RV Basics: Getting Ready to Roll

Photographer: Chris Dougherty, Bob Livingston, and Bill and Jenn Gehr

For a winning season this year, make sure the RV is camp-ready by doing a thorough inspection and cleaning

Now that spring is almost here, preparing your RV for travel and performing necessary — and preventive — maintenance will pay dividends all year long.

See Related Story: Winter RV Prep

For those who stored their RV under a cover during the winter, the first step, obviously, is removing it. RV covers are expensive, so try to do this on a dry day. If the cover is damp, let it dry in the sun before storing it. If the cover is damaged, most manufacturers have patch kits that can be used to make repairs.

This is a good time for a thorough examination and cleaning of the RV roof. Make sure there hasn’t been any damage during storage. Check the seals for signs of wear and deterioration, and reseal as needed. Be sure to use the correct sealant for the type and brand of roof. Several good rubber-roof cleaners and treatments on the market make this chore easier and more effective, including products from Dicor, Protect-All and Thetford.

If you have a fiberglass or aluminum roof, wash it and wax it, as you would the sides of the trailer. Waxing is a bit of a job, but you can make a family project out of it — just be sure to let your helpers know which surfaces not to wax, such as plastic (fenders), diamond plate and so on. The commercial one-step wash-and-wax concentrates don’t replace a good hand waxing, which deep-cleans the surface and helps keep RVs looking new for years, but they work well for maintaining wax on the surface throughout the season.

Seals on the sides of the RV should be examined for gaps and wear, and repaired as needed. Again, try to match the sealant used on the RV from the factory. Sealing around doors and windows can be done with a good window-and-door caulk such as GE Silicone II and acrylic sealants like those from Geocel and Sika. Follow the instructions carefully. Consider using a tooling fluid (soapy water in a spray bottle) to make the caulk beads look professional. To do this, once you have applied a bead from the caulk gun, lightly spray (fog) the bead and the surrounding area with the tooling fluid, then use a caulk tool to remove the excess. This way, the caulk sticks where it is supposed to and is easily removed where it is not.

Open all the exterior compartments and check for signs of leaks and rodents or other pests, and deal with any issues. Spring is a great time to empty out the exterior compartments, and clean and rearrange things for the season.

Tires and running gear are what keep RVs on the road, and careful examination and service are essential. Check the tires for proper inflation, signs of damage or degradation, and to make sure the tread isn’t wearing unevenly. Modern special trailer (ST) tires tend to have a shorter life than regular automotive tires, lasting only three to five years in some cases, according to some industry experts and RVers, so check the date of manufacture. This is especially important for off-brand tires that are manufactured in China.

If the tires are timing out or need replacing for other reasons, new tires should be the same size, weight and speed rating as the originals, although you can move up in rating to give the tires a little more beef. Just remember that increasing tire ratings does not increase the gross vehicle weight rating of the trailer.

Brakes and bearings also require service. Most manufacturers have a recommended maintenance schedule. Dexter Axle, for example, recommends repacking bearings every 12 months or 12,000 miles. Brakes (if not automatically adjusting) should be adjusted every three months or 3,000 miles, and linings should be visually inspected every 12 months or 12,000 miles. This annual service should include inspecting the running gear, including suspension components, wiring and so on.

Take a good look at the suspension for signs of wear. If you have greaseable shackle bolts, give them a shot of grease to start the season. While you’re underneath the RV, take a quick glance at the wiring for signs of snagging and to make sure the wires haven’t become a midnight snack for rodents.

Many RVers remove the batteries in winter to protect them, and spring is a good time to inspect them and check for proper water level during reinstallation. It’s also time to plug in the RV to 120-volt AC power so the batteries can charge. After inspecting the hookup wires for damage or wear and tear, be sure to spray battery sealant on the terminals to help deter corrosion. Hook the trailer’s electrical connector to the tow vehicle, check the exterior DOT lights and replace any bulbs that are burned out. Don’t forget to reseal around the light fixtures, if needed.

Do a visual inspection of the LP-gas hardware before turning on the system. Squirrels and other critters like the taste of rubber hoses and will chew on them. Look for cracks and other signs of wear, and check for leaks when you first pressurize the system. If you’re not sure that the system is sound, have it tested by a certified RV technician or LP-gas professional.

Hot-Water System

Trailers with more basic water systems, which include a standard LP-gas water heater, should be dewinterized as follows, assuming that nontoxic antifreeze has been used to protect the plumbing. The goal is to prevent antifreeze from getting into the water-heater tank. Once antifreeze is in there, you’ll be smelling and tasting it, and seeing foaming for a long time. It’s harmless but annoying.

First, make sure the water-heater bypass is still in winterize mode. There are different types of bypass kits, so check the owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer if you’re not sure which kind you have or how to operate it. Next, hook up the freshwater supply to the trailer and turn it on. This will pressurize the system. Make sure to flush the system thoroughly for best results. This includes faucets, low-point drains, toilets, the washing machine and icemaker. Once clean water is flowing through all the faucets, and there are no leaks or other problems, it’s time to move on to the water heater.

The outside drain plug is probably not installed in the tank after draining and winterizing. A good method is to reverse the bypass kit and let some freshwater flow out of the drain, then shut off the water and install the plug or anode rod back in the tank. This flushes out stale water and collected minerals from the bottom of the water-heater tank. You can also use one of the flush-out wand tools available from RV-accessory dealers.

