Don is a retired engineer and shares his experiences and knowledge with his readers to help them as technology gets more complicated.
My BOUNDER motorhome in my campsite in the Keys
Determining how things function in an RV
All RV owners eventually learn that their motorhome or camper is actually a collection of complicated systems designed to provide numerous comforts for those who love to travel and camp.
Of course, when the “Newbie” to camping actually purchases their first camping trailer, fifth-wheel or even motorhome, they know that there are a number of great accessories and technical comforts built into what they decided to buy.
But at the same time, most of them have no idea what makes all of those common looking devices in their camper work regardless of whether they are plugged into power in a campground, sitting in a State Park without any external power source or even while they are traveling on the roads of America.
Many RV Problems are Unique to RV's
The list of potential problems one might encounter in their RV at one time or another, is a long one. And when many of these RV problems do occur, analyzing the symptoms and determining the root cause can be a challenge for the uninitiated RV owner.
Everyone’s home and everything in it operates on 220/110-VAC which is provided by their local power company. And because of this the; heating system, cooling system, and appliances are designed to operate on this standard power source.
But the you get into your RV, you quickly realize that you own that camper so you can travel and see things, and not just sit in one place all of the time. When you travel, you want everything in your RV to operate regardless of whether you are plugged into an external power source.
You want that fridge to keep your food cold, you want the furnace or Air Conditioner to operate and keep you comfortable, you often even want your TV to operate wherever you might be.
You want thee things to operate for you, all of the time.
The problem for many RV owners is that when these appliances and things stop working, the RV owner realizes that it’s not always just a matter of replacing a fuse or resetting a breaker to get things working again.
RV AC Power System
RV Owners are not Trained to fix their own RV
In a perfect world, every RV Owner would attend special training classes where they were able to learn how everything in their RV works; as well as learning how to keep their RV in top working condition.
If you search the web you can find a number of specialty schools that provide both online and onsite classes for RV owners. Sad to say though most buyers only get a quick walk-through on how to operate everything in their camper and are then handed the keys.
When your RV is a motorhome, you will generally get to drive your new vehicle around the local roads for ten minutes or so, with the dealer’s salesman spouting instructions as you navigate your new RV around and back to the dealership.
There are so many unique differences between what is necessary to keep everything in your home functioning as compared to what an owner needs to know to keep everything in your RV functioning.
As an example, the salesman may show you how to turn your 2-way Fridge on, and even how to switch modes from Electric to Propane, but they will generally not spend the time needed to explain to you just how this unique Fridge design functions, much less what the typical problem symptoms might be.
This same lack of adequate training applies to other important RV systems such as;
- Built-In Alarms that detect CO and Smoke in your RV,
- Temperature Control Panel which manages your Air Conditioner and Furnace functions,
- Power Management Panel which detects and selects AC-Voltage power sources and also allocates available current to electrical systems.,
- Power Cut-Off Switches which can keep your batteries from being discharged when your RV is in storage,
- GFCI Systems which typically include AC-Voltage receptacles that are near potential grounded equipment such as sinks, showers, stoves, etcetera,
- COACH (AUX) and CHASSIS (MAIN) Power systems and define which of the internal RV electrical equipments operate on each,
- built-in Generator system and define how to start, and service it properly,
- INVERTERS and CONVERTERS and define what each does and what they provide power for,
- Satellite Systems, define the antennas and receivers built into the RV.
- TV’s and Video Distribution Systems and define how they operate,
- Holding Tanks and management techniques,
- and much more.
Just a Checkbook
All you need to know about an RV when you purchase it is how to sign the check.
— Don Bobbitt
The School of Hard Knocks
What typically happens is that all of these untrained RV owners hit the roads and land in campgrounds looking to enjoy their campers while on their vacations.
But when something in their RV eventually stops working the typical new RV owner is left trying to learn the hard way just how to get things functioning once again.
Most RV owners would happily make minor repairs on their RV, if only they knew what to do to trouble-shoot a problem and what the potential repair should be for that problem.
