving lights and turn signals.

Usually the emergency flashers use the same filament that is used by the turn signals.

3. Check Wheels, Tires, and the Sides of Your RV

Walking down the side of your motorhome – or truck-trailer combination – check the tires, lug nuts, and general appearance of the wheels and tires.

A keen eye can spot potential problems by knowing what to look for:

  • Rust streaking down from lug nuts is an indication they aren’t torqued to spec
  • A wheel that is leaning indicates bad ball joints or wheel bearings
  • Tires with excessive squat are low in pressure. You can tell if the inside dual on your rear axle is low or flat by the amount of squat on the outside tire

4. Check to Make Sure Your Hitch is Secure

If you’re pulling a trailer, a quick look at the coupler will give you a heads up if someone has tampered with it during the night.

An old truck stop prank is unlatching the 5th wheel hitch during the night while the driver is asleep.

If you don’t verify it’s still locked before you pull away, the trailer drops off the truck.

In the case of RVs this can greatly damage the pickup bed.

RV 5th wheel hitches have a bar or jaws that go across the back side of the pin. Checking to see it is properly locked and that the safety pin is in place will save you big dollars.

Although rare, here’s a big rig trucker who lost his trailer: (Note: Starts at about 15 seconds and ends at 25 seconds)


5. Continue Around Your Rig

Continue around the back of your rig and ensure all rear lights are on and flashing if appropriate.

Ideally you’d want to have an assistant hit the brakes and activate each turn signal, but like with the front, if the tail lights and flashers work it’s a pretty good indication all is well.

Continue around to the other side, looking for tire problems or loose items hanging from under the vehicle.

6. Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engine!

Lastly start the engine and listen.

A sick engine will tell you there is a problem usually well before it finally gives up the ghost.

If it’s smoking heavily or not running smoothly there is no point going anywhere.

Check your gauges to make sure the charging system is operating properly and all temperatures and pressures are within normal ranges.

7. Make One Last Check on the Brakes

You’re almost ready to leave.

The last check is to make sure your emergency brake and regular brakes are operating properly.

Pull ahead slowly and apply the brakes. Verify the emergency brake will hold the load, and that the regular brakes are not making unusual noises or feel spongy.

With trailers, apply the trailer brakes manually with the lever on the brake controller to verify they are operating properly.


If everything has passed your inspection, you are ready to head out on the open road.

That 5-10 minutes you just spent checking things over will likely have saved you from a large set of possible problems that would have left you stranded.

I can think of nothing worse than breaking down on I-40 somewhere between Needles and Barstow California in early August with the temps well over +100 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s not only inconvenient – it’s life threatening.

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