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Ashley Mann spent three years living full time in a 38-foot, 5th-wheel RV with her husband Josiah and their cat, Kitty. Her favorite thing about RV life is the challenge of finding the perfect way to organize a space, and she loves seeing all the creative and clever ways people come up with to customize their RVs.
When my husband Josiah and I bought our 2008 Keystone Everest fifth wheel in 2016 and began our full time RV life, we knew next to nothing about RVs. Although we had toured quite a few of them at local RV lots, our eyes would sort of glaze over whenever the sales person would open the storage bay and start talking about the technical features. We knew we wanted something that was rated for four season living, but other than that, the most important thing to us was our RV's floor plan. (And after two years of RV ownership, the floor plan is STILL just as important to me!)
The only RV “training” we got was a quick crash course from the original owner who sold us the camper when he dropped it off at the mobile home park where we were going to be living in it and helped us set up for the first time. Although our RV had been well cared for by its former owners, at 8 years old it was starting to show its age. Already the previous owners had needed to replace the refrigerator and the electric fireplace. And by the end of our first week of RV ownership, we were well initiated into the world of RV maintenance.
In this blog post, instead of showing off beautiful interior decor or sharing nifty organization hacks, I wanted to give you a realistic look at what it can be like to own and live in an RV by sharing with you everything that has needed to be replaced or repaired since we bought our RV. So, in chronological order….
1. Air Conditioner
When we bought our RV, we had it delivered to Kansas City, KS, where we were planning to move, but we still lived in Springfield, MO. After a week or two of driving back and forth so that we could paint the RV interior and get it ready to move into, we finally closed on our house, loaded up a moving truck, drove all our stuff to Kansas City…and came “home” to a camper that was 97° inside.
That week had been the hottest of the whole summer with temperatures soaring over 100° F every day, and a breaker had blown. We reset the breaker and thought all was well, but a few days later, the 8-year-old air conditioner stopped working completely.
Since we didn't own a truck (and still don't yet), driving our RV to a repair shop wasn't an option, but thankfully we were able to find an excellent mobile mechanic company, Athena Coachworks, that was able to come out the day after we called. We booked a hotel for a couple of nights, and just a few days later our mechanic had our brand new air conditioner up and running. And the whole episode only cost us less than $300 out of pocket and zero labor on our part.
See, when the previous RV owner dropped off our camper, he handed me a policy for a Good Sam Extended Service Plan, and said, “I think you can probably transfer this to your name if you want.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I was definitely thankful for that policy a few weeks later! I called Good Sam, and since the policy was still active it covered all the parts and labor on our air conditioner replacement after a $200 deductible plus parts shipping and 50% of the fee for the service call. I had the policy switched to our name right away.
A few months after we had moved into our RV, we started noticing that at random times our interior lights would start flickering. Eventually we also noticed a faint humming sound that would pulse along with the flicker of the lights. It only happened occasionally at first, so we just ignored it until it stated happening more and more frequently. Then one day while it was happening I followed my ears to the source of the sound and realized it was coming from the cabinet behind our breaker box. I removed the panel and saw a small machine (our converter, but I didn't know that at the time) with a fan that was turning off and on. Every time the fan stopped, the lights would dim.
If you're a seasoned RV owner or mechanic, you may be slapping your forehead at my ignorance of what was happening, but at the time I had no clue how an RV electrical system worked (okay, to be honest, it's still not my best subject!). I called our mobile mechanic, and he told me that our converter was what allowed our RV to run on shore power (by converting 110 AC shore power to 12 Volt DC that powers our cabin lights and other electrical components), and that since it was going bad, turning off and on, whenever it turned off we were just running on whatever battery power we had left, which was why our lights were dimmer. A few days later we had a brand new converter, installed by a professional electrician, and were only $250 or so poorer.
3. Black Tank Gate Valve
This was one repair I am very thankful we didn't have to do ourselves! When we bought our RV, our black tank gate valve was difficult to open and close, and it became progressively more difficult until one day it broke.
Fortunately it was stuck open and not closed, because our mechanic (understandably) wasn't about to remove a gate valve from a full holding tank on location, but he was more than willing to replace the gate valve on an empty tank.
In addition to the smelly nature of the project, this was in the middle of winter, and our gate valve wasn't easy to access, being located under the center of the RV inside an enclosed underbelly. Once again, I am glad we were able to affordably pay someone else to do this repair.
4. Toilet pedal
A few days after we bought our RV, we noticed a sewage smell coming up out of the toilet which was stinking up the bathroom and bedroom. We knew this wasn't normal, and after a little research we determined that the source of the problem was that our toilet's ball valve wasn't closing completely whenever we were flushing. We started “flushing harder” by yanking our foot off the pedal quickly so that the ball valve would slam shut and seal fully, and this solved the problem of the smell. We just had to explain how to flush to all of our house guests.
Then one day, one of our house guests came out of the bathroom and apologetically said, “I think I broke your toilet.” I said, “No it's fine, you just have to flush extra hard,” and went to help, but discovered that, actually, the pedal was no longer working properly. I guess it had been slammed shut one too many times, because the spring was broken, and the only way to close the ball valve was by pulling up on the pedal.
Now this is a repair that actually wouldn't have been too difficult for us to do on our own. I watched the repair tech who did it, and it basically just involved knowing how to use a screw driver. But, we went ahead and had our mechanic fix it while he was at our house fixing something else that was broken: our washing machine.
