What You Need To Know About RV Fire Safety

The RV brings about a whole new perspective when it comes to the timeless tradition of “roughing it”. Unlike car campers or trailers, patrons of motorhomes don’t need to worry much about setting up washing and cooking stations or cleaning up after themselves when they finish camping in an area; it’s as simple as pulling up the steps and driving away.

However, with major conveniences come major responsibilities. As of 2016, RV fires are chiefly responsible for RV-related losses in the United States. This  guide will show you the details of RV fire hazards and how to safeguard your RV from them.

Do yourself a favor; read on and educate yourself on how these terrible accidents happen and how to guard your recreational vehicle against these hazards.

What fire hazards are present when my RV is stationary?

While these risks don’t necessarily always surface when the vehicle is at rest, they tend to happen in areas outside of the engine, wheels, and axles.

Refrigerator Fires

Check the propane fuel lines for leaks and electrical systems if they are properly grounded. Propane has a distinct smell but when in doubt, brush fuel lines with soapy water and check for bubbles; call an RV repair center immediately if you find any. Open the windows and doors to ventilate the RV and let out any harmful fumes. In addition, only use the proper voltage necessary on electrical outlets. Power lines and circuits may corrode and overheat quickly, if used incorrectly. While not as common, insect and rodent nests have been found in RV fridge cooling units, so be sure to maintain a clean fridge as much as possible.

Although still a controversial case, RV refrigerators have been one of the main causes of fires in recreational vehicles. There have been cases where class action lawsuits have been filed (as recent as 2016, with Dometic) and mass factory recalls have been conducted. 

While much speculation has been cast over the reliability of propane fuel lines, of which some RV fridges are required to operate, there have also been doubts raised about electrically-powered fridges and how using them alongside the air-conditioning may cause circuit boards to heat up and combust.

Faulty Wiring

Replace any frayed wires or worn electrical coating as soon as you find them. Bouncing off the main idea from the previous point, it should be noted that RV’s use a lot of power. While the wiring should be more than adequate to handle the high power consumption typically associated with RV patrons of modern society, the protective coating or insulation  will eventually become brittle over time due to heat.

This happens from a process called “joule heating”. All this means is thermal energy gets produced whenever an electrical current passes through a conductor. Pair this logic with the fact that some RV electrical wiring insulation is composed of plastic and you have a recipe for an indoor RV B-B-Q. This risk is also increased further by the greenhouse effect that happens when you inadvertently leave your RV baking in the afternoon sun. 

Stay safe, check your wires especially if you smell something burnt and aren’t cooking anything!

Stovetop Hazards

Keep your propane tanks in well-ventilated areas, upright at all times and gas lines checked regularly. For all practical purposes, this section will deal primarily with propane-type stoves. As mentioned earlier, use soapy water to check your propane fuel lines for leaks. Propane is dangerous not only because it is flammable, but also because it produces carbon monoxide gas. So make sure your propane sources are kept in relatively cool, open, well-ventilated areas to avoid a potentially dangerous situation from becoming even more dangerous.

According to U.S. regulations, propane tank safety valves are only effective when handled in the upright position, as the valves are meant to release gas should pressure buildup inside the tank reach high levels. Otherwise, you may risk a tank rupture. 

Above all else, (and this should go without saying) keep an eye on all heat and ignition sources in your RV kitchen particularly if you’re cooking with hot oil or water!

Okay, so what fire hazards do I need to know about when I’m in transit?

Generally speaking, following a good car care regimen can prevent the following fire hazards for your RV. Read more below to learn about the various fire hazards while driving an RV.

Wheel Bearings

Vibrations in the steering wheel or popping and clicking sounds may be signs of a bad wheel bearing. Just like any car, your RV has wheel bearings; a key part of a vehicle’s drivetrain that helps you turn without completely wearing your axles out. However, neglecting to check these once every ten thousand miles or so can be very costly.

A wheel bearing works by reducing the friction involved between the moving and non-moving parts of a vehicle’s driveshaft and transmission. They reduce friction by employing a “rolling” force, using small metal balls, sealed in grease, to facilitate movement. Over time however, water or dirt can enter the metal ball housing which can cause the wheel bearing to dry; increasing friction from metal-to-metal contact, thereby becoming its own fire hazard.

Don’t get lazy with your tune-up schedule! Regular follow-ups with your dealership can save you a world of hurt and a lot of money in the long-term. Or if you simply can’t be bothered to go to a mechanic, regularly lubricate and clean your wheel bearings.

Diesel Engine Fires

Conduct routine engine maintenance at least once every month and invest in an engine fire suppression system. Engine fires are prone to happen in diesel pushers, so it is highly recommended that you periodically clean and check your RV engine. Rubber fuel lines are the most susceptible to damage as RV engine compartments tend to get very hot, so keep an eye on these, as much as possible. The same goes for antifreeze, or coolant, leaks. The last thing you want to happen is for a fuel line to burst, spraying highly flammable material all over your engine block, making a potential fire that much harder to extinguish. In addition, engines tend to collect dust, grime and dirt over time. While this doesn’t necessarily constitute a conventional fire hazard, it may cause your engine to run hotter, so keep your engines clean!

Depending on which country you live in, insurance may also dispute your claim if you don’t have a fire suppression system installed in the engine compartment of your RV, so keep this in mind. An engine fire suppression system works by installing sensors in the engine block. Should the sensors detect a fire, it will automatically spray the engine with a fire extinguishing agent, minimizing the chances of a catastrophic incident.

Tires

Keep your tires properly inflated and change them if they show signs of damage or are beginning to wear out. While in and of themselves not fire hazards, old tires may be very dangerous to RV’s. A poorly-inflated tire runs the risk of sidewall flexing. Sidewall flexing happens when the sides of a tire lose their rigidity and hit other parts of the wheel, increasing friction and temperature. In addition, improperly inflated tires can unevenly wear out its treads, increasing the chances of a blowout on the highway.

