Armed with a little knowledge, acquiring parts or service for your motorhome doesn’t have to be an ordeal.
By Terri Blazell
As a motorhome owner, it’s inevitable that one day you will find yourself standing at the parts and service counter of an RV service center. The problem may be something major, such as your coach refrigerator going out, or something minor, like a window shade that needs restringing. How prepared you are before you ever make that trip can spell the difference between success and disappointment.
I’ve worked in the parts and service departments of two RV companies. Based on that experience, I can offer a few tips on how to make the process of obtaining parts and service for your home on wheels as painless as possible.
Know your stuff
When a customer walks up to the parts counter, nearly every conversation starts something like this. Customer: “I have a 1998 Skedaddle McFierce, and my water heater has gone out.” Salesperson: “What’s the make and model of your water heater?” Customer: “I don’t know. Can’t you look it up?”
Nearly every item in your RV has a make, model, and serial number. Having all of this information together in one place will help you to avoid delays in obtaining a replacement part, or, worse, the chance of receiving an incorrect part. One way to do this is to record the information in a notebook in which you have created a page for each appliance or fixture. You may have to do some crawling around the motorhome to retrieve the information off of each item. A mirror and a magnifying glass will come in handy for this process. You’ll want to do your research as soon as possible. Don’t wait until something has stopped working before you start looking for the model number, serial number, etc. The older the unit, the more likely that labels may be damaged or missing.
Unless the shop you visit is a dealer for the brand of motorhome you own, it is unlikely to have access to schematics for your particular model. Some manufacturers don’t make them available at all, and many go back a scant few years. It’s also possible that more than one brand or model of appliance could have been used in the same production run, depending on what was available at the time of manufacture. It gets even more complicated when the manufacturer of the appliance may have used more than one brand of a part in its own production run.
Steve Wishek from American RV Company in Azusa, California, advised, “Bring in as much info as possible “” it’s no help to know the year and model of your RV. Look at the appliance “” look for model and serial number.” If you are looking for new products, he suggested that RV shows are a great place to find some deals. “At shows, businesses often offer reduced pricing to drive future business back to them.”
Another issue emerges every spring like buds on the trees. A family has planned an RV trip for June 1. Their RV has been in storage since last November. One week prior to their trip, they finally get out to the storage lot and start dewinterizing. That’s when they realize that their refrigerator (fill in any appliance here) has stopped running. They frantically call their nearest RV center and discover that the earliest they can be seen is three weeks out.
From March on, plan four to six weeks ahead for service work. Service departments not only have to deal with an overload of work at that time of year, but also with a shortage of common parts needed for the repairs.
Get it serviced
Getting your appliances serviced annually is the very best way you can keep them running smoothly for years. A service involves many different things depending on the appliance in question. A refrigerator, for example, will have everything checked and cleaned from the door seals to the roof vent, while generator service usually includes cleaning the spark arrester, performing a load test, and changing the oil and filter.
When asked whether they’d like to schedule a service for their appliance, an RVer’s most common response is, “I don’t need to. It works fine.” That may well be, but waiting until you have a problem, or the unit stops working completely, is a very expensive route to take. By the time an appliance breaks down, you often need to replace it altogether. Annual service can prevent this from happening prematurely and may extend the life of your appliance by years.
Voiding your warranty/doing it yourself
Read the fine print of your warranties carefully. It’s not fun, but it is important to do. Several factors can void a warranty. Two common ones are attempting to fix it yourself and not getting the appliance regularly serviced. RVers are resourceful people, and many love to dive right in and avoid the expense of having a professional work on it. Sometimes this can be more costly than it seems.
Service manager Jim Jussila, from I-5 Uhlmann RV in Chehalis, Washington, tells about the man who came in for furnace parts. He wanted to save money by repairing it himself. After he had replaced the circuit board, thermostat, and burner assembly, it turned out that the problem was caused by low battery voltage. Low voltage will not run the blower motor at the proper speed for the ignition sequence. For the price of a diagnostic from a technician, he could have saved both time and money.
Use a computer
When it comes to RVing, the computer is your friend. Use a search engine to find online forums dedicated to your make and model of RV. (You might want to start with the Forums section on FMCA.com.) Folks in these online discussion groups can band together and help each other out with advice based on their own experiences. They share advice about finding the best service centers around the country, as well as where to locate hard-to-find parts.
My favorite line is, “I only have a quick question.” There are no quick questions when it comes to RVs. It is not unusual to have to spend at least 15 minutes to a half hour answering that quick question. The more information you can come in with, the faster that answer will be. If a parts or service person is dealing with a customer in front of you, be patient. They will spend time with you next.
Most parts and service people have specialties. If you happen to get the satellite specialist when you have a toilet question, you may have to wait a little longer until your expert is free. The same can be said about your appointment. It may take only an hour to service an air conditioner, but you may still end up waiting two or three hours to get it done. Technicians are often called off the job to handle emergencies, answer “quick” questions for walk-in customers, or help another tech who needs a hand. Bring a magazine, meditate, or use this time to plan your next RV vacation.
Why is everything so expensive?
Imagine taking every appliance in your house, putting it in a boxcar, and running it down a railroad track. They wouldn’t last very long. Appliances designed for an RV have to withstand the daily equivalent of an earthquake. They also have to hold up under extreme conditions such as zero-degree cold or 120-plus-degree heat. In addition, they usually need to run on more than one power source, such as propane and electric.
Years ago, a scandal erupted over how much the government was paying for a toilet seat on the space shuttle. After all, the local hardware store has them for less than $10. Then a scientist spoke up and challenged anyone to make one that worked in zero gravity for less. No one came forward. It is the same for RVs, zero gravity aside. Your appliances have special needs, and ordinary household models, albeit less expensive, usually won’t do.
Put it in perspective
The whole idea of RVing is to get out and enjoy the world around you. That world is alive and unpredictable. There are unseasonal snowstorms, tire blowouts, and closed roads. Take things in stride, and don’t let them stop you from having a good time. When one customer was told that the part for her awning wouldn’t be available before she left on her trip, she moaned, “We’ll have to cancel!” Really? You can’t RV without your awning? Another customer couldn’t get their refrigerator fixed in time so they bought bags of ice and turned it into a glorified ice chest. They had a great time.