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Ask Dave: Why can’t the RV industry conquer the issue of leaks?

Answers to questions about RV Repair and Maintenance from RV expert Dave Solberg, author of the “RV Handbook” and the managing editor of the RV Repair Club. This column appears Monday through Saturday in the RV Travel and RV Daily Tips newsletters. (Sign up for an email reminder for each new issue if you do not already receive one.) Today Dave discusses RV leaks.

Dear Dave,
I read everything I can about RVs and maintenance. One thing that is constant – leaks. Why is it that the RV industry cannot conquer this problem? I read all the time why it happens, but no one seems to have the right way to build an RV so it doesn’t happen. The exception is the two-piece fiberglass units. I’m curious why this consistent problem can’t be conquered. Thank you for your response. —Sharon

Dear Sharon,
Leaks are the biggest problem in the RV industry, in my opinion, and the hardest to find, fix, and/or stop! RV leaks can be caused by poor workmanship in the finishing and sealing by the manufacturer. However, most are caused by lack of inspection and maintenance.

The reason the industry can’t “conquer this problem,” as you posted, is because of the extremes we place our RVs under. Those include extreme temperature changes and weather elements such as rain, snow, and ice. Also, they’re bouncing down the road at 65 mph. Typically, I would have said 65-75 mph. But I got called out in a previous post that RV tires are not rated for those speeds. I didn’t say anyone should drive that fast. But I have gotten passed several times doing my normal driving speed.

Good RV manufacturers have conquered the problem of RV leaks

For the most part, I believe good RV manufacturers have conquered the problem with a variety of materials, trim pieces, and sealants. While working at Winnebago, I was part of several quality programs that researched and tested different materials and manufacturing methods, and how they reacted to temperature changes. When you have a cool morning and hot afternoon, materials will expand and contract, and not all at the same rate.

RVs are made of some of the same materials as houses – with wood, plastic, fiberglass, rubber, glass, aluminum, steel and others. Designing a manufacturing method to keep them all working together is a challenge. I’ve personally witnessed flooring channel on the sidewall of an RV “creep” several inches during these temperature changes. Then we let them sit in 100-degree weather – which can swelter to 120+ inside – and lows of bone-chilling below-zero temperatures. And the worst, in my opinion, is to let them sit outside for months on end exposed to harsh UV rays. Those can dry and crack even the best of sealants.

The roof to front cap area is notorious for problems

Most manufacturers are using a “J” channel at the roof to front cap area, as this is a notorious area for expansion and contraction. That is because the front cap is typically a hard fiberglass and the roof material is rubber glued to lauan paneling. The channel is designed to cover the two materials and let them expand and contract with the self-leveling lap sealant moving with it. That is why it is so important to inspect and reseal, as needed, as this sealant can harden and crack. And you need to use the correct sealant, as not everything can be sealed with run-of-the-mill silicone. Dicor and others have sealant designed for fiberglass, rubber membranes and other materials.

Most home owners have a periodic inspection and sealing of their doors, windows, and roof surfaces. However, many neglect to do the same for an RV. I feel many RV owners consider their RV is made the same as their car and truck, which don’t need much maintenance. If you do a yearly inspection and address the sealants, as necessary, you should enjoy years of leak-free RVing.

Read more from Dave here

Dave Solberg worked at Winnebago for 15 years developing the dealer training program, as marketing manager, and conducting shows. As the owner of Passport Media Creations, Dave has developed several RV dealer training programs, the RV Safety Training program for The Recreation Vehicle Safety and Education Foundation, and the accredited RV Driving Safety program being conducted at rallies and shows around the country. Dave is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.

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Related:

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Wolfe
1 month ago

I’ve seen several interesting attempts by owners to cure this — don’t know whether either is advisable, but the owners of these two say they worked:

1) White “RhinoLiner” — yep, just like what you paint your pickup bed with, it comes in other colors. The owner got up on his roof and painted the whole membrane with it, including coming up the flanges around the AC unit and other protrusions. Guy said he did it several years before I saw it, and it still looked NEWLY done, and of course his roof is absolutely stone and branch-proof since it’s a solid TOUGH shell.

2) Another fellow had applied “EternaBond” tape along every roof/wall/nose seam. I figured he must have had a terrible leak, but apparently he did it to his trailer preventatively when almost NEW. Applied neatly, it didn’t look “bad” as much as pinstriped. “No matter how rough the road, the seams can flex without creating a leak, and unlike sealants the tape is UV-proof.”

Experts: any reason NOT to do these?

megan edwards
1 month ago

They are building agricultural buildings using rubber roofs that they guaranteed for 25 years. Shows the difference in materials that companies are using to build RVs.

