How to Prepare Your Motorhome for Road Trips: the checks you need to make before you hit the road

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Getting ready for a road trip? Whether it’s spring, summer, autumn or winter you’ll need to do some vital checks on your motorhome or campervan before hitting the road.

On this page we’ve got the best tips to ensure your van is ready for the trip. Tips that will save you time, money, and potentially a load of hassle later on.

Let’s get to it…

how to prepare your motorhome for the summer season

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Why your motorhome needs your attention before you hit the road

RVs need some TLC all year round. But before your major travels you’ll need to make some additional checks.

These are the things we always undertake before embarking on a longer road trip, no matter what time of year…

  • Have a good look around the vehicle before you do anything else. Look for rust and dents on the metalwork and cracks in fibreglass bodywork and on the bumpers. Check underneath – are there any unexplained pools of water or drops of oil?
  • Have the headlights got any condensation or water in them? Are the mirrors bright and reflecting well? Is the windscreen free of chips? And how are the wipers?
  • Look at the seals around windows and fittings. Are they supple or are there gaps? Note any obvious issues and get them fixed before water damages what the seal was supposed to be protecting!
  • If you have a ladder, look up on the roof. Does anything stand out as damaged or just “wrong”?
  • Are the tyres inflated? Do any have cracks? Have they bulged from being stationary? Is there enough tread? Make sure the wheel nuts are tight.

TOP TIP: Tyres can suffer from a flat spot if the weight of the vehicle has been in one place all winter. If you have any concerns replace them. Better safe than sorry.

Checks to make inside the motorhome

Here are some checks to make on the inside of your van…

  • Does the interior smell fresh or is something “off”? Identifying and locating the whiff is essential – if it is bacteria build up in a tank, you could become unwell. If it is vermin, you will need to evict them, clean and repair any damage they have caused. Consider that they will potentially have urinated all over your surfaces. Is there a smell of damp? Where is it coming from?
  • Even if your van smells clean, check around skylights and windows and look on the floor beneath. Is there evidence of water ingress? Feel for soft spots or clamminess. Look for misshapen bulges in the walls. Make sure that all your door seals are keeping water out.
  • If you had the pull-down blinds shut over winter, you’ll need to be gentle in raising them. It may take a while before the spring wants to work. Check the curtains for mould and damp.
  • Use a damp meter to identify potential water ingress.
motorhome damp meter
The damp meter we use

Why does a motorhome need fresh air?

As it’s a relatively small space (compared to a house) motorhomes can suffer from stale air. On a sunny spring day we open the doors and windows and let the fresh air blow through.

Other tips for preparing the inside of your motorhome…

  • Get all the cupboard doors open, looking for damp or rodent/insect invasion as you go.
  • If you left soft furnishings, towels, bedding, etc. in the van over the winter, get them into the sunshine to air. Again, as you lift each item out, look for evidence of little critters. Everyone likes a dry, cosy place to sleep over winter and as the summer season approaches, they’ll be using your motorhome bedding as a nursery!

Bear in mind that many insurance companies do not cover mould and mildew damage – nor vermin infestation.

  • As you go through the interior, it is a good time to remove any items which are not needed. Motorhomes weigh enough without three sets of saucepans and the broken awning!

RELATED CONTENT: All you need to know about motorhome payload

Use this time inside the van to ensure that you have all you will need for your travels: chocks, chemicals, EHU lead et al. Also put back anything you removed for the winter such as torches, spare batteries, packets of food etc.

  • Also check the use-by dates on your first aid kit and fire extinguisher. And how about replacing the batteries in the smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector?
road trip essentials - what you need in your RV
Original Image: Jairph

Checking the motorhome leisure battery

Leisure batteries can run flat if uncharged over winter. Here’s how to test your battery…

  • Turn on an internal light or two: do they work? If you’ve had your leisure battery connected to a solar panel over winter then it should be charged, but check anyway. If your van has been stored away over winter – and you don’t have a solar panel – then chances are, it has gotten very low. A completely discharged battery could be beyond help.
  • Get the battery out and onto a trickle charger and check the acid levels as you go.
  • If your battery is up to it, test the internal lighting and replace any blown bulbs.

See the solar panel and battery equipment we use

Preventing pests in a motorhome

One of the worst things you’ll experience in a motorhome is finding that you’ve had unwanted visitors – in the form of rodents!

So, how to keep the pesky critters out? This is what we do…

  • Give every surface and utensil a thorough clean, inside cupboards, fridge, wash-room etc. Assume that there has been some sort of pest onboard and clean accordingly. That means cleaning every nook and cranny! You want to be able to use your campervan safely and hygienically.
  • If you have had little visitors, prevent mice re-infesting the vehicle by finding any small holes which could give them access. You cannot block every hole as some are vital vents. However, stuff the ones you can with wire wool. Mice hate wire wool but it will still allow air to flow.
  • If you’re finding ants, put drops of lavender and tea tree essential oils in various places inside the van; ants hate the smell of these oils. We used tissues dotted with lavender oil to discourage ants when we were parked in storage last summer. It worked a treat. Apparently they don’t much like talcum powder either.

