Friday

Vintage Trailer & RV Restoration Hazards



Traveling in an RV or with a travel trailer can be a great experience. It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground and have a comfortable place to stay after hiking, getting out on the lake, or just enjoying the serenity of your campsite. 

Brand new RVs and travel trailers can cost a fortune, and can depreciate quickly. This is why many travel and camping enthusiasts are instead restoring old RVs and camper trailers to enjoy their ventures. Not only do vintage RVs and travel trailers often cost a fraction of the price, they’re also packed with charm and style. In addition, restoring old campers is an excellent way to customize it with an interior of your choice. Before you get started on your restoration, though, there are some hazards to consider.

Tires, Bearings, Brakes, and Driveline
When buying an older RV or camper trailer you should always bring someone along who can inspect the mechanical components. For RVs, this is especially important since you’re buying a vehicle, not just a camper. You should always inspect the frame, tires, axles, and bearings. It's pertinent to make sure the tires and bearings are in good shape before moving the trailer or RV very far.

Tires & Bearings
If grease seals have failed, bearings can overheat in a matter of minutes, causing your tires to stop rotating. This shouldn’t need an explanation, but once a tire wears unevenly they must be changed. Driving on a worn tire could lead to a blowout. If they’ve sat in the same place for an extended period of time, tires can easily succumb to dry rot creating unsafe driving conditions that could be catastrophic at highway speeds.

Brakes & Driveline
The brakes and driveline should be inspected prior to purchase. For RVs, U-joints should be inspected and replaced if any play is found. U-joint failure can compromise the driveshaft and leave you stranded. If brakes are worn or not in working order, a heavy RV can be very dangerous to drive. Travel trailers weighing more than 3500 lbs are often equipped with drum brakes that should be inspected as well. Brake pads and linings were often made with asbestos, and precautions should be taken if you plan to perform the work yourself. Transmission gaskets and clutch plates were made with asbestos as well. If your RV requires a new clutch or brakes, it may be best to leave it to a professional if the RV or trailer was made before the 1980s.

Many automotive parts and building materials utilized asbestos before the partial ban in 1987 because it was inexpensive, heat resistant, and strong. When airborne, asbestos containing dust can become trapped in the linings of the lungs, causing pleural mesothelioma. Too often, the presence of asbestos in older vehicles is overlooked before undergoing a restoration process. Exposure to asbestos should not be taken lightly as a staggering 12,000-15,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases each year in the United States.

Interior Restoration
The interior restoration of vintage travel trailers and RVs is the most exciting part of bringing an old camper back to life. Redoing the interior allows you to customize the space any way you’d like and it also gives you the opportunity to check for water damage and leaks as well as install better insulation. This is also a good time to inspect the electrical system and components, propane hoses, and plumbing. Ensuring these items are in usable condition and updating insulation for a higher R-value will make your camping experience more comfortable and enjoyable.

The Demolition
Before tearing out the old interior of your vintage RV or camper trailer, you should be aware that some of these parts could contain asbestos. Commonly used in vinyl tile and adhesives to add strength, these items should be removed with caution. If possible, you can leave vinyl tile in place and go over top of the material with your new flooring or backsplash. However, on some campers, the subfloor itself may need to be replaced or you may want to redo the insulation underneath.

If you do remove the vinyl tile and its adhesive, you should wear a respirator that fits well, a dust mask from the hardware store won’t protect you against exposure. You should also wear a Tyvek suit or clothing that can be hosed down or discarded with the tiling. Remove the clothing immediately after leaving the demo area. Don’t go inside before thoroughly washing your hands and showering. There are many resources available on how to safely remove asbestos, but if you don’t have the capabilities to do so, you may want to hire a professional for the demolition.

Old insulation could also pose a threat, as loose-fill insulation of times past often contained asbestos. Most of the time, however, travel trailers and RVs used a batt style insulation instead of loose-fill. You should still proceed cautiously and inspect the insulation for asbestos contamination. If you’re not sure how to identify asbestos, there are many abatement professionals that will test materials that have the potential of containing asbestos.

Inspecting Old Components
Now that you’ve demoed the walls, floor, and safely removed old insulation, it’s imperative that you inspect all electrical lines, gas hoses, and plumbing. If you’re not familiar with what these components should look like, this is another opportunity to hire a professional. Many DIY’s don’t want to pay the professional price, but doing so for electrical, plumbing, and gas can save you countless hours, and eliminate the potential for serious failures down the road.

If propane or plumbing lines have become dry rotted or have been tampered with by animals while sitting, a tiny leak could become disastrous. Damaged plumbing lines could ruin all the hard work you put into redoing the interior, especially if that leak is in a line for grey or black water. All plumbing hoses and holding tanks should be thoroughly inspected and replaced if damaged. Often, a do-it-yourselfer can undertake minor plumbing. Propane repairs, however, should be performed by a professional, as a propane leak can lead to a buildup of gas in your camper. Not only can propane cause serious harm to the body if inhaled, it can also lead to an explosion. A propane leak detector should be installed as low as possible, as propane is heavier than air.

Electrical wiring and components should also be inspected. Electrical faults are one of the main causes of fires in camper trailers and RVs. Electrical wiring can become dry and brittle with age, causing the wire insulation to crack—exposing bare metal. Should two bare wires come into contact with one another, a spark can occur and potentially ignite a fire. Electrical systems should be inspected and installed by a professional as well. This can save you wasted time and provide peace of mind that you don’t have an unknown fire hazard.

Conclusion
Restoring a vintage camper trailer or RV can be rewarding in many ways. It will certainly bring years of enjoyment and adventure. It can also help you to build or hone in skills that you’ll find useful for many other projects. With all the benefits it can provide, you should never take shortcuts or compromise your safety in the process. As eager as you’ll be to get out on the open road, it’s vital to tackle every step with diligence and thorough knowledge so that you won’t be left stranded, injured, or unhealthy along your journey.

Ready to find a vintage RV of your own? Start your search on RV Trader today.
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