Truck Camper Maintenance – Getting the Exterior Ready

The Exterior

Looking for detailed guidance on how to get your truck camper ready for the summer? Or perhaps you’re looking for a quality preventative maintenance plan to keep everything in your camper operating in tip-top shape? Well, you’re in luck. Fellow reader, Patrick Taylor, the proud owner of a 2013 Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, has taken the time to spell everything out in a fun, easy to understand way. This is part one of a two-part article; part two will be published early next month.

Here’s a recap of my Preventative Maintenance (PM) effort just concluded on my 2013 Arctic Fox 990. I hadn’t performed this thorough an inspection since 2017 and with a three-plus week 2020 summer camping trip coming up, I used this opportunity to clean, service, repair, replace, lube, caulk and re-tighten up loose items. I posted my stereo replacement recently on RV.NET if you’re interested. Stereo Replacement.

So, if you haven’t utilized your camper in awhile feel free to follow along as I get my camper ready for a busy camping season. My overall goal in conducting preventative maintenance is noticing and fixing small items before they develop or become major issues later. Naturally, if I uncover something major it’ll get fixed quickly as we depart soon. When I start digging in and checking systems and components the first thing I grab is a bright flashlight and a mirror otherwise a person is just blindly wasting their time. A mobile device with a camera comes in handy to take photos of areas you just can’t get eyes on. These are mini houses and require keen attention to maintain in top shape. I took a ton of pics, but for visual brevity and not wanting to kill Truck Camper Adventure’s server, I’ll only include the discrepancies or “squawks” and fixes as we call them in aviation.

NOTE: I did NOT accomplish all of these tasks in one day. I spread it out over a week’s time and even then I felt I could do more. This is not an all encompassing nor finite approach—your mileage will vary.

The Exterior (Part 1)

Washing and Sealing

Where to begin? Why a thorough cleaning of the exterior, of course. I hose off the sides really good with a wide pattern nozzle on a pressure washer (standing back a good 10 feet) and while the sides and front and rear were wet I climb the ladder with a Phillips screwdriver to take the air conditioner cover off and then rinse down the roof—usually it’s the dirtiest. While rinsing down the roof I’m looking for anything outside of the ordinary (sealant un-attaching, gaps in the sealant, nicks in the rubber, cracked plexiglass, cracked plastic covers, etc). On the roof I noticed the sealant on the edges was coming off all the way around (add that to the squawk list).

I also detected two small but definite cuts in the roof—not a big deal at all—if repaired. On detailed inspection, the cuts had not compromised the material underneath. Back to cleaning. I use a foam gun with Meguiars Wash and Wax for the entire exterior including the roof. I read somewhere it’s recommended for RVs. I foam the roof up and then brush it clean and then rinse. I also foam up the air conditioner shroud and clean/wash/rinse it well, paying close attention to the big condenser and fan area. Try to get as much dust, dirt and debris out of the condenser as possible. Direct the water in the direction of the fan through the fins. Use just normal water pressure—never the pressure washer—on the condenser. Further, directing the water in the opposite direction can just compress the debris into the fins. If the fan fins look extra dirty just spend the extra time to clean it. Sometimes you’ll have to use a non-abrasive, metal friendly degreaser to clean the condenser if its been exposed to dirt/decomposed foliage, stubborn dirt etc. After I’m satisfied the roof and air conditioner area is as clean as possible, I rinse off the sides again then foam the sides, cap and rear.

