As winter approaches, many RV snowbirds from the northern United States and Canada put their motorhomes and campers in drive to head south just like birds. Florida and Texas being two of the favorite RV destinations for snowbirds, has the warm sunshine and beautiful ocean and gulf shores. They proudly call it Salt Life. However, the salt air and sun will do more than chap your lips if you don’t take take preventative measures to protect your RV.
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Did you know that salt air and sun are an RV’s #1 silent killer?
Salt, also known as Sodium Chloride, is active when it is wet. The problem with coastal areas is the combination of salt and humidity. It keeps the salt active.
Factor in the elevated temperatures (for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit a chemical reaction doubles in effect) and you have a perfect environment for corrosion and dissolving metal. That’s why you’ll notice RVs and vehicles from the coastal areas don’t last as long as those in the dry desert regions.
So, in this article, not only will you learn what it does to your RV and vehicles, but also what proper exterior maintenance you should conduct to keep all of your vehicles from deteriorating.
How to Protect your RV from Salt Air and Sun Damage
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Have you ever heard of salt corrosion? It happens when oxygen, moisture and sodium chloride create a chemical reaction that wreaks havoc on anything and everything.
From exterior surfaces to even under the hood, salt corrosion corrodes ten times faster than dry air. And believe me when I say that you don’t necessarily have to be parked right on the beach to see it’s damaging affects. Salt air can travel as far as five miles inland.
Even after a couple days, you’ll notice a salty powder film on the lateral surfaces of your vehicles. This is just the start of the salt corrosion. It starts to slowly pit exposed metal and eat the paint right off your motorhome or camper. And before you know it, those white spotted pits create openings into the paint surface and chrome which results in rust.
But the salt air isn’t the only thing that will damage your toad’s, tow vehicle’s or RV’s exterior. The sun’s ultra violet (UV) rays are more intense than ever. Prolonged sun exposure has can damage both, exterior and interior, of your investments.
As weird as it sounds, the hot sun’s intense UV rays permeates the paint which leaves open pores that are prone to salt in the air to find it’s way in the paint finish.
The sooner you notice evidence of potential deterioration or damage, the more you can do to prevent escalation of the problem.
So, let’s see what it does and how we can prevent your RV and vehicles from becoming victims of the salt and sun.
Your RV’s and vehicle’s paint surfaces will be the first place you’ll notice the salt buildup. If you don’t get it off, that salt film silently works it’s ravage.
So, we highly recommend washing both regularly. Dan prefers to wash ours weekly but you could stretch it to two weeks. But for older RVs and vehicles, since oxidization of the paint is already inevitable, you should wash more frequently as older vehicles are prone to more immediate deterioration.
If an RV park or campground doesn’t allow you to wash your own RVs, we highly recommend hiring an RV wash company. But, if you’re on the road, a visit to a Blue Beacon truck and RV wash might be a good idea.
One word of caution, make make it explicitly clear to whomever is washing your motorhome, fifth wheel or other camper to use a non-corrosive acid-free cleaner or you’ll have even bigger problems with your paint’s finish. Do not use any gasoline or petroleum products as cleaners.
When you’re filling up your toad or tow vehicle’s fuel tank, make it a habit to take it through the drive-thru car wash and wax.
Having been motorcycle owners, we’re very accustomed to constantly shining our chrome. Each time we rode down to Daytona Beach for even just a week, we could literally see the pitting and caking on our paint, chrome and engine right before our very eyes.
Well, RV’s are no different. They, too, have gel-coat paint, shiny tire rims and hubcaps, chrome fenders, pipes and detail adornments.
Having talked to many motorcycle owners who live in salty air regions, they coat their chrome with WD40 multi-use non-aerosol spray.
Others use a heavy duty corrosion inhibitor which seals out moisture and resists salt spray. It works exactly like the corrosion preventative Navy helicopter mechanics use onboard aircraft carriers.
So, if it’s good for the Navy to use on their ships out on the salty seas, then it’s certainly good to use on your RV near the salty coasts.
You should also put a couple coats of wax on the paint as well because salt can get in thru the pores in the paint and work on the metal underneath. Sealing those pores with wax will help prevent that.
The hot sun and UV rays can wreak havoc on your RV tires. Blowouts are more common due to the heat in the air and road surface can damage your tires. The UV rays will degrade the rubber in your tires in little time.
Don’t be tempted to use those fancy tire shine products. They contain petroleum which degrades the rubber. Just give your tires a washing with a good scrub brush to remove oils, tar and other road grime.
We prefer to use a specialized non-toxic and environmentally-safe rubber care product that cleans, conditions and protects our vehicle and RV tires.
Be very careful not to overspray chrome polishes onto your tire’s sidewalls. And never ever spray anything other than plain water onto your tire treads.
If you’re going to be parked for more than a week, we recommend covering your RV tires with UV protected tire covers. You can get covers for single tires, double axel and triple axel tire covers.
