Vacationing in a recreational vehicle can be fun-until unexpected mechanical failure hits. To avoid a crisis, make sure your rig is in tiptop shape before you leave. That calls for regular maintenance and a thorough pretrip examination.
For self-propelled vehicles-such as motor homes, van conversions and slide-on campers-most of the maintenance will be the same as on your car. That is, the component systems-engine, drive train and chassis-need at least the regular care normally specified in the owner's manual.
For the engine compartment, periodically check stud nuts around the carburetor and on the manifold for tightness. Make sure the carburetor is clean and the linkage pivot points are lubricated and free moving. Check all bolts and screws around the fuel pump and its lines for tightness. Drive belts on the fan and alternator, air conditioning and power steering must have the proper tension and not be damaged. Keep the air cleaner and fuel filter clean. Oil level and condition is critical on RV engines, so change it and the oil filter regularly. Watch for leaks around filter, oil pan and rocker arm covers.
The cooling system ranks with the oil in importance. To keep rust and scale from building up, thoroughly flush and drain the system at least every two years, refilling it with a good glycol-base coolant with a rust inhibitor. The radiator, radiator hoses and water pump must be checked for leaks and loose connections. Make sure hoses are firm; soft or cracked ones may blow under pressure.
A clean battery with tight connections, good electrolyte level and no corrosion will be dependable. Dust and caked-on dirt can harm the alternator, generator or even the distributor, so they must be thoroughly cleaned. All engine wiring must be in a position where jouncing from rough terrain or engine movement won't cause chafing. Also, engine heat can melt insulation on electrical wiring, so make sure wiring is out of the way.
The fluid level in automatic transmissions is critical. Check it regularly. Automatic transmission fluid is usually red; when it looks brownish, it needs changing because it's either dirty or has been burned through overheating. Inspect shift linkage for security, too.
Off-road driving is rough on chassis parts; shock absorbers, even heavy-duty ones, won't last as long. Check their condition more frequently than you would on a car. Proper wheel alignment is necessary for good handling but is hard to maintain if you drive on rough roads. Check for bent tie rods and links. Front and rear wheel bearings should be inspected if the vehicle is used off road or the wheels are frequently submerged in water. Inspect for rust and corrosion on brake linings, too.
Tires and wheels are your only contact with the road when you're under way, so they demand attention for safety as well as handling. Check rims for dents, lug nuts for tightness and tires for uneven tread wear, abrasions and proper inflation pressures. All wiring for external lights should get a complete checkup for tightness of connections, breaks and other potential malfunctions.
When you check over the engine compartment and chassis of your recreational vehicle, remember the two major troublemakers: dirt and vibration. Dust collected on back roads combines with moisture and packs the smallest crevice. Jolts from bumps and potholes are transmitted throughout the chassis and engine, gradually loosening everything that can turn. Routine maintenance should include cleaning and tightening.
Recreational vehicles usually contain one or more life-supporting systems, such as water, gas and waste disposal. Check these regularly, too. Water systems need only to be drained periodically and flushed with fresh water. You can remove stale taste in the system by adding a mild baking soda solution to the flush. All you need do for the disposal system is to drain as required; for any complications, call a plumber. Propane gas systems for heat and cooking are usually maintenance free; just keep burner heads clean. All three of these systems do require occasional tightening of fittings. Check propane gas lines for leaks at connections by brushing on a mild soap solution and noting the location of bubbles. Never check with a lighted match!
Most motor homes have a 12-volt auxiliary lighting system that draws power from a second battery. Give it the attention you give your engine electrical system battery and you shouldn't have any trouble. If your unit also has a 11 a-volt alternating current system for appliances, it will draw power from a separate generator that runs on gasoline from the main fuel system. Service this small engine regularly, too.