Monday, October 18, 2021


When boondocking, do you have a backup plan if something fails in the RV?

By Dave Helgeson
Self-reliance is part of the attraction for many who RV: the ability to go where you want, when you want, taking care of your own needs along the way. Self-reliant RVers have no problem camping without hookups. Many enjoy the benefits and a bit of pride conquering the challenges that come with surviving off the grid. However, the perfect RV has yet to be created and things can and do go awry.

Regardless if you are boondocking in a distant desert, dry camping in a remote forest service campground, or spending a night in the Walmart parking lot, you need a backup plan when something in the RV fails to function.

Here are some critical areas:

Power: If you lose the 12-volt battery supply in most any RV, you are done camping. In most cases juice from your batteries is needed to power your furnace, refrigerator circuits, water heater ignition, water pump and overhead lights. Needless to say, if you lose all of these functions, you might as well be camping in a tent! However, with a backup plan in place you can continue to utilize your RV until repairs can be made.

Here are a couple of places where you can tap 12 volts when needed:

1) From the alternator of your motorhome or tow vehicle. If in doubt on how to get power from one to the other internally, use jumper cables from battery to battery just like jumping a car.

2) Many generators are equipped with a 12-volt outlet. Know in advance if yours has this feature and if you have the required cables to use it.

3) Many RVers travel with their off-road toys (ATV, motorcycle, etc). Most operate via a 12-volt electrical system and could be used as a poor man’s generator in a pinch.

Heat: If your furnace fails due to running out of propane or there is a component failure, do you have a backup plan for heat? A small electric heater powered by a generator, or better yet, an approved indoor-use catalytic heater, can get you through a chilly night when the furnace goes kaput.

Water: What if your water pump fails? How will you extract water from your water tank? Install a faucet or petcock on your fresh water tank drain and let gravity do the work. You can use a bucket of water to flush the toilet, heat water on the stove, put water in a basin for washing, etc.

If you are properly prepared and have a plan, a self-reliant RVer can handle just about any system failure.



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1 year ago

As time goes by, we are accumulating spare parts to replace things that have failed. We have a “dead space” behind a blank panel in our bathroom where we store a spare water pump, faucets, fittings, bulbs. We recently had a window latch fail…not a biggie…but the manufacturer sent a replacement under warranty, and I asked if I could buy a spare in case it happened again, and they graciously sent two window latches for free. The spare went into the “dead space” storage area. Since we always intended to be set up for boondocking, we have a generator, solar, water jugs to carry water to camp, etc. My wife and I have done a lot of tent camping in the past, so anything inside four solid walls is a bonus. We still carry a Coleman “white gas” lantern, and an old Ray-O-Vac battery powered fluorescent on board. Not just for practicality sake, but I like the nostalgia aspect as well.

Bill P
1 year ago

Our “outdoor galley” includes a 12v water pump and a 15gal HDPE water barrel for washing dishes, cooking, etc. (conserves fresh water in the RV for bathing, coffee, flushing, etc) I use the same pump as the RV fresh water pump. In the event of a failure, I can swap it out in a matter of minutes.
Similarly the battery for that pump could be used in a pinch but frankly, I don’t see battery failure as unforeseeable. If you do regular battery maintenance, you should recognize a battery approaching its end of life and have ample opportunity to replace them before it becomes a crisis.
There are a handful of “regular” failure components in RV refrigerators. High temp burner shutdown relays and thermocouples for instance. Often times the relay “hangs up” and can be reset with a magnet. Norcold and Dometic seem to have their lists of “usual suspects.” For under $50 you can have spares on hand.
Onan generators: Carry a spare fuel pump, filter, oil filter, low oil pressure shutdown switch

1 year ago

we carry a goal zero yeti with portable solar as part of our back up plan. We also have several solar lights.

1 year ago

Thank you. Good ideas for any RV’er.

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