blue small rv

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Recreational vehicle, motorhome, camper van, camper trailer, pullers and pushers: There's nothing more American than an RV. The country offers thousands of miles of space to explore, and there's no better way to do it than in your motorhome. An RV is a beautiful thing, and knowing a bit about RV repair will keep you rolling down the road as long as you please.

Maybe you've just gotten your first traveling home; maybe you're still on the fence about whether it's a good idea (spoiler alert: it is). Whatever your situation, take a trip with us now and learn about RVs themselves, RV repair, terms and slang that will mark you out as an old roadster, and tips and tricks for keeping your mobile vacation spot in good repair.

What Is an RV?

There are a lot of interchangeable terms when for the RV. Of course, the term “RV” itself is short for “Recreational Vehicle.” You'll hear people refer to these as motorhomes and camper vans, pop-ups, camping trailers, and “that big behemoth over there.” The linguistic waters here are muddy, so for our purposes let's stick to the legal definitions. Don't worry: when you're on the road, you can call them anything you like.

Motorized or Unmotorized?

motorized

MOTORIZED

unmotorized

UNMOTORIZED

​This is the biggest distinction between motorhomes; and when it comes to RV repair and cost. The bigger and more powerful the camper, the more it will cost. It's also a lot different towing a big thing behind you than driving what is really a large van. It takes even more expertise to drive the really enormous RVs

Motorized campers are sorted into four different classes, conveniently labeled A, B, C, and Super C. Towables (the ones you pull behind you) don't have classes: they're just referred to by type.

The Motor RVs

class a rv out at night

Image by jill111 via Pixabay

Class A

Class A is the government's “standard” for RVs. This is possibly the most classic look in a motorhome. These have six wheels, a full cab with room for driver and passenger, and a complete RV interior that passengers can move around in even when on the move.

Class ​B

This class of motorhome is less comfortable to live in but more comfortable to drive, more mobile and cheaper to buy. Many of these are just retrofitted vans. The roof gets raised, some new hardware gets put in, and sometimes the whole body gets lengthened.

class c rv with flower design

Image by terpoedit via Pixabay

Class ​C

​These are the motorhomes you see that look a bit as if they were bolted onto a giant pickup truck. The living part is in the back and is not accessible to the driver and front seat passenger. There's an overhanging section that sticks out onto the cab of the truck (usually with a bed tucked away in it). This one offers more room for amenities than a Class B but at a cheaper price than a Class A.

super c rv

Image by paulbr75 via Pixabay

​SUPER C

​These are identical to Class C in all ways except one: they have a supercharged engine. The engine, in fact, is the same size as the ones in long-haul tractor trailers. They can run over the roughest of terrain, tow your car for you, and are the most expensive of all the ones on our list.

Non-Motorized

​These RVs tend to run a lot cheaper than the motorized ones, and RV repair will often be easier, too, since you don't have to worry about a special engine. They come with their own set of pros and cons, of course.

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Image by paulbr75 via Pixabay

Fifth Wheels

​These are the most expensive, but they are awesome if you want something as tough as the truck you pull it with. These are also very reliable.

folding trailers

Image by paulbr75 via Pixabay

Folding Trailers

​These are sometimes called tent trailers or pop-up RVs. They're a lot less expensive than the fifth wheels, easier and lighter to tow, and pretty simple to put up when you're ready to settle down. They come in every size and price from “I wanted a two-person tent I can pull” to “all the comforts of home.”

toy haulers

Image by gavinseim via Pixabay

Toy Haulers

​These are also known as sport utility RVs, and they appeal to those of us who want to spend most of our vacation engaging in our favorite hobby. At the front, you get some truncated, but comfortable, living space. In the back, you get a storage bay that can hold your golf cart or dirt bikes.

Pick-Up Camper

​Not to be confused with the Class C motorized versions, these really ARE bolted onto the back of any old pickup truck. This is a very cheap option, offers plenty of amenities, and might be the easiest of the towables to truck around.

Should I Get One?

