Cold weather RV travel can be an invigorating experience, but it can also be a challenge when trying to stay warm as you drive from one location to another. When you’re in the cabin, it’s usually fine, but what if your passengers are struggling with uncomfortably cold temperatures within the coach? Is it possible to run your RV furnace to warm up their space while traveling?
Let’s find out how to heat your RV while you’re on the road.
Why Would You Need to Run Your Furnace While Driving?
Many times RV owners find it difficult to keep all members of their traveling party comfortable when hitting the road. Those who aren’t sitting in the cab of a Class A or Class C RV may discover that the rest of the coach gets pretty chilly on exceptionally cold days. We’ve experienced this first-hand while traveling in our Class A motorhome through freezing temperatures.
One way to take the chill out of the air is to run the RV furnace while driving. Using the furnace for heating your RV for winter travel is a perfectly acceptable – and often necessary – way to keep the whole space warm and pleasant for your journey.
Even fifth wheels and travel trailers can utilize this if need be. Although people and house pets shouldn’t be traveling in pull-behind trailers, these rigs may house stationary pets like reptiles in aquariums or plants that are sensitive to low temperatures.
And in extreme cold, you might worry about pipes freezing from sub-zero temperatures and wind chill. Depending on the length of your drive day, conditions, and situation, your furnace may be an option for you over fully winterizing your RV.
There is nothing worse than arriving at your destination in a freezing cold RV. Once it’s that cold, we’ve found it can take hours for the furnace to reheat the thermal mass of your camper.
Can You Run Your RV Furnace While Driving?
Most people agree that running your RV furnace while driving is acceptable and possible. However, there are several things you should know before turning up your thermostat for a drive day.
Your RV furnace will most likely run off propane and 12-volt DC power.
Your furnace relies on your RV house batteries to provide the 12-Volt DC power to run the electronics, fans, and ignition. When driving, your engine’s alternator (whether in a motorhome or tow vehicle) provides power to keep your batteries charged. This should be enough to sustain your furnace power requirements.
To run the furnace on propane, you will have to leave your propane on. There is debate on whether this in itself is safe and situations that don’t allow this which we will discuss more below.
Other considerations include if your RV has slides that cover heat outlets when they come in. You might be sending a lot of heat where it won’t disseminate properly. Check the interior of your RV to see if you’ll block heat ducts by taking in your slides. These might be cases when driving with a working furnace isn’t a good idea.
Pro Tip: Want to know more about RV furnaces in general? We put together The Beginner’s Guide to RV Furnaces.
Is It Safe to Run Your RV Furnace While Driving?
RVers have run their furnaces while driving for years with typically no ill effects. Just be aware that because they usually operate on propane, you’ll need to turn them off when stopped for refueling, going through tunnels, or even over some bridges.
Running propane while driving has some inherent risks. Many people do it to keep their propane RV fridges or other propane appliances running. But in the event that a propane line is damaged from shifting or being in an accident, there is a chance of ignition and a raging fuel source for fire. We highly recommend using a Gas Stop Device as we mention in our propane regulators article if used while driving for this reason.
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You’ll also need to keep a close eye on the furnace pilot flame (if you have one) to ensure it doesn’t get blown out by winds as you travel. If your furnace pilot flame doesn’t stay lit, you may be leaking propane into your unit. Be sure to check your RV carbon monoxide detector‘s batteries and expiration so you’re alerted to any exhaust leakage. Running a furnace while driving increases the likelihood of exhaust entering the coach due to differential pressures while driving.
→ Your RV carbon monoxide detector is one of the most important safety devices in your RV. Learn how to identify when you need to replace it here.
How to Safely Run Your RV Furnace While Driving
If you opt for turning on your RV furnace while traveling, we recommend setting your furnace at the lowest setting necessary to reduce overall run time. Additionally, close off areas of the RV that don’t need heat when traveling to concentrate the warmth.
Next, check your travel route to ensure you know if you’re driving through restricted areas where you have to turn it off. Remember when refueling, be sure to turn off the furnace and the propane.
Add in frequent stops to check the pilot light and make sure the furnace is still operating properly. This is more critical in a towable RV where you’re not traveling in the space being heated and can monitor it en route.
Pro Tip: Keep warm in winter with our ultimate guide on How to RV in Winter.
What Are the Alternatives to Running Your RV Furnace?
If you’re not comfortable with the idea of leaving your propane on and traveling with your RV furnace running, there are some alternatives and extra steps you can take.
Many RVers travel during the peak heat of the day, so sunshine can pour in the windows and provide radiant heat. Alternatively, you can use Reflectix in your RV’s windows to trap warm air inside better if there is no sun.
Passengers in motorhomes may wear more layers of clothing to deal with uncomfortable temperatures. Blankets on laps also help, and even heated blankets (DC powered or leave on RV inverter) can do wonders to keep the chill away.
You can also plan for shorter travel days, so you aren’t exposed to the cold for as long. Frequent stops where you can turn on the furnace while stationary can also be enough to keep pipes from freezing in the RV’s basement and take the chill off for the next leg of your journey.
Similarly, you could then run an electric heater off your generator, just ensure it will not tip over. While many have auto shut-off sensors, you still don’t want anything knocking around in your RV while driving. Note: We do not advise this alternative in towable RVs where they cannot be monitored but should work fine to help warm non-cab passengers of a motorhome.
Do not use portable propane heaters, as they require venting for the exhaust which would require a window open. This would likely make it colder in your RV than before and defeat the purpose. Plus, it could easily tip over during travel.
Is Driving with Your RV Furnace on Worth the Risk?
You’ll have to make the final decision on this debate. There has always been a two-sided argument over the use of propane while driving. Some say they’d never do it and some say they’ve never had a problem. If you’ve taken the necessary safety precautions, you may find it a useful option for your own RV travel.
Where do you fall in this debate? Drop a comment below!
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