RVing Basics: How to Change Your RV’s Oil

How Tos & Tips

When you own an RV, it is incredibly important that you keep up with the maintenance. In the case of motorhomes, one of the most important maintenance tasks is making sure the oil is doing its job. To do this, you absolutely must keep up with your RV oil change schedule. 

As is the case with any RV maintenance task, it is helpful to understand why the job is important. Of course, you’ll also need to know when to change the oil and how to go about it. That is why we’re here today. 

In this article we will address all of these questions so you can go into your next RV oil change with confidence. 

Motor Oil on a shelf

Why Change the Oil in Your RV?

First, let’s talk a bit about why it is important to keep up with your RV oil change schedule. We know it can be a bit tempting to put it off, but if you understand the why behind these oil changes, perhaps you’ll be less tempted to procrastinate and more willing to get out there and get done what needs to be done. 

You see, RVs are super heavy vehicles, which means the motor works hard to get you from point A to point B. Towing a car behind your motorhome just adds to the work your engine is doing. Since oil is what keeps your motor well lubricated, you want to ensure your RV has plenty of it. 

On top of having the correct amount of oil in your RV, you also want the oil to be clean. This is because when your motorhome is working hard towing a car or driving up an incline, the engine gets hot. This causes the oil to thin out, and dirty hot oil can cause damage to components. 

Finally, there is the fact that oil will degrade over time, meaning it no longer offers the same lubrication it once did. If not taken care of, this eventually wears out seals and other engine components.

How Often Does RV Oil Need to be Changed in a Gas Motorhome?

Clearly, keeping your RV oil clean and topped up is important, but how often should you be changing the oil in your gas motorhome? To an extent, this depends on the type of driving you’ll be doing. 

If you only take long trips on flat highways, your oil will last longer. Meanwhile, those who take lots of short trips in the motorhome and those who drive on inclines often might need to change their oil a bit more often. Either way, it’s better to change your oil earlier than necessary than to change it too late. 

Generally speaking, mechanics recommend that you change the oil in your RV at least every 8 months. That said, if you use your RV a lot, you will need to change the oil more often. 

The best way to know when to change your RV oil is to watch your odometer. Your RV manufacturer will specify how many miles you should drive between oil changes, but the number is usually somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 miles for gas motorhomes. By keeping an eye on your mileage, you can make sure you change the oil when that number of miles is hit.

That said, if you drive in hilly or mountainous areas, or if your RV is loaded to the max, you should change the oil more often. 

A Word about Diesel RV Oil Changes

The above information on when to change your oil is intended for those with gas motorhomes, but not every motorhome is a “gasser.” So when do you change the oil in a diesel RV? Well, in this case, the rules change a bit. 

Diesel engines do not need oil changes as often as gas engines. In fact, many diesel vehicles can go up to 20,000 miles before needing an oil change as long as the motor is used on a regular basis. Of course, you will want to see what your manufacturer says on the subject and use that number as your guide. 

Another thing to note about oil changes in diesel engines is the fact that the oil should always be changed before the RV sits for any length of time. This is because the oil used in diesel vehicles tends to get sludgy if it sits too long and is dirty. Obviously, forcing sludgy oil through your RV’s system is never a good idea. Therefore, you will want to make sure your oil is as clean as possible if you plan to store your diesel RV for more than two months.

Dirty oil on a dipstick

Signs Your RV Oil Needs to Be Changed

Okay, so you can watch your odometer to know when to change your RV’s oil, but what if you don’t know when the rig last had an oil change or what the odometer read at that point? In this case, we recommend getting the oil changed no matter what, just to be on the safe side.

That said, there are some things you can look for to know if the oil might need to be changed. 

Oil Color

When oil is fresh, it will be a nice golden brown color. Old, dirty oil will turn dark brown or even black. Take a look at the color of your motor oil to get an idea of how old and dirty it might be.

Oil Level

While you’re checking the color of your oil, you should also look at the oil level. If the level is low, top it off. If it continues to lose oil, you either have a leak or the engine is burning oil. 

Take the RV in for service right away if you suspect an oil leak. If you feel the engine is burning oil, know that many older motorhomes do this. Just make sure to top it off regularly so the level never gets too low. 

Engine Noise

Listen carefully as you drive for engine noise. Really, if your oil is so old that your engine is making noise, it’s probably way past due for an oil change. That said, those noises can be a helpful indicator if you just got a new-to-you RV. 

Sounds you might hear include grinding, knocking, and squealing. If you hear these sounds, stop and check out what’s going on with your oil right away. 