​What a question. Buying an RV, even a little one, is an investment. You should always take some time to think and plan carefully when making a purchase this big. That said, we have a hard time believing you won't be thrilled once you get out onto the road. Here are some thoughts to get you started:

Lifestyle Considerations

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Here are some questions t​o ask yourself as you consider whether RVing is for you:

  • ​Do you love to chat with others on the road, or are you private?
  • ​Do you have some skills for RV repair?
  • ​Do like to cook, or do you prefer to eat out when you travel?
  • ​Do you have a place to store an RV? If not, are you willing to pay for storage?
  • ​How often would you realistically be able to use it?
  • ​Would you ever go on an epic cross-country trip, or do you plan largely local excursions?
  • ​Are you comfortable towing and/or parking something large?
  • ​Are you prone to “cabin fever” if you stay in a small camper for days on end?

If you answered “no” to most of the questions above, then maybe an RV isn't for you. If you answered “yes” or at least, “I'd like to be,” then congratulations: you might be an RV-er!

Cost Considerations

tower pile of coins

Image via Pixabay

The question a lot of people have is how taking an RV trip will compare with staying in hotels. Naturally, you're going to spend a lot more in gas driving around with a motorhome than a car; but you'll save money on hotels and on food if you're happy to cook in your camper.

woman at the grocery shopping

Image Via Unsplash.com

In the end, the money question will mostly come down to you and to the individual trip in you're planning. There are too many factors involved to give any guarantees: hotel prices vary wildly, some people are happy to eat fast food for a week while others aren't, fees for hooking up your RV at a campground also vary, you may find plenty of hotels with cooking facilities: the list goes on.

Here are some general things to keep in mind:

fuel

FUEL

Large motorhomes get around 8mph, while the smallest and most compact closer to 18

inserting coin

​FEES

​Motels average $120 a night; RV parks charge between $30 and $50

vegetables

​FOOD

​Cheaper motels typically have no way to cook; RV is a mobile kitchen

car with dollar sign on top

​Depreciation

​RVs depreciate very quickly; more quickly than other vehicles might

What Type Should I Buy?

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Again, your answers to certain questions will help you decide what you actually need. If you want to do your own RV repair, you might choose something simpler. If you're happy to pay for RV repair, you might go for something with all the bells and whistles. Here are some things to consider as you look at models:

Will You RV Only in Warm Months or Also in Snowy Climates?

Your air conditioning and heating needs are the the big question here. if you plan on traveling doing the summer in places where it doesn't cool down at night, you will want an RV that has air conditioning. We're not talking about the air con that runs when you're driving, here. We're talking about a unit to keep you cool at night or provide a break from a scorching day of outdoor activity.

If you will take your RV out in the winter, you'll need to make sure it has a really good heating system. This is something to ask a salesman about. In fact, it doesn't hurt to buy during the winter if you plan to use it during the winter. Then you can test the heating in person.

What Features Do You Want?

You should make a list here. Are you the sort of Spartan camper who only camps with what you can carry 50 miles on your own back? Then you can get away with a tiny pop-up camper with the basics. If you prefer glamping to camping, then you'll want a fully loaded model with all the luxuries and some of the best gadgets: like grills and solar showers.

How Many People Will Come Along?

If it's just you and your spouse, then you don't need the Behemoth LX 4000. If you're going to regularly bring along guests or family, consider a larger motorhome. Don't forget that at a lot of RV parks you can use the outside space to set up tents, thereby accommodating more people for the occasional big trip.

clowns coming out of a small car

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How Often Will You Go?

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If you've just retired and want to see America, you might want to get a brand new RV with all the luxuries. If you have a large family and want to be able to get away nearby more cheaply than staying in hotels, you might want a used, but large RV. If you're a young couple happy with roughing it and you want to see America on a dime, a small pop-up might be for you.

But I'm Still Not Sure!

rvs park in a line at a camping site

Image via Pixab​​ay

No worries: try renting. Renting an RV is a great way to test out a few models and get a feel for the lifestyle without committing to buying one. This might also be a good option for you if you only want to take the occasional trip or if you're not comfortable with making your own RV repairs.

