By Chris Dougherty
CERTIFIED RV TECHNICIAN
As advanced as today’s RVs are, one thing that seems to be overlooked by many manufacturers is the finish of the frame. But even if the RV had a great paint job on the undercarriage, it would still need some care from time to time to protect it for the long run.
Think about it… the RV frame is exposed to a rough environment almost all of the time. It is usually moist, dirty, and having all kinds of road debris being chucked at it.
Most RV frames I see have some level of rust. I have seen brand-new ones on the lot with rust. So, it goes without saying that trying to keep that rust away will help give your RV a longer life, and it will look better and be easier to service as well. Now, as a side note, there are lightweight RVs that have frames without paint at all, but they won’t rust as a rule. If you’re not sure, check with your dealer or the manufacturer.
If you have a newer unit with a small amount of surface rust, there’s not much prep work you’ll have to do. You’ll want to make sure the painting surface is reasonably clean, and go to work. But, if you have an older unit that hasn’t had much attention, and the paint is scaling with more severe rust, that must be cleaned up prior to painting. All the loose paint and rust should be scraped off, then the steel primed and painted.
As far as the type of paint to use, I recommend using a rust preventive spray or brush paint such as Rustoleum or Ace Rust Stop or equivalent. They have primers, and I use a gloss black paint. Make sure you cover all areas and apply at least a couple of coats.
Prep for painting a clean surface, including one you have removed rust and scaling paint from, includes a few steps. First, as a safety measure, make sure that any flame-producing appliance is off before painting. MASK WELL – especially if spray painting. You’d be surprised how paint mist travels! This is aesthetic, so don’t worry about stuff under the RV as much as the painted siding, etc. Do a section at a time, and be thorough and complete. If you get it right, you probably won’t have to paint again for a long time.
If you have the equipment, using a compressed air sprayer can make the job easier, but it is messy and really requires some training and the use of proper safety equipment such as a respirator. But, if you have a large RV, it can be a real time saver, and the outcome is usually a little prettier.
On my own coach, I have done a couple of other things while I’m under there. First, I redo each of the chassis grounds. On trailers, there’s probably only a couple, but there are a bunch on a motorhome. I clean the terminals completely, reattach and coat with undercoating.
Another thing I like to do is maintain the step carefully, especially if it is an electric model. I like to make sure it’s rust-free, and well painted with a good tread. I make sure it remains well lubricated and all the attachments are tight.
Painting under the RV gives you the opportunity to also look around for any other damage or problems. Sometimes things will be knocked loose or otherwise damaged while driving down the road. I have seen several RVs whose floors had been chewed through by rodents’ intent on making a nest inside. Finding these, and sealing them up, is essential… but that’s another article. But at the least, you’ll be keeping your RV looking new much longer, and helping to prevent premature failure of your frame.
Chris Dougherty wrote this when he was the technical editor of RVtravel.com. He is currently the technical editor of Trailer Life and Motorhomes magazines.