How-To-DIY RV Motorhome and Camper Trailer Repairs & FAQs

Completely rebuilt 1946 Spartan travel trailer.
Completely rebuilt 1946 Spartan travel trailer. | Source

How to repair, maintain, rebuild, and modernize campers.

Many camping enthusiasts are daunted by the idea of maintaining their camping vehicles, whether they be a motorhome or tow behind travel trailer. Though similar in some aspects to home maintenance, RV’s require some different applications of plumbing and electrical parts and supplies.

While many owners do not have the expertise to repair everything on a particular camping vehicle, there is much a hands-on type person can do that will save lots of money which would otherwise go to a repairman.

This article will focus on the camper body itself since the engine and drive train of a motorhome is usually a Ford, GM, etc. Other than changing the oil, testing the brakes and other normal maintenance, a qualified mechanic will be able to service the motorhome as easily as any other large truck. However, some parts such as different radiator hoses, belts, etc. may be encountered.


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Roof Maintenance and Repairs

Airstream roof with sealant coating
Airstream roof with sealant coating | Source
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Roof Repairs and Maintenance

By far, the roof is one of the most important parts of the RV. As long as moisture is kept from penetrating this surface the interior is safe from damage. Because of the tendency of owners to leave the camper sitting out in the sunlight for most of the time, the roof is exposed to harmful sun and heat damage.

While older models utilized metal as a covering, today’s models usually use metal covered with a type of vinyl or rubber sheeting and/or coating. These vinyl coverings will stand lots of abuse for a few years but eventually, because of the UV damage and flexing while the camper is being moved, leaks are inevitable.

The first hint of leaks in the RV will usually be along the outside edges of the roof. Here, and around any roof mounted objects, A/C’s, exhaust stacks, vents, etc., sheet metal screws are used to hold the metal sheeting to the walls and roof rafters. They are usually coated with sealer but this hardens over time. Stains will appear inside the unit before you realize you have a leak.

Using a quality rubber based coating will usually prevent and repair many of these leaks if the damage hasn’t gone too far. I would advise an annual coating be applied to the roof to prevent having to completely replace the roof sheeting. Unless you choose to replace the roof covering yourself, this can cost thousands of dollars, especially if the material beneath the roof covering is damaged.

Existing minor leaks in your motorhome or travel trailer may be repaired by using the sealants offered on this page. Patches for small areas are available and roof replacement kits are offered for those of the "hands on" type RV owners. Roof sealants for preventative maintenance are highly recommended.

Repair Tips and Products

Old type fuse box may be replaced with a new circuit breaker box
Old type fuse box may be replaced with a new circuit breaker box
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Motorhome and Travel Trailer Electrical Repair

Most RV’s utilize a combination of 110 volt and 12 volt electrical components. Most campgrounds have a standard 30amp hook-up with some offering 50 amps for large motorhomes with two A/C units or large microwave ovens.

The 12 volt supply is utilized for some lights, vent fans, and for one part of the absorption refrigerators. The majority of the remaining electrical appliances use the standard 110 volts just like in a home.


The circuit breaker panel is usually different in appearance than the one at home but it works in precisely the same manner. In some cases the breakers are push button instead of switches, but the theory is the same. Both switches and push-button breakers may fail on occasion. Replacement is a simple matter.

Many times an outlet will not work because of the clip together receptacles utilized by the manufacturer to save time and money.These types of receptacles clip over the wire, cutting through the insulation to make contact with the wire.

Often the clips do not hold together properly and contact is lost causing failure of the outlet to work. Replacement with a thin house type outlet box will solve this problem and is much safer in my opinion.

If the 12 volt system isn’t working it usually means the transformer, used to convert the 110 volt supply to 12 volts, is malfunctioning. Replacing this can be very expensive if you purchase one of these units new.

A simple and cheaper alternative is to use a common 12 volt battery charger. By properly connecting the positive and negative output wire to the system you achieve the same results. Be sure the charger puts out enough amps to fully supply your needs.

The use of a multimeter helps a great deal in finding and repairing electrical problems, both 12 volt and 120 volt systems. Even an inexpensive multimeter will work for most problems.

Replace Plumbing In Classic Models

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Basic Travel Trailer Plumbing Repair

RV’s use a variety of plumbing materials including copper, vinyl and steel pipes to convey water to the sinks, bath, and toilet. The newer models will more than likely use flexible tubing to prevent leaks caused by movement during transportation. It is not uncommon for these connections to leak when new because of improper tightening during factory installation.

