Discovering a water leak in your RV is always a cause for concern. We recently experienced this after a rainstorm in our brand new RV, and after a little research, we were able to fix the problem ourselves. It can be intimidating at first, but if you follow these steps, you’ll soon be on your way to repairing your RV leak.
The most important step is to determine exactly where water is getting into the RV. A methodical water test will take care of this. Once you know where the water is getting in, you can decide which sealing product is best for your needs. Tapes, liquid sealers and caulks are the main categories of products you’ll choose from.
Read on and we'll describe how to perform a reliable water test, describe common places for leaks to occur, and share some of the sealing products out there that can help you repair your RV water leak.
How to perform a water test in your RV
It’s recommended to start the water test from the bottom of the RV and work your way up. Begin by spraying the outside of your RV with a regular garden hose from your yard or wash station at a campground. You’ll know when you hit the right spot when water starts dripping down. If you have two people, one can be inside and watch for the leak while the other person handles the hose and sprays water on the exterior.
Leaking RV Roof
The most common places for water to enter the RV are punctures in the roof, siding that is coming loose, or a weak seam that needs reinforcing. If you’ve had some recent damage to the RV, driving under low-hanging branches, or impact from a collision, it may be obvious to you where the hole is. Otherwise, the water test will help you pinpoint where water is getting into your rig.
With our RV leak, water was dripping around the air vent above our master bed. At first, this led us to think that the air vent needed caulking.
However, after a simple water test, we discovered that the water was actually coming in through a hole in another part of our roof. After a hard rain, water collected between the roof and the ceiling of our RV, and eventually found its way to the air vent.
If we had only caulked the window vent and reinforced it, water could still get in the hole on the roof, and find another place to leak. You need to address the leak where it’s coming in from the outside, not the inside. Stopping the water on the exterior surface is the key to preventing any further leaks on the inside.
Water leaking from the bottom of an RV
Sometimes the leak isn't from the roof or sides of the RV. Instead, you are facing water leaking under a travel trailer, 5th wheel or motorhome. The good news is that water is not leaking into your living space. The bad news is that you probably have a leaking tank or pipe.
You may notice a small leak only after moving your camper from its parking space. If you find a small puddle there, you may have a leak from the bottom of the RV. As long as you're connected to city water, this may not even affect your tap water inside the RV. However, if you're boondocking and losing water, you may notice the problem when you run out of water much sooner than you had planned.
Camper leak repair
If a pipe or tank leaks into the underbelly, you're in for quite a project. You may want to just take your camper to the repair shop at this point. Otherwise, you would need to take off the cover and start tracking the source of the leak. One way to do that would be to run pressurized air through the system and listen for that hissing sound.
You would need to connect an air over water test gauge like this one -
This video shows you how to use that -
As you can see, the cover of the underbelly needs to be removed. Cutting through the cover may be necessary when you can visibly see that it's full of water. Otherwise, you can try unscrewing the cover, and then screwing it back again once you've found and fixed your leak.
Fixing the leak depends on where the leak is and the extent of the rip. It may be in a part of the pipe that you can simply replace with a new one. Otherwise, you may be able to patch the leak using tape, or you may have to replace a water tank. Here's another video of fixing a leak from the bottom of an RV -
How to fix a leaking camper roof
A leak in the roof of your camper or motorhome needs attending to asap. If you don't fix it right away, you could be facing significant water damage.
Choose the right sealing product
It’s important to match your sealing product to the surface that covers your RV. In most cases, the RV surface will be fiberglass, sheet metal or rubber. Rubber roofs tend to leak when there is a puncture (like ours) while older fiberglass and sheet metal surfaces will leak towards the seams and joints. Newer RVs tend to have specialized rubber roofs, which is what we were dealing with in our case. Be sure to check your owner’s manual to know what surfaces you are dealing with.
We chose EternaBond, a micro-sealing tape, to patch the small hole we had in our roof. You can think of this product as duct tape for RVs. It was convenient to buy and very easy to use. Eternabond tape adheres to most RV roof surfaces. Since our hole was on the roof, the appearance of the repair wasn’t important. However, if you have to fix a hole that is more visible on the outside of your RV, you might want another, more aesthetic option.
A liquid leak stopper is a great product if you need a sealant that can get into cracks and crevices.
Apply carefully with an old paintbrush and avoid contact with skin. Liquid Roof is a brand that many RV users recommend. It seals up RV leaks and also provides UV protection for your RV exterior.
Caulks are useful when sealing around an air vent or a seam that has weakened to allow water to enter your RV.
Be sure to choose a brand that creates a watertight seal and is made to adhere to the surface of your RV exterior. Some caulks also have a self-leveling feature that means that it will look even after you apply it. Caulks come in different colors, which is an important feature if you are fixing a leak in a visible place. The best caulking materials will also resist UV rays and mildew.
It’s worth noting that adhering some of these products over your RV surface can void your RV warranty. Check with your manufacturer if this is a concern for you.
Preventing RV leaks
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? It's always a good idea to check your RV roof for potential leaks before heading out of camp. You should also do that if you're staying in the same place and there's a serious rain front coming in.
When to call a professional
Fortunately, our RV leak was easy to diagnose, and with the right product, we were able to fix it ourselves. Depending on your situation and the extent of water damage to your rig, you may want to consult a professional.
If a lot of water has found its way into the walls or ceiling of your rig, you’ll need to make sure these areas get dried out well before fixing the leak. If not dried out properly, leftover water can increase your chance of wood rot, mildew or mold growing underneath the surfaces of your RV. Replacing siding or materials underneath the surface will take more time, and may require some outside help to get the job done right.
If you are out of town, check with your campground or RV park to see if they have recommendations for local repair services. Many RV and auto repair shops have mobile capacities, and can send a service provider out to your campsite to assess the situation.
Does insurance cover water damage?
Water damage is almost inevitable at some point for RV owners. However, most insurance companies are not required to cover water damage. If you live in your RV fulltime and have a policy similar to a homeowner’s insurance policy, then it may be covered.
Always check with your insurance agent and if water damage is a concern, see if you can purchase a policy that specifically includes water damages.
How to prevent a water leak in your RV
The easiest way to treat a leak is to catch it before it starts. Make it a habit to routinely check the roof, sides, and underneath your RV exterior after a long trip. Especially if you have scraped against bushes or branches, as these can puncture surfaces. Things can easily break or come loose after driving over bumpy roads too.
As soon as you find a hole, seal it up before it has a chance to rain. If you have any kind of collision or damage to the siding of your RV, be sure to get it repaired so that water does not have a chance to get inside and do any damage.
RV leaks happen to almost everyone at some point, so don’t be alarmed when it happens to you. Taking care of your RV, and treating any RV leak as soon as you notice it are the first steps to protecting your investment. With prompt attention and care to an RV leak, you’ll lose little time and will soon be enjoying yourself in your warm and dry RV.
And don't forget to check out this list of 49 RV maintenance tips for more ideas on how to keep your rig humming along with minimum malfunctions.