My Least Favorite Part of Fulltiming

Let me propose as scenario: You’ve sat for four days waiting for work on your rig to be done, and although it was stressful and went a little longer than expected, the work was completed and you are finally heading down the road, towards plans you’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, and your heart is light because despite the delay you are headed to see good friends you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s a long day of driving, but that’s OK because it gets you a little bit closer to where you want to be and you get to see some highway you haven’t been on before, which is always fun. But then, near the end of the day when you are pulling out of a fuel stop you hear a little noise.  You disregard it, because you are pretty near your campground, but when you pull in there and come to a stop you hear it again. Suddenly you are paying attention and the possibilities start rattling through your mind and ultimately you land on it might be a brake pad.

Now, you have a couple of choices.  You can keep driving or you can stop, but if you stop, where will you take it?  Yes, you have a warranty or maintenance plan, but not all dealers have the parts in stock, and that’s assuming you can even get an appointment in one right away.  Thankfully, you are close to a major city, but that’s an hour in the wrong direction, and you didn’t unhitch because this is supposed to just be a quick overnight stay; eat, sleep, leave. You can’t check it yourself, because you have to take the tires off to check it on a dually, and it could be a missing pad, or a worn pad, or a sticking caliper, or a piece of rock or grit.  You have no idea.  If you weren’t pulling the trailer it probably wouldn’t be such a big deal, maybe you just drive it for awhile and see what happens.  But you are pulling a trailer and that makes a difference.  So what do you do?

I’d love to say these scenarios rarely happen, but unfortunately I have found that in this lifestyle they are all too common.  I talked to my mother and she asked me if everything was fixed.  My response was a rueful laugh and I told her that there is always something broken, or about to break.  She said that sounded like home ownership and I agreed, and then we moved on to talk about other things.  But that conversation made me think, and honestly this post is way overdue.  I have talked about specific repairs before as they occur, but never really focused on the fact that something is always broken and we are constantly making the “do we stop to deal with it, or keep going and see what happens” choice.

I’m not kidding about that.  I think it’s fair to say from the moment we bought the rig, at least one thing has always been wrong with it from the very beginning.  And to be clear, this is NOT a bad rig.  In fact, we have had much better luck than many people we know, and most of them bought more expensive rigs than we did.  Even so, it can seem like it’s always something, and it can wear on you.  It’s not just the RV either, because there is also the truck, and despite the fact that we have a warranty and a maintenance plan on the truck and an extended warranty on the RV we have still spent our share of money on repairs.  Sometimes it’s not covered, sometimes it’s easier to do it ourselves, or sometimes it’s not worth the hassle of finding an RV tech.  We carry around a list of things we can live with and it seems as soon as something is crossed off the list a new thing comes along to replace it. Sometimes more than one.

It’s not just the money, although that’s certainly not fun, but it’s also the time, which usually comes down to parts availability.  We have had bent stairs, for example, for over two years now, and despite Lee checking numerous RV dealers have never found a set in stock we could just buy so he could swap them out.  Even if we bought them, we would then need to fix them right away, because we don’t really have room to store them a spare set of quad steps that weigh 90 pounds. And it’s never easy.  The simplest repair can turn into a much bigger deal once you start to dig into it.  If you have lots of time and money is less of a factor this may not be such a big deal, but for us, working and traveling it’s hard to always find the time to squeeze the repairs in.

It doesn’t help that I am not mechanical at all.  My dad never taught me car repair, or home repair, and in all fairness to him it’s not like I was chomping at the bit to learn, either.  I don’t even get to use the excuse that I am a woman because I know several women who fix things in their rigs all the time, sometimes just by watching You Tube videos.  I rely heavily on Lee to fix all of these things, which in turn puts a lot of pressure on him.  He is a handy guy, always has been, but he’s not that crazy about doing something he’s never done before when the stakes are high.  We have the warranties and would both love to use them, but that’s not that easy either.  Because you have to find a place, then get an appointment, and then wait the extra time it takes to actually get it done.  Those of you who have had issues know how this can end up taking weeks, or months. Many months. Most importantly, what happens if you are down the road and realize the problem isn’t really fixed.  I know someone who went to three different places in three areas of the country to get one repair done, and another who have been to six locations and the problem still isn’t resolved.

