4 Tips For Handling RV Repair & Maintenance On The Road
This past week we completed our yearly repair/maintenance stop in Eugene, OR. We stayed in our favorite park (yes, another video review is coming) and got all the basics done within a few days. We knew exactly where to go and have working relationships with all the local shops so it was super easy. Plus the beer & food here is goooood 🙂
But when you’re a newbie RV repair/maintenance can seem like an overwhelming task.
You know you need to do it. I mean RV’s are basically big ‘ol machines that you shake around in a mini-earthquake every time you drive. The engine, transmission, and all the other mechanical bits need regular maintenance to keep them happy & healthy. Plus it’s absolutely guaranteed that, at some point, you’ll need repairs (trust me on this one).
But you may not know how to do it. Where do you go? How do you find a reliable mechanic? How do you figure out what needs to be done? What do you do with the paws while the rig is in the shop? What if the repairs take multiple days?
All these are valid questions, and like many RV (and life-related) items it just takes a bit of planning and know-how to figure it all out. I’ve actually written about this on the blog before, but with 7 years under our belts I figured now would be a good time to update that post and add-in some extra detail on how to navigate all these issues. So here goes…
#1 The Basics = What Every RVer Should Have
First of all the basic basics. There are 2 critical repair/maintenance planning items I think every single RVer should have whether they’re fulltime or not:
- Roadside Assistance – No matter what kind of rig you have, you definitely want roadside assistance. If you get stuck somewhere, the last thing you want to deal with is finding a tow truck and the (very likely) out-the-wazoo $$ they’ll charge for the job. With big rigs this is even MORE critical, since big rigs require special tow equipment that regular car hauling companies just don’t have. For ~$100-150/year you can get full coverage with companies that have specific experience with big rigs and it’s well worth the money. We have Coach-Net which has a great reputation and covers both US & Canada. Good Sams offers a similar program. Don’t go without.
Repair/Maintenance Budget – Every RVer should plan to put $$ aside for repair & maintenance. The amount you need can vary a ton based on how much maintenance you plan to do yourself, how big your rig is and how old it is. As an example new tires on a little class C might only cost ~$150/tire whereas new tires on a big Class A can easily run $450-$650/tire aaaand you might need up to 10 of them. That’s a lot of $$! Also older rigs may need more repair items than newer rigs. So, planning ahead & saving up for these expenses is important. We typically put aside ~$2000/year for our RV & car repair/maintenance and we keep an “emergency fund” of $5000 for anything unexpected that might come up. Your $$ may be different.
What About Buying A Warranty? Buying an RV warranty can (potentially) be a good “safeguard” against major repair items, but it can also (potentially) be a waste of money depending on your RV and the terms of the contract. Lots of debate on this one and no easy/clear-cut answer IMHO. For those interested I’ve written a full blog post detailing my opinion on warranties HERE.
#2 The Details = Figuring Out What You Need Done
So you’ve got your roadside assistance and you’ve got your $$ set aside. Now what? How do you figure out what needs to be done to keep your rig happy?
- Read Your Manual – You knew I’d say this, right? But honestly unless you have a vintage RV you should be able to find and download the manual for your rig. Then READ it. Not only does the manual tell you about all the various systems in your RV, but there will always be detailed info in there on recommended service, and how often it should get done. It’s the best place to start.
- Check Out YouTube For Basic Stuff – If you want to do some basic service items yourself but don’t exactly know how, YouTube is a fabulous resource. My fav channel (by far) for this is RV Geeks. They have tons of useful videos on basic items such as generator maintenance, roof maintenance, repairing door locks, sanitizing your water tank and more. Lots of other great RV-related videos & video channels out there.
- Keep Track Of What You Get Done – No matter whether you do the work yourself or get it done at a shop you’ll want to keep track of what gets done. This will not only help to ensure you stay on top of everything, but it’ll establish a record for yourself and anyone else who might need it in the future (e.g. when/if you sell). We keep a binder with all our service receipts and also like to use Excel spreadsheets (I’m a bit of an Excel geek). You can also scan and store your receipts electronically.
In our case we go to a shop every year to change engine oil/filters, get the chassis lubed, do our generator service (every few years or 150 hours) and check air filters, air system, coolant & transmission oil (for transmission we run oil analysis). We also replace our tires every 6-7 years. Low-level stuff like roof seals, air-conditioner cleaning, tank valve replacement, toilet seals, slide-topper replacement etc. we do ourselves.
#3 The Place = Figuring Out Where To Go
Potentially one of the most difficult aspects of RV repair/service, especially when you travel fulltime is figuring out where to go.
Now if you’re in an emergency situation where you’re stuck dead and need to be towed, you may not get too much choice in the matter since most roadside assistance programs will only pay towing to “the nearest repair facility”. However, if you find yourself in this situation I still recommend doing some research (while you’re waiting for the tow truck, say) since you can sometimes negotiate a tow to your own preference if you have a good reason for it (e.g. this is the only repair shop that works on my kind of diesel engine, say) or it’s not too far off track. Don’t just take whatever the tow company throws at you.
If you’re not in an emergency situation you have the pick of the litter, but how do you narrow down the choice? There are many great shops out there, but there are also shady ones who don’t do great work. How do you find out which is which?
- Talk To Other RVers – Other RVers are one of the best ways to find reliable service spots. We are members of several active RV forums and RV Facebook groups, and will ask both places if we’re in “search mode”. We always get good recommendations from these spots.
- Check Online Reviews – There’s really only one official online service review website that I know of and it’s rvservicereviews.com. It’s not always up to date (I do wish more people would use it and contribute to it), but it’s another decent resource to check before you make your final choice.
