How to make your visit to the service shop less stressful while minimizing downtime.
By Gary Bunzer, Technical Editor
Tech Talk E-Newsletter – March 2019
Has something like this ever happened to you? You’re on the third day of that much-needed vacation when you stop for an onboard lunch and realize the RV generator will not start. No problem, you say; there’s an RV repair shop just two miles back.
So, you decide to return to that service center. As you enter, another RV pulls in behind you. You explain your problem to the service writer, sign the repair order, proceed to the customer waiting area, grab a cup of coffee, and wait. And wait . . .
As you hear your vacation clock ticking away, you realize the RV that pulled in behind you is long gone. You glance out and see your generator in pieces scattered around the service bay. Finally, hours later, the service manager informs you that your RV is ready. “Funny,” he says, “It was just a loose wire behind the remote dash switch.”
After six hours, all the technician found wrong was a loose wire? What? Why did it take so long?
You grow even more frustrated when you find out that the RVers who pulled in behind you had a more difficult problem, and they’ve been back on the road for at least four hours. What gave them the edge? How was their “harder to find” problem diagnosed and repaired in a third less time than your relatively simple problem? And why is this guy charging you $700 to tighten a loose wire?
Could it be that the previous customers provided enough insight and direction to the service writer and service technician that it enabled them to pare minutes, if not hours, off the troubleshooting time? Unless this is your first RVing experience, you know that within the realm of RV repair facilities, time equates to dollars. It stands to reason then that if you, the RV owner, can do anything to speed up the diagnostic and repair time, you will save in the long run.
Certainly, you cannot be called upon to perform highly technical diagnostic procedures on every component on your RV. Some professional service technicians even have a hard time with that. What follows, however, are five things owners can do to provide a decent road map for the service shop to follow when troubleshooting. At a minimum, they will help eliminate certain possibilities during diagnostics.
1. Record all identifying numbers
This step is highly recommended, regardless of whether you follow the other advice in this article. It will help you to create a biographical sketch of your RV, which will be beneficial to you and any subsequent owner. Compile a list of all brand names, model numbers, serial numbers, and spec numbers for each component in your RV. Tuck this list away with the vehicle paperwork.
When it comes time for service, your dealer or service center will be able to rapidly transfer the required numbers to the repair order, rather than go to the individual component to retrieve them. This is especially helpful since some may be located in hard-to-reach places. The service writer also will be able to identify appliances or devices subject to a recall, regardless of the reason for your current visit. The reference list also will come in handy if you need to contact the customer service representative of any RV component manufacturer.
Here is a sample format. Note that it does not include every RV component part with a model number. This is simply to give you a start on creating a chart that reflects the actual components on your RV.
|Component||Brand||Model Number||Serial Number||Spec Number|
|Air Conditioner 1|
|Air Conditioner 2|
2. Organize a repair history of the RV
Unless this is your very first trip after purchasing your RV, you probably have an assortment of papers, warranty forms, repair invoices, etc., for the vehicle. If you’re like most people, you’ve lost some, stuffed some in a storage compartment or glove box, or accidentally washed some you left in your shirt pocket.
Develop a plan for safekeeping these documents. At the very least, keep your repair order and installation receipts in a three-ring binder arranged in chronological order. Again, they may provide a clue for the service writer. If he or she quickly scans your repair history and finds a failure pattern for a device that relates to your current problem, it may help speed up the repair time. Besides, a detailed and chronological record of repairs and services may add to the resale value of the RV; it shows you have taken care of the vehicle.
3. List all add-on components
Maintain a list of all aftermarket accessories that have been installed on your RV. This provides a detailed accounting of how you have increased the value of your RV and could save troubleshooting time at the repair shop. Here’s a real-life example:
A late-model Class A motorhome began experiencing intermittent electrical shorts in the 12-volt-DC system. Electrical shorts are difficult to trace and repair anyway, but are especially challenging when they occur sporadically.
