Pilots routinely use a checklist before every flight to ensure that the aircraft is ready to fly. Not often, but occasionally something (that may have been overlooked without the checklist) needs service, adjustment, or fixing before departure to avoid problems in flight. Typically, when a person purchases a new camper, the dealer, or seller, will go over all the things that should be checked before each trip.
The checklist below follows the same logic that is a standard practice in aviation for safety. For campers, the procedure begins at the hitch and works around the street side of the trailer, then back and up the curb side to the front. When the topic is lights and tires, check the tow vehicle too.
Trailer Gross Weight and Balance
It is also important to check the weight and balance (or weight distribution). Load the trailer so that there is more weight—10 to 12% percent the total weight—forward of the trailer’s axle. Note: Loading the trailer with weight aft of the axles is extremely dangerous.
In any case, do not exceed the trailer’s maximum loaded (gross) weight—it could affect the stability and controllability of the trailer and tow vehicle. The maximum allowable weight of the trailer is posted on the front, left side of the trailer and/or somewhere inside, usually inside a cabinet door.
Paperwork from the dealer should provide you with the empty weight. If you cannot find the empty weight, it would be a good idea to get the camper weighed.
This is also advisable if the camper has been modified in any way. Truck stops and scrap metal recycling facilities have vehicle scales that you may be able to use.
To determine if you are overweight, start with the trailer’s empty weight. Weigh or accurately estimate the weight of each item loaded in the trailer, and the weight of any water in the holding tanks (water weighs approximately 8.3 pounds per gallon). If the total weight exceeds the camper’s maximum vehicle gross weight, it will be necessary to make adjustments such as drain any holding tanks.
If it is still overweight after draining the tanks, it will be necessary to move some items (luggage, etc.) to the tow vehicle.
The following is a list of typical items to check on your trailer. You may have more or fewer items to check. A printed checklist is the best way to ensure that nothing is overlooked.
Camper Pre-Departure Checklist
1. Make sure that the trailer hitch is on ball and locking mechanism engaged. (Padlock for theft security optional).
The trailer hitch should fit completely over the ball. This essential to ensure that the trailer will not become unhitched during travel. The locking mechanism ensures that the trailer will not come loose while driving
2. Check that safety chains are secure, crisscrossed, with some slack, not dragging.
Put the left trailer chain on the right side of the hitch on the tow vehicle, and vice versa for the right trailer chain. If the camper should come loose from the vehicle, the crossed safety chains help keep the trailer behind the vehicle and not allow it to veer out into traffic. The chains should have a little slack but should not drag on the ground.
3. Check that the breakaway brake cable (if installed) is connected, with some slack, not dragging.
This cable will apply the trailer’s brakes if the trailer were to come unhitched. The breakaway cable is a wire cable that attaches to the vehicle hitch. Make sure the cable is securely fastened to the vehicle. Note, many smaller or older campers may not have a breakaway cable.
4. Electrical Connections between trailer and vehicle secure and not dragging.
The connector connects all the trailer lights as well as the camper’s electrical breaks to the tow vehicle. The connector will fit in the receiver only one way to ensure all circuits are connected correctly. Check all lights. There are multiple contacts in the connector plug, and sometimes one or more set of lights will not work. Double check the connector from the trailer—it may be greasy or dirty and not making a connection.
5. Propane tank valves should usually be closed and the tanks secured.
Note, it is best to close the propane tank valves. If you have food that needs to be refrigerated, put in a cooler with ice. Check that the tanks are firmly mounted and secure.
6. Make sure the front tongue jack is raised to the full up position.
This is important. A sturdy jack like the Trailer Valet JX 2K Center jack supports the weight of the front of the trailer, but must be retracted to the full up position for travel. These same jacks may be electrically powered for ease and speed of adjustment.
7. Check that any side hatch/storage compartment door is closed and secured (locked).
Some door latches can vibrate open while traveling, allowing contents to spill onto road. Check that the lock is in the locked position.
8. Check that the water connection hose is stowed, the exterior electrical cord is stowed, and the sewer connections/cover is secured.
The water hose should be disconnected and placed in a storage compartment. The electrical connector cord should be pushed into its storage area and the protective cap securely closed—usually snapped shut. The sewer hose should be disconnected and stored in the rear bumper. Pull the protective cap off one end of the bumper, push the hose into the opening. Replace the bumper cap.
9. Check tire condition and pressure – both left and right sides.
Carry a tire pressure gauge and use it to check the pressure. Make sure the hubcap, if installed, is secure. Check the tread for wear. Look for any signs of uneven wear—the inside or the outside of the tire wearing more than the other. If uneven wear is noticed, check with your camper dealer or service shop.
10. Make sure that any trailer slide-outs are fully retracted.
The exterior edges of the slide-outs should be snug against the side of the trailer. If they are not, check inside the trailer to make sure something is not blocking the travel of the slide-out.
11. Check operation of all lights including the brake, tail, turn signals, and marker lights all around.
This requires assistance from someone in the tow vehicle to turn on lights, press the brake pedal, etc. Ask your assistant to turn the headlights on and off (check for red taillights and check the operation of the marker lights. Have the assistant turn on the left and then right turn signals—check that the signals on both the trailer and the tow vehicle are working. Have the assistant press the brake pedal and check both the trailer and vehicle brakes lights illuminate.
12. Check the condition and air pressure of the spare tire and that it is secured.
It is important that the spare tire is in good condition. It may be necessary to use it at sometime in the future. Check that the tread is good and that there are no cracks in the sidewalls. It should have the same tire pressure as the other tires.
13. Rear trailer stabilizer jacks should be retracted or removed and stowed.
Pulling away from your parking spot without raising the stabilizer jacks can seriously damage the rear of the trailer. Make sure that attached jacks are fully retracted.
14. Check that the awning is properly retracted and secure.
There have been instances that awnings not fully secured have opened or deployed while traveling down the highway, causing hazardous conditions to other drivers, and seriously damaging the awning structure and even the trailer.
15. Check that the doorstep is retracted/stowed.
If the doorstep is left in the down position, it can easily strike high curbs and other obstructions causing structural damage to the trailer.
16. Check that all windows and vents are closed (or as required), and door locked.
17. Weight and weight distribution.
See the discussion above in the introductory section on weights.