How to Paint an RV Exterior Fiberglass – A Step-by-Step Guide
Your RV is supposed to literally be your home away from home, and serious motorhome enthusiasts know just how far you can go to make sure that you’re as comfortable as possible while on the road. Using an RV lets you bring with you a world of small comforts that change a camping trip from cramped and uncomfortable to a great vacation to remember for years to come.
One of the main advantages of using an RV is having at your disposal a full suite of amenities that are often forgotten in an ordinary camping trip. Ready access to a full-size gas hob, reliable hot water, and an indoor privy are all great examples of something that no one really wants to leave behind; even if you decide to use more natural solutions for any of these needs, it’s nice to have something to fall back on if they don’t play out well.
Another significant advantage of using an RV on your camping trips is while going somewhere that is out of the elements, being able to get yourself and your gear to shelter is a crucial part of preparing for an outing, and the RV will make both considerably easier. Besides being a totally enclosed storage space, it is also a much larger shelter than is afforded by most tents or smaller cars.
As a combination of both car and house, the RV is built and equipped to provide all these comforts in any season; you can go camping every month of the ear and still have a safe and comfortable point to return to each day. For the same reason, though, the RV will require a considerable amount of maintenance - being both home and vehicle means the RV will take the wear and tear of both aspects as well.
Some of these aspects will require a professional setting and considerable experience to properly correct. The automotive capabilities, for instance, should not be repaired without the services of a trusted mechanic and a fully equipped repair shop. Although somewhat more expensive and time-consuming, such things as the brakes and signals of your RV are too crucial to your safety and that of those around you to risk an impromptu repair.
In certain cases, the home repair operations should also be left to a qualified technician. Gas and electrical systems, for example, present a serious fire risk and should only be installed or serviced by an experienced professional. Improper installation of either system leads to house fires on a yearly basis all around the world, so don’t let your RV fall victim to it as well.
These crucial systems aside, there are certain parts of your RV that you can service yourself, and the skills and techniques to do so are both significant parts of your repertoire as an RV operator; as with both home and automotive maintenance, being able to execute small repairs without engaging professional help can save you both the time and money that a professional job would require. It is often worth practicing these operations, if possible, to make sure you will be able to execute them quickly and correctly when the need arises.
As mentioned, your motorhome can expect to spend a considerable amount of the time in the elements so that you don’t have to, and that will eventually begin to show on the motorhome hull. To prevent the weather from doing any permanent damage to the caravan, it is recommended that you keep your caravan’s exterior hull well maintained and finished; this will minimize sun damage and make precipitation slide right off, making the whole vehicle stay shipshape for longer than if you were to ignore the effects.
Maintaining your RV’s hull might seem like a daunting task - the exterior of an RV tends to be much larger than that of other cars, with more area to cover and more serious repercussions should you do anything wrong. Don’t get too worked up about it, though - repainting the exterior fiberglass of your RV is simpler than you think, and important enough that it's worth calming down and doing it properly the first time around.
To help you do a good job on your RV that will hold out against the elements (and just maybe look cool too) we’ve prepared a simple set of instructions on painting the exterior fiberglass of your RV. Follow these steps to get your motorhome ready to roll and able to stay on the road through any weather.
Step One: Clear and clean the relevant portions of your motorhome, making sure that as little dirt or debris as possible remains in the area to be painted; painting over anything but the fiberglass will make it a weaker paint job that can easily fall off wherever the foreign objects do. You may want to invest in running the motorhome through a car wash to make sure it is properly clean; otherwise, use a pressure washer with a fan nozzle to sweep away dirt and a stiff scrubbing brush to remove caked-on mess like bird droppings or thick mud.
Make sure the surface of your RV has dried completely before you continue with the painting process; a wet surface can interfere with both the painting itself and the other steps necessary to prepare the RV to be painted. If you are in a warm climate or time of year, you can sun-dry the vehicle; if not, a thick, rough towel tends to be the best way to dry the area quickly enough to continue painting.
Step Two: Smooth out the surface to be painted with sandpaper to remove any splintered fiberglass or loose paint from the last time the fifth wheeler was serviced. If you see significant chunks of the fiberglass or old pain coming loose, you may want to use a putty knife to scrape them off before switching back to sandpaper to handle the smaller deformities; either way, you should end this step with a surface that is smooth to the touch and has all grains going in the same direction.