But the first problem for RV owners is the fact that the provided Owner’s manuals do not cover how to analyze and trouble-shoot most problems that eventually occur with pretty much everything in their RV.
In fact, more often than not, most RV owners end up asking their more experienced campground neighbors how to figure out what’s wrong with their RV when a problem does occur.
RV and Boat Owners
Owning an RV is a lot like owning a Boat. Your two happiest days are the day you buy one and the day you get rid of it!
Local Mobile RV Technicians
When you do have a problem with your RV, it often occurs either while on the road, or if you're lucky while sitting in a campground. Either way, you're far from home so one thing you can do is try to find a local RV technician who will come to you and work on your problem.
If you've been living the RV lifestyle for a few years, you may already know to to fix many of the more common RV problems when they do occur, and you probably even have some level of roadside insurance overage.
So when your problem has you and your camping neighbors stumped (always ask your fellow campers if they know what to do because they are a free source of information), you need to move to the next level of help.
Roadside Assistance Insurance
There are several good Roadside Insurance Companies that will provide their customers with such aid as;
- Flat Tire Replacement if you have one or if you purchase one through them
- a Battery jump for your RV or TOAD
- 1 or 2- gallons of gas if you run out
- and if necessary, towing to a nearby service center for more complex repairs
Each of them have long lists of affiliate garages around the country that they can call on to help you. Having this insurance for your RV is highly recommended for campers.
Certified Mobile RV Technicians
Another option for yo is to search for a local mobile technician that is certified in repairing RV problems.
They are out there, these mobile techs, and they’re ready to come right to your RV and trouble-shoot your problem and then they know where to get the parts needed for the repair and fix your problem.
Most of the time!
You can usually go to your campground's office and ask them if they know who the more familiar local techs might be. They will usually have the phone number of at least one such tech that they allow to come into their campground and do work.
Remember though, allowing these technicians to come into the campground is not an endorsement of their skills or their pricing. These things are something you as the RV owner, will always need to determine.
Travel Time - If you do use one of these mobile technicians, remember to ask them how far they are from your campground because they are going to charge you for their travel time in addition to their regular labor for repairing your RV; and they are not cheap.
I have personally used both certified technicians and I have used local technicians who are not certified but essentially are self-trained. I’ve been lucky with technicians in both categories over the years and paying them so that I could hit the road again was such a relief that their costs were worth it to me.
Whenever possible I do try to find a mobile technician who is certified in repairing the equipment I suspect is bad. I have even asked them to show me their certification, if I suspect that they might not know wht they are doing.
The best national certification company that I know of is RVIA. Their techs are well-trained, knowledgeable, do good work and can be found around the country.
In some parts of the country the selection may be small or non-non-existent but when this happens, I’ll just get on the web and ask Google; Find a RV Service Technician nearby. This will almost always produce at least one trained professional who can help me.
RV Service Centers are a popular option
RV Service Centers are an option
This very lack of documentation and training on the finer points of keeping everything working in an RV is what drives so many RV owners to RV Service Centers.
The larger RV dealers provide service and there are several nationwide chains that specialize in RV Service and probably the largest ones that you can find nationwide are; Camping World, and General RV.
These Service Centers, or at least the ones with manufacturer certified technicians, are capable of handling pretty much any RV problem efficiently, or at least that’s what they tell you.
But there are some problems you need to consider when you use one of these Service Centers;
- Getting your RV to the Service Center (towing a big camper or motorhome can be expensive, so always carry RV Roadside Service insurance),
- Wait Times (during different times of the year it can take weeks to get an appointment for your repairs if they are loaded, even if they're the ones who tow you to their Service Center),
- High Hourly Rates (Hourly Rates for work at these service centers is high regardless of the job being done, so always be prepared for that bill),
- Repair Parts costs (so many of the repairable parts in RV’s are unique designs and are sold in low volumes which accounts for their high costs),
- Repair Parts Delivery times (Many of the repair parts are not replaced often and the manufacturers and Service Centers do not keep much, if any, inventory, so you may be made to wait for days or even longer to have the part delivered to them for installed),
- Hotel and Motel Costs (you may end up staying in a Motel while your RV is being repaired because most service enters do not allow people to sleep in their campers while the RV is in their garage.),
Then there is always the chance that the technician’s diagnosis is wrong or the wrong parts are ordered so they have to start over diagnosing your problem. Sadly, most of the time, regardless of how accurate they are, you will still have to pay for all of that extra labor and parts.