Reinstall the drain plug, turn the water on and open the relief valve using the spring-loaded lever. When the water comes out, release it to close the valve. Check for flow through the hot-water system, then test-fire the water heater. If you have a three-valve bypass kit, make certain the middle valve is closed. RV-service centers get many calls about tepid water from the water heater, only to find out this valve was left in the open position.

Make certain to flow water from every discharge point, including outside showers and low-point drains. If the RV has washer/dryer prep but no washer, hook up a hose to each of these valves and flow water into a sink, the washer drain or outside the RV. Stale water and antifreeze can remain in these lines and taint the freshwater.

Dewinterizing an RV with a Truma tankless hot-water system takes less effort because there is no tank to flush. Just follow the procedure in the owner’s manual for flushing the system. Once everything is buttoned up and water is flowing throughout the plumbing, the system can be test-fired.

Freshwater System

I am a stickler about keeping the freshwater as clean as possible. To do this, two things must happen. First, the incoming source of water must be filtered and clean, whether the water is coming from the city-water connection or the freshwater holding tank. Second, the water system must be sanitized at the beginning of the season.

There are a couple of ways to sanitize the system. The old-school way is to make a chlorine solution and run it through the water system. The other is to use a commercial RV water freshener available at Camping World and other RV-accessory suppliers.
The chlorine solution is simple, safe and works like a champ. Simply mix 1⁄4 cup of plain household bleach and 1 gallon of water. If your RV’s water system is dirty (for instance, the hot water gives off a rotten-egg smell), you can increase the bleach to 1⁄2 cup per gallon of water. Add one gallon of solution to an empty, preferably flushed, freshwater tank for every 15 gallons of tank capacity. For example, if you have a 30-gallon tank, you would add 2 gallons of the chlorine mix.

Then fill the tank to the top, turn on the water pump and run the solution through the plumbing system until you can smell chlorine from each faucet. Allow the solution to sit in the system for at least four hours (one hour if using the 1⁄2-cup solution). Then drain the freshwater tank completely and flush the entire system with water. Draining the water-heater tank using the drain plug will speed things up a bit.

Flushing the system will remove most of the chlorine. Water-freshening solutions are available in liquid and tablet form to get the remainder out, if you wish, but the chlorine will dissipate quickly and is harmless after the system has been flushed.

Baking soda can also be used to remove the chlorine taste and smell. Simply empty a box of baking soda in a bucket of water, pour it in the tank, fill the tank with water and, again, run the solution through the system. Allow the baking soda to work overnight, drain the tank and flush with water. The plumbing system is now clean and sanitized for the season.

Inside the RV

To prep the RV’s interior, start by checking for signs of rodents and removing any nests and debris left behind. This is a good time to see if you can find where the pests came in and seal these areas from the outside. Do a thorough cleaning of the RV, including inside and under cabinets, windows and so on.

Clean and check the operation of all appliances. If you have a gas range, lift the top to check for rodent debris, and clean thoroughly. Lining the area under the burners with aluminum foil is an easy way to help with cleaning; just cover the bottom, and do not cover any of the holes in the sides of the pan.

Make sure the refrigerator is clean and mildew-free. Clorox and similar commercial wipes are great for this. Power up the refrigerator and let it run for a day or two, switching power-source modes to make certain they function properly. If you have a residential refrigerator, there’s nothing special to do; just clean it and turn it on.

Test the trailer’s safety systems and check the LP-gas, carbon-monoxide and smoke detectors for expiration dates. Battery-powered detectors must get new batteries at the beginning of the season. Make sure the emergency exits operate properly.
Look at each fire extinguisher to make sure there is no damage, invert it for a few seconds, and test the valve by pushing in the small pressure-test plunger, if so equipped, or checking the gauge for proper pressure (follow the extinguisher’s instructions). Then check the interior lights and test the various onboard gadgets.

Be sure to check the owner’s packet for special instructions, especially if it’s a higher-end or more technologically equipped RV. Always use caution when working on ladders or on the roof, and if you’re uncomfortable with the height — or with any of the procedures outlined here — have a certified RV technician take care of it.

Lastly, when you hook up the RV to the tow vehicle, give the hitch equipment a thorough inspection. For trailers, this means checking the hitch, the ball, the seven-way connector and sway equipment.

For fifth-wheels, look at the hitch for proper lubrication and movement of all the parts. Check the kingpin for abnormal wear, cracks or bending, and apply grease. A lube disc placed over the kingpin will eliminate the need to grease the whole pad surface, but be sure to remove the disc when you drop off the trailer at an RV dealership or service center, as many of them use a forklift with a cup to move trailers around the lot, which will destroy the disc. Make sure the mounting system is secure, and follow the hitch manufacturer’s directions for any special service and lubrication requirements for that model.

For truck campers, make sure each of the mounting eyebolts is secure. Check the tie-down system (turnbuckles, chain mounts, body and frame mounts) for wear, rust and operation, and clean up and lube as needed. Plug in the seven-way connector and check all the lights, just as you would with a trailer. Also, take a good look at the corner jacks and service them as needed. The owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website should provide some guidance.

Spending a day inspecting and servicing your RV at the beginning of the season will help make every trip a home run.

Chris-Dougherty-headshotChris Dougherty is technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome. Chris is an RVDA/RVIA certified technician and lifelong RVer, including 10 years as a full-timer. He and his wife make their home in Massachusetts and hit the road with their travel trailer every chance they get.


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