After a thorough washing with a long handled brush (not stiff) and rinsing, it was time to dry it off. Once dry, I spray Aerospace 303 Protectant onto the exterior, wipe it in, let it slightly dry then buff off with a micro-fiber cloth. The outside should look fantastic!  The front nose of the cab took a few coats of 303 but came out great (seems this area is always the first to dull on my camper as it gets the most sun when stored). Again, as I’m cleaning I’m noting any problem areas and I always go inside the camper for a quick glance to ensure I don’t have any visible leaks (it’s the ones you cant see that are a pain) around all the rooftop access points (fans, skylights, and the air conditioner—it’s really impossible to see the plumbing vents). But now that she’s cleaned and polished its time to closely inspect the exterior. I found some cracks in the sealant above the nose cap that’ll need some attention. Cracks can be tough to find. Use your fingers to push on the sealant to identify cracks. I have the screwdriver pointing to the hidden one while the hole about an inch away to the left is really easy to identify on the top drivers side corner of the cab.

This area was filled with Dicor Self Leveling Sealant. I removed all the de-bonded sealant along the roof edges that was flaking-off then cleaned the area to be sealed again with isopropyl alcohol (use a plastic scraper so you don’t cut the rubber while removing the compromised sealant then scrub with alcohol and Scotch brite). In this pic you can readily see what has been removed and cleaned along the roof edge. After it’s cleaned and prepped, I’m ready to caulk the edge with White Dicor Non-Sag Non Self Leveling Sealant. I used my air caulk gun to run the bead at about 8-10 psi and I had to keep the gun moving along quickly.

Tip:  use painters tape on both sides for a better looking seam and cut the tube so you’ve got a tip no bigger than 3/8-inch. If you need to smooth the Dicor use a small container filled with three parts dish soap and one part water. Dip your finger in the solution and then smooth the caulk if you desire. My solution is in the Green Chile Can in the pic.

While I’m on the roof spray the plastic roof covers, vents, skylights, air conditioner cover with Aerospace 303. Let it soak in then buff it off. If someone is downstairs have them open the slide-out so you wipe the top external and internal wiper seals and the top of the slide out with 303. If not, come back later and get it done.

Now inspect the air conditioner (the cover is still off but now everything is dry). Look for any abnormalities like leaks, chaffed hoses/wires and any fan and fin damage. If the fins still look dirty after the rinse and wash take some compressed air and blow out the fins. Mine were very clean. Next, reattach the outside air conditioner cover, which was previously cleaned, grab your tools, hoses, and cleaners and get off the roof. Coming down the ladder I noticed two ladder attachment screws were rusting and bleeding on the ladder paint. I take them out and measure them they are 1/4-inch 20×2 inches long. I picked up some replacement stainless screws at Home Depot. An easy fix. I inspected the vertical side seams and they look good still but the edges are definitely black in places from the dirt. I think I’ll scrape all that off and re-Dicor those next time. Once I was happy with the sealing, I sealed up the second Dicor tube and moved on to the exterior openings and doors.

Water Heater

Continuing with the exterior the hot water tank and combustion area were next. I’d already ordered a new anode rod as mine was over four years old. I’m really curious its condition (the water in my area is super hard so I’m sure it’s overdue for replacement). Open the hot water tank access door. Take out your blowgun to remove dust and dirt. Wipe the entire area down to clean it and uncover any issues. Look at the components, wires, connections and overall security to ensure they aren’t rubbing or chaffing.

Remove the anode from the hot water tank. For the Suburban water heater on the Arctic Fox 990, it’s the large 1-inch and 1/16-inch nut at the bottom. Pull it out. The tank will drain (if it wasn’t already empty). The plug should be attached to a long round rod (over 9 inches) for this particular hot water tank. If it’s thin, or there are areas on the rod that are more than 1/2-inch less in diameter from the original new thickness, just play it safe and replace the anode. This rod should corrode instead of your tank—hence the reason for the anode. Yep, mine was due. Just look at the difference old vs. new.

