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Monday, October 1, 2001

RVing and the Tools You Should Carry

Throughout the ages it has been decidedly proven that people simply cannot survive without tools. Likewise, today’s RV enthusiast cannot get by without tools even though some have tried. Here’s another RV Fact of Life: You cannot have too many tools!
Whether you are a tinkerer, a backyard mechanic or a seasoned service technician, if you own an RV, there will be times when an adjustment may be necessary - a screw may need tightening or a component may need replacing; particularly if you find yourself traveling in the boondocks, miles from the nearest service facility. Full-timers especially should be “well tooled” while living aboard an RV. Additionally, there is a justified feeling of satisfaction knowing that you repaired that water pump or found that short. Having the right tool makes tasks a lot easier. In some cases, it can save your life.

It is important when you follow these instructions and procedures that you satisfy yourself thoroughly that neither personal nor product safety will be compromised or jeopardized. If you are in doubt about a procedure and do not feel comfortable, do not continue. Simply call your local service facility and make an appointment with them. Safety is the number one priority, always! 

It is assumed that you posses a basic knowledge of hand tools and at least some mechanical aptitude. If you are not sure about making a somewhat simple repair, try anyway. Experience is the best teacher. Even the most non-technical RVers are usually successful at tracking down squeaks, rattles and leaks. You need not feel helpless if you own an RV and are not mechanically inclined. Just remember never to compromise the safety factor.

The following lists of tools are recommended for general and specific tasks associated with an RV. Three categories of tools follow:

           • Basic tool kit

           • Advanced tool kit
           • RV specialty tool kit

Basic Tool Kit
The basic tool kit is comprised of those tools that should be found in your RV even if you do not plan to get heavily involved in troubleshooting and repair. These are the common hand tools that will simply come in handy in many scenarios.  

• Socket set (3/8-inch drive): Typically you will only use a few different size sockets. It is advisable to have an assortment of extensions of different lengths and a universal joint. You will also need a spark plug-sized socket for the spark plugs in the generator, if so equipped.

• Combination wrench set (1/4–1-inch): This is the type that has a box-end wrench on one end and an open-end wrench on the other.

• Crescent wrenches (6-inch, 12-inch): These adjustable wrenches are handy for many chores.

• Pliers assortment: Needle-nose, 8-inch groove joint (water pump), standard slip joint pliers. 

• Locking pliers: One small and one large.

• Tire gauge: Be sure the pounds per square inch (psi) range is applicable for your tires. Buy a quality tire gauge. 


• 12-volt test light: It just may quickly become one of your very best friends on the road. 

• Flashlight

• Hacksaw

• Ball Peen hammer

• Screwdrivers: Flat blade, Philips, clutch-head (figure eight-shaped), Robertson (square-head) and Torx (star-shaped). Different sizes of varying lengths, including flat blade and Phillips “stubby” drivers, thin pocket screwdriver and one magnetic multiple screwdriver. You can never have too many screwdrivers.

• Nut drivers: Most hex-head screws used on RVs require a 1/4-inch socket. Some, however, may be 5/16-inch.

• Wire brush

• Eye goggles

• Work gloves 

• Pry bar/nail puller 

• Battery terminal post cleaner 

• Owner’s manuals/user’s guides: That’s right. All service literature should be considered a very reliable tool. Try to assemble data sheets, parts listings and service information for all of the propane appliances and other major component or devices found on the RV.

Advanced Tool Kit
The advanced tool kit adds a few more tools to the basic kit. The inclusion of these tools will enable you to perform some troubleshooting and minor repairs on most major systems on the RV. In addition to the basic kit:

• Caulking gun
• Proximity Tester: This device could save your life! Use it to verify the polarity of any 120-volt AC receptacle you plug your shoreline cord into, and to check for hot skin conditions, shorts and open circuits. Realistically, it should be included in the Basic Kit. For more detailed info about RV electrical safety, check out this article.

• Diagonal wire cutters

• Spark plug gap tool 

• Portable battery charger (6 amps minimum): To be used as a small battery charger and as a 12-volt source of power when troubleshooting or “bench testing.” 

• Battery tools:
        • Terminal puller
        • Terminal spreader
        • Terminal pliers
        • Terminal post cleaning tool
        • Battery strap 

• Volt-ohm meter (VOM): Preferably digital. It need not be the most expensive model, yet it should be somewhat rugged in design and accurate to within +/– 5% of full scale.

• Cordless, reversible drill: Invaluable if you need to remove more than just a couple screws, drill a bunch of holes or install accessories. A 3/8-inch chuck size is recommended in order to accommodate a twist drill up to that size. A fast charging, heavy duty drill is well worth the extra dollars. 


• Battery hydrometer (temperature compensated): An absolute must when troubleshooting battery systems. 

