RV living as a full time endeavor can seem easy from the outside. Or, as we did our many months of research, a lot of “wow, I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
Many times, that phrase was spoken out loud by both of us.
Probably the most stressful aspect of this transition and journey has been the world of “what if this or that?” From my perspective, as a serious home oriented person, there were many moments from the time we bought the RV to now that I would wake up in the middle of the night and start to freak out. To many what ifs.
Warning: this is a very long post. If I were paid by the word, it would be about $30 worth.
Life is full of the unexpected. In your job, your hobbies, your relationships. All can have many unexpected happenings. RV living seems to combine so many into one ball of unexpected, or so it seems. Even so, pushing your boundaries into the unknown is part of accepting new possibilities. But when the unexpected comes a callin’, be prepared to think fast, pull out your best MacGyver brain, and get to it.
Buying a used RV has pros and cons. On the pro side, if the previous owner was diligent with maintenance, you will have a avoided all the first year glitches and issues. Also, the value loss per year is lower than the 30% just driving off the lot. Still, on the con side, you could find you bought a lemon. There were times we thought we’d done just that.
One of the first things we discovered that had to deal with was of our (my) own doing. Second time out, I managed to completely rip a slide topper off the coach by taking a turn too tightly. No, I’ve not talked about this, it was embarrassing. Yet, another lesson learned…wait for your co-pilot to guide you in tight spaces! That was a bit costly to fix.
We also had an issue with one of our hydraulic jacks. The front one (our coach has three, oddly different from most that have four) had a slow leak.
Then, when we took the RV in to have our washer/dryer combo and a new black tank vent installed, our house batteries seemed to have died (house batteries are the DC power for the interior of the coach). This meant that we couldn’t even get the generator started to charge, but after driving it around and letting the chassis batteries charge it, things seemed to be OK.
One weekend we went up to our storage location and notices the coach was leaning to the right. Started up the coach and the air bags auto-leveled and again, things seemed OK. We also noticed again, there was no charge on the batteries. I did some research and saw the Poulsbo RV handled chassis work (our favorite RV service establishment doesn’t do chassis work) so, scheduled to have the RV worked on when we had our new toilet installed (the old one was an electric flush…which was VERY noisy and neither of us liked it much). The service center called and said one of the airbags in the suspension appeared to be leaking, but they didn’t have the equipment to diagnose it. Another recommendation later to Motor Trucks in Everett, a tractor trailer truck service center that also worked on RV chassis. More on that shortly. The battery issue was diagnosed as a bad light switch in one of the bays. That was added to the fix it list. A month later (everything seems to take twice as long) and the toilet is installed and the light switch is fixed.
Picked it up (minus the detailing they said they would do for free) and drove it straight to the truck service center to get the airbag issue looked at as well as the a general tune-up inspection. It is a diesel after all and this one had probably not been tuned up in a long while. After diagnosis, we got a laundry list of issues: exhaust leak at the manifold, lean in the coolant reservoir, oil leaks in several places on the engine. The very big issue was that the wheel seals (where the axle and wheel hubs meet) had leaked onto the wheels and could possibly have damaged the brakes. OY! Unfortunately, you don’t know how bad it is until it is all pulled apart. Turns out, yes, the seals leaked on the brakes. Add a brake job to the list. Another month later (UGH!), and we had a valve job done, leaks fixed, new brakes and the suspension fixed. Made a HUGE different in engine power, quietness of the engine inside and smoothness of driving. Money well spent, though I still need to ping my warranty company to get some of that money back.
As I picked up the rig at the truck center, the batteries weren’t charged and I grudgingly took it back to our second (easier to navigate) storage facility and made another service appointment with our favorite RV service center (Ryan’s RV Town in Everett if you ever need really good service). We also realized that we needed to de-winterize the RV since we had it winterized against the cold over the winter. This caused an immediate minimum one week delay to our desired move in date, which was the end of February (the delay turned out in our favor, the weather hear in the northwest was VERY cold suddenly and would have been challenging to us noobs).
When I started that coach on the day to drop it at service, the control panel for the inverter was acting completely fritzoid. Yet another data point to tell our service pros. I also had them install our WeBoost (cellular booster, taking my zero bar service here in North Whidbey to a one to one and a half bar, better than nothing!) and showed the tech the issue I was seeing on the control panel. He surmised it was an issue with the inverter and that it might have to be replaced, which would again delay us by a week. Not to mention, inverters are NOT cheap. Stress level turned up to 11.