Costs to Buy

Costs are hard to estimate unless you know what you want and what the market around you has, but here are some general guidelines:

  • New Class A
  • New class b
  • New class C
class c motorhomes

Basic Model, Average cost is:

$60,000

High-end Average Cost:

$90,000

Luxury High-end Average Cost:

$160,000

  • 5th wheel
  • travel trailer
  • pop-up
  • truck bed
truck bed camper

For a Basic Model:

$3,000

For a High-end Model:

$45,000

Buying Used

If you're buying a used RV, you should do your research to find out the value of what you're looking at, the local market, and someone you can trust to help you go over the engine. Use a resource like JD Power's NADA guide to help you get an idea. (https://www.nadaguides.com/RVs) Remember that if you buy used you're more likely to need to do RV repair soon.

Terms and Slang

If you're still with us at this point, then you either have an RV, or you're planning to get one. Great! Welcome to the club: you're going to love it. To really get on the inside of this exclusive band of brothers and sisters on the road, you'll want to know some of the special terms associated with your exciting new vehicle.

terms and slang

These are just a few of more interesting RV terms. As you get out on the road for yourself, you'll pick up more. You might even add a few of your own over time, not counting the colorful words you invent when you drop a wrench on your tow in the middle of RV repair, of course.

Can You Do RV Repair Yourself?

man repairing the engine

Image Via Pixabay.com

Yes! The bigger question is whether you want to. If you're reading this, then you're probably the take-charge type of individual who likes to get under the car and do it yourself. Let's take a look at the cost of professional RV repairs, some of the more common RV repairs and how to do them, and resources for more complicated issues.

How Much Does It Cost to Get Professional RV Repair?

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There are a lot of factors here. Do you have a warranty? Is the cost of the repair covered still? What is your insurance like? Can you take your time to shop around for a repair shop or is this an emergency on-the-road repair? Here are a few things to know:

Average Hourly Rates

hourly rates

Image Via Pixabay.com

When you're talking about man-hours under your rig, you're looking at nothing less than $130 an hour and up to $200 an hour at a dealership. Dealerships are going to assume that if you can afford to splash out for a rig that big, you can afford some pricey RV repairs.

The pros of using a dealership are speed, expertise with your model, convenience for you while you wait, and assurance that things will be made right if something goes wrong. The downside is, of course, enormous costs and finding a dealership on the road.

If you find a smaller private shop, you can get labor costs more like $70 an hour or even an offer of a flat rate for a fix. This can save you a lot of money, but the big downside here is finding someone trustworthy; especially on the road). You may also have trouble finding someone familiar with your particular model.

Finding the Right Tool for the Job

tools

Image Via: Unplash.com

If your problem is very RV-specific, then you need a professional to do your RV repair if you can't do it yourself. But don't forget that your RV is essentially a rolling home. You wouldn't hire just one person to do everything your home, and you don't need to do that here, either. Even if you know nothing about RVs, think about these questions:

  • ​Is the TV on the fritz? A TV repairman, or you, might be able to fix it
  • ​Did a cabinet fall? Use a carpenter, not an RV repair specialist
  • ​Furniture a mess? Many upholsterers will do your RV as readily as your living room couch.

Think outside the box and you might be able to save a lot.

Shop For Parts

​You might need a professional to do the RV repair, but you might be able to save some money by getting your own parts, especially if you're not in a hurry and know what you need. Be sure to check out Amazon and Camping World, but even local hardware stores, plumbing supply shops, RV salvage stores, and Craigslist could have good deals on parts you need.

One good trick is to look at your local junkyard for wrecked RVs with some parts that are still useable. You'll be able to salvage some good stuff for very little.

Replacement Parts

Things break down: that's just a fact of life. Some things on your RV are more likely to need a repair or replace than others. Here are the most common replacements you'll have to worry about:

Here are some general things to keep in mind:

tire

​TIRES

​$300-$1000 each

idea

​Inverter

​$2,000 +

stairs

​Entry stairs

​$300+

air conditioner

​Air conditioner

​$700+

fridge

​Refrigerator

​$1,000-$2,000

Common RV Repairs You Can Do Yourself

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Even if you're not an electrical whiz, a plumbing expert, or a diesel engine mechanic, you can save yourself some money by doing general repairs. There are some weak points when it comes to RVs just as there are with anything. Keep an eye out for these potential problems and fix them as soon as they appear.

