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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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