Every year hundreds of thousands of RV owners all across the country need to store their RVs. Whether it is due to harsh winter conditions or because work and school activities limit the time we can “recreate,” RVers must find the best method to put their unit into hibernation. Trying to find a nice, heated, indoor facility can be difficult and very expensive. So most of us are forced to store our RVs outside, which is not always a good idea and can create some very expensive issues.
Why storing your RV outside could be bad
Leaving your RV outside means that it will not be climate controlled and can be exposed to blistering heat in the summertime and below zero in the winter. When the temperature changes on a normal day, materials expand and contract. Mornings that start out at 35 degrees and get up into the 60s or 70s will see the “movement” of sealants, rubber membranes, and even fiberglass.
One of the biggest challenges for RV engineers is designing and manufacturing units that will expand and contract. Eventually, doing so will create leaks.
Take, for example, the front cap to the roof seam. During tests at Winnebago, we encountered an expansion of almost 3” of the hard fiberglass front cap to the roof structure. A “J” channel was designed that had enough coverage to allow for the expansion. However, the sealant needed to be the main component that moved with the material and sealed the seam from leaking.
What can you do?
Frankly, nothing, as you will not be able to control the temperature and there is no cover or magic product that will help this. What you must do is visually inspect the seam periodically, especially in the spring. A cover will help keep moisture out, but this is not always a good idea either. More on that later.
Ultraviolet (UV) degradation
Another issue with leaving your rig outside is the harsh UV rays. They will deteriorate the fiberglass, rubber membrane, decals, and sealants. You can see how the sun has hardened the sealant in the above photo and turned the fiberglass cap into a chalky mess that runs down the windshield and sidewalls when it rains or in the morning with dew.
What to do about UV degradation
In this case, there are things you can do to reduce or even eliminate the fading and deterioration. You can try to store your unit in a spot that has minimal exposure to the sun during the heat of the day. Find someplace by the east side of a building so the harsh sun at 3:00 is blocked by the building. It’s not a good idea to store your rig by a tree as there could be damage from wind and extreme weather.
You can also apply a recommended wax such as Meguiar’s #58. It has UV protection for both the front cap and sidewall material. If your rig has full body paint, get a recommendation from the manufacturer, as a good automotive wax with UV protection will help keep it from getting cloudy and faded.
Decals are a totally different issue as the manufacturer does not recommend waxing, which actually enhances the fading, cracking, and peeling. I talked with Sharpline, which is the major supplier of decals. They recommend just washing with a mild detergent like Dawn Dish Soap (Blue) and drying. However, one of their engineers that supply Winnebago told me they have been testing decals out in an open field for years using several different products. They found 303 Protectant applied to decals lasted longer. Also, a new product called RejeX actually doubled the life. You can purchase it in 16 oz. bottles or in gallon jugs on Amazon here.
What about a cover?
Covers can help to reduce UV degradation and even prevent moisture penetration. However, if the cover is not customized and doesn’t fit like a glove, the wind will whip it around and can cause some severe damage such as scratches, gouges, and even broken items. This owner is asking for some bodywork and painting next spring!
A good cover such as the ones from ADCO are customized to specific body styles but still need to have some tweaks here and there. Some areas that seem to get quite a bit of rubbing and damage are the roof air conditioners, vents, and skylights.
This unit is customized; however, the owner installs large foam pads around the roof air units as well as swim noodles in areas he has found that rub heavily. Last year when he brought the unit out of storage and fired up the roof air, it snowed inside the rig. A squirrel had made its way under the cover and into the air conditioner eating up all the Styrofoam insulation around the fan and motor. Ironically, we have called it a squirrel cage for years!
Condensation can develop with temperature changes, and it is a good idea to install some type of manual dehumidifying product like DampRid, which you can get on Amazon here.
One last issue. If you do store your rig outside in below-freezing temperatures, try not to move it as the materials become brittle and the slightest bounce or thump can crack fiberglass, glass, plastic, and other components. It is easy to do as your tow vehicle is warm when you hook up the trailer, or you let the motorhome run long enough for it to be comfortable in the driver/passenger area, but unless you start up the onboard furnace, the rest of the unit is still frigid!
Dave Solberg 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.
Read more from Dave here.
I love your knowledge and expertise in the field!
May I offer a suggestion to you?
