Working around the high price of RV upkeep

I grew up with the understanding that “buying the boat is the cheap part, It’s the upkeep that will get you if you wait too long”

I first came to truly understanding this during out first year of winter camping.  Now, when I say winter camping, I mean it.  We have a “4 season” 5th wheel, but in all honesty, whoever decided it was “4 season” had a different idea of what winter is than a Minnesotan.  This particular year it was the Iowan winter from hell.  Terribly cold, high winds and A LOT of snow.  Oh, and in addition to the lovely weather, I had to learn how to live without running water.  All I will say is thank the lord for our gym membership to 24 hour fitness and their personal showers….except for that one time when they gyms sewage system backed up into my running shower, but that’s a whole other story.

One of the main things that broke that winter was our fridge.  Well, it didn’t break, it just stopped keeping things cold.  At first, this really wasn’t a huge issue because it was winter in Iowa, giving us a natural outdoor freezer/fridge.  Yes, we were those people for the main part of the winter that stored a lot of food outside and showered (and maybe did a few dishes at the gym at night).  Once the spring thaw came we knew we had to get our fridge fixed..or replaced.  Everything J.O. looked at online told us that it was a dud. A goner.  Get rid of it.  Buy a new one.  We called the local RV store and asked for a general price.  Guess how much?  $1200. WHAT?!?! #%$@*&!  Our top of the line, four times the size fridge, in our house didn’t cost that much.  Apparently, buying things in a miniature size increases the price. We asked the woman if there was anything we could do to fix it or get the price down.  She said that we could try “burping it”.  Huh? Yes, burping, like you do to a baby.  Because RV refrigerators are not charged on freon, but ammonia, air bubbles can become created in the lines when unlevel for an extended period; causing them not to cool.  We had to remove the fridge from the wall and flip it upside down, letting it then sit for at least 4 hours.  If we were lucky, the air bubble would shift and our problem would be solved.  To our amazement, it worked!

Lesson Learned: If your refrigerator isn’t cooling, try burping it before buying another.

Our next issue came when our power convertor went out, causing our main electrical system to not work.  This also happened in the winter (yes, it was that same winter), and therefore out furnace did not work.  In this situation, we were very happy our car at the time has seat heaters to warm up on and that we belonged to that gym! Being cold is a great motivator to hit the gym. The power convertor was a $500 fix, if we wanted it replaced.  At first we were just going to pay it and move on.  The people at Camping World asked if we had any paper work or boxes that came with the 5th wheel when we bought it.  I went back and grabbed everything we had.  A box of miscellaneous receipts and various forms of paperwork to go through, but worth the trouble.   Unbeknownst to us, the convertor was still under warranty from the previous owners and luckily they were kind enough to keep all the paperwork, thus ensuring the warranty!  I was able to bring the new convertor back to the camper and install it…myself :)

Lesson Learned: Keep all your paperwork.  We now have everything in a binder and categorized. I’m become slightly neurotic.

The final issue I’m going to talk about today was that of furniture.  Our 5th wheel came with a sleeper sofa and a recliner in the living room and both have been in need of replacement.  J.O.’s recliner had been so loved that it stopped reclining.  In fact it was missing part of the foot rest all together.  This was something we thought we could remedy easily.  We wanted to buy a set so that the sleeper sofa and the recliner would match.  We looked online, craigslist, various furniture stores, and even camping stores.  We found a few recliners at the major furniture stores, but no sleeper sofas that were the odd size we needed.  All of the camping stores wanted an amount that I wouldn’t pay even if I was refurnishing my full-size living room at our house.  I guess we would have to deal with the broken recliner and the ripping sofa for awhile longer.  One day, we were driving an went past a like new recliner sitting in yard with “free” sign on it.  No way. Gross.  That’s what I said.  I told J.O. (who was acting like a boy in a fishing store about finding it) that if it were still there the next day, we could measure it and see if it was clean.  Well, it was there, it measured up and it WAS clean, I promise. Still, we had it deep cleaned and now J.O. has like new recliner and I’m working on finding a slip cover for the sleeper sofa.

Lesson Learned: Someones trash, could be your treasure.

In conclusion, don’t jump to just buying something new if it seems broken.  Try to fix it, ask around, save receipts for warranties and who knows, what you need may just pop up where you least expect it!

Here are a few other economical RV upkeep tips:

  • To clean your black tank in between trips, drop a five pound bag of ice down the toilet with a few gallons of water before traveling.
  • Use the tank cleaner and deodorizer in your tanks every time you empty.
  • If your rig is a fiberglass exterior, wax it twice a year to keep your decals from fading and tearing.
  • When leaving your rig unattended, roll up your awning.  One gust of wind can tear it off.
  • Rent a Rug Doctor carpet cleaner every two months to do a deep clean.
  • Remove your window screens twice a year and wash them.
  • If you’re going to be in one spot for awhile, place dryer sheets in the underbelly to keep mice away.
  • Spend $10 at the camping store and instal screens over your outdoor air vents to prevent bugs and animals from nesting in your duct work.
  • Check the hoses connecting your propane tanks. Over time they will crack and bleed out propane.  You can test this by spraying them with soapy water. The the water will bubble on the line if you have a crack.



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