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RV storage is typically relatively expensive, so many RV owners are searching for convenient at-home solutions to protect their motorhomes. Whether you have a small travel van or a massive Class A RV, shielding your vehicle from the elements and other debris is invaluable. However, using a tarp for motorhomes is widely debated.
When it comes to covering an RV with a tarp, the pros include the fact that it provides protection from rays, snow, UV rays, dirt, and other debris. The cons are that traditional tarps aren’t as durable as durable RV covers, they can blow around in the wind, and getting snow off of them is a chore.
In this post, we’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of using a tarp to cover your RV. We’ll also break down what you should know beforehand, including what material to look for and how to know if the tarp is up to par.
We also made an article about how to store your van solar system during winter that can interest you.
Pros of Covering an RV With a Tarp
Tarps aren’t always the best covers for RVs (there are several RV covers made out of canvas and similar waterproof materials). However, you can get the most out of your tarp-covered motorhome by draping it over all of the edges and ensuring it’s designed to withstand wind, rain, snow, and debris.
If you use a tarp to cover your RV properly, these are some of the benefits you’ll enjoy:
Tarps Can Prevent Rain Leaks
Rain leaks can ruin RVs in one season. Wood rot, mold, mildew, and fragile fiberglass walls will deteriorate without protection. Even the weakest tarp on the market is better than nothing! Do It Yourself RV shows how effective a tarp can be at pushing the rain away from the RV, preventing the silicone caulking from wearing down and inviting leaks.
You can take it a step further by getting a water-resistant tarp designed to handle the elements. Some companies sell waterproof spray. You can use it to repel moisture and lengthen the time between adding a new layer of caulking around the windows, doors, and other entry points.
A Tarp Will Limit Damage From Debris
Whether you’re dealing with pine cones, hail, sand, or anything else, debris can quickly damage an RV or van. Wind storms can cause severe harm to your recreational vehicle, but a tarp provides a layer of protection that stops direct impact from breaking windows, solar panels, roof vents, and more.
Most debris damage occurs under trees or near sand pits. If you have to park near them, cover the RV with a tarp and remove the debris every week. Letting debris gather on top of the RV can weaken the roof, causing long-term problems that cost quite a bit of money to repair.
RV Covers Provide UV Protection
RV tarps and covers can protect your RV’s paint and fiberglass from harmful UV rays. Without these covers, your RV could lose color, chip, become fragile, and more.
There are many tarps you can use to cover your RV. Some people refer to all RV covers as tarps. For that purpose, it’s important to note that tarps are plastic, and all other covers are designed differently. Two of the materials use polyester and nylon, both of which are plastic variants. However, they’re both much stronger than the thin, fragile tarp material.
According to Camper Grid, the four most common RV covers are:
Any of these variants will be more effective than a traditional plastic tarp, but all of them (including a tarp) can provide UV protection.
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A Cover Prevents Dirt From Collecting
Dirt, sand, bark, pine needles, and leaves will collect under solar panels, vent covers, and other hard-to-reach areas. If left alone, they’ll grow mold and slowly ruin the RV’s outer material (typically paint and fiberglass).
Placing a cover over the RV will stop anything from gathering on the RV for too long. It won’t be able to get into any crevices since it’ll pile on the tarp. Simply remove the tarp and dump the debris or get it off with a hose, leaf blower, or broom.
Dirt might not seem like a big deal, especially if your RV isn’t under trees. However, it can blow in the wind and gather on top without you knowing it. Tarps and covers are often irreplaceable for many RV owners.
It Can Partially Insulate the RV
Insulation is important for long-term storage, especially if your RV is parked in a cold environment. Frozen pipes can crack or prevent you from using the water pump. However, a tarp will keep most of the heat inside. When used with internal heaters and insulation tape, tarps are a convenient and easy solution.
Note: Using a tarp isn’t the only thing you need to do to insulate your RV. However, it’s a great way to prevent the sun from penetrating the windows and dulling the fabric on the bedding or furniture. It can also slow the freezing process, giving you time to handle the problem before it worsens.
Cons of Covering an RV With a Tarp
Unfortunately, tarps can be more of a nuisance than a benefit. If you get the wrong size, weak material, or the tarp is too thin, you’ll likely run into a host of issues. Even a tarp that checks all of the boxes won’t be as durable and reliable as an RV cover made of nylon, polyester, or canvas.
Below, you’ll find a handful of cons associated with using a tarp to cover an RV.
Non-Breathable Tarps Harbor Mold
If the tarp can’t promote airflow because it’s non-porous, every bit of moisture that enters won’t be able to leave. When moisture, darkness, and warmth combine, bacteria will grow. You’ll notice tons of mold, mildew, and foul odors. Humid environments make these issues much worse, increasingly so if they’re hot.