If you live in a sticks and bricks this is less of an issue because you know where the service tech is.  If your car has a funny noise and the service department can’t figure it out, you keep going back until they do, or you buy a new car! We’ve all been there, that phantom problem that no one can quite diagnose, but they find other stuff wrong while they are looking. Plus all of this stuff happens in your home where you don’t have a ton of options.  This morning for example I got into the shower and realized there was hardly any hot water.  My mind was racing as I took a very quick shower and thought: Is this when the water heater breaks?  This rig is almost four years old and that is one part that is still original.  Turns out the heater was turned off last night accidentally but it could have gone a different way.  The choices are always: Live with it or stop moving until Lee does it himself or we find someone to do it or take it somewhere.

And it’s frustrating for both of us. I spent a long time living in”LaLa Land” where these things weren’t really my problem, but we don’t travel that way anymore.  Truck or rig problems are my problems as well, and I am woefully ill equipped to deal with them. We have friends we can call, and the internet to peruse, but at the end of the day we have to decide and then live with those decisions.  And the weird thing is we can go months with nothing major happening then: Wham! Everything happens at once…not unlike a house where inevitably the dishwasher dies three days after you get the washing machine replaced.

And I am fully aware that “it is what it is” and my vision of the lifestyle didn’t include all of these things.  I know that.  I also know that if I lived in a house the repairs would be more expensive if not more frequent.  I also understand that these rigs are not really built to handle the constant movement we put them through, and it’s part of the price we pay for a “rolling lifestyle”.  I totally get all of that, I really do.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.  For me it is my absolute least favorite part of all of this and I don’t think that is ever going to change.  We both are going to have to learn how to handle it better.  I know someone who had problem after problem with her rig and she said once that she had “lost confidence.”  I didn’t really understand that at the time but I understand it better now.  I have started year 4 with the understanding that I need to be more vigilant and be deeply involved with what is going wrong. I need to learn how to fix things and stop letting my mind glaze when the discussion turns too technical.

I am also honest enough to say I truly don’t know how much that change will impact my overall experience.  Ignoring all this stuff made things quite a bit more pleasant and I don’t know how much worry I am willing to carry around all of the time. I simply need to find a way to deal with it and roll with the punches, knowing these things generally work out in the end.  And again to be clear I am not saying repairs are going to drive me off the road.  I am saying that like money, or healthcare concerns, there needs to be a reasonable balance in my life. When these issue rear their ugly head it’s easy for me to start feeling like the sky is falling.  It’s not, obviously, and it’s important to keep these things in perspective no matter how long the list is.  Oh, and if you think I am blowing all this out of proportion, as of today here is our current list.  None of it is an emergency, but it’s a pretty long list for Lee to have to carry alone.

  • Bent stairs need replaced (planning to do this at the reunion rally, they’re already on the way to meet us there)
  • Trim and wood squares need replaced (need to rent or borrow an air compressor and finish nailer)
  • Hot water hose to washing machine has pinhole and needs to be replaced or spliced
  • Squeak in kitchen floor (needs looked at but not in a place that is easy to inspect)
  • Couple of small cracks in the body at the corners of slides (frame crack or just surface, no way to tell without pulling the skin off which is a huge job)
  • Rusted lever on hitch (oiled recently but still too hard for me to push down, needs to be taken apart, cleaned and lubed)
  • Inner drop sleeve on front right jack difficult to raise and lower, not sure if bent or just needs cleaned and lubed)
  • Consistent error messages on autoleveling system (seems to clear when panel is reset but still occurs on occasion)
  • Back right oven burner doesn’t autolight consistently. (Igniter is slightly out of alignment and won’t “stay put” every time Lee tweaks it)
  • Super squeaky bathroom door (Lee has tried multiple fixes for this and they work for a while but then the noise comes back)
  • Front door latch is sticking needs repaired or replaced
  • Fantastic fan in the kitchen is not raising (Lee fixed it once it worked for a while then stopped working again)
  • Light under stairs not working (Just needs a new bulb)
  • Kitchen sink needs to be removed and reinstalled, the design is such that the clips keep failing and it drops just enough to break the seal. (Lee has done exhaustive research into potential solutions but has yet to find one that is a good pun intended)
  • Crack in both sides of mirrored closet doors (caused by the sagging slide floor allowing them to pop out of the track while traveling)
  • Wiring harness connector from truck to trailer needs replaced (Lee actually did this this morning before we hit the road.)

