Internet & Phone Communications for RV Living – A Minimalist Solution!

How do you stay in touch when living on the road full-time in an RV? What kind of internet access is best? Which phone plans make the most sense for a full-time RVer? These are some of the questions that RVers face, and there is a huge array of solutions for every need and lifestyle.

Note: This post was updated in September, 2016, to reflect new offerings from Verizon

The gurus on this topic are unquestionably Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia. They have written a fantastic book about the internet for RVers and also created an online community dedicated to mobile internet issues (more about those excellent resources here).

Because we have taken an unconventional route with our own communications solution (as we tend to do with our traveling lifestyle in general), I thought a few notes here might be useful.

What, No Phone?! How Can You DO THAT?!

After several decades of being “on call” in our professions, bound to our customers by electronic leashes, we ditched our cell phones when we started traveling full-time in 2007. In large part, this was a money-savings tactic, but in some ways it was a small act of defiance against a world that is increasingly held in electronic bondage.

We have managed just fine without a phone since we started traveling full-time.  We’ve been able to meet up with friends at appointed hours, find our way to remote and stunning locations without a GPS-enabled electronic map. We’ve even bought and sold large assets like our sailboat and truck, all without a phone.

If you are looking to shave a few dollars off your full-time RVing budget, or if you are just curious how this is possible, here’s what we do.

Internet Access – Verizon MiFi Jetpack

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 6620L

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 6620L

We have a Verizon MiFi 6620L Jetpack hotspot that is the basis of all our communications. It operates on the Verizon cell phone towers, has a cell phone number itself, provides password protected WiFi inside and near the rig, and can theoretically support 15 devices connected to the internet.

A little back-story on this MiFi jetpack — For three years we had a Verizon MiFi 4620 jetpack, but in October, 2014, its tiny charging receptacle broke and it could no longer get charged. Mark tried to nurse it back to life by soldering its lifeless receptacle to the charger permanently, but the problem was internal and it was dead.

MiFi Jetpack Charger solder repair

We tried soldering wires from the MiFi to its charger, but it still wouldn’t charge.

That older jetpack always had problems charging and holding a charge. It could theoretically support up to five devices, but we found our two laptops frequently maxed out its battery, even when it was plugged in and charging, and we sometimes ran the battery down faster than it could charge itself on its charger!

For those that have an older MiFi and haven’t yet upgraded to the MiFi 6620L, this new jetpack has a bigger battery and holds a charge better than the 4620L did.

However, it also has the annoying habit of falling asleep when nothing is happening between you and the internet. For us to resume using the internet after a period of doing nothing, we have to wake it up manually by tapping on its power button. Then the computer has to reconnect to the MiFi.

Some reviews claim that this new jetpack provides a better internet signal than the old one, but in all honesty, it seems about the same. So, the only real difference we can see is in the size of the battery.

Verizon 24GB (XXL) Talk/Text/Data Plan – Usage and Flexibility

As of September, 2016, our MiFi Jetpack is tied to a 24 GB talk/text/data plan with Verizon. When we first got our Jetpack in 2012, we were able to get by with a 3GB data-only plan until I moved this website to WordPress. Then our data usage instantly jumped to 6GB per month.

Over the next three years we gradually increased our plan by 2GB increments until it was 20 GB per month (data only). After a year at that level, we took advantage of the new Verizon plans being offered in the fall of 2016 and got a 24 GB plan talk/text/data plan for less money!

Note: We do not use the talk/text feature of this plan because we don’t have a cell phone. However, we signed up for the 24 GB talk/text/data plan because it is cheaper than our former 20 GB data-only plan and it has several key benefits…

This new 24 GB talk/text/data plan has three huge advantages over our old 20 GB data-only plan:

  • Carryover of unused data from one month to the next
  • The fee for the Jetpack itself is just $10 instead of $20
  • There is no surcharge for using the Jetpack in Canada or Mexico (see below)

How cool is that?

Verizon Talk Text Data Plans

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Changing Plans? Cut to the Chase & Call Verizon!

I always dread calling Verizon (I had terrible experiences with them with a fleet of corproate phones in the mid-1990’s), but in recent years, I’ve found that talking to their sales people has always helped us find a better deal than if I just poked around on their website.

We have changed our plan six times since we first got our Jetpack in 2012, and we have put it on hold or taken it off hold five or six times, and each time we have done it over the phone and been really surprised at how helpful our salesperson has been!

Saving Data by Using Free WiFi Signals

When we want to save data on our plan, we put off our big download operations, like operating systems upgrades that download as much as 1.5 GB of data at once, for when we have access to a free WiFi signal at a library or coffee shop or elsewhere.

We also use Clipgrab on free WiFi signals to download videos so we can watch them from our laptop hard drives later.

Verizon MiFi Jetpack – International Use

The new Verizon talk/text/data plans now allow you to use the MiFi Jetpack in both Canada and Mexico — if you get a 16GB (XL) plan or larger — without paying a surcharge. Using our MiFi Jetpack came in very handy during our travels to the Canadian Rockies in the summer of 2016.

At that time, our old Verizon data-only plan charged us $2 per day for the privilege/convenience of using our Jetpack in Canada. So, for six weeks of RV travel in Canada, we paid a $90 surcharge on top of our usual Verizon bill. At the time that seemed like a pretty good deal, because the year before, in 2015, when we traveled in Nova Scotia, the MiFi Jetpack wouldn’t work in Canada at all, and we had to rely on free WiFi signals the whole time we were in Canada!!

With our new XXL 24GB plan, there is no surcharge at all for using our Jetpack in either Mexico or Canada. That’s even better! Yay!! (And what a godsend that would have been during our sailing cruise of Mexico!).

Internet access in the Gulf of Tehuantepec Mexico

Internet access on a boat at sea in a foreign country is a trip!
Here I hold up my laptop to get a much needed internet weather report while crossing Mexico’s notorious Gulf of Tehuantepec.
It took 21 minutes to download a 604 KB file!!

Putting a Verizon Data Plan on Hold

One handy aspect of Verizon’s plans is that you can put them on hold. We used this feature a lot when we spent months at a time sailing in Mexico because Verizon didn’t offer Mexico access for Jetpacks back in those days.

Seasonal RV travelers may find this comes in handy, as they may not want to use the MiFi Jetpack when they are at home and not out traveling in their RV.

You can put the plan on hold for up to 90 days, at no charge. If you call in again before 90 days is up, you can put it on hold for another 90 days, and so on, indefinitely.

All the days that you put the plan on hold get tacked onto the end of your contract. So, for us, a two year contract took nearly three years to fulfill. When you decide to resume the contract, a simple phone call is all it takes and you are back online immediately. There is a nominal charge for re-instating the contract.

Phone Access – Skype

We use a Skype account for all of our phone needs. Skype is best known for making it possible to make free video calls between people who have Skype accounts. Similar to Apple’s FaceTime, this is a fun way to communicate. It also requires a pretty strong internet signal. If the call begins to falter due to a sketchy internet connection, turning off the video will often perk it back up again.

Skype Image

That’s not generally how we use Skype, however. Instead, we use it to call people on their cell phones and land lines. For $2.99 a month we have an annual subscription service with Skype to call any cell phone or landline in the US or Canada for unlimited minutes. These are outbound phone calls only.

To receive incoming calls requires another step: For $2.50 a month, Skype assigned a phone number to our account that accepts voicemail and appears on our friends’ phones when we call them. Skype sends us an email when a new voicemail comes in. If we are on our computer and it is connected to the internet, we receive incoming phone calls just like a regular phone (the computer’s speaker rings, and you click a button to pick up the call). Skype has an app for mobile devices too, so you can do all this with a tablet, iPad or iPod too.

If you don’t sign up for that service, Skype calls will come into your friends’ phones with a mystifying number that is unrecognizable. We did this for four years, and it was okay. It was a little awkward not having a call-back number when calling a business, but we let them know that we checked our email frequently, and most companies were happy to get back to us via email instead of a phone call. Our friends eventually knew that if a weird number came in on their phone, it was probably us calling!

Tricks for Making Skype Calls

Skype is pretty good for phone calls, but the connection is not always perfect. We’ve gotten used to tipping our MacBook Pro laptops so the microphone is a little closer to our mouths than when it’s down in our lap. The person on the other end is on speaker phone, which can be nice for calling family and friends, if they don’t mind. However, when making an important call to a company, using earbuds makes it easier to hear the other person and takes them off speaker phone if you are in a somewhat public place.

In general, our internet download speed is faster and better than our upload speed, and this affects Skype. Oftentimes, we can hear the person on the other end of the phone much better than they can hear us. One way to improve things is to make sure only one device is on the internet via the MiFi jetpack.  So, if Mark wants to make a call, I have to do something local on my laptop and stop using the internet, and vice versa.

It’s also important that no other internet applications are running on the computer that is making the call. That means turning off the email application, shutting down all browsers and quitting out of anything else that might unexpectedly access the internet and disrupt the phone call.

Wilson Booster – Getting More from our Internet Signal – Kinda

We use a Wilson Sleek 4G Cell Phone Booster which we have permanently mounted in a cabinet alongside a cigarette lighter outlet.

This connects to a Wilson 800/1900 Magnet Mount Antenna. This combo works okay, however, these signal boosters do much more for 4G signals than they do for 3G signals, and we have 3G signals quite a bit of the time.  One note: according to Wilson, the number of bars on the MiFi unit doesn’t necessarily increase even though the signal is improved by the booster. A fun way to see how fast your internet signal is and to keep track of the speeds in different places is to use SpeedTest.Net.

Wilson Antenna on fifth wheel slideout

The higher the antenna, the better.

The folks at Wilson told us it was very important to have the antenna sitting on a piece of metal for grounding purposes, so we bought their suction cup mounted Accessory Kit for Grounding. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a good place to mount the antenna with this suction cup plate because the wires are so short. Someday Mark might replace our outside (and rarely used) radio antenna with the Wilson antenna, but we haven’t done that yet.

Wilson also told us that simply placing the antenna on a 5″ x 5″ sheet of ferrous metal would do the trick, and we searched around for something and discovered our cast iron skillet fit the bill.

We did tests with the antenna to see how much having a grounding plate seemed to matter. We placed the antenna near the ceiling above our slide-out without a metallic plate under it, then set it on our big frying pan on our kitchen counter, and lastly set it on the roof of our truck.

Wilson Antenna on a frying pan

It’s “grounded” as per Wilson’s recommendation, but the signal isn’t as good this low down.

We found having the antenna higher in the air near the ceiling above our slide-out was much more important than placing it on metal.

Although we used this booster a fair bit in 2014 and 2015, we haven’t used it at all in 2016, and we haven’t missed it!

Internet Portability – Driving Tactics and Electronic Maps

Siri — ahhhh. Although we don’t have an iAnything, I am in love with the little Apple genie, Siri, who lives inside iPhones and iPads. However, after lots of soul searching about whether Siri’s companionship would make me happier in our travels, so far I’ve decided that it wouldn’t.