After an agonizing weekend, I got a call on Wednesday that it was done. Turns out that the inverter needed to be reset due to it being unable to detect the ground on the house batteries due to bad connections at the terminals. Whew! Dodged a bullet! They cleaned every thing up and boom, suddenly batteries charged and generator started. All was good in the world! Except that we now had three days to get the basics loaded into the coach and prep for our first stay at Thunderbird RV Resort. Mad dash time! We also were able to pull the trigger on a move out date for the apartment. Forward movement at last.
We got stuff loaded, I hurriedly finished out the TV cabinet in the bedroom, loaded our stuff from the apartment down to the RV and on Sunday, we drove out to Thunderbird to begin living in the RV. We parked it, leveled, hooked up water, power and sewer and proceeded to do a few things in the coach. Then I needed to take Chelsea home and pick up a few things when the lights went out. NOOOOOOOO! Our warranty comes with 24/7 RV tech support, but, the details were at the apartment. Chelsea and I jumped in the Explorer and booked it to the apartment while Julie found lighting and such for the coming twilight. I gave Julie the info of are plan, except for the plan number. Poor Julie, in the dark trying to get the issue diagnosed while I’m driving like a bat out of hell to get back. Finally found the additional info she needed and she got the RV tech on the phone. He was trying to get her to reset the inverter (which neither the tech nor Julie knew it was in the underbelly) when, by chance, the tech said “Has anyone hit the battery disconnect?” Julie found it and, lo and behold, someone had hit it on the way out the door. Boom chicka boom! We had power!
As we get all our final bits set up and we start organizing, one of us goes to the bathroom to see we have water behind it. Oh joy, our new toilet is leaking. I do a little diagnosis and discover that there is a leak where the water line attaches to the toilet. I turned off the water valve just below it and the leak stops. At least we had no real water damage. The real PITA was realizing that our installer hadn’t actually tested the toilet under pressure. RV toilets are similar to gravity flush toilets standard in almost every home, but have various differences due to how the sewer system is designed. I thought it might be either a stripped fitting (plastic, so easy to strip the threads) or a faulty install. Fortunately, you can still use an RV toilet if you simply poor water in from a pitcher filled from your faucet (thank you RV Geeks for showing us that in a video!). I spent a day or three trying to figure out how I’d go about fixing it with three inches of clearance behind the toilet. Providence shone down one day as I was leaving the apartment, I passed an RV park in Bothell and saw a van from our Ryan’s RV Town and went “OH! They do mobile work!” I reached out about the toilet leak and the other new issue of our wiper squirters were aiming completely left of the windshield on one side and straight up on the other. Never the water and windshield meet! We made an appointment with the mobile RV tech to get them looked at.
The first week, after unpacking enough to move around, we started on our grand plan to replace the window treatments (BLECK!) with curtains and sheers. We had purchased months ago, curtain rods we liked and looked easy to install. Yes, I said easy. That was probably a mistake. So, as we got started, we hit our first stumbling block. Most walls in an RV are 1/8″ plywood with 1×2″ framing. In unusual dimensions. In unusual places. In other words, you can’t guarantee you’ll have anything solid to screw into. Le sigh. So, MacGyver it up (notice a theme here?) and move on to the next one with a different plan. Only to find the next window is also different. Different window, different plan. Ad infinitum (or nauseum if you prefer). Now I’m to the places where I have to drill into the aluminum frames of the slide outs. To be finished to the future. SCARY!
A day later, our next little nugget of fun started manifesting. I plugged in my computer’s power strip and one afternoon, boom. I heard a loud CLICK and lost power. There was a maintenance guy working on replacing a street light outside, so, we thought he’d caused a surge. I flipped all the breakers to try and restore power, but alas, to no avail. I moved the mobile router to the side still working and got Julie back online for work and went off to get a socket tester to see whether it was one plug or more. Found at least five of the 120V plugs were dead. When I finally got to the last one I wanted to test, I discovered it was a ground fault outlet and it had tripped. Easy! Just push the button back in and bingo, bango, bongo! Power was back.
Fast forward to the next day and right at the same time, CLICK! The GFCI tripped again! I reset the outlet, plug the power strip in and CLICK! Reset, test all the outlets with the tester, and started getting weird light combinations that differed on each outlet I was testing. Quickly Googling, discovered that the tester I had (and most like it) are garbage for diagnosis, so, wanted to use Julie’s multi-meter, which was dead. So, out to Lowe’s to get another multi-meter. Once back to the bus, I started testing the plugs and found that on the leg that was tripping, voltage was at 106V instead of 115-120V. Low voltage can trip GFCI. When the tech from Ryan’s showed, I chatted with him about it and he said it the first thing to test was the pole, then your power cord, which gets you to the transfer switch (fancy device that switches between external AC and generator AC when you turn the gennie on). I decided to wait a day and do some testing when it was pouring rain (HAH! Northwest in spring is very much RAIN!). The tech fixed the toilet with some industrial thread putty and looked at the wiper situation and needed to research that. So 1 and 1 on our repair needs.
