You have your own ideas and I may have missed some serious areas. If you think of any please email me.
Your owner's manual will tell you what needs regular service. Since the RV automatically qualifies for severe service, follow those instructions if they are given. I do the easy things myself as it helps me identify with the RV’s needs. I have a gasoline engine. I do not know enough about a diesel to explain its needs here: buy a book.
You have to understand the gas line here. Because it is easier to push than to pull a fluid, the newer RVs have the gas pump in the fuel tank. This means that the entire fuel line is under pressure. Older RVs had a standard fuel pump attached to the engine near the carburetor. This means that the gas line is under vacuum or gravity feed from the tank to the pump. This causes problems going up hills with a long gas line.
Because fuel injectors need cleaner gas than carburetors, fuel filters have become more critical than before. I change my car filter every 50,000 miles. Since the RV uses 3 times as much gas as the car, the RV fuel filter should be changed every 15,000 miles. This is critical. Carry a spare filter in the event you get polluted gasoline.
I have a Ford chassis. The fuel filter is the size of a pop can (a bit shorter) with a semi-round end and a stem coming out of each end. The direction is critical. There are small spring clamps inline with the filter. I carry a spare set of these spring clamps (Auto Shack).
Some chasses have multiple filters. Know where they are and have a spare of each. They are easy to change (for people who change their own oil).
Symptoms of a clogged filter include random stalling, especially going up hill. For the engine-sensitive types, you may notice a sudden increase in gas mileage as the engine is running too lean.
My book says straight grade 30. This seems strange to me but I do it. I have preferred Multi-Grade Castrol Oil. Now I use 30 weight of whatever brand Costco or Sam’s carries these days. I always change my own oil. The filter gets changed at the same time. I change the oil every 3,500 miles. 4,000 miles at the most. Oil is cheaper than anything that can go wrong.
Have the chassis greased every 15,000 mile maximum. More frequently if you are in the desert. At a quick-lube place this is about $20. Make sure that they do not change your oil at the same time – unless this is what you want. They will charge 2 or 3 times the price for filters than you would pay at the store. See Lubricants
This should be changed whenever it gets dirty. I figure every 10,000 miles is good as I live in the desert. I like FRAM filters. The air filters are clear white. It is easy to tell when they are dirty: look through them at the sun. No daylight? Dirty.
I do not like NAPA for legacy reasons (they sold me the wrong spark plugs once – they and I believed their book – it was wrong). Their filters are made of yellow-orange cardboard. You cannot see through them when they are new. I wonder if the air can. Maybe NAPA can tell you when they are dirty.
The care and feeding of batteries is required.
Check the fluid level once a month or so. The fluid (mostly water now) should come to the bottom of the plastic split ring. Use a flashlight and check each cell. This is true both for the chassis battery and the coach batteries. If the level is low and the battery is charged, add distilled water. Do not overfill.
Using only distilled water (from the grocery store); keep the cells full to the ‘split ring’. If you cannot see into the cell, use a flashlight. Use a baster to fill the cells until the water touches the start of the plastic insert. If you can see the surface of the lead plates, the battery cell is seriously depleted. Only fill a fully charged battery since discharge depletes the liquid level. Filling a discharged battery will cause water to overflow. Do not permit foreign matter to fall into the cell. Never ever use faucet water for a battery.
Keep your batteries charged. The RV/Marine batteries are designed to accept the abuse of discharge and recharge. The Chassis/Car battery is not. A normal battery once fully discharged may have damaged plates and may not act properly ever again. It also may be the case that a discharged, normal battery will cause itself damage when a powerful charger is attached. In any case, a trickle charger is always better than a powerful charger if you can afford the time.
Keep the battery itself clean. Batteries always have some minimal acid leakage. This is caused by the venting of acidic air from the inside of the battery. To keep the battery top and terminals clean, I periodically sprinkle baking soda on them and then rinse it off with a hose. I then powder the top again with a layer of soda to prevent skin burns when I later touch the top.