Instead, I get to be Mark’s Siri as he drives, and that’s not a bad gig. He does all the driving in our family (I did almost all the helmsman duty on our boat, so it’s pretty fair). To help out with the RV navigation, I bring the MiFi jetpack and laptop with me into the truck’s passenger’s seat, and I use Google Maps to figure out where we’re going. I don’t get the nifty icon that shows me where we are, so sometimes I have some frantic moments trying to deduce our exact location, but once I’ve got it, I call out the instructions for how to get from here to there.

Our 2016 Ram 3500 truck has a factory installed dash-mounted GPS, but it user friendliness pales by comparison.

So, the overall functionality of a smartphone or tablet is there for us on the road, it’s just a whole lot more clunky.

Using a SmartPhone or Tablet as a Hotspot and More

When our Mifi Jetpack died, I thought the only solution was to get another one. Not so. I have since learned that we could have taken the SIM card out of our old jetpack and put it into a glistening new iPad. We wouldn’t have had to sign up for another 2 years with Verizon when we replaced our dead MiFi jetpack either (which we did when we upgraded to the new MiFi jetpack), since our contract was tied to the SIM card. We could have simply continued on our old plan until it ran out four months later and then reassessed our situation.

Internet Access Resources for RVers

Mobile Internet Handbook for RVers

The Internet Bible for RVers

For us — for now — we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing since it works just fine. In all likelihood, however, our simplistic and minimalistic methods are not getting you fired up with excitement.

As I mentioned above, the Mobile Internet Handbook (available on Kindle and in Paperback) by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard is the most thorough resource available and is an absolute necessity for anyone that wants to get technical on the road. Prior to starting their full-time RV adventures, Chris was a mobile technology expert, working as Director of Competitive Analysis for Palm and PalmSource (the companies behind the Palm Pilot and Treo). He studied every aspect of mobile phone and tablet technologies and is using that expertise to help RVers today.

The detail this book goes to is staggering. From explaining nationwide versus regional cellular data carriers to getting into the nitty gritty of what “roaming” is all about, and what hotspots and routers really are, to discussing cellular frequency bands and the all important topic of security, this book covers it all.

What’s better, Chris and Cherie continue the discussion and keep it current at their RV Mobile Internet Resource Center, with an accompanying public Facebook discussion group. They are also keeping a list of RV internet strategy blog posts that describe various real-life technology setups that RVers are using. They even offer personal advising sessions where you can find out what the best solution is for your unique situation.

Of course, all of this technology is changing daily. When we started RVing full-time in 2007, we got by with pay phone cards and free WiFi at coffee shops. We were unaware in those days (although we had our suspicions) that cell phones weren’t nearly as smart as their progeny would soon be, and we had no idea just how far the industry would come.

In just a few scant years everything has changed, and who knows where the future will take us!

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RV Tips and Tricks – Make RVing EASY and FUN!

There are a million RV tips and tricks to make the RV life easier, and this page offers some little jewels we’ve discovered since we started RVing full-time in our fifth wheel trailer in 2007. We’ve broken them down into:

RV Tips and Tricks for making RVing and the RV Life easy

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OUTDOOR RV TIPS and TRICKS

High Powered “Search” Flashlight

We often camp in areas that are quite remote, and getting to and from and around the rig at night is much easier with a very high powered flashlight!

Lumintop SD75 LED flashlight

Lumintop SD75 Flashlight compared to a pocket Maglite

We have a Lumintop SD75 Flashlight which is downright phenomenal. We have hiked Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon at night to photograph the stars and the Milky Way, and this flashlight is literally like holding a car headlight in your hand.

Here is more info about this flashlight:

Lumintop SD75 Flashlight Review

Getting Parked Without Damaging Anything

The most basic element in RVing is learning to hitch up and unhitch, whether you are driving a car pulling a popup, a diesel truck towing a fifth wheel or a Class A motorhome towing a car. Of course, lots of people have loads of fun in their motorhomes without towing a car behind, but getting hitched up and unhitched is part and parcel of the RV lifestyle for an awful lot of us.

The most important thing for the driver and the person standing outside of the rig is to stay in eye contact with each other. This is entirely up to the person running around outside. If you can see the driver’s face in the rear view mirrors, you are golden. If you can’t, then any kind of gesture you make, including jumping up and down and waving your arms because the driver is about to drive the rig right off a cliff, will never be seen.

We use two-way radios to give us a way to talk to each other and to lessen the impact if I inadvertently end up in a position where Mark can’t see me in the rearview mirror. We use the longest distance radios we can get, to make sure the signal is decent. Right now we have 36 mile GMRS radios, which are realistically good to about 3-5 miles. We used these on our boat (a godsend when anchoring) and we’ve used them ever since we started RVing. We’ve gone through three sets so far, because the salt air ate up two pairs during our cruising years.

Two-way radios for backing up an RV

We use our two-way radios all the time…

Besides the radios, it’s really helpful to have good hand signals. I indicate the distance until disaster by spreading my arms wide and then bringing my hands closer and closer together until I give a “halt” sign (palms forward). Shaking my head and waving my hands and giving a few slices to the neck can help too if it starts to look really bad.

Midland 36 mile GMRS radios

36 mile GMRS radios

It is royally embarrassing to make all these gestures when you’ve got an audience of people watching, but I’ve learned that there’s no ego in getting the rig parked well. Every RVer who has been around a while has made a huge blunder of some kind while parking, and they’ve all lived through it. So a few members of your giggling audience will probably be very sympathetic to whatever mistakes you have up your sleeve.

My worst gaffe was in front of two very special friends we hadn’t seen since we’d moved into our fifth wheel a year earlier. They had come out to camp with us, and we were all excited. I had just finished telling them (with great pride) that we didn’t need their help parking because we parked our rig all the time, we had a system, and we had gotten pretty darn good at it.

Mark began to back up as our friends watched, and I began to warn him that he needed to go more towards the driver’s side to avoid a tree. He adjusted, but again, I told him, he needed to go more towards the driver’s side! I kept repeating my instructions louder and louder as our good friends watched in bewilderment. When Mark was just about to cream the tree, we all started shouting STOP!!! Mark got out of the truck, calmly assessed the situation, and then said to me: “Ahem…. which side does the driver sit on?”

Our friends smiled weakly and I looked for the nearest rock to crawl under…

So, don’t be embarrassed and don’t be shy. Make your gestures big and strong, and remember which side of the rig the driver sits on!

Hitching and Unhitching a Fifth Wheel Trailer

Some folks drive their RVs solo, and although I can’t say much about hitching and unhitching a motorhome and car combo, our good friend Bob has found a great way to hitch and unhitch a fifth wheel trailer solo. He marked the front landing leg that’s near the extend/retract button at regular intervals all the way up and down the leg.

Fifth wheel landing leg marked with hash marks

Hash marks on a landing leg help get the rig back to the right height before hitching up.

Then he numbered each hash mark. He keeps a pad and pen in the hatch near the landing legs button. When unhitching, once he’s raised the trailer to where he can drive the truck out from under it, he jots down the hash mark number that is visible on the leg. Then he drives out, parks, and returns to the trailer and raises or lowers the landing legs as necessary to get the trailer level.

When he hitches up again to leave, he adjusts the trailer height to the exact position where he unhitched. That way, when he gets in the truck to hitch up, he knows the trailer will be at the correct height as he backs the truck up into the hitch pin (and he doesn’t have to get in and out of the truck several times to check and adjust the height of the trailer).

We marked our landing legs at 1.5″ intervals and have not numbered them. There are only 6 hash marks, and I make a mental note of what mark we were at when we unhitched. Frequently, by the time we leave, I’ve forgotten where we were at before we leveled the trailer, but I’ve developed a good eye for knowing how much to raise or lower the rig as Mark backs the truck towards the trailer.

We also marked the centerline of the fifth wheel pin box and pin plate so it is easy for Mark to line up the hitch with the pin box and king pin when he is backing the truck into the trailer.

Leveling the Trailer

There are many methods for getting a trailer level, and hydraulic leveling is a blessing that takes all the excitement out of it. For those without hydraulic leveling, we found in our early years that with two 5′ lengths of 2″x8″ board and one 5′ length of 1″x8″ board we could always find a combination that worked to get the trailer level from side to side. A 5′ board is relatively easy to drive onto and provides a solid platform for the trailer’s wheels.

We store the boards in the bed of the pickup. When using two boards, we stagger them a few inches so the trailer is driven first onto one level and then up a step to the next. We have to remember to back up when coming off stacked boards or the upper one will tip up and hit the bottom of the trailer while driving off it (think of a sailor walking the plank).

Leveling boards fifth wheel RV trailer

This was an extremely unlevel spot where we used quite a few boards and strips of horse stall mat.

If you don’t like the idea of hauling long boards around in your truck, there are nifty plastic leveling board kits (here’s another type) that are very popular.

We also use plastic wheel chocks whenever we park on a steep incline to prevent the trailer from rolling, especially while unhitching and hitching up.

Our friend Ken introduced us to using a sliced up horse stall mat rather than pine boards. We cut a 4’x6′ sheet of horse stall mat into five 1×5 strips and four 1×1 squares, and those have worked really well for us. They hold up to the elements really well and they roll along with the contour of whatever crazy surface we might park on. It is also possible to drive off of them either forwards or backwards because they don’t slap the underside of the trailer.

The only disadvantage is that they are much heavier than pine boards, but we can drag them around and they don’t disintegrate. We use the 1’x1′ squares under the landing legs and scissor jacks for cushioning.

We also have four large blocks made of three 1′ lengths of 2″x8″ boards screwed together. We put handles on the ends to make them easy to lug around. In a really unlevel site in the Smoky Mountains we had to stack them on top of each other AND extend the jack legs all the way!

RV fifth wheel landing legs

A very unlevel spot that required two blocks plus all the leg length.

What Is Level and How Do You Know?

Determining what constitutes “level” inside an imperfectly constructed RV is an interesting trick. We used a carpenter’s level on our kitchen floor, in several directions, and on our table, and on the bedroom floor. Of course, none agreed! But we found a good compromise and then mounted some RV levels on the outside of the rig to give us a reasonable guess when we’re setting up.

There are two different types of levels: Bubble Levels that have an air bubble that floats to the high side, and Ball Levels that have a ball that drops to the low side. Bubble levels are more responsive (the bubble moves more quickly as the RV moves). Ball levels take a few seconds to react. If you use both types, you can get confused because they move in opposite directions.

We have a large Level Master level on the fifth wheel pin box that is easy to see from inside the truck. We also have two small bubble levels on the trailer on the corner by the landing jack power button, one facing forward (for left to right leveling) and one facing sideways (for front to back leveling).

RV Fifth wheel hitch level and center mark

The ball style level (visible from inside the truck) shows which side of the rig is low.
We painted a line on the pin box to help with hitching up.

Our pin box mounted Level Master, a ball level, is easy to see from inside the truck. When the trailer is higher on one side than the other, the Level Master ball falls to the low side.

