5 Tips for Checking Your RV for Water Damage

Last updated on February 19th, 2022 at 12:44 pm. Originally published on May 3rd, 2017

Even if you take immaculate care of your recreational vehicle, a dirty saboteur could be seeping in through the cracks in your doorways and windows right this very minute. Yes, we’re talking about RV water damage, that old and somehow inescapable nemesis. It doesn’t matter if it’s a house, an apartment, or an RV — whenever there’s a roof over your head keeping you dry, there’s a chance for it to be compromised.

And when it comes to RVs in particular, water damage is a seriously big deal. Obviously, there are all the health detriments you likely already know about, like respiratory issues caused by nasty fungi and black mold. But since an RV is a house on wheels, the situation is even worse: With so many cracks, seams, and moving parts, some leakage is basically unavoidable — and water damage can ruin your machinery, rendering your rig unusable.

To make matters worse, many insurance plans don’t cover RV water damage caused by regular wear and tear. And should you find yourself with a good deal of water damage, well… let’s just say you don’t even want to think about the repair costs.

But if you’re a responsible and detail-oriented RV owner, you can likely avoid having to deal with this expensive problem. Although some water will almost certainly find its way inside your RV, inspecting your rig thoroughly and regularly should help you find and remedy issues before they spiral out of control.

Here are our five best tips for checking your RV for water damage, so you can get things fixed before you find yourself facing a major issue.

RV in rain

Be Thorough

When you’re in an RV, checking for water damage isn’t as simple as looking for obvious cracks in a wall or a collapsing ceiling.

You need to run your hands along every window seal, door jamb, and slide-out seam, both inside and outside. You’ll also want to check the seals around your RV’s roof. Press gently with your fingers to see if you can find any soft spots, holes, or anything that seems less than sturdy. Even a seam that looks fine might seep water in small amounts.

When looking for water damage in your RV, be on the lookout for any of the problems below.

  • Bubbling fiberglass on the exterior of your RV.
  • Wrinkled, or extremely discolored wallpaper – you should also look to see if your wallpaper is coming off in certain spots, or if the color is starting to fade.
  • A musty smell coming from the inside of your rig can be an indication of water damage. Remember, not all damage is visible, but sometimes you can smell it!
  • Rusted screws, nails, moldings, or rust-colored stains around or underneath your windows – this also includes inside the walls, if you can see into them.
  • Soft or discolored spots around wall penetrations and ceiling fans or vents.
  • Discolored spots on the ceiling or around the top of the walls.
  • Areas on your floor that feel spongy, especially  the areas near the floor vents.

It should be noted that you will want to make sure your RV roof was built to be walked on before you make the trip upstairs. After all, you don’t want to unwittingly wind up in your living room with an unwanted skylight overhead!

Stay Vigilant

Unfortunately, checking for water damage isn’t just a one-time, pre-purchase situation. You need to check and re-check your rig on a regular basis, making it a part of your RV maintenance schedule.

A good way to go about this is to conduct a thorough investigation at the beginning and end of your camping season, or before and after an extended trip. But whether you’re living on your RV for weeks at a time or keeping it in storage, you’ll also want to perform smaller checks even more regularly, looking for tell-tale signs like discoloration or dripping, especially when it rains. By looking intentionally around the RV at least once a week or so for these kinds of obvious problems, you’ll be alert to any major leaks in time to catch them.

Caulking Gun
Image source: Achim Hering

Be Prepared

Since some water leakage is almost guaranteed in any RV, it’s a good idea to get comfortable with doing minor repairs yourself.

Start by figuring out what kind of material your RV’s roof is made of, and ensure that you bring and utilize compatible chemicals, repair materials, and sealants. Your roof might be made of fiberglass, aluminum, or one of several different types of rubber; be sure to check your owner’s manual to be completely sure, because it does make a difference. 

Silicone sealants, for example, should never be used on rubber roofs because they won’t bond properly. And regular household caulking usually isn’t strong enough to endure the temperature changes and constant vibrations RVs encounter on the road.

We recommend RV specific products such as Dicor sealants (lap sealant for roof jobs and non-leveling for other jobs). Dicor does sell different formulas for different roof types, so be sure you buy the correct type

Another great option? Eternabond tape is great to keep on hand for quick roof fixes. 

By ensuring you have the right tools for the job, you’ll be able to quickly patch up any small leaks you find on your trip. Over time, you may even find yourself developing advanced fix-it skills, which will come in handy should larger issues arise!

Avoid Very Old Rigs When Possible

Yes, buying your RV used is a smart financial choice — after all, they’re vehicles, not houses, so they depreciate in value. Plus, if someone else has driven your RV around for a couple thousand miles, they may have already dealt with any bugs or quirks the vehicle exhibited straight off the dealership lot.

But it’s also true that as RVs age, they become more prone to water damage. Old seams grow loose and leaky; slide outs don’t fit quite as tightly as they did before.

If you invest in an RV that’s already seen more than a decade of life on the road, you’re all but guaranteed to run into some water damage repair costs, whether the leaks are pre-existing or they crop up during your journey. So be sure to take that into account while you’re still in the shopping phase of your RV journey. It might cost a little bit more upfront to buy a slightly newer used RV, but you could stand to save yourself a huge repair bill right off the bat!

RV parked in field

Camp Smart

No matter what kind of rig you’re driving, there are certain precautions you can take to avoid excessive water damage caused by a leaky roof. (Obviously, every RV undergoes regular wear and tear that may cause some leakage… but you’ll minimize damages if you’re as careful as you can be!)

First of all, always pay attention to your clearance while underway, and avoid low-hanging branches at all costs. Those scratches in your paintwork might just be cosmetic, but over time, they could add up to a less effective roof and leaky ceiling.

Also, try not to park your RV directly under trees, whose sticky sap might pull off layers of paint and surfacing. And if the weather forecast calls for a hailstorm, go ahead and drive yourself — and your roof — out of harm’s way.

By being thorough and diligent, you can likely avoid the worst consequences of RV water damage and keep your rig nice and dry for years to come.

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