Try to use a fine grit wet sandpaper to ensure that a minimum of fiberglass is removed and that the physical strength of the panels is preserved as much as possible. Since you will be sanding such a large area, you will likely want to use a palm sander to help you cover the area quickly and with an even amount of attention to each section of fiberglass; marking the panels into squares can also help ensure that you are not sanding any one piece more or less than the rest of the fifth wheeler.
Step Three: Use painter’s tape to cover any areas where you don’t want paint, such as the headlights, door frame, or any outlets on the surface to be painted. Although some paint may splash onto it while you work, you can simply peel the tape off later and discard it, leaving the desired paint job in place.
Be careful not to apply the tape in such a manner that it covers paint you want to replace or that it leaves unsightly margins of old color around your fresh paint job. If your RV has a design or detailing of any sort that you want to preserve, make sure that it is protected as well. If you’d like, you can use multiple layers of painter’s tape and stencil paper while painting to create an all-new look for your motorhome or touch up an existing mural.
Step Four: For the painting process to properly bond the paint to the RV, you’ll need to remove any chemical contaminants such as grease or accumulated engine fumes that may be left on the fiberglass surface. Use denatured alcohol on a microfiber cloth to quickly and thoroughly wash these traces away; try to do so section by section, and as soon as possible before you begin painting.
Step Five: Apply your chosen primer to the prepared surface of the RV to smooth the surface and act as a bonding agent between the paint and the fiberglass. It is a common misconception in many fields that paint can be applied directly to anything and expected to stay in place; in reality, the chemical composition of the paint and the surface to which it is to be applied tend to be incompatible to the point that the paint will wear or peel within a relatively short period of time.
There are numerous primers on the market, so be sure you are choosing one that is suitable for the paint you have selected; for best results, use both from the same brand, and check the manufacturer’s listings to make sure that the composition of both primer and paint are compatible with each other and with the grade of fiberglass on your RV.
To allow it to set in properly and to avoid accidentally wiping off pieces of primer, do not continue with the painting process until the primer has dried completely; if you are not sure how long that might be, inspect the primer packaging for the manufacturer’s drying time recommendation.
Step Six: You should be using a spray gun for this step, so it should be executed with the caravan parked outside, or else in a heavily ventilated garage, and while wearing a nose-mouth barrier rated for spray painting. Spraying without any of these safety measures could mean inhaling toxic paint particles or harmful aerosols from the spray gun, and should be avoided if at all possible.
Load your chosen paint into your spray gun and find a comfortable distance from your caravan that will let you paint from front to back with long, smooth motions of the arm supporting the sprayer. A flat nozzle is recommended for larger panels, as it will offer a fan-shaped spray that will most effectively coat the largest area with each pass.
Use a drip sheet below your caravan and painter’s tape along the bottom edge to prevent the appearance of the paint ‘running off’ the caravan as it dries. You will need the paint to be completely dry before taking any further action; paint takes longer than primer to dry, and you may need to wait as much as a full day before you can continue working on your caravan.
Step Seven: When the paint is dry, make a very light pass with some sandpaper over any parts where it appears the paint has clumped or globbed while you work. This part can be done by hand, and should be done only as long as it takes to smooth out the lumps; you should avoid sanding anywhere you cannot feel the irregularities or see them with a casual glance.
Step Eight: This step can include either of two things, depending on how satisfied you are with your original paint job. In the event that your motorhome only needed one coat, you can proceed to wax over the paint job; this will not add any color to the motorhome, but it will make it appear sleeker and newer, and give a strong protective coating to keep the paint in good shape for longer.
If you had an intricate design or simply want a richer color for your motorhome, you may decide to apply a second coat of paint to the relevant panels. Paint tends to stick to itself quite well, especially when new, so primer may not be necessary; instead, ascertain that the first coat is both smooth and dry and you can layer the second coat directly over the first.
Step Nine: Remove the protective coverings of painters tape or stencil paper you used during painting and discard them carefully so that waste paint does not get on anything else in your work area. Make sure to thoroughly clean all your tools and store them carefully to prevent any mold or other moisture damage from occurring while they are not in use.
It is worth noting that in some locales, a change in the color of your vehicle has ramifications for the vehicle’s insurance. If you are repainting your RV’s exterior, check the details of your policy before getting back on the road.