Our smaller levels on the front corner of the fifth wheel are bubble levels, so the one on the front of the rig showing the side-to-side level has a bubble that rises to the high side. This is the opposite of the ball level on the pin box, and sometimes, when we are struggling with white line fever from hours on the road, this messes us up.

RV bubble levels on a fifth wheel trailer

Small bubble levels show left/right and front/rear level near the landing jack power button on our fifth wheel.

I’d recommend sticking to either ball levels or bubble levels and not mixing and matching like we did! A good solution might be to mount a ball level like this on both the pin box and on the front of the trailer near the landing jack power button.

Why do you need two side-to-side levels? When I’m running around placing the boards in line with the wheels for Mark to drive onto, I want to see a level on the fiver easily myself, and the front of the pin box is impossible to see from the side of the truck when we’re hitched up.

However, lots of folks rely on a single pin box mounted level that has both side-to-side and forward-back levels in it. There are a few from Camco and Hopkins that are very popular.

You can forego all this nonsense with a slick hydraulic leveling system. However, this does introduce a complicated and expensive system into your life, and we’ve heard many stories of the jacks falling down while driving, or not retracting properly and systems failing in other ways. On the plus side, though, you can easily jack up the trailer to change a flat!

 

Cordless Drill for Easy Jack Setup

We don’t have electric stabilizer jacks on our fifth wheel trailer (nor did we on our travel trailer). However, we use an 18 volt cordless drill, and it’s very easy.

Cordless drill set up for RV stabilizer jacks

Ready for action with the drill, extension and socket for the stabilizer jacks

We use the following setup to crank the scissor jacks:

We keep the 1/4″ Hex to 3/8″ Socket Adapter in the drill. Mark glued the extension and 3/4″ socket together with JB Weld, making it ultra easy to grab the extension, jam it in the drill and go.

18 volt cordless drill, 8" extension and socket for RV scissor jacks

18 volt cordless drill, extension, socket and adapters for RV scissor stabilizer jacks

This setup worked on both the four stab-jacks on our travel trailer and the two rear scissor jacks on our fifth wheel. We keep the drill right inside a basement hatch door so it’s easy to find during both setup and breakdown of the trailer.

RV stabilizer jacks with cordless drill

Raising and lowering the jacks takes 2 seconds!

Rigid Drill Set Radio

This goofy radio is in the Rigid Drill Kit (along with an impact driver & regular drill & lithium ion batteries and charger). We love it even more than the other stuff!

Camco makes a special Leveling Scissors Jack Socket that replaces those three pieces, but there is no 8″ extension. Personally, I like the long extension because you don’t have to crawl in so far to make contact with the scissor jacks.

Last year we bought a Rigid drill kit which includes a regular 18 volt drill, an impact driver (awesome for the lug nuts when changing a tire) and a radio as well as two rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and a charger.

After going through three different 18 volt drills during our years of RVing and sailing, we’ve been really impressed with this Rigid kit. The Lithium-Ion battery charges up in about 15-20 minutes and it’s good for a really long time.

The kit comes with two batteries, so we use one for the drill and one for the radio. And what a hoot it is to have a portable radio. In this day and age of slick electronics, we’ve gotten such a kick out of this thing…

 

Cleaning the RV

No matter where we park, the slide roofs need attention before we bring them in. Either they are dusty, in the desert, or they are covered with twigs and leaves, in the woods, or they are wet from rain. Slide toppers might help with this, although I have heard that they tend to make noise in high winds, sag over time, and sometimes end up with leaves and twigs trapped underneath.

Mark has a long handled squeegee he uses to get the water off, a broom for the leaves and branches, and a California Duster and/or broom for the dust. Getting up on the roof is also useful for checking out all the rooftop items like hatches, TV antenna, solar panels and wiring. His favorite cleaning tool for all this is a telescoping scrub brush that we used for cleaning our boat.

Scrub brush on RV roof

Our telescoping brush from our boat is a favorite for cleaning the rig.

He just loves this soft bristled brush. Murphy’s Oil Soap mixed with water is a good solution to wash the roof. To get rid of black scuff marks on the outside of the rig, he uses Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponges.

Telescoping Ladder

Telescoping ladder on an RV

A second ladder is really helpful!

Telescoping ladder

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The first trailer we lived in full-time didn’t have a walk-on roof, and the signature of an RV without a walk-on roof is that it doesn’t have a built-in ladder.

We got a telescoping ladder so we could get up on the roof, and we have kept that ladder and used it ever since, even though our fifth wheel has a built-in ladder.

You may not think you need a second ladder when you’ve got one on the rig already, but polishing the front cap is one job where you do.

Washing or working on any part of the rig that is high up and out of reach of the ladder on the back is much easier with a second ladder, including the high corner of the rear end opposite the built-in ladder!

 

RV Patio Mats

A beautiful patio mat extends your living space and defines your outdoor area in an elegant way, and we love ours.

RV Patio mat defines outdoor space while camping

A classy patio mat extends your living space into the outdoors.

But they can be pricey if you’re just getting started with weekend RVing. An alternative is to get some green indoor/outdoor carpeting. We had this with our popup tent trailer, and it fit the bill perfectly (and our friends who now own our popup still use it!).

Popup tent trailer indoor-outdoor carpet patio mat

Save a few bucks and use green indoor/outdoor carpeting!

Waxing the Fifth Wheel Cap

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for getting the fifth wheel cap to have a deep shine. It’s made of ABS plastic and shows every swirl mark of a first-pass at waxing. The only way to bring back the luster it had when it was new is to use an orbital buffer and fiberglass polish and a whole lot of elbow grease.

Polished front cap on RV fifth wheel trailer

An orbital buffer and 3M Marine Cleaner Wax give the front cap a nice shine
but leave Mark’s shirt speckled with white spots!

Mark likes the 3M Marine Cleaner & Wax that we used on our sailboat. Unfortunately, you’ve gotta do this a bunch of times, and the worse condition the front cap is in, the more times it takes. But eventually you can get the shine back. Just be sure you keep the buffer moving lightly across the surface at all times so you don’t dig a hole in the plastic!

We have more cleaning tips for giving an RV that extra shine while boondocking here: Tips for Washing an RV While Boondocking

 

Truck Overloads

Timbren SES Suspension System for truck

Timbren SES Suspension

Our 14,000 lb. fifth wheel was right at the weight limit of what our 2007 Dodge 3500 could tow, and the pin weight of the trailer along with all the things we carry in our truck loaded down the bed of that truck quite a bit.

When hitched up, although the rig looked quite level, the truck sagged a bit, leaving the front wheels a little light and giving the truck a tendency to wander.

To alleviate this, we installed a Timbren Suspension Enhancement System between the axles and leaf springs of the truck. These are solid rubber donuts (not airbags) that fit between the axle and the leaf springs. That made the truck sit better and wander less.

We had that setup for eight years. In 2016 we purchased a 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck which had a much higher weight capacity in the truck bed and could handle the pin weight of the trailer along with the additional weight of the water jugs and leveling boards we carry in the bed of the truck much better.

How to Put Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) in a Truck

Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 has a five gallon Diesel Exhaust Fluid tank which needs to be refilled every thousand miles or so. We’ve got some tips for where to get this stuff cheap and how to get it in the truck without spilling here:

How to Put Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) in a Truck and Which Brand is Cheapest

How to put Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) in a truck without spilling

Putting DEF in a diesel truck is a new necessary evil, but there are tricks to make it cheap and easy…

RV Grill Operating on the RV’s Propane Tanks

Mark loves to barbecue, and ever since our first popup trailer, we’ve had a wonderful, small RV barbecue, the “RV sidekick grill.” It comes with a mounting kit to hang it on the side of an RV. Flipped sideways, this same kit becomes legs so the grill can stand up off the ground.

RV grill attached to fifth wheel trailer

The RV sidekick grill is designed to hang on the side of an RV or stand on its own.

We had this grill installed on the side of both our popup tent trailer and travel trailer, but with the fifth wheel, Mark installed an extra gas line and valve coming from the RV’s propane tanks so it can run from them. A quick disconnect LP gas hose goes from the grill to this gas line.

RV grill gas pipe connection

An extra gas line and valve lets the grill runs from the trailer’s propane tanks.

We’ve had this little grill since 2005 and it still makes a great meal!

 

RV Water Toys – Water Spigot Connections

In many dry camping campgrounds where there are water spigots available but no water hookups at the campsites, the water spigots don’t have threads. We’ve found a water bandit makes it possible to thread our water hose onto the spigot so we can fill up with water easily.

Water Bandit spigot adapter for RV fresh water at campgrounds

The water bandit makes it possible to connect a fresh water hose when there are no threads on the spigot.

In cases where we get water hookups and leave the water hose connected to the trailer, we screw a 90 degree elbow onto the trailer so the hose can hang straight down rather than come out of the our city water connection horizontally and then droop down towards the ground, putting pressure on the connection and potentially causing drips. We discovered this nifty little elbow when we lived on our boat in a marina before our cruise.

RV water connections to fresh water hose

The elbow here is 45 degrees. 90 is even better

In addition, a water pressure regulator keeps the water pressure down to a level inside the rig that prevents any unexpected damage or leaks. A quick release makes it easy to connect and disconnect the fresh water hose. Mark also keeps a Y valve in his water hose arsenal. This is handy if the rig is connected to city water and we want to fill pails with water for washing the truck, or if an RV dump station has only one water spigot and we want to fill our fresh water tanks and run the black water flush at the same time.

Lots of folks like to attach a water filter as well. We used various filters at first, but no longer use any, although we periodically add a cap full of bleach to the fresh water tank. When we got a new fresh water tank, we were surprised that there was no sludge of any kind inside the old tank, even after 7 years of use.

Changing the Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

We have a Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck with a B&W fifth wheel hitch, and wouldn’t you know it, the first time we had to change a tire on it, it was the inner rear tire. Ugh!

We had always wondered exactly how you went about doing this, and we found out. Here is a blog post that explains the entire process:

How to Change the Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

 

INDOOR RV TIPS and TRICKS

Creating STORAGE SPACE with Seating for Four in the Dinette

We replaced the two chairs in our dining area with two wonderful storage ottoman benches, and this has increased our storage space by quite a bit. The storage ottomans we chose have a nice faux leather padded top that is really comfy to sit on, and they have voluminous storage space inside.

Storage benches in RV dinette

Our dining area – lots of storage and seating for four.

We have his-and-hers benches, and we keep our camera gear in them. The great thing is it got rid of all our clutter and gave us a place that is low down in the trailer and slightly ahead of the trailer’s axles (a smoother ride) where we could make custom padded storage for this delicate gear.

For more info and more pics of our benches, see this blog post about our setup: Making STORAGE SPACE in an RV.

You can buy the storage ottomans we purchased HERE, and you can get ideas of other brands and sizes of storage ottomans on the market HERE.

