The Ultimate Guide to RV Maintenance

Couple maintaining the windows on their RV

Your RV brings you and your family countless hours of enjoyment, and you likely intend to enjoy using it for years to come. Taking good care of your investment is a good way to prolong the lifespan of your RV and make your camping and road trips fun and safe. Just like your car and home need routine maintenance, your RV needs to be properly cared for to remain in good condition. This handy RV maintenance guide will help you learn about general RV maintenance and specific tips for different types of motorhomes.

Jump to a section in this guide on how to maintain your RV:

General RV Care Tips

Since your RV is part vehicle and part home, it requires maintenance that’s like a combination of home maintenance and car maintenance. Just like all vehicles share certain maintenance requirements, every RV will share some general maintenance tasks. From changing your oil to proper cleaning techniques, all RVs require routine maintenance. Follow these general care tips to keep your RV in top shape.

Perform engine maintenance

An RV is a large, heavy vehicle that sees many miles of different types of roads. That means the engine takes on a lot of strain to pull such a large vehicle. Additionally, many RVs spend several winter months motionless in storage. Surprisingly, this can be hard on an engine as well. Routine maintenance is the key to keeping your RV engine healthy.

  • Check the battery: It’s best to keep your RV battery fully charged at all times. Generally, you can expect a battery to last for three to five years. Check your battery’s charge before every trip and at the beginning of each season.
  • Change the oil: Since RVs aren’t typically a daily use vehicle, you probably won’t have to change the oil as frequently as you do for your car. Instead, it’s recommended that you change your oil every 3,000 to 4,000 miles or once a year. Failing to change the oil regularly causes excess wear on your RV’s engine, leading to expensive repairs or even engine replacement.
  • Inspect and change the filters:The engine systems in your RV depend on filters to keep running parts clean. Every time you change the oil, inspect the air, fuel, coolant, and hydraulic filters and change them as needed. Similar to changing the oil, replacing these filters frequently helps you avoid excess wear on the engine.

Check the roof

The roof of your RV protects you while you’re on vacation, and you need to perform certain maintenance tasks to keep it properly protected from the elements. The roof of your RV isn’t something you see on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the inability to see problems doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Repairing or replacing the roof of your RV can cost thousands of dollars. Use these tips to ensure your roof can keep the elements outside where they belong.

  • Keep it covered: For many RV owners, using your motorhome all the time simply isn’t possible. When your RV is parked awaiting your next adventure, cover the roof for added protection. Keeping your roof covered under an RV carport or traditional RV cover will help you avoid damage from UV rays and harsh weather.
  • Clean frequently: If you are a full-time RV user, frequent cleaning is your best protection factor. Scheduled roof cleaning for full-time users, or cleaning after trips for vacationers, is the best way to avoid the gunk and grime that can settle in different nooks and crannies on your roof’s surface and retain moisture.
  • Check for leaks: The roof of your RV is far more complicated than that of your car. Seals, seams, vents, and air conditioners are all features that can lead to leaks. When a leak occurs, it can cause severe damage before water enters the inside of the vehicle. Initially, water soaks through your RV’s outer framework and spreads before reaching the ceiling materials. Avoid the expensive damage that goes unseen by periodically inspecting your roof’s edges, vents, skylights, or air conditioning unit. Repair leaks with a sealant compatible with the materials of your RV’s roof.

Store your RV properly

Many RVs spend winter months in storage. Properly preparing your RV for storage and the type of storage you choose can prolong the lifespan of your RV. The three most common RV storage types include:

  • Indoor storage: This is the most protective type of storage and allows your RV to remain in a fully enclosed building.
  • Outdoor storage: Commonly called open-lot storage, this option leaves your RV exposed to the elements. It’s best to use some type of cover when storing your RV outdoors.
  • Covered storage: This type of storage offers the protection of a roof and sometimes partial wall protection. When using covered storage, attempt to have your RV parked as far away from open walls as possible to avoid UV exposure.

