DIY Camper Restoration Guide Without Going Broke

Your RV is a big investment so it’s important to take good care of it so it will give you many years of camping enjoyment. But, regardless if your RV, motorhome or trailer is 5 or 50, all it takes is a little TLC to restore your camper close to to its’ original beauty. These easy DIY camper restoration projects won’t put a hole in your wallet but will lengthen the life of your trailer or motorhome.

RVs and campers require almost constant care to keep it looking great and functioning as it’s supposed to. There are components that need to inspected regularly and exterior parts that will deteriorate if you ignore them.

So, let’s see what simple ways to restore your camper as well as protect and preserve your RV. We’ll also show you how you can improve the look of certain components on your trailer, fifth wheel or motorhome without having to spend a ton replacing them.

RV Restoration Tips-Always On Liberty

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Exterior Camper Restoration Tips Without Going Broke

Camper Restoration - Old Camper

Exterior Wash and Wax

Just like owning a car, you should take constant care of your RV. While your camper may not be a $300,000 rockstar bus motorhome, you still worked hard to earn the money to buy your RV. So, why not take care of it with frequent washings and at least, a yearly thorough wax to the outside of your RV? Your RV will need special care and protection whenever it’s parked in the harsh elements, hot sun and/or subject to coastal or road salt. 

While some campgrounds don’t allow you to wash your RV at your campsite, you still can clean it using an alternative cleaning method. It’s easy, takes absolutely no water. And, you can essentially do it a little at a time; leaving you more time to play.

But whatever you do, and I say this hesitantly, never power wash your RV. Power washing or pressure washing your RV can cause water intrusion and damage your RV components as well as the exterior finish of your motorhome or camper.

But, when you do wash your RV’s exterior, it’s the perfect time to give a thorough inspection of your RV from its’ roof, windows and door for cracks or degrading seals to your motorhome or trailers wheels and underbelly.

In between water washings, you can still keep your RV looking great by using a waterless wash.

RV Restoration - Exterior Walls

If you’ve noticed black vertical streaks on your camper’s exterior walls, there are ways to remove the residue.  You can either clean it with a Mr. Clean eraser or foaming bathroom cleaner (because it clings). However, if using the eraser, don’t rub too hard as you may also end up removing the gel coat or wax finish.

Now, while we don’t use these solutions, I have read RV owners claiming that Simple Green and Awesome cleaner works wonders. However, I highly recommend diluting any of these harsh cleaning solvents with water before spraying on the fiberglass.

Whichever cleaner you use to clean the those black streaks or stubborn stains off of your motorhome or camper, test the solution on a less conspicuous location to make sure it doesn’t ruin the finish. And, always use a soft cloth that won’t scratch or rub off the finishes.

RV Decals

A dead giveaway to aging RVs and campers is faded and peeled graphic decals. To give your motorhome or trailer an updated look, remove the old graphics and replace them with new ones.

We’ve heard of others using a heat gun to remove decals from their RV. We highly discourage using a heat gun or even a hair dryer has potential of releasing the adhesive or glue bonding agent used between the fiberglass and wall structure. Which in itself, creates pockets where moisture can build causing delamination. So, it’s better to follow these steps in removing your old faded or peeling decals.

First, we recommend a gentle adhesive decal remover which is safe to use on fiberglass painted surfaces. 

    • Spray decal remover solvent on the edges of the decals. Allow to sit a couple minutes to work it’s way into the the decal’s edges.
    • With a decal remover tool, slowly and gently scrape the decal edges towards the center of the peeling decal. Do not dig or scrape too hard. You want to scrape gently with very little pressure as to not damage the fiberglass or it’s finish. (NEVER use a metal putty knife!)
    • Spray again, each time working your plastic putty knife a little at a time.
    • Once you remove the entire decal, follow up with a good RV wash shampoo with conditioner and hot water. Hand dry with high quality, non-abrasive, soft absorbant drying towels.

If your RV is fairly new and you wish to replace the decals, simply contact your RV manufacturer with your RV’s VIN number, make and model for pricing. If your RV is older or you’d like to go with a different color scheme or design, you could always seek a local company that wraps vehicles.

However, know that new decals, no matter where you get them, aren’t cheap. And if you go the route of getting an RV wrap, that alone can cost upwards to $15,000 depending on the size, age and condition of your RV. So, keep that in mind when taking on this project as it could put a big dent into your pocket depending on what you choose to do.