For more information and tips on how to take care of your RV tires, check out our RV tire safety and maintenance. Pay particular attention to the section Tire Protectorant Applications.
If you recently bought a new(er) RV, you may want to rust-proof the undercarriage by an accredited application professional before taking your RV down the road.
But whatever age your motorhome or camper is, it’s wise to give it a good spray underneath. The reason for undercarriage washing is that salt collects on the road. Each time it rains, all that road spray is attaching to the underside of your RV and vehicles.
I would like to mention that you should also avoid sloshing through puddles if possible. The last thing you want is your RV rotting right from under you.
Salt air corrodes everything metal and it’s certainly not discriminating to anything hiding under the hood of your motorhome, toad or tow vehicle. It even attacks everything under the hood; from battery cables and terminals to the radiator and metal parts of the engine.
Keep an eye on nuts, bolts and other connection points that will corrode too. If you ignore symptoms of salt corrosion, your components could fail which in turn, may lead to an accident.
Since Motorhomes and campers are a bit more complex with more moving parts, it’s wise to pay attention to slide mechanisms, inside water heater and refrigerator access areas.
Never spray water directly into those access areas but clean them with a soft brush and cloths. Make certain no insects or other pests have entered or made a home in them.
As well, keep after your generator monthly maintenance schedule. Make sure you exercise your generator under load to ensure it will start and run when you need it.
Don’t forget to check all of the caulking on your roof and around your RV windows and doors. The intensity of the sun’s UV rays will degrade, crack and shrink seals and caulking, so make certain to keep after them. Ignoring them will bring on more problems like leaking or water intrusion.
Don’t think for a moment if you keep your RV or vehicles sealed up that the salt air won’t get in. Nothing could be further than the truth. Salt water stains car seats, fabric headliners and carpet.
If you leave your RV or vehicle windows open at the beach, wind-blown salty sea spray will make its way on everything inside. While it may not immediately show, over time stains will appear on anything made of fabric or textiles.
And, if your seats are dark, those stains will be more obvious. So, it would be wise to keep your windows closed when you’re close to the coast.
For those stains in our Jeep (and our former truck), we used an environmentally-safe interior fabric and textile cleaner made for automobiles, aircraft and RVs for spot-cleaning and scrubbing.
Also, considering the beach and coastal areas are subject to humidity, it’s wise to have one or two small dehumidifiers; especially in the bathroom, bedroom and kitchen areas. They will absorb the moisture in the air in your motorhome or camper.
But the salt air isn’t the only thing that will damage the interior of your RV or vehicle. The hot sun’s UV rays can damage and crack the dash and seat vinyl or leather finishes. We use a specialized non-toxic safe protectant made specifically for vinyl and leather surfaces.
The good thing is there are preventative measures you can do to prevent further deterioration and minimize damage to your motorhome, camper or vehicles from salt air and sun UV rays.
While the best recommendation to protect your RV from salt air and sun is to park your RV and vehicles under cover albeit a garage or RV port, we realize that’s not typical for snowbirds.
That said, if you park your vehicles under trees, be conscious of low branches that could swing and damage your RV roof in the wind.
Also, from our experience, try to stay away from trees such as pines or pecan trees that drip sap or dyes that will damage your vehicles topsides.
Washing your RV and vehicles is the second line of defense to keeping them a protected from the effects of salt corrosion. Use a mild automotive wash
A good coat of wax will help protect your RV and vehicle(s) from UV rays and the salt spray from immediately adhering to the paint finish.
When we don’t have access to water or the RV park doesn’t allow RV washing, we use a dry waterless wash on our RV and all vehicles.
Anytime you purchase a new RV or vehicle, you should receive small paint samples of all colors on your vehicles. As soon as you notice a chip, ding or gouge, you need to properly wash and thoroughly dry the chipped surface.
Carefully touch up the affected spot with the paint provided by your vehicle manufacturer. This is to prevent moisture from getting between the metal, primer and paint surface which would result in expanding the damaged area.
Inspecting your RV and toad or tow vehicle should be a daily thing. Anytime you walk by any of them, lightly brush your finger over the painted surfaces. If it feels dusty or chalky, that’s your first tell-tale sign to get your hose, bucket and wash solution out.
Also, pay attention to corners and edges around doors, headlights, hatches and hoods. And, keep an eye on those chips on the hood and fenders. Don’t forget to look under the hood and underneath.
Lastly, while it’s tempting to park your RV or drive on the beach, this is a huge no-no. The concentration of salt combined with the abrasive blowing sand is a recipe for disaster.
But if that temptation wins a beachfront RV site looking out to the gulf or ocean sunsets, be aware of the damage affects of the salt air and sun. You will need to wash, wax and protect your RV and toad or tow vehicles immediately upon leaving your beachfront piece of paradise.
We hope these RV tips on how to protect your RV from the salt air and sun help you understand the ramifications if you ignore them. As a familiar Neil Young song goes, “rust never sleeps”.
Enjoy the sun and surf!
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