Roof Leaks

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Your roof could be the single most important part of your motorhome structure. Water seeping into the RV is a death knell to all kinds of things inside your vehicle; which is a shame considering the roof gets a lot of abuse. It sits in the sun and rain all the time, and those UV rays and all that moisture can cause problems.

If you've got a leak, the first culprit is usually the sheet metal screws holding roof-mounted objects on and sealing things along the outside edge. These screws might need to be replaced or at least coated with a sealant.

Electrical Issues

light bulb

Image Via Pixabay.com

Your RV's electrical system has both a 120-volt and a 12-volt component. The 12-volt runs off the same battery that starts the engine, or it uses a converter to transform 120-volt power from the generator or hookup into 12-volt power. This is used for some light-weight activities like small lights, vent fans, and turning on the water pump.

Most everything else uses a 120 connection similar to what you'd find in your home. This either comes from the RV's own generator or from a hookup. Your RV has a circuit breaker panel just like the one you find at home. When power goes out, sometimes you just need to check the breakers. Occasionally they'll need to be replaced.

oulet

Image Via Pixabay.com

If just one outlet doesn't work, the problem could be the outlet itself. Clip-over outlets are cheap and easy to throw into an RV. They have a clip that goes over the wire the electricity is running through, cutting the insulation and contacting the wire directly. The jolts and jostles of RV driving eventually cause the clip to jostle out of place and then your outlet doesn't work. You can fix this by getting rid of the cheap clip-on models and replacing them with regular outlets such as you'd find at home.

Plumbing Problems

plumber

Image via Pixabay

​Plumbing problems are no more fun on an RV than they are at home. In fact, they're worse. You don't have much space to deal with things, and whatever is wrong usually has to be fixed instantly.

If you have an older model RV, it might use copper and steel pipes. The problem with these is that they are not forgiving at all when it comes to movement. As your RV travels, these inflexible pipes jostle loose and develop leaks.

Newer models use flexible tubing. Flexible tubing is easy to install and fix, so if you have an older model use flexible tubing every time you need to fix piping. As for fixtures, be aware that most RVs can't use standard home fixtures, so you'll need to source specific RV parts. Fixtures usually use rubber washers, and plumbers tape is as effective in an RV as anywhere else.

Refrigerator

​The refrigerator is one of the key things making your RV the delight that it is. The original fridges tend to last a good long time, largely because they don't have any moving parts. Your fridge might use the 110-volt or the 12-volt electrical system, or it might be powered by LP gas.

There are a couple of common problems with fridges that you can try to tackle on your own:

Imbalance

The cooling fluid in refrigerators needs to be in the right place, meaning fridges need to stay level. If you've been parked on a hill for extended periods, your fridge might have issues. The answer here is simple: either get level or build a little platform that allows your fridge to sit flat even when the rig isn't.

Poor Cooling

The most common cause, believe it or not, will be something blocking the exhaust vent in the roof: usually a wasp or bird nest. Make sure you check this out every time you've let the camper sit for a while.

Dead Fridge

When it comes time to replace your fridge, you don't have to spring for a ridiculously expensive RV model You can get away with a normal freon-burning house fridge. There are just a couple of things to bear in mind. First, they have to be made to work with 30 amp service. Second, they will be bigger. Look for a smaller apartment fridge for the best fit.

Windows and Doors

Anything that moves and opens is more likely to develop an issue. As with the roof, you might find moisture leaking in over time, so you'll need to be able to reseal these. You want quality silicone rubber, and you should check this every year. If you store or travel where it's really cold, get a cold-weather silicone spray to use around all your seals to keep them from cracking.

glass shattering

Image Via Pixabay.com

If you need to replace any glass on your camper, be sure to get glass that's made for moving vehicles. If you go for regular house window glass, you could turn your RV into a mobile horror flick when all flexes en route and the glass shatters.

The RV Tool Kit

Don't head out for the open road—and a remote campsite—without the essential tools you need to ensure you can make any emergency repairs. Here's what every RV tool kit needs to have:

Duct Tape

There's literally nothing you can't fix with duct tape. Tape up the roof, wrap a leaky pipe, or tape the kids' iPad to the side of the motorhome when they won't stop arguing about whose turn it is to pick the next movie.

