Let’s face it, there’s really no such thing as “maintenance-free.” Everything needs a little routine care in order to work and perform at its peak, and that includes your motorhome, trailer, or fifth wheel RV.
RVs provide the ultimate escape while bringing along the conveniences of home. Some of us are escaping the big city, a stressful work week, weather, or even the seemingly never-ending parade of home improvement projects.
When tourism and hospitality services came to a screeching halt, RVs provided the safest way to escape quarantine confines. Unsurprisingly, consumer demand for RVs continues to grow even after lifting quarantine restrictions. That’s great news for RV owners interested in making extra income renting their RV.
Managing RV Total Ownership Cost
Before your RV delivers you to a coastal breeze or cozy mountain town, you have to show it a little bit of love. The purpose of maintenance is to maximize value from your investment. Properly maintaining your RV is the most important thing you can do to keep it running and help retain its value.
Maintenance is like that part of the iceberg below the waterline. What lies beneath are not unseen costs lurking to surprise you, but rather unaccounted total ownership costs. Whenever anything is unaccounted for, it feels like it adds up quickly. RV owners experience this hit to the wallet wondering why they have less leftover than expected—whether it’s food, fuel, or travel money. Easily sidestep this pothole by learning exactly what is needed to support your RV’s maintenance plan and personalized usage needs.
When creating or adjusting your RV budget, remember to include an allowance for the maintenance considerations covered below so you can accurately estimate the total ownership cost for your RV. You might be surprised at how inexpensive an RV can be if you handle certain maintenance tasks yourself.
Recommended RV Maintenance Intervals
The standard bi-annual inspection no longer adequately covers every RVer. The modern RVing community celebrates campers across the RV lifestyle spectrum. Although the “official” RV season runs from May to October in the U.S., RVing makes easy year-round travel possible.
So, whether you’re a seasonal camper, weekend warrior, or full-time RVer, the traditional annual inspections at the beginning and end of the RV season are simply the starting point. Smart RVers build upon this timeline to match their actual RV usage.
To illustrate what that means, consider this: You already make a similar adjustment with your daily commuting vehicle, with regular oil changes and tire upgrades based on frequency of use. The same applies to your RV—longer travels or multiple road trips accelerate its maintenance schedule.
So, think about your specific RV lifestyle:
- How frequently do you change campsites?
- What campsite climates does your RV weather?
- What types of terrain does your RV traverse?
- How much mileage does your RV travel monthly? Quarterly? Annually? Or even weekly?
These aspects can increase maintenance frequency. Use your answers to create a personalized maintenance schedule for your RV. Start with the the recommended maintenance intervals in your RV owner’s manual. Adjust the frequency to account for your RVing needs. Identify and budget for preventative upkeep and upcoming repairs based on your RV’s current condition. Know that even with brand new RVs, maintenance needs will arise as you break-in your home on wheels.
Your RV Owner’s Manual
Maintenance intervals for each RV system component are unique. Manufacturers compile this information from engineering designs and RV industry usage data. For this reason, RV owner’s manuals often bundle component technical manuals with the RV model’s product manual.
In the technical manual set, the RV manufacturer establishes:
- planned maintenance intervals
- mechanical inspection points
- required maintenance tasks
- compatible cleaning and maintenance products—fluids, oils, and lubricants
This vital information forms the maintenance baseline for every RV model. That information is shared with RV service centers so RV technicians can provide model-specific advice.
DIY RV Maintenance or Make a Maintenance Service Appointment
Overall, RVers are fairly resourceful and quite capable of accomplishing whatever we set our hearts and minds to do. It’s part of our inner explorer. So, approaching RV maintenance is no different.
RVers want to know what maintenance is required to prevent costly repairs down the road. And which budget-friendly maintenance tasks they can do on their own.
When to Take Your RV to Certified RV Maintenance Professionals
Maintenance is categorized as either preventative or corrective (repair).
Everyone has their own skill level and personal safety threshold for performing RV preventative maintenance and repairs. The maintenance actions you can do yourself are limited by workspace, access to specialized equipment, your tools inventory, as well as your knowledge and electromechanical aptitude.
Essential RV Care and Maintenance
So what does RV care and maintenance entail? Proper preventative maintenance and care of your RV system components consists of:
Responsible RVers also maintain vigilant awareness of changes in the condition of high visibility components, like leveling, stabilization, the RV exterior sidewall, tires, awnings, motorhome powertrain, and generators.
The simplest way to think about RV care and maintenance requirements is to imagine the combined upkeep you invest in your home and your commuter vehicle. Generally, your house is kept clean in case visitors drop by. But, whenever you have events you might deep clean to spruce up for special guests. For your RV, this translates to conducting routine surface level care, and then more focused maintenance before and after road trips.
- Annual maintenance technician check, which includes inspecting and adjusting your RV brakes and suspension, is the most laborious.
- Pre-trip RV preparation maintenance and care involves the most hands-on activities and generates the most questions.
- Post-trip maintenance inspection and care, detailed below, provides the greatest impact (but is sometimes overlooked or taken for granted, getting left off the budget).
- In-use care and repair, is the most popular maintenance topic spanning numerous forums since it’s top of mind for many RVers.
- Storage preparation includes winterization, de-winterization, and protective covering considerations.
Despite varying maintenance intensity, all of these levels hold equal importance in extending the life of your RV for future adventures.
RV Maintenance Checklist After Every Use
Depending on your RVing plans, your rig may see action every weekend. Smart RV owners go the extra mile to protect their investment by performing essential and easy maintenance checks after you finish traveling—and a post-trip RV cleaning.