This is usually a simple repair or replacement procedure. Plumbing in older models may consist of copper pipe which may be replaced with the new flex pipe for more reliable use. Some plumbing fixtures may be replaced with standard home fixtures but usually the compact nature of an RV dictates otherwise.

Toilets are very expensive to buy new. You can purchase a used camper toilet at many auto parts junkyards at very low prices, if you aren’t of the fussy type. Pressure washing the toilet with bleach should dispel any qualms about germs and the money saved can be quite substantial.

Sink and shower fixtures use standard rubber washers for the most part. Drips and leaks are usually repaired much the same as in the home. If you must replace these parts, the auto salvage junkyard contains many wrecked almost new RVs with parts you can salvage. If you have to buy new ones be sure to search online before doing anything. A little time looking is usually worth it.

Window and Door Maintenance

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Window and Door Maintenance and Repair

Over time, the seals around the windows and doors on your Motorhome or travel trailer may begin to leak. This moisture will eventually damage the walls and flooring if not quickly repaired. Once again, preventative maintenance will save you much trouble and expense in the future.

It is imperative to reseal around the windows and doors every year or so with a good quality silicone rubber. Although not as susceptible as the roof, these will also leak over time especially if the unit is moved frequently. If replacement of the doors or windows is necessary, try finding used windows or doors at salvage yards.

It may be necessary to enlarge the original window or door opening to get a good fit for the replacement door or window. In some cases the glass inside the old window itself may be replaced. Local glass companies can tell you if this repair is possible and the cost of the process. Often, this is the cheapest and less problematic solution.

If you choose new windows, be sure these replacement windows or doors are made for campers because of the inherent danger of using ordinary house windows. Regular house windows and doors may use glass which could shatter during movement of the travel trailer or motorhome as they may not flex enough during transit.

Appliance update

Malfunctioning gas fridge replaced with 110 volt model.  Saved $1200
Malfunctioning gas fridge replaced with 110 volt model. Saved $1200 | Source
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Replacement Refrigerators For Your RV

RV Refrigerator Maintenance, Repairs, And Replacement

In most cases an absorption refrigerator came standard in your motorhome or camper trailer.. These wonderful cooling devices have no moving parts and usually lasts for years.

These can operate on 110 volt 12 volt or LP gas. It’s hard to believe but they use heat to make freezing temperatures by using a recycled ammonia solution.

It is imperative for the travel trailer or motorhome to be fairly level if the unit is to operate properly. An exhaust stack from the absorption refrigerator is utilized to let the heat escape through the roof.

If this exhaust is blocked by birds nests, wasp nests, or anything else, the unit will not cool efficiently. It is recommended you check this exhaust flue annually to prevent a restricted airflow from affecting the cooling process of any type of absorption refrigerator

Replacing the RV absorption refrigeration unit can be very expensive. Some owners choose to replace their old absorption fridge with a regular house type freon refrigerator.

This works well as long as they have 110 volt 30 amp service. Compare the price of one of these at around $200 with an absorption unit costing over a $1000 for the same capacity.

Because of the extra space an absorption fridge requires, Some camper owners will replace them with an apartment size model when renovating or remodeling an older travel trailer.





RV AC Repair, Maintenance, and Replacement Tips

Cleaning dirty coils is essential
Cleaning dirty coils is essential
Oil the fan motor bearings
Oil the fan motor bearings

RV Rooftop AC Repair and Maintenance

Annual cleaning and maintenance of the RV AC unit on your travel trailer or motorhome is extremely important for efficient and economical cooling. Cleaning the coils is an easy job which can make all of the difference in the RV AC units cooling capacity.

Remove the RV AC shroud and use a good coil cleaner to loosen the grime and a wet/dry shop vacuum to keep from making a mess while removing the resulting sludge. A fin comb which helps straighten bent coils for better cooling may be found on this page.

If possible, oil the fan motor while you have the RV AC shroud removed. Many RV AC fan motors have oiling tubes over the motor bearings. Often, the fan motor may start slowly if these bearings are not oiled annually.

If the RV AC rooftop unit is too far gone, replacing it with a new one is not a difficult undertaking. Check out the new and more efficient Coleman and Carrier RV AC units offered on this page. Installation is a simple job for the ordinary hands-on RV'er.

