By Russ and Tiña De Maris
When working out the “hows” and “what ifs” of full-timing, most prospective full-timers focus on costs like fuel, RV park fees, and the how-to of keeping up with medical. One person thinking about the lifestyle had a provocative question: What kind of costs will I have in keeping up the RV?
Sticks-and-bricks homes all have their points of long-term care: reroofing, new flooring, appliances that go belly-up. What about long-term care of an RV? After all, not everyone will have the financial resources (nor necessarily the desire) to replace their full-timing RV every few years. What might you expect to “go wrong” if you keep the same rig for a decade or two?
Here are a few things to plan for:
Tires: Good for perhaps seven years, even if you don’t drive too much. Most RV tires need to be replaced because of weathering while they still have plenty of tread left.
Roofing: While your sticks-and-bricks may need a new set of “3-tab asphalt shingles,” happily, a well-maintained RV roof can last a good while. Metal- or fiberglass-roofed RVs can practically go forever, while EPDM rubber roofs need far more care. Manufacturers will swear your roof should last ten years – yeah, maybe. Our experience shows coating it with Heng’s Rubber Roof Coating can buy time. Regular maintenance of all seals is a MUST.
Appliances: While a propane range may last forever, microwave ovens, refrigerators, furnaces, water heaters, and air conditioners don’t. We’ve replaced “RV” microwave ovens with low-cost alternatives from big box stores. Water heaters need regular maintenance to prevent the need for total replacement. Furnaces – well, our “park trailer” furnace ate a motor, but in our other rigs, we often don’t use a factory furnace but put in a “blue flame”-style heater. Costs a lot less to feed, and less moving parts to poop out. Air conditioners can’t be “recharged,” and if a major component goes, plan on a full replacement.
RV refrigerators are an Achilles heel. Run off level, absorption refrigerators (the most common in RVs) can terminally clog up. Even with care, cooling units can go south. Before you buy a “new” refrigerator, ask about the comparative cost of replacing a cooling unit. If you’re good at do-it-yourself, you’ll find replacing your own cooling unit much less expensive than a new ‘fridge.
Flooring: Carpets wear out, and if it’s a color that shows dirt, RV carpet can look shabby in a hurry. We replaced our original carpets in a 1980s era fifth wheel with a Pergo-like laminate and loved it. Happily the small footprint of an RV translates into less expense than replacing a whole “house full” of carpet in a sticks-and-bricks home.
RV peculiar stuff: Plan on investing in new roof vent “covers,” or lids. The UV will eat them up, and they’ll crack and subsequently leak. It’s an easy do-it-yourself project – if you don’t mind heading up on the roof. Less than $20 each if you shop around.
We’ve had some problems with crank-up TV antennas, sometimes the gears catch and chew themselves up; occasionally UV will eat away at the coaxial cable, ruining the signal, usually at the point in the whodunit when you’ll learn whodidit.
Drive train: If your rig is a motorhome, you’ll have all the things that your car does that can go wrong. Alternators, radiators, fuel pumps, all those little costly trinkets that bring a smile to a mechanic. Keep the oil changed, do your maintenance, and set aside money. The same is true for those that tow their full-time home around.
How does it break down? If you’re the kind of person who likes to stay on top of maintenance in your ground-based home, and carry that spirit over to your full-time rig, it’s likely that living in a full-time RV will actually cost you less than keeping up a mid-sized home. And you won’t need to worry about mowing the grass. One of the happiest days of my life was when I threw out the lawn mower.