Protecting the Carpets Under the Slide-Outs

The carpets take a beating as the slide-outs roll in and out. Some slide-outs aren’t quite square and one wall or the other presses particularly hard on the floor while driving. You can buy fancy carpet protectors that fit under the slides. We went a cheaper route and bought a package of four flexible plastic cutting boards.

RV tips - cutting boards under RV slide-out

Flexible cutting boards taped together protect the carpet under the slide-outs.

We used packing tape to tape two of these together, end-to-end, and each pair fits under the slide-out walls perfectly yet are thick enough to protect the carpets. I keep one pair under one slide-out wall while driving, because that slide is crooked and its one wall gets wedged against the floor pretty tightly. The other slide-out walls hover above the carpet as we drive, so I pull the plastic cutting boards out from under them so they don’t get lost underneath while in transit.

Keeping the Cabinets Closed

After having a cabinet door fly open while driving over a bumpy road, causing two unbreakable Corelle bowls to fly across the trailer and break in half, we now latch every cabinet door with 6″ bungee balls. For drawers we use mini 10″ bungee cords with a hook at each end, hooking the top and bottom drawer handles.

RV tips bungee balls and bungee cord on RV cabinet doors and drawers

Bungee balls and bungee cords ensures the cabinets and drawers all stay closed.

Rolled up Carpets

We have a large pots-and-pans drawer that occasionally likes to open. We roll up our throw rugs and place them so they can’t unroll in front of the drawer to keep it closed.

How to keep RV drawer closed in kitchen

Rolled up throw rugs keep this big pots and pans drawer closed while driving.

Rubber Shelf Liners

Rubber Shelf liners are invaluable, keeping everything in its place on each shelf as we travel. We try to make sure no plates, mugs or glasses are touching each other when we set out.

Shelf liner for RV shelves

Shelf liner keeps things in place when we drive

Closet Organization with Plastic Drawers

Our bedroom has a marvelous 8′ wide closet with sliding doors on it, but the interior is just open space with a rod for hangers. We don’t use it as a hanging closet (we have a different closet for that). Instead, we put stacked plastic drawers inside to give us more drawer space as well as a horizontal surface on the top.

RV closet plastic drawer organizer

We created more drawer space in one closet with lightweight, inexpensive plastic drawers.

These drawers don’t latch closed, so Mark drilled a hole through each drawer and the frame, and we simply slip a screw through each hole to keep it closed as we drive.

How to keep RV drawers closed

A screw through each drawer keeps it from opening in transit

Book Organization with Special Bins

We like to keep our heaviest items, like books, on the floor, as shelving in an RV tends to be quite flimsy. I found an awesome line of Rubbermaid “All Access” bins that have a clear plastic latching door on the front. Ours fits neatly under our desk (which we never use as a desk, so it’s wasted space). We can move the whole thing easily, can load it from the top easily and can get at the books from the front easily.

Rubbermaid All Access storage in RV

Rubbermaid’s “All Access” bins have clear front opening doors!

Dish Drying Mat

We do several small loads of dishes everyday, and I just love our little dish drying mat. It soaks up all the water, and once I move the dishes off of it I can hang it up to dry. Every so often I throw it in the laundry with the dish towels, and it comes out just fine.

RV dish drying mat

A dish drying mat sops up water, can be hung out to dry and thrown in the laundry.

How to Defrost an RV Refrigerator in 20 Minutes!

Propane RV refrigerators build up a lot of frost very quickly. After trying many different methods for defrosting our fridge over the years, we’ve outlined the steps we use to get this job done quickly:

How to Defrost an RV Refrigerator in 20 Minutes!

How to defrost an RV refrigerator

Defrosting the fridge doesn’t have to be a big nasty chore…

LED Wax Pillar Candles

I love romantic lighting, and there’s nothing like candles for that. But having an open flame isn’t great. Sailing friends of ours introduced us to pillar shaped LED candles made of real wax, and they are delightful. We’ve had ours for five years now, and we’ve had to change the batteries just once. They are wonderful for dim lighting in the pre-dawn hours or late at night, and they are a nice light around the rig when we watch a movie. The best part is they really look and feel like real candles, but you don’t have the risk that comes with an open flame.

RV tips LED flameless wax pillar candles in RV

LED pillar candles add warmth and create romantic mood lighting

Departure Checklist

RV Departure Checklist

All our mistakes on one page
with the worst ones underlined!

We thought we could memorize all the things that need to be done when we pack up the rig for towing, but a few mishaps taught us otherwise.

We now have a checklist taped inside the same cabinet that houses the main slide-out controls.

A quick glance before we leave ensures us that indeed all the hatches are closed, the shower door is latched, the window-mounted hummingbird feeder is not stuck on a window somewhere, etc.

This list is a comedy of errors made over several years of RVing. I’m sure more items will be added in the future!

 

Simmons Beautyrest Mattress

An RV can be outfitted with ordinary residential furniture, and we have upgraded our recliners to comfy La-Z-Boys.

More important for full-time RVers, there is no need to sleep on some funky RV mattress every night. We upgraded our mattress to a Simmons Beautyrest and just love it.

One important note is that many RV mattresses are non-standard sizes. An “RV Queen” is shorter than a standard Queen, and an “RV King” is narrower than a standard King. Here’s a chart showing the differences:

Standard “RV” Size
Queen 60″ x 80″ 60″ x 74″
King 76″ x 80″ 72″ x 80″
Simmons Beautyrest Plush Pillowtop mattress for RV

A good night’s rest…

In most rigs that have a Queen bed, the floorplan clearly states whether it is an RV Queen or a regular Queen. However, in virtually all RVs that have a king bed, it is an RV king. If you are buying an RV with a king bed and think you might want to upgrade to a residential mattress someday, make sure there are 4″ of extra width on the sides so the mattress can fit, even if it hangs over a little.

 

Laptop Lap Insulator

I mentioned that we don’t use our desk, and that’s because we use our dining room table for writing things out by hand and we use our laptops on our laps in our recliners. To keep from frying our legs with our laptops, we each have a laptop sized thin piece of foam that was part of the packaging of a solar panel. If you don’t have that handy, there are laptop lap insulators that can do the trick.

Laptop on thin foam insulation

A thin piece of foam keeps our legs from cooking under our laptops

Cleaning the Ceiling

We have a fabric ceiling liner and twice we’ve had to clean a stain from it. Each time we used spray bleach and the results were miraculous. You couldn’t see where the stain had been. Just make sure you cover everything nearby before spraying bleach in the air or you’ll have not just a clean ceiling but white spots on the rugs and upholstery too.

 

HEALTH and COMFORT in the RV LIFE

Living in an RV is not all that different than living in a stick-built house, so anything you enjoy in a conventional life is more than likely going to be something you can enjoy in your RV life. Here are some goodies that we use everyday, that have made a significant difference in our lives, and that we will continue to use daily no matter what kind of home we live in:

Amazing Grass

Amazing Grass powdered wheat grass drink

Helps keep fair haired people with thin skin from bleeding!

Mark has found that when he works around the rig, it is really easy for him to get little cuts and blood spots on the backs of his hand his hands. This turns out to be common with fair haired (red haired) formerly freckle-faced guys over 50. After some research, we found that the remedy is bunches of Vitamin K, and it turns out that wheat grass is loaded with Vitamin K! It has lots of other beneficial nutrients as well.

As long as Mark drinks a small dose of wheat grass everyday, his hands are as tough as when he was 20. But miss that wheat grass for a few days, and the next time he does any work around the rig, the slightest flick of his hand against something breaks the skin and he’s bleeding again. The best brand we’ve found is Amazing Grass.

Sound weird or too good to be true? We’ve suggested this crazy remedy to formerly red-haired friends, and they are now big believers and wheat grass connoisseurs too. Mark mixes it with fruit juice and actually loves the flavor! For those who don’t like veggies, the claim is that a spoonful of this wheatgrass powder is akin to a bushel basket of veggies. I don’t believe that myself, and I keep putting broccoli on our plates, but I think this stuff is worth its weight in gold when it comes to toughening up thin skin.

Hand-held Electric Massager

As former athletes, we’ve both spent a lot of time looking for ways to soothe aching muscles. We’ve owned a lot of different hand-held massaging tools over the years, including the very popular Thumper Sport massager, and they’ve all been okay. But many of them ultimately wound up in yard sales because they had bad habits of pinching skin or were awkward to use.

Brookestone electric massager

Brookestone electric massager

We’ve found that the hand-held Brookestone massager is really fantastic. Because it has just one ball head on it (rather than the more common and goofy twin ball heads), you can place it over any sore spot and get instant relief. Rub it slowly on your leg muscles after a hike or bike ride or rub it on that weird spot in your neck after you sleep funny and wake up unable to turn your head, and you’ll feel better right away.

This massager was a lifesaver for me after a bad cycling accident I had years ago that messed up my shoulders and collar bone for a very long time, and Mark recently relied on it heavily when he wrenched his back. We’ve never had it pinch our skin at all.

The neat thing about these massagers is that they increase the blood and fluid flow in the sore area, which is really helpful for getting nutrients into the injured spot and getting waste fluids out. You don’t need to press hard on it — just place it on the sore area and you’ll feel the muscle relax instantly.

We have had ours for four years now, and we used it both on the boat and in our RV. It’s amazing just how kinked up you can get living in a small space, and it is so helpful to be able to get unkinked in a matter of minutes. We keep it in our living room so it’s always handy.

Sonicare Toothbrush

Sonicare toothbrush

Sonicare toothbrush

If only these Sonicare toothbrushes (and toothbrush heads) had been around when we were kids! It may seem ridiculous to spend a bunch of money on an electric toothbrush, but brushing your teeth with one of these makes your mouth feel like you just came from a cleaning at the dentist’s office. I’ve used a Sonicare toothbrush for 13 years now, and what a difference it has made in the overall health of my teeth.

One note for boondockers and off-the-grid RVers living on solar power, Phillips, the manufacturer of Sonicare toothbrushes has noted that the rechargeable batteries do not like modified sine wave inverters very much. I read this years ago, and have always charged ours on our pure sine wave inverter. Perhaps the batteries are better in newer models, I don’t know.

Also, for tech junkies who like to collect tech goodies, the magnet inside the Sonicare toothbrush heads is incredibly strong. Mark has saved a few of the magnets from our discarded Sonicare toothbrush heads and has found all kinds of interesting uses for them, including gluing one onto a long stick to retrieve tiny metal objects from hard to reach spots in the bowels of something.

Other RV Tips & Tricks

We have loads of other tips and tricks for RVers on this website. Many of the links can be found here:

RV Tech Tips and Product Reviews

A small sampling is below:

A wonderful website dedicated to RVing tips and tricks is RVtravel.com

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Dirty Little Secrets from the RV Dump Station – RV Dumping Tips + Composting Toilets

When Trailer Life Magazine asked me to write a 2,000 word feature article about RV sanitation systems, including step-by-step RV dumping procedures, overall RV dump station etiquette and tips for emptying the RV holding tanks, all I could think of were two words:

Don’t Spill !!