No matter what type of storage you choose, it’s essential to perform certain maintenance tasks before leaving your RV parked for long periods of time. Check out our RV Winterization Checklist below for more details about how to prepare your RV for storage.

Clean the awning

Many RVs include awnings that provide additional shade surrounding your motorhome or popup camper. Your awning should be cleaned frequently (after each use if possible) and dried completely before storage. When you’re unable to complete a thorough cleaning, make sure to brush off the awning after use, to ensure it’s completely free of sticks, brush, and debris.

Inspect seals and slide-outs

When your slide-out squeaks and squeals, you’ve likely forgotten some important maintenance tasks. Build-up of grime and debris in your slide-out rails can inhibit proper sealing and cause rust and corrosion. To avoid the need to replace worn-out slide-out rails, clean and lubricate the rails twice a year and anytime they make strange sounds or fail to work properly.

Window, roof, and door seals naturally degrade over time and can allow moisture to seep into your RV. Keep your RV seals healthy by inspecting them every six months for wear and tear. Lubricate rubber seals to keep them fresh and pliable. Inspect all seals for cracks, water stains, and deterioration. Have seals removed and replaced if they’re worn out or damaged beyond repair.

Check wheels, tires, and brakes

Your wheels and tires keep you safe on the road. It’s essential to ensure they’re in good shape before every outing with your motorhome. Take these steps to make sure your wheels, tires, and brakes can keep you and your family safe on the road.

  • Keep your tires clean and protected: UV rays can degrade your tires quickly, forcing you to replace them before the tread is worn out. Routinely clean your tires and treat them with a UV protectant. When your RV is in storage or parked for an extended period of time, cover them with RV tire covers.
  • Tighten wheel lug nuts and check tire pressure: A lost wheel or tire blowout could lead to a devastating highway accident. Before every trip, check your lug nuts to ensure they haven’t loosened. Check your tire pressure and adjust as necessary. Both overinflated or underinflated tires create dangerous road conditions.
  • Keep your RV’s brakes maintained: Brake maintenance should be taken care of before your first trip of the season or during spring maintenance tasks. Make sure brakes are working properly and engage as expected. Lubricate the wheel bearings and examine the brakes to ensure you don’t need a replacement before traveling.

Properly winterize your RV

All RVs, campers, and motorhomes in areas where temps will drop below freezing should undergo a complete winterization process before being stored for the winter. Follow these steps to protect your RV during the winter months.

  • Clean your RV’s interior completely. This should include emptying cupboards, removing linens, and towels.
  • Unplug and store appliances.
  • Empty and defrost the fridge and freezer.
  • Inspect your RV for holes or openings and plug them with non-rusting metal dish pads to prevent rodents from getting in.
  • Place dryer sheets or cedar chips inside your RV to deter pests.
  • Drain water from your RV’s plumbing system (water lines, toilets, tanks, hot water heater, etc.) and pump antifreeze into the system.
  • Clean the exterior.
  • Check seals for damage.
  • Close and lock all doors and windows.
  • Apply a fitted cover and tire covers for outdoor storage.

RELATED: Learn more about how to winterize a camper with our in-depth guide.

Maintenance Tips for Specific Types of RVs

Owner sealing up potential leaks as part of her RV maintenance checklist

Recreational vehicles and motorhomes come in all shapes, types, and sizes. The way you care for your RV sometimes depends on what type of RV you own. Some RVs require specialized care to stay in the best shape possible.

Jump to a specific type in this section:

Maintenance tips for a motorhome RV

Large motorhomes are often used for long periods of time without travel. This means you’ll need to perform general maintenance tasks while your RV is stationary. Use this checklist for routine stationary maintenance of your motorhome.

