Do you cringe every time you see the exterior of your old and worn-out RV? If you’re looking for a way to give it a fresh, new look, I’ve got you covered. As an experienced traveler who has repainted multiple campers, from vintage trailers to 90s motorhomes, I’m going to share my simple and effective technique for repainting the exterior of an RV that will leave you impressed.
Let’s Discuss Exterior Paint Jobs
When it comes to painting the exterior of an RV, you might be wondering about the best approach. Should you spray or roll the paint? Do you need to use special auto body paint? And what about a top coat for protection?
My approach to repainting my RV is often met with raised eyebrows and disapproval because I don’t exactly follow the conventional rules. I prefer to roll regular exterior paint onto my RV, and believe it or not, you can do it too.
Yes, you can go ahead and shake your head at my unconventional method. But before you judge, let me assure you that the results are far from perfect, but they are indeed an improvement compared to what it was before. And most importantly, I’m no longer embarrassed to be seen with my newly painted RV.
“Done” is better than perfect!
Is the paint job flawless? No. Is it a significant improvement from its previous state? Absolutely. Am I worried about being mistaken for a mobile meth lab anymore? Not at all. This method holds up remarkably well over time.
The “Right” Approach
Before embarking on any painting project, I always assess the condition of the camper. If it’s less than 20 years old, I recommend removing the decals before painting. If you decide to remove them, you’ll need a few supplies such as a decal removing wheel, Goo Gone, sticker remover spray, WD-40, a plastic scraper, label and sticker remover, and a heat gun.
While the proper way to paint an RV exterior would involve removing decals, power washing, and using an automotive-grade paint with a sprayer, I believe that there’s more than one way to achieve great results. If you’re more comfortable rolling on paint and the idea of using a sprayer is overwhelming, go ahead and embrace your preferred method.
When Not to Paint
There are instances where a simple power wash can transform your RV and give it a new lease on life, making a paint job unnecessary. Successfully removing decals and noticing a significant improvement in appearance is another valid reason to skip the paint. Additionally, if your RV is less than 10 years old, painting it might not be necessary. We recently purchased a brand new travel trailer that we would never dream of painting, but we did remove the decals. Pro tip: Decals come off easily on brand new RVs.
When to Consider Painting
If your motorhome looks like a rolling meth lab, it’s definitely time for a paint job. Feeling embarrassed to go anywhere because of your RV’s appearance is another clear indication that it’s time to paint. Furthermore, if the exterior of your RV has suffered damage and you’ve had to make visible repairs, painting will help restore its visual appeal. Lastly, if you’ve been turned away from certain campgrounds based on your RV’s appearance, painting could make a world of difference.
Prepping for the Paint Job
To ensure a smooth and successful paint job, follow these preparation steps:
- Lightly sand any areas with bubbling or peeling decals.
- If possible, try to remove the decals using a decal removing buffer or a heat gun. However, if they prove stubborn, don’t fret — just paint over them.
- Power wash the entire exterior, including the roof, and allow it to dry thoroughly.
- Seal corners and windows with a paintable caulk to ensure a water-tight seal. DAP Extreme Stretch Sealant is a reliable choice.
- Make any necessary repairs to the roof or siding before applying paint.
- If you’re repainting a newer trailer with a shiny exterior, consider lightly sanding it or applying a primer like Stix Bonding Primer before painting.
Dealing with Decals
Decals can be a real challenge to remove, especially if your RV has wavy siding. After wasting an entire week of my life attempting to remove decals, I decided never to repeat that experience again. Now, instead of wasting time on stubborn decals, I inspect them and attempt to remove them if possible. However, if they seem firmly adhered and the RV is more than 20 years old, I opt to paint over them.
The paint typically holds up well around decals. Our older RV with smooth sides has shown great durability. On the other hand, the newer trailer with wavy sides experienced some lifting, requiring touch-ups. Newer decals may eventually bubble and lift, but those on RVs older than 20 years tend to stay put. However, it’s difficult to predict the exact outcome in your case.
Choosing the Right Paint
To achieve long-lasting and impressive results, start with a gripping primer. This is especially important when working with different surfaces. If you’re painting an aluminum-sided trailer, choose a primer that is designed for direct-to-metal application. Personally, I’ve had success with Behr Marquee exterior paint and primer in one. It goes on smoothly, provides good coverage, and often requires just one coat. This paint has proven to be durable and reliable.
The sheen level of the paint is also worth considering. I used a low-luster sheen (eggshell) on our vintage trailer with many imperfections and dents, as it helps camouflage them. However, this finish may not repel dirt as easily as a high-gloss one. For newer trailers, I recommend a satin or semi-gloss finish. Feel free to experiment and find the finish that suits your preferences.
Before you start painting your RV, gather the following supplies:
- Gripping primer
- Latex paint
- 3/8″ nap roller (you can also use a 1/4″ nap or a foam roller for a smoother finish)
- Angled brush
Note: I do not recommend using oil-based paint, as it may crack and flake off. Oil-based paint dries too hard for the constant movement of a vehicle.
Painting the Cab
You might be curious about whether I took any special measures for the cab of my RV. Well, let’s just say that I had my doubts and contemplated various options. In the end, I decided to trust my instincts and went ahead with rolling the paint onto the cab. And you know what? It turned out just fine. So don’t hesitate to give it a try!
The Advantages of Rolling
You may wonder why I chose to roll the paint instead of using a sprayer. The simple answer is that I feel more confident with a roller. I’ve never been a fan of taping and covering everything to protect it from overspray. For me, cutting in around the edges with an angled brush and then rolling the rest on is a more convenient and comfortable approach. While a sprayer may produce a more even, smooth finish, rolling the paint creates a slightly textured surface that helps hide the decals.
Adding the Finishing Touches
Once the paint has dried and cured, it’s time to add some personal touches to your newly painted RV. Applying fun vinyl decals is a popular choice. Make sure the surface is clean and dry before sticking them on. These decals hold up well and don’t require any special sealant. Additionally, consider adding a unique vanity plate to the front of your camper or painting the door in a bold color to make it stand out.
How Well Does it Hold Up?
The most common question I receive is whether this painting method holds up over time. From my experience, I can say that there may be small areas that require touch-ups after a season of travel, but overall, the paint holds up quite well. The areas that show signs of wear first are typically around the headlights and front bumper of motorhomes, as well as around the latches and handles of storage compartments. However, even with these minor chips, the improvement in appearance and the ease of this method make it worthwhile. I always keep some paint on hand for touch-ups and apply a soft wax to prolong the life of the paint job.
If you’re about to embark on an RV painting project, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. Your RV’s fresh new look will have you ready for exciting adventures on the road!
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