Living full-time in our RV, we have had many adventures and have covered more than our fair share of the United States. This amount of travel causes quite a bit of wear and tear on our Tourmaster. For better or worse, we have frequently had to rely on the expertise of roadside or mobile RV repairmen who assess and repair these damages. Although at the time, these repairmen seem like lifesavers, we have received quite a bit of bad service. It almost seems as though, since they know that we are traveling and will have little or no recourse if they do a poor job, they may take advantage of the situation, fully aware that we won’t be around to demand a refund, or ask for them to finish or fix the job. They receive their payment, we drive on down the road, and then we’re stuck with the problem when it manifests again.
For example, another one of our roadside repair misadventures occurred in March of 2016, during our stay in Kentucky. Louisville was just one of the many lengthy stops on our journey north after spending much of the winter in Georgia and Florida. We had been experiencing an ongoing problem that got steadily worse, yet we continued to ignore it.
When we received our Class A Tourmaster coach, it was “new to us”. Our bedroom consists of two slide-outs — one at the head of the bed and the other at the foot of the bed; both have to be extended in order to use the bed and access the master bathroom. The slide out on the bed side of the coach hadn’t functioned properly from the beginning and required a little help retracting when we needed to pull it in for traveling. We accommodated this by tugging from the inside, generally on the right side of the slide out. It always came in after giving it a good tug or two.
As time went by, we boondocked and camped more frequently, and the problem became more persistent. It took consistently more effort to get the slide to its travel position. Then, one early spring day this year, it just wouldn't come in. It stalled and emitted the loud sound of gears grinding on gears, making an awfully unusual set of noises. We tried to back it out to try again and nothing. The slide out would no longer come in or go out. It was just stuck in a position of halfway in and out, leaving us unable to go mobile. This, of course, happened at the worst time.
Diagnosing the Problem
We immediately began trying to solve the problem. We were a little low on funds and had actually been leaving the RV park to go to our retail business location. This, of course, occurred on a Saturday and was more than an inconvenience.
All of the moving parts for the bed slide out were underneath the bed. We lifted the bed up, no easy feat, and I held it up while Jonathan tried to identify a specific cause to our dilemma. What we found was not so easy to see. In fact, it was only slightly perceptible from both the inside and outside of the RV.
When looking at the track that the motorized gear rolls on, we could see that the track had been worn down and the gear was unable to get any traction. This problem was the reason our slide out was going nowhere and obviously wouldn’t until the track was replaced. Again, this was upon first glance. Getting the track out from under the gear and then out from the slide out was going to take some major work and quite possibly some special tools created just for this purpose.
We asked the owner of the RV park that we were staying at to recommend a couple of local RV repairmen. When we called the first one, we got a voicemail message stating that he would be out until the following Monday, as he was on a hunting trip. Weekends are typically not very fruitful in getting RV repairs done, especially mobile repairs, which seems odd since that is when most people travel. It seems counter-intuitive for assisting those who travel, as well as for mechanics trying to make money.
We really didn’t want to wait that long because every day we were stuck there meant another day that my husband was unable to work. Therefore, we chose the other recommended mechanic, who had a two-hour arrival time since he was on another job.
The Roadside RV Repairman Experience
When the repairman arrived, he came in and discussed the issue with us briefly and asked us to fill out the contact information. He went into the bedroom, pulled up the bed, braced it with a 2 x 4 and started looking with a flashlight into the motor area for the slide out gear. What he found was the motor and gear box had been leaking oil profusely, something we had overlooked completely. This was causing the motor to work harder and function more poorly than it should have. Apparently, this was something that had been failing the entire time we owned the coach; we were just unaware.
The mechanic also found that the bed retraction and extension system was malfunctioning and had been pulling one side of the bed up higher than the other when retracting. This put undue tension on the slide out system, making it harder for it to do its job, exacerbating the gear problem at the same time. It was creating wear on the track that the gear moves on, as well as more friction.
In an effort to get us moving again, the mechanic suggested a repair that would require us to manually operate the slide out going forward. He would do this by cutting the bed extender/retraction screws that were misaligned and removing the leaking gearbox, gear, and motor, so the slide out would flow freely unencumbered while the parts were being ordered. Although this would force us to bring the bed and its slide out in manually, it would allow us to retract the slide and be mobile until he could get the parts and fix it permanently, which was something we were willing to live with temporarily.
