My first thought when my brother was talking about selling his RV that it might be attractive to somebody wanting transportation to Burning Man. Many burners think that you can pick up a beater that will take you to the playa and give you somewhere comfortable to sleep. Some of these breakdown on the way or you see them on the side of the road afterwards.
Being on a long trip with an unreliable vehicle can become a nightmare. After walking past the RV for a week, I decided that maybe I could have a look inside. I was impressed seeing such a well set up living space. I hadn’t ever been in one before. So I bought it, and drove it from Louisiana to Vancouver Island through Tornado Alley in tornado season. We didn’t really know how to use an RV but my brother had written a huge manual for us to learn.
Engine / Truck Type Repairs
My brother felt it was best to go to a place specializing in trucks for anything to do with the actual running of the vehicle. He got it checked out for me before I took it north.
1. Engine Stalled and Wouldn’t Restart
The next big road trip was going to be taking four of us to Burning Man in Nevada. We were ready to pack. I let my friend drive it as practice and we were on our way to pick up his ipod for music on the trip. The RV being from 1998 only had a cassette player.
Anyway the RV died in the middle of the intersection at the bottom of my street. This was when I learned that there are very few tow trucks that can pull an RV. We had to wait almost an hour. He disconnected the drive train before towing it.
It took three mechanics at two different shops and three months to get it running again. We were lucky it broke at home. It would have been a real pain if it had happened on the road.
It turned out a clip had broken causing a wire to fall onto the hot engine and burn out a relay switch. Eventually they figured it out and sent me home with it. My friend who had driven me there followed me. She’d noticed that my brake light and turn signals weren’t working. So I had to turn around and drop it off to get those fixed. It’s a good thing she was behind me. I usually get work done on the RV just before a big trip. They’re usually all big trips. They said that they only fix the problem that’s on the order. I thought it should have been checked out but that’s not the way mechanics are paid.
2. Failing Brakes
I knew that you’re supposed to gear down on mountains but when we did the coastal highway in California we neglected to do that. The result that leaving Pasadena heading to the Mojave Desert behind our friends, I discovered that my foot went all the way down to the carpet on the brake pedal. Luckily my passenger found a Ford dealership close by. They were just about to close but said their brake guy would be in early in the morning. So we slept on the road in front of it. The next day they replaced the brakes.
A block later somebody told me my tire was on fire. So we pulled over.
That’s when we discovered that the fire extinguisher didn’t have a pin and so was useless. Luckily the tire stopped smoking. We called the dealership to complain and they sent a tow truck to retrieve us. He didn’t disconnect the drive train like the first tow truck driver had but he drover very slowly so it wouldn’t get hurt.
The sales guy told us that new brakes might smell a bit and that’s probably all it was. Well it wasn’t. The calipers had seized. They didn’t have any in stock but they got some sent over from somewhere else in Los Angeles.
3. Couldn’t Get Into Gear
It’s an automatic but I’d found that it was becoming difficult to get it from park into drive. I got my daughter to practice driving it the barn because I needed the car for a trip. I was going to a gaming convention and needed to be able to easily park at a hotel and conference center. So I was leaving her the RV to get to riding. She’s shorter than me and had to sit on one of the couch pillows to see over the dash better. We went to drive home and she couldn’t get it into gear.
The automobile association guy came with a flat bed truck. He said the dispatcher hadn’t said the call was for an RV. He wouldn’t have been able to tow or carry the RV. He managed to get it into start. He told us which way to push the gear shift (which is up by the steering wheel) so it worked. The next day I took it in to get the part replaced that was failing.
4. Engine Noise when Idling
There’s a part that needs to be replaced that they said I could put off for a little while. It’s expensive.
5. Gas Cap
I left the gas cap on top of the pump in California because I went inside to get something. Then I had to search for an auto supply place in the Oregon Outback.
6. Door Lock
My passenger door lock became stuck. There’s a bar that goes through the door. I still have to get that fixed. Right now only the driver side door works out of the three doors.
What I learned about RV Failures
1. Get RV automobile association coverage
The cost of towing an RV far outweighs the cost of an automobile association membership.
2. Make sure your headlights are off when you stop for the night
I’ve had them give me a boost too. If you sleep in a store parking lot late at night and don’t get out, you need to make sure you’ve turned off the headlights. I can’t remember if he got it boosted with the separate battery charger or with his truck. The one way wasn’t powerful enough.
3. Make sure your gas cap is on
It’s not convenient to be in the middle of nowhere when you discover you don’t have one. I was told that on Fords not having the air suction on the gas cap can cause the engine to stop. The new cap doesn’t make the ratcheting sound when you tighten it. I could have gotten a locking type but I hate having to fiddle with things that would probably keep me out faster than anyone else. The old one wasn’t a locking type so I didn’t feel I needed one.
RV Shop Type Repairs
1. Half the ceiling
This one probably comes as a surprise to you. It certainly was a major headached to me.
