RVs are a great way to travel and see the country, offering a comfortable home base from anywhere you park it.
Depending on a variety of factors, motorhomes and travel trailers can last many years.
But what is the average lifespan of a camper?
Generally speaking, an RV can last up to 20 years, but the average lifespan of an RV is somewhere between 10 and 20 years. If you use your camper a lot, it can shorten the lifespan so it will be near the end of its life when your motorhome’s odometer reaches 200,000 miles.
The lifespan of your camper also depends on a variety of other factors, including whether it’s a trailer or an RV, your motorhome’s class, its components, and how well you take care of your camper.
In this article, I’m going to outline the average lifespans of different class, showcase a few long-lasting camper models, and get into the details about things that affect your RV’s lifespan.
Average Lifespan of RVs Based on Type & Class
In large part, a travel trailer will last longer than motorhomes. This is because motorhomes are not just campers, but include the components of a truck, which can break down just like any other car.
It’s important to remember that once parts begin to break down in an aging motorhome, they will be increasingly more expensive and difficult to find.
In contrast, a travel trailer doesn’t have as many parts because it doesn’t have an engine.
If you simply take care of the roof and axle, and replace the tires and brakes when necessary, your trailer can last a lifetime.
You’re also more likely to drive your motorhome more miles than a travel trailer, unless you regularly tow a small passenger vehicle with your RV.
This is because you’ll be using it as a transport vehicle as well as a home (i.e. when driving to different viewpoints in a national park).
But if your RV has a diesel engine, you may get more life out of it, since a standard gas engine usually lasts 200,000 miles, while diesel engines can last as much as 300,000 miles.
The lifespan of RVs also depends on which class it is, so let’s break down the average lifespan of the different classes of motorhomes.
Our List of The Top Long-Lasting RVs
As I researched the average lifespan of different campers, I came across several really long-lasting ones that you might want to check out if you’re in the market for an RV that will stand the test of time.
Most of the brands that manufactured them are still in business today, building highly durable campers that are equipped with modern technology and features.
1. The Airstream Torpedo
Not long after Wally Byam founded Airstream in 1931, he created the Airstream Torpedo Car Cruiser.
It was a teardrop design made of plywood and covered with aluminum panels. The Torpedo incorporated Wally’s industry-first innovation that allowed more headroom with a lowered floor.
The camper also had a table with a washbasin, a stove, and an icebox.
Airstream remains one of the longest-lasting travel trailer brands in history; an estimated 70 percent of all Airstream travel trailers are still on the road today.
2. 1949 M Systems
M-System Manufacturing Co. was founded in 1935, and built travel trailers through 1960.
In 1949, the company produced a 33-foot long trailer (which was longer than most trailers at the time).
It added the convenience of a wet bath, with a shower stall and lavatory. You can still find these trailers available on the market, even though they’re over 70 years old!
3. 1972 Shasta Compact
The Shasta Compact Trailer was introduced in 1961, and the trailers built in 1972 seem to have been the more durable models, since many of these vintage trailers are still available on the market.
It has a stove, oven, sink and fridge, with a convertible dinette for versatile living and sleeping space.
The Shasta brand was bought by the Forest River Incorporated company, which still manufactures fifth wheels, travel trailers, and other campers.
4. 1986 Wilderness by Fleetwood
In the 1970s, Wilderness began building fifth wheels and travel trailers for family vacationing.
Eventually, Wilderness became a division of Fleetwood and was discontinued after 2009.
The 1986 Wilderness campers offered a lot for RVers to choose from, with nine models ranging in length from 18 to 35 feet. You can still find these hardy trailers on the market and on the road today.
5. 2007 Jayco Popup
Jayco is one of the best-known names in recreational vehicles, and they continue to manufacture thousands of innovative trailers and RVs.
The 2007 Jayco Popup is a tent trailer that Jayco offers in a variety of floorplans.
How Long do RV Components Last?
Whether you have a motorhome or a travel trailer, there are components inside that wear down or break over time.
You may need to repair or replace them at some point during the camper’s lifespan.
These include appliances like the refrigerator or microwave, HVAC systems, electrical systems (wiring and control units), and even the plumbing.
That said, these components are also designed for the rigors of RV life, and will probably last between ten to 15 years as long as you actively take care of them with appropriate cleaning and maintenance.
You will also likely have issues with the RV’s engine or experience roof or plumbing leaks before you have trouble with its appliances.
