RV Maintenance: 101

If you own an RV, then you have exciting opportunities to recreate in ways that many people can only dream about, but it’s not all fun and adventure.  Regular RV maintenance is essential if you want to maintain the value of your asset and keep enjoying your RV adventures. It doesn’t matter if your RV has an engine and cost a half million dollars or it’s a towable trailer worth a tenth of that.  They all need regular RV maintenance, and neglecting any of these issues could be dangerous and costly. 

You may choose to let an RV service department handle all the maintenance or (if you’re good at DIY projects) you may want to manage the maintenance yourself to be sure it’s done correctly, but if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you’ll need reliable high quality tools, an adequate workspace, DIY acumen, and (in many cases) a lot of patience. 

Tires and Brakes

One of the most important RV maintenance concerns should be the tires and brakes on your RV.  The most basic issue is whether the tires are in good condition, inflated to the proper pressure, and the lug nuts are tight. An air compressor would be a good investment so you can routinely check your tire pressure. 

RV tires and car tires wear differently.  Because many RVs sit for long periods of time, they don’t accumulate the same number of miles (over time) as a car, so they may not show any tread wear.  A cursory inspection of the tires might reveal that there is ample tread on the tires so you assume they’re in good condition, but the reality is, many RV tires literally rot from the inside out, and that can be the cause of a dangerous blowout on the highway.  If your RV has been idle for many years but you only have a few thousand miles of wear and tear on the tread, then it’s time to have your tires removed and evaluated by professionals.  It’s not worth taking any chances, because a blowout could be deadly.

Additionally, your brakes are the next most important RV maintenance concern and there’s no cost-cutting substitute for replacing worn brakes.  The last two times we had that work done on our class A motorhome, it cost over $2,000 each time, but driving or towing a 26,000 pound RV down a steep mountain pass with defective brakes is no joke.  If you want to replace the brakes yourself, be sure you have the right tools and acumen, and don’t try to cut corners.

Make sure to be up to date with replacing and maintaining the tires and brakes on your RV. 

Engine and Batteries

Engines must be serviced routinely to perform at their best, that includes replacing fluids, filters, spark plugs, and spark plug wires.  Commercial service departments use the most modern (brand specific) diagnostic tools to assess every aspect of the engine’s condition, from compression, to timing, to the amount of fuel being injected into each cylinder, but don’t despair if you’re a do-it-yourselfer. Newer diesel and gas engines now come with an Onboard Diagnostic system (OBD) which displays service codes to inform you as to what might be wrong with your engine and to provide a starting point for trouble shooting a specific malfunction. Most engine maintenance however should just be routine, like changing the fluids and filters. In addition to the engine in the chassis, your RV may also come with an onboard generator and that small engine must also be routinely serviced to keep it running properly. If your RV is a travel trailer, fifth wheel, or truck camper you will be spared the need to maintain an RV engine, but the engine in the truck that pulls or carries the RV will still need to be maintained.   

Additionally, all RVs have house batteries that must also be maintained.  Don’t overlook the importance of the batteries because low battery power will affect so many systems in your RV it might feel like you’re chasing a huge problem when all that’s needed is a little care, cleaning, or water, in the house or chassis batteries.  Replacing the batteries before they are fully worn out will greatly reduce your RV angst and if you are so inclined, replacing a set of lead acid batteries with a Lithium battery system may set you back in the beginning but will pay for itself in the long run and provide many years of worry-free battery life. 

Tanks, Toilets, Sinks, Shower and Air Conditioners

Another area of RV maintenance that is often overlooked or ignored are the tanks and plumbing fixtures in your RV.  Failing to fully empty and rinse all the holding tanks can lead to lingering unpleasant orders as well as blockages.  And sink and shower drains should be routinely cleaned with high quality cleaners, to maintain a consistent discharge from all your plumbing fixtures. 

Furthermore, don’t forget your air conditioners just because they are on the roof and out of sight.  Remove the shrouds and check to see if they’re brittle.  If so, then they need to be replaced. Once the shrouds are off, clean the coils, and the AC drain pans, and remove any insect nests.  While you’re on the roof, you should also remove debris from all the roof vents. 

Check seals around appliances and windows inside and outside of the vehicle.

Seals (Inside and Outside)

The inside seals around your sinks, shower, and countertops should be checked and re-caulked, as needed. On the exterior, the surface joints on your slide outs and especially the roof should be checked and resealed to maintain a watertight exterior surface.  Some RVers advocate that the roof joints should be re-caulked twice a year, but this schedule will depend on your use of the RV, the climate in your area, and how you store your RV.  

One of the most overlooked seals that needs regular RV maintenance are the rubber seals around your slide-outs.  There are a variety of spray-on applications that you can use to work into the rubber to extend the life of these important seals.

Winterize and Moisture Control

Finally, if you’re not going to be using your RV in the winter then it’s advisable to take the time to winterize it.  That will prevent plumbing lines from freezing and disconnecting the batteries will preserve battery life, but winterizing is not enough.  The biggest threat to any RV is the accumulation of moisture. Even if you purchase a pre-fitted RV cover to fully cover all the roof and side seals, that will not keep moisture out of an RV.  This might not be as big a threat if you live in a dry climate, but the buildup of humidity is exacerbated if you live in the wetter northern half of the country.  Even RVs that are stored under cover or in a cold garage are susceptible to moisture.  

The best way to combat this problem is to store your RV in a temperature controlled environment, whether that’s your personal RV garage, or a commercial RV storage unit. You can put Dri-Air pellets in your RV, but they need to be replaced frequently.  Alternatively, you can use a dehumidifier but the water reservoir in the dehumidifier must be emptied frequently, and these units have been known to start fires in RVs.  You could choose not to winterize the RV and use the onboard heating system to keep a low level of heat in the RV all through the winter, but there are down sides to this option, as well.  

The bottom line…. You’ll need to find a way to remove moisture from your RV or deal with damaging dry rot, mold, and mildew. Even a fitted RV cover will not prevent the accumulation of mold and dry rot on the inside of an RV. Moisture control, like seals, caulking, engine, tire, and brake maintenance, are all important RV maintenance issues that must be routinely managed to prevent unnecessary wear and tear and damage to your RV.

About Peggy Dent

Peggy Dent is an author, writer and full-time RVer, currently traveling in the US and Canada. She's driven a motorhome more than 130,000 miles and learned the secrets, delights, and pitfalls of RVing through her own experiences. She shares her knowledge and insights in numerous RV industry publications. You can contact her through her website at www.apeninyourhand.com