Is this the year to get handy?

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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…

COST
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.

CONVENIENCE
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.


QUALITY
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.

AVAILABILITY
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.

EXTRAS
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.

BUT … HOW?
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.

“IT’S JUST NOT FOR ME”
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.

KEEP IT RIGHT
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 www.divver-city.com/blog

##RVT891


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Rory R
Rory R

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… Read more »

Scott Ellis
Scott Ellis

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
Hubert Rosch

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… Read more »

Dick Carlson
Dick Carlson

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… Read more »

Edward
Edward

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

Joe Goldstein
Joe Goldstein

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
Thomas Becher

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… Read more »

Ken Taylor
Ken Taylor

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… Read more »

Carl Schulz
Carl Schulz

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.

Corkey
Corkey

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
Tommy Molnar

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

Wolfe
Wolfe

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… Read more »

Gary
Gary

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.

Linda Kay
Linda Kay

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.