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RV Oil Changes: What Every RV Owner Needs to Know

RV Oil Changes: What Every RV Owner Needs to Know

RV’s need oil changes just like a standard vehicle. All engine oil eventually breaks down and cannot protect the engine anymore. However, there are some differences between RVs and your car. Most of them have far larger engines but get used far less. So what does this mean for oil changes? Today we’re taking a look at RV and motorhome oil changes and what you need to know.

Why Does Engine Oil Get “Dirty”?

Fresh, clean engine oil is translucent amber-brown, almost like honey. As the oil works through the engine, it heats up to over 200 degrees and cools once your vehicle turns off. This constant heating and cooling cycle cause the oil to darken. This darkened color may look dirty, but it does not in itself mean the oil is bad or dirty.

In diesel engines, some exhaust gasses always get into the crankcase and bring with them soot. Since diesel does not burn as cleanly as gasoline, this soot makes its way into the oil. This is why diesel oil is usually a dark black color when you change it.

Engine oil also gets a darker color over time because metal bits, debris, and dirt appear in the oil. Even with the best filters, it’s impossible to keep engine oil looking light brown unless you never drive your vehicle.

Generally referring to dirty oil may not mean that the oil is actually contaminated, but rather broken down and worn out. The main reason we change oil is because, over time, it loses its lubricating properties. Contamination in the oil is the second reason.

Dirty Motorhome engine
While engines get dirty on the outside, they should not be dirty on the inside. Dirty oil usually means worn out because oil filters should actually catch the dirt and particulates in the oil.

Oil Color Warning Signs

When changing oil, it is very important to look at it. The color and texture of used engine oil can provide some indication of the condition of the oil and the engine. Here are the general color considerations.

Black or dark brown: This is the normal color of used engine oil. Over time, engine oil picks up contaminants and becomes darker in color. If the oil is only slightly darkened, this is not usually a cause for concern.

ok oil color
Normal oil color can be from honey to black in color

Milky or foamy: If the oil has a milky or foamy appearance, this may indicate the presence of coolant in the oil. This can be caused by a blown head gasket, a cracked engine block, or other serious engine problems.

foamy oil color look
Oil that has foamy or cloudy texture (could look like a milkshake or foamy soda)

Light yellow or gold: This color may indicate that the oil has been contaminated by fuel. This can be caused by a leaky fuel injector or carburetor or by a problem with the engine’s ignition system.

contaminated oil with fuel
Oil contaminated with fuel is usually lighter in color and very thin

Thick and sludgy: If the oil is thick and sludgy, this is a sign that the oil has not been changed frequently enough. The sludge can clog the engine’s oil passages, causing damage and reducing performance.

thick sludgy oil color
Thick sludgy oil is usually overheated or not changed often enough

It’s important to note that the color of the oil alone is not enough to diagnose engine problems. If you are experiencing engine problems or have concerns about the condition of your oil, it’s best to have a qualified mechanic perform an inspection.

Should You Get Your Oil Analyzed

Did you know that you can send used oil samples from your engine in for lab analysis? In fact, its is something commonly done when purchasing vehicles and equipment with very large, expensive engines. The process is very simple, as all you need to do is catch some used oil and mail it off to a lab.

Getting an engine oil analysis can be a very good idea for several reasons.

Firstly, an engine oil analysis can help you identify potential problems with your vehicle’s engine before they become major issues. By analyzing the oil, you can determine if there are any contaminants or metal particles present in the oil, which may indicate issues with the engine’s components or wear and tear. The analysis can also see if the oil has fuel or coolant contamination indicating head or injector issues. These are always better to catch early before they do significant damage.

oil sample from motorhome engine for analysis
This is an oil sample taken from our motorhome. This will get sent away for analysis.

Secondly, an engine oil analysis can also help you determine the effectiveness of the oil you are currently using. The analysis can show if the oil is still performing within its recommended viscosity range and if it contains the necessary additives to protect your engine.

