What To Do When Your RV Breaks Down

what-to-do-if-your-rv-breaks-down-1Last month, my tow vehicle broke down and I was stranded for over two weeks waiting for it to be fixed. I wrote about the incident from a travelogue standpoint but I always intended on writing a more how-to type post of the steps I went through from the time the truck overheated until it was fixed, to help other RVers who might find themselves in a similar situation.

So here’s that article. It’s not all inclusive, not everything here will be applicable to every situation and in some cases other steps will be necessary. My intent was simply to create a good starting point that people can build from. I hope you find it useful! Actually, I hope you never need it…

If there was an accident

I’m going to focus on mechanical breakdowns, not accidents, but here’s a quick rundown. If your rig was involved in an accident, the steps are essentially the same as for any other vehicular accident. A quick search on Google turns up this short list on what to do. (Explanations for each step can be read in full on the original page, courtesy of esurance).

  1. Move to a safe area (if you can).
  2. Stop your vehicle and get out.
  3. Check on others involved.
  4. Call the police to the scene.
  5. Gather info.
  6. Document the scene.
  7. File your insurance claim.

If there wasn’t an accident

If your RV or tow vehicle wasn’t in a crash you’ll still want to get your rig safely out of traffic lanes if you can as a first step. Turn on your hazard blinkers and if you carry cones or other high visibility markers, put them out.

For the purpose of this article we’re assuming the worst: that whatever happened, your rig isn’t drivable and that the problem isn’t something you can fix on your own.

Calm yourself down. You’ll need to use your brain to assess the situation and decide the best course of action, and you won’t be able to do that if you’re letting adrenaline take the front seat. Take a few deep breaths and push emotion out of the way for the time being. Be sad or angry about your misfortune later, it won’t do you any good right now.

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The second step is to get your rig to a shop where they can figure out what went wrong and how much it’ll cost to fix.

If you have emergency roadside assistance, contact them. If you’re like me and don’t, you’ll have to locate and contact a tow truck or other help on your own. I really love being able to look up services and reviews on my smartphone as I travel, it makes locating a good place easier.

If your RV/vehicle is under warranty, you’ll also want to contact them as soon as possible. I’ve heard of people having to fight to get repairs covered because they didn’t contact their dealer before having work done. They may give you specific instructions on where to take the rig. You’ll definitely want to ask them what documentation you’ll need to collect to get reimbursed.

If you don’t have a phone signal, you may need to wait for someone to stop, or walk a ways until you find a signal.

In my case, a local stopped when they saw my truck and trailer along the road and offered to drive me to the “good” shop in town to ask how soon they could get me in, and from there I contacted a tow truck and went back out to collect my rig. It’s always worth asking the locals who they recommend for repair if you get the chance to talk to one, they’ll know who has the best reputation.

One other thing on shop selection, if it’s your RV that is having problems, try to find one that’s willing to let you still stay in it overnight. That’ll save you the hassle of having to get a hotel room if repairs take more than a day.

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While you’re waiting at the shop for word on the problem, you’ll want to start thinking about your expectations and plans. Hopefully the issue will be something cheap and simple that won’t derail your travels, but it might not be, so think about it now so that you’re not blindsided when word comes through.

  • If there’s somewhere you absolutely have to be, you may need to think about alternate travel plans, like renting a car or taking a plane, and coming back to get your RV later.
  • If staying in your RV while it’s being fixed isn’t a solution, look up hotels.
  • If you’re in a trailer or fifth wheel and it’s your tow vehicle having problems, look up camping options in the area that you could have your RV towed to.
  • If your rig is older, think about the max amount of money you’d be willing to spend to repair it. The general rule of thumb is if the repairs are going to cost more than the vehicle/RV is worth, it probably makes more sense to replace it instead.
  • If you’re RVing on a budget, the size of your emergency fund may also limit what you’re able to do for repairs. Hopefully, you’ve given some thought to an exit strategy should the repairs cost more than you can afford.

Hopefully by the time the shop gives you word on what’s up with your rig and how long it’ll take to fix, you’ll have a tentative action plan ready to go and know whether to give the shop the thumbs up or down on the repairs and know what you need to do next.

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Repairs on my truck were more than what the truck was worth and were going to take a long time and cut into the next seasonal job I had lined up, and so I researched a plethora of options from looking for a new tow vehicle to having the truck towed to a bigger city for faster repairs. In the end, I decided to have the truck repaired at that first shop recommended by the local who stopped to help and I felt comfortable with the decision because I’d put serious consideration into all the options and knew that was going to work best for me.

While you wait for repairs to be finished, here are a couple more things to think about:

  • If you’re being expected somewhere, be sure to let people know what’s happened. If you have reservations that you won’t be able to make, cancel them as soon as you can to get the most money back.
  • If the repairs are going to take a while, keep in contact with the shop. Good communication makes the whole process smoother but there’s no guarantee the shop will take the initiative, so you may have to keep calling to make make sure repairs are happening at the expected pace and that the costs are staying on track.
  • If it’s your tow vehicle that is being worked on, think about alternate means of transportation. I bought a bicycle so I’d have a way to get around, renting a car may be more practical depending on how far away from things you are.
  • No matter where you get stranded, there will be something worth seeing. Look into attractions and things to do in the area. Make the most of your time there.

