You can learn a lot from reading stories of others’ RVing mishaps — possibly things to check on your own vehicles before your next adventure.
By Steve Froese, F276276
I often mention the importance of RV maintenance in my articles. Some upkeep tasks are fast and easy, while others take longer. Either way, neglecting this work can result in an expensive repair job. This month, I will relay some issues that happened during my recent travels and explain how repairs may be needed as a result of unpredictable circumstances not related to maintenance.
This past July, we were traveling with my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, who have a truck and a new-to-them travel trailer. During that trip, they experienced a series of breakdowns. It started on the first day of the trip when their truck suffered a loss of oil pressure. The root cause remains unknown.
During the course of the repair, the transmission failed, so the oil pressure issue quickly became a moot point. The mechanic provided us with a repair quote, but we realized the truck wasn’t worth repairing. He offered to purchase the truck for a fair price, and we had to find a replacement tow vehicle. After a series of frantic phone calls, my son-in-law and I located an available rental truck about two hours away that was suitable for towing the trailer. This could have put a damper on the trip, but with the rental truck hooked up to the trailer, we set off once again. It is unlikely the transmission issue could have been detected, or prevented, even with regular maintenance.
Over the course of our two-week vacation, they also faced two separate tire blowouts on the trailer, both of which damaged the floor. After the first blowout, we mounted the spare and continued onward, but the second one occurred shortly thereafter. This brings us to the importance of carefully and regularly examining RV tire conditions. As RV experts often say, RV tires tend to age out before they wear out.
On passenger vehicles, we usually wear out the tread before the tires get too old to be safe. However, on an RV, there is often relatively low annual mileage accumulation, so the tires tend to get old before they show significant signs of tread wear. Tire deterioration can be difficult or impossible to detect from the outside, or by the untrained eye. Therefore, it is important to have your RV tires regularly inspected by a professional, especially as they age.
The date of manufacture is stamped on the sidewall of all tires, following the brand characteristic information. For instance, “XYZ3420” would indicate the type of tire with the letters XYZ and the 34th week of 2020 as the tire’s manufacture date.
Fortunately, after replacing all four trailer tires, we had no further issues with their RV.
With the distraction of the truck and trailer issues, and the reliable history of our diesel pusher, we never dreamed we would have issues with our beloved “Hopper.” During our return trip from Los Angeles to Vancouver, I lost all engine power while climbing a long mountain range. I was very worried that my turbocharger may have failed, but I am diligent about RV and chassis maintenance, and turbos are inherently reliable. I was prepared for the worst, along with an expensive repair, so we bade good-bye to my kids, and they continued toward home while we waited for the tow truck.
It turned out that the issue was caused by the exhaust system rusting out in a few places. This is something that normally would not be detected during routine chassis maintenance. Fortunately, it was a relatively inexpensive repair, and we were back on the road again.
This brings us to a significant expense I could have avoided. I often write about the importance of seal inspections on the roof and body of our RVs. While I perform this function regularly and diligently, and reseal areas of concern, even a professional RV technician such as myself can’t always catch areas of failed sealant, especially on larger units.
I recently observed that the corner of one of the slideouts appeared to be separating from the RV. I also noticed the bottom of the slide was getting soft from water damage. This was concerning to me, especially since I am careful to check the seals regularly. After I noticed this water intrusion, I double-checked the sealants and could not find anything amiss. Unfortunately, once this level of damage is revealed, it usually means significant water damage has already occurred. This often can lead to delamination of the fiberglass sidewall from the wooden substrate due to glue failure. The condition usually can be identified by the fiberglass “bubbling” away from the surface and no longer being solidly bonded to the walls.
In the case of my RV, I didn’t believe it was delamination, because there was no telltale bubbling. If it were delamination, it would have required a full sidewall replacement on the slideout, including full body paint in three colors — not an inexpensive repair. I perform my own RV maintenance and most of the repairs myself, but I do not have a shop or the equipment necessary to do major body work, so I turned to my selling dealer for assistance. I was particularly interested in understanding where and how water entered my unit. As it turns out, some of the sealant along the bottom slideout fascia (the large trim piece bordering the edges of slideouts) had separated from the sidewall. While the sealant was in good shape, with no cracking or gaps, I failed to notice the tiny space in the sealant between the fascia and the sidewall. This resulted in water entry and the slideout floor rotting, causing the screws securing the wall to the floor to pull out and allowing the wall to separate from the floor. Because the leak originated so low on the sidewall on the bottom fascia, the fiberglass and substrate remained bonded. No wall replacement was required. The dealership had to replace the floor, but they did not have to remove the slide to do so. This repair was much less expensive than a sidewall replacement.
On this trip, I dodged two potentially very large repair charges, although I was still faced with significant but reasonable bills. The sidewall damage could have been much worse if I had not diligently maintained the sealants, even though I missed the nearly invisible gap. If the leak had occurred at or near the top of the sidewall, it’s likely delamination would have resulted.
While some RV owners neglect basic maintenance for a variety of reasons, its importance must not be underestimated. For me, the glass is always half full, so I am thankful the damage wasn’t worse. But it was the result of a simple oversight on my part, and this will certainly cause me to be much more thorough in the future. If you feel unable to perform regular seal checks on your RV, I urge you to seek out professional help. It is much cheaper to pay an RV service center for a few hours of labor than to have to endure expensive repairs caused by water intrusion.
Send your troubleshooting questions to Steve Froese at [email protected]. The volume of correspondence may preclude personal replies. Not all responses will apply in every instance. Some situations may require a visual inspection and hands-on testing. If you choose to follow any procedures outlined in this column, first satisfy yourself that neither personal nor product safety will be jeopardized. If you feel uncomfortable about a procedure, stop and make an appointment with an RV service facility.
You may also want to consult the FMCA Forums (https://community.fmca.com) to see whether your question has already been addressed or, if not, to post it.