A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Signs You’re Shortening the Life of Your RV

Updated: Jun. 27, 2022

People buy RVs to simplify their vacations—but often forget that these vehicles are a home and a car, requiring the care necessary for both.

1 / 11
RV in the mountains
Greg and Jan Ritchie/Shutterstock

Avoid these mistakes at all costs…to avoid added costs

Your RV is supposed to be your refuge on vacation—literally, your home away from home when you’re heading to the best RV parks around the country or wherever else. But when something goes wrong, that vacation might be ruined, along with the memories of the trip. Of course, all RV owners think they’re doing the right thing, but an RV is a complicated system. After all, it has plumbing, heating, and air conditioning systems like your home, along with an engine, transmission, and tires like your car. All of these systems work together to make the RV work, but neglect or abuse can compound into a failure. Depending on the severity, this could simply make your trip miserable, or it could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Here are several ways you could be abusing your RV—and a few ways you can prevent problems before they happen.

2 / 11
Family vacation travel RV, holiday trip in motorhome, Caravan car Vacation. Beautiful Nature Norway natural landscape.
Andrey Armyagov/Shutterstock

You’re not replacing old tires

Your tires are the only thing keeping your RV from dragging on the road. That’s why most experts say tires are the most important part of motor vehicle safety. As much as RV tires sit, however, you’ll often find that they don’t wear out as much as they age out. Learn to read the date code on the side of your tires, and if the tires are more than ten years old, it’s time to replace them. Make sure you check every tire—and if your rear axle has dual tires, check them all!

You should also proactively protect your tires. When tires sit, they are subjected to UV rays from the sun, causing the rubber to crack on the sidewalls and making a blowout more likely. If you’re storing your RV for a few months, it’s a good idea to fit tire covers over each tire to protect from UV damage.

3 / 11
OREGON COAST, USA - September 3, 2009: Recreational vehicle parked alongside the Pacific Ocean
Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock

Your tires are overloaded and underinflated

Another concern with RV tires is how much of a load they can handle. After all, it’s not just the rubber holding your RV off the road—it’s the air inside. The air pressure in your tire is critical, so be sure to measure exactly what your pressure should be by using this handy guide from Michelin. Once you know the answer, measure the pressure at every fuel stop when you’re on the road. Air temperature can affect air pressure, as well as whether the tires are hot from driving. Speaking of tires, make sure you know the 1-second tire test that could save your life.

4 / 11
Death Valley National Park, California, USA-December 24, 2014. Typical winter RV camping in Death Valley.
Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

You don’t fix improper wheel alignment

Just like on your car, your wheels need to be properly aligned on your RV. If the front wheels aren’t going the same direction as the rear wheels, your tires will wear unevenly, and that can lead to a shortened life and more of a chance of catastrophic tire failure.

According to Motorhome.com, it’s best to measure and compare your tire tread depths across the tire—inside, middle, and outside—to catch uneven wear. You’ll notice severe misalignment when you’re on the highway, as the steering wheel could pull you one way or the other. That gets seriously tiring. (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves. Also, it’s true.) Don’t miss the ways you’re also shortening the life of your car.

5 / 11

You neglect your RV’s generator

While the engine of your motor home is important for getting down the road, most RVs have a second gas or diesel-powered engine that powers an electric generator. Without that generator, you might not have power for heat or air conditioning, your TV, or to extend or retract your slideouts. When you do your regular maintenance, don’t forget the generator. Replace air filters and spark plugs, and change the oil. Clean dust and debris from the engine and the generator. Make sure that the air intake isn’t blocked, and check the exhaust as well, since exhaust leaking into the passenger compartment can be deadly.

6 / 11
Family vacation travel RV, holiday trip in motorhome, Caravan car Vacation. Beautiful Nature Norway natural landscape.
Andrey Armyagov/Shutterstock

You don’t sanitize your fresh water tank annually

Part of what makes an RV great is the ability to have the conveniences of home when you’re away from it all. Much of what makes camping civilized is access to clean water, so making sure your fresh water tank is clean and safe is critical to making your trip memorable. RV Trader suggests sanitizing the entire freshwater system at least once a year in the spring, as well as any other time you notice an odor in the water.

