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Driving your RV During a Heat Wave

Sam Leash-profile-image
Sam Leash
May 20, 2022

TL;DR: RV travel is amazing but driving during a heat wave poses challenges. Learn tips for safe summer travel, considering RV type, size, and maintenance. Onboard generators, terrain, load, and proper maintenance, are crucial for optimal RV operation.

Driving your RV During a Heat Wave

It can’t be stated enough that traveling in an RV is an unparalleled experience. This type of travel provides a level of privacy, comfort, and affordability that makes it appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds. But with owning and operating RV there come many challenges. Weather such as torrential rain, snow, and other types of storms can provide some challenges, but one of the less-thought-about weather obstacles is the potential of driving during a heat wave. 

When the temperatures rise, there is extra stress placed on your engine. Whether it’s your truck towing your fifth wheel, your huge motorhome, or your van, the effects are often similar, and improper use can damage your vehicle(s), leading to costly repair. There are many factors involved that can impact the approach you should take to mitigate wear and tear during heat waves, not to mention additional preventative maintenance that needs to be done. For safety reasons, we do ultimately suggest not driving at all during an extreme heat wave, but sometimes we just have to get from point A to point B, despite extenuating weather. In these situations, consider the following essential tips on driving your RV during a heat wave to learn all the suggestions we have for upcoming travel safety this summer.

  • Onboard generators can help cool the entire RV while driving.
  • Terrain, load, and maintenance affect RV performance in hot weather.
  • Check tires, fluids (especially coolant), and filters for optimal RV operation.


Type of RV

First and foremost, your approach to driving during a heat wave will differ depending on the type of RV you have. Towable RV owners in the summer will be focusing more on cooling off their trailer or fifth wheel, while drivable RV owners need to keep their entire rig cooled off.


Keeping your tow vehicle cool during a heat wave is a no-brainer. Helpful tips include putting the windows down, cranking up your dashboard AC, and putting up a front window shade when parked. For your RV, consider cracking a few windows or running a vent fan to keep it cooled down while en route. Airstreams in particular are difficult to cool because of the aluminum shell. Remember, it is not considered safe to travel with pets or passengers in your towed RV. This can be stressful and even fatal in the heat of the summer.


Drivable RVs can be a challenge to keep cool. Most have dashboard ACs, but these tend to only keep the cab area cooled off. To keep the rest of the RV cool, consider cracking a few windows and running vent fans to help circulate air. You can also pull down window shades on the back windows to help retain a cooler internal temperature. If all else fails, stay hydrated and try to hold out until you can plug in and crank your AC system at your next stop.

Size of your RV

The size of your RV will have a huge impact on how you cool it. A small van is much easier to cool than a giant motorhome. The bigger the RV, the more windows that let in sun and more area overall to cool.

Age of the Rig, Excluding Updates

The age of your RV is a huge factor for driving during a heat wave. RVs that predate the 2000s can most likely not handle being driven for long periods of time during extreme heat. With high temperatures, the cooling systems and motors will struggle. If you’ve updated your motor, however, then this information can be disregarded.

Similar to those in a house, the windows in older RVs can become drafty fairly quickly. However, wide windows are often a benefit to purchasing an older RV. Most older camper windows have incredible range and can open 180 degrees, which can let in a wonderful breeze. Newer RVs have lost this feature due to wanting to be more secure, which is certainly beneficial. Nevertheless, the wide windows of the 1970s-1990s model RVs allow for plenty of air flow and keep these RVs at a much cooler temperature, even without the air conditioners turned on.

Onboard vs Portable Generator

If your drivable RV has an onboard generator built in, it can be run while  driving. While this will consume more gas, it will also allow you to run your air conditioner units, thus keeping the entire RV cooled off. If your pocket can allow it, then this is the easiest way to cool off your RV while driving, while also providing relief to your family and pets.


The terrain and climate in which you’re traveling will also make a big difference. If you’re driving on roads with a lot of steep inclines and declines, you could put your RV at risk of overheating. (This applies to all times of the year, but the summer season.) Brakes and engines are especially susceptible to overheating in these conditions. If possible, try to travel closer to dusk or dawn to give your RV a break and lessen the strain placed on the engine.


Lastly, the load will have a major impact on how your RV handles the heat wave. If possible, try not to travel while packed down to the maximum permitted capacity. Empty out all your tanks before traveling, including most of the fresh water, leaving some for emergencies and drinking water. Full tanks can add unnecessary weight, especially if your RV is towing. Decreasing the added weight can also reduce wear and tear on your tow vehicle, too.


Proper preventative maintenance can keep your RV running longer, while also making or breaking your trip.


Tires heat up while you’re driving, so adding in a heat wave and a scorching hot road will require them to receive even more care than normal. Be sure to check the quality and age of your tires before hitting the road, and ensure that they are properly inflated. If you want a more detailed dive into all things RV tires, check out our helpful article on this subject.


The most important fluid to check when heading into a heat wave or the summer months is your coolant. To prevent hot coolant from splattering on you, this needs to be checked while your RV or tow vehicle engine is completely cooled down. Most vehicles have a visual on the coolant housing to see if this fluid is low. Be sure yours is at the “full” line to keep your engine running smoothly. If your RV or tow vehicle is getting close to needing an oil change, go ahead and get it done a little early as well to ensure that the best quality oil is flowing through your engine.


Air filters under the hood of your RV will protect your engine from bugs, dust, and debris, while increasing performance, similar to HVAC filters in your home. Other important filters to check are the ones on your ceiling AC and fans in your RV. These also help to protect the electrical components your cooling systems, while keeping them running smoothly.

As we already stated, owning an RV has its fair share of challenges, but the rewards greatly outweigh the challenges. Keep these tips in mind if you find yourself driving through a heat wave this summer. As always, stay safe and stay hydrated, and be sure to add plenty of Harvest Hosts stays to your future adventures.

Where are you heading this summer? How do you stay cool during a heat wave on the road? Tell us all bout it in the comments below!

About Harvest Hosts
Harvest Hosts is a unique RV camping membership that offers self-contained RVers unlimited overnight stays at over 5,619 small businesses across North America with no camping fees. Boondock at farms, wineries, breweries, attractions, and other one-of-a-kind destinations throughout North America, and you’ll get peace of mind knowing that a safe place to stay is always nearby!
Sam Leash-profile-image
Sam Leash
Sam is a seasoned traveler and RVer of 4+ years. She loves adventures of all kinds and spends as much time on the road as she can. When not exploring in her RV or writing about her travels, you can find her reading a good book, cooking a delicious meal, caring for her plants, or hiking with her dogs.