Exhaust Smell or Smoke

Do you see smoke coming out of the exhaust? Is the smell of burning oil coming from your tailpipe or under your hood? These are all signs of an oil leak and should be checked out immediately before you travel anywhere. 

RVing 101: How to Change Your RV’s Oil

Now it’s time to talk about how one would go about changing the oil in an RV. 

Many people choose to change their RV oil themselves in order to save money and eliminate some errands from their lives. We totally get this. That said, there are some things you’ll want to consider and things you’ll want to know before diving in. That’s what we’ll cover here. 

Ensure that It’s Allowed

First and foremost, you will want to make sure you’re allowed to change your RV’s oil wherever it happens to be parked. Because changing your oil could result in an oil spill, many campgrounds have rules against oil changes being performed on their property. Not only that, there are also some towns out there that don’t allow DIY oil changes whatsoever, believe it or not.

Purchase the Right Oil

Using the correct type of motor oil is incredibly important. Using the wrong type could quickly result in a damaged engine, something you definitely don’t want to deal with. Consult your owner’s manual to learn the kind of oil your vehicle requires and be sure to purchase the correct amount of that exact type of oil. 

Another thing you’ll have to decide is whether to use synthetic or conventional oil. For the most part, synthetic is the way to go when it comes to motorhomes, as it reduces oxidation and flows faster in cold temperatures. That said, motorhomes that are more than ten years old might not run well on synthetic oil as they need the thicker consistency of conventional oil.

Gather Your Supplies

Before you begin this DIY project, you will want to make sure you have everything you need to change your RV’s oil. You’ll need a pan or container that can hold around 8 quarts of oil. You’ll also want some sort of absorbent pad to catch any drips, a high quality oil filter, an oil funnel, an oil funnel wrench, a wrench and socket, and, of course, your oil. 

Perform the Oil Change

Now it’s time to get down to business and do the RV oil change. This is very much like changing the oil on a car or truck, so if you’ve done this before, you should be able to get the job done fairly easily:

  • Park the RV on a flat surface, making sure it is in park and the emergency brake is on. 
  • Place the oil drain pan (or other catch container) beneath the drain plug on the RV oil pan. 
  • Use the wrench and socket to loosen the bolt on the oil pan, stopping to finish untwisting the bolt by hand in order to avoid losing it in the dirty oil. 
  • Once the bolt is removed, let the dirty oil drain into the container below, making sure every drop possible drains out. 
  • Being careful not to spill, remove the oil filter from your RV, using the oil funnel wrench if necessary. 
  • Rub a small amount of fresh oil on the gasket of the new oil filter and screw the new filter on hand tight. 
  • Replace the drain plug on the oil pan and tighten it. 
  • Remove the engine oil cap under the hood and place the funnel in the tube under the cap. 
  • Use the funnel to add the correct type and amount of oil to the vehicle. 
  • Check the oil dipstick to ensure the oil level is correct and add more if necessary. 

Dispose of the Oil Properly

Finally, you will need to make sure you dispose of the old oil from your RV properly. You never want to pour oil down the drain or into waterways, nor do you want to dump it on the ground. 

Instead, you should pour the oil into plastic jugs, cap them off, and take the jugs to a hazardous waste drop-off location or an auto service center that accepts dirty oil for recycling purposes. 

Quarts of motor oil on ground

Where to Get an RV Oil Change

Sometimes it’s just easier and more convenient to let someone else do the work for you. The good news? Many places are happy to change your oil for you. 

To find a service center that can take care of motorhome oil changes, we recommend searching for “RV oil change near me”. This should pull up some options. 

If the search somehow doesn’t pull up any helpful results, consider calling some local Walmart stores. Many Walmart Auto Care centers are equipped with large enough bays to perform RV oil changes and will be happy to help you out. 

Other places that might be able to change your RV oil include Camping World and even some Jiffy Lube locations. The key is to call around until you find a place that can help. 

Lastly, there is the option of calling a mobile mechanic to help. If you can find a mobile mechanic, they will be able to come help you wherever your RV is parked, removing the need to drive it anywhere until after the oil change has been performed. 

Yes, changing your RV oil is important, and might be even one of the most important motorhome maintenance tasks. Fortunately, it isn’t a terribly difficult job, and you should be able to do it on your own or find someone to do it for you fairly easily.

Why not make a plan for your next motorhome oil change today? Doing so will help ensure your engine is well taken care of and lasts for many years (and trips) to come.