Repairs and Maintenance Are Part of Life When You Live On The Road
We are unfortunately no stranger to the Automotive Repair Shop. Attempting to drive from Canada to Panama in any vehicle can be a challenge. Attempting to do so in a motorhome that’s over 30 years old? You’d have to be foolish to think you’re not going to breakdown at least once. Repairs and maintenance issues are part of this journey for us. In this post we’ll discuss mistakes we’ve made when bringing our motorhome in for repairs. We’re sharing with you the tips we’ve learned to avoid getting ripped off, and will give you more confidence with your own mechanical issues.
Repairs and Maintenance Tip 1:
Preventative Maintenance, Before Your Trip.
Repairs and Maintenance Before You Leave:
Simple and cheap preventative maintenance can save you thousands of dollars by avoiding unnecessary breakdowns. RV’s cost hundreds of dollars to tow and that only gets you to the repair shop. A lot of the preventative maintenance that should be carried out before a larger trip can actually be done by yourself. However, if you are not comfortable doing this type of work let your mechanic at home know how far you are planning on traveling.
Find out what needs to be done to get your vehicle in road trip shape before you leave. Most people have a mechanic they trust at home, but you’re not going to have that same relationship when you’re thousands of miles away. While you’re in a shop you trust, get any fluids flushed that need flushing, make sure your brakes have enough life for the trip, check for leaks and fix anything that needs attention now.
What That Meant For Us:
For us this included: Fresh oil and Filter, we flushed the transmission and replaced filter and gasket. Our water pump mount was cracked causing us to wear out fan belts quicker than normal so that was also replaced and coolant flushed. The rear differential fluid was a bit low and we were unsure of when it was last changed so we flushed that as well. Some of this work we did ourselves. The water pump mount had a couple seized bolts that needed heat to be removed. So for that and the transmission flush, we took it to a local garage that we’ve worked with in the past and trust. Some of it though, like changing accessory belts, oil changes, we did ourselves. In fact, the cracked water pump mount was something we found ourselves before starting this trip.
Learning how to do some basic repairs and maintenance gives you a much deeper understanding of how your vehicle works. Working on your vehicle can be intimidating, but some jobs are very beginner friendly and will help build your confidence when it comes to fixing your rig.
The internet is a great resource, and there are video walk throughs of most repairs and maintenance you may need to tackle. However before setting out on the road if there is one thing I could not recommend enough, that would be to carry a hard copy repair manual for your particular vehicle. If you are also driving an RV try and find one for the chassis your RV is built on. For example our motorhome is built on top of a 1 ton Chevy G30 Van. On amazon a new Haynes Repair manual right now is a little over $20. Or I can get a used one on amazon for under $5! Considering its going to get covered in oil stains and brake dust anyway that’s fine for me!
Repairs and Maintenance Tip 2:
Preventative Maintenance, During Your Trip
When do you need your next service?
By this point you should have a solid understanding of the current condition of your RV. After your pre trip service, you now need to find the recommended service interval for your vehicle. For example, oil changes. The traditional service interval to change engine oil and filter was for the longest time every 3000 miles or 5000 kilometers. Many newer vehicles now can go more than 10,000 miles between oil changes. One thing you’ll find though is many garages especially those express oil change shops will still go by the old 3000 mile rule. Of course they would prefer to see you 2-3 times more often, that’s how they make their money.
Look up your vehicles service intervals yourself. Take note if there are different recommendations based on “heavy use”. For example, Class C RV’s (Built off of a van chassis like ours) are carrying around a significant amount of weight all of the time. If your vehicle recommends an increased service interval for heavy use, follow that one.
Dealing with the Up-sells
Many garages are putting increased pressure on their technicians to find additional work on every vehicle that comes into their shop. If you’ve ever seen an offer for a “free break inspection” or similar, expect to be presented with a list of work the shop would like to perform. Being presented with a large quote for repairs and maintenance at home is one thing. Hopefully you already have a relationship with a garage or mechanic you can trust to steer you right. When you’re on the road in a different state or province or in a foreign country it can be a bit more intimidating.
If its fluids they are suggesting you replace or flush refer back to your own manual to see if you’re at the recommended service interval. If it’s a part they are recommending you replace ask to be shown the defective part in question and bring your manual. Parts that are frequently up-sold include brake pads and suspension joints as they are cheaper parts with high margins and can be replaced quickly. Your manual will show the “minimum tolerances” for each part, and how they are supposed to be checked. If you are dealing with a reputable shop, they should be happy to show you all of this. If instead you’re subjected to high pressure sales tactics, it’s time to find a different shop.
Repairs and Maintenance Tip 3:
When You Break Down, Have a Game Plan
Breakdowns are stressful, and rarely happen in ideal locations.
Maintenance will help reduce the chances of breaking down, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable. When they do happen it’s important that you trying remain calm as you figure out what your next steps are. Use the following steps to come up with a game plan:
Stop: Take a moment to process what is happening.
Think: Are we stopped somewhere safe? If not can the vehicle be moved to a safe location?
Observe: Try and see what is causing your issue, is this something you can diagnose on your own?
Plan: Are you going to attempt to repair yourself? Do you need a tow? Where are you going to get towed to?
It’s important to try get your vehicle to a safe location if you can. A highway exit ramp is better than on the shoulder. Even better if you can limp your vehicle into a parking lot. See if you can identify the issue. If you don’t have internet to help troubleshoot, your repair manual should have a troubleshooting section. If you can find the issue, is it something you feel confident you can fix? Do you have the tools to fix this with you?