Fiberglass Delamination

We’ve all seen it; those ugly bubbles on camper exterior sidewalls or slide out ends. Those bubbles known as delamination, or delam for short, are the result of water intrusion between the fiberglass panel and the wall structure of your motorhome or camper. But, delamination is avoidable and can be caught early if you know how to prevent it.

If the delam is bad where the whole fiberglass sheet bows, you need to make an appointment with an RV body repair shop as this will take professional guidance and reinstallation if you don’t know what you’re doing.

If you feel confident in repairing your RV’s delam issue, check out our friend, Dan of the RV Repair Club, who has a video on how to fix RV delamination.

Door Window Frames and Vent Covers 

RV Restoration - Window Frame
Always On Liberty©

RVs and campers that originally had white window frames or vent covers may have yellowed over the years. You can make them look new without having to buy new ones using these easy, inexpensive steps:

    • Carefully remove the frame just as we did when we replaced our RV door window with a stained glass window.
    • Remove all old caulk from frame or vent cover. You may have to use an adhesive remover solvent to completely clear all excess caulk or debris.
    • Thoroughly wash parts in hot soapy water, rinse and allow to dry completely.
    • On a plastic tarp away from your RV (or others), spray both sides of the frame or vent cover with primer and paint spray in color of your choosing. I’d give at least two to three gently sweeping coats; allowing ample time to dry thoroughly between each coat of paint. Make certain to read manufacturers’ recommendations on when it’s okay to handle them.
    • While your painted window frames and vent covers are drying, carefully remove all existing caulk and debris from where the frame or vent adheres to. Again, you may have to use a solvent to remove existing stickiness from the old putty or caulk.
    • Wash and dry the area where the frame or cover is going to be reinstalled.
    • Where the old putty (Butyl tape) or caulk used to be, you’ll need to apply new clear silicone caulk. It’s important to allow it set for tack about 3 minutes so it won’t be slippery and runny when remounting the window frame. You don’t want it dripping outside the frame or vent cover edge.
    • If you’d rather, you can apply Butyl tape instead if you don’t want to deal with the mess.

Slide Out Rubber Seals

If your motorhome or camper has slides, slide-outs or pop-outs, whichever you call them, they will need special care to keep them from deteriorating, cracking and fading. Because, as with any seal, should they go bad, you’ll have bigger, more expensive problems.

If your RV slide seals just need a good cleaning and conditioning, that’s easy to do. When washing your coach, make certain to clean off any dust, dirt, road grime or grit from the slide seals.

After drying thoroughly with a clean, non-abrasive cloth, you’ll want to apply RV slide out rubber seal conditioner. But, make certain you don’t get any residue onto your RV’s fiberglass finish or other components.

The slide out rubber seal conditioner will provide UV protection while repelling water and keeping the rubber conditioned and supple. This will help protect and extend the life of your RV slide out seals. It’s graphite and other special ingredients will also help slide out function. Oh, and you can also use this same conditioner on your window and door seals as well.

Window Frames and Seals

You’re RV’s window frames and seals may consist of rubber or silicone. If they are not cracked or showing signs of serious degradation, simply clean them. Old window caulk should be removed and new window caulk adhered. If you have white window frames, you’ll want to use white Dicor window sealant.

But, if your RV window frames are black, then you’ll need to get black Dicor window sealant. It’s very important to make certain you get non-sag lap sealant. The non-sag sealant will keep the caulk adhered right where you apply it with no dripping effect.

Be careful not to get any caulk on the rubber frame itself. After the window caulk is finished curing and drying, follow up with a good rubber frame conditioner that will help keep the rubber looking new.

RV Awning Care

You should be cleaning your awning at least annually and when you winterize your RV. But, if you use your RV full-time or a lot, you’ll want to clean your awning more often; especially if your motorhome or camper is parked under trees with dripping sap. 

Cleaning your awning is just showing dirt, mold and grime, this is a fairly easy and quick fix. Some RV owners claim using a Mr. Clean eraser works well, but of course, you may need a tall ladder (and a spotter!). And, you may end up with a sore neck and arms at the end of your project.

But, if you’d rather just use your step stool and long handled brush, you can simply spray the awning consistently using a specialized awning cleaner. Or, as I’ve read several accounts, Awesome to water with a 50/50 ration mixture works equally well.

