Installing awnings on your RV can reduce interior temperatures by many degrees, reduce the heat load on air conditioners, block out UV (ultra-violet) light that can damage interiors, let you leave windows open during light rain and even give you a extraroo to make outdoor living more pleasurable. Therefore, although relatively expensive, they are a good investment if you care for them so they last long enough for the investment to pay off.
Wind is undoubtedly an awning greatest enemy. While awnings can easily handle light rain and a mild breeze, they cannot withstand strong winds that are far short of gales and hurricanes. Unless, you can be 100-percent sure that even a moderate wind will not come up while you are away, roll up awnings when you leave your RV for any significant period. Also it is a good idea roll up awnings before going to bed. There is few things more unpleasant than to wake up to the sounds of a flapping awning and you have to go out an roll it up with the wind howling, and worse in pouring rain. In cases of a serious storm, it may be too late to save the awning.
If you have a new RV or when you installed new awning, practice rolling it up until you can do it practically blindfolded and with every detailed step memorized. Use tie-down straps and anchors to secure awning the to the ground. Tie-downs are especially critical if plan to leave an unrolled awning unattended. They should be attached completely vertical rather than at angles. Awning clamps can eliminate annoying awning flutter and flapping.
While strong winds can do expensive damage to both an awning and the RV to which it is attached while an RV is parked, strong winds can be downright dangerous while driving if they cause an awning to unfurl. Besides startling the driver possibly causing an accident, a large unrolled awning acts like a sail that can provide sufficient force so that you can lose control of your RV. As soon as you start feeling substantial winds while driving and especially if you heard strange noises coming from the awning, pull over and check that all your awnings to ensure they are properly secured, and then drive slower. If winds are particularly strong, stop and park your rig and wait until the wind subsides.
You can help secure awnings with additional securing straps wrapped around the awning arms to reinforce the standard latches. However, they will not keep the canopy from unfurling should the roller tube lock fail due to strong enough wind forces. Roller tube-locking mechanisms consist of a reversible ratchet, teeth and pawl, and a rolling lobe. Since they depend on a constant friction force to secure the roller tube, given a strong enough wind the lock can fail when the wind force exceeds the countering friction force. The older the awning, the more likely the locking mechanism will be worn and more likely that it will fail in a strong wind.
Periodically, check to make sure the locking mechanism is working properly. For instance, do you have to manually engage or engage it. If so, get it fixed or replaced before you next trip. Periodically lubricate all moving parts with a good silicone spray lubricant, but never use 3-in-1 or machine oil. WD-40 is okay. Make sure no lubricant gets on the friction surfaces of the brake mechanism. The spring in awning mechanisms stores a considerable amount of energy so that if released improperly, it can break your armor wrist. Like any other do-it-yourself project, if you have any doubt about your knowledge or abilities, take the job to a professional.
You can help insure that an awning is fitted tightly against the RV body by rolling up the awning while you unlatch the right awning main arm from the lower mounting bracket. Then support the weight of the awning at the bottom so it is pulled about a foot from the RV or until you hear clicking of the ratchet lock. Then put the awning arm back into the lower mounting bracket with the roller tube fixed to the arm. Next let it rotate slightly with the arm as you move the arm back toward the RV. This will tighten the fabric and roller tube against the side of the RV makingit less likely to unfurl while traveling. If unrolling the awning turns out to be difficult, just reverse the procedure to release the lock.
Two types of awning materials are typically used vinyl or acrylic each with advantages and disadvantages. Vinyl awnings do not leak and are usually two-to-three hundred dollars less expensive for large canopies. Acrylic leaks, really it breathes so moisture passes through and so does air making them noticeably cooler underneath. Given proper care, both will last as long though vinyl requires a bit more care. Tears in vinyl awning are more easily made with commercial products like PlastiSeam.
Awnings should be cleaned at least every couple months during the seasons when the RV is regularly used, more often in dusty and dirty environment. Use a cleaner specifically formulated for cleaning vinyl or acrylic material, not ordinary household cleaning products. A combine brush and nozzle connected to a garden hose, the type used to wash cars, is great for scrubbing off embedded dirt. You can often remove pitch from awnings by freezing it with ice cubes. This should allow the pitch to be broken off. However, tree sap is virtually impossible to remove. The best solution, do not park under trees.
Use a stepladder when cleaning or treating large canopies. Pull out the fully retracted awning in three foot segments, thoroughly cleaning each segment before pulling out the next three feet. Repeat the process to clean the underside. Then let the awning dry completely before rolling it up again. If you have to roll up a wet awning in a rainstorm, unroll the awning and let the awning dry out at the first opportunity. When taking an RV out of long term storage, unroll, then wash and treat, then let it dry out. If you store your RV outdoors, it might be a good idea to unroll and air out the awning a couple of times during the off season, of course during nice days.
Since awnings are expensive, make sure your RV insurance covers wind damage to awnings. Replacement fabric is available for most awning system, so these can be used if the mechanism and rest of the system is in good shape. Finally, if you purchase a power operated awning, make sure it has an easily used manually option in case of a power failure. Then practice rolling up the awningmanually.