What to Know Before Your First Shakedown Trip

Mar 3, 2021 | Travel & Destinations

What to Know Before Your First Shakedown Trip

You've bought a new RV—now it's time to put it through its paces. Here’s everything you need to know to get ready to hit the road in earnest.

By Michelle Neale

Photo: Michelle Neale

The purpose of a shakedown trip is to familiarize yourself with a new RV, test out its systems, and identify any problems. It also gives you an opportunity to figure out how to organize your living and storage space, and what you need to purchase or pack from home for future trips. Typically a shakedown trip takes place at a campground close to home, or close to your RV seller. 

As tempting as it is to head straight to your bucket list destination or plan a camping trip with friends, this can be stressful while you’re learning how to operate your RV for the first time. A distraction-free shakedown trip should be your top priority after purchasing a brand new or used rig, even for seasoned RVers.

How to Pick a Shakedown Trip Destination

Look for a campground less than an hour away from your starting point—this is not the time to venture too far on unfamiliar or challenging roads. Whether you’re driving a motorhome or towing a trailer, part of the shakedown experience is getting comfortable behind the wheel. Familiarize yourself with the side mirrors and rear view camera setup. Note your rig’s turning radius, acceleration and stopping rates, and designate a copilot to flag doors or drawers that may swing open while turning.

Campsite with gravel road and large spots for RVs
Photo: Michelle Neale

Choose a camping location convenient for shopping. You’ll inevitably need supplies, whether it’s groceries or an RV-specific item. It’s even more convenient to have an RV dealership or camping store nearby—however, most big box stores also sell RV products in the automotive section. 

Book a site with full hookups to test out your electric, water, and sewer connections. A pull-through site is ideal so you can focus on the RV operations without the added challenge of backing in. 

Related RV Parking: 6 Tips to Determine How Much Space You Will Need

A final consideration is cell service. You’ll want to be able to get online and make calls if needed from your campsite. Check online reviews and call the campground to ask about cell service.

How to Prepare for Your Shakedown Trip 

The buttons and controls inside an RV can be overwhelming at first, and they may or may not all be labeled. To get the most out of your shakedown trip, review your RV manual in advance. In addition to familiarizing yourself with the onboard systems, the manual can be used as a checklist for what to test. It’s easy to overlook the furnace if you don’t need it, but better to try it out now than discover a problem later on during an unexpected cold snap. 

Online videos specific to your RV are also helpful, especially for processes like emptying your water tanks. Bookmark your favorite videos for easy reference once you’re on site. It’s also helpful to record going through your own setup and breakdown processes for future reference.

Situation to avoid when RVing: pulling out your slide over an obstruction
A situation to avoid when opening your slides at the campsite. | Photo: Michelle Neale

Have a checklist prepared for putting the RV through its paces beyond the control buttons. Inspect carefully for leaks. Try all cabinets, doors, swivel chairs, and convertible furniture. Check the tank gauges for accuracy. Test the electrical system capacity by plugging in chargers to multiple outlets and running appliances. 

Togo Tip: Locate the circuit breaker before running multiple appliances and outlets at the same time.

Know your RV’s height, width, and weight, including your tow vehicle if you’re towing a trailer. Some RVers keep a note with these measurements on the dashboard for easy reference. While you should have an easy driving route mapped out for the shakedown trip, it’s good practice to pay attention to bridge height and weight restriction signs. Before heading out to the campground, take a walk around the RV to check tire pressure and ensure that all outside storage bins are securely fastened.

Related Measure Twice, Drive Once: Understanding RV Height Clearance

What to Do If Something Goes Wrong 

The goal of a shakedown trip is to fix any problems before you’re in the middle of nowhere without cell service. Keep in mind that RVs differ from cars and are largely built by hand. Regular maintenance is part of the RV ownership experience.

As you’re going through inspections, keep a running list of issues and questions. Note what you can fix yourself, what needs to be resolved during the trip, and what can be addressed by your dealer or an RV mechanic at a later time. 

RV parked too close to a tree
Always ensure you have enough clearance for your slides at your campsite. | Photo: Michelle Neale

Your RV manual and rig-specific online videos should help troubleshoot most issues. If you’re uncertain about something, call the RV or appliance manufacturer helpline for assistance before you try to fix it yourself. If you encounter a major problem, contact the seller, document the problem with photos, and refer to your warranty or buyer’s agreement.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help from the camp host or a neighbor. Everyone’s been a newbie at one time, and most RVers are happy to lend a hand or offer advice. 

Related 10 Things We Wish New RVers Knew at the Campground

What to Bring with You on Your Shakedown Trip

Checklists and note-taking are key to a successful shakedown trip. A label maker can also come in handy for all those controls, as well as a basic tool kit.

It’s easy to under- or over-pack when you need everything from bedding, kitchen utensils, and groceries to leveling blocks and a sewer hose. You can find helpful checklist templates online or by using the Togo RV app for advice on what to pack on an RV trip

Related How to Get Your RV Road-Ready

Kids sitting outside an RV playing card games with pet
Photo: Michelle Neale

When it comes to kitchen and personal items, stick to the basics for the number of nights you’ll be camping on the shakedown trip. Don’t forget shatterproof tableware and an extra layer of clothing for cool nights and mornings. You’ll have plenty of time to figure out what you actually need, where it can be stored, and how to keep the RV organized and comfortable for everyone.

A shakedown trip is a distraction-free opportunity to put your RV through its paces and be prepared to hit the road in earnest. It allows you to take your time, focus on getting comfortable with how your RV works, and identify any issues that need to be addressed before taking that first big trip. A shakedown trip is also a great way to figure out what to pack and how to keep things organized with the convenience of shopping nearby, or even a quick trip back home. Of course, it should also be fun—enjoy relaxing in your new RV, sitting around the campfire, and planning future trips with confidence.

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Michelle Neale

Michelle is a freelance writer, photographer and lifelong traveler. In 2016 she and her husband made the best decision ever to sell their house in Los Angeles and RV full time with their two kids and two dogs. Now living in Reno, Nevada, she can be found enjoying the outdoors year round and planning the next family RV trip. Follow Michelle at nealesonwheels.com.