Editor’s Note: The following column by Mark Polk appears in the latest RV Education 101 newsletter offering tips on mechanical inspection prior to traveling. To view the entire newsletter click here.
I came to a realization the other day that really opened my eyes. I talk a lot about getting your RV ready for camping season, and making pretrip checks on the RV and/or tow vehicle prior to leaving on a trip. These checks are important, but what I realized is the checks we make are, for the most part, superficial. We don’t always inspect the RV or vehicle thoroughly for potential mechanical problems.
Making sure the RV, tow vehicle, or the vehicle you tow behind a motorhome is mechanically safe for travel involves more than just looking at the surface. Case in point; recently we purchased a used Jeep Liberty to tow behind our motorhome. After we bought the Jeep I installed the base-plate for the tow-bar, I changed all the fluids and filters and I wired the Jeep’s lights for towing. Prior to our first trip, towing the new/used Jeep, I checked all of the the lights, made sure the tires were inflated properly and checked all of the hitch components. We towed the Jeep to Tennessee and back without any problems, and I use the Jeep as my daily driver when we are home. Since buying the Jeep we put about 2,500 miles on it.
Our son was visiting one day and he asked me if I knew the front tires on the Jeep were wearing on the inside. I didn’t know it, and they were. This type of wear can indicate the ball joints are bad. When I jacked the vehicle up and checked, they were bad. I took the Jeep to my shop to replace the ball joints. When I looked for the lug wrench in the Jeep there was no jack or lug wrench in the vehicle. If that wasn’t bad enough, when I attempted to remove the lug nuts they were so tight I couldn’t get them off. Someone used an air impact wrench on the lug nuts and over-tightened them. I managed to get all but three removed, and I had to cut those off with a cutting torch. If we had a flat tire when we were towing the jeep we would be sitting alongside the highway with no way to remove the tire.
I know it’s not practical to remove the tires from a vehicle you just bought, just to see if they can be removed, but at a minimum I should have looked for the jack and lug wrench. More importantly and to my point, I should have inspected the vehicle thoroughly for mechanical problems prior to towing it. I have a vehicle lift at my shop and I always inspected the underside of the old Jeep we towed every time I changed the oil.
I realize not everyone has the facilities, or may know what to look for, but I think it’s important to add this type of inspection to your annual list. This includes the tow vehicle for owner’s who tow a trailer, and the towed vehicle for motorhome owners. Make an appointment with your mechanic every spring to have the vehicle thoroughly inspected so it is ready for another camping season, and hopefully you can get the lug nuts off if you have a flat tire.