How to live the RV Lifestyle in turbulent and unsettled times – Part 5

July 8, 2012 by Bob Difley · 16 Comments  
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By Bob Difley


In this series post Part 3 I wrote about some of the ways to save money on the road, covering what falls into most RVers five main expense categories: campground fees, fuel, food, repair and maintenance, and entertainment.

I’ve already covered how to save on campground fees, fuel, and food. So let’s take a look at repair and maintenance costs. First an admission. I am well below the mid-point of RVers that at the top can pull and overhall their engine and transmission while boondocking without electricity or the internet to provide tutelege, and the bottom of the scale, those that have a hard time distinguishing between left-handed and right-handed screwdrivers.

However, after gulping and swallowing after being presented with repair bills I decided to do as much as I could to avoid, or at least reduce, the amount I pay out to expensive repair shops. This calls for an anecdote. We were boondocking at Tecopa Hot Springs in the California desert when out forced air heater went belly up.  The elevation was about 1,300 feet and in January got quite cold at night, colder than we wanted to put up with without a heater.

So we drove into a large repair shop in Las Vegas, a drive of about an hour and a half. I explained the problem to the service writer who analyzed the situation as common in heaters and it would be a five minute job to replace whatever it was he said needed replacing and they would get on it right away. I had no longer become comfortable in their waiting room when they informed me that the repair was finished.

I was elated at the fast service, and the short length of time it took to fix, until I got the bill. They had charged me two hours for troubleshooting and analysis, explaining that they were a flat rate shop and though they were reasonably sure–and confirmed–what the problem was in a minute, they still charged the two hours in case they had been wrong in their initial analysis. So the five minute job cost me over two hundred.

From that point on I decided that, with the help of the internet and RVing friends that were more technically gifted than I was, I would attempt to analyze and repair what I felt was close to my abilities to do so.

Reducing repair and maintenance costs

  • Learn to do the simpler repairs yourself. Diagnosis is the key. Pick up a good repair and maintenance manual (Bob Livingston writes the industry standard manual).
  • If you feel you can do the job, think of the nearly $100 an hour charged by repair facilities and it could be the inspiration you need?
  • Go online to search for instructions and video tutorials on how to do most any repair that you might need to do, then determine if the job is within your range of intelligence, even if it is not in your range of expertise.
  • For engine and drivetrain repairs, auto parts stores can be good sources of both instructional information and rental tools to perform the job. And if you guessed wrong, they will take back the part you bought with the mis-diagnosis and possibly offer good alternatives.
  • For coach and system problems check out the RV Doctor (Gary Bunzer’s website) or RV Education 101 (Mark Polk’s website), both of which have lists of repair instructions, video tutorials, CDs and DVDs to help you.
  • There are several online forums where you can ask questions and get feed back on both analysis and the physical act of repairing for someone with all thumbs.
  • Don’t give up on the first error you make or function youy cannot understand or perform. Sit back, take a break, think about the problem, and look for another solution.
  • Even if you can’t finish the job, or get stuck, work out in advance a Plan B for just such situations.
  • And don’t forget, it is all part of the RV Lifestyle–becoming more self-sufficient and self-reliant. And that’s a good place to be.

For more RVing articles and tips take a look at my Healthy RV Lifestyle website, where you will also find my ebooks:BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (PDF or Kindle), 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang for your RV Lifestyle Buck (PDF or Kindle), and Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (PDF or Kindle), and my newest, The RV Lifestyle: Reflections of Life on the Road (PDF or Kindle reader version). NOTE: Use the Kindle version to read on iPad and iPhone or any device that has the free Kindle reader app.

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16 Responses to “How to live the RV Lifestyle in turbulent and unsettled times – Part 5”

  1. butterbean carpenter on July 8th, 2012 5:13 pm

    Okay guru Bob,
    But what IF you have NO FRIENDS and are stuck in a wheel-chair, but know how to do most of what needs to be done; WHAT THEN BIG DADDY?? Just let it sit there and rot!!!

  2. bob on July 8th, 2012 5:18 pm

    Just get a good friend and give him instructions and tell him how to do it.

  3. catchesthewind on July 8th, 2012 7:18 pm

    Butterbean. Get an excellent roadside maintenance or extended warranty plan.

  4. Florida Boy on July 8th, 2012 8:04 pm

    Never fails Buterbean sounds off with something negative as soon as it is on-line. Can anyone print a Blog without him responding? If not can he respond without it being a negative response. Some of us are just tired of reading the comments and always seeing Buterbean with a response to every blog and most of them or negative or just a stupid comment.

  5. walt kaiser on July 8th, 2012 9:36 pm

    just saved my self 820 dollars on my Sealand toilet. It was losing water and would not flush. Diagnosis by repair shop was bad control board. A 20 minute check on my part showed that the seal on the flush ball was bad. It ( the bad seal ) would not allow the vacuum to build up and send a signal to the flush mechanism. Using a plunger to create a seal I was able to flush the unit. Seal and ball valve replaced total cost 80 dollars and a few choice expletives.

    As for Butterbean, sounds like he is one bitter person.
    02 Endeavor, 40 DST

  6. Jim G on July 8th, 2012 10:06 pm

    Ah yes, Plan B. It seems like whenever I contemplate something, RV related or otherwise, for some reason I find the outcome is achieved via the good old Plan B. Don’t leave home without a Plan B.

