Technical education opportunities for motorhome owners.
By Gary Bunzer
American historian Daniel J. Boorstin described education this way: “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” I’ll bet that this was the case for most of you when you purchased your first motorhome. As you began to delve into the owner’s manual, surely you discovered things about the vehicle and its systems that you didn’t even realize existed.
Educator and cognitive learning professor Howard Gardner further opined, “You learn at your best when you have something you care about and can get pleasure in being engaged in.” Most motorhome owners certainly care about their recreational investment while enjoying the motorhome life. And I know for a fact that many of you tinker with your motorhomes and get excited when you’re able to take care of a problem on your own, rather than spending the time and money for a professional to solve the issue. Thus, it stands to reason that the more we can learn about our motorhomes, especially the technical aspects, the better prepared we will be to ensure that the level of enjoyment endures.
Okay, that makes sense, you say, but where do FMCA members find those educational opportunities, other than taking detailed notes during a coach delivery walk-through or reading the literature that came with the motorhome?
It just so happens that quite a few options are available to the RVing public that can propel even the most casual coach owner deeper into what I call the technical intricacies of today’s relatively complex motorhome. The path of learning most appropriate for you depends on your personality type and to what depth you actually want to go. Though not all-inclusive, what follows are some of the more well-known learning opportunities for you to consider.
Formal Brick-And-Mortar Schools
Two formal RV schools were created primarily to provide individuals a means to become professional certified RV technicians and to find employment in the RV industry. However, these schools also welcome proactive RVers who wish to take their technical prowess to a higher level. It’s one thing to perform required preventive maintenance procedures on a motorhome, but to possess the skills necessary to effectively troubleshoot and actually repair components and systems on the coach requires a more deliberate approach, that of a detailed curriculum.
The longest-running recreation vehicle school in the United States is the RV Service Academy (R.V.S.A.), located in Palmetto, Florida. Founder and director Tom Santoro, Ph.D., originally began the school in Pennsylvania in May 1986 but moved to the warmer climate of Florida in 1989.
R.V.S.A. presents a 10-week curriculum three times each calendar year. Start dates typically are the first week in January, toward the end of March, and the beginning of September. Classes run daily from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with the curriculum split between 60 percent hands-on applications and 40 percent classroom lectures. They also have a 100 percent placement rate since opening in 1986. R.V.S.A.’s philosophy is: “The Recreational Vehicle Service Academy is an institution of higher education, which seeks to create an environment of opportunity and learning. Students are encouraged to develop the highest degree of technical competence, professional development, and social responsibility. R.V.S.A. utilizes small class sizes and hands-on instruction to enable its students to achieve their goals.”
Ralph Fleury, the head instructor, was formerly the lead instructor at the now-defunct Camping World University. For additional information regarding R.V.S.A., visit the school’s Web site at www.rvsa.net, or contact the school at [email protected] or (941) 722-5256.
Another 10-week training program is offered by the RV Training Center (RVTC), also located on the west coast of Florida in the city of Largo. Cofounded in 2006 by Sam Alsop and Dan Mackie, RVTC rolls out courses four times each calendar year, with classes beginning in January, March, July, and September. RVTC’s curriculum is centered on plenty of hands-on experience. According to its Purpose Statement, “RVTC will attempt to become the leader in training by developing service and repair skills for both RV service technicians and RVers alike. With the help of manufacturers and our knowledgeable staff, our training program will prepare students to take our own comprehensive certification test as well as the RVIA exam, a nationally recognized industry exam that also paves the way for master certification and further enhances their credentials.”
Prior to cofounding RVTC, head instructor Sam Alsop was the head instructor at R.V.S.A. for five years and is a 16-year RV industry veteran. Classes at RVTC run from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week. Also, hands-on tutoring is provided by the instructors as needed, and on-the-job training with experienced RV technicians is done in class.
Visit RVTC online at www.rvtrainingcenter.com or contact a representative at [email protected] or (727) 536-4694 for further information.
Both R.V.S.A. and RVTC are approved by the Veteran’s Administration and credentialed by the state of Florida, and each has excellent support staffs to take care of all the necessary paperwork and follow-up. The close tie between the two schools continues with all graduates from both schools parlaying their discussions and mutual support of one another via a private, Web-based, active community where they can share additional knowledge and information.
The brick-and-mortar schools both work closely with students coming in from different areas of the country to help them secure lodging and transportation during their 10-week stay in Florida. Many students live in their RVs while attending the classes, further expanding the hands-on potential as well as providing their home away from home.