While this issue is a significant problem for some people, you can combat it with a mesh tarp. Mesh tarps are one of the four primary materials used, as mentioned earlier in the article. They might not be the most effective choice against sand and dirt, but they breathe much better than any other tarp or cover material available.
Choosing the best RV cover or tarp material can be a matter of its own. You have to weigh the pros and cons to know which type will provide the most benefits.
Tarps Don’t Provide Tire Protection
If you want to keep your tires safe from harm, you’ll need separate covers. RV tire covers are typically made of leather, faux leather, or canvas. However, some of them are made out of plastic mesh or tarps.
Those who want to cover their RV tires and frame will need to use an extra-large tarp. Measure your RV and ensure the tarp is at least five to ten feet longer than the length, height, and width combined. This measurement will ensure you can park the RV over the tarp without it flapping and revealing the tires.
Nevertheless, tarps aren’t the most durable RV covers, so your tires won’t be completely protected. We highly recommend getting RV tire covers, such as the Moonet Tire Covers. Choose the right color and size and enjoy year-round protection during any temperature.
A Tarp Can Blow Around the RV
If you don’t secure the tarp properly, it’ll flap around in the wind. Your RV won’t be protected, and you’ll hear a loud flapping sound throughout the storm. Even if you secure the tarp, the wind will inevitably get underneath it and blow around a bit. The noise can be a major downside for some people since it doesn’t happen with other RV cover materials.
The best tarps in the world will likely experience issues when it’s too windy. Tarps are designed to be ultra-lightweight, so they’re not always weatherproof. If you’re set on using a tarp to cover your RV, you should use bands, bungee cords, ropes, and other items to secure it as much as possible.
Cheap Tarps Fray Apart From UV Rays
Most tarps only last one or two seasons. Water, wind, debris, and sun damage wear them down quickly, making them useless after a little while. The good news is most tarps are incredibly cheap. You can use several tarps before coming close to the cost of a heavy-duty RV cover. However, you won’t receive the same benefits.
UV rays will fray the tarp’s material because they’re made with thin plastic strings. As these strings melt under the sun’s heat, they loosen and leave holes behind. Every time a hole forms, it weakens the surrounding fabric until the whole tarp is a mess of plastic strands and sun-bleached mesh.
Removing Snow From an RV Tarp Is Tedious
If you don’t live or camp in an area with snow, this con is non-existent. Those who have snowy seasons will likely understand how frustrating it is to remove snow from the top of an RV. RV Blogger talks about one of the biggest cons of using a tarp on an RV is how awful it is to remove the snow. You’ll have to climb the ladder and push it off without damaging anything on the roof.
The flip side of this con is that your RV can be damaged by snow if you don’t use a tarp. While removing the snow is annoying, it can melt and leak into the caulking if there’s not enough protection. It’s up to you to decide if your RV or van’s safety is worth the hard work it takes to remove the snow.
Note: You wait for the snow to melt on an RV tarp because the weight of the snow is often enough to cause structural damage.
What to Know Before Covering an RV With a Tarp
Before you cover your RV with a random tarp you found in the shed, there’s a lot you should know. Your RV’s cover or tarp needs to be thick enough to handle debris and sunshine but lightweight enough to manage with one or two people. Also, there should be at least four grommets on the tarp to secure it to the van or motorhome.
Review these five tips before using a tarp on an RV:
- Always measure your RV before getting a tarp. The worst thing you can do is spend a bunch of money on a tarp that’s not big enough for the RV. Follow the previously mentioned suggestion of getting a tarp that’s up to ten feet bigger than the length, width, and height of your RV.
- Use bungee cords or ropes to secure the tarp from blowing around. Never lay a tarp over your vehicle without something to hold it in place. Even if there’s no wind, it’ll fall off from debris or a vehicle driving by and creating a slight breeze. We suggest using ropes and bungee cords through the tarp’s grommets.
- Ensure the tarp is designed for motorhomes (other tarps typically aren’t durable enough). Outdoor Troop explains all tarps and covers should be big enough to fit around the ladder and other components.
- Check the material to find out if it’s UV-resistant and waterproof. Non-resistant material will melt and fray apart in one season, making it a waste of money. You could also use UV-resistant spray to protect the tarp from long-term sun damage. Apply it annually.
- Rotate the tarp every few weeks to prevent the debris from settling. Spray, blow, or brush the debris off of the tarp, untie everything, turn it around and inside out, then secure it to the motorhome or van. If the tarp isn’t rotated and cleaned, it’ll rip apart and become useless.
Now that you know why tarps can be useful but not the best way to protect your RV, you can decide the best course of action. Not all tarps are created equal, so it’s important to get the best fabric and suitable dimensions to keep your RV in good condition while it’s being stored. Remember, you might need to get tire covers, too.