Recreational Vehicles: Loads Of Fun Until They Break!
By Chuck Lunsford
Well you've bought the beast and it sits in the side yard just waiting to go out for it's next adventure. However towards the end of your last trip you started to notice some things that you thought needed attention.
The first question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you should even attempt some of the maintenance items yourself. Are you ready, or qualified, for do it yourself RV repairs? Unless properly trained and prepared, recreational vehicle owners should not attempt to make certain repairs or perform service on any RV, product or component. If you don't believe me I'll give you my father's phone number and you can ask him how much he paid the mechanic after one of his "I can do it myself thank you very much" attempts. I was there. It turned out very badly. It got VERY dark on the side of the road that cold night in Tennessee.
The Two Types of Repairs
There are basically two types of RV service; crisis repairs and preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance can include such items as the following: checking and sealing the roof, windows, storage compartments and doors, cleaning, flushing and servicing the LP appliances, changing the oil in the generator and chassis engine and checking all fluid levels, cleaning the filters in the roof air conditioners, cleaning and treating your holding tanks, flushing and sanitizing your fresh water system, performing battery maintenance. These can be considered something you do now to prevent something worse from happening later. Call it insurance if you like. Crisis repairs (also known as Holy Cripes what now!), on the other hand, offer no options. The problem is staring you right in the face and if you want to get back on the road it has to be handled now. A few examples of crisis repairs would be an abnormally worn tire, a flat tire, or a blown engine.
Fortunately preventive maintenance will go a long way towards minimizing the frequency and the degree of crisis-type repairs. Routine tire inspection and careful study of inflation pressures, checking and cleaning the refrigerator components and checking the LP pressure, regular oil changes, and periodic cleaning of the air conditioner filters can all prevent the above crisis repairs from happening. Remeber the old adage..Penny foolish. Pound Wise.
Do It Yourself?
Oh yeah, remember that warranty you got along with the vehicle the day you shelled out the bucks to drive it off the dealers lot? Read it carefully before you even attempt to loosen a screw. In some cases, warranties may be voided or manufacturer liability lessened if unauthorized repairs are performed Some maintenance items, though mandated by the product manufacturer, may not be covered by new or extended warranties. Rarely are maintenance items ever covered under warranty. The key is knowing when to actively participate and when to simply make an appointment at your local service facility.
So the warranty is run out and you are in the garage getting the tools out. There a few more considerations to ponder before you dive in.
Am I physically fit and mechanically adept? - Buck up and realize your limitations there laddie or lassie. Ask yourself, "Can I physically perform the steps necessary to do this?" Many items in, under, on and around motorhomes require physical dexterity. Physical limitations may prohibit some of us from performing certain maintenance items. If the subject at hand is truly over your head then it's ok to back off and call a pro. You definitely do not want to risk converting a simple maintenance task into a costly crisis repair! It will cost substantially more to undo an error than to simply make an appointment with a service center if the subject is beyond your scope. (Again I offer my dad's phone number to anyone who doubts this.)
Do you have a willingness to learn - If you truly want to be able to perform some routine maintenance items, be willing to do a little homework. Servicing LP related appliances and components, for instance, virtually mandates a basic understanding of the sequence of operation of that appliance. Both electrically and with the flow of the LP gas. Each appliance is different, but your advantage is that you only need to learn those that pertain to your RV. And it's not that difficult to learn. Oh, it requires reading and studying the literature that came with your rv, but for the most part, it can be enjoyable.
Have the right tools - Be aware that many maintenance tasks require a selection of tools and that some require specialty tools that you may not have in your tool kit. Here are a few specialty tools you may want to eventually acquire:
Manometer - this device allows you to measure the LP pressure correctly.
Never adjust your LP regulator without using a manometer.
Thermocouple tester - used to bench test LP appliance thermocouples
Battery hydrometer - one that is temperature compensated is more accurate.
Volt, Ohm, multi-meter (VOM) - a digital one is best, but any is better than just a simple test lamp
Consider the time factor - Always plan your approach to any maintenance task appropriately. Realize that all maintenance requires time. Be sure to allot yourself plenty of time to complete whatever it is you are undertaking. Do not rush yourself. You are more likely to omit a step or make a mistake if you are under pressure to complete a task when in a hurry. Remember, the next time you perform that same task, the time element will be reduced. Familiarity and repetition will breed speed.
How to "Do It Yourself"
The following suggestions will get you started.
Prepare a proper and clean work area - Having a clean work area for whatever the task may be is vital in order to avoid confusion and also help keep the coach clean if you must traipse in and out of it several times. When servicing the appliances for example, it is best to perform the maintenance tasks with the appliances left in the installed positions. An exception would be the RV furnace. In some instances concerning the furnace, better results are attained if the furnace is removed and the work performed on a bench.
If you will be needing electricity, have your extension cord uncoiled and strategically placed prior to starting. Likewise, if using a drill motor, have the correct size drill bit, or screwdriver tip at hand. Proper preparation will make any maintenance task easier. Did you remember to allow enough time to do the work?
Have all replacement parts ready to go - Have all replacement parts prepared and laid out for easy access. If your maintenance task involves threaded fittings, a handy tip is to apply the correct sealant or Teflon tape before actually starting the work. It's much neater and easier when your hands are relatively clean. Lay the fittings aside and cover them with a shop towel or cloth until needed. If the new parts need any type of pre-assembly, do it now, before you get engrossed in the task at hand. If some parts in a repair kit will not be needed, separate and discard them prior to beginning. This will simplify your repair and avoid any confusion you may encounter later when you realize you have a few parts left over.
Obtain the necessary support materials - As mentioned earlier, have all wiring diagrams, service notes, installation instructions or any other type of resource open and within easy reach before starting the job. If you feel you may need additional help or support information, postpone the maintenance until all the necessary information is in your hand. Remember, preparation is much easier for a preventive maintenance procedure as opposed to an unwanted crisis repair. Also, keep in mind many maintenance tasks are now available on detailed instructional video tapes. Check out our Video Library Page. Additionally, many local community colleges now offer classes for the RVer and RV shows offer seminars on RV maintenance.
Get to know a local service facility - Do Not Leave This Step Out! Even though you may want to perform some maintenance yourself, always get to know a local dealer or service center in your area. Eventually your going to have to swallow your pride and call on them for help and aside from being there to order parts for you, they can also be a good source of information.
Additional tips - Never attempt to adjust your RV generator yourself. This is one area that is definitely better left to your service shop. Many specialty tools are required, as the generator needs to be load tested while making governor and carburetor adjustments. Load banks and specialty testers are beyond the scope of the do-it-yourselfer. Just remember that on the RV generator every mechanical adjustment that is made has an electrical result. You cannot tune a generator by ear. This item is for the professional.
Also never attempt to adjust your LP regulator without the knowledge and use of a water column manometer. Changes in the delivery pressure, though crucial to each appliance cannot be determined by visually watching a burner flame. Too high LP pressure will damage many appliances, while too low of a delivery pressure will result in improper combustion and inefficient appliance operation.
By honestly accessing your technical expertise, learning and gathering a resource library of sorts for those items on your coach, and acquiring the proper tools and parts, you may be just ready to experience the fun of maintaining your investment for your leisure over the road enjoyment. It is hoped that major repair costs are avoided and total enjoyment is realized from the experiences of working on your own motorhome.
Chuck Lunsford is a successful Webmaster and publisher of JustGoDoItYourself.com He provides more tips and advice on accomplishing do it yourself Rv repair
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