Though each school issues its own certification for graduates, both host the proctored RVDA/RVIA certification exam. For the most in-depth, albeit condensed, training covering all the essentials of motorhome repair, these schools may be just up your alley.
For knowledge-hungry motorhome owners wishing for detailed information but simply not able to relocate to Florida for 10 weeks, perhaps Internet learning, also called distance learning, may be a better option. One advantage of Internet-based programs is that you can work at your own speed, at times most beneficial to you and in the comfort of your own home or motorhome. In most cases, all you need is a high-speed Internet connection and time. The downside is the lack of focused, repetitive, hands-on practice and the camaraderie of working within a classroom/lab environment. Internet learning also requires a dedicated amount of discipline and self-motivation.
Mark and Dawn Polk of RV Education 101 offer the “Go for the RV Gold” online RV training program for conscientious motorhome owners. The program consists of three levels “” Bronze, Silver, and Gold “” each incorporating four weeks of training materials. As with many online distance learning programs, “Go for the RV Gold” is self-paced and packed with more than 45 videos, numerous feature articles, and a multitude of consumer-level RVing tips. The 12 RV training courses consist of weekly emphasis on the following systems: Bronze “” fresh water, waste water, LP gas, electrical; Silver “” exterior care, tires, batteries, RV safety; and Gold “” winterizing and storage, RV accessories and aftermarket products, towable RVs, and motorized RVs.
For further information, visit www.goforthervgold.com or contact Dawn Polk at [email protected] or (910) 484-7615.
Mobile RV Academy, in association with Workamper News University, offers a four-month online program called the “Gold Star Club.” This program features online instructional material developed by Terry Cooper, the “Texas RV Professor.” In addition to the four-month, prerecorded training classes, an additional 25 hours of bonus material in a webinar format is available to students. These instructional videos, which include material from the “Ask The Professor” series, will be archived for viewing at a time convenient for the student. The entire program is available on DVD as well for those who may not be able to view the videos online.
According to the Mobile RV Academy Web site, “The program gives all RV enthusiasts an opportunity to becoming educated in a vast array of RV maintenance topics that will give everyone the edge they need to be successful while perusing the Workamping dream. If you are currently a full-timer or dreaming of becoming one, then who better to invest your money in . . . than yourself!”
The topics covered in the “Gold Star Club” classes include propane system, absorption-type refrigerators, exterior inspections and repairs, RV furnace, servicing the air conditioner, water heaters, water systems, and electrical systems. After viewing each webinar class, students should expect homework and a test.
Terry and his wife, Evada, also have created a new program titled “RV Maintenance For Ladies” that will focus on eight areas of maintenance and be offered in a similar format as the Gold Star Club program. At the time of publication, the live online webinars were being produced and recorded for the program, which should be available in the coming months.
Visit www.mobilervacademy.com for more information or contact the school at [email protected]
The Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association (PRVCA) has partnered with Northampton Community College to offer an online RV training program. Designed originally to prepare entry-level students for RVDA/RVIA certification, it is open to interested motorhome owners as well. This detailed curriculum presents three courses each semester (three semesters per calendar year). There are a total of 13 individual courses in the program, but you can pick and choose which course(s) you’d like to attend, as each one is individually priced. The courses offered by NCC include information about the following: introduction to recreation vehicles; predelivery inspections; towing systems; electrical systems; generators; propane systems; water heaters; ranges and cooktops; absorption refrigeration; heating systems; air conditioning; plumbing systems; and preventive maintenance.
Contact Jackie Bare at [email protected] or (610) 861-5390 to register and to obtain further information regarding start dates and pricing, or visit www.prvca.org and click the “Training” link on the left side of the page.
RV Safety & Education Foundation
Most RVers of any tenure have either heard of or attended one of the long-running “Life on Wheels” programs created by industry giant Gaylord Maxwell. Since Gaylord’s passing a few years ago, the RV Safety & Education Foundation (RVSEF) has taken up and rekindled that method of providing quality education for all RVers at the annual RVSEF Lifestyle, Education & Safety Conference. Noted RV experts “” fluent in all things associated with the RV lifestyle, travel, weight safety, and technical topics ranging from preventive maintenance to product-specific information “” make up the training staff. The first evolution of this learning confab was held in June 2010 to rousing success, with another in the offing May 6 through 8, 2011, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Presented as a college slate of courses, the attendees (students) rotate from room to room for each session. Most of the sessions are repeated so all students have a chance to attend the classes they choose. The only shortcoming to this event is that enrollment and seating is limited (just like a college program), so be sure to register early. As demand increases, RVSEF likely will add more venues in different parts of the country. For additional information, visit RVSEF at www.rvsafety.com or e-mail the school at [email protected]
If you feel the need to seek a deeper understanding of one particular subject rather than a comprehensive agenda, perhaps a specialty school would interest you. Ford Refrigeration, based in Benton, Kentucky, offers a comprehensive program designed to teach individuals how to troubleshoot and recondition RV absorption refrigeration cooling units, typically as a business venture, though they do extend an invitation to FMCA members as well. It is a fact that many cooling units are misdiagnosed and simply thrown away. As anyone who has had to replace the cooling unit knows, this is not an inexpensive component. The company’s detailed 40-hour program, presented at their facility, covers just about everything you would need to know about an absorption refrigerator and how to fix it. Topics include theory of operation, safety procedures, and troubleshooting and disassembly of cooling unit procedures, among others.
