Recreational vehicle (RV) life has become all the rage in recent years. Not only do people utilize a variety of RVs to travel and take extended road trips, but they’ve also increasingly become a relatively inexpensive permanent living option.
As prices go up, people are going smaller, and it’s no longer uncommon to see people living in vans, tiny homes, and RVs.
As much as there is fun and convenience that comes with an RV, it can quickly turn into a nightmare if the RV isn’t properly maintained. Like any vehicle, regular maintenance will help keep the RV running efficiently and prevent expensive repairs. Especially while out on a trip, RV maintenance can be a lifesaver.
Here are 11 essential RV maintenance tips to keep your RV in top shape. We’ll also touch briefly on the types of RVs and the maintenance required, saving money on buying an RV, and what it might cost to live in an RV.
Table of Contents
11 RV Maintenance Tips to Keep Your Rig in Top Shape
Tip 1: Buy a Reliable RV
Prevention is the key to avoiding costly repairs as much as possible, and that starts with buying the RV. That’s why the first of the RV maintenance tips we’ll offer is to buy a reliable RV.
Getting an RV is a big decision and likely a high cost as well, and you don’t want to purchase the cheapest option out there. Aside from purchase price, you’ll also need to consider the cost of running the RV and the cost of regular maintenance. So take your time and carefully research the models you’re interested in, including performance and cost of maintenance.
If you are buying a used RV, ensure you run the VIN number to see the vehicle’s history to ensure that you are buying a reasonably good RV. Additionally, ask the seller for maintenance records and other documents related to upkeep so you can gauge how much maintenance you may need to perform and the cost.
Tip 2: Don’t Risk a Flat Battery
Have you ever been stranded with a dead battery? It’s no fun in a car, and even less so in an RV out in the middle of nowhere. Ensuring you have a good battery is an essential factor in maintaining your RV.
Try to keep it fully charged and check the strength of the battery before you head out on a trip. Around five years is the average life of a battery, so make sure you replace it on time.
Tip 3: Inspect the Wastewater System
Many RVs have a wastewater system for storing any bathroom waste you might incur until you’re able to remove it. As unpleasant as it is to think about, you’ll want to ensure that the wastewater system and the tank are in good condition to avoid a rather nasty issue.
RV holding tanks typically contain chemicals to help control odor and break down the waste, so you’ll need to ensure your system has the proper balance. Some chemicals are extremely harsh and can cause problems for septic tanks, so be sure to research which chemicals will be best for your waste removal options.
In addition to all mentioned above, regular wastewater maintenance is critical to deterring blockages and damage to the holding tanks.
Tip 4: Brake Safety
The average weight of an RV is about 10,000 pounds before adding any gear. That’s a lot of weight to try and stop.
Good brakes are critical for the safety of everyone in the RV. Therefore, you must regularly inspect the brakes and brake fluids to ensure they are working properly. Also, make sure you have quality brake pads and fluid and that all is in good working order.
Before heading out on a trip, check with a local mechanic or a brake service to ensure your RV brakes are in good working order.
Tip 5: Check Tire Pressure
RVs aren’t typically used every day, and sitting for long periods of time between usage can cause tires to become deflated or warped and even deteriorate.
As with many RV maintenance tips above, it’s important to check your tires and ensure that they are in good condition and at the proper tire pressure before heading out. Again, your handbook will tell you the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle.
Tip 6: Tighten the Lug Nuts
Lug nuts are another thing that should be checked regularly and tightened if need be. Temperature changes and sitting for long periods of time can affect the tightness and cause problems as you’re heading down the road.
Tip 7: Check Seams and Roofing
Most RVs are stored outside in the elements. Over time, it’s possible that the seams around the RV can come loose or develop damage. A water leak is a nightmare, and it can seriously damage the inside of your RV. Water leaks can wreak havoc on the framework, your AC unit, or other appliances.
Make it part of your regular spring maintenance to inspect the outside of the RV and the roofing for damage or weak spots. If there is a weaker area, you can use sealant to create an airtight seal once more.
Tip 8: Replace the Filters
As with any vehicle, air, fuel, and hydraulic filters should be regularly changed. This maintenance prevents damage to the drivetrain and the engine of your RV, which can be costly to repair.
Tip 9: Perform Oil Changes
Just like any other fuel vehicle, you will need to change the oil regularly. However, this is one of the cheapest maintenance for extending the engine’s life and for the efficient performance of the engine.
Tip 10: Clean and Lubricate Extensions and Other Mechanical Components
Proper lubrication enables the smooth operation of the extension and also prevents it from getting stuck. In addition, keeping extensions and other mechanical components clean and lubricated helps keep the mechanism working and keep the seals secure for performance and fewer repairs.
Tip 11: Check Electrical Connections
Unlike many of the RV maintenance tips discussed, this one is unique when compared to other vehicles.
The mechanics and the starter motor of your vehicle are often linked to the electric circuits of the RV. Ensure all of the electrical connections are correct and there aren’t any exposed wires or compromised areas. Damaged electrical connections can lead to many problems when it comes to keeping every part of your RV working properly.
Types of RVs and Their Maintenance
Now that we’ve covered some essential RV maintenance tips that will keep your vehicle in top shape let’s discuss the types of RVs one could choose to purchase and the typical maintenance required.