Whatever product you use to clean the awning on your camper, make certain to avoid using products that are abrasive, corrosive, oil-based or caustic. These will only degrade the awning fabric causing it to rip and tear. Personally, I recommend not using bleach as well because it will degrade the fabric but may cause damage to your RV’s exterior finish, decals, metal finishings, etc.

To remove that sticky tree sap, my first recommendation is to spot treat using Isopropyl alcohol. If that doesn’t work, you can use turpentine or household cleaners such as Formula 409 or Clorox Clean-up spray.

As with anytime we may recommend products to clean your RV with, we highly recommend you test the product on an inconspicuous location to make certain it won’t degrade or discolor the fabric. 

Also, you should clean your awning only where you’re permitted to wash your RV. That said, anytime you’re using chemicals or highly concentrated solutions, you need to be away from other RVs. I’m sure they won’t appreciate any overspray on their own motorhome or camper.

And lastly, since you may be spraying cleaning solutions, it would be a great safety precaution to wear eye protection and skin coverings such as an old long sleeve shirt you don’t care about should it get overspray or solution on it.

First deploy your awning all the way out. Rinse both top and bottom of your awning thoroughly with a hose with a spray nozzle to loosen debris and dirt. Spray your cleaning solution liberally underneath; covering every inch of the awning fabric. Then, bring in your awning completely and allow to sit for about five to ten minutes.

Thank, deploy your awning. With a long handled brush, wipe the awning on both sides to scrub off the dirt, mold, mildew and grime. Do not scrub hard as this may remove the UV protectant from the awning fabric.

Once you’ve wiped your awning down, you’ll thoroughly rinse your awning; both top and bottom; making certain to remove all soap or solutions.

If there are existing stains, simply repeat the process previously described. Again, make certain you rinse your awning thoroughly not leaving any cleaning agent residue. After you’re satisfied with the results, leave your awning extended so it can dry completely.

To preserve and protect your awning after thorough cleaning and drying. For vinyl awning fabric, you’ll want to use 303® Aerospace (that provides UV protection as well as repels dirt. But, for acrylic fabric, you’ll want to apply 303® Fabric Guard that repels water.

Exterior Lights

Over time, your exterior light covers will yellow, cloud or acquire moisture inside. You can use ___ to bring back their clear luster just like headlights on older cars.

And because they may be exposed to fluctuations in temperatures, they often crack and break. You can  either replace the light covers themselves or upgrade and replace your exterior lights with newer models.

RV Roof

Since your RV’s roof will be the root of most water intrusion issues, it’s the most important part of your motorhome or camper that needs constant attention. This is why it’s important to conduct proper RV roof maintenance.

For fifth wheels and travel trailers, pay strict attention to the rubber roof membrane; looking for splits, cracks, tears and wear. And for motorhomes, make certain your fiberglass roof top shows no evidence of cracking or spidering fiberglass. If your roof is not too far gone, making sure your roof is clean, simply apply high-adhesive roof tape over any discrepancies.

On all RVs, check all caulking around roof vents, roof edges, window and door seals. If caulk is dry, cracked or pulling away from any RV components, you’ll need to remove the old caulk and replace with new self-leveling RV roof caulk. You’ll want to do this at least once a year; more frequent if you’re RV is exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures or continuous direct sunlight.

RV Roof Vent and Roof Vent Covers

Your RV roof vent covers are treated similar to your motorhome or camper skylight. It’s important though to keep your RV vents and vent covers clean and free of debris. As they are subject to harsh weather, sun and moisture causing chipping, corner and edge cracking and broken mechanisms, it may be easier just to replace your RV vent kit and/or vent cover.  If you do replace it, we highly recommend upgrading to a longer lasting UV-resistant roof vent.

Since there are several different RV vent kits out there, most are standard size and can be purchased at most RV parts stores. Or you can order them from Amazon. Here’s a listing to see which one is the best replacement for your motorhome or trailer.

Now, if you want to be able to run your RV roof vent without having to worry about rain getting into your RV or wind ripping the vent off, you could get an RV roof vent cover. In fact, we had them on our fifth wheel and loved them because they protected our roof vents from damage and the weather elements. Plus, they allow us to be able to run our roof vents while going down the road without worrying about them being damaged.

