by Paul and Kerri Elders
When most of us think of our RV’s, the first thing that comes to mind is “FUNTIME!” And this is absolutely, positively true. There’s no fun like RV fun, where home is wherever we decide to point the headlights. And one of the greatest things about RV living is that everything we need is right on board, 24/7/365. Here are a few quick and easy tips to help keep your home-away-from-home stocked with some of the fluids it needs to operate at its peak as you roll on down the highway.
Fluids 101: Just like your own body needs plenty of good, fresh water to perform its best, there are a number of fluids that help your RV do the same. Fluids are the very lifeblood of your rig; whether your favorite RV is a motorhome, fifth wheel, travel trailer, pickup truck, or SUV, the engine that’s “doing the pulling” needs adequate fluid to run its best. Checking all the fluid levels in your RV’s engine compartment should be a regular part of your pre-travel routine, and luckily, this is both quick AND easy. You’ll want to inspect the fluid levels of your vehicle’s engine oil, coolant, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. You can make a quick check of your Owner’s Manual to familiarize yourself with each reservoir’s specific location. Then, simply check each reservoir level in turn, topping off any fluids that are low.
While you’re at it, it’s also a good practice to routinely check the fluid levels in both your engine battery and the chassis battery bank. Sealed batteries are considered maintenance-free, but lead acid batteries may need to be carefully replenished with distilled water; just be careful to not overfill the cells. Check your battery manual or YouTube for specific instructions.
Check It Out: Occasionally, during your daily walk-around inspection, you may discover “mystery fluids” on the concrete under your engine, axle, or storage compartments. If so, time to investigate! If it’s summertime, the fluid may simply be condensed water that has pooled on the concrete from the air conditioner. If so, it’s ordinarily quite easy to tell that it’s just water. However, if the fluid is light green, feels like baby oil, and smells sweet, it’s probably antifreeze/coolant (keep pets away!). If this fluid contains rust-colored particles or has a slightly rusty color, it’s an indicator that the RV’s cooling system needs some attention. If so, have your cooling system flushed at your earliest opportunity.
Fuel leaks, whether gas or diesel, are usually easily diagnosed by smell; they look mostly clear when spilled, have a distinct odor, and tend to evaporate relatively quickly.
Brake fluid leaks can be diagnosed by looking for a clear fluid with the consistency of baby oil that has a faint odor of alcohol. Motor oil tends to puddle on top of the pavement and is a slippery fluid, usually brown or black in color. And if the mystery fluid is pink or red, it’s usually either automatic transmission fluid or power steering fluid (though some power steering fluids are clear).
If you find a leak, do your best to trace the source of the problem. If you’re a confirmed do-it-yourselfer, check the level of the fluid that’s leaking (oil, power steering fluid, coolant, etc.) and refill if necessary. Then, take your RV to the nearest mechanic and get the problem fixed ASAP!
Fluid 911: Old School RVers learned through trial and error that it’s a great idea to stow a small box filled with fluid supplies in a convenient storage bin. Include items like a couple of quarts of oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, some coolant, a funnel, a roll of paper towels, and an extra fuel filter or two. This tiny bit of preparatory work can help you get back on the road or to the nearest service station, quickly and painlessly. It’s also a great idea to store a cheap flashlight in the same box, just to make any roadside emergencies a quick and easy matter of finding what you need, when you need it.
Quick Note About Chlorine Bleach and Your RV: RV’s have special chemical requirements and restrictions that differ from those of a traditional home. Although using chlorine bleach is common in the typical home, it can actually damage the seals on your RV’s septic system and should be used very sparingly, if at all. If your RV is equipped with a washer and dryer, replace bleach with a simple bleach alternative (such as Clorox 2).
Check the labels on all household cleaners and detergents you’re using in your RV to make sure they don’t contain hidden bleach. Popular cleaners like scrubs and polishes are available in formulas with and without bleach. Many of us are accustomed to using bleach at home as a freshener in our kitchen and bathroom drains, but this is never recommended in an RV. Use one of the greywater treatments available at your local RV supply house instead. Happy trails!