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RV Maintenance Essential for the Long Haul

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

After a house, a new motorhome is probably the largest investment most of us will ever make, and it can take many years to pay off. But the good news is the lifetime of a coach is determined mainly by how it is operated, stored and maintained – all things you can control.

When operating your motorhome, it’s important to drive defensively and keep in mind the weight and dimensions of the coach. Always leave more room ahead for reaction time and stopping distance. Place a placard on your dash with the overall height of your coach and be wary of overhead obstructions. When turning, watch out for tail swing from long rear overhangs, especially when pulling out of campgrounds and fuel stations. If you are towing a dinghy or trailer, keep the additional length, weight and stopping distance in mind. Be especially careful when backing; use a backup monitor and when getting through tight spots it’s worth having someone outside the rig to help.

Over time, the effects of wear and tear and weathering can deteriorate a motorhome until it’s unsafe or unable to be driven. When it gets to this stage it’s often overwhelming and expensive to repair – and perhaps no longer worth fixing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By expending a little money and extra effort now, you can make your coach last longer, which is far less expensive than buying a new one and letting it degrade until it is almost worthless.

Coach Storage
Incorrect storage is one of the main causes of damage. Typically, coaches are stored outdoors and exposed to the unrelenting elements of nature – including harsh sunlight with its damaging ultraviolet rays, precipitation, freezing, humidity, salty ocean air and oxidation – in addition to rodents, insects and other critters. Since most motorhomes sit idle more than they are used, it’s important to protect the exterior during storage.

If you can’t keep your coach inside a building, obtain a quality RV cover for it, and use it every chance you get. Keep the outside clean and waxed and inspect the roof frequently for damage, signs of leaks around vents and air conditioners, and repair immediately. It really does pay to deal with damage before it causes further problems. When parked for extended periods, park so the tires are on something solid that keeps them out of standing water and shield them with tire covers for added protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

During storage, there needs to be some ventilation to prevent mold or mildew from forming, especially in damp climates. Leave a roof vent (that has a built-in screen) cracked open slightly. If the coach is covered you may need a dehumidifier. Protect your dash and interior from the sun’s harsh rays by using reflective window coverings when the coach is parked. Close off openings that rodents and insects can use to gain entry with metal screening and mesh. Refrigerators should be shut off and thoroughly cleaned out when not in use, with the door(s) propped open for ventilation to prevent mold from forming.

LP-gas valves should be closed for safety. Water heaters should be drained and flushed, and the sacrificial anode (if equipped) replaced if needed. Holding tanks should be flushed out and fresh chemicals added. Microbes can grow in water tanks and systems during storage and plumbing can burst in freezing temperatures. Therefore, the system should be drained and either blown out or antifreeze designed for potable water systems should be introduced. Follow the storage instructions that come with your coach, or the “RV Repair & Maintenance Manual” by Bob Livingston.

Chassis Care
Be sure to check the service schedule and note the intervals for fluid changes. It’s best to change the oil just before storage so the oil won’t leave acid and sludge in the engine. Many owners postpone oil changes, and others who change the oil and filter themselves may overlook other service items such as air filters and fuel filters, on the factory-recommended list.

AC generators should also be serviced, with regular oil and filter changes, tuneups, fuel and air filter maintenance according to the owner’s manual. Missed maintenance can lead to other problems, including breakdowns and warranty denial if damage occurs and you can’t prove necessary services were done on time.

Transmissions need to have the level checked and the fluid and filter changed according to the maintenance schedule. The power steering fluid and differential oil should also be changed every five years or so. We recommend inspecting (and repacking and adjusting as needed) serviceable-type wheel bearings at least once a year.

Wheel bearings are seldom checked until they fail, and a failure can cause serious damage or even an accident. High-quality synthetic lubricants can reduce wear significantly and are recommended by many experts. They are available for engines, transmissions, drive axles, wheel bearings, suspension and U-joints.

Batteries are often in difficult-to-reach locations – and out of sight is often out of mind until there’s no power. Make sure the terminals are clean and snug. Batteries with removable caps need regular service to replenish electrolyte with distilled water as needed. Batteries must have their charge and electrolyte levels maintained during storage or they will lose capacity or be ruined. Unless your coach has a converter that has multistage battery charging with a “float” mode, disconnect the batteries and use a maintenance charger on them.

Brake fluid absorbs moisture from the air. This corrodes critical internal components, including expensive calipers, master and wheel cylinders, and ABS pumps and valves (if equipped) and lowers the fluid’s boiling point, which can cause complete brake failure. Brake fluid flushing may not be listed on the maintenance schedule, but changing it regularly is essential for the long life and reliability of hydraulic brake components. Brake fluid should typically be changed and the system bled about every two years.

Be sure to use fresh fluid of the DOT specification (DOT 3 or 4) recommended by the manufacturer.

All coaches should have regular brake inspections, including checking for worn linings, stuck calipers, sliders and leaks. Special grease is available for sliding parts; this must be used sparingly so it won’t get on friction surfaces.

Larger coaches with air brakes require additional maintenance, including checking the compressor, tank drain, air drier, slack adjusters and spring brake units. Suspension parts and U-joints with grease fittings need to be lubricated regularly. Shock absorbers degrade slowly, so most drivers don’t notice, but worn-out shocks can damage other chassis components.

Valve Adjustments
Virtually all gasoline-powered motorhomes don’t require valve adjustments, but diesels generally do need this service. Intervals vary widely, so check the maintenance schedule. Failure to perform valve adjustments can result in everything from excess noise and reduced performance to engine failure.

Ethylene-glycol coolant degrades with time even if the engine isn’t being used. After several years, the additives deteriorate and become more acidic, causing rust and corrosion. Dissimilar-metal electrolysis can also occur, eroding metals in the engine and cooling system. All this can lead to overheating, water pump failures and expensive repairs. Follow the manufacturer’s drain, flush and coolant replacement intervals. Special long-life coolants may be changed less often, if approved by the manufacturer. Diesels may require special silicate-free coolants; again, follow the manufacturer’s specifications.

Motorhomes are demanding of their tires, which are often very close to maximum load ratings. Carry a quality air-pressure gauge that can access inner duals. Before each day’s drive check the tires when they are still cold, and inflate them to the recommended pressure in the owner’s manual or a load/inflation table.

Old, worn-out or improperly inflated tires are dangerous and can cause expensive damage when they fail and, at worst, a serious accident. The tires on many motorhomes that don’t get driven much still deteriorate over time, even though the tread may still look good. Aging factors include sunlight and ozone concentrations, so when visible cracks start to appear in the sidewalls, it’s time for replacement. Check the sidewalls for a date code that begins with “DOT.”

Tires made since 2000 have a four-digit date code following the DOT marking. Of the last four numbers, the first pair of digits indicates the week (1 through 52), and the final two indicate the last two digits of the year. For example, a DOT number ending in 0509 means the tire was produced the fifth week of 2009. Many experts consider the life of a tire to be seven years.

Parting Thoughts
Take care of your coach and it will take care of you. Make lists of items that need service or repair, and keep a logbook with cost, date and mileage, along with a folder for parts and repair receipts. Not only will this ensure it serves you well, it will also be a great help if you sell your coach. As the saying goes, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”

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