By Janet Groene, F47166
Some full-timers coast for years before the roof caves in. Others recognize that their rolling home and the things in it will wear out, rust, fade, and break, and they save for inevitable expenditures. As a rule of thumb, it’s wise to put aside 5 to 10 percent of the cost of the coach each year for replacements and upgrades. If you’re a clever shopper, do most of your own maintenance, and are lucky, this should be more than enough. If you must hire someone to do everything, are accident prone, or have bad luck, the money may not stretch far enough.
Let’s say you start full-timing with a $100,000 motorhome and put $10,000 in a coach care fund the first year. My guess is that you’ll raid the fund often this first year, because sometimes it takes quite a bit of fine-tuning to make a motorhome truly your own. You add another $10,000 in year two, and everything is working well, so the fund grows. Still loyal to the plan, you add another $10,000 in year three, bringing the fund to $25,000 or more. However, by year four you’ll probably be tapping into the fund regularly, sometimes by absolute necessity and other times because it’s there and you want to treat yourself to a different color scheme or a newer awning. The object is to stay ahead of the game so that year 10 finds you able to make major upgrades or repairs, or a substantial down payment on a new coach.
Where might the money go? Here, assembled from my research using catalogs and Web sites, is a list of some costs a full-timer may face this year or next, by choice or necessity. Please keep in mind that these are ballpark figures only. As is the case with most of the products we buy, models with varying features, and price tags, are available. And prices depend on where you shop; shipping costs; state taxes, if applicable; and who does the installation.
An accumulator tank serves to even out water flow and eliminate “water hammer.” Add one to your coach water system for approximately $35, plus $60 for installation if you can’t plumb it in yourself.
Air conditioners wear out, or you may just decide you want a larger, quieter, or more energy-efficient model. Plan to spend approximately $600 for a high-efficiency unit with 13,500 Btus of cooling power. Installation adds at least another $75.
Campground directories cost $20 to $25 per year. Since some 200,000 changes are required each year, it’s smart to purchase a new directory at least every other year.
Captain and copilot chairs start at approximately $250 each, plus about $60 for installation, and can be priced as high as $1,200 for a six-way, power-adjustable leather seat. Ready-made slip covers for the old ones cost approximately $40 each; custom slip covers cost twice that or more.
CB radios are still popular with RVers and truckers, and newer models come equipped with weather channels also. Plan to spend approximately $130 for a new 40-channel CB and another $60 for installation.
Central vacuum systems cost $250 to $450, and installation adds another $75 or so.
Discard your microwave oven in favor of a combination microwave-convection oven for approximately $500.
DC to AC power inverters cost about $300 for 1,000 watts or $450 for an inverter rated at up to 3,000 watts. Installation adds at least another $60. One luxury coach manufacturer offers a 1,500-watt inverter package with two additional batteries as an option in a new coach for $1,400.
A GPS navigation system may cost approximately $1,000 for a receiver with voice guidance, scrolling display, and a built-in GPS antenna, plus the cost of a personal computer, which is necessary to use the system. A system that comes complete may cost somewhere around $3,200. Installation costs vary.
Hydraulic leveling systems cost approximately $2,500 to $4,000 plus materials and installation, depending on the type of controls and how many jacks are needed.
Add a stand-alone ice maker to your galley for approximately $800.
Light fixtures with a brass or nickel finish cost $35 to $40 each. The simplest plastic lights cost about $10; fluorescents are in the $35 to $40 range. Installation of a 12-volt light may be a simple do-it-yourself replacement or a complicated matter involving new wiring.
Mini-blinds lead a hard life and may need replacing every few years. Standard sizes cost approximately $35 to $90 each, and installation can add $50 or more.
Upgrade to heated, remote-control rearview mirrors for about $350.
Patio awnings can be added for $900 to $2,000 depending on size, material, and the complexity of the mechanisms. Installation adds approximately $70 to the cost of a simple, hand-cranked awning and $200 to the price of a push-button awning with a wind sensor and automatic retraction. It also is possible to replace the fabric only; obtain quotes from two or three awning specialists.
Patio mats may not last more than a season, but they pay for themselves in good looks while keeping grit out of your coach. Buy an all-weather, lightweight, folding mat to carry in the coach for $150 to $200. If you stay in one campground for a long period, another option is to buy an indoor-outdoor carpet remnant at a home improvement store and discard it or give it away before you move on.
Rearview monitoring systems with a black-and-white screen cost about $500 when factory-installed in a new coach. Prices in the aftermarket vary.
RV refrigerators may cost more than a household unit in some cases. If you need a new one, plan to pay about $1,200 for a two-door refrigerator-freezer of about 7 to 8 cubic feet.
RV stoves typically cost $120 to $360 for a three-burner range with a small oven.
A satellite radio receiver costs approximately $200, plus an antenna at $110, installation at $110, and subscription to programming for $10 to $15 per month.
