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  • Writer's pictureBrian

Surviving a Major Breakdown - Full-time RV Life

When you live in your RV, your home is literally on wheels.  The upside is that you get to "live" in beautiful places, the downside is when it breaks down, you may be displaced.

When Brian and I started our full-time RV journey, we had a couple of "fears"that we hoped wouldn't be realized. Both involved something happening to our home whether it be a breakdown or an accident.  When you live in a traditional sticks and bricks home, you at least have the security of knowing you'll have a roof over your head when things breakdown like your AC, refrigerator or plumbing.  

Add kids or pets to the mix and things get stressful.


Video of our Breakdown:

You have several concerns and issues to deal with when your RV breaks down.  Questions you may ask yourself:

1) How do I get it to a repair shop?  

2) Where do I get it repaired ?

3) Can I afford the repairs or how will I pay for it?  

4) How long will it take to repair?

and the BIG one 

5) Where do I live while the repairs are being done?

Recently, Brian and I experienced a major breakdown that thankfully did not happen on the side of a highway, in the dark, in a small town with one mechanic who was backlogged 2 months.  We realize things could have been much worse! Here's what we learned and how we got through the 10-day ordeal!

1) How do I get it to a repair shop?

Lucky for us, we purchased a FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) membership at the onset of our going full time.  Brian was concerned the knocking noise might be serious and after further investigation, we knew a tow would be the best thing for the engine.  FMCA offers Roadside Rescue (as did our own insurance company) so we opted to contact them.  A tow was set up for the next morning.  FMCA provides a tow (through their benefit) if needed to the nearest qualified repair shop.  If you do not have the FMCA benefit, check with your own insurance company.  

Get $10 off your membership by using our affiliate link:

2) Where do I get it repaired?

This one was super challenging for us.  We began by researching repair shops on Google.  Additionally, FMCA  has resources to help you contact service centers in your area.  Ultimately, we found a Ford service center in the area that, although they couldn't do the work, referred us to a heavy duty truck mechanic that could.  The problem with the others was a lack of heavy equipment to work on the engine.  By the time we got the rig to the mechanic, who could work on it, we had been turned away by several other places.  We were floored that it would be so difficult in Florida of all places!


3) Can I afford the repairs and how will I pay for it?

We anticipated and expected we'd spend up to $5,000 for repairs and maintenance in the first year of RV'ing.  That was our budget.  We have a 2008 Winnebago Sightseer with 43,000 miles on the engine that had been meticulously maintained.  We were only the second owners of the rig.  With that being said, we assumed Brian could fix most things on the rig and the $5,000 would cover most major repairs or replacements if needed.  We DID NOT expect to have an engine failure in the first six months.  Who would?? With that being said, we opted not to purchase an extended warranty for the reasons previously mentioned.  We had looked into various extended warranty companies andWholesale Warrantieswould have been our choice if we had decided to purchase one.  Their ratings are outstanding! Alas, its for this type of situation that we maintain an emergency fund to cover such expenses.  This is a big consideration for anyone who full times in their rig whether it's a motorhome, Fifth Wheel or Tow Behind.

4) How long will it take to repair my rig?

This is the million dollar question!  The repair shop told us they could look at the problem and diagnose within 48 hours.  After that, the timeframe would be dependent on what they found, how long it would take to replace and whether or not they had the parts in stock.  We literally had to go day by day on this one.  We spit balled about a week before all was said and done and began making plans for where to live.  In some cases, the repair shop will allow you to stay in your rig, but in our case they would not.  Brian stayed in contact with the repair manager on a daily basis to assess the timeframe.  Unfortunately for us, the initial repair did not  fix the problem and the shop gave us some terrible news.  A new motor was needed!  This could have added weeks to our timeframe before the rig would be fixed.  Weeks!!  Our best advice here is to stay in contact with the service or shop manager on a daily basis. Don't be afraid to inform the shop manager that you live in the rig and time is of the essence.  In some cases they can be sympathetic and work you in a little quicker.  You have nothing to lose by mentioning it.

