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You've heard it said before, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." When maintaining an RV, this is definitely the case. Everyone would rather prevent problems before they start, instead of paying for repairs later. As a fifth wheel owner, I'm going to share the best maintenance routine to keep your fifth wheel in top shape.
Here is an overview of regular maintenance tasks for optimal fifth wheel performance:
- Check tire pressure and torque settings on wheel lug nuts
- Clean and repack wheel bearings
- Inspect brake pads and drums
- Check electrical outlets, batteries, and wiring
- Vacuum AC vents and furnace ducts
- Clean fans in refrigerator, converter, stove hood
- Flush out and sanitize water tanks
- Descale and clean hot water heater
- Inspect torque on kingpin bolts
- Lubricate the kingpin and check lube plate
- Wash and clean roof of RV
- Check all seals on the exterior: around vents, air conditioner, windows, doors
- Treat slide-out seals and use a proper lubricant on the slide mechanism
- Clean air conditioner and fridge covers
- Lubricate awning, door hinges, and jacks
- Clean and maintain appliances, carpets, and upholstery
Does this sound like a lot? Don't worry, it's totally manageable. I'll break down each of these tasks by RV zone. Then I'll give suggestions for how often each task should be done to maintain your fifth wheel.
Underneath your fifth wheel
This zone includes wheels, brakes, axles, suspension, wiring, and frame of your fifth wheel. Some of these tasks should be done before every trip, and some can be performed at monthly or yearly intervals.
Before every trip
Check tire pressure
We recommend using a tire pressure gauge such as this heavy-duty, digital gauge before every trip. The tires are the most vulnerable part of your rig and they have an important job to do! Checking to make sure the pressure is correct can help you avoid tire blowouts and possible damage to your RV while on the road.
Check torque on lug nuts
As a preventative measure, inspect your lug nuts before travel.
Use a torque wrench to make sure the torque settings are in the right place. Over-torquing can be just as damaging as a setting that's too loose, so perform this task accurately.
Inspect frame rails, axles, suspension and wiring
Make it a habit to look underneath your fifth wheel frequently to make sure there's no corrosion, cracking or parts that have come loose. Look for any wires that have disconnected. If you do this often, your eye will easily detect when something is out of place.
Every 6-12 months
Inspect your brake pads and drums, and make repairs or replace as needed.
Every year (or 10,000 miles) it's recommended to clean and repack the wheel bearings on your fifth wheel. This task doesn't cost too much money and you can learn to do this yourself. It can also be part of a routine maintenance check with your mechanic.
Maintaining your fifth wheel's battery and wiring can help prolong the life of your electrical appliances. It can also help you detect a problem before it causes major damage.
Once a month
Check for corrosion
Keep an eye on your RV batteries. Check monthly for any signs of corrosion.
To prevent corrosion from appearing on your battery, try this homemade solution. Dissolve baking soda into water in a ratio of 1:6. Use a water bottle to spray the solution on the terminals. Let it stand for 5 minutes, then rinse by spraying lightly with pure water.
If corrosion is already present, it can also be removed with this solution, but may also require some scrubbing with a wire brush.
It's important to maintain your fifth wheel battery at full charge, which should be 12.6-12.8 volts. The battery should not fall below 10.5 volts. If it does, you need to do what is called a bulk charge to get it back up to 90% capacity. A battery charger such as this one will do the trick. It's important not to overcharge, so it's recommended to do an absorption charge for the last 10% of the battery charge.
Maintain water levels
If your batteries are wet-cell, use de-ionized, distilled water to re-fill and keep the cells covered. By checking regularly, you should have an idea of how quickly the water evaporates. "Maintenance free" batteries are covered with a gel-like material and do not need to be re-filled.
Every six months
Clean and lubricate hardware on your TV antenna if you use the TV in your fifth wheel often.
Every 12 months
AC outlets and plugs
Use an AC plug tester to check your plugs and outlets to make sure they are working properly.
Check inside your lights
Dissemble your fifth wheel light fixtures, clean them, and check bulb connectors.
Every year, pull out your converter and inspect for signs of corrosion, overheating or any loose connections. Clean and remove any corrosion.
There are many fans in your fifth wheel, some are obvious, and some you need to search for. There are fans in your refrigerator, converter, air conditioner, and stove hood. They all help keep your electrical system from overheating and collect dirt and dust over time. Cleaning them on a yearly basis will help these fans run more efficiently.