Connectors need to be kept clean. The primary battery terminal is lead. Lead is soft and its oxide is soft – both are easily kept clean with a steel brush. The primary battery connector (red) is shaped to fit the terminal and is often also lead and attached to the single cable to the alternator and fuse box. In the case of an RV or modern vehicle, there are multiple cables to the battery. These cables have a copper connector with a hole in their free end. The battery connector then has a clamp as before but in place of a cable has a bolt. The cables are placed on the bolt and tightened with a nut; often this is a wing nut. This becomes a bi-metal connection. It is a double bi-metal connection if the bolt/clamp is made of iron or steel. Bi-metal connectors suffer corrosion without the need of water. To prevent problems, periodically remove the wing nut and cables from the connector. Brush all of the cable connectors and the battery post to bright metal before returning them to their original connection. Be careful to not touch the battery post during these operations, as sparking voltage is capable of damaging electronic equipment in the vehicle.
Bright metal is necessary to both the power (red) and the ground (black) terminals. Note that cleaning is not normally required of lead-to-lead connectors. Even if the power connector is of the bolt type, the ground connector may still be of the lead-to-lead type.
Keep both the chassis and the coach batteries clean.
Inside my RV and most others, there are disconnect switches. Mine are above the entry door. Proper setting of these switches is critical to long battery life. When you are on park power, set these switches to disable the connection to the batteries. When you go off park power, enable the battery connection. When you store the RV, set these to disable.
Your RV has a converter to convert 120VAC to 12VDC. This 12VDC is used to charge your batteries and to provide 12VDC power to your inside lights and things. If you are traveling from place to place all of the time, you keep these switches enabled. If you stay in one place more than one day, disable the switches. Continuous charging of your batteries will boil off the battery water. When the battery is low of water and is then drained of power, it will permanently damage the battery.
To maintain your batteries in good condition, keep the water level
up and the batteries disengaged when under park power.
I left the RV park the other day and had trouble starting the
engine. I pushed the emergency cross-over switch and the engine
started. This switch adds the engine and the RV batteries
together so that if either one is good, things work. I knew my
engine battery was dying so I was headed for the nearest Costco store
to get a new one. Costco sells really good batteries at a very
good price. They have a 3-year full replacement warrantee.
Unless you take exceptional care, you will be replacing your battery
every three years or less. So once you pay for one of the Costco
batteries, you are good forever.
So I get to the Costco and they have a poor parking entrance: you
cannot get to the gas line easily from the parking lot but you can from
the street. This means that I drive up and fill the RV with
gas. I also fill my car. I do not like to do this. I
always want to fill the tank last so that I can be driving when the the
gasoline expands to overflow the tank. This is why they tell you
to not top off your tank. If you park the car after filling it
the expansion just forces gasoline into the overflow tube and then into
you oil crankcase. This wastes gas and contaminates your
oil. If you drive, you use the gas faster than it expands and
none is wasted.
I try to start the engine and nothing happens: not even with the
crossover switch. The crossover switch helps when one battery is
good and the other is poor. It does not help if one of them is
absolutely dead as the dead battery will eat everything the good
has and leave nothing for starting. So I tell the attendant that
I am going to be a while and to put pylons behind the RV to keep
people from lining up behind it. YOu would think that he would
figure this out for himself but this is why he is minding the gasoline
pumps and not doing brain surgery. I go buy a new battery and
install it. I try to start the engine and it is worse and not
better: absolutely dead -- not even engine lights.
I call emergency road service to tow me to a repair shop, I
unhitch my Tercel. Just for the heck of it, I try to jump start
the RV from the Tercel. I mean, dead is dead and the boost fro
the crossover did not help so why should a jump start help? But
the RV started right up!. I mean I had even had my little Honda
generator trying to charge things while I bought the new battery and I
So. I pulled the car off to the far corner of the parking
lot. I drive the RV over to it. I attached the Honda to
recharge the RV batteries and then the new battery.
