Thursday, October 6, 2022


Is this the year to get handy?

By Greg Illes
When I was nine years old, I took apart my uncle’s vacuum cleaner. He didn’t like that much – so I put it back together. He was astonished that it still worked … better.

Later, I became an engineer, hobbyist, tinkerer and fix-it man. “Opa can fix anything,” say my grandkids. So please, take it with a grain of salt when I say that there is never any better time for RVers to get handy – or maybe just handy-er. Yes, I’m biased, but let me make my case…

It’s almost too obvious: Doing it yourself (DIY) incurs no hourly wage. A few band-aids and some Neosporin are typically my only expenses besides parts and the occasional new tool. (Well, okay, maybe a little more than occasional.) Hourly shop rates across the country range from $100–$150, so even if we DIY-types take twice as long to get a job done, we’re still making pretty good money.

Being able to fix your own rig, on the spot, is extraordinarily relaxing – especially by comparison to making a service appointment and arranging for where to stay while the service is taking place. In addition, you’ll typically spend far less time living with the problem (whatever it is) when you deal with it as soon as it’s noticed.

We have to face facts: Even with those high shop rates, there is still a lot of poor service to be had. A stranger in a strange land is throwing darts when picking an RV shop. Some are good, some aren’t. Is DIY work always great? Of course not. But the cost of a redo is low, and you can bet it’ll be right the next time.

With the astronomical rise in RVs in recent years, not only the campgrounds are booked full. Service shops sometimes are swamped, months in advance. It’s no secret that many shops are deluged simply with the work needed to make brand-new rigs work right. In short, you simply may not be able to find any help at any price.

Reduced angst. Satisfaction. Being a hero to your traveling partner(s). Learning new skills, maybe even helping others. Perhaps most importantly: When you are working on your rig, you are likely to see (and take care of) odd little quirks or glitches that an “employee” might skip over. A better, more reliable rig will result.

Some folks are born with it, some have to learn it. There’s nobody out there that can’t figure out how to hold a screwdriver. A human teacher/mentor is invaluable, but forums, websites like this one, and YouTube can provide an immense amount of information.

If you’re new at “handy-ing”, take baby steps and don’t get yourself in trouble. Err on the side of caution, but don’t be afraid to make small mistakes. Buy tools you need, and understand how to use them; avoid the poor-quality “kits” and buy decent tools. When you’re first learning, size your jobs appropriately – replacing a fridge cooling unit is probably too grand a goal, but swapping out light fixtures for LED units might be well within your grasp.

There are those among us who just don’t want to embrace this part of life. I understand, and sympathize. For me, it’s plants and dirt and watering that send me running. NOT for me. So if getting handy just ain’t gonna be your thing, that’s still cool. You have probably learned by now (or will soon) where the reliable service shops are, or who are the folks in the campground who’ll trade chores with you.

Regardless of who fixes it or when, be sure to exercise the diligence to always keep your rig in good shape and proper operating condition. It’ll be safer that way, and you and your brood will be happy campers.

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his excellent blog at



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Thom Ritter
2 years ago

Lifetime mechanic here. I probably carry too many tools in the basement storage…
Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
I can’t imagine how folks could own an RV and not be able to fix things. What a helpless feeling it must be.
I had to replace a gear pack in the slideout once in Deadwood SD. Had a 55 gal barrel trash can under the slideout to get the weight off while I worked. The campground manager came by in her golf cart, “I can move that trash can for you!” I said no thanks, I’m fixing it. She was really surprised, guess she never saw anyone work on their own rig.
Btw, found a new gear pack in nearby Sturgis, $120 and a couple hours time and I was done.

Rory R
3 years ago

At my age 74, I’m more interested in being on the road in my RV, rather than under it. Ive never been the handiest tool in the box, when it comes to mechanical things. I know quite a bit about electrical systems, and I worked in IT from the time it was called DP until I retired (30 yrs). I keep an eye out for telltale signs of something that is about to go wrong, I do simple maintenance tasks. But I have a list of shops and mechanics I can trust and those are the folks who do the heavy lifting. I’ve been FT’ing for 5 years now, and I guess I’m one of the lucky ones, haven’t had to do any major repairs at all, yet. Not everybody is blessed with a natural mechanical ability.