Once Mark and I put our heads together, though, Continue reading

RV Solar Panels – Flexible or Rigid? 12 or 24 volt? Mono or Poly? Yikes!

There are a lot of decisions to make when you install solar panels on an RV or boat. Some of the most basic are: what size solar panels to buy, whether to go with flexible solar panels or aluminum framed rigid panels, whether the solar cells should be monocrystalline or polycrystalline, and whether to install nominal 12 volt or 24 volt panels.

We have done several RV and marine solar panel installations, and we have used not only 12 volt and 24 volt panels of various sizes but we have also used both aluminum framed rigid solar panels and the newer semi-flexible solar panels. We have also worked with both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. This article outlines the pros and cons of the various types and sizes of solar panels and offers some things to think about when you are deciding which solar panels to buy for your RV or boat.

RV solar panel selection

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Our article RV Solar Power Made Simple explains how to determine the overall wattage for an RV solar power installation. In general, a weekend / vacation RV can get by with 200 watts or less while a full-time solar power system is best with 500 watts or more.

SOLAR PANEL SIZE and PLACEMENT

Once you decide on overall capacity for your solar panel array, the next thing to think about is solar panel placement and wiring. The panels should be a matched set of identical or nearly identical panels. If you have a lot of real estate on the RV roof, then you can get a few big panels. If you have a truck camper or your RV roof is cluttered with a lot of things on it already (hatches, vents, antennas, etc.), then you may need to go with smaller panels that can be squeezed in and around everything else.

Solar panel installation on a ffith wheel RV

Our fifth wheel trailer is powered by four 120 & 130 watt 12 volt rigid polycrystalline solar panels wired in series

WHAT VOLTAGE IS THAT SOLAR PANEL?

Solar panels are constructed internally with DC wiring, and they are sized to work on 12 or 24 volt circuits. So, they are commonly referred to as 12 or 24 volt solar panels. What’s confusing is that while the nominal voltage of a solar panel may be 12 or 24 volts, the open circuit voltage is higher. So, for a nominal 12 volt solar panel that is 100 watts, the open circuit voltage (“Voc“) will be 17 or 18 volts. Likewise, for a nominal 24 volt panel, the Voc will be 34 to 36 volts.

Also, smaller solar panels (both physically and in terms of watts) are typically nominal 12 volt panels while larger panels are typically 24 volts. Solar panels under about 150 watts in size are usually 12 volt panels. Solar panels over about 150 watts are usually 24 volt panels.

Solar panel installation on a sailboat

For nearly four years, we sailed our boat on Mexico’s coast relying on three 185 watt 24 volt
polycrystalline rigid solar panels, wired in parallel, for all our electrical needs.

Solar panels work best when they are a matched set. The electrical characteristics of all the solar panels in the array need to be very similar, preferably identical. When upgrading a solar power array this can make things complicated as you try to mix and match old small panels with new big ones.

One technique for upgrading is to wire two 12 volt solar panels in series to work on a 24 volt circuit. For instance, if you have two 100 watt 12 volt panels and you are buying a 200 watt 24 volt panel, you can wire the two 100 watt panels in series and then wire that pair in parallel with the new 200 watt solar panel.

This will work as long as the electrical characteristics of the pair of solar panels in series match the electrical characteristics of the single panel that is wired in parallel with them.

THE EFFECT OF SHADE ON SOLAR PANELS

Shade is the biggest enemy of any solar power installation. Unbelievable as it seems, a tiny bit of shade will effectively shut down a solar panel. The impact is dramatic: a few square inches of shade can drop a solar panels current production down from 8 amps to 2 amps. A few more square inches of shade can drop the current production to 0.

Before deciding on the size of the panels, it is worthwhile to take some time to study the various things that might cast shade across them once they are in place. A closed hatch may cause little shade, but when it is open on a hot day, depending on where the sun is in the sky, it might cast a big shadow across a nearby solar panel. Satellite dishes, air conditioners and even holding tank vents can cast sizable shadows as well.

We put a book in one corner of a 120 watt 12 volt panel and discovered that even though it was a small percentage of the surface area of the panel, that 8.5″ x 11″ book was enough to knock down the current production of a 120 watt solar panel by 80%. Rather than producing 7 amps, it produced a measly 1.4 amps. Egads!

Shade on one corner of solar panel

Just 8.5″ x 11″ of shade from this book reduced current production by 80%!

Similarly, shade wreaked havoc on our three185 watt 24 volt panels on our sailboat. The shade from our mast traveled across the panels as the boat swung at anchor, and the current production dropped by 1/3 and then by 2/3 as the shade first crossed one of the three panels and then straddled two of them. It did this over and over, with the current rising and falling repeatedly, as the boat slowly swung back and forth at anchor.

Effect of shade on solar panels installed on sailboat

A line of shade from the mast on our sailboat reduced our solar panel array to 65% and then 35% of its capacity as it traveled across the panels and occasionally straddled two of them.

Shade is a huge concern in the solar power industry, and there are several white papers (here’e one) about the impact of shade on commercial solar panel installations. The gist is the importance of spacing the rows of commercial solar panel arrays in such a way that one row of panels doesn’t accidentally shade the bottom inch or so of the next row behind it when the sun is low in the sky.

If it does, the second row of panels shuts down. If there are rows and rows of solar panels spaced like this, none of the panels except the ones in the first row can function until the sun rises a little higher in the sky.

Solar panels are most sensitive to shade along the longest part of the panel, so in the case of our sailboat, when the sun was over our bow, the mast would shade the panels in a strip that had a maximum impact on current production (as you can see in the above photo)!

For RVers, besides rooftop obstructions, shade comes into play primarily if you park near a building or trees. Snowbirds boondocking in the southwest deserts of Arizona and California during the wintertime have little concern with shade from trees and buildings. But summertime RV travelers who boondock in wooded areas need to be cognizant of where the shade from the trees will fall during the course of the day.

WIRING SOLAR PANELS IN PARALLEL vs. IN SERIES

One of the big decisions for a solar power installation on an RV or boat is whether to wire the solar panels in series or in parallel. There are several things to consider when making this decision.

When the solar panels are wired in series, then the developed voltage across all the panels is additive while the current remains constant from panel to panel. That is, if there were four 120 watt 12 volt panels producing 7 amps each, then the developed voltage across all the panels would be 48 volts (12 x 4) while the current would be just 7 amps.

In contrast, when the solar panels are wired in parallel, then the voltage of the panels remains constant through the circuit while the current is additive from panel to panel. For instance, for those same four panels, the developed voltage across them would be 12 volts but the current would be 28 amps (7 x 4).

The solar charge controller takes care of balancing everything out by ensuring the circuit between it and the batteries is 12 volts. In the case of the above solar panels wired in series, the solar charge controller steps down the voltage from 48 volts to 12 volts (if they are 12 volt batteries). The current then increases from 7 amps to 28 amps in the wire run going between the solar charge controller and the batteries.

In the case of the above solar panels wired in parallel, the voltage is already 12 volts, so the solar charge controller does not need to step it down for the batteries.

SHADE EFFECTS on SOLAR PANELS WIRED IN SERIES vs. WIRED IN PARALLEL

When solar panels are wired in series, if shade hits one panel and shuts it down (caused by that solar panel’s internal circuitry building up a massive amount of resistance), then the entire string of solar panels shuts down. For instance, if a tree shaded 1/3 of one solar panel in the string of four panels given above, wired in series, the current production of the entire array of four panels would be reduced to to 0 amps, even though the three other solar panels were in full sun.

In contrast, if the panels are wired in parallel, when shade knocks one panel out, the other panels are unaffected. So, even if 1/3 of one solar panel were shaded, reducing it to 0 amps of current production, the other three would be working just fine. The total current production would be 3/4 of what it could be if that one panel were in full sun (in this case, 21 amps), rather than 0 amps.

So, it would seem that the best way to wire solar panels is in parallel.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, and here’s why:

CURRENT and WIRE SIZE in a SOLAR PANEL INSTALLATION

The more amps of current there are flowing in a circuit, the thicker the wire needs to be to ensure that no energy is lost to heat. Unfortunately, thicker, heavier gauge wire is a pain to work with. It’s stiff and doesn’t bend around corners easily. It is hard to tighten down in the solar charge controller connections and it’s hard to crimp ring terminals onto. It is also more expensive per foot.

So, when the solar panels are wired in series, a thinner gauge wire can be used for a given distance than when they are wired in parallel.

Of course, the thickness of the wire is also dependent on the length of the wire. The longer a wire is, the more energy is lost along its length. So, if you are installing the solar panels high on an arch off the aft end of a 50′ sailboat and the batteries are located at the bottom of the hull over the keel, the wire must be a lot heavier gauge than if you are installing the panels on an RV roof directly above the battery compartment.

What is the price difference in the cable? We like to use Ancor Marine Cable because it is tinned and it is very supple (the copper is fine stranded). Here are the price differences for 25′ of 2 gauge wire as compared to 25′ of 10 gauge wire.

Ultimately, there is a dilemma: Is it better to go for thinner, cheaper wire and an easier installation, and wire the panels in series, risking that the whole array will shut down whenever a corner of one panel is shaded by a nearby tree? Or is it better to pay the extra bucks for heavier gauge wire and endure a more challenging installation but have a system that will be more tolerant of partial shade?

What to do?

SOLAR PANEL VOLTAGE and WIRE SIZE

Luckily, there is another option: higher voltage solar panels can be wired with thinner gauge wire. Remember, Watts = Current x Voltage. So, for the same number of watts in a panel, a higher voltage panel will produce a smaller amount of current.

Rather than using four 120 watt 12 volt panels wired in parallel that would produce 28 amps at 12 volts, you can use two 240 watt 24 volt panels wired in parallel that produce 14 amps at 24 volts. The net effect on the battery bank will be the same, but the bigger panels can be wired with smaller gauge wire.

As mentioned above, the wiring that is most affected by these solar panel choices is the wiring that runs from the solar panels to the solar charge controller. The wiring from the solar charge controller to the batteries is the same in either configuration, as the same amount of current will be flowing in that wire regardless of how the solar panels are wired. In the case of solar panels wired in parallel, the voltage will be stepped down in the solar charge controller. So, in our example, the solar charge controller will step down the voltage from 48 volts to 12 volts, ensuring that the circuitry between the solar charge controller and the batteries is at operating at 12 volts.

CHOOSING THE OPTIMAL WIRE GAUGE

The thickness of the wire, or wire gauge, depends entirely on how long the wire is going to be. That is, the wire gauge is determined by how far apart the solar panels and the solar charge controller and the batteries are.

Why is this? The more current that flows in a wire, the more the conductor in the wire will warm up. The more it warms up, the more energy is lost to heat. Eventually, this becomes measurable as a voltage loss between the two end points.