Lastly, an engine oil analysis can also be a useful tool for determining the appropriate interval for changing your vehicle’s oil. Rather than relying on a standard mileage-based schedule, an oil analysis can help you determine the right time to change your oil based on your specific driving conditions and usage patterns. In big diesel engines that use up to 15 gallons of oil, doing unnecessary oil changes is very costly and wasteful.

Overall, an engine oil analysis can provide valuable insight into the health of your RVs engine and help you make more informed decisions about its maintenance and upkeep. We recommend that the bigger and more expensive the engine, the more you consider an oil analysis. With our 14-liter Detroit diesel, we run an analysis with each oil change.

checking oil dipstick
When you need to change your oil will depend on the distance you travel in your RV.

How Do I Know When It’s Really Time to Get an RV Oil Change?

Your manufacturer will recommend a time to get an RV oil change. You must follow these guidelines, especially if you’re under warranty. But the time between oil changes and the distance you travel between oil changes also affect the frequency.

If you’re a weekend warrior who takes your RV out three or four times a year, you won’t have to get an RV oil change as often as someone who travels six or eight months out of the year. Drivers of gas motorhomes should get an oil change every six to 9 months or every 4,000-6,000 miles. This is typical of standard vehicles.

Drivers of diesel motorhomes don’t have to change the oil as often. Many of these coaches can go 15- 20,000 miles without an oil change. However, follow the recommendation of your specific manufacturer. The reason for this is usually just the much larger oil capacity of these engines. Usually, RV never gets to these milages and will “time out” the oil instead. Replacing the oil at least yearly has, in our experience, been adequate, but and oil analysis is really the only way to know for sure.

To check the condition of your engine oil, use the dipstick to examine the color. Using our color chart above can give you an idea of what to look for.

Pro Tip: Don’t know when to plan your RV maintenance? Find out How Often Should I Really Check My Oil?

Can I Complete an Oil Change Myself?

Yes, you can change your RV oil, and many RVers choose to save some cash and complete oil changes themselves. If you do this, you’ll need tools like oil drain pans, a wrench, a socket set, an oil filter, a funnel, an oil wrench, lots of rags or paper towels, and gloves. Some RVs are high enough off the ground that you can scoop underneath to complete an oil change without raising the vehicle. If you need ramps, use heavy-duty ones with a rating that can handle your RV’s weight.

If you’re completing an RV oil change at a campground, ask permission or check the rules beforehand. Some campgrounds may prohibit this because of the potential mess. You must catch all the engine oil in pans. You’ll also need a place to dispose of the oil properly. Check the area to find out where you can discard the old oil.

Always learn how much oil your RV takes before opening the drain pan as well. Many of the large engines take much more oil than a car and will far exceed most drain pan capacities. This could cause a huge mess. Our RV’s engine requires four 15-gallon tote to catch all the oil that comes out of the engine.

oil drained from motorhome
If you don’t want to waste time at a mechanic, try changing your RV oil yourself. It might be a messy process however. It also makes a lot of waste.

What Places Change the Oil in RVs and Big Vehicles?

If you don’t complete an RV oil change yourself, you have some options. First, you can contact a mobile RV mechanic. This saves you from taking your RV to a physical location. The mechanic can come directly to you wherever you are.

Your second option is to take your RV to a repair shop. Some neighborhood mechanics can complete an RV oil change, while others don’t have the experience or capabilities to get an RV in a bay. Wherever you take your motorhome, choose a mechanic familiar with RVs. It’s even better if the mechanic is familiar with your class (Class A, B, or C).

Sometimes it’s best to take your RV to a dealership to ensure a knowledgeable technician completes the oil change correctly. It’s also much easier to get a large Class A into an RV dealership parking lot.

For large diesel RVs, we recommend either having an experienced mobile mechanic do the change or having it done at a service center for your chassis or engine type. Spartan or Freightliner service centers are all across the country and service all their big vehicles with Cummins or CAT engines.

