RV Repair Manual
  for the RV Do-It-Yourselfer

 
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RV Handyman

By Charles Kerekes

In the excitement of considering life as an RVer, it may not occur to some that the new lifestyle demands several non-recreational roles to be assumed. One of these roles is the rv handyman (ladies included). I point this out not to throw cold water on the exciting plans, but to prepare you for a certainty that comes standard with living in an RV, no matter how new the unit.

If fixing things around the house is your thing, then fixing things in an RV will come easy for you. On the other hand, if you rely on someone else when the simplest thing goes wrong, prepare yourself to become handy or take an rv handyman along on your RV adventure.

Think that you can dismiss this role by throwing money at it? Not so fast! Even if your budget can sustain paying for all preventive maintenance and repairs, services may not always be available. Imagine the difference it would make if you can do your own RV repair, versus having to spend a day or two of your week-long vacation at the shop.

RV REPAIRS VS. HOUSE REPAIRS

Even though an RV is considerably smaller than a modest house, it requires more frequent repairs. This is also true for brand new recreational vehicles, while new houses are mostly trouble-free in their first few years.

Some of the reasons for the increased repairs in an RV are the following:

Lighter construction throughout, due to weight and space constraints. Even the appliances are not made as well as the ones manufactured for fixed residences.

RV's have more moving parts, some of them complex.

Vibration, bumping, and frame flexing caused by travel can break or loosen all sorts of components.

Less insulation means preventive measures must be taken in freezing weather. If preventive measures are ignored, repairs may be necessary.

Unlike houses that are frequently inspected during construction, RV's have no such regulatory requirements. This leaves quality control up to each manufacturer, some of which choose to build poor quality products. This is why it is so important to inspect all RV's before buying.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE AN RV HANDYMAN?

From my own experience and from observing others on both sides of the rv handyman fence, I have come to the conclusion that the two requirements to become handy are: interest in solving a problem and not being intimidated by machinery. A close third is knowing your limits; knowing when a problem is beyond your skills and being willing to ask for professional help. Once you posses the above three attributes, the finer skills of being a handyman can be learned with time and practice.

As you are gaining experience, keep this old saying in mind: "Measure twice and cut once." The key is not to be so afraid that you won't try, but to be extra cautious when approaching an unfamiliar problem. Are you about to drill through a wall? Do all you can to examine both sides of the wall and items near it. If there is a chance that utilities may be running through that wall, do not proceed without consulting blue prints or an expert.

RV MAINTENANCE & REPAIRS

RV Handyman skills are necessary for RV preventive maintenance and for making repairs. Below is a list of common tasks that a person possessing a good dose of common sense and average skills should be able to handle without specialized training:

Motor home engine or tow vehicle components:

Check and fill engine oil

Check and fill engine coolant

Check and fill other engine fluids

Check and adjust tire pressure

Lubricate under-chassis steering joints

Lubricate hitch moving components

Recreational vehicle components:

Repair or install cabinetry hinges, slides, and latches

Re-attach paneling with nails or adhesive

Fix external storage door hinges and support arms

Replace broken entryway handles

Dislodge and lubricate stubborn awning mechanisms

Replace bulbs

Find and replace blown fuses

Troubleshoot basic electrical problems with a multimeter

Test RV park A/C power voltage

Check and fill RV battery water

Test RV battery charge level

Replace common electric motors such as water pump and waste water valve motors

Drill holes in various locations to run wires, but having enough sense to know where not to drill in order to avoid damaging components beneath the surface.

Find source of water leak and caulk it

Repair leaky water lines and hoses that are easily accessible

Unclog slow or blocked sink and shower drains

Insulate exposed hoses and pipes to prevent freezing

Winterize RV before cold storage to prevent freezing

Repair broken sewage connectors and covers

Detect and find propane leaks

Clear clogged air conditioner drain passages

Recognize and correct common refrigerator problems. For example, my mostly-new Norcold fridge occasionally stops cooling until I reset the control board by unplugging the 12 volt DC wire in the back. According to a service guy, this is common for this brand.

RV HANDYMAN ESSENTIALS

Take it from me and the Boy Scouts—it is good to be prepared. I remember racing across Dallas a few minutes before 11:00 P.M., trying to make it to an AutoZone to buy fuses before they closed. The converter in our brand new RV blew a fuse, the batteries were mostly drained, and without spare fuses our new home just sat there in the dark. This incident would have turned into an uncomfortable night were it to happen during a vacation, far away from auto part stores.

To be prepared, take along a complete set of common tools such as hammers, screw drivers, etc. In addition, take all of the following tools, supplies, and spares that apply to your situation:

Tools:

Hydraulic jacks rated for the RV weight

Sturdy blocks for using under hydraulic jacks. Check your jacks before you need them because they may not extend high enough to lift the RV without the use of blocks. Concrete or other masonry blocks may not be strong enough to support the weight of heavy RV's and tow trucks.

Torque wrench for tightening the wheel lug nuts

¼" and ½" socket drivers with extensions and sockets to fit all fasteners you might remove. The largest socket I needed was a 2" for the wheel lug nuts to use with the torque wrench.

15" adjustable wrench with a 2.5" jaw opening

Caulk gun

Grease gun or can of grease. I found storing the grease gun too messy and opted for the can instead.

Full set of Allen wrenches

Full set of screwdriver tips, including square and star shapes

Small wood and metal hand saws

Flexible magnet to retrieve fallen screws

Small mirror to look into tight spaces

Small shovel in case you get stuck in snow or mud

Small wood and metal files for rounding sharp corners

Multimeter with a set of alligator clip wires

Battery hydrometer for accurately testing battery charge

Soldering iron and solder for re-attaching broken wires

Flash light with fresh batteries

Electric drill and complete drill bit set

Quality tire pressure gauge with long hose, rated for 100 psi or higher

Adjustable gripping pliers with jaws wide enough to clamp onto water hose connector. Handy when it is time to remove an over-tightened water hose.

Spares:

At least a couple of each fuse size found in your RV and tow vehicle. More of the common sizes.

Light bulbs

Fresh water hose and adapter to connect two hoses for longer reach

Sewer hose and adapter to connect two hoses for longer reach

Sewer pipe screw-on cap because it breaks easily in cold weather

Spare wheel for motor home, trailer, and tow vehicle

Tire valve cores and removal tool

Electrical extension cords designed for outdoor use

Maintenance & repair supplies:

Collection of screws and nails, the types used in your RV

Duct tape, both the permanent and temporary types. Temporary duct tape comes in handy to hold things like paneling and trim in place while the adhesive dries.

Clear duct tape for temporary repair of broken signal lights, torn awning canvas, etc.

Liquid Nails adhesive for re-attaching sagging ceilings and almost anything else

Marine adhesive for waterproof repairs

Caulk designed for the roof and exterior walls of your specific RV

General use waterproof caulk for the interior

WD-40 for lubrication and for removing tough petroleum-based stains

Propane leak tester solution in spray bottle

Wire nuts for connecting electrical wires

Pipe insulation

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

Being handy around the RV will save you time, money, and the added aggravation of spending part of your vacation in a shop. At the same time be smart about what you are capable and willing to take on. One time I removed and completely disassembled a wheel hub from my trailer to track down a squeaky noise; this has taught me that wheel hubs are too complex for my skills and messy too.

It is never fun when something goes wrong with the RV, but you will get a great deal of satisfaction being able to repair common problems.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charles Kerekes is a fulltime RVer traveling the US with his family and maintains the [http://ChanginGears.com]ChanginGears.com RV web site.

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