MAXXAIR Vent Cover-White

MaxxAir White Vent Cover

Maxxair Vent Cover – Black

MaxxAir Black Vent Cover

Camco – Vent Cover White

Camco White Roof Vent Cover

Skylight

As part of your camper restoration, you’ll want to take a look at your RV skylight. It may already be or just beginning to show wear and yellowing. To clean, use a mild solution such as 409 cleaner with a soft, non-abrasive cloth. Then rinse thoroughly with a bucket of warm water. You’ll want to dry using another non-abrasive, absorbant soft cloth.

Make certain after cleaning to check the existing caulk sealant to insure it’s not cracked or degrading which could lead to leaks.

However, if your RV’s skylight polycarbonate surface is spidering and showing signs of cracking, you may want to replace it all together. If you’re RV is fairly new, you could contact your RV manufacturer with your VIN # and make and model of your brand for a replacement (not warrantied). Or, you can take measurements and order a new RV skylight online.

You may want to check out our friends, John and Peter of RV Geeks article and their video on how to replace an RV skylight.

Propane Tanks

RV Restoration - Propane Tank
Always On Liberty©

If your travel trailer’s propane tanks are exposed, they will show their age quickly and become unsightly. They will show rust, road grime, grease and dirt if you don’t keep up with simple cleaning and maintenance. But also, the tank fittings will corrode and cause dangerous propane leaks.

You can exchange your old 20# tanks for new(er) ones at a propane tank distribution center at places like Walmart, farm supply stores like Tractor Supply or even some grocery stores. However, you may have to pick through as those are used as propane refill tanks.

Or, you can purchase brand new propane tanks. But, since you’re going to get new tanks, it would be a good idea to replace your propane lines as well.

But, even after purchasing new propane tanks, to keep your new propane tanks looking new, you’ll want to invest in either, individual propane tank covers for your 20# propane tank(s), or a hard-shell propane tank cover that attaches to your camper’s trailer frame to accommodate two 20# or 30# propane tanks.

By changing out your propane tanks will help improve the exterior look of your RV but also stay in compliance with road safety regulations.

If you do keep your RV propane tanks exposed, perhaps have a little fun by painting them in in different motifs, characters, sports teams or other cool designs.

hand-painted-tank - Football

Football Propane Tank

Lego Propane Tank

That said, it’s important to remember that you can’t paint your camper propane tank just any color, nor can you use just any paint. You’ll need to choose a light color that reflects heat, such as silver white, yellow or any pastel color. But again, you’ll want to replace your propane lines.

RV Steps

Improve RV Exterior - RV Steps
Always On Liberty©

If you don’t have the cash to invest in new steps for your camper, you can always improve the appearance of your old RV steps by doing a little maintenance to bring back their luster.

      1. Using good quality painters tape that will adhere to your RV fiberglass and surround, tape up plastic sheeting completely all around where your steps to  prevent overspray from getting onto your camper or RV.
      2. Using a heat gun and a metal paint scraper, remove existing adhesive grit treads. Be extremely cautious as the metal steps will get very hot.
      3. Follow up with removing existing adhesive residue with adhesive residue remover.
      4. Take a fine wire brush to the crevices and creases to remove rust and caked on dirt and grime.
      5. Follow up with a light sanding with a high quality sanding block made for metal. You want to sand off existing rust, bubbled and cracked paint.
      6. Scrub down your RV steps with hot soapy water to remove all of the excess dust, dirt and grime. Rinse and allow to dry thoroughly.
      7. Using spray primer specifically for metal and outdoors, in light sweeping motions, carefully prime the steps where you’re going to eventually paint. Make certain you spray your primer in all of the cracks, creases and crevices so the paint adheres properly. Allow to thoroughly dry.
      8. Using an exterior flat black spray paint for metal with rust inhibitor, in sweeping motions, spray even coats on your primed steps. Allow enough time between coats to thoroughly dry. After your final coat of spray paint, allow to dry 24 hours before using.
      9. If not already, adhere new high grit adhesive tread strips onto your steps for traction.

Your shopping list of everything you need to bring back your RV steps and any other metal camper restorations to original appearance:

To protect your steps from the elements and to keep from burning your bare feet, we highly recommend wrap around RV step covers.

Fifth Wheel and Pin Box or Trailer Frame

RV Restoration - King Pin Box
Always On Liberty©

Your camper or trailer frame powder coat finish doesn’t withstand road use or weather well. Thus, you’ll almost immediately notice rusting and pitting. But, you can restore your camper’s frame and improve the look of your fifth wheel pin box or trailer extension with a few simple steps.  

