Tony & Peggy Barthel - StressLess Campers

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We’re Tony & Peggy Barthel and we’re working to help you be a StressLess Camper.

RV Maintenance for StressLess camping

RV Maintenance for StressLess camping

Here are eight basic tips for StressLess RV maintenance. Basic RV maintenance is really, really simple and can significantly extend the life of your RV. It’s also really inexpensive and doesn’t take much time. That’s a good value considering that you’ll get more in trade-in and a lot more years of trouble-free use with proper maintenance. Oh, and proper maintenance can save your life, too. 

Many times I saw people bring in their used RVs wanting to trade them in and tell us how well maintained it is. But our techs go through the RV and, often times, the RV is headed straight to the auction as we wouldn’t want it on our lot. 

Even a small leak in an RV’s roof can cause fairly extensive damage.

Start at the Roof

One of the most critical aspects of RV maintenance is the roof. While most modern RVs have rubber roofs which are guaranteed for 12 years or so, that’s not necessarily the failure point that causes water leaks. In those rubber roofs are a bunch of holes punched for things like air conditioners, antennae, vents and that sort of thing. Around those holes are a flexible sealant material that kind of looks like toothpaste. 

The roof and that flexible sealant have to withstand the sun, the rain and all the bending and twisting that is a normal part of moving an RV down the road. While that rubber roof membrane is good at withstanding this, that flexible sealant will fail over time. Sometimes it can fail rather quickly, other times it can last for years. 

This is really no big deal if it’s looked after. If that flexible sealant looks dry or cracked, simply go over it again with more of the same product and you’re good to go. It’s ideal to inspect the roof every 90 days for leaks or drying of the sealant. Water intrusion is very bad and can cause dry rot and mold which can lead to structural failure, not a good thing. 

Which sealant product do you use? This depends on the specific type of roof that you have. The owners’ manual or other manufacturers reference points should reveal what sealant is right for the roof on your RV. 

Also, this flexible sealant (such as Dicor) is considered a wear item and is not covered by your RV’s warranty and is also excluded by almost every extended warranty. So it's on you to keep an eye on this and keep it maintained properly. 

Save the life of a seal

Almost all RVs should also have the seals around doors, windows and marker lights which should be checked at the same interval as the roof. I actually experienced water intrusion when the seal around a roof marker light failed and caused delamination of my trailer. Depending on how your RV was constructed, the seals around these openings can often be silicone but it’s wise to inspect them at the same intervals as the roof to make sure there’s no water intrusion or seal failure. 

If your RV has a slide, and many do nowadays, check the seals around the slide room to make sure they’re not cracked or damaged. It’s not a bad idea to spray these with a slide seal conditioner to keep them supple and in great shape. 

Also check the slide mechanism to make sure it’s working properly and apply the appropriate lubricant to this every six months to a year to make sure it stays in good working order. 

Of course every time you extend and retract a slide it's good to make sure there are no obstructions. I've seen floors ruined by little rocks that get under the slide and I've seen a lot of slide room seals destroyed by a small twig or other item on the roof of the slide room. Make sure your slide room roof and the floor inside the coach are clear of debris before bringing the slide in. 

Lubrication tips

While you’ve gone to the garage for lubricants, bring the trailer ball grease and put a little in the trailer hitch ball receiver. This is another minor thing that will save you from unexpected wear. 

It’s also not bad to shoot the locks and latches around the trailer with a dry lubricant which will help keep those systems working well. Do not use products like WD40 or other wet lubricants as they attract dust and dirt and will actually make the locks more difficult to use over time. 

Lastly, some silicone lubricant of the dump valve mechanisms is a good idea. 

It’s also highly advisable to have the axles in your RV lubricated regularly. How often? Annually is a good idea depending on how much you travel. 

Charging system

Your RV’s charging system, especially the batteries, are another area where we see a lot of early failures. Freezing and lack of water can quickly kill those very expensive batteries you have in your RV. 

If you have the typical deep-cycle RV batteries that most of us do, don a pair of eye protectant glasses and pop the caps on the batteries to see how the water level is. If it’s low, add distilled water to the battery. For winter RV storage, if it freezes where you keep your RV, bring the batteries inside as part of your winterization process. 

Water system

An anode rod from a Suburban water heater showing about half its life consumed already. This sacrificial metal is designed to keep corrosion from destroying the RV’s water heater and should be checked periodically.