If you’re a full-timer, chances are good that sooner or later you’ll be waylaid by unexpected repairs. When it happens, keeping a level head, researching your options, and cultivating the right attitude goes a long way toward making the situation more pleasant.

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Today’s photos were taken on an evening walk in Boyd, TX last Sunday, what a great sunset!

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

23 Comments

  1. Kenny on December 13, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Our tow vehicle was recently stolen in St. Louis. It was recovered about a week and a half later, but not before we bought a not so good tow vehicle to get to Amazon in Tennessee. It was a rough time, but things are finally getting back to normal.

    We had to rent a number of cars to get things taken care of during this. One thing we recently discovered is that enterprise does rent trucks with towing capability. We pull a casita as well, and this could have been a possibility, except we never expected to see our original tow vehicle again.

    Keep calm, figure out the best course of action, keep people informed, and have a back-up safety fund for those unexpected set backs!



    • Becky on December 14, 2016 at 11:04 am

      I’m glad things are getting back on track for you Kenny and I’m sorry you had to deal with that mess. That tip about Enterprise is good to know.



  2. Reine in Plano (when not camping) on October 15, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, one of the kids shows my grand girls watch has a song about anger.
    “When you get so mad that you want to roar
    Take a deep breath and count to four
    1…2…3…4” (the counting should be slowly)
    The intent is to get kids to think instead of react. I think that’s exactly what you’re saying and is excellent advice.

    You’ve done a great job summing up a step by step process for a difficult situation. Just a thought to add to this. Folks need to also plan ahead a process for a medical emergency. It’s easier to get through challenges of vehicles or health if you’ve given it at least a little thought ahead of time.



    • Becky on October 15, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      Haha, Sounds like a cute program Reine. 🙂



  3. Jerry Minchey on October 13, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Becky, your advice to “Calm yourself down” in order to come up with the best solution to a problem is so true.

    It has been proven that when you have high stress and high adrenaline you can accomplish amazing physical feats–like lifting heavy items to get someone out of a burning building.

    But it has also been proven that you can not be creative in high stress and high adrenaline situations.

    So the old advice when you have a problem, “Calm down and we’ll figure something out” is very good and proven advice.

    You have to be calm to be creative and come up with solutions.



    • Becky on October 13, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Exactly Jerry. But it certainly doesn’t come naturally, our lizard brains can be hard to overcome in panic-inducing situations like being stranded. I think remaining calm in an emergency is a skill that can be learned, and it’s definitely worth doing. Being a vet tech gave me experience with it before I hit the road so I had a good start.



  4. BadgerRickInWis on October 13, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Great write up. Thank you. I think this is my first comment but I’ve been following for awhile now and truly enjoying it.



    • Becky on October 13, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      Glad you’re finding IO helpful and enjoyable Rick and I’m glad you came out of the woodwork to comment!



  5. BEtH on October 13, 2016 at 10:20 am

    One caution when selecting roadside assistance—
    I joined the Good Sam Club, and got the Roadside Assistance package.

    Because my truck and travel trailer combined to make a 70 foot long rig, and my tow vehicle was a 31 foot GMC Topkick, I wanted to be sure my specific vehicle would get towed to where the shop could handle the repairs, not just to the “nearest repair place.”
    Within the hour of signing up, I received an email listing recalls for both my truck, and travel trailer. Because they were a 1993, and a 1995, I also knew the problems had been fixed long ago. I was also reassured, because when clicking on the pull-down menu, all the appropriate choices for my truck were there –1993 GMC C6000 Topkick LoPro. Unlike when I signed up for insurance, and had to be transferred to a live customer representative in order to match my specific truck.
    My choices were verified by the service rep I spoke to, when I paid for the Roadside Assistance pkg.

    However, when my truck broke down, I made the call, assured that all would be well.
    Twenty minutes later, I was stuck on the side of the road, explaining to the Sheriff’s Deputy that my Roadside Assistance would NOT be sending a tow truck for me.
    While they had no problem signing up my truck and travel trailer and taking my money, it seems they didn’t bother to tell me that my truck was still considered “commercial” even though it is now privately owned!!!

    When I finally got through to Good Sam Membership, they apologised, saying they didn’t realise” my truck was commercial. I explained about the pull-down menu, and the person I spoke to. They couldn’t give me an answer…
    As a result, both my truck and travel trailer were towed, and impounded until I could pay the nearly $2K for the tow. Because I had also been sent to the hospital (low blood sugar the deputies mistook for a heart attack) I was unable to retrieve my travel bag AKA BOB. It contained all of our emergency funds, debit cards and cash. Not to mention a 72-hour supply of food, clothes.