Use your flashlight and look into the tank. If it’s got a lot of calcium, corrosion or dirt consider flushing the tank. I had quite a bit of material in the bottom of my tank evidenced by the white calcium and debris on the concrete. I like to turn on the water pump and flush out the hot water tank with the anode removed. Or, once it dries, you can vacuum out the bottom of the tank. Or, there are tank rinsers you can buy to rinse the tank also. If you have flushed/rinsed it enough and are satisfied, replace the anode with fresh Teflon tape or plumber’s putty on the threads. Snug it down, but don’t over-tighten. Next, take out your trusted flashlight and look behind the igniter into the burner can area (it’s behind the rubber orange igniter shield on the bottom right. If its got debris inside, blow it out (if not done previously). If its got holes, replace it. Look at the igniter. Is the shielding tight? Is the igniter working properly? We’ll check heater operation on both 120 volt element and the propane tank heater. But, for now I’ll just grab some paste wax and polish up the metal door inside and out.

Propane System

Next, slide over to the propane tank compartment. First, look over the tank to valve lines. In my experience, those neoprene lines are the first to start showing cracks then leaks. Pay careful attention to the bends. They have a great memory and don’t like to be straightened out after a few years. If they look serviceable (no cracks, creases or kinks) wipe them down with some Aerospace 303 Protectant to prevent soiling, staining, fading and cracking while also protecting against UV light.

Next, slowly turn on the valve to the fullest tank and point the arrow on the automatic tank switchover to that tank. This provides an uninterrupted supply of propane to your RV when the selected tank (arrow pointing to tank in use) runs out. Listen for any leaks in the tank area. Next, slowly turn on the valve to the standby tank.  If everything is snugged down tight and you hear hissing anywhere in or outside the camper, smell gas fumes (rotten eggs), or hear the interior LP detector going off immediately turn the valve(s) OFF and vacate the area.

Manufacturers deliberately add non-toxic chemical compounds like Ethyl Mercaptan, to give-off a strong, unpleasant smell like rotten eggs or rotten cabbage as a safety measure. If you’ve got a serious leak it’s best to have a qualified tech troubleshoot your line or component leak. I don’t know your individual level of competence, but a good tech will utilize a “sniffer” to find your leak. I didn’t have any leaks, but from my experience you’ll most likely see leaks in the rubber/neoprene lines or fittings. The copper lines and fittings typically don’t leak unless you’ve had an “event” near the fitting or component. So, I’ll leave it on for now so when I start powering up some propane systems later the line is pressurized and ready.

Generator Compartment

This is about the best time to look over the Onan generator. I Fold up the ladder, admiring my new stainless screws from Home Depot, then open the access door and take a look inside the generator compartment. On initial inspection I’m looking for cracked hoses, chaffed electrical lines and any other abnormalities. Next, pull up on the two black tabs to remove the front access cover on the generator. Pull the dipstick out and look at the condition of the oil (light caramel color or dark). Propane generators burn real clean so if you see anything other than a caramel color before the recommended oil change specification I’d just change the oil. Since I operate mine predominantly in the desert, I use 32 degrees F and Higher oil viscosity of SAE 30. Depending on what style generator you have you may NOT even have an oil filter—mine does not. Therefore, for me anything other than caramel its drained out and refilled with fresh dino oil.

Next, pull the cover and look at the generator air filter. It should be white and clean. Grab the generator and try to move it. If it moves you probably have some loose mounting bolts. Just tighten them down. Next, step inside the camper and make sure all the appliances are turned OFF (especially the air conditioner). Take note of the hours on your generator somewhere so you can review how much and how frequently it’s getting exercised and any upcoming or overdue maintenance service. Start it up. The starter should be engaged no longer than 10 seconds at a time (wait 30 seconds after a 10 second crank to allow starter to cool down). After it starts, note the number of lights flashing on the starter selector switch. If none, perfect! Display indicator light codes: 2-Low Oil Pressure, 3-Service Required, 4-Overcrank. Listen for the generator power changeover. It’s best to operate your Generator two minutes before you put a demand on it. Go outside and check it for leaks and fumes while it warms up a few minutes.