An anode rod from a Suburban water heater showing about half its life consumed already. This sacrificial metal is designed to keep corrosion from destroying the RV’s water heater and should be checked periodically.

The RV’s water system, too, should get a look over periodically. If you have a Suburban brand water heater there is an anode rod that screws into the side of the heater. Once you’re sure that the water heater is cool you can remove this with a 1 1/16 socket wrench and inspect it. If there is more than half the anode material left, just get some plumber’s tape and screw it right back in. You’ll be removing it as part of your winterization process later, so that can be another inspection. 

You might also pressurize your water system either from the city water connection or your RV’s built-in water pump and look everywhere you can for leaks. Pay particular attention to fittings for sinks and toilets in cabinets and such where you’d normally not look. If you’re just dewinterizing your RV pay special attention to the valve on the toilet - these can get neglected and fail causing a water leak. 

Don’t overlook the fire extinguisher

Check the fire extinguisher(s) in your RV. They should have a display on them that shows the state of charge but there is also a date stamped on them. 

Tires

Your regular inspection is also a good time to check your tires. Check the air pressure in them in the morning before the sun starts to heat them up. Make a mental note if you experience any of the tires losing pressure more quickly than the rest. 

Give the tires a look to see if there is any obvious external damage. Check the tread and the sidewalls of the tires. 

While you’re looking at the sidewalls, check the age of the tires. Tire manufacturers recommend that the tires never be more than five years old due to environmental conditions damaging the tire itself. You might find that a tire has plenty of tread left but has passed the point of expiration. Replace these tires as they could experience failure. 

Most industry experts are even more aggressive about tire replacement recommending that RV tires be replaced every three-four years. They may not have evident signs of wear or damage but tires also deteriorate from the inside. 

Brake system

While you may not be able to inspect the brakes on your RV, you can take the RV out for a quick spin with the radio off and the window open and step on the brakes, listening for any unusual sounds or squeaking. 

If you have your RV in to have the axles lubricated that would be a great time to ask the shop to also take a gander at your brakes. 

In Summary

Doing this routine and most basic maintenance will significantly extend the life of your travel trailer or other RV. Of course you should always follow your RV manufacturer’s recommendations 

Basic RV Maintenance Checklist

  • Check the roof for leaks or damaged seals

  • Remove the AC shroud and check for debris

  • Dump valve — Spray a little bit of silicone

  • Black and Grey Water Tanks — Clean and sanitize

  • Window Seals — Cracked and pitted window seals need to be replaced

  • Entry Steps — Make sure that they are well lubed and extend fully and easily

  • Converter Charging System — If it doesn’t convert properly, it will need to be serviced

  • Generator (where applicable) — The oil must be changed as well as the oil and fuel filter

  • Water Heater — Check for hot water

  • Refrigerator — Check for dust or evidence of bugs in the mechanism behind the panels

  • Stove — Make sure all the burners come on

  • Furnace — Check for heat and to make sure the exhaust vent is clear of debris

  • Fresh water — Clean and fill the tank

  • Material Seams — Check the material seams in bed, cushions, chairs, couches, and repair as needed.

  • Fire Extinguisher — Check for proper pressure and replace if no good

  • Roof Mounted Air Conditioner — Check and clean filters. Make sure it blows cold air

  • Satellite/Antenna — If applicable, make sure they can be deployed easily, and that they are connected properly and work.

  • Slide Seals — Check for cracks and pitting. Lube them up so they slide smoothly

  • Frame — Check for rusting, cracking, bending or damage

  • Locks and latches — Make sure they are lubed and working properly

  • Awnings — Check for ease of deployment, rips and tears. Replace as needed

  • Trailer Brakes — Take the trailer out for a ride and check the brakes for stopping power. Listen for squeaks and grinding

  • Exterior Lights — Make sure all the lights work, and replace bulbs as needed

  • Tow Coupler — Clean it and lube

  • Breakaway Switch — Inspect and perform an ampere draw.

  • Propane Gas Tank — Refill quarterly

  • Inspect the tires - make sure the tires are not older than five years (https://www.etrailer.com/question-139062.html)

We also have another article on RV checklists

Hear our interview with Jon Goldstein of Leisure Coachworks on RV maintenance

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