Can you do an article for those of us who keep our coaches in a totally enclosed climate controlled environment? The question really refers to what maintenance must be done as compared to those who keep their coaches outside year-round.
Manufacturers and dealers store RV’s outside all the time. People who use their rigs year round they are expose to all the elements and temp changes. My rig is stored outside year round when not in use with no cover. All the RV’s I have had, with proper maintenance and wash/waxing and periodic sealant checks they have all been okay.
Great information again Dave, thanks. I keep my rig parked under a steel cover, on a concrete slab, here at home when not out on the road.
“One of the biggest challenges for RV engineers is designing and manufacturing units that will expand and contract.”
Assumption here is this industry actually employs competent Engineers. I’ve yet to see any serious attempts at serious engineering in the motor homes with which I’ve had personal experience. On the contrary, I’ve seen example after example of what a Professional Engineer could only describe as “barn yard engineering”, submitted at the risk of offending competent farmers.
An Engineer who takes a position in the RV industry probably knows it’s a dead-end career. Therefore, the really good Engineers naturally orient toward more upwardly mobile positions in other industries.
Bought my rig new in 2018. We live in a Del Webb 55+ HOA community so no RVs are allowed to be stored at our home. Its in a nearby outdoor storage yard. There is an upscale covered facility nearby but it costs like $400-$500 per month. No way- that’s like a yacht harbor! We have extreme weather-:+/- 50 degree swings every summer day. Our rig takes a hit- I have to change the vinyl screw cover stripping every couple years. I wash and check the roof annually. I cover the tires. I use 303 on the decals. And that’s it. When the rig is all used up, I’ll sell it for whatever I can and take my lumps. It wasn’t meant to last forever. Its like a car- use it, maintain it…and accept the inevitable depreciation and wear. Oh- no leaks yet!
DW said we can afford the RV or the garage for the RV, but not both. I chose the garage, because it didn’t deprecate. Lol
I built an RV garage next to my home which has been an absolute luxury. My 5th wheel has escaped the ravages of the Colorado sun, hail and winters…and I have a great place to do my maintenance year round. The down side…my wife says the sum of buying the 5th wheel, Denali 3500HD truck, all the necessary camping gear and building the huge garage may never get our cost per night below renting a private island in our lifetime!! lol
Yep she’s right!
Have you ever observed all the leftover trailers parked outside in the RV Dealer lots ?
I once had a conversation with a sales rep at a Camping World. We were talking about the need to purchase one of those canvas covers to protect your trailer from the elements during the off season. I asked him “Do you guys go out there and cover all your trailers during the off season ?” He laughed and walked away.
Well… did you expect anything else? Camping World sucks!
Wouldn’t we all love to have nice indoor heated storage for our RV’s? For me, there’s no way. Besides, as jewel asks, what if you travel in your unit most of the time? When I see a well sized cover on an RV in my neighborhood, I know I’m looking at an RV that rarely gets used. These covers are a PITA to deploy (and un-deploy!). For over 20 years our trailers have sat outside in the Nevada summers and winters. No damage to speak of, and I’m not a meticulous maintenance kind of guy either (darn it!). I want it ready to go when the urge hits. And the urge hits pretty often – 🙂
I lived in northern IL for many years, at the end of the camping season I would pick a nice fall day and reseal the entire trailer. Crack open a roof vent over the shower to prevent condensation from building up inside, cover the tires, lock it up and wait for spring, never had a problem.
If outside is so bad for RVs, what happens when people travel in them most of the year, or full-time? Seems like it’s all the same except for what’s going on inside (or not).
Regular inspection and maintenance goes a long way to keeping it functioning. Telling people they should keep it stored inside is like saying “if you’re going to drive a car, make sure it’s a Rolls Royce.” Not everyone has the funds to buy one or interest in driving a Rolls.
As expensive as RVs are today you could afford to buy a Rolls Royce.
Leaving my little trailer in the open was never considered. I am a country dweller. Trees dripping gunk, sun, rain, snow, etc., would have ruined it, a no brainer. I got one of the tent garages, open in front. It worked pretty well. I did not want a cover because they are a nuisance as I use the trailer often. It wasn’t the best idea. Snails liked going up the tires, of all things. Mice and squirrels were around, but I used repellant. Eventually, snow and trees ruined the tent. My nephew cut another hole in the garage and installed a door, so it has a permanent spot. I do have a small, electric dehumidifier inside, so no musty smell.