Recreational Vehicles and Trailers Handbook

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Section 9 of 16

Equipment and Operating Controls for All Drivers

Safe operation of your vehicle depends on your familiarity with the vehicle. Take the time to learn from the dealer or seller how each system works and study your owner’s manual.

Headlight use

You must turn on your headlights from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise or if snow, rain, fog, or other hazardous weather condition requires the continuous use of windshield wipers, or when visibility is not sufficient to clearly see a person or a vehicle for a distance of 1,000 feet.

No vehicle may be driven with only parking lights on. However, parking lights may be used as signals or when the headlamps are also lit.

Tires and Wheels

Tires on your vehicle must be of the proper size and correctly inflated for the load you are carrying. All tires on the vehicle should be of the same size, type, and construction. Check tire pressure when the tires are cold. Under-inflation reduces fuel economy and load carrying capacity. It may also cause control problems and can result in overheated tires and blowouts. Over-inflation increases tire wear, affects handling, and can also result in blowouts. Make sure dual tires do not touch.

Tire fires, which can be caused by running on a flat tire, are a danger on vehicles equipped with dual tires. Tire fires are very difficult to put out, so inspect your tires frequently.

Wheels must be compatible with tires and should be replaced if bent, heavily rusted, cause air leaks, or if wheel fasteners continually loosen. Improperly balanced wheel/tire combinations will cause excessive vibrations, tire wear, and possible damage to your vehicle.

Exhaust System

Exhaust gases are deadly because they contain carbon monoxide. Any time you suspect that exhaust fumes are entering the passenger compartment, determine the cause and have it corrected as soon as possible. Rear doors and rear windows should be closed tightly while driving to avoid drawing exhaust gases into the vehicle.


The most notable difference to first-time RV buyers or renters is the need to use side-mounted mirrors for rear vision. Backing an RV may also be a new experience. It may appear difficult, but a little practice will help you become competent when backing the RV, especially if you are towing a trailer. (See Trailer Backing)

Left- and right-hand outside mirrors are required on the towing vehicle if the RV or trailer obstructs the driver’s rear vision. Make sure the mirrors are large enough and that they are positioned for vision at least 200 feet to the rear of the vehicle. You need the mirrors to do more than back the vehicle. Check your mirrors frequently for traffic conditions behind you so you can avoid last minute maneuvers and surprises. Side mirrors should be as large as practical, with a separate convex mirror mounted below. Mount the mirrors as wide apart as possible for maximum rear vision and easy backing. Trailer towing mirrors should be adjusted so that the inside edge of the mirror is further out than the outside edge of the trailer. The RV or trailer’s rear wheels should be visible in the convex mirrors to check for correct tracking. (See Turning Patterns)

Use your mirrors to get a good idea of the size of your vehicle. Larger vehicles need more space to turn without running over curbs or sideswiping stationary objects. You can gain valuable experience by practicing on a residential street or in an empty parking lot.

Rear-Looking TV Systems

Some housecars and motorhomes are equipped with rear-looking closed circuit television systems to help you back your vehicle. The closed circuit TV system should be used in conjunction with your mirrors. The more you practice using the closed circuit TV system for backing your vehicle, the more proficient you will be.