Lesson 1: Mother Nature Always Wins
Mother Nature loves creating learning experiences for RVers and last spring an unexpected snowstorm gave us yet another educational opportunity. It happened in early April, when sudden warm weather enabled us to reach our mountain cabin earlier than we anticipated. We jumped at the chance to visit our place before starting our summer workamping job, but in our excitement to settle in, we neglected to drain the rig’s freshwater system.
Inevitably almost as soon as we arrived, record storms pummeled our area and dumped six feet of snow. Before we had a chance to winterize the rig, the plumbing in our “four season” RV froze solid. We feared the worst but weeks later when things thawed out, Jim ran some plumbing checks and was confident our rig was leak-free. We enthusiastically packed up our gear, closed the cabin and left for the summer.
Later that day we reached our first destination, hooked up our water and electricity and less than an hour later were horrified to discover water spilling onto the bathroom floor! Jim quickly discovered that the toilet fill valve for our Thetford commode had cracked as a result of water that solidified in our rig during the storm.
Thankfully we were able to scavenge a replacement part from a demo toilet at a nearby RV shop—this part became scarce because apparently other local RVers had the same thing happen to them. It was the first valuable lesson we learned in 2013: even if the weather appears fine, always check the forecast and take the necessary steps to protect your RV from damage.
Lesson 2: Don’t “Wait and See”
Since we hit the road in 2007 we’ve worn through our share of tires for our truck and fifth-wheel. We’ve diligently rotated and replaced sets at recommended intervals but during last winter’s snowbird flight we noticed an odd wear pattern developing on the outside of a year-old trailer tire. However the change was so slight we opted just to keep an eye on it. We headed to Utah and embarked on a short off-road adventure to a remote campsite at Goosenecks State Park (see Denise Seith’s rvlife.com blog post http://bit.ly/gooseneckSP). After settling into our location we quickly discovered that the outer tread of that tire was nearly gone, along with a huge chunk of rubber!
I shudder to think about the blowout we narrowly averted. We replaced the bad tire in Moab and went on to Colorado knowing that some axle work needed to be done. This isn’t unusual. According to Warren Petkovsek, author of an article called “Trailer Wheel and Axle Alignment” (see: http://bit.ly/TrailerAxleArticle), trailer axles can become misaligned for all sorts of reasons. However he adds that “Most RVers are ‘weekend warriors’ or otherwise don’t really put enough miles on their trailers for this uneven tire wear to show before the tires need to be replaced due to age or until the trailer is sold.”
How do odd wear patterns on towables occur? “Overloading will generally, but not always cause wear on the inside of the tread because the excess weight will cause the axles to bend upward (like a smile) which causes the inside of the tread to wear,” writes Petkovsek. But when an outside wear pattern develops, he says the issue is usually misaligned axles.
In his enlightening article, Petkovsek writes that “obviously hitting bumps and potholes really hard could cause misalignment, but that would take a pretty hard hit indeed. More than likely …the axles were never aligned properly when the trailer was built. This problem is more common than we might think. RV assembly lines surely don’t have sophisticated alignment equipment.”
Another valuable lesson was added to our full-timing curriculum: if you notice any kind of unusual wear pattern on your tires, find the nearest axle alignment shop that works on RVs. The cost for realignment is minimal, about $125 per axle. The cost for your peace of mind after the work is done? Priceless.
Lesson 3: Don’t Be Afraid of Dirty Jobs
Many full-timers find it easier to leave repairs to the experts, since most RV parks frown upon outdoor DIY repair jobs. But if you happen to be in a place where you can comfortably spread out your tools and get your hands dirty, don’t be afraid to tackle basic RV repair jobs yourself—even the stinky ones!
Several months ago we noticed wastewater accumulating in our RV wastewater dump pipes. Since we boondock more than we hook up, each time we stopped at a dump station it was easy to see the increasing amounts of stinky waste water draining out whenever we unscrewed the sewer cap.
Jim researched leaky RV sewer dump valves and learned that the problem is often the result of debris stuck inside the mechanism, or a dislodged or cracked valve seal. After pinpointing which valve was the culprit, he decided to tackle the job himself; he purchased a new RV waste tank gate valve and went to work at a repair-friendly campground. You can see how he did it at: http://bit.ly/dumpvalverepair.
Another lesson learned: most RV problems are easier to troubleshoot because they’re done on a much smaller scale than the average sticks-and-bricks house. If you carry a good set of tools (see: http://bit.ly/rvtoolschecklist) and a fearless attitude about diving into repairs, you can stretch your full-timing budget further than you ever thought possible.
And although you can find endless amounts of information about RV repairs on the Internet, one of the most beneficial things you can do for your RVing lifestyle is to learn from repair experts like Terry Cooper, aka “The Texas RV Professor,” who offers DVD and online RV repair courses for RVers of every mechanical aptitude (see http://mobilervacademy.com/).
Sometimes it seems like RV repairs and mishaps are a never-ending ordeal for the full-timer, but the same thing can be said about living in a stick house. As 2014 rolls in I expect that Jim and I will have more learning experiences, which I promise to turn into educational lessons so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we did!
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, have been full-time RVing and working from the road since 2007. They love sharing the highs and lows of the lifestyle by chronicling their adventures at LiveWorkDream.com.