Use this post-trip RV maintenance checklist so you don’t overlook anything.
Condition-Based Repair (Holes, Cracks, Wear and Tear)
These maintenance tasks can sideline your RV.
- Check the roof for damage. Confirm whether your RV roof is “walkable.” Otherwise, you need to use a ladder to safely inspect the roof area. Any holes in the roof membrane should be repaired at a nearby RV service facility due to the required workspace and specialized equipment needed to perform a quality repair. Patching holes yourself only serves as a temporary fix. Tension in the roof membrane will continue pulling at the patched tear, reopening the hole, and leading to water damage.
- While you’re on the roof, inspect any roof-mounted air conditioner for debris, nests inside, or damaged fins.
- Replace or reattach separating weather stripping and any cracked sealants found during your post-road trip cleaning—roof, roof-mounted equipment and vents, roof transition points, sidewall seams, front caps, windows, holding tanks, sewer hose valve connection point, slideouts, doors, storage compartments, and patios. Use the correct compound for each RV component when filling-in material gaps or replacing damaged sealant and seals.
RV Water Damage
Catch potential water damage as soon as possible. Look for leaks after bringing your RV out of storage, during your trip, and after your RV has sat unused for a while. Water damage typically shows up over time.
- Double-check for leaks and water damage around the slideout seams, along the ceiling, near the sinks, and especially in the bathroom.
- If you can, open the compartments containing the water lines and pipes to visually inspect and touch potential problem points. This also boosts your familiarization with your specific RV. Tracing your RV water lines during post-trip maintenance can help you respond more quickly to any surprise water leaks down the road.
It’s also best to catch rust as early as possible. Remove any rust and repaint chipped areas. Apply a manufacturer recommended rust-resistant treatment.
- Inspect the chassis and RV underbelly for corrosion, cracks, and holes as well as fluid leaks.
- Check your hitch, steps, and jacks. Double-check the jack manufacturer’s manual before performing ANY preventative maintenance to avoid causing damage.
- If your propane tanks are not enclosed in an RV compartment or propane cover, then check to see whether protective repainting is needed.
RV Tire Inspection
While you’re checking out the chassis, examine the wear and tear on your tires. For RV budgeting purposes, it’s smart to keep tabs on tire condition.
- Uneven wear or low tread?
- Any sidewall damage?
- If needed, apply manufacturer recommended tire conditioner to protect the tire rubber.
- Learn how to keep your tires in good condition while in storage so they remain ready to go.
RV Slideouts and Awnings
Slideouts are the leading culprit for water intrusion points into your RV. Awnings can develop mold and mildew over time if not properly cared for.
- Inspect slideouts for damage as well as mounting points for tightness. The mounting points are unique to each slide type—cable, rack and pinion, power gear, worm gear (also known as screw jack and commonly called by its brand name Schwintek), and hydraulic. Refer to your owner’s manual for the complete list of slide system visual inspection points.
- As needed, condition slideout seals. Conditioners revitalize the rubber compound plus protectively coat it to reduce friction and environmental effects.
- Check the slideout travel seal along the bottom that protects this from road water kicked up by the tires during travel. If your RV has one, this exterior weather stripping along the bottom of your slide room above the tires is separate from the floor seal your slide sits on (which you wouldn’t be able to access without removing the slide box).
- Lubricate slide mechanisms. Only lubricate the moving parts specifically recommended by the manufacturer. Contrary to popular opinion, not all moving parts require lubrication.
- Depending on your slideout system, check slideout cable tension, top-off hydraulic fluid, and secure sagging hoses.
- If your RV has awnings or slide toppers, check the awning arms and tubes for damage. Patch fabric if needed.
- Lubricate the mechanisms used to deploy or roll up the awning or topper fabric.
- Inspect the air conditioner filter. If needed, clean the reusable AC filter.
- While cleaning your RV’s exterior, you should have paid attention to any soot around the vents for the furnace and water heater. For the furnace, soot indicates incomplete combustion and you should have this repaired by a certified RV technician. For the water heater, this indicates obstructions in the burner tube which you can easily clean.
- Check for sediment build-up that can naturally accumulate with use in your RV water heater .
It’s important to keep your batteries charged even when you aren’t using them.
- If equipped with one, make sure your RV battery disconnect switch is engaged to avoid power drainage. Or remove and store your batteries in a cool, dry place.
- Connect the batteries to a trickle charger or float charger.
- If your RV is equipped with a generator, make sure to disconnect the cable wires from the generator terminals to avoid power drainage.
- For generators and motorhomes, make sure the fuel level is full to prevent condensation from forming inside the tank.
- Also, if your next RV outing is more than a couple weeks away, refer to your owner’s manual for when to use a fuel preservative stabilizer with your RV and generator. Follow the instructions for the specific fuel preservative stabilizer to ensure it cycles through all lines and engine parts.
- Check for leaks in the motorhome engine compartment and generator.
RV Black Tank
Recheck your black tank level. After your RV trip, the indicator should read empty. If it isn’t, then something is either stuck to the sensor or the sensor itself may need to be replaced.
If storing your RV outside for awhile before your next road trip, consider using an RV cover to protect it from the elements.
Easy RV Maintenance
RV maintenance is straightforward. Keeping an eye on these aspects of your RV will not only save you money on repairs over time but will keep your RV’s resale value up. To support resale value and warranty purposes, track all your RV maintenance in a log and save any service records.
Looking for more help? Explore our other helpful guides on how to maintain your RV including financing details. You can always schedule an appointment with a certified RV service technician at your nearest Camping World Service Center location.