So you invested a lot of hard-earned money in your RV. What’s next? How do you make sure your new travel trailer, 5th wheel or motorhome is kept in the best possible condition?
By making sure you stick to high standards of maintenance.
Good RV maintenance includes –
- Timely inspections of the various systems.
- Routine cleaning and lubricating of systems.
- Fixing any issues as soon as they come up.
- Replacing some items on schedule.
- Other preventing measures aimed at keeping all systems functioning.
This post is a collection of all the RV maintenance tips that I found online – in forums, blogs and videos. I’m going to discuss some basic issues relating to the topic on hand first. Feel free to jump to any section of this post for tips regarding specific RV systems.
I do advise on reading the entire post at least once – just to make sure you’re not missing out on anything simple yet important.
Why RV maintenance is so important
Your RV is essentially a mobile home. It’s a home – including a roof, walls, electricity and water systems, and appliances – that spends a large part of its life cycle being moved around on the road.
Just like any home, your RV requires constant maintenance.
Actually – it requires more maintenance.
Because moving anything around means more wear and tear. Movement creates friction which means things are more likely to wear out and break down.
You’re literally taking a roof, floor, walls and a host of systems on the road. Every time you accelerate, brake, turn or go over a bump – you’re putting pressure on these elements.
Which is why RV maintenance matters.
Keeping a well-maintained rig means you can get more years of good use from it.
An RV can go bust after 1-2 years if used extensively without proper care. Or it can last for decades, when treated right. The choice is yours.
Maintenance: Motorhome vs. Travel Trailer vs. 5th Wheel
You may wonder which is more high-maintenance – a motorhome, a travel trailer, or a 5th wheel.
In case you’re new to RV’ing, here’s a recap of the difference between these types of RV’s –
- A motorhome has the engine and “home” in the same unit. There’s no towing involved.
- A travel trailer is towed behind a towing vehicle – either a large SUV or a pickup truck.
- A 5th wheel is a type of trailer that’s hitched to the bed of a pickup truck. 5th wheels tend to be larger and more massive in terms of their construction.
Each of these three categories offers a large selection of RV’s to choose from – in all sizes and a variety of shapes.
In terms of maintenance, the main difference is that a motorhome has the “vehicle” systems blended in with the home systems. Wheels, electric systems, air conditioning – when you take care of them for the motorhome – you’re done.
With the towables, the trailer is separate from the towing vehicle. Which means you need to keep in mind to maintain and service both units – separately.
Also, if something goes wrong with a motorhome, requiring a professional to step in, you could end up stuck without your home and your vehicle for a while (unless you’re towing a small car behind – in which case you’ll have that at least). With a travel trailer or 5th wheel, you can at least keep your truck while the RV is being repaired.
Having said that, maintenance is very similar across various types of RV’s. Awnings, slide outs, water systems – there are many similarities. That’s why this list of tips is relevant for all types of RV’s.
Should you leave the maintenance to the pros?
Many RV dealerships offer maintenance services as well. They often offer annual packages where you can bring in your RV and leave it to the pros to inspect and service the vehicle.
That’s absolutely a viable option for RV owners. If you don’t want to deal with things like caulking the roof, greasing your wheel bearings or flushing your hot water system – you can certainly leave it to the pros.
It won’t be cheap though. Depending on the dealership and your relationship with them, you could end up paying several hundreds of dollars for that annual maintenance visit.
Even if you choose to do that, you should still perform basic routine checks more often – and on your own. You are responsible for the RV and if you don’t maintain it properly, you’re going to run into trouble – and probably lose your warranty too.
Also, there are still many small maintenance tasks that you should do yourself fairly frequently. Cleaning the tanks, sanitizing the water system or cleaning and drying the awning – these are not things that should wait for a checkup by a professional. You can do them yourself – and should.
Does an old RV require more maintenance?
If you’re thinking of buying an old RV, you may be concerned about excessive maintenance needs.
Well, that may or may not be the case. A lot depends on the previous owners of the rig. If they took good care of it, you may not be facing too many additional issues, compared to a new unit.
In fact, RV owners often say that a new RV could end up with more maintenance issues than an older one.
