Costly RV Mistakes to Avoid

Nate Axness of ProjectTrek is a full-time nomad and digital content creator who has been traveling around Canada, the U.S. and Mexico since 2016 with his wife, Christian, two kids, Ella and Andersen and their service animal, Sage. Trekking his way around in an RV, he has learned to appreciate the necessity that is RV maintenance. From properly preparing a coach for storage to making repairs on the fly and keeping up with preventative maintenance, Nate knows a thing or two about costly RV maintenance mistakes to avoid while owning a home on wheels.

Costly RV Mistakes to Avoid

by Nate Axness of ProjectTrek

If you ever find an RVer in the wild and chat them up, you’ll doubtlessly get all kinds of unsolicited advice on exactly how you should RV the right way. The truth of the matter is that there’s no one way to do it. You can tow all your dirt bikes and side-by-sides to the desert and dry camp to your heart’s desire. You can relax at pricey resorts complete with water parks and swim-up bars. Or like us, you can bust out the hot cocoa and spend the winter season skiing and snowboarding on a budget in some of America’s best ski towns. There are so many different ways to RV, but there is one thing that all owners will agree on: MAINTENANCE IS A MUST.

The RV industry is a unique monster. There’s no trial period. There’s no mulligans. No truck dealer that I’m aware of will let you install your 5th wheel hitch and pull a 16,000 lb. trailer around town for a test drive. It’s a costly hobby (or lifestyle for some). Staying true to its pricey nature, there are a few RV newbie mistakes that can be made when maintaining your rig that can cost you even more.

Nate of ProjectTrek washing his RV with his kidsNate of ProjectTrek washing his RV with his kids

RV Newbie Mistakes You Should Avoid While Your Rig is in Storage

For many, the end of fall begins a season-long depression in which RVers across the country begin preparing to store their rigs for the season. You will see them parked in driveways or backed into storage facilities collecting dirt and dust. If you listen closely enough, you might hear the Ghosts of Summers Past faintly whispering “Home is where we park it” or “I go where I’m towed.”

You might wonder how an RV sitting stationary for months on end could possibly be costing you hard-earned cash, but there’s a lot going on underneath that fiberglass skin. Here are a few RV newbie mistakes that can be made when preparing your rig for storage.

1. Not taking the time to winterize

Most of the geographical U.S. experiences below freezing temperatures at some point throughout the year. Just like stick-and-brick homes, the plumbing in RVs can easily freeze over and cause pricey repairs if not quickly identified and fixed. To avoid this costly mistake, it's important to winterize your RV. There are a few ways to do this:

  • One of the most common methods is to pump “RV safe” antifreeze throughout the entire plumbing system in your RV. This is sure to keep your water lines from freezing over, but some, including me,  may not be completely assured of the health and safety of this method.
  • Another option is to use compressed air and gently clear the lines of all water. This has typically been my go-to method for winterizing, but the downside to this is that you must have access to an air compressor, and you’ll need a nozzle fitting to match your plumbing intake.
  • We travel full-time and carrying an air compressor isn’t feasible, so I’ve since landed on the Floë integrated drain down system. It's a one-time install that lets you quickly and effectively purge your water lines with compressed air on demand. Leaving your RV in the cold for a couple nights? There’s no need to plug it in and run the furnace, just turn on Floë, follow the drain down procedure, and you’re good to go!

2. Not protecting your tires

Plumbing isn’t the only concern for long-term storage. Believe it or not, tires don’t like to sit for that long in one position either. Dry rot can set in before you know it, and a new set of shoes for a trailer can easily run you around $1,000 — even more for a motorhome!

The best thing you can do for tires is to move them and keep them out of UV light exposure. Keep in mind that not all tire covers actually block UV radiation, so be sure to look for that when purchasing tire covers. If you use tire-shine products, be sure to check for UV protection in those as well, or you might just be buttering up that tire for the oven.

3. Inviting critters to camp in your rig

A dry, uninhabited RV is basically an underground rave for rodents. Be sure to set traps and deterrents and check in on your investment regularly. Mice and rats not only harbor diseases and filth, they can also destroy textiles and furniture. I’ve tried so many pricey traps and tricks, but the one that has always outperformed the others is a trick I learned from a fellow full-time RVer, Rob Peeples of Peeples and Places.

  • Go to any big box store and buy the original Victor brand wooden mouse traps. They’re typically a dollar or two for a multipack. While you’re there buy a stick of Starburst candy.
  • This next step is important: separate all the pink ones from the rest and eat them. Now all that’s left are the gross flavors, and you can use them for the traps.
  • Unwrap the candy and repeatedly fold it until it’s somewhat soft. Then, mash it onto the trigger of the mouse trap and set the trap. The rodents will get their teeth stuck in the soft candy and set off the trap.