When wiring solar power circuits, you can choose how much voltage loss you are willing to have. Somewhere between 2.5% and 5% is typically considered okay. There are voltage loss tables that will help you decide on the proper wire gauge size for the distance you are spanning between the solar panels and the solar charge controller and between there and the batteries. Here’s a good one:

AWG Voltage Loss Table

An Example: 480 watts of solar power located 27′ from the batteries

  • Say we have four 120 watt 12 volt panels wired in series. If the distance is going to be 27′, then by looking at the third chart at the above link (the 12 volt chart) and going to the line for 8 amps flowing in the wire, it shows a wire run of up to 27′ can be done with 10 gauge wire.
  • Now, imagine putting those same panels in parallel. 32 amps will flow at 12 volts. For that same 27′ distance you’ll need 2 gauge wire.
  • Lastly, instead of using four 120 watt 12 volt panels, use two 240 watt 24 volt panels wired in parallel. For this you use the 2nd chart down (24 volt chart). There will be 16 amps flowing in the wire at 24 volts. You will be able use 8 gauge wire.

Of course, due to the nature of multi-stage battery charging and the changing position (and angle) of the sun in the sky, the solar panels will be operating at full tilt for a very short time each day. They may produce max current for 30 minutes near noon as they wrap up the Bulk Stage, however, as the Absorb stage takes over and continues in the afternoon, the solar charge controller will gradually hold the panels back so they produce far less than max current.

With less than peak current flowing in the wires, less energy will be lost to heat.

If this is confusing, see our articles:
RV and Marine Battery Charging Basics
How Solar Charge Controllers Work

So, although it may seem dire that you’re wiring is on the hairy edge size-wise, it is only that way for a little while each day. Depending on the overall size of the solar power array, the size of the battery bank, and the state of discharge when the batteries wake up in the morning, your system may not even hit the theoretical maximum current production or even come close.

MULTIPLE SOLAR CHARGE CONTROLLERS

Another method of keeping the wire size down is to install more than one big solar charge controller. For instance, you might install several smaller charge controllers for each pair of panels wired in series, or perhaps even one for each panel. Of course, this adds complexity and expense, and you will probably buy less sophisticated solar charge controllers that have fewer programming options than a single big one.

You must run more wires between the RV roof and the location in the coach where the solar charge controllers are installed (preferably next to the batteries), and so you must not only pay for additional solar charge controllers, but you must buy more wire and install it all. However, this design option does deserve mention and consideration.

TILTING THE SOLAR PANELS

Solar panels perform a whole lot better in the summer than in the winter. This is because the sun rides much higher in the sky and its rays hit the panels at a nearly perpendicular angle in the summertime. The days are also a whole lot longer. In the winter, the sun’s rays hit the panels at an angle and the sun is only out for a short while.

Solar panels on a fifth wheel RV roof

Tilting solar panels in winter can improve current production by 30%
Or…install more panels and save yourself from climbing up and down the RV ladder!

To get around this, rather than using ordinary Z-brackets to mount their solar panels on the roof, many RVers use tilting brackets. By tilting the panels towards the sun at about a 45 degree angle (technically, at the angle of your latitude), then the sun’s rays hit the panels at a nice 90 degree angle if they are oriented to face south. This can increase the overall power production by about 30% on a sunny winter day.

The only problem is that you have to climb up on the roof to tilt the panels each time you set up camp and then climb up again later to lay them flat when you are packing up before you drive away. We’ve seen many a winter snowbird driving their RV around with the solar panels still raised.

An alternative is simply to install more solar panels and to keep them lying flat all the time. This is easy for a big RV that has a huge roof but is not so easy for a little trailer with a small roof. We have not installed tilting brackets on our trailers.

MONOCRYSTALLINE vs. POLYCRYSTALLINE SOLAR CELLS

Monocrystalline solar panel

Monocrystalline
solar panel

There are lots of different kinds of solar panels on the market today. There are two primary types of solar cells used in the manufacture of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient and more expensive, but they are also extremely intolerant of shade. Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient and less expensive, but they handle partial shade just a smidge better.

The way to tell if a solar panel is monocrystalline or polycrystalline is to look at the pattern of rectangles on the panel itself.

If the circuitry between the rectangles has large silver diamond shapes, it is monocrystalline. If the pattern of rectangles is just intersecting lines, it is polycrystalline.

Polycrystalline solar panel

Polycrystalline
solar panel

Examples of popular monocrystalline solar panels are here:

Examples of popular polycrystalline solar panels are here:

RIGID ALUMINUM FRAMED SOLAR PANELS vs. SEMI-FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANELS

Flexible solar panel

Flexible solar panel

Solar panels can also be rigid or flexible.

Rigid panels are built with an aluminum frame surrounding tempered glass that covers the solar cells.

Flexible solar panels are built with the solar collecting material impregnated into a thin mylar film that is affixed to an aluminum substrate.

Flexible solar panels are not flimsy, they are simply bendable up to about 30 degrees.

 

There are a number of manufacturers selling flexible solar panels:

FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL ADVANTAGES

Flexible solar panels have several advantages over rigid panels. They are a little lighter than framed solar panels and you can glue them onto an RV roof using Dicor Lap Sealant, or something similar. This saves you from the complexity of drilling holes into a perfectly watertight roof and risking creating leaks. This is especially helpful with a fiberglass roof. It takes just a few minutes with a caulk gun to attach these panels to the RV roof.

Another nice feature is that on a rounded roof, like an Airstream travel trailer or Casita travel trailer, the panels can bend to follow the contour of the roof.

Installing solar panels on a motorhome roof

Mark uses Dicor Lap Sealant to affix flexible solar panels to a friend’s fiberglass roof.

One of the most important things for solar panels to work well is heat dissipation. Rigid aluminum framed solar panels stand up off the roof of the RV by about an inch, allowing air to flow underneath and for heat to dissipate. Air can’t flow underneath flexible solar panels. The aluminum substrate serves to dissipate the heat instead. This may or may not be as efficient a method of heat dissipation, and I have heard of a case where all the flexible solar panels on a sailboat had to be replaced after two years because they did not dissipate the heat sufficiently in the tropics and the panels self-destructed.

FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL CONSTRUCTION and INSTALLATION

Our RVing friends Dick & Katie asked us to install six 100 watt 12 volt flexible solar panels made by Eco-Worthy on the roof of their motorhome, along with all the other projects involved in an RV solar power installation. Ironically, the hardest part of the entire installation was removing the plastic protection from the aluminum substrate of each panel (it kept ripping!). We all ended up working on this together.

Flexible solar panel installation on an RV

We had a tough time getting the plastic off the back of the Eco-Worthy flexible solar panels

Removing plastic from flexible solar panel

With all of us working together, we got the job done!

Once we got up on the roof, and got past a cute warning from Winnebego, the installation was straight forward.

Warning slippery roof on RV

Hmmm…I wonder what sage advice the manual suggests for this problem?

Solar panel installation on a motorhome RV

Flexible solar panels are lighter than their rigid counterparts

The plastic protection needed to be removed from the face of the panels as well. Interestingly, at one point Mark found himself picking at the corner of the mylar that has the solar collection circuitry embedded in it and almost began to peel that whole layer off the aluminum substrate! But once he got a hold of just the most superficial layer of plastic, it came off easily.

Removing plastic from flexible solar panel

Mark removes the plastic from the face of the flexible solar panels

He used Dicor Lap Sealant to tack down the corners of the panels and then ran a bead around each side of each panel.

FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL DISADVANTAGES

Flexible solar panels are less efficient than rigid aluminum framed solar panels, which means you may want to get a few more total watts of solar panels than you would if you were buying framed panels. Bendable panels also can’t be installed on tilting brackets. So, again, buying more total watts may be the best solution.

Flexible solar panels are not as rugged as rigid aluminum framed solar panels built with tempered glass. Overhanging branches can scratch them. This is important for anyone that will be boondocking or dry camping a lot on public lands and in rustic public campgrounds, as it is often impossible to get in or out of a site without ducking under some low lying tree branches.

Some RVers have found that flexible solar panels installed on flat motorhome roofs tend to pool water when it rains. This can lead to debris building up and taking root and damaging the panels.

Perhaps for all these reasons, flexible solar panels are sold with a much shorter warranty than rigid solar panels. Whereas many solar panel manufacturers warranty their tempered glass aluminum framed rigid solar panels for 25 or 30 years, bendable solar panel manufacturers generally warranty their panels for 5 years or less.

This may or may not be relevant for RVers, as the fine print in almost every solar panel manufacturer’s warranty states that their solar panels are not warrantied for use on mobile vehicles.

Also, there has been a huge problem across the entire solar power industry with rigid solar panels failing prematurely in large numbers in big commercial installations (see a May 2013 NY Times article here). Apparently, just because those lovely rigid solar panels are warrantied for decades doesn’t mean they will last that long. We have already had a failure of one of our framed solar panels that was warrantied for 25 years, and we discovered the manufacturer’s warranty did not apply to RV installations.

However, as a general rule, when manufacturers warranty a product for 5 years versus 30 years, it says something about how they think their product will hold up over time.

Flexible solar panels installed on a motorhome RV roof

Nice job! (but don’t fall off that roof!)

CONCLUSION

There are many ways to go about installing solar power on an RV roof, and the solar panels that work best in one installation may not be the same as those that are best for another. Not only is every RV roof different, but every RVer’s needs are different.

If you have loads of space on a big motorhome roof or fifth wheel trailer roof, and you are setting it up for full-time use, you may be best off with three or four 200+ watt 24 volt rigid solar panels wired in parallel. If you have a little tear drop camper you use on weekends and store in the garage, a single flexible 100 watt 12 volt panel may be just the ticket for you.

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RVers Jason and Nikki Wynn have written about the condition of their flexible solar panels after a year of use HERE

Wet Cell vs. AGM Batteries & Wiring Tips for Installation on an RV or Boat!

There is a world of difference between wet cell batteries (also called flooded batteries) and AGM batteries for use in an RV or marine battery bank, because AGM batteries are totally sealed, maintenance free and keep the user from coming into contact with battery acid (electrolyte). In a nutshell, the advantages of AGM batteries over wet cell batteries are the following:

  • AGM batteries are maintenance free, which means:
    • They don’t need periodic equalizing to clean the internal plates and never need the electrolyte topped off with distilled water.
    • They do not release gasses during charging, so they don’t need special venting in the battery compartment.
    • Since gasses are not released, the terminals and battery cables do not corrode over time and don’t need to be cleaned.
  • AGM batteries discharge more slowly than wet cells, so an RV or boat can be stored for a few months without charging the batteries.
  • AGM batteries charge more quickly than flooded batteries because they can accept a higher current during the Bulk charging phase.
  • AGM batteries can be installed in any orientation, which is helpful if installation space is limited.
  • AGM batteries can’t spill battery acid if they are tipped over. This is especially important when a boat heels excessively or capsizes. (Not that you’d be too concerned about spilling electrolyte if your boat were upside down!)
RV battery upgrade from 6 volt wet cell batteries to AGM batteries

.