  7. hoppe on July 9th, 2012 4:05 am


    Sounds like you need to make friends, rather than keeping enemies? Otherwise you get to spend the ‘flat-rate’ dollars. Can’t afford to pay? Well truth be known, it’d probably be cheaper to rent an apartment and sell the RV anyway. From what I can tell, the ‘RV Lifestyle’ is Not inherently a cheap one.

    It can be made less expensive observing the things that Bob has written about. But unless you can afford to keep the rig running, not so much.

    I’d say, you could go ‘tenting’, but wheelchair friendly tents are difficult to find, at least as far as I’m familiar.

    Truth be known, if certain members of congress have their way. The Public lands will be auctioned off to the highest bider and RVing will be from Private CG to Private CG, and even more expensive than it is now. Much like the State of Arizona, where they sold off the state owned building and leased them back? That made a lot of ‘fiscal’ sense didn’t it? Well maybe for the people who purchased the State Properties it was. Here in Colo we currently have one of the Kock brothers trying to do a land swap to further limit access to public lands that his land is adjacent to.

    Maybe they’ll sell off the BLM at the Q., so it can be developed and you can pay $50 a night to ‘camp’?

  8. Jon on July 9th, 2012 7:01 am

    I can see why Butterbean has no friends! YOU need some serious counseling ?

  9. AVA on July 9th, 2012 8:55 am

    Internet and smart phones are a wonderful thing for this. I discovered the serpentine belt was half missing on my motorhome on a Sunday afternoon and without leaving the mortorhome, I went online with my phone, found the number for the correct belt and then ordered it from I had it two days later and installed it myself (with a friend’s help) using information from one of the blogs. Belt was about $40, but cost would have probably been $300-$400 at shop.

  10. BobH on July 9th, 2012 9:47 am

    I own a Cougar High Country Fifth Wheel pulled by a Dodge 1500 truck with a Hemi engine. I live in it almost full time. Every day is some kind of learning experience. I have become an expert in a lot of things I wish I wasn’t.

    Four thoughts that might help someone.

    First: When I bought my rig, I gathered up all of the manuals for everything in the unit. Then made a list. For each item — make, model, serial number, manufacturer phone number and website. I put this list and all the manuals in sleeve protectors in a very large zippered three ring binder. I have continually added to that stack with everything I have purchased since. Every time I have a problem, I make sure I resolve the “information” part of the problem as well as the physical, i.e. record part names and numbers, phone numbers, technicians names, etc.

    Second: Bob Difley mentioned forums. I use them. Be sure to check for forums or FAQs on the manufacturers website too. There you will possibly find other users of the same product with the same problem for which the manufacturer’s techies have posted a solution.

    Third: Every time I have a problem, my solution includes a search for a downloadable manual for operating and maintaining the item in question. More manufacturers are offering manuals from their website rather than paper copies included with the hardware. Sometimes a call to the manufacturer can get you a manual in pdf format via email.

    Fourth: Basic tools. At home I have a pretty complete maintenance shop built up by thirty-five years of fixing everything including the kitchen sink. Of course I can’t carry all that with me in my Cougar. Think through the systems in your rig — electrical, plumbing, hydraulic, etc. Then ask yourself “What are the six (you pick the number) most fundamental tools I would need to work on each of these systems?” Same for spare parts: assorted nuts, bolts, washers, screws, light bulbs, and fuses.

    Don’t forget the most important system of all — YOU. The tool kit there is a carefully stocked First Aid Kit. I built my own since it appeared to me that all commercially available ones were significantly lacking.

  11. Doug on July 11th, 2012 10:38 am

    I knew if I wanted to stay a fulltime RVer that I would have to do all the RV and truck maintenance and repair work myself. So I took the plunge and just did it. So far so good! Over the past decade I have saved thousands of dollars in return for some scraped knuckles and a little dust in my face.

  12. GaryM on July 13th, 2012 3:39 pm

    Hey ButterBean – I understand why you are angry. Wheelchairs are a good way for some to get around but doing work around the RV is all but impossible. Giving up the RV life must be close to impossible as well. We all cherish our freedom and our RV’s certainly do give us that. I suppose it does matter the age of the rig and how spry we are.
    I read a blog once when you invited travelers to visit your place and thought about what a nice guy you must be. I do work on my own rig and at my age it isn’t easy sometimes. You kind of have to be able to crawl under, over and thru things to be able to fix them. You must have a young person around who you can teach. Trade the fixin for the teaching.
    We wish you well Mr Butterbean.
    This is a great article and I appreciate it. Also liked BobH’s list for maintenance survival.

  13. ניסור בטון on July 14th, 2012 11:17 pm

    Wow .. Really sounds very interesting!

  14. abercrombie on August 12th, 2012 8:11 pm

    A volte mi piacerebbe credere che la gente oggi sarebbe solo ottenere uno stile di vita e rendersi conto di quanto sciocca appaiono. I implicano, perché attualmente spamming, è un mezzo di hacking o di qualche cosa. Basta cessare, per favore, io preferisco studiare la gente anche altri pareri sai. comunque, publish eccellente. solo sbarazzarsi in favore dello spam. grazie.

  15. The Unemployed Mom on September 4th, 2012 12:03 pm

    Excellent Post…

    As a Newbie, I am always exploring online for articles that can be of assistance to me. Thank you…

  16. sim 4 key on December 4th, 2013 5:13 pm

    Dreary Day…

    It was a dreary day here yesterday, so I just took to messing around online and found…