These modern RV AC units are surprisingly inexpensive and work much better than the older RV AC units. Still not sure of your ability? Find more detailed RV AC repair and replacement articles in the links below.

More by this Author


Comments 46 comments

Ted Wintriss 7 years ago

Great information!

As well, when doing maintenance, it's good to check for water damage - feel around the ceiling for soft sports, and routinely check all the seals around anywhere that has been cut out of the body (antennas, windows, doors, etc.)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 7 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks Ted, I go further in depth on a hub just for that purpose. Appreciate the input.

Randy Godwin


Robert Ayres 6 years ago

I own a 1990 Wildwenwss Yukon, Excellent shape. Where can I buy the rubber molding that covers the screw heads around the windows? The molding is shrinking and pulling out around the corner of the window frame.The corners of the window frames are rounded.I can't seem to locate any rubber molding.

My E-Mail is as follows

otter_be4@hotmail.com


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Most of the time this stripping is of a standard size. Try online sources or local camper supplies and parts. Thanks!


Dave Briscoe 6 years ago

I have an 8' pop up. My interior lights don't work. I have voltage at the fuse but not at the fixture. The bulbs and fuse are ok because I tested them with a volt/ohm meter. They will not work with either the battery or with the drop cord plugged into a working ac outlet. Any suggestions? Thanks Dave


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Dave! I assume the lights referenced are the first on the circuit or are in the only fixture. The information you give seems to indicate a short in the wiring between the fuse and light fixture.

If not, check the other fixtures for voltage if you haven't already done so. It seems odd a break could suddenly appear in the wiring though.

Curious? Is the fixture both 12 volt DC and 110 volt AC? Just wondering because you tried both voltages in your example. You may have to replace the old wire in the worst case scenario! Thanks!


Annie 6 years ago

Could anyone give me a good site to purchase the rubber seals that go around rv windows, I anm having a terrible time trying to match mine up, or to even know what it is properly called. Thanks


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Annie! I searched Google using the term "rv window seals and found products for resealing many types of windows. Check these out, if you haven't already done so. I wish you luck and thanks for reading my article!


wilderness profile image

wilderness 6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

A well written hub, Randy, with some good information and I've linked to it from my RV hub. I'll have to check the AC blower bearings for lubrication on my own as I never realized they may not be sealed.

I have to disagree with the use of a battery charger in place of a converter, though. Turning on just some of the lights in my motorhome results in a 20 amp draw that few regular chargers can keep up with - the result will be drawing down the batteries. In addition, my converter will, if I let it, charge at a 200 amp rate - I've never seen a charger at all that could do that. A battery charger would probably do fine for a pop-up or even a small trailer, but not much more.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for linking my article, Wilderness! Yes, some AC fan motor bearings have oil ports while many do not.

I have used a battery charger on several occasions to replace the converter in motorhomes. Normally the 12 volt lights do not draw many amps at all. 20 amps seems like a huge amount for 12 volt lights. Many homes use a 20 amp breaker to supply electrical power for a large room. This includes lights and outlets.

I'll bet you must have the brightest lights around! LOL!

Thanks again!


Robert 6 years ago

I purchased a 98 wildwood travel lite 24 ft camper and found out after that there was some water damage near the front of the camper. Water had leaked through where the seal is at the top and leaked into the camper making the roof over the front bedroom very weak and damaged not to mention the front wall very rotted. I can tell cause of the ripples in the wallpaper. how do I go about taking stripping the interior walls of the front of the camper and replacing them. I am handy and can do it myself but where to start would really be helpful. please help opd1872@aol.com


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

First you must discover the extent of the damage, Robert! I am unfamiliar with the wall construction in your particular camper so it would be hard to give you a precise starting point. Perhaps more information about the type of wall materials would give me an idea of your problem. There is really nothing you can damage which cannot be repaired in most cases!


Steve 6 years ago

Is there a way to adjust the slide out so it properly seals all the way around when retracted. the bottom is tight however, the top has a small gap in the center of the seals span (the corners make some contact) Thanks


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Steve! I cannot say without seeing your problem but you may be able to add additional seals or material to span the present gaps left by the old seals. A little trial and error may be required in order for the slide out to retract properly! Sorry I cannot be of more assistance!