Scott Ellis
3 years ago

We are birds of a feather, Mr. Illes. I’ll fix just about anything that breaks on my camper, and a lot of things that *aren’t* broken, too. But gardening? Hard labor in the hot sun and the mud and the bugs and what you get is *vegetables*? No thanks! 😀

Hubert Rosch
3 years ago

I followed a similar path as Greg Illes. Took apart the engine on my father’s lawnmower at age 9. His only comment was “it better be ready to cut grass on Saturday “. It was! I also became a mechanical engineer and lifelong DIYer. Retired and bought my Class A 1-1/2 years ago and love doing projects on her. Have done suspension upgrades, digital thermostats, water softener install and more. But more important it keeps me in touch with all the systems so I can spot problems before they become issues. I know it’s not for everyone but it sure keeps me in the road with a smile.

Dick Carlson
3 years ago

It would be good, when discussing “DIY”, to include some of the downside. I have very little mechanical ability (two older brothers got all of that). It’s not unusual for me to tackle a simple project and wire it backwards (blowing up a computer chip), leave it leaking sewage, or having the furnace fail on the coldest night.

Also — there are many parts of your rig (gas, plumbing, electrical) where an innocent error by a rookie can result in destruction or even deaths. And insurance companies love to deny claims for “owner-modified” problems.

As Clint Eastwood said, “Sometimes a man’s gotta know his limitations.”

3 years ago

It’s not how well you do the work but how well you hide your mistakes

Joe Goldstein
3 years ago

I, like you, have always had a knack for fixing things, while my brother has to hire someone to replace a lightbulb (almost!) I get lots of enjoyment trouble-shooting problems, as well as the satisfaction from a completed job. The only problem DIY projects cause is sometimes it takes me a while to get started, and had I hired someone, the job would have been completed much sooner.

Thomas Becher
3 years ago

I’ve never paid anyone to do anything on my Rv. A!most but when I was going to have to wait 2weeks to get in I decided to fix it myself. New toilet, roof skirting after tires tire it off. Hydraulic brakes, Fantastic Fan,broken slide mechanism. If it needed doing, I did it. I guess I’ve been blessed with the gift of knowledge and cheapness.
When I bought my new camper there where things wrong with it that where not apparent (delivery was in early March and things were frozen and broken as the unit was not properly winterized. I called the dealer,told him what was required to fix it and got the ok to fix it myself. I billed them $115 an hour( their rate) and parts. Got it done right .

Ken Taylor
3 years ago

DYI work is not always enjoyable but the satisfaction of getting it completed on time is. We were parked for a week a few years ago and a ceiling fan motor died. I removed the fan, found a replacement on line and had it replaced in a couple days. I’ve replaced the carpet in the bathroom with linoleum and installed an ADA height toilet. I also replaced the furnace fan motor which saved a huge bill for a complete furnace at a repair shop. A DYI repair does save money with the added benefit of satisfaction of a finished project that looks just as nice, and many times better, than what you would pay for by the “experts”.

Carl Schulz
3 years ago

I have been searching the web – do you have any recommendations on learning how to do it yourself? I have not been successful at finding on-line training for RV repair and maintenance.

I can rebuild your computer – but have never done much automotive or mechanical repairs. Looking for a good foundation to start.

Bob p
2 years ago
Reply to  Carl Schulz

You Tube

3 years ago

I agree wholeheartedly. I am on my second RV and,other than new tires, have never paid someone else to work on them.
I get a lot of satisfaction working on the rig and it even gets done the way it should be (of course this opinion is slightly biased).
Although I have the same problem Wolfe does……where do I carry all those tools?

Tommy Molnar
3 years ago

” A few band-aids and some Neosporin are typically my only expenses”. ALL my DIY jobs require band-aids and Neosporin!

3 years ago

People are funny about allocating funds… I’ve seen people scrimp to save a dime on groceries, but not flinch hiring a $20K kitchen remodel. Money is money! For almost any job, I can buy premium tools, do it wrong once or twice to learn, do it a final time EXACTLY how I want it, and STILL pay less than hiring the job. And I keep the tools. The only downside for RVers might be where to keep all those “free” tools, which is where renting/borrowing tools might apply.

And yeah, nothing beats having the knowledge and tools when you or a neighbor need something fixed *today.*

3 years ago
Reply to  Wolfe

My father taught me, which I have passed on to my sons, that I should always buy premium tools. Then I will never have to buy them again in my lifetime.

Bob p
2 years ago
Reply to  Gary

My first saw was a Craftsman Saber saw that was in Jan.1970, I’ve replaced the switch about 10 years ago, I’m going to replace the motor brushes this year. Original price was $23.99 on sale which was quite a bit then, but when amortized over 50 years it was dirt cheap.

Linda Kay
3 years ago
Reply to  Wolfe

My mother always said, “Your money is only worth what you spend it on.” Everybody has their priorities, whether they will admit it or not.