RV Maintenance 101: What’s The Big Deal?
RV maintenance is constantly being thrown in our faces. YouTubers and RV full-timers race to create videos about maintenance tips and tricks. There are Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts about RV maintenance, or the results from the lack thereof. There are memes with clever and often horrendous results shown when RV maintenance is ignored. Every RV magazine, TV show, podcast, and newsletter seems to have something to say about RV maintenance.
Why is RV maintenance important?
This is a question often asked by new RVers. The thought of daunting RV maintenance may even scare away prospective buyers. The RV service and maintenance a dealer performs, or doesn’t, can often make or break an RV dealership’s reputation. Nothing decreases the value of an RV more than lack of maintenance, not only in the aesthetic and practical, but on paper as well. The resale value of a well-maintained RV, whether it’s a low-end pop-up or a motorhome the size of a bus, rises and falls with proper, documented, maintenance.
Understanding what makes up an RV helps us to put the maintenance question in perspective. It’s easy to say, for example, that it’s a “house on wheels.” If we look at a good size travel trailer or fifth wheel, this is pretty accurate. You’ll have a kitchen with all the related appliances, and at least one bathroom with the same. You’ll have bedrooms, living rooms, furnaces, air conditioners, and water heaters as well. You may even have a washer and dryer.
RV maintenance is a lot to keep track of
Now it starts to get interesting. Unlike your house, you have a sewage management system with black and gray tanks that have to be emptied and flushed. In addition to an incoming water source similar to what your house might have, you have a water pumping system and a fresh water tank that your regular sticks-and-bricks home probably does not have.
Let’s talk about the roof. You have a roof on your home. It’s typically shingled and when it’s new you don’t think about it for the next 15 years unless there is a hail storm. Yet the roof on your RV must be inspected frequently for leaks and damage. The roof on your RV is subject to tree and branch infiltration that your home roof will never see. The roof on your RV moves, often at 60mph or more. It requires a whole new level of attention than your roof at home.
Thanks in small part to Ben Franklin, we have electricity in our homes and RVs. At home, you’ll have AC voltage, usually a 120 VAC system, with a leg for 240 VAC to handle a clothes dryer or oven. On the RV, we have our incoming AC voltage from the campground pedestal, yet there is another entirely separate 12-volt system as well.
Bridging those two is an inverter system that your home most certainly will not have. Nor will your home have a bank of batteries that go with that 12-volt system, and must be charged by some form of charging system, either separate or integrated with the inverter system. Your home may have natural gas for cooking, heat, or hot water, which equates fairly well with the propane system in your RV. We’ll call that an even swap, though filling and maintaining the propane tank on your RV adds to the mix.
Even getting in and out of the RV is different than at home. In the RV, you’ll have a set of electric or mechanical steps that move and often break down. Those stairs are often covered by some sort of awning that your RV probably has.
While an awning can equate in some ways to a patio umbrella at home, the comparison stops there. RV awnings can get stuck if not properly maintained and they can be damaged if not retracted in time during a strong wind. Both of those conditions can stymie your travel plans and keep you stationary. When was the last time your patio umbrella kept you from getting to work?
Homes on wheels
Did we mention that this RV, your home on wheels, has wheels? It’s unlikely your home does. If you do have a manufactured home then perhaps so, however, rest assured those wheels were chocked and blocked long ago and probably have siding or a deck around them, you aren’t going anywhere in that home. In contrast, your RV not only has wheels and tires, they must be carefully monitored and maintained, or you won’t get anywhere safely or successfully.
Once you get to your destination, you have to level-up at the campground. Manual, electric, and hydraulic leveling systems have been developed for this purpose, and don’t equate to anything you might have at home. It’s just another item that needs maintenance. Neither do you have anything at home that compares to the slide-out system your RV probably has. Here again whether electric or hydraulic, this unique system to enlarge the living space in your RV is another item absent from your home, but present on your RV maintenance list.
Don’t forget the RV generator maintenance
Lastly, many of those travel trailers and fifth wheels have a generator to contend with. A generator at home for when the power goes out is a nice feature, but most of us don’t have one. But you do, RVer. It’s typically wedged into an inconvenient storage bay where you would rather have put a cooler or a canoe. It’s like having an oversized lawnmower crammed into one corner of your RV. This little guy is going to need fuel, oil, filters, and yes….maintenance.
Once you’ve wrapped your head around all of that, think of the motorhome folks. Not only do they have all of the same RV maintenance concerns just mentioned, but they have to worry about the heavy-duty truck that’s been attached to their rolling home. Now there is an additional engine, transmission, and chassis to worry about. There are more wheels, which means more tires. There is a windshield (which cracks), brakes (which wear out), and all of the other components one might have to deal with when owning a large truck.
In this case, failure to maintain the truck portion of this elaborate “camper” means that the camper, and you, are staying home. Or, more likely, you are at home while it’s in the shop getting the overdue maintenance or repairs it needs.
Is maintenance a big deal? You bet it is. An RV is a collage of products that need to be maintained and attended to. The typical use-it-briefly-and-store-it lifecycle that most RVs go through make it that much more critical that proper and timely maintenance is performed, even in the off-season when you are not using it. Yep, it’s January and your feet are up on the fireplace while it keeps your toes and hot cocoa warm. Then you remember it’s time to exercise your generator. This means trudging out to your rig in the cold, firing up the generator (hopefully it has gas), and running it for two hours under load.
Failure to do so regularly will almost guarantee generator problems down the road. Didn’t feel like sanitizing your fresh water tank? You will the next time, after your trip gets cut short due to everyone falling ill. Neglected to check the hydraulic fluid or lube the slide rails? They’ll be plenty of folks to remind you at the campground while they try to help you push your slide in so you can drive home, or to the repair shop.
How to keep track of RV maintenance
If it feels like this picture has been painted a bit dark, remember that a well-maintained RV is a joy to own and operate. There is nothing quite like hitting the road, enjoying the sites, and sitting around the campfire. Millions of acres of beautiful scenery await. Taking the time to keep your RV maintained well means you’ll have the time and ability to get out and enjoy it all.
How in the world does one keep up with all of the items and maintenance tasks required? For years, folks turned to notebooks and paper maintenance logs. Later, detailed spreadsheets found their place.
Now, in the modern era, cloud-based online tools such as RV LIFE Maintenance are the new standard. With a program like RV LIFE Maintenance, you can keep track of every single maintenance item for your RV, as well as two additional vehicles such as your tow car and a motorcycle or four-wheeler. You’ll also receive emails, based on your maintenance schedule, to remind you when maintenance tasks need to be completed. Plus, you’ll have a great source of data and maintenance history for any prospective buyers, should you choose to sell your RV.
With RV LIFE Maintenance, you’ll have an online repository to store all of your maintenance records and invoices, kept in one easy location, accessible anywhere from any device with a web browser. Having accurate maintenance records also protects you from unnecessary repairs. You can turn “this should probably be replaced just to be safe” into, “I see you just had this replaced recently, we’ll leave that alone.”
Maintaining your RV and all of its related systems is a big deal. Regardless of how you choose to keep track of and stick to a maintenance schedule, make sure you do. You’ll be safer, happier, and will retain a higher value for your RV. RV LIFE Maintenance is part of the RV LIFE Pro suite of camping tools.