To do this, turn off the water heater, allow it to cool, and drain it. Next, drain the water lines and the tank, using the water pump to force most of the water out if needed. Finally, run a mild bleach solution through the system to kill any growth, before purging the system and filling it with clean, potable water.

7 / 11
UTAH, UNITED STATES - JUNE 21, 2013: Recreational vehicle drives in Arches National Park in Utah. Arches NP was visited by 1,070,577 people in 2012.

You let food get into your grey water tank

Besides the fresh water tank, there are two other water-holding tanks on your RV: grey water and black water tanks. The black water tank is where everything that drains from your toilet goes, whereas all other waste water (from the sinks and showers) goes to the grey water tank. Dealing with this waste water isn’t the most pleasant part of RV use, but it’s necessary. The big thing to remember is that grey water is for water only. Small food debris can clog up the drains, so don’t send your leftovers down into the tank unless you want to spend the rest of your vacation trying to clean it.

8 / 11
Family vacation travel RV, holiday trip in motorhome, Caravan car Vacation. Beautiful Nature Norway natural landscape.
Andrey Armyagov/Shutterstock

You dump the black water tank before it’s adequately filled

The black water tank is obviously the ickiest part of any RV. Remember to wear gloves when pumping the black water tank, as the gases from decomposing waste can be harmful. Campanda.com suggests that you wait until the tank is around two-thirds full before dumping. Dumping a less-empty tank can be harder since there isn’t enough fluid to flow, which can cause solid waste to get caught behind or against the walls of the tanks. Also, don’t forget to add water to the toilet bowl before using it, and watch what you flush down the toilet!

9 / 11
RV and chairs at secluded campsite at sunset
Greg and Jan Ritchie/Shutterstock

You don’t check the roof regularly

Water damage is always a bear to deal with. A small pinhole leak in your RV roof can lead to big problems such as mildew, mold, or damage to wood cabinets and carpeted floors. It’s important to inspect the rubber roof of your RV several times a year and seal any seams or holes as soon as they are discovered. When you’re checking the roof, you should also take the time to clean it. Mark Polk at KOA.com suggests a mild detergent like Dawn dishwashing soap and warm water for light-duty cleaning. Just be very careful when getting on the roof of your RV, as it might not be meant for foot traffic. Check with your RV manufacturer for the proper procedure to get up there. Don’t miss these 30 things your mechanic won’t tell you.

10 / 11
RV campsite at sunrise in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

You don’t lubricate the slideout mechanism

Slideouts on RVs make an otherwise narrow vehicle a much more comfortable place in which to live. Of course, as these slideouts are mechanical, there are things that can go wrong and cause headaches. The mechanism for the slideout will typically need to be lubricated to ensure proper operation. A lack of lubrication can cause the mechanism to jam, overloading the motor. Sometimes a fuse can blow, which is easy enough to fix, but if the mechanism jams up tight while it’s extended, you might not be able to safely drive away at the end of your trip.

Also, much like the roof, the slideout has a roof that can leak, as well as gaskets and seals that need to be inspected and maintained carefully. Be sure to inspect these frequently.

11 / 11

You drive too fast

Of course, we would never condone speeding in any car, but excessive speed can be particularly problematic when driving an RV. Beyond the chances of a dangerous collision, driving faster in an RV increases the force that bumps or potholes have on the entire structure of the vehicle. You’ve surely hit a pothole when driving in your car and felt how hard it rattles your teeth. Just imagine what it would do to tires, shocks, and the rest of your RV, which weighs much, much more than your car. Of course, slowing down helps save fuel, too, which can add up quickly when driving a big motor home. Now, find out how you’re shortening the life of your car.