Because some systems may be faulty or maybe they just weren’t installed properly at the factory. These issues could lead to leaks and breakage that the new owner will have to deal with during the first months of use.
And the warranty can only help you so much.
I’ve read many stories of owners who discovered just how limited the warranty really is – the hard way. For example, a leaking roof in a brand new RV – you’d think the manufacturer would replace the entire roof, right? But you may discover that they’ll claim that the fault is with the caulking – which you neglected to inspect every three months as per the manual.
So, in that sense, a slightly older RV – one that has been in use for 1-2 years – may actually easier to handle in terms of maintenance.
A well-maintained RV can be in excellent condition even five and ten years after the initial purchase. As long as previous owners took good care of it – there is no reason for it not to be. But yes, as a buyer you’ll have to do your due diligence and find out which parts of the RV need to be replaced – and when.
With that in mind, let’s move on with the list of tips. I organized them by sections – first, a few general tips, then tips concerning the exterior of the RV and finally, tips for interior systems.
1. Tow your rig gently. Avoid rough roads. Drive slowly if you have to go on a rough road such as sections undergoing repair. Going slow will help minimize those abrupt “jumps” over potholes, large or small.
2. Know how to tow. Make sure the hitch is properly aligned and connected as it should be. Look at the rig after hitching to make sure it neither sags nor pulls up the hitch. This will not only make towing much safer but also reduce the stress on the trailer itself.
3. Invest in a quality travel trailer or 5th wheel. Higher-grade RV’s are more expensive for a reason. Look for a model with solid wood cabinets, porcelain toilets and quality fabrics and flooring. Clean and maintain them properly and they could last you a lifetime.
4. Get your trailer serviced as required. Don’t skimp over routine servicing that your RV manual describes. Yes, it’s expensive but neglecting to care for your RV on time could mean even higher expenses – and heartache – down the road.
5. Learn how to carry out basic maintenance routines. Not only will it save you money but you’ll be able to make sure things get done right. Because RV’ers are on the road a lot, many don’t have a working relationship with the shop where their RV happens to be serviced. That could mean even higher rates than usual – and lower quality of work. Which is why many RV owners prefer to learn how to carry out basic maintenance – and sometimes not so basic – on their own.
External RV maintenance
6. Inspect your RV box on a daily basis. Focus on the seams and check the caulking. Bouncing down the road can lead to cracks and gaps which will get worse if left unattended. Be especially vigilant after driving in general, and particularly if your route included a bumpy road section.
The Roof of the RV
7. Make sure tree branches stay away from your roof. Not even during the parking process. Some types of roofs are more delicate and a branch can damage them.
8. Know your roof. Learn about the materials it’s made of and how to maintain them properly. Go up there and familiarize yourself with the various openings.
9. Check your roof caulking regularly. A crack or gap in the roof could spell a leak the next time it rains. Get on the roof for a quick visual inspection after a drive and before heavy rains are expected. If there’s a leak and you haven’t inspected the caulking in the previous 90 days, any warranty is likely to become void.
10. Keep your roof clean. Check the manual to see what the right cleaning solutions may be and schedule a thorough cleaning session at least twice a year – or more often as may be needed. With most roofs, a waterless wash with a UV protectant is a good idea. Don’t forget to clean the sides and caps too!
11. Replace caulking when it begins to dry up and break down. According to experienced RV owners, that begins to happen after 4-6 years or use – even with good maintenance. When the time comes, invest in quality new roof caulking.
Wheels and Tires
12. Invest in quality tires. Ask an expert to assess the tires after you buy the RV and replace them if the quality is subpar. This is a safety issue first and foremost but will also save you money on maintenance down the road.
13. Keep track of the age of your tires. Replace tires as needed and at least once every five years.
14. Check tires regularly for signs of wear. Towing can increase the rate of wear and tear, as will driving on unpaved roads.
15. Odd tire wear needs to be addressed on time. It can be due to alignment issues of your hitch, axles or shock absorbers. Don’t wait for your scheduled service – deal with it as soon as you notice the problem and don’t forget to replace the tire too.
