Mr. Fix-It

Mr. Fix-It

By Greg Illes

2016-02-19_MrFixIt-2Some folks are handy, and some others – maybe not so much. Personally, I’m the handy type. In fact I’m so handy that it sometimes can be more of a hindrance than a benefit. “Opa can fix anything,” is the mantra of my grandkids, so when it breaks, fix it I must (even if it’s not worth fixing).

I’ve lost count of the number of busted medieval swords, party balloons, and cheap plastic toys that I’ve patched up in one way or another. I’m familiar with adhesives, welding, electronics, metals, soldering, and plastics, and sometimes it takes all my skills to make a $2.95 gewgaw get operational again. But it keeps the kids smiling, and it keeps my aging OCD hands and brain busy.

On my RV, there are so many things that need fixing, or just routine maintenance, you’d think that I’d get tired of working on it. Well, yes, I do occasionally need a break. But in general, I just love working on the old (2003) beast.

I don’t think my RV is any more problem-prone than any other. It’s a reputedly reliable name-brand (Itasca), and has the typical assortment of constituent components: engine and chassis, body, appliances, plumbing, electrical. Basically, a broad spectrum of things ready to break.

2016-02-19_MrFixIt-1Being handy means that I don’t have to depend on others to get me out of trouble when something goes wrong. But I’ve noticed that things do go wrong, on a fairly regular basis. (And no, it’s not because I’ve been inexpertly fiddling with them.) I carry a fair assortment of tools and parts with me (far more than the simple kit in the picture), and I’ve often put them to good use.

So here’s my quandary: Every time I fix some odd or end, I always wonder what a non-handy RV owner would do? Over the years, I’ve met quite a few people who hardly know which end of a screwdriver to hold onto. How do they cope?

Well, really, what are the choices? You either live with the fault, or you pay, and these days I mean PAY. The shop rates here in central California are over $120 per hour, and it can take many, many hours to remedy some RV problems.

Well, I’ve known for a long time that very few RV owners are “wealthy,” so how do they get their rig’s little foibles fixed up? I honestly don’t know for sure. I’m thinking that most people are simply forced to act handy, whether they can live up to the demand or not. After all, who would curtail a vacation, drive hundreds of miles to an RV service center, and wait days or weeks – just to get a leaky faucet fixed? I have to believe that most would tackle the job themselves.

Now UPGRADES – that’s an entirely different story. This is optional work. These don’t have to be done, and the rig runs fine without changing over to digital tank gauges, or quad shock absorbers, or having a high-power inverter installation to run the microwave. My fondest projects are upgrades, and I’ve done way more than my share over the last several years.

For the non-handy, upgrades are simply going to cost a lot of cash, and have to be carefully considered. Ah, but for us handy types, upgrades are a labor of pure joy, saving money and enhancing “the beast” for the betterment of all mankind. Okay, maybe that’s too enthusiastic <grin>. Let’s just leave it at “for the better.”

So what’s YOUR category? Do you DIY, or pay through the nose, or somewhere in-between?

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his excellent blog at www.divver-city.com/blog

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19 thoughts on “Mr. Fix-It

  1. Elaine

    I am getting less handy every year and so is hubby. He could probably do a lot but he does not want to. Lucky for me, at my home base I have a friend, Ron-who-can-do-everything except computer stuff. I call Ron, and for $200 he spends the day working on my HoneyDo list. Last time, he fixed my house back door which was off kilter, installed a new handheld shower and fixed the mixer attachments so they would hang the regular shower head higher, adjusted the Roadtrek bathroom door latch so it would stay shut, and adjusted three cabinet latches that were unreliable. He also reinstalled a piece that fell out from under the dashboard, some kind of air vent. There were a couple of other jobs on the list, too.

  2. Wayne Caldwell

    Ditto what all of the others have said, in addition to building a 1936 Hudson Terraplane street rod, keeping a 1968 MGB on the road and driving the wheels off a 1998 Dodge Cummins (265,000 miles), building a 14×26 sunroom addition to the house and also my 28×24 shop and all of the maintenance around the house.

  3. Fixitnut

    My friend says all RV’s are junk and I have to agree, some more than others. Always something to work on or tinker with.
    It’s all a part of the RV life.
    (There are no easy jobs)

  4. Mike

    You have to be a tinkerer,to own one of these things or they will absolutely break you… I am my extended warranty….

  5. Ronald Schulz

    I’ve done repairs/remodels for the 45 years or so we’ve been RV’ing. I was an engineer in the Navy and worked 34 years in the HVAC field. Thank God. I can’t imagine not having the knowledge to fix things. Over those years I have seen people who did not know how to use a screwdriver but I never complained because they paid me to do the repairs.
    I believe folks who buy an RV really need to take a course in basic mechanical skills. It will pay for itself…

  6. Will Swarts

    I have either replaced or pulled the drive train from the engine back to the rear end. What I did not replaced I had rebuilt. I have a 38 foot class A motorhome. It is on a ford F-53 chassis. My biggest complaint is trying to work on something which is jam pack into a tight place. I also cuss ford for using poor quality hardware for fastners, I had to use a cutting torch on many a bolt head to remove a part because the bolt heads were rusted and rounded off.. My advice if you buy a used motorhome you had better be handy. I have taken my rig to be fixed by a shop only to have to redo their shoddy work. I once did a brake job in the desert. After doing this kind of work things like replacing the crappy carpets and fawcets are childs play and what ever else needs repairing.