Brandon 5 years ago

We are trying to figure out if gastite will be a safe alternative to the traditional copper pipe. I keep getting mixed opinions, but it makes sense to me that flex pipe will be better for a trailer on the move.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Brandon-I cannot recommend the use of Gastite in an RV application. Not because of any bad experiences by users I am aware of, but because there doesn't seem to be any info stating it has been approved for such use.

I would suggest you contact the company for clarification on this, but it seems they would be glad to recommend the product for RV usage if such an approval existed.

Sorry I cannot be of further assistance on this question. Thanks for stopping by!

Randy Godwin


Steve V profile image

Steve V 5 years ago

Hi, we just started a reno on a 1973 Sprite Alpine, 12 foot, and it has a transformer, which still works, should i upgrade to an inverter, or leave it, as we will only be using it for the 12 volt lights, and maybe a water pump, if i decide to install one


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

This is hard to say Steve, as a water pump may draw more amps than the transformer can handle. Perhaps trial and error is the only way to tell in this case. I would think you are okay with what you have now if lights are the main draw on the electrical system.

Good luck on your renovation and thanks for reading my articles. Feel free to ask for more info if needed.

Randy


Steve V profile image

Steve V 5 years ago

Thanks Randy, We will give it a shot, not that we really need a pump, but it might be nice later on, if i run into any problems,which im sure i will,its a big project, i will give you a shout, thank you for your time and help !!

Steve


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Sorry I couldn't be of more help, Steve. Please do ask if I can be of further service to you in your project.

Thanks again,

Randy


chris 4 years ago

Hi Randy

I havetravel travel that has a soft spot in the floor and on the wall. Is this something i could handle on my own or carry to a repair shop? I have to very little travel trailer experience but have some building knowledge.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hey Chris! If you are fairly proficient with carpentry tools it should not be a big deal to repair the walls and floor of your camper. As in most wood related repairs there isn't too much you can mess up without being to able to tear it out and try again. Good luck and feel free to ask for any info you might need.

Thanks for the question and for reading.

Randy :)


franksg384 profile image

franksg384 3 years ago from Anderson, SC

Very nice hub, well written, I am trying to write some hubs on my camper also.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks, franksg! Good luck on writing your camper related hub also.


todd schmitt 3 years ago

i have 76 dodge motorhome and the opposite of all your articles is happening. my 110 isn't working but 12 volt does .it will work 12v only if i plug 110 from home not the one out of converter.

thanks


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi Todd, do I understand you to mean you have no 110 volt power at all on your RV? I don't get what you mean by :

"not the one out of converter" What are you referring to by this?


Elainiac 2 years ago

Hi Randy.

I really appreciate your guidance and tips.

Do you have any information about how to remove/replace a waste water tank?

I have a 1967 Frolic travel trailer and I want to replace the waste water tank as well as "cap off" the pipe to the sink on the opposite side of the trailer from the bathroom. (I removed the "kitchen" sink and just have a bigger basin in the bathroom one now.) This pipe appears to run inside a frame beam.

My hope is that if I replace to tank, I won't really have to deal with trying to find the leaks within the beam anymore.

A friend suggested that I cut a hole in the passenger side of the trailer to remove the tank and then patch it up later, but I am concerned that will look horrible.

Thank you for your insight and advice.

-Elaine


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@ Elainiac--Sorry, I have no experience with replacing the waste water tank. There must be a better way rather than tearing a hole in your RV though. Are you sure there's no way to repair the leaks?

Randy


shirley 2 years ago

where would I find a picture of wiring diaphragm for 2004 Cardinal 5th wheel


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Shirley, have you tried contacting the manufacturer of your 5th wheel? I do not have access to the wiring info of the many models of campers made today. Sorry i can't help you with this, but I'll try to help if you have a particular problem.

Randy


Ryan 18 months ago

Thanks for all of this great info Randy!

