We all know what a valuable investment your RV is. And, of course, there’s the cost of maintenance — or worse, the repair costs if you let your regular RV maintenance fall by the wayside.
Fortunately, RV maintenance and repair are some of the easiest costs of RV ownership to defray. Namely, by doing as much as possible yourself. This is so important because of the rate of growth in the RV industry has outpaced the growth of trained repair technicians. In fact, the RVIA estimates that each certified RV tech is responsible for servicing 658 RVs.
What does this mean for us RV users? Possibly long waits to get maintenance performed. When you want to use your RV, you want it to be ready. And if you are a full-time RVer, having service done can really be inconvenient if you have to wait for it, or even worse give up your home.
Start with these preventive maintenance basics, and you’ll get more familiar with your RV and more confident in working on it. That may lead to tackling bigger projects and saving even more money.
If you’d like to have easy to follow video tutorials for these tasks and more, check out Fix It Yourself, a self-guided online course where certified RV tech Ed Wilcox walks you through all the steps you need to know to properly maintain your rig and fix problems when they come up.
Create a Schedule
The best way to take care of your RV is to create a preventive maintenance schedule. If you purchase a new RV, you’ll get a big bag of books. That is because aside for the structure of the RV itself, just about every component was made by someone else. For example, we have an Arctic Fox Fifth Wheel made by Northwood Manufacturing, the refrigerator is a Norcold by Dometic, the stovetop & oven is a Furrion, the entry steps are made by MorRyde, the air conditioner is a Coleman, and so on.
The only way to know what preventive maintenance needs to be performed is to read these documents. If you purchased your RV used, you can find just about any manual online. Each manual typically includes a preventive maintenance schedule. We made a master schedule using Google Sheets. You could also add the items to your calendar and set reminders so you don’t forget.
First, we’ll discuss the regular maintenance that you should perform monthly on your house batteries. There are a couple of different types of batteries that you may encounter in an RV, lead acid (flooded or AGM/gel) and lithium. Since lithium batteries require pretty much zero upkeep, we’re going to discuss lead acid here. If you’re interested to know more about lithium batteries and why we choose to convert to them, click here to read about our power upgrade.
Regardless of the type of lead acid battery you have, flooded or gel, it is important to know that you should never discharge them below a 50% charge. If you do, your batteries will lose energy carrying capacity. A few other things you need to do include:
- Maintain water levels in flooded-cell batteries. The least expensive (and therefore most common) type of lead acid battery is called flooded-cell. Over time, flooded-cell batteries lose water with each charge cycle, and this water needs to be replenished. You must use distilled water to help reduce the formation of sulfate crystals when the battery plates are exposed to air. You should check the water level at least once per month.
- Clean battery terminals. Typically a wire brush is all that is needed to perform this task, however, you can also use a mixture of baking soda and water or a commercial battery contact cleaning product.
- Perform maintenance even when stored.Lead acid batteries self-discharge even when not in use. Be sure to keep an eye on this or set up a trickle charger. If you don’t keep your RV at home, it might be easier to at least remove the house batteries and take them home with you. This makes it simpler to check the charge, fluid level, etc.
Motorized RVs and larger fifth wheels will come with an on-board generator. Many RVers choose to purchase portable generators for their travel trailers and smaller fifth wheels. Regardless of what type you have there are two main things you can do to keep it running well.
- Exercise it.Your generator should be run on 50% load for 2 hours each month.
- Change the oil, filter, and fluids.You can purchase a kit with everything you need for your particular generator like this one on Amazon.
When it comes to RV water tanks, let’s first talk about getting water into your RV. You’ll either fill your fresh water tank and use your water pump for water when traveling, or will be at a campground where you can be hooked up to “city water.” No matter which method, you’ll want to have two very important pieces of equipment at the water faucet: a water pressure regulator and a water filtration system. Click here to read more about the importance of water filtration and to see our DIY water filter system.
- Fresh Water Tank –You’ll want to sanitize this periodically. We do it at least twice per year. The simplest way is to bypass the water heater, and add ¼ cup bleach per gallon of water or one ounce of bleach for every eight gallons. Allow it to sit for 12 hours before draining. Then run fresh water through your tap until you can’t smell bleach any longer.
- Gray Water Tank –This is the waste water holding tank for the sinks and showers in your RV. Since the waste water already has soap in it, there isn’t much maintenance required. The most important thing you can do is have a drain catcher for hair in the shower and food particles in the kitchen sink. This will keep it from getting clogged and to prevent odors.
- Black Water Tank –This where the waste from flushing the toilet goes. The most important thing you can add to this tank is water. You need to be sure you have some water in the tank before using it the first time, then be sure to use plenty of water when flushing. This will ensure that everything flows out of the tank when dumping. Also, never leave the black tank release valve open even when hooked up to sewer. This is what causes the dreaded poo pyramid. Click here to see our step by step process for maintaining an odor free black tank.
There are several things you can do to maintain your tires:
- Slow down. Many RV (and especially trailer) tires are not rated to be driven over 65 mph. Check your owner’s manual to verify the maximum speed recommended for your tires.
- Conduct a visual inspection regularly. Check the tread and sidewalls for wear and cracks.
- Keep them properly inflated. This is so important that we use a Tire Pressure Monitoring System to monitor the pressure and temperature while driving. We feel so strongly about it, we have an entire article dedicated to this topic. You can read it here.
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