Your RV should come with a sticker that shows the factory-recommended amount of PSI you should fill your tires up to, so pay attention to this! Also, just like with any car, replace all your tires if you find a defect with any one of them. This helps ensure a steady wear on all the tires and, indirectly, longer tire life.

What kinds of emergency items can I buy for my RV?

The list below is not comprehensive, but should be sufficient for most RV needs. Try to take all of these items for your travel to be safe than sorry.

Fire Extinguisher

Invest in a dry chemical fire extinguisher. Dry chemical fire extinguishers are the most common type available on the commercial market and serve their purposes effectively. They work on putting out most types of common fires (types A, B and C) and are widely available. 

When picking out a fire extinguisher, always inspect the pressure gauge; the needle should always point towards the green side, which means that it is fully charged and ready to go. Never select a fire extinguisher that has been partially used. In terms of maintenance, the agent used in dry chemical fire extinguishers has a tendency to settle and may become compact and inert over time. So turn the fire extinguisher upside down and hit the bottom end with your hand sharply to avoid this. Do this once a month.

When in doubt, change your fire extinguisher every ten years to make sure it’s always ready when you need one.

Fire Blanket

Make sure your fire blanket is 1 x 1 meters in size, at least (check your country’s requirements on fire blanket dimensions). A fire blanket works by cutting off the oxygen required for an open fire to continue burning. Typically, they are made of asbestos, wool or interwoven layers of fiberglass. Theoretically, they should be less messy than using fire extinguishers and have a variety of applications best suited for emergencies where fires are small and manageable (or for containing electrical fires).

Most fire blankets come equipped with a set of instructions on how to deploy and use them (it’s usually pretty straightforward), and just like extinguishers, they are typically single use only. Unlike extinguishers though, maintenance is not as much of a priority and may require you to do research on certified fire crews trained specifically to check fire blankets.

Alarms

These are three types of alarms that would be very helpful to any self-respecting RV owner:

  • Smoke Detectors

There are two kinds of smoke detectors; optical and ionization-type detectors. 

Optical detectors check smoke in the air via infrared and are usually more expensive than ionization detectors. The infrared light is given off from an LED in the unit. Under normal circumstances, the light makes no contact with the alarm system. The light scatters from smoke particles and triggers the alarm however, if smoke is detected. These detectors are effective in picking up smoldering fires.

Ionization detectors detect smoke via an ionization chamber. The chamber detects charged particles in the air and will only trigger the alarm if smoke manages to clog the interaction between the chamber and the air particles. These detectors are effective in picking up flames.

To err on the safe side, buy both types. Check the instruction manuals on proper installation, but normally these types of alarms are placed on the ceiling.

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors

CO gas from fuel sources is a major health hazard and is nearly impossible to notice without these types of detectors. CO detectors come in a variety of different types, but sound off an alarm if they detect abnormal levels of carbon monoxide present in the air. CO is an odorless, tasteless gas that when inhaled in large amounts, cuts off the oxygen supply to the human body. Typically, most victims do not notice this and demonstrate flu-like symptoms until they slowly suffocate to their deaths.

Do some research in your area on the legal requirements of CO detectors and what type you need to buy. Typically, these detectors should be placed near sleeping areas to minimize the chances of unintentional carbon monoxide inhalation. 

If your CO detector  goes off, immediately vacate the premises and get some fresh air. Ventilate the affected area, as much as possible, and inform the local authorities about the situation.

  • Gas Alarm and Detector

These types of detectors detect flammable gas. Remember that the other two alarms only detect for CO gas and smoke, but not propane or methane. Check the manual on how to install these fixtures, but typically they are electrically-powered and should also be placed near sleeping areas.

How Can I Make My Fuel or Jerry Cans Safe?

This portion of the article offers safety tips and instructions on how to handle and store fuel cans (because carrying a few extra cans of fuel doesn’t hurt, if you plan on roughing it in the long-term).

Jerry can containers can be plastic or metal and have capacities that range from 5 litres to 20 litres. If you intend to carry separate jerry can containers for different fuels, coded fuel tags should be affixed to the cans. Leaded (White), Diesel (Brown), Unleaded (Red) and Two-stroke (Yellow).

If you find yourself in a position where you need to refuel your jerry can, remember that refueling should not be done in confined areas and the vehicle or any operating machinery should be turned off. Don’t smoke and keep mobile telephones or any likely source of ignition well away from the jerry can or fuel dispensing nozzle. 

Wait until you can empty the whole contents of the jerry can into your tank, and then after preferably leave the top open for as long as you can, in the sun, to encourage the vapours from the remainder to evaporate and allow the can to dry out. Allow the empty can to cool down, before replacing the lid and try to keep empty jerry cans out of direct sun and heat.

General Fuel Can Guidelines

    • Make sure you have cleaned the jerry can and removed any dirt inside before your go to the service station.
    • Switch off the vehicle engine.
    • Touch the metal on your car with your bare hand to discharge any static electricity.
    • Don’t smoke, use your cellphone or re-enter your vehicle.
    • Make sure you select correct fuel type.
    • Keep the filler nozzle in contact with the jerry can.
    • Fill the jerry can slowly to avoid static build up and fuel spillage.
    • Don’t jam the refuelling trigger on the filler nozzle to keep it open.
    • Keep watch on the fuel level until the jerry can is full.
    • Wipe off any fuel spill on the container or ground and dispose of the paper or rag in a safe place.

And with that, you should be all set fireproofing your RV. Nothing ruins a weekend getaway in the outback than your recreational vehicle catching fire because of an unchecked propane fuel line, so be smart and stay protected!

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