5) Where do I live while the repairs are being done?

This is a big one!  When you live in your rig and you have children or pets, the stress level can go way up when this type of situation occurs.  Some repair shops will allow you to stay in your rig while it's being worked on.  Ask!  In our case the shop prohibited staying in the rig on their lot.  SO, we had to find a hotel and prepare to unload clothing, food, medication, valuables, pet supplies, toiletries, etc. for  who knew how long.  We used Expedia to find a pet-friendly hotel with a kitchenette so our food wouldn't go to waste.  Leaving our rig behind meant our fridge and freezer would be turned off.  The temps outside were moderate so we didn't have to pull extra stuff out of the rig that could be damaged by heat or freezing temps.  Thank goodness!  We found a hotel about 4 miles from the rig and made two trips back and forth with all our stuff.  At first it was kind of fun having a king size bed, shower with unlimited running water and more space to spread out, but eventually we began missing our home.  Another benefit of FMCA's roadside rescue is trip interruption.  FMCA will cover the cost of out of pocket expenses up to $1500.  We were thankful to have this and submitted our hotel expenses for reimbursement.  As of this date, the submission is still under review and we anticipate taking up to 30 days before approved.  Your insurance company may offer trip interruption reimbursement as well.


After 10 days, and going back and forth with the repair facility on what they believed was the problem with the engine, we made the difficult decision to drive the coach with the knock still present. The repair shop replaced the lifters on the driver's side, but that ultimately didn't fix the knock and we were SUPER disappointed.  It was an expensive non-fix!  We now needed to make a long haul trip from Jacksonville, FL to Tempe, AZ.  We did a lot of praying and bought two good luck charms at Madame Laveaux's Voodoo shop for the trip home.

So here we are...two thousand miles later having travelled from Jacksonville to Arizona.  The motorhome is still knocking and we'll be taking it in to another repair shop here in Arizona.  Luckily, we have family here and will stay with them while the motorhome is being fixed right through the holiday!


Once we get the rig fixed, we'll update this blog with the final outcome.  Our lessons learned are many and we're happy to share them with you!


* Make sure you have an emergency fund and/or you've budgeted adequately for repairs and maintenance.  Consider an extended warranty!  We partner with Whole Warranties and would highly recommend checking them out.  Here's a link for a free, no obligation quote:

*  Understand and know what benefits you have before disaster strikes.  In the stress of the moment, it's super helpful to have an awareness of what you have, so you're not panicking trying to remember or interpret the fine print.  Also, keep your benefit booklets and information handy in case you need it on the road.  Don't store it under your bed or in a cabinet you can't get to when the slides are closed.  You'll need it at the most inopportune time.  We keep ours in a plastic accordion folder above the driver's seat.

*  Know the stats on your rig (length, width, GVW, height) and keep it written down somewhere handy.  If you have to be towed, this will come in handy.

*  Consider purchasing a membership that supports you in your time of need on the road.  FMCA was our choice, but there are many others out there.  Read the fine print before you buy!  Your RV/Auto insurance might provide benefits as well but may not provide all the resources an RV needs such as mobile mechanics, trip interruption assistance and others.  

Get $10 off your membership by using our affiliate link:

*  Don't be afraid to reach out to your network.  Do you belong to a Facebook group or club that could help?  Put out feelers for good mechanics in the area.  Ask about local hotels or neighborhoods in the area.  FMCA also offers access to member volunteers who offer up their driveway or property during unexpected repairs or maintenance.

*  Keep calm and understand that you will get through the setback.  At some point in every RV'ers life, they will experience an unexpected breakdown.  The way you deal with the situation will help others in your family deal with it as well.  Even your pets can be affected by your attitude and behavior.

From the Johnson's - we wish you safe travels and a Merry Christmas!!  If you haven't already, we'd love to have you subscribe to our newsletter.  Additionally, we can be found on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook @lyfuninterrupted.

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