Are You Maintaining Your RV Engine Oil?
We are all aware of the importance of an RV oil change. Your RV engine oil is its lifeline. It allows for smooth operation and must be monitored for optimal performance.
Engine oils perform a very important role in lubricating moving engine components. Low oil levels or dirty or contaminated oil can lead to eventual or even immediate engine failure!
All manufacturers will have a recommended schedule and oil type, and it’s important to follow a regular RV oil change schedule.
When do you need to get an RV oil change?
The frequency of oil changes will depend on a few different factors. This includes the number of miles traveled combined with engine run time (think idling time for various reasons), the driving environment including towing vehicles, mountainous roads, or extreme temperatures, and engine age and condition.
The average suggested time between oil changes under normal circumstances is no more than 5,000 miles for traditional oils, and can be up to 15,000 miles for full synthetic oils.
Again, this won’t apply to everyone due to the factors mentioned above. If you tow with your RV or travel in areas that require your engine to work harder, more frequent oil changes are required.
Oil breaks down over time as it is heated and circulated through an engine. The harder an engine is working, the faster it will break down.
Older worn engines often don’t run as clean and efficient, which will limit the life of your oil as well. Engine oil will darken as it is exposed to sludge and impurities. This can be seen by checking the level on your dipstick. Dirty oil is better than no oil, but it should be changed.
If any of the above factors are present in your RV, consider shorter oil change intervals. Perhaps you will be doing a change every 2,500 miles if needed. Oil changes are cheap insurance, so more frequent is always better.
Additional things to consider
When checking your oil level, also look at the color and condition of the oil. Dark oil is dirty, and this may shorten your time between changes. Be especially concerned about oil with a milky appearance as this signals engine coolant is likely contaminating your oil and should be dealt with immediately.
Keep in mind if your oil level is consistently low, oil changes won’t help this. It is important to keep levels topped up, but simply adding more new oil won’t fix this problem. Further issues are causing this drop in oil and should be taken care of.
If your RV is only used periodically each year and mileage stays below the suggested schedule, it is still a good idea to change your oil out. Moisture accumulates in sitting engines and this can also be problematic for engine oil.
An RV oil change twice a year is recommended regardless of mileage, just to be safe.
Should you use synthetic oil?
Synthetic oils are considerably more expensive than traditional oil, but are they worth it?
For many years, millions of vehicles operated with traditional oil without issue. Today, engines are more complex, and some manufacturers recommend synthetic. For warranty reasons, it is important to adhere to these recommendations.
If you travel a lot of miles, tow a vehicle, or are in extreme temperatures or hilly areas, synthetic is probably worth considering. The cost per change is higher, but fewer RV oil changes will be required.
Should you do your RV oil change yourself?
Oil changes are a pretty simple project in most cases. If you choose to do it yourself, here are a few things to consider.
You will need some specific tools and items to perform an RV oil change yourself.
- Drain pan
- Oil filter wrench
- Wrench or socket for the oil pan drain plug
The job can be a little messy, so consider what oily hands or some oil in your driveway is worth to you.
A big factor to consider is where you will dispose of the used oil. Once drained, you will need to have a large drum or container to transfer the oil to, or fill your now empty oil jugs.
Proper disposal of engine oil is needed. Before starting, check your area for locations you can take used oil to for discarding.
The cost of an RV oil change is pretty reasonable, so consider the value of your time. The cost of the oil and filter are there whether you do it yourself or not, so consider your time in the cost.
In the case of Class A diesel motorhomes, oil changes can be pricey, but many are afraid to try it themselves. The steps are basically the same, so if you do want to save some money, it is doable for most RVers.
Track your RV maintenance
Oil changes are the most important maintenance you will do on your RV. Track your RV mileage and monitor your driving conditions to ensure you are keeping your engine oil in top condition.
Make sure you keep track of all your RV maintenance and repairs with an online tool such as RV LIFE Maintenance from RV LIFE. Not only can you keep all of your documents in one place, but you’ll also receive timely reminders when maintenance is due to help you avoid costly repairs and potentially serious accidents.
Kendall lives with his wife and their two cocker spaniels full-time in their RV currently in Mexico. He is one half of DashboardDrifters.com and the co-founder of RVSpotDrop, a web service for full-time RVers.
Warren Anderson says
Oil changes on big class A diesels are 25,000 miles or one year whichever comes first.
Excuse me?! Have you ever looked at diesel oil after 1000-2000 miles. The carbon soot and chemicals from diesel combustion are very damaging to a Diesel engine. Especially when not driven regularly like a motorhome. I never run more than 12k even with synthetic. 25000 is way to much.