RV Newbie Mistakes You Should Avoid While You’re on the Open Road

A lot can happen while your rig is in storage, but even more can happen when you’re driving down the open road. These next few tips will help you understand the importance of regular maintenance, especially if you’re RVing full-time, and will help you avoid RV newbie mistakes.

1. Not respecting the relationship between the rubber and the road

For many weekend RVers, their RV tires might expire before they’ve lost 15% of their tread. Yes, tires have an expiration date that is typically five to six years from the date of manufacture. Finding your tire’s date of manufacture is easy once you know what you’re looking for. There’s a four-digit code on your tire’s sidewall. The first two digits are the week of the year, and the last two digits are the year. For instance, a date code reading 4520, means that the tire was made in the 45th week of the year 2020.

For the rest of us Rubbertramps, we’ll easily put 10k to 20k miles per year on our RV tires. Proper tire maintenance can not only prevent excessive tire wear, it can also prevent dangerous tire blowouts. Tires that are pressurized improperly can overheat and explode. The best case scenario is a trailer tire that blows and rips off some decorative trim. The worst case scenario is a front tire on a motorhome that blows and causes the driver to lose control of the vehicle.

The best way to avoid this is to use reputable tires, inflate them COLD to the recommended tire pressure, and keep them under the speed rating. (Yes, tires have a speed rating.) While we’re on the subject of speed: No RV should be going over 75 miles per hour. Full stop. For reference, tires can lose about one psi every month. So checking your tire pressure at monthly intervals is a safe guideline to adopt.

Nate ProjectTrek checking the tires on his RV tow vehicleNate ProjectTrek checking the tires on his RV tow vehicle

2. Not making an effort to keep moisture out

"Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty."
Derek Zoolander

Water might be the source of life, but it can be the death of your RV. RVs were never intended to sit under covered shelters. They were meant to be roaming wild in nature, overlooking Alpine lakes, sitting at the foothills of looming mountain ranges, or parked on the beaches of Baja. They can do this for many years, even decades, IF properly maintained.

There are several different types of coatings used in the manufacture of RV roofs, but all are subject to damage from the elements. Whether it's from hail, a stray tree branch, or long term exposure to sunlight all RV roofs will eventually fail. Not only will the roof material degrade, but no RV roof is a continuous layer of material. The roof of my RV is littered with openings for fans, cellular antennas, holding tank vents, air conditioners, and bolts holding in solar panels — and each one of those openings is an opportunity for water intrusion, if not properly maintained. RV roofs should be regularly inspected, ideally once a month, and resealed at least once a year.

To properly reseal your RV roof, use a putty knife to gently remove the old sealant and use a self-leveling lap sealant from Alpha Systems to seal up any openings or tears in the roof. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work.

Nate from ProjectTrek sealing his RV roofNate from ProjectTrek sealing his RV roof

Your roof isn’t the only point of entry for water damage to occur. We’ve already discussed how frozen water lines can introduce water damage, but there’s also another way for water to get inside your RV. All RV manufacturers have a recommended psi for the city water intake. For our RV, we are not to exceed 45 to 50 psi.

While you can’t control the water pressure at each and every campground, a small investment into a water pressure regulator can save your RV plumbing from excessive water pressure. Most RV plumbing consists of plastic PEX plumbing with crimp-on style connectors. These are reliable fittings, when used at the recommended water pressure. Exceed it, and all bets are off.

3. Not being mindful of your awning

There’s something about an RV awning that’s just perfect. The sun doesn’t even have to be out, and the perfect place to sit is still underneath the covering of your awning. It's also one of the most anxiety-inducing pieces of equipment on your RV. If your awning is extended, a single wayward gust of wind can cost you upwards of $800. This is why, each and every time we leave our RV, we always pull in the awning.

If you find that it's time to repair your awning or you are ready for an upgrade, consider the Solera® brand awning. They have controls built in to the awning arms, so that if you do forget to retract your awning, you can call a neighbor and have them bring it in, without them having to go inside your RV.

Folded out RV awningFolded out RV awning

4. Not being a friendly neighbor

Whether you’re packed liked sardines in an RV Park or dry camping with a few sporadic campers around you, it's always a good idea to get to know your neighbors. RVers are all a little nosey by nature. I think the curious nature of us is how we all ended up in rolling tiny homes in the first place. My wife calls me “The Mayor'' because ever since we began traveling, I’ve always introduced myself to our RV neighbors. Mostly because I’m a social person, but also because they are our eyes and ears when we’re not at our RV. Just this week, I saw water pouring out of a neighboring RV, and I ran to go shut off their water connection. I told the office and they called him at work. The damage ended up being minimal, but had it gone on for hours, he might have had massive amounts of damage.

The Axeness family sitting around a campfireThe Axeness family sitting around a campfire

For more tips about RV living, be sure to follow our adventures on YouTube at ProjectTrek, on Instagram @ProjectTrek, and on TikTok @ProjectTrekRV.