(Trace asked me to add anything I thought of, but after reading the list with everything all in one place all nicely listed out, it’s too depressing to add to. But, things like replacing some of the baggage door seals BEFORE they fail, some re-caulking and resealing on the outside BEFORE it fails, other preventative stuff. – Lee) 

You would think from that list that we never took care of anything, but if you read the blog and look at the maintenance and home improvement budgets you absolutely know that is not the case. And in all fairness I am sure my sticks and bricks repair list was just as long if not longer.  Something about living in an RV though, for me, makes the list feel longer.  Maybe it’s because it’s such a small space.  Maybe it’s because the consequences of a failure seem more dramatic.  Whatever the reason, it feels like a lot of stuff. And feel free to add your list in the comment section.  If nothing else that might make us both feel better 🙂

Oh, and to get back to my scenario:  What we did was get up at 5am (couldn’t sleep) and around 6:30am disconnect the truck and took it for a test drive together.  We both verified the grinding sound was there, although faint, so at 7am promptly Lee started calling service centers.  Luckily he not only found one that was willing to take him, but also had all the parts in stock and by 1pm he was done and the work was 100% covered by our maintenance plan.  He offered me the option of traveling that day to make up the time, but I thought it was too late for both of us so instead we paid for an extra day and spent another night. (I would like to point out before someone else does than yes, I do have the brakes inspected with every oil change. They always tell me they measure them, but we all know that’s just not true. This happened on Tuesday this week, and on the previous Saturday it was in for an oil change, and the paperwork I got back says that there’s 10mm of pad left. That’s on pads that are 4 years old and at 85,000 miles. I despise lazy and dishonest mechanics. – Lee)

Because it all worked out so well it’s tempting to look back on this post and either soften it or delete it. I’ve done that many times in in the past with “unpleasant” topics,  but I am not going to do that this time.  Regardless of how it turned out, the frustration in the moment when we were dealing with the problem was legitimate.  It’s part of this lifestyle and not something that necessarily comes through in the pretty pictures of the million dollar views.  I certainly didn’t think these moments would be such a huge part of my new life, so consider it a cautionary tale.  All that being said, I still think it’s worth it, but in those moments of fear and uncertainty I have my doubts. that’s part of my story as well.

Update from Trace: The next morning we woke up and I was excited to get on the road again when we received an error (again) on our leveling system.  We have had intermittent errors, but Lee recently spent a significant amount of the time on the phone with tech support who talked him through a system reboot and we thought we were all set.  Unfortunately this was a new error and we were unable to lift the RV enough to hitch.  Eventually Lee was able to get it just high enough (and I mean just barely, within an inch or so) to get hitched, but it was very stressful and prompted another one of those fun “what should we do now” conversations.  This problem we both already knew was not an easy fix and probably needed service work done at a bay unless Lee can either repair or replace the bad jack(s) himself. No way we were going to get that done and still make the rally, so we decided to stay hitched until we reached the rally and then see how it went and possibly deal with there, or immediately after.

Lee wants to try to do a few things himself before we go to a bay but needs to talk to Lippert tech support first.  He can work on it as long as we are hitched, but once it comes down if we can’t get it back up we are stuck.  So, we have a short-term solution and the longer term solution may be leaving the rally and going directly to a service bay and hopefully getting this fixed once and for all. That will mean of course we can’t go straight to Utah and every day we spend at the repair center we lose some of our “off” time. 

And here’s the thing that really came out of this whole conversation, which was pretty tense and stressful by the way. This is definitely part of the deal now and we really need to think about what that looks like.  Let’s say hypothetically we spend three weeks a year getting repairs done.  That doesn’t sound so bad, until you think about how much we work and usually in places that these repairs aren’t possible.  So far our plan is to work 10 months to have 2 off, which is a pretty fair deal for us, and better than anything we ever had in our old life.  If we have to spend three weeks of those two months getting repairs done, however, that’s not so great.  Sure, it’s still five weeks “vacation” a year, but that is starting to look a lot more like our old life.  The key of course would be finding a way to get these repairs done while we are working and we talked about that as well. – Trace

So that’s where we are, and one more time I will stress that I have drawn no conclusions from this.  I have, however, stopped burying my head in the sand and we need to find a way to address all of this head on.  The rig is four years old and I assume the need for repairs will only increase over time.  We need to figure out as a unit what we can do to mitigate down time (and costs) from those repairs and see what our new normal looks like. What I can’t do is stomp my foot and feel entitled to anything.  Instead, I am going to have a beer and a ridiculously giant ribeye at The Big Texan.

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