So, are Service Centers right for you?
Usually, they are what most of us RV owners call "a necessary evil" because your options are often limited and the next nearest service center can be many miles or even another state away.
I should state that like every other industry, there are good service centers and bad ones out there. Regardless of where you end up getting your work done; we RV owners do and will continue to use them often, mostly because we have no other viable option for getting our RV back on the road.
So, What do you do when your RV has a problem?
What the RV industry needs, in addition to improved functional training for buyers, is a good set of problem trouble-shooting procedures that the average user can, if they want, follow and determine the most probable cause of their problem for themselves.
Sure, in some instances, they may still need to have their RV repaired by a manufacturer’s certified Service Center, but at least they can often diagnose and fix the simpler problems themselves.
Trouble-Shooting your RV 2-way Fridge
Trouble-Shooting your RV Roof Air Conditioner
How to maintain your RV batteries
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Don Bobbitt
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on June 17, 2020:
Mike - What is your floor problem, and what kind of RV do you have?
Mike sowell on June 17, 2020:
Need advice on fixing floor in my rv
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on November 06, 2018:
Peg - Thanks for the comment.
I'm in the middle of getting my old Bounder back into shape after ignoring it for the past 7 months in storage.
I now have a list of over a dozen little things that i want to upgrade before I take the unit out for a trip of any length, so, I'm paying for my laziness right now.
The Discovery is a great rig! Get it going and hit the road. My wife and I don't take long trips now, but we do try to take short one to three week trips when we can.
You have a great day,
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on November 06, 2018:
You're so right about the travails of owning a motorhome. Our diesel pusher Discovery has rested idly beside our garage for over five years now. One by one, the issues have arisen and fixing them has not been a priority. Maybe one day we will get it sold and as the quote goes, find happiness.
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on November 03, 2018:
Liz - Now that would be scary! LOL!
Liz Westwood from UK on November 02, 2018:
It sounds like RVs have all the developments that cars have had such as in-built sat-navs plus some more in the back. What next? Driverless RVs?
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on November 02, 2018:
Liz Westwood - What you say is true.
And you can add that the more money you put into a new RV, the more complex the luxuries and their maintenance.
Take Navigation for example. Once we RVers used simple maps to plan our trips. Then companies developed those small navigation boxes like GARMIN and we became slaves to their accuracy and latest updates.
Now? Well, the Navigation systems are built into the RV and they not only plan your trip but also show you where you may want to stop for a rest area, or a restaurant, or or entertainment.
We asked for it and they provided it! LOL!.
Have a great day!
Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on November 02, 2018:
Wow, Don. Great article, comprehensive and easy to understand. I do not have an RV, nor have I ever had one. But, If I did I certainly would appreciate all the tips and information you've written here for RV owners.
Liz Westwood from UK on November 02, 2018:
I am guessing that with advanced functionality and technology these days it is no guarantee of reliability. As systems have become more complex, si have their repair and maintenance. I have a friend with a boat. Every boating season recently it has been out of the water for a problen to get fixed.
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on October 31, 2018:
Hey old friend! Great to hear from you. I got caught up in the Q&A world for a few months with HP. But now, I'm reorganizing my stuff to stay viable with the new Maven/HP world.
Removing what I call "Good Hubs" and converting what they now want (ie. money makers) can eat up a lot of time.
And, I'm going back to my unfinished books.
But, enough about me, I do watch your mailbag, How are you doing with our new HP world??
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 31, 2018:
I haven't seen your name pop up in the feed for quite awhile. Good to see. I hope you are well, my friend.