Mr. Fix-It

57

By Greg Illes

Some folks are handy, and some others – maybe not so much. Personally, I’m the handy type. In fact I’m so handy that it sometimes can be more of a hindrance than a benefit. “Opa can fix anything,” is the mantra of my grandkids, so when it breaks, fix it I must (even if it’s not worth fixing).

I’ve lost count of the number of busted medieval swords, party balloons, and cheap plastic toys that I’ve patched up in one way or another. I’m familiar with adhesives, welding, electronics, metals, soldering, and plastics, and sometimes it takes all my skills to make a $2.95 gewgaw get operational again. But it keeps the kids smiling, and it keeps my aging OCD hands and brain busy.

On my RV, there are so many things that need fixing, or just routine maintenance, you’d think that I’d get tired of working on it. Well, yes, I do occasionally need a break. But in general, I just love working on the beast.

I don’t think my RV is any more problem-prone than any other. It’s a reputedly reliable name-brand and has the typical assortment of constituent components: engine and chassis, body, appliances, plumbing, electrical. Basically, a broad spectrum of things ready to break.

2016-02-19_MrFixIt-1Being handy means that I don’t have to depend on others to get me out of trouble when something goes wrong. But I’ve noticed that things do go wrong, on a fairly regular basis. (And no, it’s not because I’ve been inexpertly fiddling with them.) I carry a fair assortment of tools and parts with me (far more than the simple kit in the picture), and I’ve often put them to good use.

So here’s my quandary: Every time I fix some odd or end, I always wonder what a non-handy RV owner would do? Over the years, I’ve met quite a few people who hardly know which end of a screwdriver to hold onto. How do they cope?

Well, really, what are the choices? You either live with the fault, or you pay, and these days I mean PAY. The shop rates here in central California are over $120 per hour, and it can take many, many hours to remedy some RV problems.

Well, I’ve known for a long time that very few RV owners are “wealthy,” so how do they get their rig’s little foibles fixed up? I honestly don’t know for sure. I’m thinking that most people are simply forced to act handy, whether they can live up to the demand or not. After all, who would curtail a vacation, drive hundreds of miles to an RV service center, and wait days or weeks – just to get a leaky faucet fixed? I have to believe that most would tackle the job themselves.

Now UPGRADES – that’s an entirely different story. This is optional work. These don’t have to be done, and the rig runs fine without changing over to digital tank gauges, or quad shock absorbers, or having a high-power inverter installation to run the microwave. My fondest projects are upgrades, and I’ve done way more than my share over the last several years.

For the non-handy, upgrades are simply going to cost a lot of cash, and have to be carefully considered. Ah, but for us handy types, upgrades are a labor of pure joy, saving money and enhancing “the beast” for the betterment of all mankind. Okay, maybe that’s too enthusiastic <grin>. Let’s just leave it at “for the better.”

So what’s YOUR category? Do you DIY, or pay through the nose, or somewhere in between?

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. 

##RVT803 ##RVDT1349

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Richard Hubert
1 month ago

Good article. Having owned and lived in a Class A since 2016 I often wonder how many owners cope with maintenance and repair of their rigs. Not that I have had many serious problems, but I have found it tremendously helpful to learn about and maintain all the various systems on our RV.

For example – I have found that many are terribly ignorant about their RV electrical systems. Very few seem to comprehend how and why there are both 12v DC and 120v AC systems on their RV, complicated by the ability to have multiple inputs and how to manage all that. Add in all the complexities of chassis systems and maintenance, and then all the systems and appliances for the house – I wonder how some cope with all that. It appears that many do not even regularly check something as critical as their tire pressures before driving off every day. Almost none ever check the electrolyte levels on their lead-acid batteries.

I would classify myself as a full-fledged DYIer – partly by past experience and a lot out of necessity. By that I mean – I think (unfortunately ) that there are many so-called RV techs who really do not know what they are doing, but are more than willing to ream customers while they waste time trying to understand something – so they usually just start replacing parts – hoping that one will fix the issue. I have learned – mostly from past automotive experience – that to resolve many technical issues that very often cleaning, lubrication and proper re-assembly fixes things. Very rarely have I ever found a really defective or worn out component. But most techs were not trained about the importance of using a good grease (for example) in preventing water incursion or to prevent corrosion on an electrical connection. They mostly appear to only want to replace parts – at a very high cost.