16. Get your tire rotation done – on schedule. Even with no odd wear signs – make sure your tires are rotated to avoid it in the future.
17. Monitor air pressure on all tires – of your truck and travel trailer or 5th wheel. If you don’t have one installed already in your truck, add a tire pressure monitoring system to your RV as well as your towing vehicle. If you’re driving a dually pickup truck, don’t forget to monitor all six wheels.
18. Don’t neglect your hub bearing maintenance. Towing puts added pressure on your hubs which means they need to be kept cool. The way to do that is to keep them well greased and add more grease at least once a year. Make sure your wheel bearings get serviced on that schedule – or learn how to do that yourself.
20. Treat your slide seals every three months. Use a special RV slide out spray to prevent the rubber from drying out and cracking.
21. If you have hydraulic slide outs – wipe them clean with hydraulic fluid every once in a while. Unless your manual indicates otherwise, there’s no need to grease the mechanism with lube.
22. Fix cracks in your slide out rubber seals as soon as you see them. They work under a lot of pressure and tears will get worse. Don’t wait for your slide out to stop operating when you need it – fix and replace parts as soon as you notice a problem.
Other external RV parts
23. Keep your jacks clean and spray them with a lubricant every three months. Your 5th wheel or trailer depends on them for alignment so you want these parts to run smoothly – for the long run.
24. Check your springs, shock absorbents and shackles frequently. That means learning to get to know your 5th wheel and travel camper so you can identify these parts and know what they look like when they’re in working order. Then, if you notice a problem, treat it sooner rather than later.
25. Look under your trailer/5th wheel and inspect all of the parts you see there. Again, learn what it should look like and then monitor these areas from time to time. RV owners tend to forget about the underbelly – and notice problems only when something goes wrong. In many cases, a regular inspection will help you spot issues before they affect other – more expensive – areas of your rig.
26. Make a habit of checking all exterior lights before you leave a campground. These include running lights, brake lights, turn signals and headlights. Don’t forget to check the towing vehicle’s lights too – this is a safety issue when driving an RV.
27. Lube your locks and door hinges. Don’t wait for locks to stop working and for you to get locked out. Use lubricant spray like Boeshield T-9 to keep your lock running smoothly. Avoid oil at it can actually attract dirt and debris. Don’t forget to lube the hinges of the door too, while at it. If your door or lock begin to feel “hard” to maneuver, don’t wait for them to break down and address the problem.
28. Keep rodents at bay by making sure your rig is sealed. Look around there for any possible entry points. Remember all a mouse needs is a small 1/4 inch wide opening to get inside and set a home in your RV. If you suspect you already have mice – get a mousetrap right away. Don’t wait until Mickey begins to raise a family.
29. Keep your steps clean and lubricated. Visually inspect your RV steps before folding them in. Use a lubricant like WD40 or T-9 on the hinges to prevent them from rusting.
30. Clean Solar Panels as may be needed. Get on the roof to visually inspect your solar panels. If they look dusty, give them a quick wipe over. Dust comes in the way of absorbing sunlight so making sure your solar panels are clean increases their efficiency.
31. Never close the awning while it’s still wet from the rain. Give your awning several hours to dry up to avoid mildew. If you must drive away, stop in a sunny location as soon as you get to one and spread out your awning so it can thoroughly dry.
32. Clean vinyl awnings before rolling them back in. Use a designated cleaning spray or even just a warm soapy water and a brush. Your goal is to get rid of dust and debris. Mildew and mold can’t live directly on the vinyl itself but they can grow on dirt and dust, so this is what you’re trying to get rid of.
33. Grease your hitch regularly. Oil makes moving part move more smoothly, so your hitch needs to be greased with automotive chassis oil. If you’re towing frequently, greasing once a month is a good idea.
34. Get to know your hitch. This goes back to keeping your hitch lubricated. A fifth wheel hitch is different from a gooseneck or a trailer hitch. Hitches can also vary slightly between manufacturers.
