A thorough inspection and maintenance plan of the exterior of your rig is important not only for looks but for longevity as well. Sealants can become hard and cracked due to exposure to the sun and other elements which can also cause leaks and expensive damage. Fiberglass and other materials can fade and crack due to UV exposure. The first step is a visual inspection of all roof and sidewall materials, sealants, windows, tires, and vents. Conduct a walk around to assess any damage or specific areas that may need more attention.
Each year, the roof material of your RV should be cleaned, inspected, and conditioned properly according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. First, identify the type of material used for the exterior covering of your rig. Years ago manufacturer’s used aluminum skin then in the mid 1980’s there was a shift by many to either fiberglass or a rubber membrane known as EPDM. There are several products on the market that can be used to clean these materials even some designed specifically for EPDM and TPO. My favorite is Dawn Dish Soap and water, the blue version as it’s great on bird dropping and tree sap, but environmentally friendly. Remember the footage of duck’s in Alaska getting a bath? Alpha Systems material is a rubberized component with a fleece backing and they recommend using Murphy’s Oil Soap and water.
Once you identify the material and the proper cleaner, get a soft-bristled brush on a pole, 3 gallons or larger bucket, hose with sprayer, and a ladder. You typically do not need a high-pressure sprayer which can also be dangerous with the kickback of a spray gun.
**BE CAREFUL WALKING ON THE ROOF!**
Make sure your rig can handle the weight, if not you will need to wash from the side using a scaffold or other device. Stay away from vents and other openings as these may be weak areas. Also, be careful about wet surfaces and a slippery roof. I like to use a good tennis shoe that provides the best traction and oftentimes stay on my hands and knees for better stability! Take extra precaution and use a tether or safety harness if possible.
Place the rig in a shaded area or wash during overcast as the sun will dry things in a hurry and could leave soap residue. Wet the side of the rig down before washing and have someone keep it wet while you wash the roof if possible as the sides will dry with soap and cause a huge mess from dust, soap, and even roof material chaulking. Pour the cleaner into the bucket and mix it in according to the directions. With Dawn, I typically squeeze about 4-5 seconds of product into a 3-gallon bucket then fill it with water.
The rig should be at a slight angle away from the ladder, I place the rig front down on the driveway so I can climb up the back ladder, start from the front and work back. This way the soap and water keep running to the front as I walk to the back and I’m typically on dry material the entire time.
Start with a small 4’x4’ area in the front corner and wet it down with the hose first. Use the brush and cleaner to scrub the area and remove bird droppings or other material then rinse. Using the pattern listed below, you can clean the entire roof, stay on dry material, and end up back at the ladder to get down.
This is also a good time to clean the top of any slide rooms or the awning if there is one available. Check with your awning manufacturer for recommended cleaning products and conditioners.
After you are done rinsing the entire roof, let it dry completely and then visually inspect all the seams, sealant, and vents. Look for cracks in the sealant, separation of the front cap to the main roof material, cracks in roof vent covers, and any tears or cracking of roof material. If you do find some suspect areas you will want to add additional sealant or better yet remove the old sealant with a heat gun and plastic scraper and apply new sealant. Make sure you get the sealant designed for the roof material you are applying to. Plain silicone will not stick to most fiberglass surfaces and you will have leaks. For flat surfaces, you will want to use a self-leveling lap sealant such as the Dicor product or other approved product.
Another product that has been very popular for many years with RVers is Etnernabond sealant tape. You will need to clean and prime the roof material before applying but it’s an easy fix.
If you have an older style “batwing” crank-up antenna, check not only the sealant but the gear mechanism and coax. It’s a good idea to apply a small amount of graphite lubricant to make it go up and down easier and not attract grit.
If your refrigerator has a roof vent to allow heat to escape, it’s a good idea to remove the cover and inspect the open or “flue”. It will have a screen mesh covering it to keep critters from getting in and can catch dust, leaves, and other items that will clog it and keep the refrigerator from running efficiently. If it is dirty, clean it or use a shop vacuum to clean it. Do not clean with an air compressor as this will push dust down the cavity and into the rig.
If you have a roof air conditioner it is important to check the foam gasket between the roof and the AC unit. Do not run silicone around the perimeter as condensation from the evaporator coils needs to run off the roof. Remove the cover inside the rig at the air return and you should see 4 spring-loaded bolts that keep the unit snug to the roof. This is also a good time to inspect the evaporator coils to ensure they are clean and have good airflow going through them.
Here is an example of an evaporator coil clogged with body powder! This unit was ruined and needed a new AC. Once you remove the cover, check the filter and vacuum out any dust or obstructions on the coils.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Exterior Care & Maintenance blog where we’ll talk through how to care for your fiberglass sidewalls, decals, and tires!
About the author: Dave Solberg: Managing Editor, RV Repair Club
For the last 25 years, Dave has conducted RV maintenance and safety seminars, developed dealer and owner training programs, written RV safety and handyman articles, authored an RV handbook reference guide and logged over 100,000 miles on the road in an RV.
RV Repair Club is your go-to online resource for enthusiasts who want quality RV maintenance, repair and upgrade information – a community where passionate RVers can come together to gather knowledge and share their experiences.
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