Robert Davis says
Warren, you might want to recheck your engine manual. I’ve been around large RV diesels for the last 20 years and never heard of letting one go 25K miles.
If this is correct, please let me know what brand engine you have as I would like to get one in my next RV.
Jeff Matthews says
Older engines, like in our 1980 Pace Arrow with the Dodge 440 should NEVER use synthetic oil. Anything old enough to have a “flat tappet” (pushrods and rocker arms) needs the extra lubricating additives found in diesel spec oil. Synthetic oil is made for newer engines with very tight tolerances and overhead valves. Older engines will not like it and wear quicker and probably weep oil at every opportunity.
dont forget to clean the surface the filter seats against. the plug is magnetic to catch any metal filings that may be in your oil system from normal wear & tear!
Tom Graydon says
When using a high quality synthetic oil you failed to mention that oil samples can be tested and tell you when you need a filter or complete oil change. This in my experience has reduced the overall cost of oil changes in my diesel motorhome.
Alden Munson says
With all due respect, recommendations for frequent oil change are unsupportable. Before we humans ever get our hands on oil, it has spent millions of years at extreme temperatures, under extreme pressures, diluted with fuels like diesel, gasoline, kerosene, and with acids, etc. And, it is an ecologically unsound practice!
Cat, manufacturer of the engine of my former MH, specified that oil be changed only after a certain amount of fuel had been consumed – leading to an oil change interval measured in many tens of thousands of miles.
Various vested interests are conspiring to produce a self serving, ecologically unsound practice.
Time to change this “religious” practice.
Bob Wilson says
Shop around! RV dealers will be more costly for oil changes. Many quick oil or local repair shops will be half the price, just be sure you feel comfortable with the mechanics.
Hendrik Westerneng says
I like all the recommendations,very clear and simple
I just take my drain pan into the parts store and they empty it.- No need to transfer it to the original containers. They also take the empty’s and the filter. If you change oil yourself consider a Fumitomo valve which replaces the drain plug. This makes the job a little less messy.
recommending changing engine oil twice a year never made sense to me. Once a year or 5,000 miles, whichever comes first, should be more than enough with modern oils.
Some additional hints. Changing your own filter gets you personally in touch and familiarization with your coach. Allows you to look for general condition of underside of coach for other maintenance needs while you are under there. Place the oil drain catch container on a metal catch tray…about 3ft x 4ft x about 3/4″ deep (available at auto supply stores)……beneath the oil drain plug and filter area to catch any spill for easier cleanup and to avoid oil on your driveway. Be sure the catch container has sufficient volume for the oil your engine holds……..need a really, really big one if changing a diesel engine that may hold upwards of 25-27 quarts!!!! For vertically oriented oil filter as featured in video, I usually fill the new oil filter with oil prior to screwing on for faster oil system equalization. For the type of filter featured in the video, typically screw new filter on until the rubber gasket just makes light contact, then turn 3/4 to 1 revolution further….usually printed on the filter. Be sure when the filter is removed that the old filter rubber gasket does not remain attached to the engine. Wipe/clean with a non-linting shop towel the filter gasket sealing surface on the engine. Once oil stops draining, replace the oil drain plug torquing to the correct specification. Place full amount of required oil into the engine; replace the fill cap. Start engine allowing to warm to full operating temperature; check filter gasket and drain plug points for oil leaks while running. Shut engine off, let it sit for 5 minutes, and check oil level, topping off as required to be at the full level. Record the mileage and date on the filter with a permanent marker for future confirmation. Record same data in your maintenance log. You do have one, right?!?!?! And, DO NOT start your engine with the oil drained from the engine…….some people actually have after being distracted/called away from the job at hand.
as a retired former tech…. THis post is the BEST of the entire discussion.
I change the oil in my bicycle at least every 100,000 miles and it could go another 100k easily 🙂
Terry H says
I am 73, have worked as auto mechanic, auto parts sales, aviation electrician, and DIY mechanic, so have seen SLUDGE AND GRIT, and stuck rings, worn cams, etc. Dad even bought a car from traveling Salesman in 60s thinking he wud care well for his car, as his source of income depended on it…. but first oil change (50k) showed he had NOT changed oil, and had to use screwdriver to get oil to drain after plug removed. Recent leaky gasket changes on a T&C V6 FWD, 134k miles, (history of 3k-5k oil changes) and amazed at how clean upper valve train was, even more amazed at ZERO GRIT/GRIME IN OIL PAN. 5w20/ 5w30 High mileage DINO Oil had about 5k on it, and very, very black, but still felt super slippery; no evidence of grit, or fuel dilution. TODAY’S OIL, Dino, blend or SYN are totally awesome compared to oils of the 50s-70s.