I went shopping and let the batteries charge for a couple of
hours. I tried to start the RV again and again nothing. I
filled my gas cans from the pumps -- I should have done this
earlier. I needed gas for the Honda generator.
I got out the baking soda and poured some on top of the RV
batteries. I had noticed a lot of corrosion on the terminals and
the cutoff switch I had installed to make sure that I could absolutely
disconnect power when I needed to. After the baking soda, I
poured a lot of water on top of everything. If you did not know,
this is the best way to clean off a battery. Baking soda
neutralizes the battery acid which caused the corrosion.
Neutralizing the acid makes sure that you do not wash acid over other
RV parts and that you do not have acid running across the Costco
parking lot. I mean the result looks terrible and looks like it
should be corrosive but it is not. Use lots of baking soda.
In any case my RV batteries now look brand new and shiny. So does
the copper blade on my manual switch. I add water to the
But the RV still does not start. I know it should so I start
checking. Here is the skinny: the engine battery has an
offset connector. That is, the connector to the battery terminal
has the usual wraparound connector with the bolt through the end.
In a car, this connector is the only cable or one of two using the same
connector. In the RV I have one cable for the starter, one for
the levelers, and one for the charger/alternator. These three
separate cables are attached by an offset connector about two inches
long. One end of the connector connects to the battery post in
the normal way. The other end has a vertical bolt to which the
three cables attach with a wing nut holding them down. I have
learned from experience that this offset connector can cause
problems. It caused this one.
I previously had a problem when the Professional RV place (see disaster) repaired things. They
replaced the lead connector with a steel one. When that rusted, I
had the same symptoms I have now: the RV stalled and would not start --
even with a brand new battery. So I had replaced the steel offset
with a lead offset with an embedded steel bolt.
The problem today turned out to be that the three cables all had copper lugs on them and these had oxidized/corroded such that they did not connect to the bolt threads. I took a file and some steel wool and cleaned them and the bolt off. Things were better but not right: I had engine lights but it would not start. I had lunch and thought a bit. I was ready to call the emergency road service again. I got the pliers out and used them to tighten the wing nut holding the three cables to the offset: the RV started just like it was new. Whew. I got out of Costco and drove to my favorite rest area near Gorman (north of LA on I-5).
I spent the night and was happy until morning when I tried to use
the lights. I mean I had used battery all night long with my
inverter powering the CPAP machine. So when things died in the
morning I was shook. But the RV started just fine. I
started the onboard Onan generator. It ran for a few minutes and
then quit. Now I was really worried. This process repeated
a few times. I had to start the engine each time to start the
Onan. Mentally I could not understand what was happening. I
was afraid I could start driving and everything would stop. I
mean when the Onan quit there was no RV electricity at all: just
dead. The engine worked just fine.
I drove to the Camping World in San Martin just south of San Jose
and spent the night. Then the RV 12V went dead again.
Good. It can be isolated and fixed here. I took out my
meters and started to see where the fault was. I mean I have two
6-volt batteries in series for my RV power. If they are weak,
things should be weak but they should not be on and off like a
switch. I checked my bypass circuit. I have added one
circuit which bypasses everything else so that I can power my CPAP with
12V without concern for anything else. This circuit was also
dead. This means that the batteries are dead. I checked:
12.6V -- exactly right for working batteries.
Now what? I checked my cutout switch. Nothing on the RV
side of the switch but 12.6 on the battery side. When I cleaned
off everything with the baking soda, I cleaned the switch blade, the
outside contacts, the battery posts, caps, and top.
Everything. Well, not quite everything. I had not opened
the switch and so the blade inside the contacts was not clean and
neither were the inside surfaces of the switch contacts. I opened
the blade and closed it and everything worked just fine. I got my
steel wool and cleaned these off shiny and now everything works just
Moral of the story:: keep ALL of your contacts clean and
tight. It just takes one dirty or loose connection and nothing
works at all.
