Keeping a motorhome clean, comfortable and safe is the best way to start the travel season — here’s how the pros do it
For an eternity, it seems, you’ve suffered. Gazing out at the leaden clouds. Wishing away the rain and snow. Impatiently waiting for that first glorious day of spring when you can finally bring your motorhome out of hibernation and kick another travel season into gear. Well, that time is rapidly approaching, but before you give in to the wanton travel bug nesting within, consider that your motorhome may not have had the most peaceful winter’s rest — especially if it was stored outdoors. Rain, snow, wind and icy conditions can cause a number of nagging maladies, not to mention vermin/bug infestation, mold/mildew and an overall exterior condition that belies your steadfast detailing regimen.
Check tire pressure, condition
Have brakes inspected
Operate leveling jacks and inspect for leaks
De-winterize (if applicable)
Fill/sanitize freshwater system
Inspect exterior for insect/rodent infestation/damage
Inspect roof for cracked sealant, other damage
Check awning for proper operation
Perform safety check (test brakelights, running lights, turn signals)
Test electrical system (both 120-volt AC and 12-volt DC)
Check fire extinguisher
Test smoke alarm/LP-gas/carbon monoxide alarms and replace batteries (if applicable). Check dates on detectors and replace if expired
Test freshwater system, plumbing
Have LP-gas system tested/inspected
Run LP-gas appliances (furnace, water heater, stove, refrigerator)
Not to worry. With a systematic plan of attack, your motorhome can work and look like new again. All it takes is a checklist, a few good products and some elbow grease and you’ll be ready to hit the road again with confidence.
The first step is to take a walk around the motorhome and see if anything looks damaged or out of place. Begin with the tires, checking the pressure in each and inspecting them for exterior cracks or signs of rot, particularly if they’ve been parked in standing water. If you’ve had the motorhome for a few years, you should also check the tire’s date of manufacture, as tires can “time out” after six to 10 years (depending on storage conditions and exposure to the elements) and should be replaced even if they still look new. Open exterior compartments for the water heater, furnace (with exterior access) and refrigerator, and look for signs of fuzzy tenants like spiders, yellow jackets and mud daubers that may have taken up residence in the burner tubes and other areas (insects seem to enjoy the smell of LP-gas). Check the condition of sealants around exterior compartment doors, and reseal as necessary with a product like Geocel Pro Flex RV or a high-quality exterior silicone such as Lexel or GE Silicone II.
Next, check the condition of the batteries (or have them checked) and charge them if necessary, either by plugging in or with a battery charger if they have been stored off-site. An inspection is especially important if the motorhome has been plugged into AC power or if the batteries have been exposed to freezing winter; either condition can damage or ruin a battery. Verify that you have power inside the motorhome, both 12-volt DC (battery) and 120-volt AC (shorepower). Run a safety check to verify that the exterior running lights, turn signals, etc., are working properly and that no bulbs require replacement.
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Open the engine compartment for a visual inspection. Rats, mice and even stray cats can make a temporary home on the engine, and you don’t want to find that out after you start it up, if you get our meaning. Check thoroughly for, and remove, any nesting material. If everything looks clear, check coolant level and make sure the fluid is still within factory mileage and time limits and flush, if necessary. Start and run the engine, listening for any unusual sounds. After a few minutes, look for oil/coolant leaks, then check the transmission fluid level. This usually must be done with the engine hot idling in neutral or park — check the owner’s manual if you’re not sure. Turn off the engine and verify that the engine oil dipstick shows the proper level.
Clean and Detail
If weather and temperature permit, now is a good time to give the motorhome a bath to wash off the months of grime. Since the roof is where most of the dirt collects, start there first. Common roof materials on newer coaches include aluminum, fiberglass and membranes made of rubber (EPDM), thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Membrane roofs are different from solid-surface roofs because the membrane and sealants are more porous and susceptible to damage from foreign objects and neglect. In addition, ignoring a rubber roof will result in ugly side effects such as chalking and black streaks, which can run down the side walls. A variety of products are available specifically for cleaning and protecting RV rubber roofs, including Camco’s appropriately named Rubber Roof Cleaner and Conditioner and Dometic’s RV Roof Cleaner/Sealer.
Fiberglass and aluminum roofs can be cleaned like the rest of the exterior surfaces; in other words, hosed off and gently agitated with a soft bristle brush (designed for vehicle detailing) and some RV wash. You can do this from the ground using an extension pole but, depending upon your balance and how comfortable you are with heights, you may choose to do this job on your hands and knees while on the roof. Here again, companies like Camco offer a wide range of helpful products, including microfiber wash heads, brush attachments, extension poles and more.
