Owning an RV is not all sunsets and happy hours. Maintenance, insurance, repairs, storage, weatherproofing … these are all responsibilities that RV owners must consider, ideally prior to purchase.
The Wanderer frequently speaks on these issues, usually with the wisdom and expertise of Editor-at-Large Malcolm Street or the good people at rvSafe. Our readers love a good maintenance tip, particularly if it saves on costs, so we wanted to put it all in one place for easy reference.
INSURANCE AND REGISTRATION
First, and most importantly, RV owners need to consider their insurance and state and territory registration responsibilities. Registration costs across states and territories and how they each classify RVs in terms of size and weight. Failure to comply with registration regulations may cost you big in the end, in terms of money and potential injury coverage by road authorities. Ensure that your registration is current and valid, particularly before undertaking a trip.
Not having insurance, or opting for cheap insurance, may seem the more budget-friendly avenue, but this is dangerous thinking.
Australia is a land of extremes. In one region, you may be flooded or incur storm damage. In another, you may risk body or axle damage through corrugated and unsealed roads. Predicting the dangers of the Aussie landscape is risky business and it’s best avoided by having a solid insurance policy with wide-ranging coverage. It’s not all about just fixing damage. What if you’re stranded in a rural community and need to have your RV towed? What if you have a medical episode and your RV needs to be transported to another region?
KT Insurance is a specialist company well versed in the world of RVs and travelling. Check with KT or another insurance provider to assess your level of coverage. Saving a few dollars now could cost you thousands in the future. In Con’s Corner, Con regularly advises readers about insurance matters, so it’s well worth reading his column (page 20).
Some of us are lucky enough to have a garage, carport or yard large enough to store our RV away when not in use. Or maybe we have a friend with enough space to house it for us. However, for those of us in smaller properties, paid storage is one of the only options. Undercover storage is the costlier choice, but it does help protect your prized possession from the elements.
Paid yard storage is a cheaper option, and you can help mitigate against weather damage by investing in a quality RV cover. Again, going cheaper in the short term may cost you more in the long term. Covers can cost from $200 to over $800, so choose wisely.
RV covers made with breathable materials are the best options. Also, avoid any cheaper material that is scratchy or hard, as this may damage the exterior of your vehicle. UV-resistant material is also a great way to protect your RV from sun fade.
Consider the weather conditions in your local environment. A dry, hot atmosphere creates different dangers to a tropical or temperate climate. In the tropical heat, mould can be a real problem, while sun fade is an issue in dryer climates. See inset for information on how to prepare your RV for storage.
If you have paid (or free) storage a fair distance from where you live, ensure that you leave your vehicle fully prepared for the next trip (minus the food of course), serviced and mechanically fit. The ‘deal with it later’ attitude can result in further damage to your vehicle and headaches down the track.
Before you store your RV, check all the vents to ensure that air can circulate. This minimises the risks of mould and moisture build up.
MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS
Just like cars, RVs need to be regularly serviced to avoid huge costs in the future. If you have the skills and materials, this is something you can manage yourself. However, if like many of us you’re pretty useless with a spanner, you’re best to leave this with a qualified mechanic. RV specialist mechanics are a good option. They’re aware of what can go wrong and what to do to protect against this. A good mechanic will change the oil and various filters, check and rotate tyres, test the battery, inspect the brakes, monitor the electrical system, service the generator and potentially sanitise the interior.
Even if you have your RV serviced regularly, if you’re undertaking extensive travel, such as a Big Lap, it is wise to check in with your mechanic first. You don’t necessarily need a full service. Rather, you just need an educated and trained eye to check the vehicle for its fitness to travel.
If areas of your RV need repair, it is important to attend to these in a timely manner. If you leave damage unrepaired, rust can build up or leaks can worsen. The longer you wait, potentially the more expensive the repairs will be. After all, a stitch in time saves nine!
Safety is also a consideration. Impaired brakes, suspension, steering, seatbelts or mirrors can have a significant impact on your safety and that of your passengers. Never avoid safety issues to save money — the potential cost is too great.
CLEANING YOUR RV
The occasional weekender is unlikely to create considerable cleaning requirements, but if you’ve been on a long trip or in a dusty or muddy area, your RV should be thoroughly cleaned prior to storage. This means that both the interior and exterior should be cleaned and prepared for their next use.
First, clean the exterior using a hose or pressure washer. You can use a soft-bristle brush to ease off any dried mud or debris. Start from the roof and work your way down so you’re not having to redo the lower portions after cleaning the top.
It is essential to clean the roof. Remove any stains and rinse thoroughly after cleaning. It is worth checking the interior of your RV after this clean to check for any leaks or dribbles that may indicate that the roof has been breached.
