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Motorhoming | Family Motor Coach Association

Mark Polk, motorhome maintenance expert

By Mark Polk
RV Education 101

If I said it once, I said it a hundred times: Motorhomes are a major investment, like your house or automobile. To protect your investment and get many years of reliable service and use from your motorhome, you should take certain important measures. One is to maintain the motorhome’s exterior.   

Maintaining the exterior can extend the life of the motorhome and protect your investment. If you let your RV go without cleaning it for periods of time, it can be  difficult to get that new look back.

Maintaining the exterior primarily consists of routine cleaning and inspections. Here are my Top 7 Tips for Extending the Life of Your Motorhome’s Exterior.

1. Keep it covered: Over time the roof and exterior of your motorhome begin to show signs of wear, caused by constant exposure to the elements. Ozone in the air and ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun start to take their toll, which is first evident by signs of fading paint. The ozone in the air also causes products like rubber and vinyl to dry out, crack and start to deteriorate. The UV rays from the sun make this aging process happen quicker. If possible, try to keep your RV covered when not using it, to help protect it from Mother Nature.

2. Wash the motor coach: Exterior finishes begin to deteriorate over time. To extend the life of the exterior, wash the RV frequently using a mild soap and water solution. Always try to wash your motorhome after returning from a trip. Do not use harsh or abrasive cleaners. When washing the motorhome, avoid spraying water directly into any appliance vents.

3. Those notorious black streaks: Metal and fiberglass sidewall finishes require routine maintenance to keep black streaks cleaned from the surface. If black streaks remain on sidewall finishes for prolonged periods of time it can be extremely difficult to clean or remove them. Use a commercial black streak remover, but test all cleaning solutions on a small portion of the motorhome’s graphics before using them. Be sure to follow the black streak cleaner instructions -- they may say to apply dry and then wash off. If you don’t follow the instructions the product probably won’t work.

Tip: It’s easier to remove black streaks if you keep the motorhome waxed. I know it’s a big job, but it really does help

4. Wax the exterior: Waxing your RV can be a difficult job, but it will help extend the life of your RV. Wax the exterior with a quality wax formulated for the type of exterior surface your RV has. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Exercise caution when waxing around graphics that are taped on the RV. You should wax the RV when water no longer beads on the wall surface.

5. Inspect for water damage: Water damage on a motorhome is similar to progressive damage to a tire. The outside of the tire looks fine, but the internal damage over a long period of time causes the tire to fail without any warning. The outside of your motor coach might look fine, but the internal damage caused by water over a long period of time can result in the entire roof, floor or wall rotting away without you knowing it. Inspecting any and all sealants can help prevent expensive repairs caused by water damage. Look closely for cracks, gaps, and loose or aged sealants. Inspect the sidewalls, end caps, moldings, windows, compartments and anywhere the manufacturer cut a hole in the motorhome. Inspect the interior for any signs of water damage. Look for discoloration or wrinkles in the wall panels or wallpaper and feel for any soft spots on the walls, around all windows, doors, vents, slideouts, or any other openings that were cut in the motorhome’s sidewalls.

Note: Always use the proper type of sealant to make repairs; if you’re not sure what type of sealant to use, talk to an authorized RV repair facility. Have any water damage repaired immediately.

6. Clean the motorhome roof: RV manufacturers use different materials to construct RV roofs. Consult your owner’s manual for the type of roofing material used and for the type of soap or detergent required to clean the roof. Keeping debris such as leaves, tree sap and branches off of the roof will help to extend the life of the roofing material. When cleaning the RV roof, keep the sides of the RV rinsed off to avoid soap residue, streaking and any damage to decals, graphics or the paint finish. Never use cleaners containing petroleum solvents, harsh abrasives, or citric-based acids on rubber or vinyl roofs. Clean and inspect your RV roof several times a year.

Caution: Exercise caution whenever you are on the roof of your motorhome. A fall can result in serious injury or death.  For RV roofs not designed to be walked on, it may be necessary to use 2’ X 4’ or 2’ X 8’ pieces of plywood to distribute your weight evenly across the roof rafters. If you are not comfortable working on the roof of your motor coach, have your roof maintenance performed by an authorized RV service center.

7. Inspect roof sealants: Cleaning the roof is only part of maintaining it. Every time you clean the roof, inspect the sealants around all of the openings and the seams on the roof, and I mean really inspect the sealants. Water will take the path of least resistance; if there is the smallest opening it will find it. Inspect the roof sealants thoroughly for potential leaks, and reseal any roof seams or other openings where you suspect a leak. Check with your RV dealer for sealants that are compatible with your roofing material. 

With routine inspection and a little elbow grease, you can keep the exterior of your motorhome looking and working like new for many years.

Happy Camping.

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