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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Zen and the Art of Motor-home Maintenance

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy flickr
Now that winter has finally arrived, many RV owners decide to head south to warmer climes.  If you don’t believe me, all it takes is a short drive down I-95 to see herds of motor-homes, fifth wheels and RVs of every stripe migrating south toward Tampa, Boca, Miami and the Keys.  While having the ability to follow the sun is a blessing for many, it can quickly turn into a costly nightmare should their RV of choice breakdown on the road.  To help all you road wanderers maintain your mellow mantra, I thought I’d take the time to give you a few helpful hints that should come in handy when circumstances beyond your control try to spoil your day.

King of the Road Dethroned. – While most RV owners assume that it will be a mechanical problem that’s most likely to bring their sojourn to a stop, what many fail to appreciate is that as bad as a breakdown can be, what’s even worse is having to deal with a stinky issue that follows them as the miles unwind.  What I’m talking about are plumbing problems. While plumbing problems on the road aren’t all that much different from those at home, having to deal with them in the cramped confines of a camper can turn even the most even-tempered individual into a fuming, cussing hothead.  Dealing with a clogged sink or toilet is no fun.  But that doesn’t mean you have to let it spoil your fun for long.

Image courtesy flickr
Toilet troubles seldom occur when you are on the road, at a rest stop or at a fully equipped campsite.  They usually wait until you’re parked deep in the woods where the only alternative is a bucket or a walk in the woods to do your business.  While a plunger may work to clear a clog from an RV toilet, the last thing you want to wind up doing in a tiny bathroom is standing above the commode pushing pressure downward.  If the clog doesn’t go, chances are you’ll blow water and crud all over yourself.  Besides, there’s a better tool to use to clear a clogged RV head: a flexible toilet tank wand.  Designed to snake down any pipe, some models even come equipped with a power head that’s designed to connect to the faucet with a flexible hose to break up the clog with a jet of high-pressure water.  It also wouldn’t hurt to clean out the holding tank from time to time, since a full tank can also cause a backup.

      2.      Sink stoppages on the road can be similar to those at home, if the cause is a clogged p-trap.  But what could also cause a sink backup is a full holding tank.  Unlike a house or apartment where you can run the water to your heart’s content, on the road you really need to practice water conservation since there’s no sewer or septic system to give the water a place to go.  Before you start snaking a stopped-up RV sink, check the level of the holding tank.  Clearing the stoppage could be as simple as having the tank drained.  If that doesn’t solve your dilemma, using a snake is preferred to chemical solvents since RV drainpipes are made of plastic and are therefore easily damaged by solvents. You should also avoid injecting high-pressure air or water into the line as this could rupture it.

      3.      Water heater problems can make or break your day, especially if you want to take a shower.  One quick fix is to check the bypass valve which may have been thrown if you winterized your RV.  Another simple cause of cold water running when you want hot is to have another sink in the RV running hot water.  Check to see if anyone else is running the water in another part of your camper.  Beyond that, the cause is usually electrical, involving either a blown fuse, a balky thermostat or a dead heating element.  If your water heater uses gas, check to see that the tank isn’t empty and the valve isn’t shut.

Is your fridge on the fritz? – While a refrigeration problem could be mechanical or electrical, one of the first things you should check if your fridge refuses to get cold is whether your RV is level.  RV refrigerators won’t function effectively if they’re off kilter.  That means you’ll either need to move your camper to more level ground or use chocks to level the fridge.  If that doesn’t fix the problem, you need to check the power source.  When it comes to RV refrigerators, many are dual fuel which means they can operate on either electric or propane.  Switching from one to the other should solve your problem in the short run.  But you’ll need to find the culprit and fix the real issue sooner or later.

Image courtesy flickr
What supplies should I pack to deal with common RV problems? – Unlike your home which may come equipped with a garage that you can fill with tools and useful household chemicals, taking to the open road means doing with a lot less gear.  The question is what supplies should you make room for before you head out on the open road other than a basic tool kit and roll of duct tape?

      1.      Silicon spray lubricants come in handy for a number of issues.  If your slider refuses to slide, a squirt of silicon spray should do the trick.  It’s also useful to protect many materials from the sun and waterproof metal surfaces to help prevent rust.  Unlike petroleum-based oil sprays, silicon spray won’t force you to open all the windows to air out your camper every time you use it either.

      2.      Electrical contact cleaner is a must if you want to keep your RV’s electrical system performing properly.  Especially if you like to camp near the ocean, salt air can kill your camper’s electronics as fast as a flood.

      3.      Speaking of water damage, a tube of roof sealant is like an insurance policy, since it stops water in its tracks.  Just like a boat, RVs do sometimes spring a leak.  Left unchecked, a leak can damage everything from your camper’s structure to carpets, furnishings and electronics.

      4.      Spare tire equipment should include a sturdy jack, wheel chocks, lug wrench, road flares and a rain poncho. 

      5.      Spare parts can be hard to come by as the traffic whizzes by. Unless you want to put yourself in a position to be taken for a ride by the closest tow truck operator, you need to put together a break down bag that includes spare parts, hoses, belts, fuel and air filters, fuses and any other component that are relatively easy to replace by the side of the road.  Also make sure you include a fire extinguisher and battery-powered lantern or headlamp that you don’t have to hold while you work.

Should you add roadside assistance to your RV policy? – Even if you don’t ordinarily opt for roadside assistance on your automobile, having it on your RV policy is a must, unless you like paying through the nose for towing and hotel accommodations should your RV wind up stuck at a repair shop for a few days while the repairs are completed.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. There's nothing sadder than an RV broken down by the side of the road.

  2. I don't own a Motorhome but I do own a Travel Trailer and most of the tips pertain to my Trailer as well. Thanks.

  3. I own a RV and its really important to maintain it on regular basis if you don't want mess during your vacation or on the middle of nowhere. Most of the maintenance tips are similar, but the only difference is now, I know them more better & clear. Thanks for sharing.


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