Don’t Worry; Be Handy

By Levi Henley #125245

When you live in an RV, the chance of something breaking is equal to the number of months you have lived in the RV, plus Murphy’s Law squared. There’s no escaping the inevitable.

When things need repairing or replacing, we have a tendency to express an entire host of emotions, including anger, fear and dread. Swear words may be said, followed by questions such as, “How are we going to get this fixed?” and “How much will it cost?”

My wife, Natalie, and I travel with pets, and this can pose an added challenge. It’s difficult to find a place to stay with cats and dogs while you wait for your “house” to be fixed for several days or more. When trouble arises, we are often stuck with fixing
it ourselves.

Neither of us has a background in mechanics or home improvement, so repairing things in the RV doesn’t come naturally. Because of this, in the two short years we have lived in our rig, we have learned that most people are probably much handier than they think.

I can’t tell you how to rebuild your engine or service your air conditioner, but I can share the mental process I use to solve issues. I found that, by fixing these problems myself, not only have I saved a lot of money, but I also learned about the RV I live in and how it’s put together.

Stay Calm
This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn. My first reaction when something isn’t working is to feel a deep sense of dread because I’m out of my league. The truth I have come to know is that, unless it is a major system, I can fix it if I do it in steps.

As an example, one day my hydraulic leveling jack wouldn’t retract. We were about to start a job working 10 hours a day, and I had no time to take the rig to a shop. I could have forced the jack up, but it was hard to do. I had a fleeting moment of panic not knowing how I would fix it. The only thing I did know was that hydraulic fluid and a pump made the thing work. Other than that, I was clueless.

This mindset is useless. There is no point in feeling sorry for yourself for failing when you haven’t even tried.

I have learned that, when a problem arises, take a deep breath and think, “I don’t know how to fix this, but I can find out.” I eventually fixed the jack, and it was actually easier than I thought it would be.

Assess the Situation; Isolate the Problem
It’s time to step back, look at the issue and ask, what is the exact problem? What was I doing before the problem occurred? You can even summarize the problem with a statement such as my toilet is leaking; my house batteries are not charging when plugged in; I have no power to my TV; I have a condensation buildup. I have had all these problems and found ways to resolve them.

In the case of my leveling jack, I narrowed the problem down to the following sentence: My back rear leveling jack will extend but not retract. Once you’ve isolated the problem to a simple statement, you can start looking for a solution.

Investigate the Problem; Pinpoint a Solution
This is the part where you seek information about the system to be repaired. Your RV manual is an excellent place to start. RV manuals not only detail the framework and setup of each system, they also offer insight with troubleshooting.

Once you can articulate the problem in a sentence or two, you may be able to find the steps needed to remedy the problem in the troubleshooting section of the manual.

In the worst case, you will have learned more about the system you are attempting to repair. If the manual tells you how to fix the issue, then you have the green light. If not, more research is needed. This is where the RVing community comes in. A lot of RVers out there are willing to give advice and online help through blogs, RV-related websites and forums and various social media. Once you have gathered your information, you may have a good idea of how to test and fix the problem.

Sometimes you find the answer you need and more. Keep in mind, however, that not everyone on these online forums is an expert, so use caution and commonsense when receiving an answer, especially if it involves electricity–or any type of fuel. If you are in doubt about a problem that is a potential danger for you or your family when executed incorrectly, a professional is your only option.

As for my leveling jack issue, I reduced the issue to a single complication and consulted the manual. It offered a variety of ways to test the jack and pinpoint the problem. I concluded that the jack itself was the issue, not the whole leveling system. Fortunately, I was able to troubleshoot without the expertise title. Unfortunately, I had to buy a new jack.

Make a List
Once you feel you are ready to repair the problem, make a list of supplies. It’s always a plus if you have the materials and tools on hand, but it’s convenient enough if you can, at least, get them at a local store.

For my jack problem, I had to call the manufacturer to order a new jack. I also made sure that I had tools to remove the malfunctioning one.

Fix It
You didn’t panic, you assessed and isolated the problem and you investigated solutions. You made your list and purchased materials. Now you are ready to fix the problem.

If you must remove something or take it apart to make a repair, always take photos or make a diagram of the process. Try to organize the screws as you take them out, so that each goes back into the same slot and none are left over when you’re done.

Once you complete the repair and see that it is working, you can add that to the list of systems you know how to fix. As you achieve each repair, you will build confidence for taking on the next challenge. I know you will be surprised to find that you are handier than you think.

Levi and Natalie Henley are a full-time RVing couple. Together with their three cats and dog, they travel around the country in their 2011 Sunstar Itasca seeking workcamping gigs. They share their adventures, seasonal job experiences and travel tips on their website, henleyshappytrails.com.

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