Anthony Burrell
1 month ago

The real reason they leak is so they don’t last long. And you get another one . Not many RVs around more than 20 years old. Once the leaks start its all over as far as resale value

DW/ND
1 month ago

I am not familiar with the current Rv sealants – however, the sealants which Winnebago used on our 1994 Vectra Class A can only be rated as outstanding. I have found only 1 small crack around the factory CB antenna – probably from a tree limb contact! I did get a leak in the curbside bedroom window and tried to remove it to reseal – It was impossible break the factory bond – so I resealed around it with “Flexseal” inside and out – fixed! So, thanks Winnebago for all these trouble free years on the road…… from 120f degrees to -35f degrees and rough roads too!

cee
1 month ago

I agree with you Dave about the speed of most RV drivers. I drive my MH at 60-62mph and am passed by TT’s, 5th wheel’s, & MH’s like I’m standing still. They aren’t concerned with their safety or anyone else. Semi’s don’t pass me going as fast as RV folks.

tom
1 month ago

Do not put new silicone on top of old silicone. It will not properly bond. I have not used silicone on any of my RVs for years. I buy marine grade stuff at Wets Marine. Expensive, but a permanent fix.

Anthony Burrell
1 month ago
Reply to  tom

3M 5200. Seal with that and your done

Don B
1 month ago

How about poor workmanship, we have a 2013 silverback with 1 window in a slide that has the window cutout in one upper corner slightly larger than the window flan ge to cover it! Almost impossible to notice it from the outside however the sealant cracked creating a hairline crack where water was able to seep in and wrinkled the wall a little below the window. Just one of several manufacturing defects. Too much emphasis on bling and not enough on craftsmanship. Still love camping.

Todd L
1 month ago

Along with seams leaking, the paper thin roofing material needs improvement. On my Starcraft, I have had two tiny tears caused by what I think were branches falling on the roof. So small that they couldn’t be seen during a typical roof inspection. I didn’t find the tears until I identified the soft spots in the roof. To see the tears I had to get down on my hands and knees and closely inspect the area. The tears were tiny, less than 1/4 inch. If a proper thickness roofing material were used the tears would never have happened. I get the need to save weight and cost, but the thousands of dollars spent to repair the roof because of this is just wrong.

Rob Cromie
1 month ago
Reply to  Todd L

Agree. How many pounds would it increase to make a satisfactory roof. Seriously…

Bob p
1 month ago

I too have been passed by those RVs doing 75-80mph, it’s usually class A diesel pushers, I shudder to think what the accident scene will look like if a steer tire blows out. It’s the same situation when I see semi’s traveling that speed. As Mr. Marble says in his articles the speed rating comes from a 30 minute test, if it holds together for 30 minutes it’s good. Most semi’s tires won’t be overloaded as most are inspected before each trip, I said most, some drivers look at them and go. Big motorhomes may be piloted by someone who thinks their motorhome drives just like the Honda hitched behind it and high speeds are normal. I enjoy the journey as much as the destination. When I first started driving trucks I was governed at 63 mph, it’s amazing how much different the world looks at that speed verses 75.

Dan
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

Same here. Our little Class C works just fine on the interstate at about 65 to 70 mph. It’s much more relaxing. On two lane highways I slow down a little more, but not enough to clog the road. Not to wish an accident on anyone but I’ll let the macho manly men get to the catastrophe first. I have a relative that drives like it’s NASCAR and everyone else on the road is an idiot. I refuse to ride with him. And tires? In his case every hooptie he owns has at least three different brand bald tires that he bought used at garage sales.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

I’ve decided that 60 mph is very comfortable for me. I don’t care how fast everyone else is going. I pull a 30′ travel trailer with my long bed, long wheelbase pickup. I’m used to being passed after 30 years of driving slow %#$@&’d trucks. You’re right Bob. The world changes when the speed goes up considerably.

Bob M
1 month ago

From my experience as an inspector with military equipment similar to RV’s. Than seeing how RV’s are made. RV manufactures don’t care. It’s a matter of making RV’s the cheapest and fastest way to make money. Both selling and repairing by dealers who charge $135. + per hour. We went from using silicone sealant to a two part epoxy sealant and pressure testing each unit. My Jayco Jayflight travel trailer wasn’t even eight months old and I had to repair a seam that bulged splitting the sealant. At a year and half I had to repair the sealant around the furnace exhaust. Jayco used on some seams what looks like the calking the used years ago on single pane windows. Where they did use some type of tube calking they smeared some on one side and just painted over it.