Once its nice and warm, head back inside and turn on the air conditioner to HIGH COOL or fill a coffee cup with water and fire up the microwave. Listen for the generator to take the load. Head back outside and look over the generator. With a full load on, check and listen for excessive vibration, noise, fumes, or leaks. If your CO (Carbon Monoxide) detector is “alarming” shut the generator down, leave the area and investigate it later. I found an excessive rattling exhaust. Upon inspection I found the camper mounted vibration isolator was worn-out, vibrating only when under load. Here is the replacement part #1552174. Just search Cummins Onan 1552174 Exhaust Hanger on the internet and you’ll find it. Secure the generator cover and then close and lock up the generator compartment door. Then shut it down.

Battery Compartment

Now it’s time to look over the battery compartment and battery. I’ve got two Interstate Group 65 flooded lead-acid batteries in my current camper configuration, so I will keep this discussion to lead-acid. Others may have AGMs, NiCad’s, Lithium, or even LiFePo4 (AKA Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries all requiring their own unique maintenance and charging criteria. Open the door and move the tab over to slide the battery tray out. Look at the battery compartment floor area for any liquid deposits either wet or traces of it being wet. Look at the batteries for any deformation or bulging. Take a good look at the cables and terminals for corrosion and loose connections. Pay particular attention to the ground. Is it attached securely to the camper and without corrosion?

If you’ve got some corrosion on the battery cables remove them from the terminal(s). Get a small container of baking soda and water and dip the terminal into the solution to dissolve the corrosion. Make sure you dip it in a rinse (fresh water) solution once you’re happy with the baking soda process. Dry it off (once all the corrosion is off) and then take a wire brush and clean up the terminal. Next, take a battery wire brush and scrub the terminal inner surface where it attaches to the battery post. While the terminals are still off the posts, grab a multi-meter and just check the voltage of each battery. You want to definitely see a reading above 12 volts. Now we need to find out the condition of the battery and the load it can handle. Grab a load tester and hook it up to the positive  and negative terminals. Your load meter will show in the green if its “good” initially. Now, put the battery under “load” by activating the “load” switch on the load tester. If under load it still shows “good” that’s a positive sign.

Next, conduct a hydrometer test on the individual cells within the battery (if its not sealed). Put some safety glasses on and pop-off the cell covers. Insert the temperature sensing hydrometer, squeeze the bulb and pull some acid into the tube. If the battery is currently top charged it should be in the “green.” If it’s not fully charged take it to your bench, top off the cells with distilled water and put it on a charger for a good 24 hours. Next, remove it from the charger and let it sit a few hours. Then, get your voltmeter out and read the volts—it should be above 12.5 volts. Next, grab the hydrometer again and take a sample of each cell.  If the acid is not in the green save yourself the headache and replace the battery. And, if you replace one its highly advisable to replace the other one at the same time. When you’re ready to install the battery cables to the terminals clean the post well, hopefully exposing some bear shiny lead. Reattach and secure by tightening up the attach bolt/nut. Check the cables for security. Back to the cables, pay particular attention to the ground.

Electrical System

Next, it’s time to look at the RV 30-amp 110 volt female plug (camper inlet). Open the cover and inspect the socket. Look for any cracking, arcing, brown or black discoloration. Next, look at the male plug pins. Check the pins with your fingers to ensure they feel solid. If it’s got any melted areas, especially around the pins, discoloration or, fits loosely replace it. Find your 30-amp cord with adapter. Look it over for defects on either end, chaffed cover exposing the wires, swelling, and the receptacle in good shape. If it’s in need of repair or replacement do it. If it’s usable, plug it into a 110 volts power receptacle. Now, plug the male end of your 30-amp cord into the camper receptacle, twist the connector to lock it then screw on the ring to secure it. Listen for the beep inside. Head inside and look at the time on the microwave. If you’ve got 110 volt AC power, the microwave display will be on (if you haven’t unplugged the microwave inside or popped a breaker).

