There is a lot of debate over whether or not you should cover your motorhome or travel trailer when it’s not being used. Many people argue that covering an RV is unnecessary because, after all, they were designed to be outdoors. However, opinion is generally moving towards weather covers for RVs – especially as RV’s get more expensive.
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Remember that most RV damage is cumulative. Motorhomes, fifth wheels, and campers tend to “wear out” over time… with small amounts of damage building up. Covering your RV can prevent a lot of that damage.
Leaving an RV Uncovered
The sun shining on an RV is the source for two types of damage – heat and UV. When your RV heats up on the outer surface, seals can loosen and deteriorate. As well, the interior of your motorhome of travel trailer can reach temperatures over 140F or 60C. UV damage isn’t as immediate, but can also cause seals and sealants to fail over time, cause plastic parts to become brittle, and make your RV look a lot older as paint and decals fade.
As those seals and sealants begin to fail over time, and plastic parts develop cracks, snow and rain will also have direct contact with the outer surface of your RV, making it very vulnerable to leaks – visible and invisible.
Many of us have heard of ice dams on our house roofs, but few realize you can get the same thing on your RV roof. A border, or wall, of ice can form on the outer edge of your RV roof, holding a large pool of water that looks for any small crack, opening, or void.
As well, the large, flat surface of an RV roof will also accumulate dirt which eventually washes down on the walls. Using an RV cover during “downtime” will avoid a lot of extra dirt accumulation.
Using an RV Cover
An RV cover prevents excessive heat buildup in your travel trailer or motorhome. Peak temperatures will almost be half of those of an uncovered RV.
The best way to block UV rays is with a physical barrier – therefore, an RV cover is the best UV protection you can get. The cost of a cover will pay for itself just by slowing down the need to reseal seams, replace cracked parts, and maintain resale value by preserving paint and decal quality.
An RV cover – a good RV cover – will also provide a physical barrier between your unit and snow, ice, and water.
Finally, when dirt accumulates on an RV cover and runs down the sides, it’s only running down the sides of the cover… not your RV.
The Blue Tarp RV Cover
The ubiquitous tarp, usually blue, is used to cover many things, it seems to be an obvious choice for covering an RV. You can find them everywhere, they’re inexpensive… but they’re a bad idea for motor home and travel trailer owners.
First of all, tarps don’t “breathe”. Any moisture that gets under it, or is already on or in your RV can become trapped. The result can often be mildew, mold, and even moss.
Secondly, although they can feel slippery – especially when wet – tarps have an abrasive surface. When a tarp is up against your RV, and then moved by the wind, it can have a sandpaper effect. Even the smallest movement over the course of months’ of coverage can cause damage.
As well, tarps aren’t fitted. When you try and cover an RV with a tarp (or tarps, more likely) you’ll have to deal with a lot of excess material and corners that just won’t want to be reached. All the extra material makes the cover susceptible to the flapping mentioned above.
Installing An RV Cover
When putting a cover on your travel trailer or motor home, follow these simple but important steps.
Clean your RV before covering. Cleaning will remove any debris and grit that can trap moisture or abrade your RV’s finish. Also, a clean RV can’t transfer dirt to your cover. This is especially important the first time you try to install a new cover. If, for some reason, the cover doesn’t fit or is damaged, you won’t be able to return it if you have gotten it dirty or stained it.
Do the actual covering on a dry day. Rainy or snowy days will trap excess moisture under the cover, and make the roof of your RV terribly slippery and dangerous.
Make sure your RV has cooled down. Hot spots including engine exhaust, and fridge or water heater exhausts can severely damage an RV cover.
Look for sharp and “pokey” areas on your RV. Things like your side view mirrors, rain gutters, riveted edges, awnings, and more can cut, puncture, or put excessive pressure on your RV cover. Make sure these areas are padded before installing the cover. An excellent way to do so is with pool noodles and lengths of foam pipe insulation. You’ll find an incredibly detailed tutorial on RV covers and pool noodles at this link.
Fold in any extended mirrors.
Unpack the RV cover on a large, flat surface. A clean lawn or smooth driveway will work.
Undo any buckles or snaps and, if your cover has them, remove and weights.
Arrange the cover so the outside of the roof section is facing upwards.
Identify the front of the cover.
Fold the sides of the RV cover towards the middle of the roof area.
Roll the cover from BACK TO FRONT.
Move the rolled up cover to the roof of your RV, at the FRONT of your RV. Depending on your strength and coordination, you might want to enlist some help for this step (assuming you haven’t recruited someone to help with the entire process).
With the rolled up cover at the FRONT of the RV, unroll it towards the back.
If the sides of the cover haven’t already started dropping, unfold them so they drape the sides of your RV.
If you’re unable to get the rolled up cover onto the roof of your RV, you can carefully slide it up and over. Start on the ground at the front of your RV and slide it up from front to back.
Once the RV cover is in place, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for securing the straps, snaps, and buckles.
Storing An RV Cover
Before storing your RV cover, it’s important to clean it.
Place your RV cover on a large, flat surface and rinse it with a garden hose. It will be tempting to use a pressure washer if you have one, but the risk of damage is huge – so stick with the hose.
Make up a solution of mild soap and water in a bucket. Using a soft brush, dip it frequently in the bucket of soapy water and lightly scrub the RV cover.
Rinse the cover thoroughly with the garden hose. You literally cannot rinse it too much.
Let your RV cover dry thoroughly. Thoroughly means incredibly thoroughly. Any moisture trapped in the folds can quickly turn to mold or mildew.
If you can, store the washed and dried RV cover in the storage bag it came with. Most are designed to breathe and not trap moisture in them.
Chances are, you won’t be able to cram the RV cover back into its original storage bag. In that case you can try to buy a bigger, breathable bag (for example, the ones used to store sails), or make one. Another alternative is to place the RV cover in a large plastic trash can (one with wheels will make things easier). If you choose this method, modify the bin so that it has breathing holes for moisture to pass through. You can drill a number of small holes all over the bin, or cut out sections and replace them with screen or heavy fabric. Don’t place any holes in the lid where dust and other things might fall.