Is Being "Handy" a Prerequisite for Owning an RV?

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GaryB

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Hi - To better educate myself, I've been reading many posts on various forums - this forum, RV.net and the Heartland Owners Forum (company making the BigHorn 5er I'm thinking to get).  Although I'm very excited about the possibility of buying my first RV, quite honestly I am apprehensive after reading tales (on Heartland Owners Forum) about potential fire hazards (wiring shorts/concealed wires rubbing against nearby metal parts), plumbing leak problems, blown axles and tires, etc.  The people seem to talk about fixing those things with relative ease - just disassemble this, unwire that, check voltage across this, re-plumb that, replace this, etc.).  Unfortunately, I am NOT HANDY and don't have any experience with noticing and/or fixing the tell-tale signs of problems (other than very obvious problems).  So I worry that some major safety issue may exist (fire hazard, etc.) that I wouldn't notice, thereby putting my family in danger.  How common are these problems and how important is it to be mechanically and electrically handy when owning an RV?  I hate to give up my dream of RVing just because I'm not handy.  On the other hand, I am very meticulous and careful about things, and so hopefully that will balance things out (but if I don't know to watch out for something, then I cannot be careful about it). 

By the way, I noticed that Camping World has an "RV Institute" (http://www.cwrvi.com/) that offers detailed RV service and repair courses.  But it seems more geared for people who want to become RV Technicians.  Are there any other good programs or ways to become knowledgable with basic servicing of RVs other than by trial-and-error experience?  Do campgrounds often have people (for hire, since I don't want to bother fellow campers) who know how to fix minor problems that may arise?

Thanks again for the great advice
Gary
 

Steve CDN

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Gary,

I suggest you become acquainted with the workings of your RV, if for no other reason than to be able to recognize malfunctions and to be certain repairs are correctly being done.

Dealers are notorious for having inept technicians, so the owner really needs to know what's going on.

The best option for service is to use the factory service center if your brand of RV offers it, but for someone who is not handy and gets a problem serviced they run the risk of having unnecessary work done, and be charged excessively for the work.

You can save yourself a pile of money by getting a few basic tools and supplies and doing your own maintenance.
 

Jeff

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Gary:

One of my rules to successfull RVing:

"If you don't like to putter don't own an RV." :p
 

woodartist

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As stated, you can save a lot of money doing your own repairs. I had an RV repair business and most of the problems were simple to solve.....at least for me. There are some books out there that will give you a good preliminary eduation on the electrical and plumbing. RV's can have a lot of problems because of their construction and the constant pounding they take on the road.....
 

John From Detroit

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I won't say being "Handy" is required of an RV owner but with skilled labor selling for around 100/hr give or take depending on where you are,  Being able to do light maintance tasks can save you a bundle, also it saves time in many cases as well.

Many of the folks here came from the old Compuserve RV forum, Compuserve started back before PC's and used to be THE PLACE to be if you were interested in online communications and research,  They and their spin-off forums such as this one, still have some of the best libraries to be found when it comes to ______ (Subject of forum)_____.

However back in the early days of Compuserve if you were not handy you were not online,  Thus, many of us come from that background.

Others are what we hams call "Appliance" operators (Take it out of the box, plug it in and it works)  I'm a bit of both
 

GaryB

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Thanks for the advice thus far.  I am a homeowner, but since I purchase new homes, I am able to get most of the bugs worked out shortly after move-in.  So hopefully I can be a RV owner as well (since I plan to buy a new 5er).  I'll just need to be certain to get all problems fixed up front.  Maybe I'll camp near the dealer for a week, try everything out and then take it back on the way home to get those fixed.  As to problems that occur after that, I guess I'll just need to play that by ear and hope to find a local dealer who will fix those types of minor problems.

I don't mind trying to become handy with RVs.  I just need to find out how to do that.  Maybe I'll buy some of the books I believe I saw by RV Consumers Group.  I was hoping to find a class to take that was geared towards new RV owners.  Has anyone seen such a class offered?
 