Gorilla Glue

This stuff is like liquid magic. If a bit of flooring come up, glue it back down. If something starts to rattle, glue it down. Gorilla glue is genuinely amazing.

Folding Step Ladder

Many RVs come with one of these, but if yours didn't, go buy one before you finish reading this sentence. No, wait. Keep reading. THEN go buy one.

Drill and Bit Set

​If you bring along your drill, don't forget to bring along your drill bit set. Get the big one. The last thing you want is to be unable to find that one bit you desperately need.

Adjustable Wrench

Make sure your wrench will open up to accommodate the largest thing you'll need to tighten on your hitch. If you have a motorized RV without a hitch, you can get away with a smaller one: but you still need one.

Caulking Gun and Silicone

We've already covered how disastrous leaks can be. If you spring a leak while you're in the middle of nowhere, in a driving rainstorm in the middle of the night, the caulking gun will save your life. Or at least your sleep.

Odd-Bins

Every home has that plastic container holding an enormous variety of mismatched screws, nuts, and bolts. Every RV should have one, too.

Great Jack

​Your jack needs to be able to hold up about 20 tons if you've got a really big RV. If you have a jack, you can replace a tire yourself rather than having to find a repair place.

Air Compressor and Gun

air compressor

Image Via Pixabay.com

​Have you ever tried to maneuver an RV around a gas station parking lot to get to the air-fill station? If you haven't, you don't want to. Ever. It's hard enough just getting the gas.

You can get air compressor models these days that will plug right into any car's 12-volt charger; and they come in handy if you have bike tires or balls you need to fill up, too.

Avoiding RV Repairs: Maintenance Tips

Some RV repairs will be inevitable, but there's a lot you can avoid if you keep up with basic maintenance.

rv maintenance infographic

Tips and Tricks for the Perfect Ride Every Time

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It's what we all want: a smooth ride with no hitches and an amazing vacation. Here are some tips for getting just that.

  • ​Use a milk crate to keep your propane tanks upright while you're traveling
  • ​Replace all the lights with LEDs to eke out lots of extra power
  • ​Always check tire pressure before a trip
  • ​Turn off the breaker before you hook up at the campsite, just in case
  • ​In storage, put a tennis ball or similar object between wiper blades and windshield, to prevent deforming
  • ​Clean out fresh water tank with one cup of bleach and half a tank of fresh water periodically
  • ​Add fuel stabilizer when you're going to store the RV for a while
  • ​Make sure you know how much you weight fully loaded, to avoid too much pressure on tires
  • ​Always replace the oil on time
  • ​Occasionally make sure heel lug nuts are at the right torque
  • ​Put peppermint oil all over cotton balls and put them all around and under the RV to discourage mice
  • ​Open up the awning after a nice rain and let it dry out
  • ​Install an adjustable water regulator with a sight gage to protect plumbing
  • ​Store with the fridge door slightly open, so mold and mildew stay away
  • ​Always use RV toilet paper or Scott one-ply to prevent clogs
  • ​Check your fire extinguisher before every trip
  • ​When backing up, always check for tree branches that can damage the top

Resources for the RV Enthusiast

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If you love to RV, here are some websites you have to be on:

For DIY Enthusiasts:

https://www.rverscorner.com/
https://www.rvrepairclub.com/
http://www.doityourselfrv.com/category/rv-guide/rv-repair-upgrade/
https://www.rvpartsnation.com/

For the Road Warriors:

http://rvlife.com/rv-park-reviews-rv-life-app-2/
https://koa.com/campgrounds/estes-park/reviews/rv-camping-sites/
http://www.rvforum.net/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&layout=blog&id=123

Get Out There

Well, here you are at the end. You've got to be dedicated to the RV lifestyle: if you haven't already gotten the perfect RV, it's time. If you've got one but haven't been getting the most out of it, it's time.

rv park on a starry night

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

​There's something special about motorhomes and the people who use them. The open road and the most beautiful places in America are calling to you. Now that you know how to keep your rig in good shape, it's time to answer that call.

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