Here’s what lubricating a 5th Wheel hitch looks like-
And one about equalizer hitch maintenance –
35. Treat rust patches as soon as you notice them. Rust on hitch doesn’t mean you can’t keep on using it – but you should stop the corrosive process if you want to get more use out of your hitch. Use a wire brush to get rid of excess rust and then paint the patch to prevent further corrosion.
RV Maintenance Tips – The Interior
The RV Fridge
36. Don’t push your RV fridge into the wall. This is true for any fridge anywhere – give them some breathing space behind and don’t use that area for storage either.
37. Regularly check the back of your RV fridge. Clean the area, remove dust and cobwebs. They can be a fire hazard as well as get in the way of the cooling process.
Heating Systems and Air Conditioning
38. Check your furnace regularly. That includes a checkup during summer too – just run it for a couple of minutes to make sure everything works. Clean any visible dirt and dust and test the gas line to make sure there are no leaks.
39. Clean your air conditioner filters on time. Check the manual for frequency or just do it once a month during the hot season when you’re using them. If you haven’t used the a/c in a few months – clean the filters before using it for the first time.
The Hot Water Unit
40. Flush your hot water heater several times a year. Getting all of the water out and flushing the system helps to get rid of residue and calcified debris.
41. Replace your hot water heater anode rod as needed. When you flush that hot water heater, you’re going to see how the anode rod is doing. If it looks worn out – it’s time to replace it with a new rod. That’s an inexpensive way to get more out of your water heater in the long run.
Here’s an excellent video showing you how to flush your water heater and replace the anode rod too –
The Fresh Water System
42. Sanitize the fresh water tank often. You can use an RV fresh water sanitizer but many experienced RV owners just use chlorine. Basically, you add the cleaning solution and let it sit in the tank for several hours, and then flush it out by draining the tanks and filling it up with fresh clean water. Let the water run in the system now for a while until you no longer smell the chlorine or cleaning solution.
43. Clean your fresh water hose and replace as may be necessary. Sanitizing a water hose is not easy so the best thing to do is just make sure yours is relatively new and free of residue. A quality drinking-water-grade hose by a reputable brand costs under $20 – a small investment for making sure your drinking water is clean and fresh.
Black and grey water tanks maintenance
44. Flush your grey and black tank after you dump. Use the rinse feature – or equivalent system in your RV – to rinse the tanks after dumping. This is best done in a campsite with full hook-ups where you have time and water to flush the tank with.
45. Pressure wash your grey and black tanks every once and awhile. This will get rid of the gunk and residue that a regular flush can’t push out. Here’s a video demonstration (do not watch this if you just ate – this is the equivalent of an RV enema – eeeew!
46. Visually inspect all of your accessible wiring points. Take a look at the wires, switches, breakers and panels across your RV once a month, clean them gently and monitor for abrasions and loose connections.
RV battery maintenance
47. Keep RV batteries fully charged at all times. If a battery loses charge and remains that way for a while, a process called sulfation begins to take place. This will eventually ruin an otherwise fine battery. Keeping the battery fully-charge is the way to prevent this.
48. If you’re not using the RV use the battery disconnect switches to prevent batteries from draining. Do this even if you’re only away for a few days. When storing an RV for longer, it’s best to remove the battery and then use a trickle charger to keep it topped off. When driving and towing, the towing vehicle should be connected to the RV’s battery, keeping it fully charged. Once parked, make sure you disconnect the two or the RV will drain your truck’s battery.
49. Check the water level in your battery and add water as needed. Avoid tap water or bottled drinking (mineral) water and use only distilled water to avoid calcification and prolong battery life.
What? Do I really have to do all of these things?
I hope the list doesn’t scare you away from RV’ing. Yes, there is a learning curve but once you get the hang of it, the maintenance of your RV becomes second nature.
And keep your eye on the prize!
A relaxed vacation or even full-time RV’ing – living your dream on wheels!
Flushing the tanks and cleaning the roof occasionally is a small price to pay for that.
How about you?
If you own an RV, I’d love to hear what you think about these tips. What’s your RV maintenance routine looks like? Do you have more tips to share? Add them in a comment below so others can benefit from them too! And thank you in advance!
And for those of you who use Pinterest, here’s an image you can use to pin this post with –