  • Change your oil every six months even without travel.
  • Unplug your rig from the power pedestal and run your appliances with a generator for about 20 minutes every three weeks to circulate gas and avoid sludge buildup in the generator.
  • Slide-out seals are continually exposed when your RV is in stationary use. Check the seals every four months to ensure they’re not deteriorating.
  • Your RV toilet includes a rubber seal to keep a little water in the bowl after you flush. The seal keeps odors from your black tank from seeping into the RV. This seal should be conditioned to last longer without replacement with a seal conditioner that is simply poured into the bowl and left to sit for 8 hours while not in use.

Maintenance tips for a travel trailer

Travel trailers are those you pull behind your vehicle. They include fifth-wheel trailers, teardrop trailers, and expandable trailers. These trailers have specific needs related to hooking up to a vehicle and safe towing. When taking care of general maintenance of your travel trailer, add these tasks to your additional maintenance list.

  • Clean the exterior and check for any damage: Towable RVs are subject to a lot of potential damage during travel. After each trip, it’s essential to clean your RV’s exterior and search for any damage that has occurred. A short trip can help you put everything in use and make sure no repairs are needed before embarking on a long vacation.
  • Check brake and tail lights: Your towable trailer depends on your vehicle and RV wiring for fully working brake and trailer lights. It’s essential to know these lights are working to avoid expensive tickets and keep other motorists safe on the road around you. Inspect your RV wiring at the point where it gathers together to connect to your vehicle to ensure there are no cracked or frayed wires, and all wires are properly connected. If you notice any damage, wrap the wires with electrical tape, then take the trailer to a repair shop as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
  • Check the hitch and towing parts: All parts where your RV connects with your vehicle must be kept clean and properly maintained to ensure proper towing balance and connection are maintained. Before your trip take the time to clean and lubricate your trailer hitches, bearings, seals, and trailer couplers.

Maintenance tips for a pop-up camper

Pop-up campers are composed of pliable materials that allow them to expand into a living space while not traveling. These materials require special care to maintain good condition. Use these tips for specialized pop-up camper maintenance.

  • Clean the canvas: Pop-up campers either have fabric or vinyl canvas. Cleaning this canvas is essential to extend its lifespan. After use and before closing your canvas, it’s essential to remove all dust and debris from your canvas. Ensure the canvas is completely dry before folding after use. Periodically give your canvas a thorough cleaning by gently scrubbing with a bleach-free cleaner and a soft scrub brush. Waterproof the canvas as often as needed to ensure water beads off the surface.
  • Condition the vinyl: When it’s time for spring maintenance, or after a long trip, it’s time to clean and condition your vinyl. Make sure your camper’s vinyl is pulled taut and scrub it gently to remove all dirt and grime. After vinyl surfaces are completely dry, condition the surface with a vinyl protectant.
  • Check and grease the roof lift system: Roof systems vary from one RV to the next. For proper maintenance, you’ll need to consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions. Maintaining this essential part of your pop-up camper is vital to allow use. Begin by crawling under the camper to inspect the crank, cable, and cable spool. Ensure there is no debris in the system and grease any fittings.

Annual RV Maintenance Checklist

While some maintenance tasks are designed to prepare for a single trip, annual maintenance is designed to prepare your RV for the complete travel season. After taking your RV out of storage or before your first trip of the year, complete this checklist to be sure your RV is prepared for travel and eliminate potential damage.

  • Clean your RV’s exterior
  • Check for water leaks or damage
  • Inspect the RV flooring for any rot or water damage
  • Sanitize the fresh water system
  • Waterproof, wax, or treat your RV’s exterior as necessary to prevent damage from harsh weather and UV rays
  • Inspect all fire alarms, smoke detectors, and safety equipment
  • Check the wheels, lug nuts, and tire pressure
  • Test the brakes, taillights, and brake lights
  • Check the battery
  • Change the oil and filters
  • Inspect and sanitize the holding tanks
  • Change air conditioner and heating system filters
  • Inspect and condition hitching and towing parts
  • Lubricate seals
  • Test the slide-out and lubricate the rails if necessary
  • Document your maintenance processes, so you can stay on schedule

RV Maintenance Schedule

Owner inspecting his RV's air conditioning system

Like any vehicle, your RV maintenance needs depend on how much you use and travel with your RV. Some tasks need to be completed yearly (whether you travel or not). Others are designed to keep you and your companions safe during every trip. Use these mini-checklists to determine which tasks should be completed and how often they should be performed.