If you come to the conclusion that you are unable to repair the vehicle yourself you will need to determine if you are able to drive the vehicle to a repair shop or if you need a tow. Two definite times you’ll need a tow would be if you have no brakes or if you have no oil pressure. If your vehicle is over heating you may decide to give it time to thoroughly cool down and then attempting short drive to a garage. Never drive a vehicle that is over heated or without oil pressure. Doing so will cause severe damage to the engine.
Picking a garage for Repairs and Maintenance
Whether you’re driving to the garage or you’re getting towed, spend some time deciding which garage to go to before you leave. For us, where we’re in an RV we need to call around to see if where we want to go will even work on us. Even though we are basically just a van, not all garages have the height requirements or lifting ability to get our vehicle up in the air.
Our usual routine is to read google reviews of shops in the area, and short list the best rated. Keep in mind how many reviews they have as well. I’d prefer to go to a shop that has hundreds of reviews with an average score of 4.5/5 than a shop that only has a couple 5/5 reviews. Once we have our short list we call around and ask our questions. Can you work on our vehicle? When is your next available appointment? What is your hourly rate?
Repairs and Maintenance Tip 4:
Keep Your Garage Honest
We’ve had to learn this the hard way.
Story time. We broke down in a Walmart parking lot just outside of Savannah Georgia. It was cold, someone the night before had tried the door handle on RV while we were in it. We wanted to move along, our brakes had other plans. When we started the RV first thing in the morning the brake pedal went straight to the floor with no resistance, and the brake light was on. Quick visual inspection, and we found a pool of brake fluid under the brake master cylinder. Not the end of the world, parts are nearby, and it’s a relatively easy part to swap out. Time to get our hands dirty.
Watch the video here:
We were so happy with the service we received
At the time I thought this garage did a great job for us. We were told the rear wheel cylinder was replaced, and the only “up-sell” we got was an additional rubber seal for a couple bucks. They reassembled the rear brakes and bled the system for us. When they got to the front right wheel the bleeder screw was broken and they recommended replacing it. I asked to see it, they showed me, I agreed. We paid, and we left happy continuing down to Florida.
Paying for the same job twice sucks.
Well fast forward to New Orleans. I’m walking back to the RV and notice some fluid under our passenger rear wheel. It’s brake fluid. Some choice words were muttered at this point. Brakes still felt firm, we topped up the fluid, stayed off the highways and made our way to another garage. We told the mechanic of the recent work we had done in Savannah, and he let us know the bad news. There was no way that wheel cylinder was changed. Furthermore, the bolts holding the wheel cylinder on were rounded off. It appears an attempt was made at the previous shop to replace the part. When they were unable to do so, the left the defective part on, charged us, and then sent us on our way.
One simple trick could have saved us a lot of money.
We should have asked for our old part back. It would have saved us a ton of money. By asking for the old part back, you know that the part was actually replaced. Because we didn’t, we’re now paying for a second shop to do the work again. On top of that the prolonged leak caused additional damage. Our rear brake shoes have spent the last couple thousand miles being soaked in brake fluid. They’re starting to crack and crumble and now they also need to be replaced. The shop showed me everything on the vehicle that needs replacing and they put together a quote…
Double check part prices and labor time.
When the service advisor gives you a quote for work to be completed, don’t agree to it on the spot. Take the quote outside and double check a couple items. You should already know their hourly labor rate before entering the shop. Next check how many hours they’re saying the job is going to take. If you have a service manual for your vehicle how long does it suggest the job should take? When it’s a small discrepancy, let it slide. If they’re saying a job is going to take 2-3 times as long, ask them why.
The biggest thing you need to check though are parts prices. Garages will charge you more for parts than the cheapest price you can find yourself. It’s just part of how they make money. But are they adding 10%-15% or several times the original price? When we got the quote from the second garage they wanted over $150 for the replacement shoes. O’Reillys, lists them for under $39.00. We ended up paying around $45.00 which we thought was fair.
Repairs and Maintenance Tip 5:
Sometimes you just have to Do it Yourself
You would think after having our brakes fixed in Savannah, then again in New Orleans we’d be good to go. Well, not quite. We were making our way to Lafayette and heard the most ear piercing squeal from the brakes. We were able to limp our way into the town of Beaux Bridge to a nearby parts store. There we explained the situation of already being to two repair shops to the manager. We asked if she would mind us taking the drum off ourselves in the parking lot. She was fine with this, asked us to park around the side of the building and we got to work.
Now I’m not going to recommend everyone start working on their own brakes. However, I have experience working on similar (smaller) brakes systems in cars. We were also able to review the procedure of removing the brake drum prior to starting the job. Lastly we had great cell reception and fast internet here. As we went along trying to troubleshoot our squeal we were also able to ask for help online via The Class C RVing Facebook Page which was an amazing resource.
Peace of Mind on the Road
If there are repairs and maintenance items you can tackle yourself you’ll not only save money, but you’ll know how well the job was done. In New Orleans, the garage replaced our shoes but never turned the drums or ground down the edge that build up along the outside of the drum. Our new shoes were rubbing against that edge and getting pulled out of alignment. I guess if you want the job done right, you have to do it yourself. We ground down the edge of the drum, reassembled and have been issue free since then.
Dayna has a theory about our success rate getting repairs and maintenance done down here in the states. The shops see our Canadian license plates, figure we’ll be out of town sooner than later and too far away to come back when something goes wrong. So if they even do the work, they do a rush job to get us out the door. Hopefully after reading this, you can learn from some of our mistakes and save yourself time money and headaches when it comes to repairs and maintenance on your rig.
Do have any other tips that you think we might of missed? Leave a comment below here, or on our Facebook Page. Thanks for reading