This post was written by Brenda Puckett of Queen Bee RV.
Are you a current RV owner who has heard about the wait time to get RV repair work done these days? It can be weeks or even months! Do you own an RV or two that you rent out to others and need to learn about some simple day-to-day checklists and maintenance tips to keep your fleet in operation? Are you a Girl Camper with a little anxiety when it comes to keeping repair needs to a minimum and prolonging the need to seek outside assistance?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, this blog is for you!
As a Certified RV Inspector, I get asked often for advice on how to repair or troubleshoot all kinds of issues on RVs including some that are probably a result of either owner neglect or simply not knowing how easy it is to keep these things from ever happening in the first place.
That said, I’ve put together 7 of my favorite simple and super effective RV maintenance tips and checklist items to help you keep money in your wallet and your rig out of the repair shop.
Let’s take a look at a few ideas that most anybody can tackle on their own with some common tools that you might already have on hand and that can be completed on a regular basis without a ton of hassle.
Three categories that I will address are:
- Life Safety — because these are always on our minds especially if you own a rental business or travel solo or with your family.
- Big Ticket — these are the more costly items that we want to try to prolong their life expectancy, for example, your air conditioner.
- Headache and hassle — the ones that are not fun to repair or you will spend a pretty penny getting it done. And, I’ll give you a hint — one of them rhymes with slack bank!
Let’s start with some life safety items.
1. Tire pressure and tire covers
Tires get mentioned in just about every podcast, blog, and magazine at some point for several reasons. They are what keeps us safe and rolling down the road to our destination, can be costly to replace, and quite often are the most neglected. If you have ever experienced a blowout while traveling in or towing your RV, you know it can be terrifying. I’ve had two blowouts at different times — one on the country backroads of Oklahoma and another on a 4 lane interstate during rush hour. Neither is anything I hope to repeat soon! Both were caused by improper tire pressure and weight management issues that I didn’t understand early on in my RV adventures.
The first and easiest thing to do is to take a pressure reading on each tire every time you drive or tow your RV. Why? Under-inflated and overinflated tires are the leading cause of blowouts and tire failure. Check your tire pressure when they are cold — hot air expands the tire and can give an inaccurate reading.
Where do you find the proper PSI for your RV tires? The RV manufacturer’s data plate on the driver’s side front panel of your trailer or the chassis manufacturer data sticker inside the driver’s door of your motorized unit. The manufacturer has calculated the proper PSI reading for your specific rig. Air up your tires as needed to reach that recommended PSI, not below and not above.
Pro tip: Don’t forget your spare! Keep it properly inflated, too. The only time you will need it is when you really need it.
The other simple maintenance item that you can do for your tires is to keep them covered. The enemy here is the sun. UV rays can wreak havoc on the sidewalls of your RV tires. Any time you have it parked, make it a habit of slapping on those tire covers as part of your set-up checklist. You can find RV tire covers ranging from $25-$75 on Amazon or most RV supplier websites. Confirm that they are rated for blocking UV rays.
Other important life safety items to include on your regular maintenance checklist are your detectors. That means smoke, LP, and carbon monoxide. Test them monthly and if they are battery-operated, as are most smoke detectors, change them annually or bi-annually. Your LP and CO detectors are usually powered by your 12-volt coach battery electrical system. So on that note, keeping your coach battery fully charged while the RV is in use is extremely important to the safety of all occupants.
Never disconnect the detectors or cut the wires if they are beeping. Reasons the alarm is beeping — a dangerous gas has been detected, the power source is not sufficient, or the detector has reached the end of its life expectancy.
Did you know that your RV detectors also have an expiration date? As an RV Inspector, I recommend that these be replaced at the 5-7 year mark whether they are in normal operating condition or not. These are simple life-saving measures to give you peace of mind for yourself, your family, or your renters.
Since I just mentioned the battery, let’s round out this category with battery maintenance. This is referring to the “coach” battery that runs the 12 volt systems in the RV like those detectors mentioned above. The deep-cycle, lead-acid batteries do need some attention if you want to get maximum life expectancy for your purchase.
Keeping the coach battery charged is an important part of battery health. This can be accomplished by staying plugged into shore power when possible, as the converter will be charging them during this time. When unplugged for an event like boondocking, make every attempt to not let the battery dip below 50% charge. When storing in the off-season, consider keeping the battery on a charger/monitor to maintain that status.
The lead-acid batteries have water fill wells that must be monitored and kept at the appropriate levels. When filling, always use distilled water. Ideally, your lead-acid batteries can last 3-5 years with proper maintenance.
Next, let’s focus on those bigger ticket items that all owners dread repairing or replacing.
