Top Five Life Saving Devices for RVs
It seems like every day there’s a new story posted somewhere on social media about bad things happening to good people in RVs. Blowouts, fires and accidents aren't topics most of us are comfortable talking about for fear of jinxing ourselves, but we can’t just cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen to us.
As heartbreaking as these tragedies can be, it’s important to keep in mind that RVers collectively drive millions of miles every year without incident, making RVs one of the safest forms of travel statistically. Even so, bad things can and do happen, usually when we least expect it - and usually when we’re the least prepared for it. Luckily, it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to prepare and protect yourselves and your families.
The following is a list of the top five devices I have installed on my RV that I believe help stack the odds of preventing and/or surviving a tragedy in our favor. You undoubtedly have taken steps of your own so please share them in the comments below… every little bit of information helps!
Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems
A high-speed front-tire blowout is probably the most common fear among RVers. Tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) have become increasingly popular among RVers, and for good reason: they relay real-time information about the air pressure inside your tires and can give you advance warning about a potentially lethal condition you wouldn’t otherwise know about until it was too late.
The TireMinder TPMS is a popular and highly-rated unit for both its reliability and ease of use. It comes in many different configurations so you can customize it to your RV, including extra sensors to monitor up to twenty-two tires and a signal booster for longer rigs. There are many TPMS companies with different units to choose from so I encourage you to shop around to find what works best for you and your RV, but the TireMinder system would be an excellent place to start.
As good as TPMS’s are, they’re only as good and the information they’re programmed with. It’s imperative you know what the proper tire pressure should be for the load you’re carrying, and there’s only one way to do that: WEIGH YOUR RIG! You cannot rely on the placards inside your RV for tire pressures; those were printed by the chassis manufacturer and they have no idea what appliances were installed by the RV manufacturer or what supplies you may have loaded onto the RV. Weighing your rig the way you intend to travel in it - fully loaded, tow car connected, a full fuel tank and maybe even a full fresh water tank - is the only way to know what the load really is and what each tire’s psi should be.
We all know the tires themselves don’t actually carry any load at all, it’s the pressure inside the tire that does all the work - the rubber just holds it all in place, which is why they go flat on the bottom without any air inside them. Every tire has a load range it’s designed to carry, and every manufacturer produces an inflation chart to tell you exactly how much pressure needs to be inside the tire to carry a particular load. The more pressure inside the tire, the more load it can carry up to it’s maximum capacity.
Speaking of maximums, a common area of confusion is the “maximum psi” rating printed on the sidewall of the tire. The confusion is understandable because it sounds like the tire can’t take any more pressure than what’s listed on the sidewall, when in fact the average tire can take a great deal more pressure than that - as anyone who’s driven on hot roads already knows. The max psi isn’t about how much pressure the tire can hold, it’s the pressure required to carry the maximum load the tire is rated to carry. Adding more pressure than the maximum listed on the sidewall won't enable the tire to carry more weight.
So why not just fill each tire up to its maximum psi and forget about it? Well, you could, but if your load doesn’t require that much pressure then the ride would be unnecessarily harsh and an overly hard tire doesn’t perform as well while cornering or braking. That’s why we all need to routinely weigh our RVs to see how much pressure the tires really need to safely carry the loads we’re packing inside our rigs.
Another concern about tires is temperature. Tires generate a great deal of heat from the flexing they endure while driving down the road. Like pressure, tires can withstand a significant amount of heat, but an under-inflated tire will flex more and possibly produce more heat than it can take. TPMS’s often report temperatures as well as pressures, though the sensors themselves are susceptible to external conditions - like the sun shining directly on the sensors - so they’re not 100% accurate. Instead, you want to use the TPMS as a relative gauge of temperature; any single tire reporting a temperature significantly higher than the other tires should be examined immediately because it can indicate a very serious problem.
Temperature guns are another excellent tool for determining the exact temperature of each tire, but they only report the surface temperature of the tire when the internal temperature is the real concern. Still, measuring the surface temperature of each tire is far better than guessing because it will help determine if any one tire is much hotter than the others, indicating an issue with that tire.
And, of course, you need a high-quality, high-pressure tire gauge. Personally, I prefer dial gauges to digital ones, but that’s just me. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s durable, can read the high pressure of your tires and is accurate. You can take it to any tire shop and use one or more of their gauges to measure its accuracy. It doesn’t have to be 100% perfect, but the it shouldn’t be off my more than one or two psi.
RV fires make sensational headlines, which might be the reason we’re seeing more and more of them on the news. That might make some people think it’s happening more often, but my admittedly unscientific research indicates another possibility: If there is an increase in RV-related fires, it might be more directly related to the increasing number of RVs on the road and not that the RVs themselves are becoming less safe.
Whatever that actual statistics are, there are a lot of ways we can protect our families and our RVs. Smoke detectors are an obvious first step, and every RV needs to have at least one… our 42’ rig has two; one in front and one in the back bedroom. The smoke detector I’ve linked above is a combination detector for both smoke and carbon monoxide. I’m not typically an advocate of “combination” detectors because in my head they’re half as good as doing two things as a single detector is at doing one thing.
In our case, the combination detector is adequate protection for us because we have an all-electric RV; there are no interior burners of any kind that could produce carbon monoxide, but we still need a CO detector in off-chance the exterior exhaust from our water heater or generator seeps inside. If you have a propane stove, oven or heater, I’d recommend a dedicated carbon monoxide detector in addition to a dedicated smoke and fire detector. I have no hard evidence that combination detectors work less well than single detectors, so if you’re comfortable using all-in-one units be my guest… just make it a good one.