When I first prepped the RV for the trip north, I had to remove six months of cans from the upper shelves along the wall. I recommend not having that much weight in those cupboards. My brother believed that the RV should be set up as an emergency flight vehicle. So he had half a year worth of canned food for survival. I questioned him about the two cans of lima beans. I absolutely hate lima beans. They used to come in cans of vegetable soup when I was a kid. As far as I know, no one in our family eats them. He thought they’d be good in case of an emergency. Way to make a bad situation worse. I’ve recently learned they’re also called butter beans which is good to know so that I don’t accidentally get some to plant in my vegetable garden.
On my road trip to Los Angeles and Arkansas last spring, by the time I reached Arkansas it was obvious that the shelves were slipping. One corner of the ceiling was showing a disconnect. It was a worry since the heavy wooden shelves are over the bed including Rover’s little bed.
It was expensive to fix. When they looked it was missing a rib and the cupboards were only attached to the wall. So they took down the cupboards on the back and side, peeled back the ceiling, fixed it up, and reattached the cupboards. And said not to put a ton of weight up there in the future.
2. Reading Lights
The reading lights no longer worked after the ceiling was reattached. They said they were faulty. They had worked well right up until the ceiling fix but I had to pay for brand new ones.
3. Fresh Water System
I had the fresh water tank filled when I got the RV de-winterized last year. When I was in the lane packing, all the water spurted out. On the road I had it looked at. There was debris holding the drainage valve open. Also part of the pipe had to be replaced. In mine the water pipes are horizontal and badly placed. I learned that if every repair is a failure that it’s time to try a better shop.
4. Top Step
Top step which is removable wouldn’t stay in the snap on wall slot. Also the support broke off the one side. You’re supposed to put it down when you’re going to bed to extend the floor space by the small bed. The floor board still needs the support fixed and the wall mount reattached.
5. Fold Out Chair
The fold out chair was unfolded so roughly by my passenger sleeping in the small bed that it fell apart. You need the chair to have a place for your feet that stick out beyond the end of this short child’s bed which is really the couch. A friend managed to fix it but I still need to get bigger screws for a permanent fix.
6. Table By Couch
There originally was a table you could put in front of the couch. The end just slotted into a hole on the floor. The bottom metal piece had detached and so there was a hole open to the outside. I found that the table was just in the way and I never used it because I usually had someone sleeping there anyway. To correct it properly I would need to get it welded back into place. So it got covered in duct tape instead and I haven’t missed the table at all. I guess because I never got used to having it there in the first place.
For the first year or so I could start the generator if I left the engine running and then pushed the start button. They shut off automatically if the gasoline level goes below a third. This is to keep you from running your generator and then running out of gas and becoming stranded because you wouldn’t be able to start the vehicle in the morning. I’ve never used the generator because where I’ve camped they haven’t been allowed. I had it looked at this past year. I need to replace it if I want a generator. It’s not high on my want list. It never gets cold enough to need the furnace. I always carry a butane stove with me so I can always cook.
Now I always go to a specialized propane provider. People at gas stations who fill propane may not know what they’re doing. Mine was overfilled which turns the propane into a liquid which will not burn. Also I learned that the wire by the propane that was not attached is the one that goes to the gauges inside. My gauge was always at full. Apparently that’s the way the majority of RVs are. No way of telling how much propane you have until you run out. The propane tanks with gauges are more expensive and they’re not put in.
9. Propane Delivery System
The propane wasn’t getting pushed to the furnace adequately when I first got the RV so that system had to be replaced.
10. Cabin door holder
There’s a screen door that can be pulled across but for it to be useful you need the porch door to stay open. The original bar at the top of the door didn’t keep it open. So I had it replaced. Then it was extremely hard to open and close. You had to lean your whole body into it to make it shut. In a wind the door stays open with one of these devices.
11. Cabin door
As a consequence of the anti-wind door holder, the entire cabin door needs to be replaced. The new RV shop said that you can’t use those on old doors. And of course my door is a non-standard size. I have to bring back my RV so they can measure the door. Then a factory will manufacture a custom door to the tune of around $1500.
12. Awnings don’t like wind
There was no awning when I bought the RV. It had been left up on a windy day, and been destroyed. To replace an awning is about $1500. I haven’t bothered trying to get it replaced as most of my camping is in windy deserts or on my windy island.
13. Screen in porch door
Screens and small animals are a bad combination. I need to figure out how to fix the bottom where the screen is loose. I don’t usually camp anywhere with mosquitos or black flies so it’s not a big concern.
14. Bike Rack
I need to get a replacement part for my giant bike rack.
15. Black Water Release Handle
My brother had been using pliers to pull out the release handle for the black water. I had the handle replaced.
16. Leaky Sewer Valve
I hate dumping the grey and black water tanks. You’re supposed to be able to just remove the cover off the end of the pipe so you can attach the hose. But when I take off the cover nasty fluid starts oozing out. My brother thinks that means I probably need to get the valve replaced. I already replaced the cover itself since the first one fell off. The new one is supposed to attach to the pipe but it doesn’t.
On misplaced loyalty
I really liked the people at the first shop. They liked Rover and were always friendly. But the guy who worked on my rig said that mine was the first one he had ever worked on and that was the very first time I took it in. Every single repair failed. On road trips I’d have to phone around to find an RV shop that could fit me in to fix the current issue. I finally got fed up and got a recommendation for an alternative place from my neighbour. So you really have to do what’s best for you.