  7. Danni

    I’m a diy’er at home but know nothing about motors and such in a motor home. What would you suggest would be the best tools and other essentials to keep on hand. I’m a quick learner .

    1. Greg Illes

      Danni,

      I’m a truly advanced fiddler and mechanic — I even have an Aircraft/Powerplant certification (A/P) for small airplanes. But I don’t try to do much on my engine/chassis. Firstly, it’s REALLY heavy work needing a lot of strength, and some body flexibility that I’ve lost in the last 50 years. Often requires two guys. Second, it’s FAR more tools than I want to pack around on a daily basis. So for example, I’ll change hoses and belts, but (even though I know how) you won’t find me pulling driveshafts or cylinder heads.

      As for tools, that’s way too long an answer for this comment column. I suggest you poke around rvtravel.com with the search tool — there have been some very good articles written about tool-kits, they should give you a great starting point.

  8. Wolfe

    I consider myself ultra handy…as Greg notes, there is always something needing repair or upgrade on RVs, so I’ve upgraded almost everything on my rig to a crazy extent, and I travel with a crazy amount of tools for “fun.” My record crazy fix to date: welding a stranded fellow’s busted hitch roadside via buzzbox and generator. Folks sometimes hesitate to actually ask me for help, but I’ve saved many fellow campers from annoying-to-serious issues.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/GyroGearlooseHelis

    1. Patrick J Granahan

      I consider myself to be a “do-it-yourselfer”…having remodeled three houses and a lake front camp.
      Most RVs are not built to any high standard.
      Something is always failing or requiring a serious upgrade. I use the “McGiver” system quite often. I have redesigned quite a few RVs to meet my personal standards.
      Many new RVers quit the RV lifestyle because of the poor quality and even poorer over-priced service found at most RV dealers.
      Labor charges are way over the top for what little you get.
      Considering the earthquake level of shake rattle and roll inflicted on them by our poorly maintained U.S. highway system we are lucky if they last a year.
      I have been in the RV lifestyle since 1983 and the overall quality has not improved in the over 30 years I have been on the road.
      Do it yourself or do without!

  9. George

    A great source of instruction is on http://www.youtube.com You can find almost anything on that site.

  10. Tom

    Was doing wheel bearings and many other things myself for many years. I stopped because of the G-size tires on my 5th wheel. They are super-heavy. Now back to a travel trailer after my wife became a leg amputee I continued to let the dealer do the work. After a bearing lube I drove about 1,000 miels to Florida and the bearings on one wheel totally failed. Turns out the bearings were pitted – on all four wheels! Now I’m going to start doing it myself again. If a bearing shows the slightest amount of pitting or burning I’ll replace it instead of waiting by the side of the road seven hours before a flatbed trailer could tow my rig.to a nearby RV Park. Glad I had insurance for the tow.

  11. Liz Wharton

    We are super handy! In fact, my wife is so handy she became a Nationally Certified RV Technician! There isn’t much we can’t handle upgrade it repair. Engine stuff is difficult but usually we can fake it till we make it work and we know enough in general that we have the confidence to try.

  12. Mark McGahey

    If you can’t fix stuff, you better not buy an RV!

  13. Tim Bear

    I learned from my father, who grew up on a small farm during the depression, how to fix or repurpose most anything. Now – six yrs into fulltiming – I’ve repaired, tightened, loosened, replaced or remodeled many things in our first rig (30′ Airstream) and our current (’07 Tiffin 32′ Class A). R&R old analog tv w/ HD flat screen (incl reshaping & refinishing the wood bezel), added sound bar to tv setup; replaced circuit board for stabilizing jacks; replaced leaky water heater, and upgraded all faucets as well as installing supply shutoffs; invented a better shower head holder; rehung a loose microwave; repaired almost every window shade; reupholstered couch; replaced the dining room window; and tightened every handle, knob, hinge, and slider as needed.

  14. Drew

    I do everything I’m capable of doing myself. IT might not always be fun but its satisfying to know I saved money, time, and frustration. In places where I camp- if there’s someone close by that has an issue I enjoy helping out if I can-its fun and you meet some nice people.

  15. JIm Stein

    I do all of my maintenance and small repairs myself. I do have a warranty, so if the cost of the repair exceeds the deductible and I have the time, there is a local dealer that I trust. I have been a mechanic, a journeyman machinist, and am a licensed Civil Engineer. There is little I won’t do or more frequently, over-do.
    I was told as a young man: “If women don’t find you attractive, make sure they find you handy”.

    1. RV Staff

      😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

    2. Beverley

      I do what I can on my own or with family help. Large or engine related issues have to be sent out.

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