These RVs require less maintenance when compared to some of the alternatives because they require another vehicle to tow them and do not involve maintenance and repairs to an engine. Even when you change your car or truck, you can still use the towable travel trailer. However, the appliances still need maintenance, along with the wheels and the frame.
Some people think of this as the archetypal RV; the Winnebago is an example of a Class A RV. They’re huge, and the wheels and body may need some attention and everything stored within. This RV class will typically require the most maintenance due to its size, weight, and all the components involved.
A slightly smaller model, still very suitable for families and easier to drive for many. Class B RVs will require much the same maintenance as a larger model, albeit certain aspects of the RV may not take as much stress as a large RV.
These are normally built on truck chassis. Class C models are smaller and more manageable, and the maintenance may resemble that of a car or truck, but with some added extra considerations for appliances.
The Most Cost-Effective RVs
There are a lot of different RVs out there, and some undeniably require less maintenance than others. Some are also generally cost-effective, and you will get more out of them for the money spent. This applies to things like fuel but also maintenance costs.
The Leisure Travel Vans Serenity is a great option if you want a medium-sized RV with a clever design. There’s a Mercedes chassis on it, and a lot of fiberglass construction makes it cost-effective and lightweight to run. Overall, the smaller to mid-sized RVs, or towable RVs, are likely to be more cost-effective.
The good news is that many modern RVs are becoming a lot more economical compared to older RVs.
Buying a Used RV
The best way to save money on an RV is to buy used, but buying one that’s reliable and cost-effective is not necessarily an easy task.
When buying a used car, you’ll typically check the car’s history to see whether there are any damages, repairs, and other info as well. Similarly, you can also check the VIN number of an RV by using VIN Search tools, which allow you to check the details for an RV and whether or not they have a history that you might be best avoiding.
For example, if the RV has ever been stolen or been involved in a serious accident, you risk there being damage or improper maintenance and potentially losing a lot of money on the vehicle.
As with anything, do your research, be picky, and wait for the right RV to come along for your situation.
Another thing to consider with buying a used RV is the need for improvements. Yes, you’ll typically be able to save thousands of dollars buying used, but you also may spend thousands of dollars getting an RV up to your standards.
Whether an RV needs improvement will depend on the model you buy and the age, and how well it was maintained. If you’re buying a 10-20 years old vehicle and it has a lot of internal appliances and features, then there is every chance that you will have to improve more than just the mechanics of the RV. Some of these vehicles have cooking ranges, toilets, and other appliances. These things have a lifespan, and just like buying an older house, they may need replacement sooner rather than later.
Thus, when you are looking at buying an RV, you don’t just want to check that it is safe and secure to drive; you should also check the appliances to ensure they won’t require a huge amount of improvement right away.
On the other hand, if you’re relatively handy, you may want to consider buying an older RV and fixing it up yourself. Plenty of people have converted vans, buses, and other vehicles into glamorous living spaces with sweat equity.
The Average Life of an RV
The average car lasts 200,000 or about 12 years. How do RVs compare?
There have been a few different studies about how long an RV or “motorhomes” can last. They generally point to a lifespan of either 20 years or 200,000 miles, whichever of these milestones is hit first. Unfortunately, not many can withstand the pressure after 200,000 miles, so this is another factor to consider while looking to possibly purchase an RV or deciding on maintaining your existing RV.
For example, if your vehicle is still running, but you’re worried that it might not run well past 200,000 miles, you might not want to perform major maintenance like changing the internal setup of the vehicle.
It’s also true that regular, quality maintenance gives you the best chance to extend the lifespan of your RV and prevent it from an early grave. The better you look after the mechanical elements of the vehicle, the more likely it is to last you a long time. Getting your RV regularly serviced by a mechanic makes it likely that you may even surpass 200,000 miles, as many cars do.
Of course, the average life will vary hugely depending on make and model, and you might get lucky and have a vehicle that never seems to need work done. Do your research and read reviews of the models you’re considering to see what current owners think and how hardy the vehicle type is.
Costs of Living in RV
Some people permanently live in their RV in a stationary spot, while others find that they can spend extended periods of time traveling. No matter which route you’re considering, it is important to work out living costs to ensure that this lifestyle will work for you.
One RV enthusiast shared their living costs per month, and it came out to be roughly $200 for insurance plus $400 for gas and maintenance. On top of this, you have food costs and the possible costs of extra fuel for generators you might need for power. Of course, the RV size will impact how much fuel is used, and insurance is quite a unique calculation based on your driving history, so it is hard to work out exactly what it will cost.
Before deciding to live or travel permanently in an RV, it is best to seek out those who have done it or are currently doing it to get a better idea. Dr. Brenda Uekert is the founder of the Gutsy Women Club and is currently traveling around the country in her RV. Michelle at Making Sense of Cents has also traveled extensively and lived in an RV. Additionally, you can learn about living in a van and everything you need to know to get started.
If you’re a current RV owner, another option to consider is to take some extended trips in your RV to see if you like it and get a better idea of the costs.
Nobody really likes Maintaining their vehicle. It’s no fun to spend time and money on things that don’t give you immediate joy. But, regular maintenance, however annoying, is the best way to help ensure your RV is ready to go when you’re ready to get out and have some fun without burdening you with more expensive repairs.
Even if you need to pay a bit more for a mechanic to help you out, many of these RV maintenance tips can easily be done yourself and are well worth it in the long run.
Keeping your RV in good shape will help you get the most out of the vehicle for years to come.