RELATED CONTENT: Using or storing your RV over winter: how to carry out a test for vermin

When to clean a motorhome water tank

Water tanks must be properly cleaned before you use them (and mid-season if you can) but certainly empty the fresh water tank and refill for each trip.

Legionella and their bacteria love stagnant water and cling to pipes and the insides of tanks, waiting to drip out and greet you with a bout of sickness.

Boiling the water usually renders it safe to drink but, for example, showering or rinsing fruit could invite infection so keep that motorhome tank clean throughout the year (especially during the warmer summer months).

  • Use motorhome appropriate sterilising products according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We like to give the fresh tank a good soak in Puriclean then drain it all via every tap into the waste tank to sit for a while. Whilst the tank is being cleaned and subsequently drained, look underneath for dripping water. Do this again as you drain the waste tank.
  • Always ensure that you use a dedicated and regularly sterilised food-safe hose or watering can to fill your tank with. Little point in cleaning the tank only to fill it with contaminated water! Our method is to use the onboard tank for filling the kettle, washing up and washing. However, we have a portable 6 litre cannister for drinking water. This gets a thorough clean each time we fill it. We fill that directly from the outlet, negating any worries about contaminants in between.

How to clean a motorhome fresh water tank

Over the last couple of years we’ve had a problem with a leaking water heater tank. There were no worn seals or split pipes so it was a real mystery. Again and again we were faced with water seepage – the last thing anyone wants in a wooden-framed vehicle!

Our engineer took the whole heater out and looked inside and reported that he had never before seen damage like it before. Seems that a previous custodian had used Milton or bleach to clean the water system – brilliant products – but not on metal!

We cannot emphasise enough the need to only use products which are intended for use on motorhomes and caravans. Domestic pipework and drainage is vastly more robust than what you’ll get on an RV.

See the cleaning products we use and recommend.

telescoping brush for cleaning motorhomes

The best way to clean a motorhome waste water tank

We were aghast when a recent refit of the shower tray and basin in our VW Cree showed hair and debris from years ago! We rarely use the van for hair washing so this was not ours!

Our waste drainage had never been great, but we had no idea that it was chronically obstructed. Having removed some gunk and hair a while ago, we assumed it had cleared. But….ewwww….no!

The trouble is, the heavy-duty domestic drain cleaners are not recommended for motorhome use.

Apologies for repetition, but always, always, always check the labelling.

Mr Muscle, Milton, bleach et al all have their place but NOT in your motorhome. We are aware that many people use them but particularly bleach and Milton will eat stainless steel (as we found out). Damaged motorhome pipework and seals are awkward to reach and expensive to fix.

  • Occasionally for the waste tank, the best cleaner is cheap full-sugar cola which is brilliant for an interim freshen up.
  • Give the toilet cassette a good soak with an appropriate cleaning chemical. Bleach will likely perish the seals.
  • Use ecologically sound washing products. You will not only benefit the environment and campsite facilities, but you will also find fewer blockages and scummy residue in your waste tank and pipes.

Consider it this way – you probably paid a lot of money for this vehicle. Why risk having to shell out for repairs just for the sake of a few extra pounds on proper cleaning products?

Checking the motorhome gas system

It’s vital to check the gas system, something that should be done in an annual habitation check…

  • Before you test the gas, look at the pipework and connections. Can you see perishing or splits? Are the connectors tightly fastened? If all appears well, reconnect the gas and hang on a minute or so to sniff and listen. If you smell a leak, it smells like rotten cabbage! (We notice a brief whiff when we have totally disconnected the bottle – it soon goes but it is from the pipework which obviously has gas in).
  • If you’re happy that nothing is amiss, light a cooker ring. Importantly, this is a flame you can easily see. Give the gas a few seconds to get to the appliance you are testing.

Does the gas light and stay lit? Do you have a steady blue flame? If you have totally disconnected the gas pipes over winter, there will be air bubbles in the pipework. The ring may light but could then fail.

If, like our old motorhome, you do not have a fail safe on your hob, then gas will continue to spew out. Turn the ring off and disperse the gas. Then try again – it should remain lit this time.

If the gas still refuses to remain alight despite having some left in the bottle, or you have yellow flames, you should get a registered Gas Safe engineer to look at it. This is not a DIY job.

Also consider whether you have enough gas in the bottle to last over your next planned trip. We have a spare camping stove onboard as we have yet to find a reliable gas measuring gadget.

