In the interest of avoiding unpleasant surprises, a shakedown trip should be No. 1 on the travel plan after acquiring a new or used motorhome. Motorhomes are more complex than other types of RVs, and if there are any glitches they should be discovered within a reasonably short distance from the seller or from home.
Any new owner is excited to get moving, but before loading the coach for travel it’s wise to get on the scales. Fill the freshwater, LP-gas and motor fuel tanks, before the weigh-in. Then after you load the motorhome, visit the scales again to see if you’re under the stated limits, which usually are posted on a cabinet or closet door. Chassis weight ratings are posted near the driver’s seat.
Before the trip, check tire pressures (including spare) and inflate to specs listed on the tire sidewalls (cold). Be sure to also check oil and coolant levels for the engine and AC generator (unless air cooled), along with the transmission oil level. The dealer pre-delivery inspection should have covered these items — and many others — but it’s good insurance to check them yourself and to create a maintenance routine.
You should plan on rolling up about 100 miles and spend several days and nights aboard in order to expose any malfunctions. In addition to kitchen supplies and your personal items, you’ll need an assortment of tools that matches your mechanical ability, plus road emergency triangles or some other type of nighttime safety/visibility device.
Before takeoff, make sure all your supplies are secure so items won’t fall out of cabinets, which can be very distracting while driving. Kitchen supplies should not be made of glass unless those items are carefully protected from breakage. Manually test carbon monoxide, smoke and LP-gas detectors to make sure they’re functional.
You should also go through hitching/unhitching and towing exercises if you plan to tow a dinghy vehicle. During your initial driving experience, be aware of any possible handling differences compared with your pre-purchase test drive of the unloaded coach. Adding quite a bit of weight sometimes changes a motorhome’s handling characteristics.
Negotiating tight turns, braking, backing and leveling should be on your list. In particular, be vigilant in maintaining more distance from vehicles ahead of your motorhome, respecting that it may not stop as well as your passenger car. Downshift to avoid excessive use of brakes on mountain grades, or utilize your engine exhaust brake if your coach is so equipped (diesel only).
If you’re new, backing will require practice, which can be performed in an empty parking lot using wood strips or other objects as markers to simulate campground sites. Make sure to use markers that won’t damage tires if you steer wrong. Frustration often occurs between the driver and co-pilot over backing instructions, and it’s wise to get your procedure and hand signals down beforehand.
A primary goal of a shakedown trip is to test operation of appliances, including refrigerator, air conditioner(s), furnace, water heater, water pump, entertainment components, leveling jacks, and of course the chassis drivetrain. Operate the refrigerator on 120-volt AC power as well as LP-gas and use a refrigerator thermometer to monitor performance. Read owner’s manuals on the coach as well as the appliances.
If your shakedown trip goes smoothly, congratulations! If it doesn’t, you can feel comforted that you didn’t have to deal with a problem in unfamiliar territory.