It was late enough when he had finished diagnosing that he chose to return the next day to actually disable the bed by cutting the screws. The next day, he cut the screws, then measured the width of the slide out to cut a couple of 2x4 wooden planks to be used as temporary slide-out locks while we were driving. (With the mechanized parts disabled, there is nothing holding the slide out in while we drive. This is more than a little dangerous. The wood worked okay, but real slide out locks cost roughly 33 to 40-dollars apiece and you need one on each side of the slide for safety.)
Once the slide out was moving freely, he was basically done for the day. He took pictures of the necessary parts and said he would order them Monday. He also took the parts with him. All in all, it cost $200 to get the slide out moving by hand. The repairman, who at the time seemed professional, asked us to give him five stars on Facebook if we were happy with the work. We thought the situation would be quickly resolved, so we happily obliged that night. He was soon to leave us hanging throughout the coming week.
The next evening, we hadn't heard back from him regarding whether or not he had ordered the parts. We sent him a text message asking about them and received a message back that he had been busy and would look into it the following day. The next night, when we followed up, we got a similar reply. Fast forward to Friday of the same week, there was still no response. Finally, we we were going to be leaving town and we at least wanted the parts back if he wasn't going to follow through, order the replacement parts, and install them.
Our slide out could be moved in and out manually until a more reliable repair service could be found. We requested that he leave the parts outside so we could retrieve them and he only then responded with an assurance that he would leave them in an agreed upon spot. He offered no apology in regards to dropping the ball on getting the parts or even an explanation on why he had stopped communicating and had not followed through. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, we never made it back to get the parts. Ultimately, we left town with $200 less, a hand-movable slide-out, and fewer parts, but at least we could still be mobile. Before we left, we went back to Facebook and removed the five-star rating from his business page. We were not impressed with the jury-rigged, unprofessional, “I can break your components to work around them for now, but I can't permanently fix it!” way of doing business.
How We’re Dealing with It
Upon plenty of research and many phones calls, we have discovered that the track and motor have actually been discontinued by the manufacturer due to the poor product performance, as well as the issues with leakage that result in a total burnout. Our solution for the time being has been to manually move the slide out both in and out when we need to travel. We have been looking for a more highly-reputable dealer to install an updated motor and track that we can depend upon daily when we are regularly relocating. The estimated cost will be upwards of $700 to replace just the one slide-out.
Unfortunately, that does not include the other bedroom slide out for the closet. It uses the same type of motor and eventually, it too will fail. The expression “The devil is in the details” could not hold more true when it comes to motorhomes, travel trailers, and coaches that involve components for several moving parts. Many of these components aren't designed to be used on a daily basis. Finding one that can take that amount of use may be insurmountable and often, in many cases, requires that you commission a custom-made product to accommodate the high-use specifications. In the end it will be expensive, but will also last if you are a high-use traveler like we are.
We learned several lessons with this experience. First, if something is going wrong, even if you think it is likely just an inconvenience, look into the matter. It might just be a maintenance issue that wouldn’t have to ultimately result in a repair or replacement.
Second, don't give parts of your RV away to any repairman without, at a minimum, taking many pictures of them and their respective part numbers. Better yet, keep the parts and email the repairman the pictures as a good practice. You can't have someone else repair the problem if they don't have a reference for the parts. Keep in mind, these can literally vary from one unit to the next off of an RV assembly line due what was available when the motorhome was built.
Third, order the parts yourself after doing whatever amount of exhaustive, but necessary research online; that way, you have the parts whether the repairman shows up to actually fix what he took apart or not.
Fourth, if you are replacing a unit that has similar parts that have been recalled or discontinued, get those parts as well. Whether you install them immediately or when you can, you at least have them on hand if they should break down. If you don't, you may find yourself repeating history sooner than you want, sitting in a parking lot or campground, paying someone else to keep your parts and empty your wallet.
RVs are made primarily to be parked and driven around occasionally, even if you are a full-timer. The fickle parts tend to wear out and break down regularly, especially when they aren’t always made well to begin with. Also, proper maintenance needs to be done regularly. We were informed that, since the previous owner had not periodically oiled the track and gears, they were in worse shape when we got the coach than they should have been. Even with the maintenance that we were doing, it was a situation of “too little, too late”.
Also, make sure to look into your repairmen. Would we have been better off waiting for the other repairman who could arrive on Monday? We’ll never know. Leaving your home — and in our case, our livelihood — to a repairman who doesn't call back can make life very stressful. Use them sparingly and choose them wisely. If you found this blog informative or insightful, please share on a social media sites like Facebook, and help others learn from our mistakes.