Friday, May 1, 2015

RV breakdowns on the road

Before they even hit the road, RVers worry about what happens if their RV or tow vehicle breaks down, far away from their familiar repair shops. It’s a legitimate worry.

Basically, repair shops can be a crap shoot. Some are good, others are rip-offs. In 15 months on the road, we’ve had experience with both types. A couple of times, we’ve had the luxury of asking locals for recommendations, while other times we had to settle for the first repair shop that came along.

We encountered a great example of good service in Cedar City, Utah. The truck started having problems as we neared Cedar City on Interstate 15. We stopped at a Love’s truck stop; the clerk recommended Rolling Rubber and gave directions to find it. We pulled in there. A mechanic stopped what he was doing, quickly diagnosed and repaired the problem, and we were on our way in less than 30 minutes. He refused to accept payment for the parts or his labor.

In this day of big box stores and online shopping, finding a business that provides this high level of customer service is extraordinary; it is even more extraordinary when a business goes out of its way for customers who are just passing through.

Contrast this with the repair service we received at an RV dealership in a small Arizona town. A water pipe broke and flooded the bedroom. The shop billed us more than $100 to fix the pipe. A week later, the leak was back. It turned out the repair shop had only taped the broken piece back together. This time, Jon fixed it himself with an 89-cent part he got at a hardware store.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that sooner or later you’re going to have breakdowns on the road. There are, however, a few things you can do to make the experience less painful.

One, if your RV is new or less than five years old, buy a maintenance service contract, either from the dealer or someplace else. These are expensive; ours cost $1,500 for five years, so we thought seriously about spending that much money when we bought our trailer. We’re glad we did; the first repair bill was $2,300, but our cost was only $100. So far, repair costs total more than $6,000, but we’ve only paid out $400.

Which brings us to No. 2: be prepared to make simple repairs yourself. Jon’s changed three of the overhead lights in the trailer; replaced a circuit breaker by upgrading it from 20 amps to 30 amps so we could use the microwave and the air conditioner at the same time, and fixed a broken toilet, among other things. When we were in Yuma, one of the parts guys at the RV Super Center was a whiz at diagnosing problems based on Jon’s explanation of what he thought was wrong. He knew the parts we needed as well as any special tools it took to do the repair. (Jon brought along about half his tools, so he’d have what he needed if our scooters or truck broke down, but some just wouldn’t work on the trailer.)

Three, get a roadside assistance plan. You can get these through your vehicle/RV insurance company, but they may limit you on dollar amount or the distance towed. We have Good Sam’s roadside assistance, and it’s been a godsend. You get five service calls a year for $79 plus Good Sam membership. We used it three times the first year, including for one tow that would have cost us $700. We’ve also used it when we ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, had a flat tire and no spare, and got locked out of the truck, with spare keys in the trailer, which was a hundred miles away.

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