RV Repairs Advice – Are You Prepared for a Break-Down?

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broken down rv

I’ll never forget the first major breakdown of my camper. My husband had dropped me at the entrance to Zion National Park to enjoy a quiet day by myself while he went mountain biking on the nearby JEM Trails. Less than a half-hour later, his phone number popped up on my cell phone screen.

“We have a problem,” he said when I answered the call. Our beloved vintage campervan had just ejected the majority of its oil out of the engine, and it was officially stuck on the side of the road. On a Sunday. In one of the most religious parts of Utah.

Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. Whether you’re remote or near a big city, those who travel for long stretches of time will undoubtedly be dealing with RV repair while on the road.

Here are a few tips and tricks for handling this inevitable hiccup of traveling life.

Safety First

While sometimes you can spot a mechanical issue from the safety of a campsite or parking lot, other times these issues appear while you’re driving. If this happens to you—as it did to me—the first order of business is ensuring your safety and the safety of anyone traveling with you. As much as you’re able, depending on the severity of your issue, park your RV well off the road and away from major thoroughfares. You might consider carrying an emergency light kit to place behind your rig, which is especially useful if you get stuck on a busy road.

In my case, my husband was able to get our rig into a nearby trailhead before turning off the engine, opening the hood, and saying, “Well, crap.”

What’s the Issue?

Having an idea of what is wrong with your rig is half of the battle. It pays to know a bit about the mechanics of your RV before heading out on the road. That, paired with a healthy dose of Googling, can often help you narrow down the issue.

Is it an engine problem? Did your blackwater tank break a bracket, and it’s now dragging on the ground (eww)? Is your transmission slipping? Understanding the general problem will help you with your next step, tracking down an RV repair shop near you.

Finding RV Repair Near Me

Getting an RV repaired is often a bit more complicated than a car or truck. One shop may be able to work on your engine (the “car parts”) but won’t touch a stuck camper door. Another shop can re-attach that blackwater tank but not repack your axle bearings. And especially when you’re talking about needing to get your camper towed, you’ll want to get your destination right the first time.

If it’s a weekday during business hours, you’re in great shape. Start by checking reviews on Google or Yelp and then call around to make sure that the shop can do the repair you think you need and get you an appointment promptly. Make sure they know what kind of camper or RV you are bringing in, along with how tall, wide, and long it is. Not all shops have the space to take in oversize vehicles.

If it’s after business hours, or—as my luck would have it, Sunday in rural Utah—you’ll need to make some educated guesses. Search Google and Yelp, but don’t be shy to ask any locals you can find for recommendations.

If you need to get towed, another great resource is your tow truck driver, who often knows the local mechanic shops well. They should at least be able to tell you if any given shop has a tall enough bay for a big vehicle, for example.

truck getting towed with an airstream

Getting Towed with RV Insurance or Roadside Assistance

Getting an RV, camper, or trailer towed can be tricky business. Make your life much easier by getting RV insurance with roadside assistance or a standalone RV roadside assistance plan.

Ask your insurance agent if roadside assistance and towing are included in your insurance, and if they are not, ask if an add-on plan is available. Though they’ll have the make and model of your RV or trailer, it doesn’t hurt to make sure they understand that you’re asking for a roadside assistance plan specifically designed for campers before purchasing.

This is important because, depending on what kind of camper you have, towing it isn’t always a walk in the park. Large campers will often require a flatbed that can fit their length, and towing a motorhome requires a specific type of tow truck setup. The bonus of having an assistance plan is that they often include roadside maintenance for simple repairs, which can help you avoid a trip to the shop altogether.

Another option is to purchase a standalone roadside assistance plan specifically designed with RVers in mind. FMCA, Good Sam Roadside Assistance., AARP, Coach-Net, and AAA all offer options. An important note: regular AAA coverage does not cover recreational vehicles—you need to purchase an RV-specific plan. Many new RVers hit the road thinking their AAA coverage is sufficient when most likely, it’s not.

No matter how you are getting your rig towed, be as detailed as possible when calling the tow company. There’s nothing like waiting three hours for a truck only to have one arrive that isn’t equipped to tow your camper.

While I was unlucky on the timing of my breakdown, I was lucky in my RV insurance plan, which covered the towing fees with no questions asked.

Airstream repair shop

Where Do I Stay While My RV is Being Fixed?

When you live in your camper, having to hand it over for a repair is inconvenient at best and life-disrupting at worst. Here are a few options for where to stay during RV service:

Stay in a Nearby Hotel or AirBNB: I know, I know—you didn’t hit the road in your camper just to in a hotel. But often, the fastest route between a broken RV and a fixed one is for you to get it to the mechanic and let them do the repairs quickly. If you tell the hotel clerk where you’re staying that you are stranded awaiting repairs, they might just dig up a discount for you.

Use Trip Interruption Benefits: Ask whether your RV insurance or roadside assistance plan has trip interruption benefits. Many standalone plans do, covering the cost of your lodging and meals (up to a certain amount).

Ask to Camp at the Shop: If your RV service requires a part that needs to be ordered or you have a long wait for an appointment, ask if you can sleep in your camper in the shop parking lot. Some repair shops will even offer RVers an electrical outlet and the use of their bathroom. If you do this, Walmart-camping rules apply—don’t make yourself at home. Keep your awnings in, don’t set up your BBQ, and keep it quiet and respectful. That way, when the next person with a busted RV comes along, maybe they’ll be able to stay, too.

Schedule Repairs for When You’re Gone: This one isn’t particularly useful for urgent repairs, but if you have a laundry list of small or warranty repairs that aren’t critical, schedule them for a time when you’re planning to visit family or fly to a new destination. The bonus? If you can pull this off, you won’t have to pay to store your camper while you’re elsewhere for a few days or a week.

In total, my RV services took three days, including a 48-hour wait for a five-dollar part to arrive from Salt Lake City. Was it an inconvenience? Yes. Did it ruin my trip? Heck, no. Dealing with RV repair on the road is never a fun task, but like most experiences while traveling, it’s always an adventure. Keep your spirits up, do a bit of research to find the best shop for your needs, invest ahead of time in an RV roadside assistance plan, and you’ll be well on your way to getting back on the road.