Basic engine checks on a motorhome

Now the checks to make on the engine.

Your annual service and MOT will obviously cover these checks but they’re well worth checking again before any major road trip.

  • Pop the bonnet and check the fluid levels – brake, coolant, oil, windscreen washer bottle. Look for nests or chewed pipes as you go. Are there any splits or drips?
  • Before you start the engine, turn the key and look at the dashboard. Are there any warning lights?
  • Turn the engine over – does she fire quickly? Is the engine note steady? Roll the van back or forwards to give those tyres a change of position. Hopefully you’re not looking at a plume of black smoke in the rear-view mirror!
  • Check all the driving lights and indicators. List any failed ones and replace the bulbs before driving. Whilst doing that, look again at the dashboard warning lights. Have any come on? Is there anything which SHOULD be lit up that is not?

Cleaning the outside of your motorhome

Now the fun part – cleaning the outside of your van and getting her looking like new!

Give the outside of the motorhome a thorough clean, looking for rust, dents and scratches as you go. We use Dirt Busters Wash and Wax. Yes it’s a bit pricey but we’ve found nothing to match it when it comes to getting muck off our van.

Once washed outside, have another look round the inside of the van. Has any washing water seeped inside the windows or doors, including the cab doors? What about the skylights if you’ve cleaned the roof?

How to clean your motorhome for the summer season: best RV cleaning products
Hobo Gav getting some cobwebs off our old VW Cree

We are aware that the jury is out on using pressure washers on motorhomes. Ours has had a re-seal along the roof edges and we would not risk dislodging any of our seals with a forceful water jet. She is able to allow water ingress on her own, without our encouragement!

With all these checks made – inside and out – your van should be ready for epic an epic road trip, no matter what time of year.

There’s just one more thing to address if the weather gets too hot…

How to keep a motorhome cool in summer

Keeping your motorhome cool during summer months is not always easy.

If you don’t have the luxury of an AC unit (older vans like ours certainly don’t) then what can you do to keep cool when the mercury rises? Let’s take a look…

TOP TIP: just to note that if you decide to add an AC unit to the roof of your motorhome, remember that it adds weight to the payload. Also, your insurance company may need to know about it.

Outside the van…

  • If the campsite allows you to face whichever way you want (some don’t), simply orientate the van so that the bigger windows face away from the sun
  • Park in the shade of a tree or use the branches to secure a tarp and pull that over the van – either completely or just shading one side (we always carry a tarp or two in our van, along with good old bungee straps)
  • Use your awning to create shade – a roll-out awning can have a tarp hung from it down to ground level
  • Or do the same with a tarp – suspend it from the top of the van and peg it out to create shade
  • On extremely hot days try to get into the mountains or by the coast where the air is fresher and you’re more likely to find a breeze
  • Keep the van roof clean – it will reflect the heat away more than a dark or dirty roof

Inside the van…

  • Keep window blinds closed and shield the windscreen (and use blinds with reflective material on the outer side or use cut-to-size foil backed bubble wrap)
  • Keep “sunny side” windows closed, shade side ones open
  • Keep electrical items off as much as possible – computers, TVs etc. create heat
  • Use LED bulbs or keep the lighting off
  • Vent the fridge properly otherwise heat generated by the fridge motor will stay inside the vehicle
  • Cook outside if possible
  • If you can run a fan, place frozen water or ice packs in front of it to cool the air it circulates
  • Use vent fans if you have them to pull out hot air from the ceiling

How to keep yourself cool in your motorhome…

In the summer of 2022 when the temperature rose over 40C here in the UK we resorted to some of the following tips. These all sound pretty obvious but when the heat gets to you, you can’t think straight and it’s easy to forget!

  • Spritz your body with a spray bottle filled with water
  • Place a cold, wet flannel around your neck
  • Keep in the shade during the hotter parts of the day – walk in the early morning or late evening
  • Keep bottles of water in the fridge (if you have it switched on)
  • Drink plenty of fluids, more so than usual
  • Use sun-screen when you’re outside – burnt skin is HOT!
  • If you cannot be near the sea or a lake, get a paddling pool and place it in the shade…and just sit in it! (and remember to reapply sun-screen when you get out)
  • Or just take a cold shower, Wim Hoff style (if your van has a fitted shower)
  • And if it’s one of those hot, airless nights, wrap a frozen plastic bottle or ice pack in a towel and cuddle it in bed!

We hope you’ve found this page helpful. But have we missed anything? What other checks do you make on your motorhome before a major road trip? Email us with your tips and we may add them to this page.

When the main travel season is over you’ll want to prep your van for the colder weather. Read our top tips on how to winterize your motorhome.


3 epic road trips in the UK: free ebook by the motorhome hobos
Original Image: Grant Ritchie

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