Uninvited water intrusion is one of the sneakiest of enemies we face in RVs and the roof is the first place water will find to wreak havoc. It can’t always be easy to detect, and when you finally do, it’s often too late. As an inspector, I have observed water-rot at extreme levels on the decking of RV roofs, and not only is this repair a bear and costly, it can result in even more damage to the interior of the RV — like walls, cabinetry, and carpet.
Always start with safety when accessing your roof: confirm that your roof is the fully walkable type, never climb the ladder attached to your RV without inspection, crawling on your hands and knees is my preferred method of traversing the roof, and this item must be performed when the roof is completely dry.
After accessing the roof, you are simply observing all of the seams and around each rooftop component. Think about any place that the roof material has been cut into by the manufacturer. You are looking for tiny holes and gaps, cracks of any size, and sealant that looks aged. Refer to your owner’s manual to confirm the proper sealant to be utilized for your particular RV roof material and apply where needed. Perform this inspection at least twice a year.
Another costly repair item in the RV is the air conditioner. One simple way to keep yours running efficiently is to replace or clean the filter each season. Some AC units have a filter that slides in and out of place which does not need to be replaced, just rinsed off with water. Others have a filter that can be removed and discarded, then replaced with a new one. Those filters look much like the ones used for a window AC unit in a home and can be found at the RV supply store or hardware store. Cut the new filter to match the size of the old one and pop it back into place.
Don’t know where your AC filter is located? It’s usually in the overhead supply unit where cold air dumps into the coach or at the return vent and takes a simple screwdriver to reveal. You can also refer to your owner’s manual for the location.
And finally, I have two more tips for items that might not be the most glamorous, yet are a headache and hassle if not maintained.
6. Water pressure regulator
It’s a smart idea to make a water pressure regulator part of your normal set-up routine checklist. One of my Girl Camper friends learned how important it is to use one every time, at every campground. She got quite a fright late one night when the extremely high water pressure at one of our state parks finally blew a plumbing fitting on the outdoor shower, which subsequently blew open the door of the exterior compartment and scared the daylights out of her. She jumped out of bed and ran outdoors, as any of us do if we hear a loud BANG coming from somewhere in the RV, and injured her foot on a metal BBQ pit hiding in the dark. Luckily, it was not a major repair (or injury) and we both love to share that story to express the importance of a water pressure regulator.
In addition to creating a surprise like this one, unchecked water pressure can start weakening the plumbing fittings throughout the RV and the results will be slow leaks that result in future big leaks. And, in places that are not always easy to access! There are simple pressure regulators available for under $10 all of the way up to ones over $100 with adjustable pressure gauges.
7. Black tank
Let’s wrap up this list with a stinky subject — the black water tank! If you are new to RVing, the black tank is where wastewater from your toilet goes. There is always confusion and discussion going on within various RV forums when it comes to the proper use and maintenance of your black tank. What happens if you just ignore it? Will it take care of itself and go away? The answer is no, and if it gets to a place where you have to seek out professional repair or replacement, most technicians charge twice their hourly rate to deal with it. It’s simple to head off trouble before it begins.
First, if you are camping at a site with full utility hookups that include sewer, you want to keep your black tank valve in the “closed” position until it’s time to dump. The black tank works best when it has liquid in there to help break down the solids. If you leave your valve open the whole time you are camping, you have no liquid in there and everything will dry out, including the solids and toilet paper, eventually developing the dreaded poop pyramid. That one is no fun to clean out and expensive to remedy if you have to hire someone to do the dirty work.
Make every attempt to wait until the black tank is about 2/3 full before emptying. Once you have emptied it, you must make it a practice to add some water back into the tank immediately. Again, the liquids remaining in the black tank are what helps it work properly. I have a couple of empty milk jugs strategically located in my stinky slinky compartment that I fill with water to go send down the toilet after emptying the black tank. Some people opt to hold the toilet foot pedal down to fill the bowl a few times and send that water to the black tank for the same results. Follow up with your favorite tank treatment like the liquid brands or the pods similar to the ones used in the washing machine. Reminder, any of those treatments, and especially the powders or pods, need liquid in order to dissolve and do their thing! Water will help break down waste and keep the tank smelling fresher.
Did you find a few ideas here that you can do yourself? These seven items are just the beginning and will help you take control of the inevitable wear and tear on some of your RV systems while saving you time, money, and sanity.
Still a little too overwhelmed?
Don’t worry — there are some solutions!
Girl Campers can learn more about maintaining, troubleshooting, and even repairing their own RVs by attending Girl Camper College at one of our many events held year-round in all corners of the country.
You can also find a Certified RV Inspector, like me, to show you the ropes on www.nriva.org or search for a mobile RV technician in your area. You can even become a Certified RV inspector or technician at the same place I trained — The National RV Training Academy.