Sollly

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I'm a newcomer here myself, but here is my take after being around RV's all my life, and going with people from both walks (handy and not handyman).

You can be perfectly happy RVing if you cannot fix things yourself. Just be prepared for inconveniences and extra cost of repair and down time if something does break or malfunction. You will be surprised at how handy you can get when something goes wrong in the middle of no where. Handy folks didn't become handy by not fixing stuff ;)
 

Just Lou

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There are times when I have work performed on my vehicles (not just the motorhome) because of time constraints or investment in proper tools, etc...

But! being somewhat "handy" helps to identify a potentially shoddy job done for (to) me.
 

John From Detroit

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I will second that Quest... Working on cars, (something I did in my youth) today requires tools that it is just not worth buying for me and my "Fleet" of 3 rides (Motor home included) however I still carry some basic tools.

however here is a true story of handy v/s unhandy

I used to have a car that ate starters, specifically it chewed up the drive gear.

Well, I'm kind of handy so one day when this happened I popped the starter off the car, bent the tabs on the gear a bit, popped it back in and got the "one more start" I needed to get home where I had access to a 2nd ride and spare parts.  After that I started carrying a spare "Bendix" on the gearshift (it was a floor shift) so when it happened I unscrewed the shift knob, pulled the gear off the shifter and 15 minutes later was on the road again.

Now, unhandy that's call a tow truck and wait, wait for the service man to look at it, PAY for the new starter (never mine it's a 10 buck gear).  I mean, just waiting for the Tow would have taken longer than 15 minutes.
 

Pierat

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There seems to be info on all the various systems in an RV, and good introductory material on many subjects, offered by RV Life on Wheels: http://www.rvlifeonwheels.com/

We are looking at starting the RV life, and have concerns similar to yours. I think you stated a very valid and serious issue. I'm not convinced that the "un-handy" (including me) would be happy doing this very much. Sounds very frustrating and expensive, frankly. (At least, today!)
 

joelmyer

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My 2 cents worth:

a. be handy or have a big purse.

b. Pick an RV that's put together well.  I have a Sunnybrook and follow the Sunnybrook users forum.  I don't see the discussions there on fire hazards.  As a point of reference, take a look at Sunnybrook and the Sunnybrook forum.  They're not perfect and there are upcoming personnel changes so they could degrade but....

c. I have have very few problems compared to what I read about.  We did have a problem with getting the slide back in on our last trip.  I don't consider myself handy but I was able to crawl under, observe, see what had happened and get the coupler back in place.  Otherwise it would have been time & money to get somebody to come do that for me.

Joel
 

John From Detroit

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Well, an RV is basically a truck with a house on it, You have all the things that can go wrong with a car/truck, and all the things that can go wrong with a house, plus a few (Very few) things that are unique to RV's (Mostly the 2nd 12v electrical system and the slideouts and the holding tanks, ,,, though those are just large places in the plumbing if you choose to look at it that way.

If you are comfortable calling Mr. Fix-it every time you need a toilet un-stopped or a faucet washer replaced in your house, no different in an RV,  If you are used to calling AAA every time you get a flat tire, The only diff is the phone number with an RV (And the cost of the tire).

You note, the story I posted had NOTHING to do with an RV (Other than the Hornet with the starter chewing ring-gear was a tow vehicle back in my tent trailer days)
 

joelmyer

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Pierat said:
We are looking at starting the RV life, and have concerns similar to yours. I think you stated a very valid and serious issue. I'm not convinced that the "un-handy" (including me) would be happy doing this very much. Sounds very frustrating and expensive, frankly. (At least, today!)

Pierat,

This has been bothering me.  We tend to talk about and focus on the problems.  That could discourage somebody like you from starting the RV life.  Let me try to put some things into perspective.