    Because we had no money, or a place to stay (trailer impounded) the sheriff’s arranged for us to go to the homeless shelter. It took 8 days to get out of that fiasco—and my truck and travel trailer were seized for unpaid fees that now included 8 days worth of “storage fees.” We also lost all of our pets, also seized while we were sent to the homeless shelter.

    That was July 22nd, 2016. To date, I still have not received the full refund of the Roadside Assistance that I was promised.

    I will get Good Sam Roadside Assistance in the future, when I purchase a new tow vehicle and travel trailer. I will also get it in writing from them, that both my vehicles are fully covered for the tow!!
    Hope this is helpful for anyone with an unusual tow vehicle…

    Keep the shiny side up!!



    • Angela on October 13, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Wow Beth, what an ordeal! That is so sad, but thank you for the heads up on so many issues. It’s a good thing we can all learn from others’ experiences. Thanks Becky.



    • Becky on October 13, 2016 at 7:31 pm

      Sorry you had such a bad experience Beth.

      I don’t have emergency roadside assistance. I thought about it long and hard when I hit the road, but I know companies offer it because in general they make more money than they lose on insurance and since my rig is so small and light it doesn’t need special equipment (read: pricy equipment) to be towed. This is my fifth year on the road and this event was the only time I’ve needed roadside assistance, and it only cost me $125 for both truck and trailer. So far, I’m ahead on the deal. But if I had a larger rig that required special considerations I would.



    • Calvin on October 14, 2016 at 5:25 pm

      I’ve heard other “nightmare” stories about ‘Good Sam’ so I have steered away from ever joining their “club” instead I joined FMCA and haven’t needed anything as of yet but have read and heard several stories about how good their roadside services are !!! You might check others out before going back to Good Sam again !!



    • DaveM on October 15, 2016 at 12:48 am

      BEtH,
      What happened to your pets? Did you finally get them back?



    • Gerald Koth on October 16, 2016 at 9:36 pm

      Sorry to hear you had so many problems with Good Sam I have had just the opposite experience. Great service. I do have just a normal medium duty pickup and a travel trailer. Three tire services and one pull out of the mud went perfectly.

      As far as repairs on the road, I have not had a break down where I could not continue. So siting the trailer, arranging a shop for repair and renting a car to drive during the repairs were all easy.

      Fortunately the week long trailer repair under warrantee was easy because one of my time share condos was right near the weld shop that did the repair. Actually had a nice break from the trailer.

      Full time travel is such a stress free lifestyle, I find that the stress of a breakdown is just one small thing not another thing piled on top of the stress of “normal” life.

      Jerry



      • Becky on October 20, 2016 at 7:17 pm

        How handy Jerry, glad your repairs have all been simple logistically.



  6. Judy Blinkenberg on October 12, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you for the great info. We have lost tires but nothing more. We are leaving for Texas next month. I went back to all your stops on 395 but the weather has changed for those altitudes. Will try again next year. Taking 40 out of Barstow. Looking into places to stop. Hope to get some traveling info soon. I know we can’t afford the prices online. We will look into boondocking sites. I’m happy you, and thank you for all your help. I pray our time on the road will be safe.



    • Becky on October 13, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      I hope you have a good trip Judy. Yeah, 395 passes through some pretty high elevation areas, did you get to see the fall colors at least? One good thing about being out west – there’s plenty of boondocking. Take care!



  7. Nancy on October 12, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Repairs cut this trip short for me. Everything is more difficult when things go wrong and you are traveling alone, as you know. You’ve given some great advice which I” sure will help many people in the future.



    • Becky on October 13, 2016 at 7:21 pm

      I sure do Nancy. Hopefully you have better luck next trip!



  8. cc on October 12, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    One other tip – if you have an insurance agent, call them directly. Insurance agents have their own networks, and can usually help you locate somebody to do the repairs, find a place to stay, etc. Your insurance may also have built in contingencies you may not remember – money for a rental, covering tow costs, etc. I was in one accident and the shop the other insurance insisted I use was giving me the run around. I still don’t know what my agent did or said, but they had an abrupt change in attitude after he chatted with them!



    • Becky on October 13, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      Good advice cc, thanks for sharing.



  9. Sarah Shillinger on October 12, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Thank you for this post. i’ve been thinking about this lately because I was involved in a car accident last week. No one seriously hurt but my car is totaled. If this happened in an RV I wouldn’t have anywhere to stay. Did you pick a trailer so that when Bertha needed fixing you’d still have a home. Did you consider a motor home at all. I am considering a road trek for ease of maneuvering.. But then I lthink about a break down and I want a Casita or a Scamp. I can’t make up my mind.



    • Becky on October 13, 2016 at 7:19 pm

      Glad you’re okay Sarah, car accidents can be scary!

      Having the engine (with all the myriad of things that can go wrong with them) separate from the living quarters is a big advantage of towables, but that wasn’t the main reason I went that route. As a work-camper, I needed to have a vehicle to commute in so that I wasn’t having to take my whole home to work every day. You can read more about how to choose the right RV for you here: https://interstellarorchard.com/2013/01/04/how-to-choose-the-best-type-of-rv/



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