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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A GUIDE TO ORANGE COUNTY RECREATION
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Get Your Motorhome Runnin'

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure for Trailers, RVs

May 28, 1999|STEVE STRAEHLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the weather warming up at last, it's tempting just to jump in a recreational vehicle or hook up a travel trailer and hit the road. However, a little time spent preparing for summer can save a weekend of camping.

Trailers and RVs are often parked all winter. Even if the vehicle was in perfect running order at the end of the last camping season doesn't mean it won't need attention now.

If it's an RV, start with the engine and running gear. Hoses and belts should be checked for cracks. If they're brittle to the touch, consider replacing them. It's also a good time to change windshield wiper blades.

The tires must also be checked. Make sure they're not brittle and that there aren't cracks in the rubber. Check the air pressure in all tires (including inside tires on rear axles) and the spare. If there's a question about whether a tire is OK, take the RV to a tire store and have the experts take a look. Changing one of these tires is no picnic.

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An oil change is usually in order. Check the radiator, transmission fluid and brake fluid. Fluids can break down over time, even if the vehicle sits idle.

After the running gear is serviced, make sure the vehicle is sealed properly. "It's the biggest problem RV owners have," said Donna Collis, western region warranty manager for motor home manufacturer Fleetwood.

Collis recommends the sealant around roof and side joints on an RV be stripped and resealed at least once a year. Otherwise, she said, moisture can get into the vehicle between the outer and inner walls.

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Gas appliances must also be checked for leaks and clogs in the system. Spider webs are a major source of trouble. "Spiders are really attracted to LP gas," Collis said. "It can be a fire hazard."

Collis said the LP system isn't something amateurs should try to repair. Take the vehicle to an RV service center instead. This is a good time to fill the LP tank as well. Also, check smoke detectors and LP gas detectors for proper operation and replace their batteries.

The plumbing system also needs attention, Collis said. Drain, flush and sanitize the fresh water system according to the manufacturer's instructions, then operate all the water fixtures and check for leaks. Check the drain hose for leaks as well.

Also, tune up the generator and check circuit breakers and fuses, bulbs and other parts of the vehicle's electrical system.

With a trailer, "you need to start with the running gear," said Phil Jackson, service manager for Thor California, a travel trailer manufacturer. "Check the brakes to make sure they're in proper working order," he said.

Jackson said the bearings are also critical. He recommends they be checked and repacked every year. He advises against the use of axles that allow bearing lubrication with a grease gun. If too much grease is used, Jackson said, it can impair brake function. Instead, the bearings should be inspected and lubricated by hand.

It's also important to check the trailer's electrical connection to the tow vehicle. Hook up the trailer to the vehicle and check that the taillights, brake lights, running lights and turn signals all operate correctly.

Take a look at the trailer's battery. Check the water in the battery, refilling with distilled water if needed. Remove any corrosion on or around the battery and battery box.

If it's a tent trailer, raise the sides and check the canvas for rips. This is a good time to be sure the mechanism is lubricated and works easily. Be sure none of the poles or other parts are missing. Clean out any leaves or other debris that might have found their way into the tent.

All vehicles should have at least one fire extinguisher. Be sure it's charged and in an easy-to-reach place in case of emergency. Also, find the flashlights that are probably scattered throughout the vehicle, replace their batteries and be sure they're in working order.

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OK, you're now confident your vehicle won't break down on the way to the campsite. But what about the things that make your trip more enjoyable?

Make sure the refrigerator's in working order, and that there are no surprises in it left over from last season. Do you keep staples such as spices, canned food, paper products or other items in your vehicle? Check to be sure the food items are still good.

Now's a good time to stock up on paper towels, aluminum foil, extra batteries and the like, before you're faced with purchasing these items at a camp store, where the prices are usually much higher than at a supermarket.

If you keep sleeping bags or other bedding articles in the vehicle, make sure they're aired out.

For vehicles with a TV and VCR, switch last season's stash of movies with a few new titles. If you keep board games, check that all the pieces are with the set. If you don't have any board games, consider keeping one or two in the vehicle for rainy evenings.

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