General Maintenance

Older motorhomes tend to be mechanically sound and very reliable but things can go wrong, especially if not maintained properly. It always pays to keep a few dollars aside for repairs.

I'm a realist when it comes to older vehicles. We drive them to save money and when they break down, we sometimes need to make hard decisions.

Major transmission work, for instance, on a car worth twelve hundred dollars is simply not a smart financial choice in most cases. As emotionally attached as we can be to our old beaters, we sometimes need to recognize that there’s a certain point when they've had their useful life and be ready to move on to the next one. That’s not something we can do in an RV because it’s our home and just as importantly, we need to keep the wheels turning in order to continue with our travelling lifestyle.

Our pockets are not always deep so the question then becomes are cheap, hit and run type repairs, the right way to go. I think they are. With an older vehicle, there will always be something to do and once you start looking, you'll find a list as long as your arm. In a perfect world, you would certainly replace all four tires with brand new ones and make sure you replace the entire exhaust system at that first telltale sound of an exhaust leak. Reality kicks in when you see the bill and suddenly that thirty dollar used tire or the exhaust repair kit that you saw on that last visit to the parts store is looking attractive.

One thing that you should never scrimp on, no matter how much you may be tempted, on is the vehicle's fluids. An oil change is the absolute cheapest insurance you can get and will be the deciding factor in keeping any engine running long after it probably shouldn't be.

I used to work for one of the big three automakers and one of the most common reasons why we denied warranty claims on engine work was because of lack of maintenance. It wasn't because we were trying to find a loophole to get out of a claim; it was because we had a report on our desk from the dealership describing the sludge found in the sump when they tore down the motor. That few bucks saved on an oil change would cost them thousands of dollars in repairs. As I said, it’s absolutely the cheapest insurance policy that you can buy.

Even on an older car with high mileage, regular oil changes can add years to its life. It doesn’t matter what brand you buy because unlike many consumer products, it’s a myth that the more you pay the better you get. If the oil has the API Starburst symbol and is the correct grade for your car then it’ll be just fine. The American Petroleum Institute certifies an oil to meet the current standard and that standard is the same one the automakers use and recommend. In other words, the expensive brand, to be API certified, has to be chemically the same as the cheapest brand. Anything else you hear is just marketing. That incidentally, is why you can use any API certified oil in your car without voiding the new car warranty.

If you want to try a full synthetic then that's fine too but be aware, it's a one-way street. Synthetics can be great and really bring a lot to the table in terms of friction modifying additives. The downside is that it re-conditions the seals in the process. Once you go to a synthetic, you don’t want to go back to conventional oil because the leaks will not be far behind. You won't see that on the label but ask your local mechanic and they'll give you the story. It's a bit like that stuff in a can sold as the lazy way to repair a punctured tire. They claim to be tire sensor safe but I've seen many cases where the chemicals damaged the sensor and we had to deny warranty. The moral of the story is you shouldn’t always believe what you read on a pretty label. Look after an older vehicle and it will look after you and that’s a fact.

If you don’t already have some mechanics tools then it’s important to pick up a basic set that includes a variety of sockets and wrenches. For every day hand tools, I tend to stick with the Craftsman brand from Sears, Ace Hardware and wherever else they’re selling them now. There is no doubt that their workmanship is not what it was and nowadays a lot of them are made in China but the big selling point is that they have a warranty and return policy that I've always found to be relatively hassle free. When you're full-timing in an RV and counting your pennies then that's a pretty big deal and whole bunch of peace of mind. A good policy with motor home is buy tools when you can afford them and then make it a brand that you won’t have to worry about again.

Lastly, some nice things to have around are pocket type tools that will make your life so much easier by not having to run to the toolbox every time that you find the need to make a minor repair. Leatherman make the best and toughest multi tools and like Craftsman, they have a fantastic, trouble free warranty. The price can be a little steep so if you can’t afford a Leatherman then there are plenty of knock-offs at a reasonable cost. I wouldn’t recommend going too cheap but for general work around the camp, you don’t have to spend a hundred bucks. If you don’t keep it on you, try to find a spot for it near the door where you can grab it for a quick repair job.

The other thing that you’ll really appreciate it is a small, powerful flashlight on your keychain or also near the door. Technology today in lighting has come so far. From checking the oil to checking a tire, the amount of times that you’ll find yourself reaching for that little light will always amaze you. There are many on the market that range in price and capability but for my money, I’ve found the one that works for me and that’s the little Maglite Solitaire LED. It runs on a single AAA battery and can’t be beat for the price.

The other thing that I always have in the RV is a good tire pump and an assortment of plugs, valves, caps etc. I use the VIAIR brand for many reasons. It has proved to be reliable; it’s compact enough for RV storage and outperforms anything else in its price range same, even from the same manufacturer. It has a nice long power cord and air hose plus, and for me this was essential, extension hoses are available on Amazon for around 5 bucks so I can couple them together to easily reach the spare tire in the back and the rear axles. The two big things that are important in an RV tire pump are output and duty cycle. The higher the cfm the faster it will be and the higher the duty cycle the longer it can run without having to cool off. When you’re trying to fill up big old RV tires after repairing a puncture, you’ll appreciate the extra power of this pump.

A used car or RV may be old and beat up but often it's the owner's home and only means of transport so therefore it needs to hang in there “just a little bit longer.” Look after an older vehicle and it will look after you and that’s a fact. When you first buy it, spend a few bucks and a few hours changing out the filters and fluids so that you can start with a clean slate, knowing exactly what’s been done and what hasn’t. After that, it’s just a little bit of regular maintenance. Don’t forget that oil change, cheapest insurance policy you can get!