Flush out waste tanks
This one kind of goes without saying, but I just want to emphasize the importance of regularly flushing out your gray and black water tanks. Whenever you use the plumbing in your RV, these tanks need to be emptied. This is usually very easy to do when you're connected to sewer hookups at a campsite.
One tip is to dump the black tank first, then dump the gray tank as a way to rinse out anything left behind from the black tank. It is not recommended to let your tanks fill above two-third full, so empty them regularly.
Every three months
Check pipes and fixtures for leaks
Inspect underneath sinks and around toilets for leaks. If you suspect a leak, get it repaired as soon as possible to avoid water damage in your RV.
Sanitize fresh water tank
If you fill your fresh water tanks with water regularly and use this water for drinking, it's recommended to sanitize the tanks. You can do this by making a bleach solution (a quarter cup of bleach to 15 gallons of water) and pouring this into your fresh water tanks.
Driving around while the bleach solution will help to slosh the water around more, but just letting it sit for 12 hours is enough to clean it out.
Be sure to open the gray water tank and let all the bleach solution drain out. Rinse completely before refilling your tanks with fresh water.
Every six months
Descale and clean hot water heater
This is really important to do, because over time your hot water heater will accumulate all sorts of calcium scale and other mineral deposits. If you want your heating mechanism to work properly, these deposits need to be removed.
Before starting this job, be sure to turn off all water, electricity and gas in the RV. Remove the drain plug or anode rod to drain all the water out of the water heater.
Wash out the water heater using a wand like this to flush out any loose debris.
Reinsert the drain plug.
To descale the tank and remove mineral deposits, many people use a pump converter kit to add a vinegar & water solution to their hot water tank. If desired, you can warm up the solution by turning the water heater on. Let the solution sit in the tank for 4-5 and then drain it out.
Hitch and kingpin
Once a year
Inspect the hitch and brake away cable
Take a close look at the hitch, making sure that all bolts are secure. Inspect the brake away cable for any fraying or damage. Make all adjustments or repairs as needed.
Check the torque on kingpin bolts. Make sure the kingpin is adequately lubricated and/or the lube plate is still in good working condition.
The exterior of your fifth wheel
This zone is probably the largest area to inspect and maintain. Thankfully most of these tasks are not time consuming and can be done every six months or as needed.
Every 6 months
Check the roof for damage
The roof of the fifth wheel is an easy place to overlook. It is difficult to access, but it's probably the most crucial place to keep an eye out for damage.
Driving under low branches can cause damage to the roof, making scratches that can become leaks the next time it rains. Be sure to inspect the top of the RV closely for any punctures or damage. Seal these holes immediately.
Carefully inspect seals at all windows, wall seams, vents, air conditioner, and doorways
Anywhere something is attached to the exterior of your fifth wheel, there is a seal. These rubber seals deteriorate over time and need to be inspected often. If you find a seal that is coming loose or is allowing water through, seal it immediately. You may want to use a silicon sealant like this one.
Wash the exterior of your fifth wheel
Being out in the elements can do a number on the paint on your fifth wheel. Taking the time to wash your RV with a mild soap can extend the life of your paint job. Minerals left behind by snow melting, or the sun baking dust into your exterior will leave your exterior surface more vulnerable to damage. Be sure to wash the roof as well as the sides of the RV.
Remove AC and fridge covers
Take these covers off of the exterior and clean them well. Debris on these surfaces can work its way into your appliances and slow them down.
Slide out mechanisms have a reputation for breaking and causing problems. Many times this can be avoided simply by making sure the slide rubber seals are clean and treated with a seal conditioner.
Slide outs also need to be lubricated but check with your owner's manual to make sure you use the proper type of lubricant. In most cases this is going to be something that is non-attractive or dry lube. Camco makes this slide-out lubricant for metal parts and includes an anti-rust element.
Clean, inspect and lubricate awning
Awnings can definitely take a beating exposed to the elements and need to have the mechanism cleaned and lubricated to function smoothly.
Interior of your fifth wheel
Lastly, we come to the living areas inside the RV. These are much the same procedures that you would perform inside a regular home.
Every three months
- Deep clean refrigerator and defrost
- Clean the oven
- Wash stove vent and AC filters
- Vacuum furnace ducts & inside furnace
Once a year
- Steam clean carpets and upholstery
That's it! We tried to cover the basics, but since every fifth wheel is a little different, there will be points that differ on each rig. If there's a fifth wheel maintenance tip that you want to share with us, please comment below!
Oh, and whatever type of RV you drive, make sure you check out these 49 cool RV maintenance tips too!