The company also offers advanced certification (one to five additional weeks). If you already possess RV refrigerator experience (you must be able to prove it), there is a 32-hour program that teaches only the cooling unit reconditioning procedures. A third option, designed just for RVers, is a four-hour course in which motorhome owners can gain an understanding of the electronic controls of the absorption refrigerator.
For further information, contact Ford Refrigeration at [email protected] or (270) 354-9239, or visit the company’s Web site at www.rvrefrigeration.com.
Many educational opportunities are presented by individual component manufacturers (those who make the widgets found in motorhomes) and are made available to motorhome owners. As an example, HWH Corporation has a very detailed online program open to anyone with an interest in the particulars of hydraulic levelers and slideout mechanisms, and air systems. Many motorhomes are built with this company’s equipment, so possessing the correct information regarding their products can augment your understanding of the operation as well as how to perform the necessary preventive maintenance steps. Simply click your way to www.hwhcorp.com/onlineschool.html, or contact the company at [email protected] or (563) 724-3396 for more information.
It just might be worth the e-mail or phone call to any of the suppliers of equipment in your motorhome to see whether they offer any kind of technical training for consumers. It certainly can’t hurt to ask, and it just may provide the impetus necessary to get them to consider creating a program if one does not exist. After all, an educated consumer is a benefit to the supplier and the RV industry as a whole!
Technical Training Seminars
As most of you are aware, every FMCA Family Reunion (international convention) is chock-full of technical training seminars. Seminars are a great way to learn from independent training experts, product manufacturers, and others. One almost could get brain overload just looking at the typical schedule of seminars available. Thankfully, nearly every presenter creates a detailed handout so attendees can simply bask in the topic, then, when convenient, pore over the details. The next opportunity will be FMCA’s 86th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase, to be held August 10 through 13, 2011, in Madison, Wisconsin. I hope to see you in one of my seminars.
In addition to the extremely popular FMCA international conventions, many area rallies, and local and regional RV shows, feature technical seminars along with their RV displays and accessories. I’ve been presenting technical seminars at the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association show, first staged in Harrisburg and now in Hershey, since 1989, and every year I see more RVers in the seminar room, ready to soak up the information like sponges.
The same is true for some of the larger RV dealerships in North America. Many will present technical topics to their customer base. Oftentimes, these seminars are also open to the general public. If you live or travel in the areas of some of the big dealers, it might be worth a call to see what they have to offer.
Even individual coach manufacturers have gotten into the training field by offering user-friendly classes for their particular brands of motorhomes. So, a quick call to your motorhome’s manufacturer may yield additional opportunities for learning the ins and outs of your particular home on wheels.
I began this article with a couple of interesting quotations about education in general. Perhaps this quote from author William Feather might suffice as a fitting conclusion. “Education: Being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t. It’s knowing where to go to find out what you need to know; and it’s knowing how to use the information you get.” You are encouraged to contact any of the sources mentioned above for more information regarding their individual schedules, pricing, and availability. Keep in mind that, with the exception of most technical seminars presented at RV shows and FMCA international conventions and area rallies, the majority of the programs mentioned in this article usually come with a fee or a tuition expense. But as you weigh the costs against the benefits, consider what Andy McIntyre and Derek Bok both reportedly proclaimed: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” And always remember my quote: “RVing is more than a hobby; it’s a lifestyle!” Enjoy every learning experience!
Author and educator Gary Bunzer has been developing RV-specific technical training materials for both professional service technicians and RV owners since 1976. In the early 1980s, he opened three formal brick-and-mortar RV training schools in Southern California, establishing and implementing the first formal curriculum for teaching RV troubleshooting and repair. From 2003-2009 he was the course developer, facilitator, and instructor of the Northampton Community College Distance Learning RV Training Program. Gary was awarded the 2009 Education Award from the Recreation Vechicle Industry Association (RVIA) in the spring of 2010.