We started by attending a SMART Muster (like a rally) and staying in a nearby motel.  One of the guys we met was a caravan master - leading groups of 10-30 RVs around the country.  I asked him what the biggest problem with RVs was and his response was "the big nut behind the wheel".  He talked about having enough water hoses and extension cords for people who didn't come prepared - not about stuff breaking.

We picked up our 5th wheel in April '04 and have made 4 major trips (2 months, 6,000 miles) and 6 or so short trips.  For that time the problems (excluding those caused by the big nut behind the wheel) have been:

- Right blinker fuse blows sometimes.  Dealer has fixed twice.  I now suspect the truck wiring.
- A loose screw
- A slightly misaligned catch (we have learned to lift up on it when we close it)
- The slide problem I mentioned earlier.

That's it.  That ain't bad for 2 & 1/2 years, maybe 30,000 miles, 60 something different campgrounds.

So you ask what are the problems caused by the big nut behind the wheel:

- A 5th wheel doesn't follow you.  It cuts the corner.  If you forget to "swing wide" it attacks trees, light poles, gas pumps... (no contact yet but a few close calls averted by the co-pilot's scream).

- If you don't use enough water for the amount of tiolet paper you can clog the pipe between the tiolet and the tank.  One occurance.  Solution thanks to Gary Brink - the awning stick makes a nice plumbers snake.

- If you accidently turn the refigerator off, the ice cream melts.

- If you use them little short black sewer hose fittings, they can come off.  Solution get the long red ones with lots of ribs and then add a hose clamp.

- If you pull into the campground on fumes, set the level for the height to get it off the truck, fill up the truck and then try to hitch back up at the same height it won't hitch because it's too high.

And that's about it.

So, expecting zero problems is unrealistic.  Be prepared with some simple tools and a good book and/or your checkbook.  Livingston is the bible I have.

But unless you are unwise, unlucky or very picky, there aren't enough problems to worry a lot about.

Joel

 

Tom

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Although we've had our share of problems with our motorhomes, I endorse Joel's comments. For some of us (myself included), a relatively small issue can appear as a large irritant at the time. If you can't fix it yourself, help is always available - in the form of other helpful RVers &/or professional help.

Sign up for one of the emergency road service offerings - they'll pay for themselves the first time your rig is incapacitated. There's also help available right here in this forum; Many of our staff and forum members are experienced RVers who have probably seen the problem before, either on their own rig or on a rig belonging to someone they helped.
 

Pierat

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Thanks, Joel and Tom, I appreciate those encouraging comments. I'm sure RV life is a whole lot like life elsewhere (not surprisingly). - John
 

GaryB

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I'd like to also say thanks alot for your helpful comments.  Thanks for letting us feel that the "less handy" of us still can RV (without it being a complete disaster). 

Joel - I hope I only have those minor problems that you have had.  Sounds like you've been pretty fortunate with your Sunnybrook.  I'll take a look at that unit (is yours the Titan?)  The other problems that I was reading about on the owners forum were more severe and spooked me a bit.

Gary
 

Carl L

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The other problems that I was reading about on the owners forum were more severe and spooked me a bit.

Ah.  You are seeing a compression effect here.  We provide advice on trouble shooting and problem solving.  So naturally people tend to show up when they have problems or worries.  No problems, no worries, no show.  No show at least until they get into the social and trip side of our forum.

Actually most RVers do their thing with no particular problems most of the time.  Just like most people drive cars trouble free most of the time.
 

joelmyer

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GaryB said:
Sounds like you've been pretty fortunate with your Sunnybrook.  I'll take a look at that unit (is yours the Titan?)  The other problems that I was reading about on the owners forum were more severe and spooked me a bit.
Gary

No, the Titan was too heavy for my truck and pocket book.  I have a Solanta (?) (2004).  They don't make that anymore and they have multiple lines now.  And like I said there is discussion on the owners forum about known good guys leaving the company so there is some concern about their QC.  But still looking at those will give you some points for comparison. 

Good luck - you're way ahead of the game and thinking/looking/asking before you leap.

Joel

 

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