RV Repairs on the Road
Dont Have to be a Scary Experience

Driving an older motorhome, now and then we run into vehicle repairs while on the road. In all our years of RV travel (since 2000) we have, however, had more good than bad experiences resolving them. In fact, one particular experience at Herman's Automatic Transmission Shop in Tucson, Arizona is a prime example.

Are you concerned about leaving on a long trip with an older model RV?

Perhaps learning about some our experiences will help to put your mind at ease. We've found that following five simple steps can prevent or, at least, ease the pain of RV repairs while on the road:

  1. A thorough check of the RV before you leave home

    • If you've bought a new-to-you used RV, drive it around close to home several times. Camp with hookups and without, and use all its features to be sure you're comfortable with every aspect.

    • Tell your trusted home-territory mechanic about your travel plans and have him or her check all the mechanical aspects of RV and tow vehicle.

  2. An adequate roadside assistance plan.

    • If you already have a roadside assistance plan, review it's coverage.

      AAA, or the Canadian equivalent, CAA, is the most well-known roadside assistance plan. There are others. If you don't have any plan, buy one before leaving home.

      I don't normally promote insurance plans, but in this case, especially if you're driving an older vehicle, it will let you relax and enjoy the adventure of traveling in remote areas.

      You can't predict or prevent a breakdown, but for a few dollars, ($100.00 to $150.00 per year average), you can feel confident driving into "the boonies" without worrying about adding an exorbitant towing charge to the RV repairs bill.

      If you already have such a plan, be sure that it includes your RV. Some plans insure the vehicle, some the driver. With most plans there are different levels and rates to insure a car or a larger vehicle such as an RV.

      You may need to increase your coverage to be sure you're covered for at least 100 to 200 miles of towing. This may sound like a lot, but in some parts of the country, the nearest licensed mechanic may be that far away. You might also need to get to a dealership for warranty-covered work.

    Insurance Against Stupidity

    I like to call roadside assistance plans "stupidity insurance." Such things as running out of gas, locking your keys in the car, leaving the lights on, and not knowing how to change a flat tire are all covered. Besides covering stupidity, (and I'll be the first to admit I've had to make a few such claims) here are some of the other benefits to this insurance.

    • The rate is the same whether you drive an old or new vehicle. (Odds of needing to use it aren't factored in.)

    • Your premium doesn't go up if you use the insurance.

    • Using it only once can often save you the entire premium cost.

    • There is no deductible.

    • There is no paperwork or claim to file. If you have the insurance, you don't have to pay up front and wait for a refund.

    • It gives you peace of mind to go down the roads that you wonder if you should go down. (And isn't that half the fun of travel?)

  3. Know and use free resources while traveling.

    • Buy a Hanes or Chiltons manual for the make, model, and year of your vehicle. (Available at most auto parts stores.)

      This manual could help you diagnose a problem. If you are not mechanically minded yourself, it can help the fellow RVer you meet who is and who is willing to help but not familiar with your particular vehicle.

    • Fellow RVers are usually very able, willing, and eager to help diagnose, fix the problem, or suggest a nearby repair facility they have used.

    • The staff at auto parts stores such as Auto Zone, Napa etc. can be a great source of information. Often they can help you figure out what the problem is and if you do need to go to a repair shop, recommend a good local mechanic.

    Randy doing his thing

    Here's Randy after changing our fuel filter in Del Rio, Texas.
    He'd never done this before, but reading our Hanes manual he was able to diagnose the problem and, with a bit of advice from a local mechanic, he was able to do the repair himself. Cost was $15.00 (the price of the part.)

  4. Get expert help online.

    Of course, there are many aspects to a motorhome that fall outside of the realm of regular vehicle mechanics. You can save a lot of money by doing your own RV maintenance and repairs. There are countless videos online posted by mechanics and fellow RVers such as The RV Geeks who share helpful expertise and knowledge.

  5. Carry tools with you.

    If you are someone that's pretty handy with tools and do some of your own mechanical work, you'll know what to bring. If not, here's a list of suggested tools to carry. It's what we carry on our trips. Other than the jack and jack stands, most of these will fit into one medium sized tool box.

    • a jack. Be sure it can support your weight of vehicle

    • 2 jack stands

    • a complete (medium sized) mechanics tool kit

      Available at auto parts, hardware stores, or Home Depot and Canadian Tire, the kit should include: several sizes of sockets, wrenches, ratchets, different types of pliers, and screwdrivers.

    • a hacksaw

    • a set of 2 small locking vice grips

    • side cutter pliers

    • wire strippers

    • a small assortment of screws, nuts, and bolts in various sizes

    • small tube of caulking, duct tape, electrical tape, cable ties and some medium weight wire and rope

    Randy is handy with tools, but he's not a mechanic. If he can figure out what the problem is, often he can also fix it himself... but not if we don't have the tools.

    Now, I can hear you asking, "That's fine if you're handy, but why should I carry these tools if I don't know how to use them?"

    If you should have a break-down in a remote area and you can't fix it yourself but happen to run into someone (like Randy) who can, he (or she) will need tools. If he doesn't have them handy, your tools and his know-how may solve the problem. In Randy's case, your RV repairs can usually be done for the price of a few beers!

  6. Whenever possible, deal with a privately owned repair shop.

    Of course, the nature of older vehicles being what it is, there will always be times when the problem requires more work than a box full of tools, a Hanes manual, or a handy guy can solve. Finding a mechanic for your RV repairs in a strange town can be daunting. We've had to face that situation several times; here's what has worked for us:

    To get the best service at the best price, whenever possible, seek out a small privately owned shop for your RV repairs.

    In our travels, we've never had a bad experience with privately owned shops. In fact, we've always been impressed with the service and the cost.

    Although we've had similar experiences in small shops around the country, our transmission repair at Herman's Automatic Transmission in Tucson deserves special mention. The customer service we experienced was so far beyond the ordinary that we're still giving out Herman and Rick's phone number with our recommendation years later.

    In a privately owned shop, you're apt to be dealing directly with the owner. They can make decisions that hourly staff in larger operations can't make, such as not charging you the full shop time, or allowing you to purchase the part directly from the auto parts store rather than through the shop, which usually includes a mark-up in price.

    The only negative RV repairs experience we've ever had on our travels was with a dealership. And I doubt this is the first time you've ever heard that said!

    Of course, if your repair is on a newer vehicle and covered under warranty, you'll need to seek out the dealership for the repair.

  7. Have a Back-up Plan.

    In case of a major repair, you may need to seek out a motel and rent a vehicle until you can get back on the road.

When all else fails....

I guess the final piece of advice to put your mind at ease about RV repairs on the road, is to suggest that you carry a credit card with a large enough limit to handle any type of emergency. Even with a new vehicle, you could run into a repair as the result of damage or unforeseen circumstances.

Having a newer RV doesn't always mean you'll be better off. In fact, many new vehicle warranties and RV manufacturers' warranties are not honored across the Canadian/USA border.

When driving an older vehicle and you find yourself needing major RV repairs, try to look on the bright side. Smile as you pull out the credit card, and think about...
A: the money you have (to pay off that credit card) that you wouldn't have if you had bought a new RV instead.
And B: the trip you're enjoying now instead of years from now, had you decided to wait until you could afford a new one.

One last thing to keep in mind concerning RV repairs: There's no advantage in worrying. Instead, be as prepared as you can be and realize you'll somehow figure out how to deal with each incident as it comes up.

From our personal experience, most often you'll end up with just another positive travel experience to talk about later.

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