While perusing the customer’s list of installed accessories, the service writer noticed the addition of a solar array a few weeks earlier — a fact the owner might not have thought to mention, since it did not relate to the 12-volt circuit in question. The service writer casually made a note on the repair order.
The RV technician then read the note, made a deduction, attached a meter to that 12-volt circuit, and began removing the screws that secure the solar panels to the roof. Sure enough, the third screw he started to loosen confirmed a short. After he removed that screw completely, the short disappeared. He then sealed the hole, ran a few more tests, signed off on the repair order, and sent the finished coach on its way. In and out in less than 30 minutes – minimum charge. Almost unheard of for any 12-volt short. Without knowledge of the recent accessory installation, it may have taken the tech hours (days?) to find that a single screw was partially cutting through the 12-volt conductor.
4. Look for the obvious
Once it is apparent that your RV may need to go to the repair shop, perform an inspection in advance. Look for obvious signs that something may be amiss. Later, when talking with the service writer, be sure to mention any issues you have found. It’s best to write things down. Obvious items to look for during this inspection would include:
* Stains or discolorations
* Water pooling or dripping
* Burned wires
* Broken hardware
* Fuel dripping
* Missing components
* Disconnected or loose wires
* Cracked fittings
5. Document specifics of the symptom
Of these five tips, this is probably the most valuable; however, this one takes a little more effort on your part. Ready? Whenever a symptom develops, begin to write down specifics. For instance, does the problem occur every time? Only at night? When the tank is full? Only after start-up? Only after shutdown? Only when it’s hot outside? Get the idea?
Also note any geographical attributes at the time of the occurrence: high elevation, near the beach, steep incline, hot and dusty, at the lake, desert, mountains, etc. Some symptoms may be peculiar to one of these areas and could help the tech pinpoint the problem, or at least narrow the scope of the search.
Record exact weather conditions at the time as well: windy, rainy, snowy, sunny, cloudy, dry, humid, air temperature, etc. These can be especially helpful when diagnosing issues with propane appliances and internal combustion engines.
Finally, can you duplicate the symptom now? Can you override or bypass the problem? Is it intermittent or constant?
Use your product knowledge to pinpoint a possible cause. For instance, if your absorption refrigerator has a problem, does it exist during both gas and electric operation? While in motion, only while parked, or both? Only during the heat of the day, or at night also? Document the specifics. The more information recorded, the better the chances of getting back to that vacation sooner.
When compiled and translated by the service writer, then absorbed and applied by an astute technician, your input may greatly reduce repair time.
By following all five of these tips, you’ll know you’ve contributed as much as possible to the successful repair of your RV. During the course of the RVing season, the cumulative time savings may be substantial.
Oh, that theoretical scenario mentioned at the top of this post . . . Here’s how it could have played out. After realizing the generator would not start, the owner began an initial, cursory inspection, taking notes along the way while his wife called the service center. Here are the notes he handed to the service writer, along with the brand, model, and spec number of the generator:
* Generator – won’t start, does not even turn over
* Fuel tank over 3/4 full, no fuel dripping anywhere
* Weather – mild, temp about 65 degrees, partially cloudy, no wind
* Level parking lot, standing still, levelers engaged
* Tried to start at generator instead of dash switch – started right up and ran fine
* No burned or disconnected wires visible in generator compartment
* Tried dash switch again; no click, no nothing
* Total running hours: 27.3 – no previous repairs
The service writer read the list and decided to check two items before writing the repair order. First, he opened the generator compartment and investigated the remote harness connector. It was clean and tight. Next, he reached behind the dash switch and discovered that a wire had vibrated loose. He reconnected the wire and then started and stopped the generator with no further problem. He thanked the customer for stopping by, gave him a business card, and sent him back to his vacation – no charge.
Because of the detailed set of notes (which took the owner less than 20 minutes to compile), it was clear to the service writer that the problem was not even in the generator itself.
This is not to proclaim that all service-related and technical problems will be eliminated, but if these five steps are employed, a greater chance exists for a faster turnaround in the shop, allowing you to spend more of your hard-earned vacation as intended.