It just seem that many RV owners just go ahead until something goes wrong. If minor they often just learn to live with it. If major then they scramble around trying to find a shop in the area which might be able to fix it.

I know that there is a wide range of skill-sets amongst humans, and that having technical & mechanical abilities are not skills which many possess. But to me successful living in an RV does require some degree of knowledge about how the beast works.

Rita M. Black
1 month ago

My father was in construction, he was a cement mason, bricklayer, master plasterer and could build anything. Whenever he did anything around the house my 2 brothers and I were always there to help. My father didn’t think that I (a girl) wasn’t able to do the same things my brothers could. I use to be very “handy”, but now at 74 yo, I have limitations. I do fix anything I can, but find somethings I just can’t handle anymore. Now, if I can’t handle a fix, I keep an eye on the repairman.

Tom Smithbrother
1 month ago

I disagree with the term “Handy” or “Good with their hands”. Either a person is educated in repair, either self or formal ,or they are not. It is NOT a natural ability as much as it it is knowledge of repair. BS/MA Industrial Arts/ Industrial Education.

Wolfe
1 month ago

I could have quoted this article, word for word… And knowing that “Dad can fix anything” makes my family pretty careless IMHO.

I’m in the “extremely handy” category (self declared!) because push-come-shove I could weld steel into a frame and do all the carpentry and wiring to make the whole trailer… but I’m not quite THAT crazy yet. Typical RV construction is driving me closer by the day, it seems… Sometimes I fantasize about ‘built right from the axle up.’

I’ve been wealthier and I’ve been MUCH poorer, and through it all I have always fixed or upgraded everything I thought I possibly could. I know well that I can LITERALLY buy all the tools needed for the same cost as hiring someone to do just the labor — and I get to keep the tools! Even if I mess it up the first time, I learn and get it right next time — and it’s repeats are still cheaper than hiring it done. And when *I* am done, I know that no corners were cut or damage hidden or shoddy materials used. I almost never, ever have to redo anything I’ve “fixed” — something that can definitely not be said of those who need to call workmen many times for the same problem. DIY isn’t a compromise — it’s BETTER on many levels.

…and capability lowers your blood pressure! Being “able” has saved my bacon MANY MANY times. On one RV trip through Maine, I got my 6-ton trailer through hills and deep into the woods before a final !!SPRANG!! declared that my WDH mount had actually cracked through on one side, damaging the “A” of the tongue with it. The trailer could not be towed and no one *I* could find would consider repairing it on site. So, I drove the truck back into town and borrowed an AC-driven welder (!) from a moderately incredulous mechanic for a generous deposit, and my generator was just powerful enough to get the job done. Imagine being STUCK and needing a professional welder to come rescue you — imagine the wait and the bill that entails. Yeah, I’m crazy for what I’ve taught myself to do, but it sure helps me sleep at night knowing I am equipped and knowledgeable enough to handle anything I could “reasonably” handle. Curing cancer and nuclear war are still on my “to learn” list…

Tony Sauer
1 month ago

As Red Green always said, if you can’t be handsome, you better be handy. I was fortunate to have a father who ran a small logging operation and could fix just about anything. I learned a lot from watching him. I also raced motorcycles in high school and worked in a motorcycle shop until I was paralyzed at 18. In my younger years I could crawl under cars and get into tight spaces to do most repairs. Now as a sixty year old, whose lost a lot of mobility, I have to either find somebody I can coach or pay for the repairs I can’t get reach.

I’ve been fortunate to find a great mobile mechanic and a great mobile RV repair guy near our hometown. Both charge about $75 per hour and can fix just about anything on the RV. I think it helps that I know how to diagnose and explain about 90% of the problems before I call the technician so they know what they’re getting into. On my iPad, as we travel, I make a list of repairs or things I want to improve upon. The list generally grows until it’s time to have one of the technicians over for something big, then there’s usually a few more hours of things on my list they can check off.

It is frustrating when I’m unable to reach a simple repair, but that’s the hand I’ve been dealt and I live with it. I’ve also learned that our trusty Winnebago is now 16 years old and once multiple things start breaking, it will be a whole lot less frustrating for me to find a newer model than pay someone to keep repairing this one, especially if things break I can’t fix while on the road.