After cleaning your RV, it’s a wise idea to apply protective wax or polish. As well as making it shiny and pretty, protective wax helps to protect the vehicle’s finish. If you have an awning, ensure it is completely dry before packing it away.
Clean the interior by vacuuming, cleaning the windows and all surfaces. The smallest crumb can attract an army of ants, which is not what you want to see when you unveil your chariot for its next adventure.
The same pests that invade our homes and create havoc are the same as those waiting to make themselves welcome in your RV. Ants, cockroaches, rats and mice are all attracted by food scraps, making a thorough interior clean vital.
To further protect your RV, check for any pest-sized gaps in the joins of windows, doors or pipes. You can fill these with silicone caulk or expanding foam to prevent the entry of pests.
Rats and mice can chew on electrical wires, so if you’ve had a rodent problem in the past, check your wiring prior to setting off. You don’t want to discover major electrical faults while on the road. While in storage, you can help to ward off rodents using ultrasonic devices or traps. There are many alternatives on the market, including chemical-free options, so choose what’s right for you.
Serious infestations may require the services of a professional. It’s not a cost we want, but if the pest problem is recurring, it may be the best option. Cockroaches can be particularly difficult to eradicate and seem to multiply to the extreme. After all, the old saying is that for every cockroach you see, there could be a thousand that you don’t! Disturbing thought.
We’ve also heard a few stories about bees swarming around RVs in storage. While bees are our friends and incredibly valuable to the environment, we don’t want them on or in our vehicles. Never try to remove a swarm yourself, especially with pesticides. Call a local apiarist who will come in a protective suit and take the swarm away. This is usually free. Hobby apiarists love securing new hives so they’ll take the valuable bees for free. I’ve even heard of an apiarist giving a jar of honey as a thank you gift for their new swarm.
After reading this article, you’re probably thinking of the costs associated with these responsibilities. It’s a great idea to do an RV budget before you travel, or ideally, before you purchase. Consider the costs, such as servicing, petrol, storage, campground fees, supplies and accessories, security costs, registration, insurance, maintenance and repairs and any incidentals. Seems like a long list, right? Well, it is, but it’s all part of RV ownership. For many, their RV is their travelling home and the upkeep of a motorhome is significantly less than the costs of running a bricks-and-mortar house.
For those of us who travel part time or occasionally, these costs can be a real burden, particularly for those on a fixed income. There are ways to save on RV maintenance and these include building your own skills so you can undertake DIY duties. In terms of storage, do you have friends with an acreage or large backyard who would be willing to store your RV for free? Before considering this option, think about how far away this would be and factor in the fuel costs and practicalities of travelling to store and pick up your RV.
As members of the CMCA, you have access to great deals and discounts. Check out Member Advantages (page 118) to see how your membership can save you money.
Unfortunately, in current conditions, there is little we can do to save on fuel costs. Australian consumer advocacy group Choice has a web page that suggests petrol price comparison apps for Australian states and territories. Visit www.choice.com.au/transport/cars/general/articles/cheap-fuel-apps-review for more information.
Driving consistently to the speed limit, minimising the weight you carry and walking to local hotspots instead of driving are also ways you can lower your petrol costs. Keep a close eye on your tyre pressure — underinflated tyres, while required to traverse some areas, generally reduce your fuel efficiency. Plan your route carefully and keep track of your movements as you go. Driving without knowing exactly where you’re headed can lead you to dead ends and unnecessary detours, further blowing out the fuel budget.
One of the best ways to protect against huge costs is to consistently care for your RV. Don’t let damages or mechanical issues worsen or become out of control. Early action usually prevents catastrophe. If you do have to hire a professional, do your research. Cheapest isn’t always best, but you can compare the prices of quality businesses.
You can also save money by opting for non-genuine parts or shopping around for tyres. If you take this route, ensure that the parts or tyres meet safety standards and will not compromise the quality of your overall vehicle. In some instances, branded parts must be used to comply with warranty conditions, so always read the fine print.
PREPARING YOUR MOTORHOME FOR STORAGE
• Clean your RV of any food scraps, rubbish or perishable items. These can attract pests such as rats and mice, who will damage the interior of your vehicle.
• Turn off your appliances to protect the battery from draining. When you turn off your refrigerator, leave the door slightly open to avoid mould and unpleasant smells.
• Drain your water tanks. This is especially important in winter, as ice can build up and create obstructions.
• Check your battery. This can include connecting it to a trickle charger or removing it entirely for storage.
• Check for body damage or flat tyres. There’s nothing worse than gearing up for a new trip and noticing damage that needs fixing before you can hit the road.
• Use a quality cover to protect your RV against the elements while it is in storage. ■