Inspect the surface for cuts and nails once a day while traveling. Road Service for RVs is expensive.
Check the pressure every time you leave camp:
A wet-tire spray is healthy for your tires. Better is a set of covers for when you are parked. Remember that vinyl covers like an occasional bath in Armour All.
I have heard that you should expect tires to accept punctures and other problems after 4 years – used or not used. I have had car tires with this problem: lots of tread left but they picked up every nail on the road.
You can see in your coolant-overflow tank the current state of your coolant. When the engine is cold, this reservoir should be about 1/3 full of a clear liquid. Usually green, blue, or yellow. If it is brown, you need new coolant. Coolant wears with the engine changing temperature and not by mileage. The coolant should be flushed and replaced every 2 years.
Change the fluid every 2 years. It used to be the case that you added water. You still can. Clean water is best. These days, pure antifreeze is better than a mix of water. This is especially true if you use your dashboard Air Conditioner.
The level of this is critical – never overfill the transmission. See the owner’s manual for instruction on measuring the level. They are not the same as for measuring the oil level.
On my engine, the transmission fluid is checked with the transmission in Park and the engine running. There is a level for Hot and a lower level for Cold. I always check it hot.
Expensive and awful things can happen if you are too low or too high. If you are too low, see a service center. Transmission fluid does not burn off as does engine oil. If you are low, there is a problem. If the fluid has a smell, especially a burnt smell, it must be changed. Most transmissions now use Mercon/Dexron III. Historically Ford used Mercon and almost everyone else used Dexron. Using the wrong fluid is not good.
Check your brake and power steering fluid occasionally. If your brake fluid is low, have your linings checked. Since worn linings are thinner than new ones, the cylinder is further extended when the brakes are released. The cylinder uses fluid. So when your linings are low, the expanded cylinder uses fluid that would be in the reservoir on new linings.
Regularly check your headlamps, parking lamps, brake lamps, etc. These should all work properly. RVs do not have enough lamps (opinion) and so must make sure that the ones they do have work. Keep extra lamps to cover loss on the road.
I always keep spare lamps for my tail and brake lights. I shall look for spare headlight bulbs next time I am in country.
Check your headlight alignment occasionally. You can do this by eyeball. Park on a level surface and walk to about 50 feet in front of the RV. Get close to the ground directly in front of the RV. You should see the headlight visibly brighter than in other positions and distances. The bright spot of the right side lamp should be directly in front of the RV. The bright spot of the left side lamp should be between the front and the center of the RV.
The body needs regular care. Check your owner’s manual for this as some finishes are unique or at least claim to be.
Fiberglass coated with acrylic paint seems to draw dirt. Keep your unit clean. You can do this yourself. If you go to a truck stop, they may use chemicals that are harmful to your awning or rubber roof.
I try to wax my unit every 6 months. I like the RV Polish with Teflon that I used to be able to find at Wal-Mart. Now I use the best liquid wax that I can find. This is Mother’s or something like it that is intended for fiberglass finishes. Give the front 2 coats since bug juice is very corrosive to the finish.
Keep your RV level to optimize the performance of your refrigerator.
Use levelers to stabilize your RV while you are living in it. Most modern RVs come with built-in hydraulic levelers.
Hydraulic levelers use Dexron transmission fluid (red). I always keep a spare couple of quarts of Dexron for the levelers (See the Inventory section).
You can tell you are low on fluid if the extended indicator does not go off quickly when you retract the levelers. If the indicator lamp remains on or beeps while you are driving, add fluid.
You may have to look hard for the reservoir: follow the hose line from one of the levelers to a cylindrical canister containing about ½ gallon of transmission fluid. My fluid box is behind a panel next to the batteries. Stupid.
Keep this full to the level of the bolt at the top. You cannot overfill this.
Overextending your levelers damages the seals.
If your levelers leak and leave red pools, you may have dirt in the seal or the unit may have worn out the seal. Releasing dirty pistons relies on the seal to clean the piston. Seals do not like this.
