Doing your own RV repairs can save a bundle from your RV Lifestyle expenses

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May 21, 2012

By Bob Difley

mechanical_repairYou learn a couple of things early on when going to extended-time or fulltime in your RV after years of a life of work with the cash flow that comes with it.  One is that it is easier to spend money than make it once your income stream is disrupted, and the other is that you place a different monetary value on your time when the outflow starts approaching the inflow. This predicament raises its conspicuous head when you are faced with a decision to do something yourself–mostly an unpleasant or unfamiliar job or chore–or pay someone to do it for you.

This very situation confronted me on Saturday when my wife’s Volvo wouldn’t start. The easy solution was to tow it to our mechanic and let him deal with it. The downside was that it wouldn’t get looked at until Monday, be out of commission to at least Tuesday, and would probably cost a bundle (from experience I know there is no such thing as an inexpensive repair job).

Unfortunately, my meager mechanical skills do not include automotive repair. But I learned over the years that some things that I’ve never done before can be accomplished if taken slowly, researched well, making sure I had the proper tools, and a Plan B was available. But I had never taken on a job like replacing a starter, which in a Volvo meant also removing the battery and battery box (including wiring) and dismantling and removing the fan and housing and all the various attached plugs, wires, and vacuum hoses in order to get to the starter that lay buried beneath it all.

I plunged in with serious trepidation, and after many unidentifiable pieces of the car had been removed and scattered about the driveway, found the starter (I had to look on the internet to see what one looked like), and after several bruised knuckles and superficial blood-oozing scratches removed it and carted it off to O’Reilly Auto Parts where they tested it and did, indeed, find it had bought the farm. Heartened at having successfully diagnosed the problem, I purchased a rebuilt one for $154 and headed back to finish the job.

After stumbling through the re-assembly and re-attachment of all the wire plugs and other appendages, and finishing with only a few leftover parts, nobody could have been more astonished than I when I turned the key and it actually started and continued to run through a road test (and, in fact, is still working).

Had I towed the car to the mechanic, there would have been a tow bill, the replacement starter (with their mark-up) that would have cost more than the $154 I paid, and a few hours labor at about $100/hour–in other words a bundle possibly surpassing $600. It took me all of Saturday and three hours Sunday morning for the job–a lot longer than I would have cared to devote to the job until I weighed what else I would have been doing (like writing this blog post, and certainly not earning more than the potential repair bill) and decided that–at least once the job was done successfully–that it had been worth the effort and stress of performing a completely alien job.

The point of this is that once we leave the realm of fulltime work (and earnings) for fulltime RVing (or close to it) we have to keep a closer eye on the outflow so that it doesn’t surpass the inflow. And that means sometimes having to take on jobs and chores that we otherwise wouldn’t have considered. And while not fun during the execution of the job, satisfaction at having completed it successfully is a huge confidence builder. That means that we can have more control over our expenses, which when facing the end of our big earning years helps reduce the financial uncertainity of what may lie ahead.

So don’t be afraid to tackle the unknown, especially if it will result in more RVing days. Happy travels.

I wrote an ebook on ways to save money on the RV road based on my experiences after nine years in the RV business followed by 17 years of fulltime RVing. It’s called 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang for your RV Lifestyle Buck. You can buy it for $6.99 (Thank you, it will help pay for my next repair job) and download it in either PDF or Kindle versions.

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  1. SamG

    @ butterbean carpenter; are you near Reading, Pa.? Maybe I could help.
    Thanks G. Mullins. Redoing my ’84 Winnie and will check out Yahoo.

  2. norma Mitchell

    I am glad for those of you who are Mechanic!! But I can’t even find out how to get to the pump on our sleep number bed!! Doesn’t that blow your mind–mine is gone……


  3. Tom S

    Just as a caution for you soon to be self repair mechanics. It’s not as always so simple as taking out the broken part and replacing it with a new or in Bob’s case a rebuilt component. Taking Bob’s example, sometimes the rebuilt starters contact surfaces are machined by the rebuilder to provide a flat surface and make sure of good contact. When this is done shims are needed to make sure that the starter gear makes correct contact with the ring on the flywheel. Premature failure can occur.

    As a matter of fact, my brother is a Diesel mechanic who doesn’t work on his own gas cars because of the complexity of the new modern engines with their electronic systems and computer controls.

  4. Geoffrey Pruett

    I do not do all of my own repairs, sometimes due to needed equiptment and sometimes because it is closer to an art form than a skill. Automatic transmisions and welding fall in the “art form” area. Any assembled device was at first assembled by a person and if you can figure out how you can repair it. The big gray area is electrical, also the hardest to find good skilled repairs. A large part of this is due to being built to a price point. If done for use not price most RV’s would only require the usual from wear like brakes, belts, alternators and cooling system fluid changes. Do not be afraid to try but accept it when you are over your head. Most good mechanics will have a good laugh with you and then finish the job. They have all been there!

  5. george mullins

    for those who do work on their rigs and are looking for help or knowledge of some issues, we have many groups on yahoo that are specifc to certain types and some that are generic in nature. for monaco owners just type ‘monacoers’ in yahoo groups search, for those with a chevy chassis or workhorse chassis type in ‘motorhomesp-30’, for a general group type in ‘rvrepair’ in yahoo groups search, we have been helping folks for 0ver 10 years now. for classic rv’s like the older dodge chassis type in ‘classicrv’, join others who have been doing this for years.

  6. Ford Marshall

    I purchased a vintage 1978 (Dodge) 20′ Minnie Winnie back in Feb 2005 which happened to have sat for 10 years prior to purchase. It became unknowingly, a learning experience. I soon found out everything had dried out especially ALL rubber products. Over the next number of travel seasons since then I have up graded the “Dream Chaser” to my level of comfort by replacing much and adding much. Dodge did not provide much on the comfort side, however Winniebago did prove a great solid well planned unit (20 ft bumper to bumper C Class) even hard to beat today. However, Dodge provided too light Dana axle which was replaced last year with new heavier new springs. Yes, much was done self help with great savings but heavy heavier jobs required professional work with proper equipment.. Upgrading and repairing your RV yourself can be a source of great pleasure,satisfaction and money saving on DIY. At times it is prudent to call in the professionals. At the moment, I have decided to have the professionals install the Rostra Cruise Control which I purchased for my RV to install myself. Too much time has passed since I done my last installation.

  7. richie

    i am on my 4th Motorhome and yes it’s doing fine
    I have NEVER had a shop repair,I’ve done brakes, all oil changes,shocks,water pumps ,fuel pumps,U-Joints,fuel filter,radiater replacement,V-belts & serpentine belt, window replacement “.fogged slider” furnace repair, water pump replacement.
    -I have had Alignments but that is manditory for a pro.
    between all 4 motorhomes over 300,000 miles and i have a van & travel trailer on the road too,same thing-NEVER been in a shop.227,000 miles on the van. TT is a Casita which is the 6th camper i have had.yes it’s on the road as well.
    richie in southern Va.

  8. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Master Mechanic Bob, HHHH!!
    PLEASE, DON’T try to overhaul a diesel rig, now with your built up confidence!!!
    Glad you did the job and got’er done!! For the ones who aren’t mechanically inclined and can not afford a $100hr mechanic be real nice around the campfire admit the fact and there will be at least one Good Samaritan there who will get’er done for you!!! What is really bad is being in a position, in a wheelchair , when you KNOW HOW & WHAT to do, but are physically unable to accomplish it and no one offers to help because you try to explain the problem to them… I just parked mine!!!