A key to extending the lifespan of your RV is to repair or replace these things as they break or stop working.
If you can fix these components as quickly as possible, you can avoid bigger, more expensive repairs down the road and keep your RV in peak shape, no matter what its age.
Problems That Limit the Life of Your RV
As I mentioned above, some of the more common issues that you might experience with your camper are leaks and engine trouble (with motorhomes).
But there are a handful of problems that might reduce the lifespan of your RV if you don’t take care of them quickly after you notice them.
All campers are different, though, so you might not experience all of them, or you may have other issues that are not listed. So, let’s get into the list!
One of the most common problems that you may experience with any camper, whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome, is when one of the tires blows out.
When you travel in a camper, it’s much heavier than a normal vehicle, both itself and packed with all of your cargo.
Things like tires can wear down much more quickly, and could blow out even without contact with a nail or another pointy object.
With any vehicle, tires blow out when the air pressure in the tire decreases rapidly.
This can happen when you travel at high speeds or when there is a lot of weight on the tire, as there is in a camper.
Tire blowouts are very dangerous, especially when you travel at high speeds. So, be sure to check the air pressure in each tire regularly, and replace them when the tread gets low to prevent blowouts from happening.
Like with the tires, the overall weight of the camper puts significant weight on the wheels, axles, and other functions of the vehicle’s ability to move.
The brake pads are an important maintenance component that you should check and change often.
The significant weight of your camper will put particular pressure on your brake pads and wear them down more quickly, especially if you are traveling long distances downhill.
If you hear grinding when using the brakes, it’s definitely time to replace your brake pads.
If you don’t replace them soon enough, you could damage the wheel rotors irreparably, leading to more expensive repairs.
Sewage systems in campers are more fragile than residential sewage systems, and even require special toilet paper to prevent clogs from forming.
Nevertheless, the more sensitive systems found in campers will still break down over time and use, leading to clogs, leaks, and other wear-and-tear. Read our article about How to Unclog an RV Toilet for more information.
The problems you may encounter depend on the type of sewage system you have in your camper.
There are two types that you’ll commonly find in your RV or trailer:
- 1Gravity Flush System – Waste goes through a hole in the toilet bowl and gravity pulls it into the black tank. The waste can clog just below the hole, and you have to be careful when clearing the clog so that you don’t tear or break the pipes and cause a bigger mess.
- 2Macerating Toilet System – A series of motorized blades breaks down the waste before sending it to the black tank. A macerating toilet can reduce sewage issues and plumbing clogs because it prevents “mounding” and makes it easier for the waste to clear the system. However, if the blades break down or stop working, you’ll have to deal with the same mess you would with a gravity flush system.
A third type of toilet you may find in smaller RVs like Class B motorhomes is the cassette toilet.
It’s a self-contained system where the waste goes from the toilet bowl to a storage container below (sometimes solid and liquid waste are separated).
So, there’s no plumbing involved, and while you need to empty it more often than you would empty a black tank, you can avoid all of those plumbing issues.
Unfortunately, roof leaks are common in RVs and travel trailers. This is because campers are often left out in the elements, uncovered, for many months such as during the winter or when you’re not traveling.
When they sit for a long time in the sun, rain, and snow, the sealants on the roof can fail and cause leaks.
If water gets into your camper, mold and mildew can grow and cause damage, or worse, make your living area unsafe.
In addition to the sewage issues you may encounter with an RV, the water lines can have other problems, particularly during the winter if you have not winterized your camper.
If water is left in your pipes and it freezes (expands), the water lines can burst and cause a lot of water damage throughout your RV.
Be sure to winterize your RV – follow our tips for How To Blow Out RV Water Lines With An Air Compressor.
Another common problem with RVs is electrical issues. Campers have lots of electrical wiring in a small space, and if mice or other critters get inside during the off-season, they may chew or damage the wiring.
Not only does this stop your systems from working properly, it can also lead to fires from the exposed live wires.
Electrical surges are also a concern. When a large amount of electricity gets sent through a camper’s electrical system, whether from a lightning storm or if you turn off an appliance that is using a large amount of power, these surges can happen. Prevent them by using a surge protector when you’re hooked up to a campsite.
Some other electrical concerns to keep in mind with RVs involve your daily use of things like the sliders or your antennae.
It’s a common thing for first-time or absent-minded RVers to forget to crank the antennae down before leaving your campsite.
If you forget and drive under a low-hanging branch, you can whack the antennae off and create an expensive repair job.