Cheryl
1 month ago

I started out by sealing my RV roof (50-60 rivets exposed) then worked on the undercarriage removing rust, applying rust preventative and repainting. My latest project was doing a full tune up on my generator….Fuel and air filter, oil and spark plug change. I am installing a mud flap next to keep dirt and debris from kicking up on my tow vehicle. I am driving a 31′ Class C with Chevy Spark tow vehicle. There is no reason why women we can’t at least try. Like you say, if all else fails we can call for service. In my area service runs $175/hr so I will continue to do my own work as long as its feasible.

Cheryl

Impavid
1 month ago

I can fix most anything even spending four hours working on a $5 item. One of my mottos is: “I’ve fixed so much, with so little, for so long, I am now capable of fixing anything with nothing”.

John
1 month ago
Reply to  Impavid

Really nice quote!

Joe
1 month ago

Relating to the first paragraph above, “we” are expecting our first grandchild. I chose Opa for my grandpa name. DW chose Nonna for her grandma name. (German, Italian) First time I’ve seen Opa used. Go Gregg – uhh Opa!

Tom Gutzke
1 month ago

I do probably 90% of the repairs and maintenance but, now that I’m 75, my ability to hold wrenches, screwdrivers, etc. is diminishing. It takes me longer now to do most things. Something like installing a new air conditioner I’ll leave to the experts..Because of a torn bicep muscle I can lift more than 30 pounds only once a day without causing a week of pain to my right arm and shoulder. If I decide to get a washer and dryer I’ll have those installed, too. Maybe the laundromat doesn’t look so bad after all. 🙂

Joseph Weinstein
1 month ago

I fix anything within my ability. I love working on the TT. My DW also enjoys the results and over we will discuss ideas. We’ve added storage, created a privacy curtain, installed back of drawer guards and the one that always gets a smile, we installed a hook in the storage compartment to hold a canvas bag where we place all of our safety pins or springs. Our expert help was limited to the new roof. Right after we purchased the TT we started making it our own.

Richard West
1 month ago

Thankfully I’ve been “Technical” all my life. Started working on lawnmowers at 13 yrs old. I do everything possible on our motor home. We’re 15 yrs full timer, been coast to coast, Alaska 3 times, I have yet to find an RV Tech that was qualified to carry my tool box. They are under paid, under educated/trained, and many have an attitude against “Rich” RV owners. I tell each one that this RV is ALL I own, I am not rich, but it doesn’t seem to help. All this, compounded by the diminishing work ethic within the U.S. Everyone wants to take home a check, but no one wants to work.
I have one diesel shop that I trust to do the chassis work, stuff I don’t have the equipment to do. Still, I check their work. Examine all parts. Many times I prescribe how the work is to be done, after much research to find the best method. My chassis is a Roadmaster, that truck shops don’t see often. Lots (Most) of truck shops do RVs as a side and don’t delve into the nitty gritty of RV peculiarities. I respect this is due to cost/profit issues. They must focus on their main income, which is trucks. THESE people respond by respecting MY focus on RV things, by listening and accepting things they might not be aware of.
The shop at my selling dealership once stated I knew more about the RV than they did. They proved that later when, within 48 hrs, I had to redo work they had done. That was their last chance.
I have many stories of RV world incompetence.
Like others here, I advise all prospective RV owners to be self reliant, or prepared to spent lots of money and TIME at repair shops.

Richard West

Cindy
1 month ago

Like Captn John we have done our share of home renovations, engine overhauls, etc. but at our age we have to leave more things to “experts” (who aren’t always). No more climbing under the van. And I don’t allow my husband on roofs or trees if i can avoid it. But we certainly do the less risky things ourselves, including mowing the 1/2 acre lawn with a walk behind mower. I’m physically challenged these days, but hubby tries his best to be handy. And I’m glad he is.

Captn John
1 month ago

I have built 2 houses, finished many basements, changed engines/transmissions, and a long list of other minor items. I no longer go on any roof. I do around the house and on the 5er the small things I want to do. Anything major I call a mobile tech. Just like the lawn, it used to be fun, now I have a service that takes care of everything.