Things to check and maintain every time you travel in your RV:

  • Check the wheels and tires.
  • Check headlights and brake lights.
  • Clear roof of debris.
  • Retract slides and awnings before travel.
  • Unplug appliances and secure loose furniture before travel.
  • Disconnect hoses and connections before travel.
  • Check the battery.

Things to check and maintain monthly on your RV:

  • Check all seals.
  • Run the generator under a load.
  • Top off batteries with distilled water if needed.
  • Vacuum AC/heat vents.
  • Check the engine for signs of leaks and loose clamps or hoses.
  • Test safety equipment.

Things to check and maintain every season or every three months on your RV:

  • Deep clean the interior and exterior of your RV.
  • Check and clean seals.
  • Tighten battery cables.
  • Check window and hardware operation.
  • Inspect the slide-out for a proper seal and lubricate the rails.
  • Change the smoke detector battery.
  • Clean AC filters.
  • Wax and treat exterior materials with protection.
  • Examine tires and have them replaced if necessary.
  • Change oil and filters.

Things to check and maintain once a year on your RV:

  • Have the roof joints and seals checked by a qualified technician.
  • Have your brakes professionally serviced.
  • Sanitize holding tanks.
  • Perform winterization tasks before storage.
  • Schedule professional repairs and replacements as needed.
  • Document maintenance tasks.

Average Costs for RV Maintenance

The cost of maintaining your RV depends on many factors including how much you travel, how you store your RV, the type of RV you own, and unexpected circumstances out of your control. There are certain items you’ll have to replace routinely, like tires and other RV components subject to wear over time. Additionally, an older RV requires more maintenance than a new one. Still, there are some costs you can depend on, and taking care of as many maintenance costs as possible can help you save money. Here’s a breakdown of some expected maintenance costs for every type of RV.

Cost to insure your RV

While insurance doesn’t technically fall under maintenance costs, it’s typically required if you’re making payments on your RV. It can also help you cover unexpected repair and maintenance costs. Your yearly RV insurance costs could vary widely depending on your location and the type of motorhome you own. Prices generally range between $1,000 and $4,000 per year to insure an RV.

Cost to store your RV

The way you store your vehicle is an important part of your maintenance routine. Indoor storage can help you maintain your RV’s condition and avoid the costs of prevention and repair costs you’ll face when you store your RV outdoors. Storage costs vary from state to state and the type of storage you choose. You could pay a little under $100 a month for outdoor storage of a small boat or as much as $1,000 or more for indoor storage of a Class A motorhome. However, outdoor storage often includes additional protective costs to take into consideration (like covers and tire covers). You may be able to find more cost-effective storage methods by avoiding traditional storage facilities. Neighbor provides RV storage for less than 50% of the cost of traditional facilities and includes insurance while your RV is in storage.

General maintenance costs on an RV

Having all your maintenance tasks performed by a professional could quickly get expensive. However, if you take care of your routine maintenance, you’ll only have to cover the costs of supplies. Maintaining a Class A motorhome can cost as much as $600 per year. While this may sound expensive, repairs cost a lot more. Additionally, you face considerable savings taking care of the labor on your own.

  • The cost can be up to $300 or more to have an RV professionally detailed .
  • Labor costs for engine maintenance and repair can be between $129 and $189 per hour.

Your RV is an expensive investment and keeping up with maintenance tasks can help you extend the lifespan of your motorhome. No matter what type of RV you own, routine maintenance is an important responsibility of ownership. Taking care of your RV saves you considerable costs on repairs and replacements due to wear and tear on an unprotected vehicle. Additionally, keeping your RV in top shape helps keep you and your family safe on the road and allows you to enjoy the use of your RV for many years to come.

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