5 Tips On Handling RV Maintenance, Repairs & Downtime On The Road
On the way down from Virginia to SC we stopped to give “the beast” some TLC. It’s a regular part of our fulltime travels and something we do every year no matter where we are.
On-going maintenance is a critical, albeit rather inconvenient part of fulltime RV ownership and if you’re a newbie RVer this aspect of RVing can seem overwhelming at first. It might seem easier to just to kick the bucket down the road and “wait until something breaks”, but IMO that’s not the right plan of action. Being prepared and maintaining your rig is not only necessary for your RV to function properly, but it’s also critical to its long-term health and your own safety on the road!
RV’s are big, complicated machines which are not just vehicles but also fully-functional houses, and since we drive them around on all kinds of roads (even off-road when we go boondocking!) we basically abuse our house by rocking and rolling everything inside around for months on end. So as well as regular engine & transmission stuff there are always other things (electrical connections, broken things, appliance repairs etc.) that need checks or repairs after months of traveling. It’s just part of life on the road.
Over the past 8 years I’ve written a lot about all aspects of this is various blog posts. In fact I’ve written SO many posts that it’s easy to lose track and forget all the stuff I’ve covered (hey, even I forget sometimes). So rather than re-hash everything from scratch I thought I’d wrap up everything in a single, (hopefully) useful blog post covering my top tips on everything from regular maintenance to accidents and how to prepare your RV for “downtime”. So for those interested in all this kind of stuff, here it goes….
1/ General Info on Repair & maintenance
For those who’ve never read any of my previous posts I’d recommend starting here: 4 Tips For Handling RV Repair & Maintenance On the Road
It’s by far my most comprehensive post on maintenance and repair for RVers, and in that post I talk about how to budget for repairs (tip: it’s part of our yearly budget), figuring out what you need done, what to do with your pets while you’re getting repairs (tip: we keep them with us), where to stay (tip: we usually stay in the rig on-site), where to buy expensive items for much less (e.g. tires and filters, I’ve got TRICKS for getting these cheaper) and where & how to find the right facilities for the job you need to do.
Not much has changed in my view of how we handle repairs/maintenance since I wrote that post. We budget for maintenance every year and go to a service center to have all the regular stuff done (oil changes, filter changes, generator service, coolant & transmission check, air filter etc.), but we buy all our filters online beforehand to save $$ (it really helps!) and if we need something out-of-the-ordinary we find a specialist to do the job right (we learned this the hard way with a transmission service screw-up in 2013). Plus we always stay on-site with our pets.
Over the years most of our yearly maintenance has been done in Eugene, Oregon (no sales tax and it’s a haven for RV stuff), but we’ve also had plenty of stuff done in other places.
A couple of related posts:
- Transmission Service Woes (And Lessons Learned)
- Saving $$ & 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)
2/ The Importance Of Tires & Tire Maintenance
I cannot over-emphasize how important it is to keep your tires in tip top shape. They are one of the biggest safety items you have on your RV and literally the only reason your home is mobile.
For this reason I’ve written several posts over the years focused exclusively on tires. Amongst other things making sure you drive with the right tire pressure (which means getting your rig weighed properly!), adding extra safety items to your coach (such as a good TPMS system and a Safe-T-Bar), what to do in a blow-out (tip: it’s not what you’d expect) and maintaining your tires (i.e. keeping them clean and covered when parked) are just a few of the critical tips to keep them in tip-top shape.
In addition, even with regular care you’ll eventually need to cough up the $$$$ to get your tires replaced and for most RV’s it’s an age-related thing, not a wearing out thing. When we got our tires changed in 2014 it was time for us to do it (we had 7 years on the old ones) so we followed a few simple rules to be sure we got brand new tires at the right price and the right place (tip: there are discount programs, and states where you don’t have to pay sales tax!).
Here are my posts covering everything to do with tires:
- Tire Maintenance & Handling Tire Blow-Outs
- Well, That Was Close….A Few Belts Short Of A Tire BlowOut!
- TLC For “The Beast” Part II – New Tires
- Monitoring Our Ride -> Review Of The Tire-Safeguard TPMS
3/ How To Handle Accidents Or Large Repairs
At some point on the road you will be faced with the unexpected either in the form of an unplanned repair or an accident. It’s not something you really want to think about, but it happens to almost everyone and being prepared for it can help to smooth the process a bit when it eventually does.
Honestly apart from the safety concerns of an accident or the hassle of messing up all your travel plans (staying open and FLEXIBLE in your travel plans is key, my friends) there’s really not much difference between regular maintenance and this except that one is scheduled and the other is generally not!
First things first, if your issue is major enough that you can’t drive your rig you’ll need to get towed, so you must prepare for that up-front. If you’re a smaller rig your regular insurance may cover you, but if you’re “beastly-sized” like us I recommend having big-rig-specific tow insurance. We’ve always had Coach Net, and although it costs us some $$ each year (that we might never use), it’s inexpensive for the value and well worth it if we ever need it. Then for the repair process you’ll want to search around for the RIGHT repair facility who specializes in the type of work you need done (don’t just go to Camping World, trust me on this one) AND who can handle your fulltime living-in-the-rig needs.