Take care when packing things in and around the electrical wiring as well.
Once, when camping in a Class C motorhome near Cannon Beach, Oregon, my family was driving down a busy main road and one of the sliders started moving out into oncoming traffic! My Dad, who was driving, started hollering at us to stop – people were honking and flashing their lights at us.
We weren’t doing it, and we couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem so my Dad pulled over to investigate.
Turns out, we had put our dog’s water bowl in the compartment where the wiring for the slider’s control switch was located, and the bumping and vibration of the road nudged it against the wires and caused the slider to open.
7 Ways to Make an RV Last Longer
In general, maintenance on an RV will be more expensive than for a travel trailer, since motorhomes have both the living part and the car part.
You’ll also need to do more maintenance tasks, and do them more frequently than you would with a travel trailer.
However, there are some ways that you can maximize your RV’s lifespan and enjoy it for many years to come.
Let’s get into them.
1) Perform Regular Maintenance
As you’ve probably seen quite clearly from this article so far, performing regular maintenance and fixing things when they break are critical for maximizing the lifespan of your camper.
If you have a motorhome, this is especially important. Stay consistent with oil changes and other tune-ups.
If you don’t know what type of maintenance you should do, the manufacturer will have a list; it may even be noted in your owner’s manual.
Some common things that need maintenance include the distributor cap, ignition wires, and timing belt.
2) Check for Leaks
Aside from a major accident, the most devastating thing that can happen with a camper is a leak. Frequently check your roof and the areas around your plumbing system for leaks.
You should also climb up on your roof and test with your foot for soft spots. If you don’t deal with a leak quickly, the wood structure could rot and mold might begin to develop.
So, even if you can’t afford to fix a leak immediately, you should at least dry out the area and cover the leak so that it can’t get worse.
3) Be Proactive About Repairs
In addition to consistent maintenance of the engine, it’s important to be proactive about fixing any problems in your RV or trailer as soon as you notice them.
Otherwise, the issue can become worse and lead to more extensive and costly repairs.
You can also extend the RV’s lifespan and make the camping experience more enjoyable by proactively doing upgrades.
For example, if your camper doesn’t have an automatic leveling system, you can increase its value by installing one on your old RV instead of buying a whole new camper.
4) Keep Your RV Clean
Just like with any other car, it’s good to regularly clean your RV (inside and out).
A thorough cleaning of the outside will keep the finish lasting longer, and will also help you to notice any damage or leaks.
By cleaning the appliances and fixtures inside, you can reduce the risk that they’ll develop problems.
A good rule of thumb is to give your camper a good cleaning after each time you use it.
5) Use Your Camper Often
Although you might think that regular use of your camper will result in more wear and tear, this generally isn’t the whole truth.
Yes, some amenities will wear down more with regular use, but in general, rarely using your RV is bad for the vehicle, especially if it’s a motorhome because driving it helps to keep the engine clean and functioning properly.
Even if you’re not going on a camping trip every month, it’s a good idea to take it out for a short 20-minute drive down the highway every few weeks.
With a trailer, it’s also good to move it every so often so that the tires don’t get malformed and wear out evenly.
For both trailers and motorhomes, regular use of the plumbing is also important to keep it functioning well and avoid drying out the connections too much.
6) Drive Safely
One important key to maximizing your camper’s lifespan is to drive it safely. This prevents accidents as well as keeping you and your family safe.
So, always drive the speed limit – remember, travel trailers should not be towed faster than 55 miles per hour, even if the speed limit is higher.
You should also take caution based on the weather conditions. If it’s too windy, it may be dangerous to drive your camper, since wind affects the way the vehicle handles on the road.
7) Store Your RV Properly
Proper storage practices can also impact your RV’s lifespan. You should always winterize your camper before the cold sets in to avoid plumbing issues and leaks from developing.
You should also keep the batteries fully charged whenever the camper is not in use. Doing so will ensure the batteries maintain function.
If possible, store your camper indoors or under a canopy, which will prevent UV rays and the elements from damaging the finish and sealant.
Conclusions About the Lifespan of a Camper
As I covered in this article, a motorhome will typically last about 200,000 miles or 20 years, and a trailer will probably last a while longer than that.
There are issues to look out for, which can reduce your camper’s lifespan if you don’t take care of them and fix them as soon as they happen.
However, there are also proactive steps you can take to keep your camper in top shape, and even increase its life and value if you ever decide to sell it.