While on the roof, inspect all seams, and ensure that the sealant around roof vents and other areas is in good condition; otherwise, scrape away old sealant with a plastic putty knife and reseal with an RV-specific product like Dicor’s self-leveling Lap Sealant or Alpha Systems’ Self-leveling RV Sealant, depending on the type of roof (Alpha Systems is formulated for TPO roofs). Alternately, seams, as well as damaged areas, can be repaired with EternaBond MicroSealant tape. Check roof vent hatches for cracks or other damage, and make sure vent covers are in good condition and not brittle or cracking.
When you’re finished with the roof, spray the sides, front and back with a pressurized hose attachment to blast off most of the surface dirt and roof runoff. Use caution if using a power pressure washer, which can damage vinyl graphics. Then, use the aforementioned wash brush, designed for detailing, or a wash pad on an extension pole and some car wash soap/RV wash to clean the surface. Some good choices here include Camco’s Carnauba Wash & Wax, Dometic’s Wash N’ Wax, Star brite’s Premium RV Wash/Wash & Wax and Thetford’s Premium RV Wash & Wax. Rinse the surface, then use a good quality silicone squeegee or Water Blade to dry it because this will dramatically reduce your efforts.
Now is also a good time to inspect the exterior fiberglass for signs of dullness or chalking; if the surface is in need of some TLC, Poli Glow offers a complete kit that includes 32-ounce containers of Poli Glow and Poli Prep (good for a 30-32-foot motorhome), a mitt applicator and scrub pad with handle. Poli Glow is easily applied without the need for rubbing or buffing, and is formulated to last up to 12 months.
Deploy the slides to make sure that they are functioning properly. Inspect the seals for integrity and confirm that they are still supple and that there are no large gaps or cracks; Thetford and others market rubber-seal treatments designed for slides. If you have slide toppers, check the condition of these as well, making sure there are no tears or signs of mold/mildew. Same goes for the patio awning. If extra care in these areas is necessary, Camco offers both an Awning Cleaner and Mildew Stain remover to help you get the job done.
Hopefully, the water tank was drained before putting the motorhome in storage. Before leaving on the first trip, the tank should be filled and sanitized. If you’re the DIY type, you may elect to flush the freshwater system yourself, and sanitize it with a diluted chlorine bleach solution or with a kit like Thetford’s Fresh Water Tank Sanitizer. Fill the freshwater tank with water, then make sure the air has been bled from all faucets and showerhead(s) and that the demand pump is providing adequate flow/pressure. Now is a good time to inspect/clean the water pump filter.
In a perfect world, the LP-gas system should be pressure-drop tested every year — something a certified RV technician can do. Once the pressure is confirmed, and there are no leaks in the system, run the stove and fire up the water heater, then run the furnace for a few minutes to make sure that it is producing heat and the fan is working properly. Operate the refrigerator on LP-gas mode, if so equipped, and also verify that the refrigerator is working on 120-volt AC. If a problem is detected, schedule an appointment at the repair center right away; getting in the queue during the time everyone is looking for service can lead to travel delays.
Finally, go through the motorhome and make sure that the LP-gas, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are functioning, up to date and have fresh batteries if they’re battery-operated, and that the fire extinguisher(s) is up to date and full. Now is also a good time to make sure that the emergency exit(s) unlatches and operates freely.
Hopefully you had time to clean the interior and took steps to make sure it stayed dry before you closed it down for the season. If not, you could be greeted by the not-so-pleasant scents of must and mildew. If that’s the case, the first step is to open the windows and doors to let the interior air out, then use a desiccant product like DampRid. DampRid is an all-natural product that traps excess moisture and eliminates musty odors. The company offers a convenient, single-use moisture absorber for RVs that requires no electricity or power and is said to last for up to 45 days. Kanberra Gel, meanwhile, is a popular, all-natural product that allows the antibacterial properties of Australian tea tree oils to become airborne through evaporative release, resulting in cleaner, fresher air, according to the company.
Before hitting the road, remove and inspect the filter from each air conditioner. These filters can be cleaned easily with water and then allowed to air dry. If replacement is required, or if you’re looking for a more effective product, consider an air filter from RV Air. The company’s patented filter is made of unwoven polyester and blocks particles as small as 3 microns, according to RV Air, including pollen, dust, mold spores, pet dander and other allergens.
Once you’ve given your motorhome the once over, a good pre-travel ritual is to spend the first night (or weekend) in your own driveway, or someplace else close by. This way, you can conduct a “real world” test in a practical situation, and make sure that everything works correctly. Now get out there and enjoy!
Camco Manufacturing Inc. | 800-334-2004
DampRid | 888-326-7743
Dicor Corp. | 800-837-2059
Dometic Corp. | 800-544-4881
Kanberra | 716-683-3000
Poli Glow Products Inc. | 800-922-5013
Roadmaster Inc. | 800-669-9690
RV Air Inc. | 844-782-4746
Star brite Inc. | 800-327-8583
Thetford Corp. | 800-543-1219