Bob Weinfurt
1 month ago

We bought a 1977 class C five years ago for $400. The original owner had spent a lot on the drivetrain, tires, and the brake system. Overall, it was in pretty decent shape but had developed an issue that required it to be towed to a shop. I bought it and was able to do the needed repairs where is was parked. Being an older unit, everything is simple to diagnose and repair. Being a retired auto mechanic with some knowledge of electric and plumbing comes in handy. Sure has been a lot of fun with no major problems as of yet.

DW.ND
1 month ago

Being an avid Do It Your-selfer for many years….. even building our home and installing all of its systems – from a book and with no experience. Doing virtually all of our auto repairs (as physically able) – so 20+ years ago a plunge into the class A Rv world. I have done numerous upgrades, repairs and maintenance on two units. I fully concur with Mark McGahey below as he stated “If you can’t fix stuff, you better not buy an RV!” To that I can only add – “unless you are independently wealthy – and don’t wish to get your hands dirty….”

The critical thing in Rv repair and maintenance is get a book for your unit! I can also add our motor home is prior to OBD-II technology so not plagued with numerous sensors – altho IT is OBD I so has it’s share (I haven’t had an “Engine Light” – but I do have book for it – along with many saved MH Magazine articles on all types of repairs. I carry em’ along too. When my wife complains about the weight of the books – because I try to restrict the weight of what comes on board – I tell her “these will get us home again!”

Like Greg and several others below, I truly enjoy working on the “beast” ! it is a great sense of accomplishment. (Waxing 34′ twice a year – not so much!).

PS: A most critical factor is to keep a DETAILED maintenance, repair and modification record!

Happy trails……..

Danny Wells
1 month ago

So far I’ve been able to repair everything that has needed repair on two TT and a class C we’ve owned.
With You tube, a person can find “How To” information on most any problem that comes up.

Ken
1 month ago

I started with sending everything to the shop, but in this last year, I have worked on learning how to do maintenance types of things. I have done a few upgrades and planning to learn more how to do things myself.

Julie
1 month ago

This is timely because I am swapping out the tankless water heater in my Jayco today for a traditional water heater. Last year I completely re-worked the audio visual system to add a satellite, DVD player, additional speakers and a wireless headphone. I welded a solid steel wheel to my receiver hitch to help mitigate tail end drag because my class C is 31 feet long and can have issues with that. The list is much longer but the idea is, I love working on the RV. And, it might surprise you to see that a woman has done these things. I don’t think it’s so special because I feel most any woman can do these things, we just don’t get introduced to that skill set as often as men. My advice ot women needing maintenance/repairs is this – if you are planning to call a pro to repair something, think about giving that repair a try yourself. If you fail, you can then call the pro but at least you tried and you might even learn something that can help you with your next repair attempt. Julie

Cheryl
1 month ago
Reply to  Julie

Way to go Julie! I’m impressed! Like you, I have done my own repairs. I started out by sealing my RV roof (50-60 rivets exposed) then worked on the undercarriage removing rust, applying rust preventative and repainting. My latest project was doing a full tune up on my generator….Fuel and air filter, oil and spark plug change. I am installing a mud flap next to keep dirt and debris from kicking up on my tow vehicle. I am driving a 31′ Class C with Chevy Spark tow vehicle. There is no reason why women we can’t at least try. Like you say, if all else fails we can call for service. In my area service runs $175/hr so I will continue to do my own work as long as its feasible.

Cheryl

Jim Langley
1 month ago

It helps if you’re handy, but so long as your RVing is with other RVers, it is highly likely you will have helpful, nice people around should you have a problem with your rig. And because so many systems on RVs are the same across brands, it’s also highly likely that someone else has experienced and fixed the problem you’re having and even has the tools and small parts (if needed) to fix it.

One more great thing is that expert RVers like this love helping – and I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the main reasons they enjoy RVing. To us, it’s one of the greatest things about RVing – that you’re always among friends who are looking out for you!

Happy camping!
Jim

Nevadatude
1 month ago

As landlords for many years, my husband and I are both very handy. We use the Jayco Forum to gather knowledge……except for when a wheel fell off our 2019 TT. The axle manufacturer shipped a new axle to the repair shop and also reimbursed us for the labor cost. Thank goodness it happened in the repair shop parking lot.