Basics of RV Engine Maintenance

Maintenance on a motorhome may seem daunting, especially when it comes to your engine. However, many drivable RV owners may be surprised to learn that maintaining an RV engine is very similar to maintaining the engine of a regular car, aside from some minor differences with diesel engines. Surprisingly, the less your engine is used, the more crucial it becomes to perform regular engine maintenance. Vehicles that sit for long periods of time can develop serious problems when not properly maintained. If you’re biting your nails because you’ve been avoiding checking up on these necessary components, rest assured, because Harvest Hosts has you covered. With this helpful guide, we will be covering some of the basics so you can get to your next Harvest Hosts location safely!

Please note that before performing any maintenance on your RV or vehicle, you must refer to your manual for specific information. In addition, keep in mind that even if your RV is towable (a travel trailer or fifth wheel), it is important to perform this same regular engine maintenance on your tow vehicle. Finally, even if you do not feel comfortable performing any of this maintenance yourself, it is still important to ensure that each of these crucial items is maintained on a regular schedule. Numbers here are provided based on commonly-accepted figures, but the exact mileage numbers for your specific engine can be found in your manual.

Oil Changes

Oil changes are one of the first steps of performing engine maintenance, and they may be one of the most crucial. However, there are different standard guidelines to follow, depending on if your engine runs off of gas or diesel. See below for each engine type.

Gas

In an RV, the oil needs to be changed at about the same rate as a regular car. This should be about every 4,000-6,000 miles (this would vary if you’re using synthetic oil, have an older RV, or drive a high-mileage vehicle) or at minimum of once per year. The process looks about the same as well. Necessary materials include oil (be sure to use high-quality oil), an oil filter, an oil filter wrench, an oil pan with a spout, a funnel, a socket set, and an oil mat. If you’ve never changed the oil on a vehicle before, here is a video you can watch. Alternatively, you can take your vehicle to a professional mechanic to have this maintenance performed.

Diesels

Most diesel RV manufacturers recommend changing the oil about every 20,000 miles or so, but this number can vary greatly. It’s important to note that diesel engines also consume much more oil than their gasoline-powered counterparts. The process is very similar to changing the oil in a gas RV, but here is a video detailing how to change the oil in a diesel RV.

Tune-ups

While a “tune-up” can be a generic term for engine maintenance, here, we are specifically referring to checking your spark plugs and wires and fuel filter(s). Many RVers performing their own maintenance will check fluid levels as well during this step. However, you can include that step wherever it feels appropriate for your personal maintenance log.

Spark Plugs and Wires

Most spark plugs need to be changed every 30,000-80,000 miles driven, depending on your RV’s manufacturer guidelines. This can mean that many owners forget about theirs. Unfortunately, many RVers will not know there is a problem with their spark plugs until the sure signs of failure are apparent, and, by then, your vehicle may need to be towed. If your RV is ever accelerating too slowly, guzzling more gas than usual, showing a check engine light, misfiring its engine, idling too loudly, or not starting at all, bad spark plugs could be the culprit. If it’s time to change the spark plugs on your RV, this can be a very time-consuming task. We’ve included a helpful video to walk you through the steps. As with your oil changes, this can also be performed by a mechanic.

Fuel Filters

Gas fuel filters need to be changed every 30,000 miles or every two years, whichever comes first. These help to keep dirt and debris out of your fuel pump and engine to ensure a longer lifespan for those parts. Here is a helpful video on replacing a fuel filter. Keep in mind that the filter may be located in a different place, depending on the model and engine, so you may want to find a tutorial for your specific vehicle. Alternatively, you can have this maintenance performed by your local mechanic.

Diesel fuel filters need to be changed annually at the minimum, or potentially more if you drive your RV frequently. The process looks the same, except diesel fuel filters need to have the water drained out of them. Here is a video explaining how to drain the water, while the above information can help you with the rest of the process.

Transmission Fluid Changes

The process of changing transmission fluid is very similar to that of an oil change. On most vehicles and RVs, this needs to be done about every 30,000-60,000 miles. This also involves the use of a drain pan, a transmission filter, transmission fluid, and a filter wrench. We’ve included a comprehensive video on the process of changing your RV’s transmission fluid. As with all other maintenance, this can also be easily completed by your local mechanic.

Air Filters

An air filter helps to filter dirt and debris from your engine’s combustion chamber. If air filters are neglected for too long, they can become clogged and impede the air’s ability to pass through. As a rule of thumb, these need to be replaced about every 12,000-15,000 miles, or whichever mileage range or time frame is recommended by your engine’s manufacturer. If any of the other maintenance above seems too intimidating, then changing your air filter yourself can be a great place to start. Generally, this is a five minute job and can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run by skipping RV mechanic shops! Check out this video to learn the quickest way to change your gas RV’s air filter. The process looks a little different (and the filter is quite a bit larger!) in a diesel pusher. Here is a video for diesel RV air filters.

Belts

In maintenance, the timing belt and the serpentine belt are the two most commonly-referenced belts. However, some vehicles have a timing chain instead of a belt. The serpentine belt, also known as a driving belt, needs to be replaced about every 50,000-60,000 miles. If your RV has a timing belt, it needs to be replaced about every 50,000-90,000 miles or every five years, whichever comes first. To avoid a potential breakdown, it’s imperative that these belts are replaced before they break. There are also several signs that point to a failing belt, such as squeaking or squealing. Here is a video explaining the somewhat difficult process of changing a serpentine belt.

Now you’re ready to perform the not-so-scary regular engine maintenance like a professional! Performing your own maintenance can save you hundreds of dollar and can ensure you get to select only the top-quality products for your home-on-wheels. Did you know that most RV warranties require maintenance logs? Don’t forget to write down the dates and engine mileage when you perform these crucial items. It’s also helpful to keep the receipts of the maintenance items you purchase, such as the oil and transmission fluid, to keep with your log. Keeping a maintenance schedule is the best way to ensure the longevity and quality of your RV’s engine.

Do you perform your own maintenance on your RV? What is the trickiest part you’ve had to overcome? Tell us your stories below!

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  1. Kimble
    7th May, 2021

    As an accomplished Aviation Technician I do a lot of my own work. This included installing a new alternator the first day we owned our 2005 Class B Sprinter conversion. I can’t over emphasize doing scheduled maintenance like oil changes etc.. Diesels suck a huge amount of air. If driving in dusty conditions like the SW US I would change more frequently than recommended. We also changed out the serpentine belt when we installed the alternator. Lastly, if you feel totally out of your league, DONT ATTEMPT IT.