Next, slide over the opposite side and inspect behind the two panels hiding the refrigerator. There are two black tabs that rotate 90 degrees and the panel will tip out from the top and then you can set it aside. Inside it’ll probably be dusty. Behind top panel look over at the cooling fins for any obstructions. Look further down and you’ll see a fan. Grab your air compressor and trusty blowgun. Start at the top of the unit and blow the dust/dirt out. Angle your compressed air to spin up the fan and blow off the dust. After you’re satisfied blow out the lower portion of the cabinet. You’ll be surprised how dusty that cabinet gets. Check all the electrical connections for corrosion and the lines for security. Clean out the little drain tray and then remove the 5/16-inch nut near the combustion chamber to inspect the igniter for wear, corrosion, etc. Now, go inside and turn on the refrigerator in 110 volt AC mode. Since you’ve already plugged in the outside receptacle it should fire up in the 110 volt mode.

Tie-Down System and Jacks

Back outside it’s now is a good time to inspect the camper tie down attach points for missing nuts security and evidence of cracks. Northwood Manufacturing uses nylon lock fasteners on the nuts, but just like anything else they can loosen over time. This is also a great opportunity to pull out your tie-downs to inspect and lube them up. I use this opportunity to polish up the stainless (Torklift Derringer TieDowns) and spray WD-40 on the threads. I’ve got Torklift frame mounted tie-downs so I pulled those out checked them for cracks and then sprayed them off with WD-40 as well (the WD stands for Water Displacement).

Next, it’s time to look over the Reico-Titan camper Jacks. First, look over the rubber seals. If they are cracked or brittle replace them. Those seals keep the water, dirt and contaminants from traveling up into the inside of your Jacks on the inner tube causing future headaches. Look at the inspection caps on the tops of the jack power head. Make sure they are serviceable. If cracked and busted, replace them. Make sure you know how to operate the jacks in an emergency or worst case manually.

Note: I have a red controller that is used to operate the Reico-Titan electric jacks (if you lose your white controller) with electricity, rather than have you mechanically crank them to get you on the road again. It is NOT a wireless controller. If you don’t have power (a possible controller failure or other malfunction) and must crank them manually, remove the access cap on the top of the power head. The crankshaft of the gearbox will be accessible to turn with a 3/8-inch ratchet wrench. Rotate the wrench counter-clockwise to raise the jack and clockwise to lower the jack. Do not activate the motor with the wrench still on the crankshaft.

Open the tank compartment, turn on the jack switch and extend them to the top. Listen for any binding, struggling, screeching, metal on metal etc. If you have any abnormal noise(s) stop and investigate before you break something. Make sure all four are moving together. Listen for the safety ratchet slip clutch once they are fully extended at the top. Immediately release the switch when you hear the slip clutch otherwise damage could occur. Take a wet rag and some cleaner (Simple Green works great) and wash down the metal unpainted fully extended Jackshaft. Rinse, and then dry it off. Grab some silicone spray lubricant and liberally spray down each jack shaft that you just cleaned. Next, grab some wax and wax the painted exterior of the Jacks. Let the wax dry and wipe/polish. Take some Aerospace 303 and wipe down the rubber seals. Reico-Titan recommends at least once each year, run each jack out to its full extent, and clean the outer surface of the inner tube.

Here is where I load it on the truck, so I can add some water into the holding tank and check out the plumbing. Jacks are up so what better time?

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll cover the inside of the camper.

About Patrick Taylor 3 Articles
Patrick “PT” Taylor is a FAA certified airframe and powerplant mechanic. He’s currently the Director of Maintenance (Aviation) and a pilot with Southwest Gas Corp. He’s a 25-year Air Force veteran who retired in 2013 as a full-bird colonel. He and his wife, both Washington state natives, enjoy getting away from Las Vegas and exploring the vast outdoors. They own a 2013 Artic Fox 990 powered by a 2003 F350 Dually.

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