You’re driving down the road in 40-plus feet of home on wheels and you hear a weird noise or one of your safety sensors goes off. It could merely be an inconvenience or it could be a calamity. You won’t know until you get the problem diagnosed. It could be an easy fix that you can do yourself or it could stall your trip for weeks, resulting in a costly trip to a mechanic.
We live full-time in our motorhome and for better or worse, we have often had to rely on the assistance of roadside or mobile RV repairmen to assess and repair the damages. Although at the time, they seem like lifesavers, we have had more than our fair share of bad service. It has become our belief that, since they are fully aware that we are traveling, they know and possibly take advantage of the fact that we won’t be around to complain to their bosses, demand a refund, or ask that they fix whatever problem they leave us with. They get their money, we get down the road, and we’re stuck with the problem. This story illustrates our first experience with this phenomenon and what we took away from it.
Where We Were
We got our 42-foot, Class A Tourmaster coach in October of 2013, after it had been shuttled up to us in Minneapolis from the Texas panhandle. Upon our first inspection of the newly acquired RV, it was clear the main living room slide out protective cover had been left in the brutal west Texas sun for quite some time before becoming ours.
We later discovered that the previous owner had been living in the coach near his job site for nearly two years, without ever moving the coach. This meant that the slide out cover was left open to be damaged by the ultraviolet rays of the sun, dry and terse winds, pelting sand storms, and hail constantly during its stay, protecting the slide out roof from the elements, as they are built to do. We intended to handle this ASAP, but due to other circumstances, it had to wait until we were visiting family in Georgia the following year.
Typically, the materials used in the slide out covers are akin to the tarpaulins used daily by many mechanics, farmers, and outdoor construction companies. The only difference is that the RV covers are of a thicker gauge and unfortunately, most are not UV protected or UV resistant. Over time, these covers get thinner and thinner due to the effects of the sun and elements beating upon them. This generally causes them to come apart on the edges first, as they are not hemmed like clothing is, and therefore, fraying occurs.
During the Fall and Winter of 2013, the slide out cover became increasingly more frail and loose. It had frayed on both ends and then high winds caused it to eventually rip near the back end of the center portion of the cover. It was slowly tearing away from the main spindle on the outside of the slide out, as well as at the seam next to the main body of the RV where it was connected to the metal cover that houses the spindle when the slide out is brought in.
There were also numerous pinholes in the cover due to the elements it was exposed to, making its structural integrity all the more questionable. This was happening at the same time as the ongoing fraying of the edges. These pinholes would also soon manifest shortly after in the other two slide-out covers that protect the smaller bedroom slides. Time was definitely taking its toll, even though the coach was only six years old and we had possession of it for less than a year.
Diagnosing the Problem
The tears were getting harder and harder to ignore as they loudly flapped in the winds of early fall and winter of 2013. Due to other, more pressing problems, we chose to ignore it through the following summer, which resulted in it becoming far worse until it absolutely could not be ignored.
If for no other reason than the “Flap, flap, flap!” of the now untaught cover smacking on the slide out roof itself, it had to be replaced so we could keep our sanity if nothing else. By this time, we found ourselves in south central Georgia, in the town of Perry off of I-75. We were there visiting family and chose to have various repairs made during our three-week stay.
We asked at the RV park's front desk to see if they had a suggestion for a reliable mobile RV repairman. The one we were referred to came highly recommended by both the park and several of its regular customers. Incidentally, he also had several business cards strategically placed on a bulletin board on the wall and at the front desk.
Having previously overlooked them, we grabbed one and gave him a call the next morning to set up an appointment for the following day. He seemed quite confident that he could save our sanity from the abyss of nightly taunting by the flapping and banging cover due to the sadly torn fabric. Relief finally seemed in sight.
The Roadside RV Repairman Experience
Upon arrival, the local RV repairmen went straight to work on the many rudimentary and common malfunctions that plague a coach that has seen as many years as ours. The little, but extremely irritating electrical shorts and broken switches that kept our dining room lights from working were remedied with ease. These guys had obviously done this type of work before.
They weren't, however, experienced enough with generator ills, so they were disinclined to even look at the problems we were having with that. It would have to wait for a more seasoned generator professional to roll his cuffs up and confront those issues. Plumbing also was avoided, which surprised me because I thought that was given, but it wasn't their cup of tea. Could I have been too soon lulled into their facility with the switches and shorts? Surely not!
Vet Your Repairmen
I asked the repairmen if they could fix the slide out cover and without hesitation, they gave a hearty yes. Ladders were pulled out, the spool for the slide out cover was removed and the remaining fabric was cut off. It looked so naked without all that hardware - and dirty! My next cleaning project had been revealed. Haha!
The repairmen said they would look at the serial number on the spool and get the appropriate replacement for all of the hardware, as well as the fabric itself. This took longer than expected. All told, it was about ten days and we had to round up the repairmen, as they had stopped returning our calls. Eventually, we cajoled them into installing the replacement cover later that afternoon, as they had gotten the parts via courier and they were in the park anyway.
They installed the parts later that afternoon while we were away visiting family. This is where the lesson began. No communication from a person or a business when they promised they would be in contact is almost always a portent of bad things to come. All told, the cost of the repairs equaled about $1,800 and delayed our journey by almost a week.
The simple fact that we were not there while the awning was installed over the slide out was the key to what ultimately happened. Usually, my husband or I observe when things get installed or replaced, whether we are experienced in that particular process or not. Why? Basically, it is just good sense.
First, you can become educated in how the installation or replacement/repair is done, giving you the opportunity to potentially do it yourself in the future. Second, you can oversee the project and possibly notice if or when expensive shortcuts are taken. These shortcuts are the mistakes that you will be paying for in the end if something is done in a less than professional manner or a less than permanently repaired way. It's your money, so you might as well be the foreman over it, especially on something as finicky as a Class A motorhome.
Without being there, neither one of us caught that the new awning was not installed properly and, in fact, had quite a bit of play in it. This allowed the wind to have plenty of room to catch and wreak havoc upon the newly installed system. Less than five months later, while we were driving down I-94, a 70-mile per hour gust did just that.
The Ultimate Lesson The awning tore and began unwinding as we drove the Tourmaster down the road. I was following in the chase car and was frantically trying to tell my husband to pull over. As the awning fell off the RV, it nearly hit me. The wind split the awning in many pieces, as another gust gave the parts the additional lift to sail past me unharmed, and into the middle median somewhere between Fargo and Little Falls, Minnesota.
To replace the new slide out cover with another new slide out cover would be another $1,250. Thank goodness for insurance. It covered the loss of the awning due to the battering wind, and replaced it immediately. It did, however, leave behind many scratches that would still need to be addressed.
The moral of the story is to always be on site during repairs, ask questions, and oversee those who repair your RV. Otherwise, you may just have to make those repairs again. When you hire someone, you don't know what their weak points are. Without being there to observe and compare in a “before and after” sort of way, you can’t be 100% certain that something was properly installed, replaced, or repaired. Short cuts and lack of communication can be a costly lesson without proper insurance to pick up the slack.
If you found this interesting or helpful, check out “Our Worst Roadside RV Repairmen Experiences Part 2: Diesel Down the Drain” to learn about one of our most dangerous experiences.