12 Essential RV maintenance tips

August 21, 2020

Follow these essential RV maintenance tips before your next trip

A man caulking windows, performing essential RV maintenance

Owning an RV can be a lot of work - it combines many of the routine maintenance steps of both a home and a vehicle. But just as it's important to keep your home and your car in great shape, it's equally important to tend to your RV. It's your home away from home, and having some part of it fail on the road is the last thing you want to have happen. To help you stay on top of it, we've outlined these 12 essential RV maintenance tips - read on!

1. Check and change oil, fluids, and filters

If you have a true motorhome RV, it's important to remember your standard engine maintenance routines - just like a regular car. Whether it's always on the road, or parked for an extended period of time, take some time to get under the hood. 

Check the levels and look for dirt in the oil. If necessary, drain and replace it in accordance with your motorhome's user manual. When you do, make sure to replace the oil filter to ensure the new oil isn't contaminated. 

While you're at it, go down the checklist for other fluids and filters, such as your air filter, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, coolant, and even windshield wiper fluid. 

2. Check exterior for leaks and or broken seals

Leaks are never good, but in an RV, even a tiny one can be quite damaging. Apart from carpet, furniture, and upholstery, there's a huge network of wires and cables that can all suffer from unwanted moisture. 

Unfortunately, RVs can be rather large and as such, there are plenty of places for them to spring leaks. To start your inspection, look at the most obvious places, such as the rubber or plastic seals around windows, doors, or other such openings. Over time, exposure to UV light and the elements in general can cause them to crack and fail. 

After you've checked the seals, give the roof a good look. Depending on the model of your RV, there could be a number of points where various panels come together, all of which can cause leaks if not properly sealed. 

Mold, mildew, and dirt can destroy the paint and cause corrosion, so cleaning the exterior of your RV is a must. While you're at it, you may as well look for leaks and cracks! Just be sure you look before you spray an area down. Otherwise, you might inadvertently force water into a crack before you've had a chance to repair it. 

Once you've located any possible gaps, cracks, or leaks, it's essential to repair them as soon as possible. Replacements for damaged or worn seals are usually easy to find. For other minor cracks, a good sealant or caulk can work wonders. 

3. Check the brakes

Whether your RV is a motorhome or a trailer, it's going to have brakes and you'll want to make sure that they're in tip top shape. Even the smallest RV can be quite heavy, so it's important that the pads and discs are capable of slowing it down! 

But don't just perform a simple brake test - make sure to have the entire system inspected, including the pads, discs, brake lines, and the fluid reservoir. You can typically find information on how to do this in your owner's manual, but there are plenty of professional RV shops that can give you a hand, too. 

4. Check the tail lights and connections

Two things need to happen when you step on the brake pedal - your brake system should slow the RV and the brake lights should come on. Of course, the tail light systems will be different on a motorhome versus a trailer. 

While a motorhome will have a system of fuses and lights similar to any vehicle, a trailer is going to have a point of connection between it and the vehicle it is being towed behind. In both cases, the lights can be tested fairly easily. If it doesn't work, try to replace the bulbs first, then the fuses. Beyond that, you may need professional help as there could be a point of failure somewhere in the wiring harness. 

5. Check tire quality and pressure

Before any RV excursion, it's essential to check the tire tread and air pressure. While your owner's manual should have information on the proper PSI, you can also typically find that information on the tire itself. 

Using a tire pressure gauge, check each tire (don't forget any spares) and fill them as needed. While severe, uneven tire wear is obvious, even, gradual wear may not be so simple. However, you can usually spot a worn out tire if the tread has been worn down below the wear bar. 

Finally, it's important to rotate the tires on your RV just as you would with a car. This ensures that each tire wears evenly and can help prevent sudden flats that often come as the result of such damage. 

6. Check the fuses and batteries

Cars have fairly extensive electrical systems, but RVs can be even more complex. Most RVs at least have electrical systems for lighting, outlets, stoves, pumps, AC units, and possibly water heaters.

While checking every single aspect of an electrical system can be a daunting task even for the professional, there are a few things you can check rather easily, such as your batteries and fuses. Your owner's manual should tell you where to find the fuse box, as well as specifications regarding which fuses should be used. Make sure to check them before each trip, or at least once a year. 