I have a plumbing question. I am currently gutting and remodeling a 24ft. Jayco camper. I know that there is a vent for the black water tank and the gray water tank. But, one of the vents going up through the ceiling is in the way of where i would like to put a bunk bed. Is there any rule that says that I can't join these two vents into one, right above the floor maybe? Or maybe another option would be to elbow the vent that is in the way over just enough that it clears where i want the bed and then back over where it currently goes through the roof. Do the vent pipes have to be straight up and down vertical? Thanks for any help!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 18 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Ryan and thanks fir the question. Yes, you can relocate either of the vent pipes to a better location if you require it. It may be better to use a 45 degree elbow rather than a 90 to ensure there are no places for any rainwater to stand in the pipe and block the venting process. As long as have a vent which allows the tanks to get air and assist the draing process you should be fine. :)

Randy


Melanie 17 months ago

Hi Randy.We have a 2012 Keystone Passport Ultra Lite 36ft.Travel Trailer.We had 2 blowouts so far.One did damage to the black tank release valve.It is bent and now leaking.The problem is the camper has protective underbelly.How do we get to the valve without damaging anything.And is it easy to repair?


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 17 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Melanie, the valve should be easy to repair or replace as most are standard sizes. I'm not familiar with what material is used underneath your travel trailer nor the layout of the holding system. Can you tell me a bit more about the underbelly of the RV?

Randy


Robert Lavalle 17 months ago

How do I replace or repair my fresh water intake back flow valve


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 17 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi Robert, have you found a replacement yet? It should be a rather simple task to remove and replace it.


Mandy Silva 16 months ago

Hi, we have been troubleshooting our 1977 golden falcon travel trailer as the 12v electrical system is no longer working. My husband looked for the converter but couldn't find it, thinking our trailer won't have it because they are two separate systems. He has replaced all fuses, and the battery is brand new. Is there something else we could look for? It was working just fine one day, and not working the next.

My email is mandyjolene5@yahoo.com

Thank you


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 16 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi Mandy, do you have a 12 volt fuse panel anywhere in your camper? If you have any 12 volt appliances--light fixtures, vent fans, fridge, etc.--they require a power converter to keep the battery fully charged and the 12 volt items powered. There should also be a breaker or fuse for the power converter in the 110 volt power panel. Feel free to elaborate on your system.

Randy


Hilary Aulando 16 months ago

Hi, Randy. I have a 1979 15' Trillium fiberglass trailer (Canadian made, much like a Boler or Scamp). It has an old Progressive Dynamics power converter and a 12 volt circuit to power the 4 light fixtures. These fixtures are designed to use the old 1141 bulbs (single contact bayonet style) that draw 18 watts each. The problem is, I can turn on 2 bulbs at once, but when I add a third, the breaker kicks. I am unable to test with the 110 power, as the previous owner severed the shore-power cord and I haven't yet replaced that. Most of the time we are boondocking, so the 12volt battery (new) should suffice. However this problem with the lights has me confused. Should I be looking for a problem in the converter?


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 16 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi Hilary, and so sorry to take so long responding to your question. Since the battery powers the 12 volt DC breaker panel, and the converter keeps the battery charged, the converter is out of the equation because it requires the 110 volt AC shore power to operate.

First I would change the breaker because they do get weak over the years, especially if one has been reset numerous times. I'd also check the voltage at the breaker and the light fixtures to ascertain they aren't pulling more than 12 volts. Let me know if you need more help after checking these items.

Randy


Jacob 16 months ago

I have an old 87 prowler and the tub is cracked and leaking what you suggest on that


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 16 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi Jacob, if the tub is made of fiberglass it can be repaired easily using a fiberglass repair kit found at most auto parts stores or you may find a repair kit especially for tubs at Lowe's or Home Depot. If it's an acrylic tub, I believe there are repair kits for those also. Check at the same home supply stores for them. Good luck! :)

Randy


Marlene 15 months ago

I have an old six pack camper, I plugged it into an extension cord from the house to the power cord connected to the camper, so I could run a air conditioner that fit nicely into the window that is between the camper and back of cab, I then lugged the unit into a outlet in the camper , it worked fine for about 5 minutes then I had no power in the camper at all , did I fry the wiring? I don't have any 12 volt supply and I can't find a breaker or button or fuse, help ?


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 15 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi Marlene, unless you have a heavy duty extension cord it is bad on the AC because a too small--not able to carry the amps required--to power the unit. More than likely the breaker in the house has tripped and not in the camper itself. You can plug something--a light will be fine--into the extension cord and see if this is indeed the case. Or you can simply check the house breakers to see if one of them is tripped off.

If not, let me know and we'll go from there. :)

Randy


patti 14 months ago

We have an allegro rv 3126 diesel, lost power, skipping, engine code 74.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 14 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Patti--Can you be a bit more specific about the problem?

Randy

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