RV delamination dilemma


Dear RV Doctor:
gary-736I have a 2004 RV with a wood frame. Last summer I noticed what I believe you call “delaminating” on the front section. The camper’s exterior fiberglass appeared to be rippling. I suspected this was related to a leak so I resealed the entire front of the RV. Recently, during a heavy rainstorm, I found some water in a closet which verified there was in fact a leak and also that I didn’t catch it when I resealed the RV. If I can get the leak to stop will the “delaminating” continue? Can you repair “delaminating” without peeling back the entire exterior? If I get the leak to stop, will problems continue (dry rot, etc.)? Am I in deep trouble or what? —Dennis D.

Dear Dennis:
In many cases, wood frame construction is relatively easy to fix in the event that there is any damage to the structure. You are correct in that the leak source must be identified and stopped before repairing the damage. If you are having a problem finding the leak, carefully and thoroughly inspect all moldings, fixtures, window frames and lights. Reseal any areas that look questionable, even if you do not find any breaks or voids. To be 100 percent sure where the leaks are located, check out this short video.

RV-ext.-skin----Bunzer-RVT-757Stopping the leak is the important first step, but delamination usually occurs only after the underlying wood and framework have become saturated with moisture. Even after stopping the leak, the wood can stay wet due to the absence of airflow and further damage could result. Some people proclaim you can inject glue behind the delamination and stick it back down. Typically this is a waste of time and effort, as you cannot get glue to stick to old adhesive and wet wood for very long no matter what you use. Also, there is no opportunity to repair any underlying damage or even time to dry the wood effectively. 

If delamination occurs and the area of the damage is small compared to the size of that section, a good body expert can repair the damage with a patch. In your case of delamination on the front of an RV, I would recommend replacing the entire front, as it is a relatively small area and the cost to replace versus repair (if the damaged area is small) is insignificant, especially when you consider the integrity of the repair. Replacing the entire front is guaranteed to be a more robust repair than a patch. A patch is also not an option if the damaged region spans a significant area. The repair process involves stripping the moldings and other fixtures, and removing the fiberglass panel from the wood frame. The insulation is removed in order to dry the wood frame and interior wall panel. This drying stage is very important for proper repair. Any water-damaged wood framing is replaced, new insulation installed, and the wall material replaced with new, including any backing that was used on the original. 

In the case of a patch, it is done the same way except only the damaged portion of the fiberglass is simply cut out. Then the framing is dried, repaired and a new section of fiberglass is inserted into the cutout and the joints finished with fiberglass cloth and painted. This is a relatively complex repair job and I don’t recommend you attempt it yourself. Seek out an RV repair facility experienced in collision repairs. The job should not be overly cost prohibitive, since a front wall is not a large area to repair; however, such things are subjective!



4 Thoughts to “RV delamination dilemma”

  1. Jeff Pelton

    To clarify, while I had my 5th wheel in for routine maintenance.

    1. The RV Doc

      Jeff, in typical cases of insurance adjustments and claims, it’s likely the insurance company would send a rep to perform a detailed inspection. How qualified these “inspectors” might be in regards to RV construction aside, if they find negligence in the mandated maintenance procedures usually assigned to every type of RV, they just might outright refuse or amend the claim. It stresses the importance of preventive maintenance practices assigned to every RV owner. Most every insurance company I’ve worked with have been fair in their assessments for the most part. But an RV owner can never perform too much preventive maintenance. Water leaks are the number one cause of RV damage and therefore, as owners, we must do all we can to ensure our coaches remain leak-free. An abused or non-maintained RV is typically easy to spot. Documented maintenance procedures are a must, even if the owner performs his/her own maintenance. The more proof you have of having preventive procedures performed, the better. All exterior seams, joints, sealants, etc., should be inspected and addressed at least once per camping season.

  2. Jeff Pelton

    Gary, when would a insurance company declare YOU have been negligent and refuse to pay for this sort of repair. I’m asking since I’ve seen a couple wood frame 5th wheel trailers come in for front cap damage, and on removal of the cap, extensive wood damage was discovered.

  3. Daniel

    We re dealing with this issue on our 31′ 2006 Safari. The manufacturer claims to have an aluminum frame throughout but they fail to declare the front and back walls are wimpy wood struts with a cardboard like substance just below the fiberglass wall. The smallest of leaks can penetrate the entire inner wall with quickness. Seal the exterior seams and hardware regularly!
    We love our motor home so we bit the bullet and are paying to completely resurface the front and back walls. We’re omitting that leak prone front window and replacing the ubiquitous cardboard with real wood and insulation as we do. After a mere $8,000 we’ll be better than new! I don’t know if it’s the tranquilizers and scotch but I’m happy.

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