When we had our tow bar accident last year that’s exactly what we did.
We were able to drive the RV & car after the accident (so we didn’t need a tow), but we also knew we needed to get assessed right away just in case something internally had been damaged that we couldn’t immediately see. Once that was done (we got the RV inspected at a Cummins and our car inspected at a Honda dealer) and we were OK’d to drive we searched for a specialist in RV body repair where we could stay on-site with our pets during the repair process. All-in-all it took several months to get everything completed, but the place we stayed for a week in Florida did a top-notch job and were very accommodating to our fulltime RV needs.
- Our First RV Accident -> Tow Comes Loose in NC
- RV Bodywork Repairs (And Beer) – Lakeland, FL
- RV Tow Bar Upgrade -> Our Snazzy New Roadmaster Sterling All-Terrain!
None of this was fun, but it worked and by staying flexible in our travel plans we were able to go with the flow and remain (mostly) stress-free.
4/ Doing Stuff Yourself
Even if you’re not that “handy” you can learn to do RV stuff yourself! These days there are plenty of great resources out there to help you from manufacturers to detailed YouTube videos (check out our friends The RV Geeks for starters).
We started out somewhat “hands off” with our RV, but have become quite good at handling more stuff ourselves over the years. We’ve done easy stuff like upgrading our internal decor (e.g. shoe storage, our valences & installing MCD shades) to bigger stuff like replacing our slide toppers to electric repairs and even dirty jobs (like swapping out our RV toilet (super simple) or the time I changed the tank valves)
My rule for DIY? Just be ready to learn and take your time (it’ll ALWAYS take WAY longer than you think it will), make full use of online resources for any questions you might have (forums like iRV2 are very active plus Facebook has tons of active RV groups these days too) and if you get into deep hot water and simply can’t handle it yourself don’t be embarrassed to call in a pro. By the end of it all you’ll have pride in the process of figuring it all out, and next time it’ll take just a fraction of time to do it yourself.
Here’s a few of the posts on upgrades and changes we’ve done over the years:
- 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
- Easy RV Mod -> Re-Cover & Update Your Window Valences (For Under $100!)
- Easy RV Mod -> Install MCD Shades
- Easy RV Mod -> Shoe Storage For Under $5
- RV Electrical Fire (Almost!)-> Our Automatic Transfer Switch Failure & Replacement
- RV Surge Protectors = Protecting “The Beast” Against Bad Power & Surges With EMS-HW50C
- 3 Easy & Cheap RV “Tech Hacks”
Note/ There are also many RV upgrades where we “might” be able to do it ourselves but we nonetheless make a conscious decision to seek out an expert to do the job right. For example the Lithium Battery & Solar Upgrade which we did in 2016 was one of those times a pro was the right choice for us. We likely could have figured it out, but Marvin did a MUCH better job than we could ever have done.
5/ Maintaining Your RV During “Downtime”
Many fulltime RVers will stop traveling for extended periods during either summer or winter while they rest up and explore an area. If you’re a workamper or part-time RVer your RV might not move for many months or more.
It might be tempting to think that your RV is fine while it’s sitting still, but downtime is actually bad for your rig especially if you have a Class A. RVs are MEANT to be driven and parts of them will start to deteriorate when they sit still. Amongst other things the natural oil in your tires dries out and they will start to degrade from sun exposure, the gas in your tank can start to break down or grow algae (especially diesel fuel in humid areas) and generators can latch up and die (they NEED to be exercised).
Ignoring these things are not good for your rig, so we have a few easy tips that we always follow when we park for a few months:
These steps will ensure you’re good to go when you’re ready to fire up that engine and get rolling again. They’re super easy and they’re well worth it.
What We Did This Year
On our way down from Virginia to SC we stopped for our yearly TLC sessions at Cummins in Kenly, NC. We have a Cummins Engine and this location a Coach Care service center that’s trained to handle motorhomes.
We bought our filters with us (one of my top tips from my the very first blog post I listed above) and stayed overnight at one of their free on-site hookups so we didn’t have to service and drive twice in the same day. We got our oil & filters changed on our main engine, our generator was serviced, our air filter was changed (it was time), our chassis was lubed (we do this every year) and our belts, fluids and air system was all checked.
While all this was going on we took Polly and the kitties into the lounge room to hang out (and work a bit, they have free WiFi). It took around 4 hours for everything to be complete, but it was easy and painless.
Then before we got into our winter site in Miami (where we are now) we topped up our diesel, added Biobor JF Diesel Treatment to our engine and ran it through both the engine & generator (we often run the generator while we drive with the air conditioning on to exercise it). Finally made sure we cleaned & protected our tires with Aerospace 303 (an awesome UV protectant) once we were parked. DONE and good.
That’s just about everything I can think of on this topic!
I’ve got 2 more stops to cover on our travelogue before we get up to date (I’m only 2 weeks or so behind “real time” now), plus I’ve got my Christmas List and end of year round-ups to do up so there are plenty of goodies are coming up. I’m also flying off to Europe to see my dad (day after tomorrow) so things may slow down a bit too. In the meantime, fell free to drop questions or add your own tips in the comments below and I’ll respond to them as I can.