A digital satellite television system might cost $2,000 to $2,400, plus installation and a monthly subscription. The least expensive units don’t track satellites when the coach is in motion. An automatic satellite dish that searches for the correct satellite once the coach is parked costs under $1,000, plus $200 installation; a crank-up satellite antenna costs under $300, and installation costs about the same as the automatic antenna. One coach manufacturer offers a fully automatic, in-motion, digital satellite system for $5,300, factory-installed on a new coach.
If your pleated shower door wears out, a new one will cost $55 to $75, depending on its size. Installation is usually an easy, do-it-yourself job involving two-sided tape and a screw.
Sofa beds get shabby in time. A new one will cost $500 and up at RV suppliers. Living room chairs cost approximately $350 and up.
Solar energy looks better and better as fuel prices rise. A 100-watt solar kit that produces up to 3,500 watt-hours per week costs about $900, plus approximately $100 for installation.
Tire covers deteriorate. New ones cost $22 to $38 a pair.
Available towed car shields include everything from simple bonnets to sturdy shields that fold for storage. The latter could cost approximately $375.
A new toilet costs $180 and up, depending on the style, plus installation of under $100. This assumes you’re replacing an existing toilet using existing plumbing.
A tow dolly costs approximately $2,300 with electric brakes; $1,800 without brakes.
Combination washer-dryer units cost from $800 to $1,000.
Water filters are a health plus. A good filter also assures that your coffee and reconstituted orange juice will taste the same every day. Add a filter for $70 to $90 plus an installation fee of $60. Replacement filters, which you can change yourself as needed, cost $30 to $40.
If your onboard water pump breathes its last breath, get a new one for approximately $60 plus a $60 installation fee. New models are quieter and deliver better, smoother pressure “” especially if you add an accumulator tank (mentioned earlier).
Windshield wraps take a beating from the sun and wear. Pleated drapes in standard windshield sizes cost $200 to $325. Pleated polyester shades, also available in standard sizes, cost less but aren’t lined. You can probably install drapes yourself using existing hooks. Installation for pleated shades costs about $60.
Saving on upgrades and redecorating
- Frequently review manuals and handbooks that came with accessories and systems for your coach. If you do not develop good operating or maintenance habits, wear could accelerate.
- Shop the household market when looking for items such as a new sleeper sofa, coffee table, easy chair, or mattress. You may find a larger choice of colors, styles, and sizes, and lower prices.
- Try your RV manufacturer first. Say you burn a hole in the custom sofa or leave an overhead vent open and rain ruins the dining room table. It’s possible the manufacturer can provide a perfect match for the finish, size, color, and style.
- Discover what’s new at home improvement stores. Crown molding that includes primer sells for under $1 a foot and can be installed around the top of a room to cover faults or to add a decorator touch. Primed baseboard molding is priced at about $2 per yard, making it easier to replace baseboards than to refinish old ones.
- Also sold at home improvement stores for about $10 are inexpensive molded plastic medallions that look like expensive plaster. A medallion might be just the cover-up you need to hide a stain around a fixture without refinishing the entire ceiling or wall.
- Flat-black spray paint is heaven’s gift to the fumble-fingered. A light sanding and a couple of light coats can add new life to bits and pieces such as brass-plated light fixtures that have corroded, or wood that can’t be restored to a natural finish.
- Track lighting is a boon to the do-it-yourself electrician, because existing wiring can be used to add lights galore.
- If your galley counter is scarred or burned, cut out the bad piece and insert a cutting board. If your skills or tools aren’t up to the job, a carpenter should be able to accomplish this for an hour’s labor or less.
- Wood paneling that’s dull, scarred, too dark, or out of date can be painted, but it’s essential to prepare the surface by removing any wax or oils. Then use a primer that’s compatible with both the old surface coating and the new paint.
- Buy enough flat bed sheets to make new shams, a duvet cover, curtains, cornice covers, a matching shower curtain, and so on. Sheets are the widest, most economical yardage you can buy, and you may be able to take advantage of the existing hems.
- Stove tops take a lot of punishment and may begin to show their wear. An RV supplier may be able to order a new top, knobs, burner liners, or other replacement parts to give the stove a fresh new look. Ditto the front panel on your refrigerator.
- Have you experienced unsightly damage to a large interior wall? Buy a piece of big corkboard at an office supply store and turn the wall into a bulletin board.
- Consult an expert about resurfacing a hopelessly dull fiberglass sink or shower. This isn’t a job for amateurs. New faucets or faucet handles, a new shower head or wand, new towel racks, and/or a new toilet seat can spiff up the biffy for far less than the cost of a complete redo.
- If your plastic or aluminum mini-blinds are beyond help and you have nothing to lose, try soaking them in the bathtub with a mild soap and a little bleach. It’s the only way to clean the cords as well as the slats. Rinse well; dry; then decide if they are worth reinstalling.
If you had to name the one option, accessory, or piece of equipment that you’d consider the best investment you’ve made for your motorhome used for full-time living, what would that item be, and why? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or write Janet Groene, c/o Family Motor Coaching, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244. We’ll share readers’ input in a future column.