- Go Where Your RV Was Made – Want to know where you’re likely to find the most RV repair shops who know the most about YOUR specific rig? Right where your RV was made, of course! Out West Eugene, OR was a big manufacturer of Country Coach & Monaco/Holiday Ramblers back in the day. Out East Elkhart IN is a hot-spot and still makes ~60% of RVs today. Both places have TONS of RV repair/maintenance shops so if they’re on your travel route they’re no-brainer places to stop.
- Establish A Regular Stop – Many fulltime RVers have somewhere they go every single year, either because family is there or because that’s where their doctors are (so, they go back for annual health-checks and such). These regular stops can be a great place to get yearly RV maintenance done too, especially if you establish a good relationship with a reliable, local shop.
- Consider Truck Shops – If you drive a big rig you’re basically not much different from a big truck, and many of the big truck-service companies know this and cater to RVs. We often drive through truck washes (like Blue Beacon) to get our rig washed, but there’s service options too. For example, if you just want an oil-change Speedco does great, inexpensive oil changes. For those with Allison Transmissions you can get your transmission work at any Allison-certified shop. For those with Cummins Engines, there’s Cummins Coach Care. For those with Freightliner Chassis, the Freightliner shops will happily work on your rig. Lots of choices out there.
- Seek Out Specialists For The Big Stuff – My last, and perhaps most important piece of advice is to seek out specialists, especially for the really big stuff. RVs are complicated machines and there are very, very few places have the ability to handle all the major components with equal expertise. So, if you’re getting suspension work done go to a suspension shop. If you’re getting engine work done, go to an engine shop. I know this sounds bleeding obvious, but we’ve been caught out by this exact problem. Don’t make our mistake.
What About Mobile Techs? I totally forgot to mention this in the original blog post (this is an updated edit, hat tip to J.Dawg in the comments for this), but mobile techs can be a GREAT option for minor repairs. They generally can’t handle the big stuff (engine, transmission etc.), but they are usually very competent to handle smaller repairs. You typically pay a service call fee (in addition to labor/parts), but you get the huge benefit that you don’t have to go anywhere = they come to you! We’ve used them in the past and been very happy with them. Most RV Parks will have recommendations for a good local tech.
Pro Tip #1 -> Consider Sales Tax On Big Purchase Items: One of many reasons we love getting our RV repair/maintenance in Eugene is that Oregon has ZERO sales tax. For smaller items it’s not a big deal, but for big items (like our RV tires) it can mean serious $$. If you’re not in an emergency situation and you have some big $$ items to buy, consider sales tax in the state you plan to do your work before you push the buy button. You might save yourself quite a bit of cash.
Pro Tip #2 -> Consider Buying Your Filters Online: For yearly maintenance items, even if you don’t do the work yourself consider buying your filters online before you go into the shop. They’re typically waaay cheaper than what they’ll charge you at the service center. Good resources are FilterBarn.com, RVChassisParts.com, and FindItParts.com.
#4 The Practical Aspects = Dealing w/ Pets & Home
Once you’ve figured out your needs and where you’re going to get work done, how do you handle the pets and the fact that you’re locked out of your home while work is being done? And what if your work takes several days to complete?
- Hang At The Shop During The Day – Most repair/maintenance spots have some kind of “waiting room” where you can hang out while your rig is in the shop, and they’re typically OK with you bringing in the pets too. Doggie is happy to just relax on the floor with us all day. For the cats, they really prefer to stay in the rig so it depends what kind of work is being done. If the mechanic doesn’t need access to the back of the rig, we’ll leave them there with the back door closed, “cats inside” signs and specific instructions to come see us if he/she needs to access the rear slides. If back-work is being done we’ll put the cats in a carrier bag & bring them into the waiting room. Then we’ll put on their jackets/leashes and let them roam around (yet another reason to leash-train your kitties!). They’re not quite as comfortable as in the rig, but they don’t mind.
- Hang In The Rig At Night – Our maintenance jobs have never taken more than a day, but we’ve had a few repairs that required multi-night stays and the shops have always allowed us to re-enter the rig at night. Some of them have even offered electrical hookups or access to a power cord. For the kind of work we’ve had done staying onsite has always been the easiest option, even if it meant “packing up” the rig each day to go back into the repair bay.
- OR Find A Hotel – If your rig is getting some major work done where you don’t have access to it (for whatever reason) or you just don’t want to be on-site (for whatever reason) then the best option is to find a nearby pet-friendly hotel and hang out there. We haven’t had to use this option (yet), but it’s always there.
Pro Tip -> Stay On-Site The Night Before Service: Many shops will allow you to stay on-site the night before you need service, even if it’s just parking in their lot. We always ask about this and if they offer it we always take advantage of that option. Not only does it save us a night in a random RV park, but most of our shop-work starts EARLY, so it’s just much easier to be right there on-site when they open.
That wraps up most of the tips I can think of. “The beast” is humming again and I’m off to hang in Portland while Paul flies home. Any good tips I missed? Burning questions? Feel free to post your ideas and thoughts in the comments section below!
Related Blog Posts – Repair & Maintenance:
- Transmission Service Woes (And Lessons Learned)
- Saving $$ & Monitoring Your RV Transmission With $27 Oil Analysis
- Good RV Repairs & The 80/100/100 Rule – Elite Repair & Remodel, Eugene, OR
- TLC For “The Beast” in Eugene, OR (And Tips On Finding Good Repair Spots)
- TLC For “The Beast” Part II – New Tires
- Tire Maintenance & Handling Tire Blow-Outs
- Well, That Was Close….A Few Belts Short Of A Tire BlowOut!
- Nina Vs The RV Tank Valves – A Gripping Tale Of Plumbing Mastery….
- 5 Easy Spring RV Maintenance Steps
- Easy RV Mod -> Slide Topper Replacement With Tough Top Toppers
- The Ins & Outs Of RV Extended Warranties
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