Depending on your RV and whether or not it is a motorhome, you may have a battery or a number of batteries; one to power the motor, and at least one for the electrical systems. While these are likely different types of batteries, maintenance is fairly similar. 

First and foremost, it's important to keep the batteries charged. Just like a car battery, prolonged periods of sitting unused can still cause them to drain and die over time. While some RVs have solar panels to keep a steady charge, you may have to periodically hook yours up to do so. 

It's also important to check the electrolyte levels in your batteries (yes, even batteries have a fluid to check). Most batteries have a small flap you can lift, beneath which are several holes. The fluid level should be above the metal plates within, so if it's low, simply add a little distilled water - it's very important that you only use distilled water. 

Lastly, make sure the battery terminals are clean. Over time, road grime and corrosion can build up, causing poor connections and potential electrical issues. To clean them, safely disconnect the battery and clean the terminals with a wire brush using warm water and baking soda. Then, clean and dry them before reconnecting them. 

7. Check the water system

Most RVs have a water system split into three parts: freshwater, greywater, and blackwater tanks. Needless to say, some maintenance is required to keep things from getting messy during your next road trip. 

After a while, the freshwater system can build up bacteria and other germs if it goes without use. To clean it, you can simply fill it halfway and add bleach to it. If possible, driving around a little bit can help get a more thorough cleaning. Then, open the faucets and let all of the solution drain. Keep your greywater system shut so that the solution can sanitize it as well. Finally, repeat this process with fresh water a few more times to clean the remaining bleach solution out. 

When cleaning the blackwater tank, you'll want to use specialized cleaning chemicals. These chemicals can be flushed down the toilet with a few gallons of water. Then, drain the system when hooked up to an appropriate sewer connection. 

8. Check the propane levels and lines

Many RVs make use of propane for things like cooking, heating, and water heaters. It's important to periodically check the gas lines and valves for leaks, just as you would with a grill at home

When you're not using the propane, make sure that the valves are closed. Apply a thin layer of dish soap and water to the lines and look for bubbles to check for leaks. Remember, if you ever smell propane while inside the trailer, get outside and close the valves until the leak can be found. 

9. Check the water heater

After a long day of traveling, a hot shower can be just what the road-weary traveler needs. Some water heaters use propane, some use electric heaters, and some have both options. Consult your owner's manual to find out which system your RV uses. 

If you have a propane heater, it's important to clean the chamber where the flame ignites. Over time, burnt dust and char can build up and cause issues in the future. 

Additionally, most water heaters will slowly build up sediment on the bottom, either from corrosion or water impurities. Periodically (about once a year), drain your water heater and flush it thoroughly.

10. Clean the AC unit

During RV adventures through the mountains or during the fall and winter months, your AC unit probably won't get much use. However, in the warmer months, the inside of an RV can turn into an oven without one. That's why it's important to check your AC unit before summer trips, or trips to places with warmer climates.

First, remove the filter and clean or replace it if it's dirty. Depending on how your AC unit is set up, this might be a good time to check the evaporator coils and give them a good cleaning if necessary. Lastly, check the condenser coils and any vents or filters on the outside of the unit. 

11. Check safety equipment

Like a home, an RV should comes with a number of safety features, such as smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. 

The detectors are easy enough to test as they usually have a button made for that purpose. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends checking smoke detectors at least once a month and replacing batteries at least once or twice a year. 

Your fire extinguisher should come with a tag or label that has an expiration date on it. Check and make sure yours is good and replace it if needed.

12. Check the nooks and crannies 

Many RVs have a number of external storage compartments. These are basically drawers or bins that pull out at various places and can be great for storing extra gear. However, they also make great places for stowaways, such as mice, rats, and insects. 

Furthermore, insects, such as wasps and even fire ants may find the various flaps and storage compartments on the outside of your RV to be perfect hideaways. To avoid unwanted surprises, carefully check every nook and cranny for such critters before going on your adventure.

A man fixing the AC unit on an RV

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Read more: Did you know that there are maintenance tasks to perform even if you're not driving your vehicle? Read our blog to learn all about it!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.