As I mentioned earlier, having an all-electric RV means we don’t even have an LP tank on board, but if we did I would absolutely have at least one of these propane gas detectors installed. In fact, I’d probably have an extra one installed in the tank bay and maybe even another one behind my propane refrigerator if we had one. There’s a lot of anecdotal scuttlebutt on the internet blaming propane refrigerators for a high percentage of RV fires; I don’t know if it’s true or not, but there’s no reason to take any chances.
Surge Protectors / EMS
RV electrical systems are becoming more and more complex with every new model year, yet the aging power supplies we typically plug into can be under-powered, incorrectly wired and poorly maintained. It’s more important than ever that we use whatever tools are available.to protect our RVs from the risk of fire and ourselves from electrocution.
The most widely respected name in RV electrical protection is Progressive Industries, and they produce a number of systems to help alleviate the risks for just about any size rig and any electrical requirements. Many companies produce simple surge protectors, but Progressive’s portable surge protector includes an EMS (electrical management system) that not only protects your RV from multi-mode surges but also from voltage, polarity, and lost/open neutral problems.
For those who prefer a built-in model, there’s the EMS-HW50C EMS available in both 30 and 50 amp models. It affords your RV the same protection as the portable unit, but it includes a remote digital display you can install inside your RV and it can be hard-wired inside your electrical bay for more secure connections while eliminating the risk of being “borrowed” from your utility pole.
If your RV is solar powered, you have even more options to consider. I’d strongly recommend you talk to your solar installer or dealer to get the best information available for your setup.
Pure, clean water is an enormous concern for RVers. Without testing the water each and every time, we never really know the quality of the water we’re running through our RV from the parks or filling stations we go to. Forget about how bad some water sources taste; if we’re not careful our water can transmit harmful bacteria, spread disease or infect us with potentially lethal parasites without any warning whatsoever. It’s rare, but it happens often enough to warrant protecting ourselves and our families.
I know many RVers who simply refuse to drink or cook with the water from any park or filling station, or even from their own tanks at all no matter what the source was. I can’t argue against that practice - it makes a lot of sense - but for many it can be a problematic inconvenience to carry around separate supplies of water.
A common water filter is an excellent first step to purifying our drinking water, and probably the most common one you’ll see in use is the Camco water filter. They’re inexpensive, easy to connect to any water source using common hose connections and they do an adequate job of filtering out many common impurities that can cause bad taste and foul odors.
But ‘adequate’ might not be good enough, so there are a number of multi-filter systems available that purify water in multiple stages. Systems such as the Watts Dual Exterior Water Filter Kit is a popular option because it’s easily integrated into most existing RV water systems and has dual filters that help purify the water even more. There are systems available that include three or more stages of purification, though many of them are designed for stix-n-brix houses and would need adapters to convert them for use in an RV… not a problem for most do-it-yourselfers.
When we’re talking about the best water purification systems, reverse osmosis (RO) has to at or very near the top. Olympia Water Systems offers an RO water purification system that includes five separate filter stages to produce very high-quality drinking water at a relatively low price. The issue with many RO systems is they tend to be bulky and many RVs don’t have the available space to install them. If yours does, an RO system would be an ideal water purification solution.
One other issue with RO systems is that they’re typically plumbed to dispense water at a single source - usually a special faucet at your kitchen sink. This is fine for dispensing water for cooking or drinking, but it won’t protect the ice-maker or water dispenser in your refrigerator if yours has one. Ours does, so I installed a 4-stage system with a UV purification unit, but instead of installing the unit under a sink, I installed this in one in my main water bay to fill my tanks through it; it’s slows down the process a bit, but all my faucets produce purified water that way.
The real beauty of a water filtration system is how flexible and interchangeable they are. There are so many makes, models and configurations to choose from that you should be able to easily mix-n-match whatever components you need that will fit in your RV to protect you and your family from water contamination. Even better is the likelihood that you can add components one or more over time if that helps your budget!
It goes without saying that every RV, no matter what size or type, needs at least one fire extinguisher designed to fight multiple types of fires. Because RVs combine all the elements of a house and a car - furniture, construction materials, electrical, grease and fuel - you need a multi-rated extinguisher to protect you and your RV.
A-rated extinguishers are for common accelerants like wood and paper; B-rated extinguishers are for flammable liquids; C-rated extinguishers are for electrical fires because the extinguishing agent won’t conduct electricity back through the stream to the operator… a very important consideration in an RV. As such, I strongly recommend a high-quality ABC-rated extinguisher - the more the merrier.
Taking fire protection one step further, I’m about to install this automatic fire suppression system in my engine compartment. One big concern with engine fires is that if one starts while you’re driving down the road, you may not even realize it until it’s too late to save yourselves or your RV. An automatic fire suppression system could buy you the precious moments you need to stop, get your family to a safe place and save your RV from further damage.
There are smaller automatic fire suppression systems available that might fit above your LP tanks or even behind a propane refrigerator. If I had either of these, I’d certainly do my best to find a system that fit install it as soon as possible… the peace of mind would be well worth the price.
If the worst happens - a fire while you’re sleeping - and suppression isn’t an option, you can imagine the panic and confusion that can occur. If you’ve already practiced climbing out your escape window - and everyone absolutely should practice it - then you already know how clumsy and time-consuming climbing out one can be. An emergency escape ladder could help you and your family get out a lot faster than just trying to climb out of the escape windows without one. Every RV is different, but if this ladder or one like it makes it easier and faster to get out in a hurry there’s no reason to not have one for each escape window ready to go.
The Price of Peace of Mind
Do bad things happen? Of course they do, but it's a lot rarer than the news wants you to believe. I admit that some of the solutions I’ve included here can be a tad pricey, especially if you install them all at once, but eliminating as many of the risks as possible adds to the joy and excitement of the RV lifestyle - and isn’t that what it’s all about?
Travel safe. Travel well. Travel often.