Engine of a motorhome getting an oil change
A mobile mechanic can come to you and change your RV oil and keep your engine in tip-top condition.

How Long Does an Oil Change Take?

Standard oil changes take 30-45 minutes. For a large RV with much oil to drain, it may take longer. But generally, it’s an easy, quick process. This is one reason some people complete an RV oil change themselves. By the time you pack up your RV and head to a dealership, you’ve spent more time getting there than it will take for the oil change.

Usually, at the same time as an oil change, it’s a good idea to have the chassis inspected and lubricated. Most motorhomes have many grease points around the chassis that need regular lubrication. Doing this at each oil change is a good way to make sure they don’t get missed.

How Much Does An RV Oil Change Cost

Just like cars and trucks, RV oil change prices will vary wildly depending on the type of vehicle and where the oil change is performed. We can make the generalization that diesel motorhomes generally cost around twice as much to change the oil as their gas counterparts.

If a mechanic changes your oil, prices will be the highest. A gas RV with a Trition engine usually will cost around $200 dollars for an oil and filter change. A diesel motorhome with a standard Cummins or cat will usually cost around $600 to have oil and filters changed. Part of the big price difference is the significant quantity of oil diesel engines take. These prices are with standard oil. However, synthetic could cost twice as much.

Doing an oil change yourself could cost you half as much. However, dealing with such large quantities of oil on very big rigs can be challenging. Our RV takes 15 gallons of oil which is hard to manage.

replacing oil filter on diesel engine
Dont forget oil filter replacement, our engine has 2 oil filters to replace each time adding to the expense.

Is Synthetic Oil Better for My RV?

If you use synthetic oil, you can generally travel longer and farther between oil changes. Many people can go 15,000-20,000 miles between RV oil changes with synthetic oil. If you want to avoid frequent shopping trips or gather your tools to complete the oil change yourself, you may want to consider synthetic oil.

Synthetic oil is much more expensive but with fewer impurities and longer-lasting lubrication properties. it’s better for your engine and will last longer. Like with the frequency of your RV oil changes, check the owner’s manual and manufacturer recommendations. Some manufacturers will recommend synthetic oil because of the complexity of modern engines.

Synthetic oil is particularly good In RV’s because many times they spend a lot of time just sitting and not getting used. Synthetic oil is far less susceptible to oxidation and will retain its lubrication properties better over time. While we still recommend an oil change each year, the synthetic oil will operate far better over the time period.

Pro Tip: Get the inside scoop on What Kinds of Engines Are in RVs before you hit the road.

What Happens If I Don’t Change My Oil Regularly?

Oil is the lifeblood of your engine. If you don’t follow the correct maintenance, you risk severe damage and costly repairs. Low oil could result in an overheated engine. Since the oil lubricates the engine, if there isn’t enough of it, the engine can get hot. When traveling over terrain that requires the engine to work harder, this is hazardous.

Also, you’ll replace the fuel filter during an oil change. If you don’t do this regularly, debris, grime, and dirt can clog the filter, and it circulates back into your engine. For your engine to operate at peak performance, your fuel filter must keep debris out.

Also, oil that has turned thicker with more sludge doesn’t move as smoothly through the parts and systems of the engine. Your engine will have to work harder to fight through this more viscous oil. Finally, the worst-case scenario is complete engine failure. This can be outrageously expensive. You’re better off paying for RV oil changes than replacing an entire engine.

We learned the hard way about engine maintenance once upon at time

Take Care of Your Engine and Practice Regular Maintenance

Don’t push off an RV oil change. It’s not worth it. Perhaps it’s inconvenient if you’re on a road trip. It may cost you $500. An oil change could take away time from an afternoon hike. But regular maintenance is essential to the longevity of your RV. You’ve spent a lot of money to enjoy camping and traveling. Take care of your home on wheels!

When was the last time you had an RV oil change? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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