How-To-DIY RV Motorhome and Camper Trailer Repairs & FAQs
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.
Roof Maintenance and Repairs
RV Roof Repair Products
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
Essential RV Electrical Info and Tools
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
RV Plumbing Products
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
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.
Replacement Refrigerators For Your RV
Perfect for replacing a RV Fridge!
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
New Rooftop RV AC units
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.