• Crimpers for solderless terminals: Invest in a good quality pair. The cheaper, inexpensive combination stripper/crimper/cutter is not fully reliable for solderless terminals. A good crimper will deeply penetrate the terminal resulting in a lasting connection that will not pull loose.

• Crescent wrenches (4-inch, 8-inch): These two sizes are complementary to the 6-inch and the 10-inch in the basic set. When working with propane fittings, always use a backup wrench to tighten and loosen fittings. The small 4-inch size will come in handy when working on appliances.

• Electrical Terminal Service Kit: A handy kit for combating electrical oxidation issues on any number of contacts, terminals and connections. This kit may literally keep you on the road. Read about it here.

RV Specialty Tools
The RV specialty tool kit includes those items that are specifically used, albeit not exclusively, on RVs. The addition of these tools, coupled with some basic knowledge, will enable you to attack almost every maintenance procedure encountered. However, the specialty kit does not include large pieces of equipment normally found only in service shops. In addition to the advanced set: 


• Manometer (preferably water-column type): Available in spring-gauge type or the more cumbersome, yet preferable water column type. Why the water-column type? It’s 100% accurate every single time. This device will allow you to set the propane pressure regulator and test the entire coach for leaks. 

 • Propane Test Device: Used in conjunction with the manometer to set the LP pressure and test the system. For a detailed discussion about the propane system and this test device, read this article. 

• Oven thermometer

• Refrigerator thermometers: Two are preferred; one for the freezer compartment and one for the main food section.

• Brake adjusting tool: For travel trailer/fifth-wheel electric brakes.

• Inductive-type ammeter: This device can be slipped over a single wire to measure the current draw of that circuit without having to cut the wire or otherwise tap into the circuit. A must for testing travel trailer brake magnets the easy way.

• Circuit breaker test leads: For checking electrical shorts. Easily made by attaching alligator test leads to each post of a standard 12-volt, 20-amp circuit breaker. It is placed in a circuit while troubleshooting a fuse that keeps blowing.


• Alligator test leads (attached to a 470-ohm resistor): For testing the light emitting diode (LED) circuits of monitor panels and tank probes.

• Inspection mirror: Allows inspection of components in those hard-to-see places.

• Refrigerator flue brush: A soft bristle brush the same diameter as the flue. For cleaning out the flue once or twice a year.  
• Thermocouple tester: Available through your local heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) supply house. This device can bench test any thermocouple while it is out of the appliance. (This tester is not needed if the appliance is direct-spark ignited.)  

• Frequency meter: Used to measure the output frequency of the generator or the frequency of the incoming shore power. Knowing the frequency is most crucial when running the on-board generator. A generator with the frequency out of calibration can damage sensitive equipment. This test device monitors not only the frequency but also the voltage and current use. A good device to have on board. 

Tool Safety
Now that you know the different sets of tools needed, it is imperative that you understand the issue of safety when it comes to tools. The number one rule is to use the right tool for the right job. Never pry with a long screwdriver, never hammer with an end wrench, etc. Tool safety is directly proportional to your safety and the safety of your RV components. For example, when working around lead/acid batteries, always wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Inexpensive goggles can save your eyesight while working with battery electrolyte.

Tool Quality 
It is nice to have that shiny new Cadillac, but that 45-year-old Volkswagen bug can still get you down the road. Use common sense when purchasing tools. If a cheaper tool will perform the same as a similar top-dollar tool, fine. If a cheaper tool appears fallible or prone to breaking, thereby compromising the safety factor, buy the more expensive version. Obviously, the quality-made tools will last longer, yet may cost you more initially. You can always upgrade to a better later on.

Look for a good warranty. Any tool that has free replacement value or an extended warranty is much better than one that is limited. Let your budget be your guide. If a certain tool or brand of tool will make your task easier, faster or safer, then it could be considered a justified purchase. Take care of your tools. Do not allow them to rust, corrode or become lost.

When purchasing tools to carry with you as you travel, it is important to keep in mind space and weight limitations. The tools listed here are simply suggestions. You may choose to add some tools of your own or delete some tools from these lists. Choose tools that you know are applicable to you and your RV. If you perform your own automotive maintenance for instance, there are additional automotive-related tools that you probably need as well. Tools should be purchased for a specific purpose, and it is doubtful you could ever have too many. 

Remember, RVing is more than a hobby, it's a lifestyle!

Dear Readers, if you have additional tools that you simply cannot live without, let me know and I'll consider adding yours to these lists. Let me hear from you!


In all instances, every effort is made to ensure the correctness of all content on the RV Doctor Website. It is imperative that if you choose to follow any instructions or procedures outlined on any page of this website, you must first satisfy yourself thoroughly that neither personal nor product safety will be compromised or jeopardized.

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If you are in doubt or do not feel comfortable about a procedure, do not continue. Simply call your local RV service facility and make an appointment with them. The advice, recommendations and procedures offered by the RV Doctor are solely those of Gary. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions, procedures and recommendations of our sponsors or advertisers.