The next day, I decided to first turn on the generator and test the outlets with the multi-meter again. The reading was 120V. YES! It wasn’t an issue with the coach wiring from the transfer switch! Alas, I had no time left to test the pole to RV segment. It would have to wait until we got to La Conner.
Pack up day. It’s raining (NW weather, you suck!). There are a lot of details to go through and check off. It’s three hours of busy. No problem, we got this. Until it comes time to close one of the bay hatches. And it won’t latch. Sigh. Diagnoses time! First, I see that the latch (one we had replaced when we bought it because it was broken) is cockeyed and loose (letting water in). I now understood why water was getting into the utility bay. So, I go about figuring out why the latch is cockeyed, thinking that it was the cause of the not-latching latch. Well, turns out the they either drilled their own second hole in a metal plate to just get the thing on or they didn’t follow directions on install. I didn’t really care, it was raining and it was causing us a delayed departure (checkout is at noon). I finally get the screws out (self-drilling type that had one drilling at an angle in a plastic part where the screw is supposed to go straight into. I managed to get it all together properly and in. SLAM! No latching. SLAM! SLAM! No latching. BAH!
So, I look again and examine the whole hatch door and see that the hinge at the top isn’t hinging properly, causing the hatch to become cockeyed and the latch mechanism is missing its’s metal hoop. O…M…G! What the actual what? So, once I see I can’t finagle the door into the proper position, I determine I need to strap it in some way. Bungees to the rescue! I hook one end of the bungee on the storage bay on the left and the other hook in the water bay on the right and the door will at least not flap open and around during our drive. Not optimal, but sufficiently MacGyvered. That fix is in the hopper with another mobile RV place, if they ever respond to me.
Oh…the REAL unexpected fun comes from getting to La Conner. We had anticipated staying at the Thousand Trails part at La Conner. We were coming in on a Saturday, not the greatest day to show up at a first come, first serve park. We got there, checked in, only to find they didn’t have much open and that we could pick one of three spots and move on Sunday if we wanted to. Not optimal, but OK. So, Julie led me into the park (she in the Explorer, me driving the RV). Umm…Houston, we have a problem. The park has very narrow roads and the RV spots were small, narrow, often muddy or flooded, not level, plus we had ZERO Verizon signal, which doesn’t bode well for our Internet approach. We drove through the park to the three spaces they designated, none looked great. We then drove to some of the other sections to see what was available, narrowly missing trees and trucks. We found nothing. We decided to abandon plan A and go for the unplanned for plan B, find another park somewhere. Freak out moment! Luckily, we had stayed at North Whidbey RV Park last September and knew we both liked it. We looked at a few other parks, either too expensive or not optimal. Julie called, and we had to make reservations online only. Huh??? None the less, Julie got us reservations and we had a spot for two weeks. Not for free as planned mind you, but, affordable enough. And boom! Crises averted!
We get in, we get parked and all is good. That is, until I go to hook up our sewer hose so we could drain the gray tank. The pipe in the ground was smaller than our hose outlet. Blink blink blink. Hoses are standardized at 3 inches. This sewer outlet was 2 3/4″, very non-standard in this day and age. GAH! A MacGyver trip to Camping World later and a bevy of parts to cobble together another length of hose with the HOPES that the one small connector I found would work. Indeed, it does. TRIUMPH! But wait! The spare hose I have is too small to fit onto the angle fitting I had. NOOOOOOOOOO! So, had to cannibalize our existing hose with the smaller fitting…and voila! I could dump tanks!
Whew! Seems like a lot of unexpected crammed into just three and a half weeks. Crazy, it’s true. The win here is freedom. We are decoupled from tradition and able to gypsy our way about the country, experiencing places we’ve never seen, enjoying those places we’ve been too again. The journey isn’t supposed to be smooth and silky. Journeys are about learning new things, dealing with new issues and embracing it all as part of the passage. Ultimately, we will grow and become experts in our way of living, just as humans have throughout history. Mariners have known this for millennia…the sea calls, and they answer. We just happen to have a boat on land, and a great country of things to see and people to meet. We’ll be exposed to ideas, values, views, politics, religions and lifestyles that are foreign, possibly distasteful, possibly enjoyable. But that is the word to take as the focus of our journey. Experiencing the possible and finding the experience that comes from the unexpected. So, while this post is all about what unexpected things we’ve encountered at the beginning, there is an immense world of unexpected out there, much of it is good and desirable. Some others, not so much. But the unexpected will no longer deter us from experiencing. Our journey begins with the unexpected, as it should.