5. Washer/dryer Combo Machine
The converter replacement wasn't the end of our electrical woes. One day, I noticed again that our lights were dim and we seemed to be running off of battery. I went outside to check our shore power connection and discovered our electrical cord hanging partway unplugged from the pedestal. I have no idea how this happened; my best guess is that it was accidentally pulled out a little when it was moved by the people who had mowed our lawn that day.
I plugged it firmly back in, and thought nothing of it until I went to use our Nespresso coffee machine and it wouldn't turn on. Then at some point not too long after, I noticed that our beloved Splendide washer/dryer combo unit (That model seems to no longer be available–here’s the latest model from Splendide.) wouldn't turn on either.
I Googled the problem, and found that our electronics had likely been damaged by a low voltage situation, and in fact I was lucky that in a house full of computers and electronic musical equipment, those were the only electronics that had been damaged.
Although we ended up having to just replace our coffee maker, our mobile mechanic was able to repair the motherboard on our washing machine and got it working perfectly again, and amazingly, Good Sam covered the repair. I thought surely this one wouldn't be covered since the washer/dryer unit wasn't original to the RV, but it was. (Maybe it shouldn't have been and we just got lucky? I'm not sure, but I'm not complaining either!)
The big lesson I learned from this experience was how important it is to have an EMS surge protector that not only protects from power surges, but protects from low voltage situations as well. The sad thing was that I had already been shopping for one, but hadn't yet ordered it! I ordered this one from Progressive Industries right away after this incident.
6. Shower glass
This one is crazy. One day I was laying in bed taking an afternoon nap, when all of a sudden I heard the loudest crash in the bathroom. I ran in to see what it was, and one of the tempered glass panels of our shower had randomly shattered!
There wasn't anything going on at the time that I could see would have caused it to happen, and the RV hadn't moved for close to a year, so I am not sure what caused it to happen, but my best guess is that it may have been because our RV was slightly un-level and was putting extra pressure on the shower frame. Unfortunately, this issue is not covered by my Good Sam extended warranty, so I taped up a piece of clear vinyl cut from a shower curtain as a temporary fix (that I'm still using months later….) until I get around to having the glass replaced.
7. Hot Water Heater
One day when I was in the kitchen, I noticed that the carpet in front of our stove was soaking wet. Since it had rained recently, I immediately suspected a leak in the slide. I went outside and examined the slide seals and saw that some of them were folded in, so I ran something flat under them to pull them all out so they were pointing the way they were supposed to, went inside and put down a bunch of towels, and hoped I had fixed the problem. But the floor stayed wet.
So once again, I called our mobile mechanics from Athena Coachworks (who we knew quite well by this time!). They came out and troubleshooted (troubleshot?) the problem and discovered that it wasn't a leak in our slide but that our hot water heater was broken and leaking and would have to be replaced.
I had been kind of hoping to eventually replace our 12-gallon hot water heater with a tankless, on-demand water heater, but our Good Sam policy would only pay for replacing it with the same kind as the one we had before, so since we didn't have any extra money to spend on a water heater at that time, nor did we want to wait on one to be ordered, we went ahead and got the kind we had before (which, admittedly, was a lot nicer than a lot of smaller capacity RV hot water heaters).
The good thing was, since replacing the hot water heater, I have never once run out of hot water while taking a shower, where with old hot water heater I would run out after about 12 minutes, even after replacing our shower head with an Oxygenics shower head.
After the new hot water heater was installed, I also had our mechanic explain to me what regular maintenance it needed, and how to do it. This information is available on YouTube as well, but it's always nice to have someone show you in person.
Unfortunately, our kitchen floor developed a soft spot after this incident, and that repair is not covered by our extended service plan. We were wanting to replace our flooring at some point anyway though.
That probably sounds like a lot of stuff to go wrong in just two years of RV ownership! Every time something would go wrong, we were reminded that we live in a vehicle. Vehicles need regular maintenance, and over time they break down and need to be repaired–especially when you are living full time in something that was really only designed for short-term use.
Many RV owners do all their own repairs, either because they have more mechanical experience than we do or because they want to save money so they just learn to do the things that need to be done as they come up.
But in both of the first two years we owned our RV, the amount of money we saved on parts and repairs covered by our extended service plan was more than the cost of our policy's annual premium. So when we add up the cost and factor that in with the peace of mind that comes from having our repairs done (quickly!) by a professional, we feel paying for an extended RV warranty and having our repairs done by a mechanic is worth it.
However, there are other good after market RV warranty companies out there as well, and before deciding on an RV warranty, I would suggest shopping around to see which one offers the best coverage for the price. One company that can help make this process a little easier is WholesaleWarranties.com. They partner with several RV warranty companies (including Good Sam), so if you request a quote from them, they can do the cost and coverage comparison for you and help you find the best deal for your specific situation.
One thing I hope you take away from reading about my experience is that even if you aren't the mechanically-minded, DIY type, you don't have to buy a brand new RV in order to have your camper or motorhome covered by a warranty. You also don't have to feel intimidated by all of the things that can go wrong with an RV. There is definitely a learning curve involved, but there are also lots of resources and people to help you when things go wrong.
If owning or even living in an RV is your dream, you can definitely make it happen! (And, knowing a good mechanic and having an extended RV warranty can make it a little bit easier!)