Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher who is often quoted in movies and television - “Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.” Or “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” My mother was German. She used to say something similar, “Touch that again, and I’ll kill you.” Nietzsche believed the central task of philosophy was to help us become who we are; my mother’s task was to teach me some safety concepts so I could live long enough to find out.
Fortunately, much of society has been able to learn from the mistakes of the past and shared the precautionary tales that have helped us prevent accidents. In addition to what our parents taught us, new and ever-changing technologies and procedures require that we stay up-to-date with evolving safety precautions and systems.
Some safety accessories have become so ingrained in our daily lives at home that we take them for granted. But life on the road isn’t life at home. The shake, rattle and roll (not to mention heat, cold and wet) take a toll on RVers and our RVs, and remote boondocking can often put us far from auto part stores, emergency medical care and fire departments, making it all the more necessary for RVers to plan ahead and be prepared for just about anything.
Some of us are driving or towing vintage motorhomes and RVs that often predate many of the safety systems inherent in newer models. The smart RVer ensures the systems and accessories they are using are functioning properly and is careful to install or pack backups. So it begs the question: how safe are you?
Propane Gas Detectors
Scenario: Propane gas detectors are installed in all RVs today and have been for quite some time as propane is not only flammable, but also explosive. Like carbon monoxide, propane is also odorless. However, propane producers add a harmless chemical called mercaptan, which provides that wonderfully aromatic rotten egg smell, making it easier to tell if there’s a leak or if a pilot light has gone out but the propane is still flowing into your living space.
Solution: Your propane system suffers from the vibration of the road just like your back. It can get tired. It’s best to take your rig in annually and have a professional test your system. Similarly, your propane tanks should be checked for leaks and make a note as each tank has an expiration date. Propane distributors won’t fill expired tanks so make sure you don’t take off for your next trip with such a tank. You will most likely be able to buy a new one, but you’ll get the best price if you do a little research and planning ahead of time.
Tire Repair Kits and Air Compressors
Scenario: You’re out boondocking, out of cell range and get a flat. Depending on your type of RV, the first flat can be changed with your spare. The second? This is when a tire repair kit and On Board Air (OBA) can be the difference between a possibly life-threatening experience (and one seriously irritated significant other), and a minor inconvenience.
Solution: Tire repair kits are inexpensive and, with a little practice, you can become a tire repair expert. OBA usually comes in the form of either a compressor or a tank of compressed gas. Not only will the OBA inflate flat or low-pressure tires, it can also power air tools, inflate water-floatation toys, air mattresses and more, without creating any foot stomping or sweating.
Voltage & Surge
Steady, clean power is one of those things that most of us take for granted at home. So much so that we don’t even think about it when we plug in at a campground or RV park.
Scenario: Aside from the obvious danger of an electrical fire from an overloaded circuit or spark, many of us travel with a host of sensitive electronics from televisions and stereos, to satellite receivers and computers. Electrical issues might not even be apparent when you first plug in, but overtime, they can wreck your appliances and electronics.
Solution: Voltage protection units and surge protectors can prevent poor power from entering your RV when you initially plug in, and eliminate damage that could arise over time.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Scenario: Known as the silent killer because you can’t taste it, see it, smell it, or feel it; it’s a byproduct of vehicle exhaust, generators, gas fireplaces and that comforting heater in your RV. Hemoglobin in your blood binds to oxygen via your lungs to keep your cells alive. Trouble is, hemoglobin binds to carbon monoxide faster than it does to oxygen. We’ve all heard the horror stories.
Solution: You might not even have a carbon monoxide detector in your home let alone your RV – but it is highly recommended that you do. Mount them at home and in your RV, close to where you sleep. Carbon monoxide is actually a bit lighter than air and mixes freely with it, so install them on the wall or ceiling, away from ceiling fans, cooking areas or high humidity such as in bathrooms, so you can get accurate readings.
Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems
Tire pressure monitoring systems are standard equipment in many new vehicles today. We all know that proper tire pressure reduces tire wear and improves fuel efficiency. Yet it seems everyone who has spent time on the road has either seen or experienced the shredded chunks of tire strewn across the asphalt, indicative of a catastrophic tire failure. It’s safe to assume that this could happen to any of us, especially in a motorhome or when hauling a large trailer.
Scenario: You’re cruising down the highway without a care in the world when one of your tires develops a slow leak. As you drive, the tire pressure gradually drops. The more the pressure drops, the more the tire flexes. Every time the tire flexes, it generates heat and gets hotter. If you’re driving on a hot day, at fast speeds, and/or under a heavy load (sound familiar?), the tire’s temperature rises even faster, and when hot enough, just about any tire would shred into vulcanized strips of rubber carcass.
Solution: Tire catastrophes are easy to avoid if you properly prep before heading on the road. Tire pressure monitoring systems are available as an aftermarket item for your motorhome, truck and trailer. You can often install them yourself, and an alarm will sound if one of your tires is too low. Some will even give you a tire pressure readout so you can inflate any low tires to the proper inflation. Now you are safer, more fuel-efficient, and you’ll save money with improved tread life.
In my teenage years, I received some fatherly advice, well, from my father. He said, “Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” At the time, his words of wisdom regarded my date that night, but the same advice applies to fire extinguishers.
Scenario: It could be a grease fire in the kitchen or something gone awry in the engine, but either way, a fire extinguisher could be the difference between the charred wreckage of an RV with an accompanying forest fire, or a ‘holy crap was that ever close’ story told beside the campfire.
Solution: Get a unit marked with ABC as it will douse any type of fire, check the gauge periodically to make sure it still has pressure (in the green), then turn it upside down occasionally, and give it a shake. It’s not a fire hose with liquid inside; it’s a dry chemical powder that can become a solid useless block (and still show green on the gauge).
You’ll be tempted to save some dough on an inexpensive throw away unit (maybe you already have). But I would suggest you invest in a higher quality one that can be recharged and professionally inspected so that when you really need it, you’ll not only have it, but it will work.
You have undoubtedly walked past them at every auto and RV supply store – the roadside safety kit. I’m not talking about the windshield sun screen with the smiley face and sunglasses, but the one with flares, cones, flashing lights and warning triangles. With a little planning you can help prevent an accident, and potential injury, involving another vehicle when your RV is disabled on the highway.
Most of the kit will last forever but flares usually have a life expectancy of four years and will be stamped with an expiration date. Many of us already have a kit jammed into the last place we’ll ever look. I suggest we all check the batteries in our flashing lights, expiration date on our flares, and keep the kit handy so that we don’t have to create a roadside RV garage sale to get to it.
I suggest we all avoid complacency, and take a proactive approach to the safety of our family, friends, others and ourselves while we enjoy the RVing experience. Forget about German philosophers, but remember the advice your parents gave you, and the suggestions from one of your fellow travelers on the road of life!