Worn seals leak: make sure you clean up spilled fluid.
If you have the levelers that flip out and down this may not be a problem. If you have the hydraulic extenders that leave a nice shiny leg exposed, you must oil the leg. When you pull into a park, and once every two weeks after, spray some light oil on the extended portion of the leg and wipe it with a cloth to remove the dirt. THIS IS IMPORTANT! You will find this instruction hidden somewhere deep in the manufacturers maintenance rules but you will not see anyone do it much. This portion is protected when the leg is retracted and the seal will clean it when it retracts. If you do not do this, the retracting leg will force the accumulated dirt into the seal, reducing the life and efficiency of the seal. If you do not oil the leg and it is extended for a period of time, it will rust. The rust is even harder on the seal and it looks nasty. (See the WD-40)
To reduce over extension, buy or make some leveling blocks. The built-in levelers are great for sites that are already almost level. There are some nice blocks that come 10 to a set that are bright orange plastic about 9 inches square. A set of these cost about $30 at Wal-mart. Brand name: Lynx.
My built-in levelers are a common brand (Power Gear) with a round dish at the bottom. The controller is referred to as semi-automatic: there are 4 control buttons front, rear, left-rear, right-rear. Please note that if you have such a controller, the front two levelers are self-balancing. That is, they share the weight of the front of the RV and will shift left-to-right as the rear shifts left-to-right. A hint to people with this type of controller: blocks should be placed evenly under the front levelers where as blocks under the rear levelers should attempt to reach the levelers simultaneously as they extend.
Use the awning rod to locate the leveling blocks squarely under the hydraulic levelers prior to extending them. You will break the blocks if they are not properly located.
Keep these clean for your own emotional health. You will feel cleaner. Have shields for the inside of your windows. I have bought rolls of the plastic, aluminized, bubble foil and cut one for each window. I have seen some beautiful form-fitted, quilted shades. These keep the heat in or out as necessary.
If you want, obtain some mesh coverings for your outside windows. These offer some privacy and keep the heat totally outside. If you get these, look into wheel well coverings at the same time. These covers are easier to use than the tire covers.
Everything that moves will need to be lubricated. You take the truck into a lub joint to have the chassis lubed. Otherwise, you have to do it yourself. Here is a list of things that lubricate -- you can figure out where you need them. If it squeaks, it needs help.
This is for big things that are exposed to the weather that move. This includes your steps and your trailer hitch ball and other parts that move. Why White Lithium? It holds up to being wet better than petroleum grease.
This is a petroleum-based oil that lubricates small moving parts. If in a wet environment, repeat applications regularly. If not a wet environment and needed frequently, maybe you need grease. Overspray of oil leaves a mess.
WD-40 is good for loosening things or cleaning them. For example, bicycle chains. As WD-40 dries out, you need to replace it with something less volatile such as light oil or you must continually re-apply the WD-40. I do not like to re-apply so I use the oil. I do not worry about overspray of WD-40.
For lubrication purposes, such as your leveler legs, you must use a light oil and never WD-40. Protracted use of WD-40 where you should use an oil will cause your beloved property to rust and corrode -- no matter how pretty it looks when you are finished.
I put this warning here -- maybe it will be read. You can buy slide lubricant in an aerosol can. It is an interesting product. It sprays on as a foam, covers the slide gears, and then dries. This protects the slide gears from rusting and looking bad. Until I sprayed my gears, the rust looked awful. I am not sure this is worse than what happened next.
There is no obvious warning on the can but take my advice: do NOT spray this goop on the slide bearings or motor. Spray it ONLY on the gear and gear tracks themselves. If you spray the bearings or the motor, the foam dries to a hard crust and freezes the bearing or the motor armature. It may take a while to freeze the bearing but it will freeze up with the result that your slide will not work. Getting the bearing clean of this junk is very difficult. I used several cans of WD-40 just to get the process started.