First, before tackling this camper restoration project, we highly recommend wearing proper PPE (personal protective equipment) like safety glasses and a respirator because you will be creating dust and using paint that has chemicals in it. You don’t want debris or fumes getting into your eyes or breathing them in.

 

A light wire brushing and sanding followed by priming and spray painting will make them look almost brand new. You can follow the same camper restoration process we posted above in the RV steps section. After you’re finished, your frame will look practically brand new and ready for another camping season or more.

Chrome and Aluminum

Camper Restoration - Chrome Fixtures
Photo by Always On Liberty

Your motorhome or camper may have chrome rims and aluminum fixtures or trim pieces. Your toad or two vehicle may also have them as well. Aluminum and chrome will quickly become pitted, tarnished or may incur a cloudy haze.

We highly recommend cleaning them with a good hot soapy wash and rinse. Then dry them thoroughly. This will allow you to see which areas you need to focus more elbow grease. While there’s a bunch of different products out there, we swear by Mother’s mag and aluminum polish. We used it to polish the chrome and aluminum on our Harley Davidsons. So, rest assured, if it’s safe for keeping the shine on expensive motorcycles, it’s safe for your aluminum and chrome pieces.

Simply put about a teaspoon onto a soft microfiber cloth and work it into the surface using that good old fashion elbow grease in circular motions. After which, buff off using a clean, non-abrasive, soft cloth. If spots remain, repeat the polishing process until all or at least most the pitting or marring is gone.

But, if you insist on polishing your aluminum and metal with a small orbital polishing tool, be mindful not too concentrate on one area too long or polish too hard to remove the anodized finish that protects the metal components. 

Tire Rims

Camper Restoration - Painted Tire Rims

If your camper’s painted tire rims are rusting and peeling, don’t think you need to run right out to buy all new rims. You can follow the steps as we posted above in the RV steps section. Just be extra careful to not get any abrasives on the rubber sidewalls or tire treads. And make certain you tape and tarp off areas where you don’t want paint to get onto. This includes the ground where paint spray could damage, leave unsightly marks or leach into the ground.

Camper Restoration - Tire Rims

If your RV’s tire rims are chrome or aluminum alloy, simple use the same technique we described in the above chrome and aluminum section. You can follow up with a good automotive wax to preserve and protect the finish from road salt, grease and road grime.

Wheel Fenders

Heartland Wheel Fender

Unfortunately, if your fifth wheel or trailer has experienced a tire blowout, you’ve had to replace the wheel fenders. However, if your fifth wheel or travel trailer has painted fenders to match the full body paint scheme, you know it’s going to cost you a pretty penny to get the new wheel fenders painted by the RV manufacturer or by a professional automotive body painter.

But, if you really don’t want to sink your hard-earned dollars into specially painted fenders, you can order new fenders from your RV manufacturer. But specific you just want stock fenders. However, they typically come in white or black. If your RV is of a different color such as brown, tan or other color, you can actually paint them yourself with an outdoor all-in-one spray primer and paint.

First, you’ll need to scuff them a little with a fine sand paper and wipe completely clean to eliminate any dust particles. Then, lay them on a large tarp outside (away from your RV or others’ RVs and vehicles).

First, you’ll spray your outdoor spray paint (large color selection available) in even sweeping motions; allowing each coat to dry thoroughly as prescribed on the manufacturer’s directions. You’ll want to spray two to three coats as necessary for coverage. If you’d like, for added UV protection, you could spray a topcoat of UV Protectorant polyurethane (satin finish).

Final Thoughts on Camper Restoration

Taking care of your RV is an ongoing process. If you do you RV maintenance diligently, your motorhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer will provide you many years of life to make camping memories that will last a lifetime. These simple camper restoration ideas should help bring your RV’s exterior back to life without breaking your wallet. And, quite possibly even dodge that 10 year rule at some RV parks if you show that though your camper is 

RV Restoration Tips - Always On Liberty

More Camper Restoration and RV Maintenance Tips

Protect your RV from Salt Air and Sun Damage

Why You Should Never Pressure Wash Your RV

RV Roof Inspection, Cleaning and Maintenance

RV Air Conditioner Cleaning and Maintenance

RV Hot Water System Cleaning and Maintenance

RV Black Tank Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

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