Recreational vehicles are one of the most remarkable ways to explore the world around you. I have seen people ship them across continents, hop back inside and keep driving. Overlanding rigs are incredibly rugged and can handle some of the most challenging terrain and weather conditions. Even so, no rig is invincible. RV damage can happen to even the best rigs and the most careful owners.
4 Common Sources of RV Damage
When you first buy your camper, you likely have grand ideas of keeping it spotless and scratch-free. Make peace with the possibility that this might not go as planned. Remember that you’re dragging a tiny home down highways and dirt roads. They withstand some pretty intense weather conditions, terrain, and use. Watch out for these four common types of damage.
1. Wind Damage
Before I hit the road, RVers seemed to agree that water is an RV’s biggest enemy. I beg to differ. The wind has done far more damage to my travel trailer than any other weather condition.
Here are some common ways the wind can damage your trailer:
- High winds routinely take awnings out of commission and rip them off the side.
- Even moderate winds can cause RV doors to slam and break the door or its struts.
- Wind can blow sand and other debris into areas of your RV that create friction and restrict motion.
- High winds can take out your entire campsite and send items flying. Three of my welcome mats are welcoming someone else somewhere in the world.
2. Water Damage
I know I said water wasn’t the absolute worst thing I had encountered, but it still ranks high on my list. The top concern with water is that it can damage structural integrity and cause mold. Mold can further damage both the RV and your health. Here are some familiar sources to watch out for:
- Leaks from the roof and other structural points
- Plumbing-related leaks
- Condensation from showers, propane stoves, and poor ventilation
- Waste tank mishaps that cause grey or black water to backflow into the rig
- Degraded seals in the bathroom and kitchen that eventually reduce the waterproofing
3. Unsafe Driving Risks
No matter how small your rig is, you are heavier than you are when you’re not towing it. That means it will take you a much longer time to stop. Also, account for the extra length on the back end when making turns and backing up. Everyone has a learning curve for towing, but that’s no excuse for being reckless.
These are some of the many unsafe driving practices I have seen:
- Towing at insanely high speeds, which makes stopping difficult
- Speeding on wet roads and around curves, which can cause loss of traction
- Speeding uphill, which can cause the transmission or engine to give out
- Failing to pull over during high winds, which can cause the trailer to flip
- Towing with vehicles that are too lifted and modded, which can affect towing stability
- Towing without the proper gear, which can also affect towing stability
- Riding the brakes when going down a steep hill instead of gearing down, which can cause the brakes to overheat and fail
- Making turns without accounting for the turning radius of the trailer vs. the tow vehicle
4. Mechanical Damage
Like any other vehicle, your tiny home on wheels will need maintenance. And, even with the best care, some things will age out and fail. I bought my RV used, so I inherited some problems from the previous owners and picked up a few new ones along the way. These are some of the problems I have had over the years:
- My converter died, which affected the RV’s ability to keep the battery charged.
- I discovered a propane leak and had to replace the entire external system.
- The pressurized strut on my door broke off after a very disrespectful gust of wind ripped the door out of my hand when I opened it.
- The TV mounted by the previous owners fell off the wall. Yes, seriously.
That sounds like a lot, but remember that I live in a recreational vehicle. Manufacturers designed these for a few weeks or months of annual occupancy, not full-time living. So, if you’re not full-time, your rig will likely have fewer problems. That said, when I share my repair list with sticks-and-bricks homeowners, they laugh and say it sounds exactly like owning a regular house.
How To Prevent Common Sources of RV Damage
No foolproof plan will prevent you from ever damaging your travel trailer. Everyone makes mistakes. Even so, the more you know before you head out, the fewer and milder those mistakes will be.
1. Prevent Wind Damage
No matter how calm it seems, check the wind speeds. If you go to an area with wicked dust devils and crazy haboobs, treat every day like a potential high winds day. Don’t leave your awning out overnight, and keep an eye on the door during the daytime.
Every rig is different, so check your setup for the areas you think the wind might pose a problem. Then, make a plan to address them.
2. Prevent Water Damage
Finding out if you have a leak is easy if you have indoor plumbing and a 12-volt pump. Leave the pump on for 24 hours and listen carefully. If you hear your pump turn on when no one is using the water, you have a leak. The most likely places are under the bathroom, and kitchen sinks. Tightening the connections is often all you need to do.
Trees are not your friend when you own an RV. Watch out for branches when driving down the road or parking at camp. They can tear into rubber roofs and cause leaks that could take months or even years to discover. Take any unexplained water in your rig seriously and investigate it.
Of all the water concerns, condensation is the most difficult to address. Start by getting a hygrometer and keeping your humidity levels under 60%. Sometimes, cracking a window or running the exhaust fan is enough. In extreme cases, you might need to run a dehumidifier and reconsider propane use.
3. Reduce Driving Risks
Some people are reckless drivers. They have no desire to drive more safely, and I have no desire to argue with them. I just hope their actions don’t harm others. You will need to watch out for these drivers on the road and stay out of their way.
Looking for tips to prep you for towing and reduce RV damage? I’ve tackled this across four TAXA articles so far. Check them out:
- How to Pick the Right Tow Vehicle for Your Rig
- The Ultimate Towing Safety Checklist for Your First Trip
- Towing Your Trailer for the First Time: 6 Tips from a Full-Time RVer
- 5 Tips for Taking Your Camper Off-Road
4. Reduce Mechanical RV Damage
The good news is that campers are resilient and can take a beating. They are built for you to tow them down the highway and drag them down dirt roads. The TV might fly off the wall, and a few screws will shake loose, but it will keep trucking.
Still, there are some delicate systems in your camper that need regular care to prevent damage. Routine maintenance will take care of most of this. The more you get to know your RV, the easier it will be for you to spot when something is wrong.
Properly storing your RV is also key to preventing mechanical damage. If you live in an area with cold winters, ensure you winterize your RV before the first freeze. Also, consider the wildlife. For example, packrats can build nests in your rig and eat through the wiring.
Finally, picking up some handy skills is one of the best things you can do to prevent or resolve mechanical damage. I’m still working on that, but you’d be surprised by what you can do when you need to get things done. Here I am replacing the front window in my RV!
No one is perfect. RV damage will happen. The goal is to minimize the risk by being prepared and knowing what you’re doing. When you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can get answers from your RV manufacturer, YouTube tutorials, social media, RV forums, and your RV neighbors.