OUR ORIGINAL BATTERY INSTALLATION

We used Trojan T-105 wet cell (flooded) batteries for nearly six years in our fifth wheel trailer, and they worked great. They were installed in our basement compartment, all lined up in a row. This was a custom installation that was done by H&K Camper Sales in Chanute, Kansas, when we purchased our trailer new from the NuWa factory in 2008.

Fifth wheel RV battery boxes in basement

Four 6 volt golf cart batteries installed in our fifth wheel basement

The original battery compartment was designed at the NuWa factory to hold two 12 volt Group 24 batteries. Group 24 batteries have the same footprint as 6 volt golf cart batteries but are about an inch shorter. We had 2″ angle iron bolted onto our fifth wheel frame so the four batteries could stand side by side in battery boxes.

Angle iron supports under an RV fifth wheel battery bank

2″ angle iron is bolted onto the fifth wheel frame
to support the batteries.

There were four venting flex hoses that ran from the battery boxes to four individual louvered vents on the front of the basement on either side of the hatch door.

RV 5th wheel basement with 6 volt battery boxes

Each battery box is vented to the outside with flex hose going to a louvered vent cover.

These batteries worked well, but because we put our RV in covered storage for 4 to 20 months at a time during the four years we cruised Mexico’s Pacific coast on our sailboat, we were not actively present to take care of the the battery charging and maintenance duties. Despite our best efforts to have someone do this while we were gone, when we moved off of our boat and back into our fifth wheel, we found our four Trojan wet cell batteries were completely dead and unrecoverable.

We replaced these batteries with four inexpensive 6 volt golf cart flooded batteries from Costco. These new batteries did not last. Within 18 months, the internal plates had sulfated badly, they took forever to charge, and they discharged extremely quickly.

6 volt wet cell batteries in fifth wheel RV basement

Upgrade time! We removed the old wet cell batteries and replaced them with AGMs.

In April, 2015, while staying in beautiful Sarasota, Florida, we replaced our wet cell batteries with four fabulous new Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries that Trojan had just begun manufacturing and selling. We replaced all the wiring as well.

CORROSION CAUSED BY WET CELL BATTERIES

One of the biggest problems with wet cell, or flooded, batteries is that the battery terminals and ring terminals on the battery cables get corroded easily due to the gassing that goes on when the batteries are being charged. When Mark removed the battery cables from our old batteries, he measured as much as 20 ohms of resistance from the end of each cable to its ring terminal.

Corrosion on battery cable

We measured 20 ohms of resistance between the end of the cable
and the end of the ring terminal.

Flooded batteries need to be held at 14.5 or more volts during the Absorption charging stage (depending on the battery), and at this voltage the electrolyte in the batteries begins to release gasses into the air. These gases are both explosive and corrosive, and venting them protects everything around them. However, inside the battery box these gases can corrode the battery terminals and wiring.

The best way to clean off the corrosion is with a solution of baking soda and distilled water. Put it in a disposable cup and then use a cheap paintbrush to paint it on and smooth it around the terminals and cable ends. Let it sit for a few minutes and then pour a little distilled water over it to rinse the baking soda and crud off. Dry it with paper towels.

Also, while driving down the road, the electrolyte can splash around inside the battery cells and drip out the vent holes. Dust can settle on the spilled electrolyte and can cause a minute trickle discharge across the top of the battery. So, it is important to wipe down the tops of the batteries regularly and keep them clean.

It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves for all of this too!

6 volt wet cell RV house batteries

These batteries did not hold up well and corroded badly every few weeks.

Watch out for drops of liquid settling on your clothes when messing with the batteries. It’s nearly impossible to avoid, and Mark has holes in some of his jeans from drops of battery acid landing on his pants while he either checked the state of charge of the batteries with a hydrometer or poured distilled water into the battery terminals or cleaned the corrosion from the battery terminals and cable connections.

Battery hydrometer not used with AGM batteries

Now that we have nifty new AGM batteries, we no longer need the hydrometer!

OUR NEW RV BATTERY INSTALLTION

We chose the new Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries to replace our old flooded batteries because these are a completely redesigned battery from one of the top battery manufacturers, Trojan Battery. Rather than being dual purpose batteries, like othe AGM batteries on the market, the new Trojan Reliant AGM batteries are single purpose deep cycle batteries.

Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt RV batteries

Our new Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries ready to go.

TRUE “DEEP CYCLE” – START BATTERIES vs. HOUSE BATTERIES

Large RV and marine batteries can be used both to start big engines and to run household appliances. However, these functions are polar opposites of each other! A start battery gives a big but short blast of current to get an engine started and then does nothing. In contrast, a house battery provides a steady stream of current to power lights and household appliances for hours on end.

Most deep cycle AGM batteries on the market today are actually dual purpose start and deep cycle batteries, largely due to the history of how batteries have developed and what they have been used for. The new-to-market (in 2015) Trojan Reliant AGM batteries were engineered from the ground up to be strictly deep cycle batteries, and the design is not compromised with start battery characteristics.

Installing Trojan 6 volt Reliant AGM battery in RV fifth wheel

Mark installs the new batteries in the old plastic battery boxes.

12 volt batteries come in many sizes: Group 24, Group 27, Group 31, 4D, 8D and more. As the battery sizes increase, they provide more and more amp-hour capacity. 6 volt batteries come in various sizes too, and the golf cart size is one of several.

The Trojan Reliant T105-AGM 6 volt golf cart style batteries (68 lbs. each) are rated to have a capacity of 217 amp-hours when two of them are wired in series to create a 12 volt battery bank. In comparison, our sailboat came with three Mastervolt 12 volt 4D AGM batteries (93 lbs. each), and we added a fourth. These batteries were rated to have a capacity of 160 amp-hours each.

The advantage of using two 6 volt golf cart batteries instead of enormous 4D or 8D 12 volt batteries is that they are smaller, lighter and easier to carry around and to put in place during the installation and easier to remove in the event of a failure.

BATTERY WIRING

We wired our four new 6 volt batteries in series and in parallel. We wired two pairs of batteries in series to create two virtual 12 volt battery banks. Then we wired those two 12 volt banks in parallel with each other.

Four 6 volt batteries wired in series and in parallel

Four 6 volt batteries: two pairs wired in series to make virtual 12 volt batteries.
Those pairs are wired in parallel with each other (red / lavender circles explained below).

Trojan Battery recommended the following wire sizes for this battery configuration:

  • 4 gauge wire between the batteries that are wired in series
  • 2 gauge wire between the pairs of 12 volt battery banks wired in parallel

This is thicker wire than many RVers and sailors typically select for their battery banks.

Because we were wiring batteries that would be physically lined up in a row, we drew out a wiring diagram to be sure we got it right.

Four 6 volt batteries in a row wired in series and in parallel

Same wiring but with the batteries lined up in a row (red and lavender circles explained below).

WIRING THE BATTERY CHARGERS and INVERTER

Because AGM batteries have a lower internal resistance, they can accept a higher bulk charging current than wet cell batteries.

Trojan Reliant AGM batteries can accept a bulk charge current of 20% of their 20 hour amp-hour rating. For the T105-AGM batteries, the 20 hour amp-hour rating is 217 amps per pair of batteries wired in series. So the max current the batteries can accept is 20% of 217 amps, or 43 amps, per pair. The wiring for each charging system should be sized for a max current flow of 43 amps.

In contrast, Trojan’s wet cell batteries can accept only 10%-13% of their 20 hour amp-hour rating. For the T105 battery, the 20 hour amp-hour rating is 220 amps per pair of batteries wired in series. So the max current the batteries can accept is 13% of 220 amps, or 28 amps.

It is important when wiring both the battery charging systems and inverter systems into the battery bank (that is, the solar charge controller, the engine alternator on boats and motorhomes, the inverter/charger or the individual DC converter and inverter), to ensure that the wiring going to those devices is connected across the entire battery bank and not to just one 12 volt battery (or 6 volt pair) in the bank.

If the charging systems are connected to the battery terminals of just one 12 volt battery, whether it’s an individual Group 24 or 4D battery or is a pair of 6 volt golf cart batteries wired in series, then the batteries in the system will not charge equally. Likewise, if only one battery of the parallel bank is wired to the DC side of the inverter, the batteries will not discharge equally.

In the above drawings, the two optimal connection points for the charging and inverter systems are shown in red and in lavender. Either pair of terminals works equally well.

We found that with individual devices for our converter, our inverter and our solar charge controller, there were a lot of ring terminals getting piled up on two of the battery terminals. So we chose the inner pair of battery terminals for the inverter and the outer pair for the converter and solar charge controller.

Since we dry camp 100% of the time and rarely use our converter except when we have to pull out our generator after days of storms or to run our air conditioning, this division means that our primary charging system spans the batteries one way while the inverter driving the AC household systems that discharge the batteries span the batteries the other way.

NOT ALL BATTERY CABLE IS CREATED EQUAL

We chose Ancor marine wire for our battery cables because it is very high quality cable. The individual strands of wire inside the casing are thin, which makes this cable very supple, despite being thick overall. It is easy to work with and to snake around tricky areas. The individual strands inside the cable are tinned as well.

This is expensive wire, but after all the wiring projects we have done on our RVs and on our sailboat, we felt it was well worth the extra cost.

We also used Ancor marine tin plated lugs made of high-grade copper with flared ends for our ring terminals (available here).

Ring terminal on battery cable

Mark slips a ring terminal onto the new battery cable.

It was critical to get a good solid connection between the ring terminals and the 2 gauge and 4 gauge wire we were using.

We don’t own a crimper of that size, but West Marine Stores often have a crimper for heavy gauge wire that customers can use, and we got an excellent crimp from a workbench mounted crimper.

Crimping ring terminal on battery cable

Crimping 2 and 4 gauge wire requires a large crimper.

With Mark hanging onto the ring terminal and me hanging onto the wire, we both pulled with all our might and we couldn’t pull the lug off the wire.

Good crimp on battery cable

A good, solid crimp.

As these projects always go, we needed to return to West Marine for crimping a few days later when we wired in our solar charge controller. We went to a closer West Marine store this time, and they had a different crimper that wasn’t quite as nice.

Using a hand crimper to crimp ring terminal onto battery cable

This wire is so thick you need a huge wire cutter!

Mark wasn’t as confident that these crimps were as good electrically as the ones made with the first crimper, even though we couldn’t pull the lugs off the wire. So he fluxed the wire and used a propane torch to flow solder into the connection. This way we had not only a solid physical connection but an excellent electrical connection as well.

Soldering ring terminal crimp on battery cable

Mark flows solder into the connector to make a superior electrical connection.

Then he slipped shrink tubing over the connection and used a heat gun to shrink it in place.

Heat gun shrink wrap over ring terminal on battery cable

Shrink tube covers the whole connection, and a heat gun tightens it up.

After our installation, we discovered that Camco makes 2 and 4 gauge battery cable and you can get them here.

Back at the RV, Mark wired the batteries up. He placed the batteries in the battery box bottoms to keep them from sliding around and put the battery box tops on as well so that if anything fell over in the basement while we were driving, it wouldn’t accidentally land on the battery terminals and short something out. We keep that area clear, but you never know when you’ll hit a huge bump and things will go flying.

Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt batteries in fifth wheel basement

The batteries are ready for their battery box tops.

The AGM batteries do not need to be vented, so he removed all the vent flex hoses. This gave us much better access into the fifth wheel basement from the front hatch door.

Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt batteries in fifth wheel RV battery compartment

The new batteries are installed, wired and labeled.

Without any flex hose behind the louvered vents, dust and road grime could now flow into the basement, so Mark removed the vent covers and placed a piece of solid plastic behind each one.

Replacing battery vents on fifth wheel RV

The louvered vents are open to the basement in the back and will let dust in.

RV battery vent

Mark puts a thin plastic sheet behind each louvered vent to keep dust out.

We then went on to wire in our new converter, inverter and solar charge controller (installations to be shown in future blog posts).

HOW DO THE NEW TROJAN RELIANT AGM BATTERIES WORK?

The performance of these new batteries is nothing short of outstanding. We are floored everyday by how quickly they get charged, and not one bit of corrosion has appeared anywhere.

Mark is happy not to have to check the electrolyte levels in the batteries any more or to remember to equalize them every month. The new AGM batteries are winners all around.

RV battery boxes in 5th wheel basement

Even though AGM batteries don’t have to be installed in battery boxes,
ours are because our basement is large and open and we want to protect them from falling objects!

WHY WOULD ANYONE USE FLOODED BATTERIES?

Our Trojan T-105 wet cell batteries worked just fine for us for years, and flooded are actually advantageous over AGM batteries in two significant ways:

  1. Flooded batteries are much cheaper than AGM batteries.
  2. Well maintained wet call batteries can be cycled more times than AGM batteries

Flooded batteries cost 30% to 40% less than AGM batteries. This can add up to a savings of hundreds of dollars. Depending on the value of the RV or boat, it just may not make sense to have a huge investment in batteries on board.

Also, perfectly maintained wet cell batteries can be cycled more times than AGMs. “Perfectly maintained” means staying on top of equalizing the batteries to keep the battery plates clean and also checking each cell in each battery regularly to ensure that the electrolyte is completely topped off with distilled water at all times.

Under these ideal conditions in the laboratories at Trojan Battery, the Trojan T105 flooded batteries can survive 1,200 cycles where they are discharged to 50% (12.06 volts) and then fully recharged. The Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries can survive only 1,000 cycles.

Of course, battery cycling in real world conditions is very different than in laboratory conditions. The degree to which RV and boat batteries are discharged and recharged day to day is far from regular (partial discharging and partial recharging are common). Also, batteries on RVs and boats that are left in storage for any period of time can be difficult to maintain and may degrade despite good intentions (like ours did).

So, the ultimate performance and value of flooded versus AGM batteries is going to vary widely from one RVer or sailor to the next. However, for us, we will not be going back to wet cell batteries any time soon!

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How An RV Warranty Saved Our Bacon – Literally!

We’ve been reporting on whether or not an RV warranty is a good investment for RVers, and this page — the second of four installments — presents our latest findings.
(Hint: the answer is a resounding YES!)

Ten days ago, after a fabulous two weeks in Maysville, Kentucky, and a long day of driving, we set up camp, grabbed a beer, and kicked back to enjoy a cold one. But to our dismay, the beer was kinda warm. We ratcheted the RV refrigerator up a notch and went about our business. After dinner and a movie in our RV, we decided to have a bowl of ice cream. When Mark lifted the lid on the Haagen Dazs, what he found inside could only be described as cool chocolate soup.

Oh no! Our 8 year old RV refrigerator had died.

RV extended warranty repair RV refrigerator replacement

Do something quick! We’re going to lose everything in the fridge and freezer!!

As the clock neared midnight, we began a frantic search for RV repair shops in the area. We put together a list of them, went to bed quite distressed, and first thing the next morning we started making phone calls. Mark threw bags of ice in the fridge and freezer and we didn’t dare open either door after that. We lamented sadly that all our frozen meats — all those nice burgers and steaks, and even our bacon, darn it — were quickly defrosting.

After about 15 phone calls, we were still nowhere. Everyone told us it would be a two week wait to get a fridge and that it would probably cost upwards of $1,500. Finally, we called Camping World just south of Indianapolis. They had an identical unit in stock and they could squeeze us in for service the next morning. They told us they always try to make an extra effort for desperate travelers passing through.

Well, we weren’t exactly passing through. We were in Kentucky driving west towards Tennessee, and they were 150 miles to the north in the totally wrong direction. But what can you do? We were absolutely thrilled to find an RV repair facility that had an RV refrigerator in stock and could install it quickly, so a 150 mile detour was not a problem!

This would be our second major repair in just over a month. We had just had our 36′ fifth wheel trailer axle replaced. What’s worse, we were actually on our way to an RV repair appointment in Kansas to fix a leak in our fresh water tank. What kind of luck was that?

As it turns out, Lady Luck was following us very closely. Our RV extended warranty had covered the bulk of the trailer axle repair, and we were pretty sure it would cover this one too.

Where we stood on our trailer warranty at this point was the following:


We were 11 months into a 4 year RV extended warranty
Cost of RV warranty: $1,904
Reimbursements (less deductibles) to date: $1,036
Remaining Reimbursements to Break Even: $868

You can see the current status of our warranty HERE.

It looked like this RV warranty repair would not only bring our total reimbursements to the point of covering the original cost of the RV extended warranty but would go well beyond that.

18 hours after we’d discovered our fridge was dead, Camping World service manager Rick Helvey was in our trailer examining its hulking carcass. He told us that propane RV refrigerators typically last only 10 years.

What??!!

It was no surprise to him that our 8 year old unit had kicked the bucket. He opened the fridge vent on the outside of the trailer and showed us the telltale signs of a dying RV refrigerator: greenish or yellowish dust.

The presence of this dust meant the ammonia was leaking out and the cooling unit had given up the ghost. The crazy thing is that the price of a cooling unit is nearly the same as the price of a new RV refrigerator — Not Cheap!

RV warranty repair on a refrigerator - inside the vent

Yellowish dust in the fridge vent area is proof positive that the fridge is dying.

RV warranty repair RV refrigerator installation

Here is a closer look at the greenish – yellowish dust.

He called our warranty provider, Portfolio Protection, to get approval to proceed with the repair the next morning. To his astonishment (and ours), they said they wouldn’t reimburse us for a replacement refrigerator. They would reimburse us only for the replacement of the cooling unit to save themselves a little money. Here’s the breakdown:

Install New RV Refrigerator Parts: $1,389.99
Labor: $267.00
Tax: $97.00
Total: $1,753.99
Replace Cooling Unit Only Parts: $1,049.00
Labor: $356.00
Tax: $73.43
Shipping: $100.00
Total: $1,578.43

DIFFERENCE IN OVERALL COST: $175.56

This was a problem — for us and for Camping World!!

If we got our refrigerator replaced, we would be in and out of Camping World in 3 hours the next morning and they could go back to business as usual with their local customers. If we had to have the cooling unit replaced, we would have to wait a week or two for the part to come in and Camping World would have to reshuffle their appointments the next morning, once again, because our appointment was already on the books. We had all assumed the approval of a replacement refrigerator would be a slam-dunk.

New RV fridge ready for installation

Our new refrigerator is ready and waiting — all we need is approval to install it!

What to do?

Well, here’s one reason we are becoming more and more enamored of our RV extended warranty through Wholesale Warranties. Unlike most warranty brokers who wash their hands of the deal once you’ve purchased the contract and signed on the dotted line, they are willing to go to bat for you if the warranty reimbursement process isn’t going as smoothly as it should.

We called Wholesale Warranties and told them what was going on. The difference in cost between repairing and replacing was not astronomical. Couldn’t the warranty company allow us to go ahead with the refrigerator replacement?

Within an hour they had called our warranty company, Portfolio Protection, explained to them why it made more sense for everyone involved to install the new fridge Camping World had in stock and, magically, our refrigerator replacement had been approved. We were floored that Wholesale Warranties would do this and that they could be such effective facilitators. Yet it turns out that making these calls is business-as-usual and is routine customer support for them.

Early the next morning we parked the fifth wheel in front of Camping World, and service technician Raymond and his assistant José got started on it right away. Unfortunately, our old refrigerator was 1/4″ too wide and could not fit through our front door. RV refrigerators are installed at the factory before the doors and windows are in place!

RV warranty repair Removing RV refrigerator from fifth wheel trailer

Good heavens, the old fridge can’t go out the front door!

So, the dining room window had to come out!

RV extended warranty Removing an RV window from fifth wheel trailer

The dining room window has to be removed
so the refrigerators can be hoisted in and out.

RV extended warranty repair RV window removed

It would have been so much easier if the refrigerators could have gone through the door!

RV warranty refrigerator replacement gets through window

The new fridge is ready for some strong person to pick it up!

A forklift was used to remove the old fridge and hoist up the new one. It was at this point that I realized just what a challenging DIY project this would have been for Mark!

RV warranty refrigerator replacement New RV fridge on forklift

Thank goodness for fork lifts! This is not an easy DIY installation for one guy!

Then the new RV refrigerator was put in place.

RV warranty repair New RV refrigerator installed in fifth wheel trailer

Raymond settles the new refrigerator into place.

The pretty oak panels from our old refrigerator were slipped into place on the new door.

Under warranty Oak panel installed on RV refrigerator door

Our oak panels from the old fridge slide neatly into place.

Then Raymond ran around back to hook everything up in the refrigerator vent.

RV extended warranty repair new RV refrigerator installation

The back of the new fridge is exposed in the vent area where Raymond hooks it all up.

Meanwhile, his assistant José removed the silicone remnants from the wall around the window opening using a scraper and wiping the wall down with Acrysol

Removing silicone seal on RV window

José scrapes the old silicone sealant off the outside wall
around the window opening.

Removing silicone from RV window

The wall has to be completely clean for a good seal on the window.

Raymond lifted the window into place, and he and José screwed it in place.

RV warranty refrigerator replacement Installing RV window

Raymond puts the window back in place.

Installing RV window on fifth wheel trailer

The guys work together to get the window screwed into place.

Then they remounted the window valence and reinstalled the day-night shades.

Installing valence on RV window

The window valences are reinstalled over the windows.

Installing day-night shades on RV window

The day-night shades are reinstalled on both windows.

Raymond gave us instructions not to put a bead of silicone around the window frame for about a week because he had used caulk tape that would ooze a little for the next few days.

We were impressed with how quickly these guys worked and got the job done, and we were really grateful to Rick for making an opening for us. In just 36 hours from the time we had soup for ice cream, we had a brand new RV refrigerator up and running. Now we just had to wait for it to cool down (about 9 hours).

In the meantime, our frozen meats had fully defrosted but were still cold. We couldn’t re-freeze any of them when the refrigerator finally cooled down. Arghhh!

As we hitched up the fifth wheel, I noticed Mark had a twinkle in his eye as he drove it around to the back lot. He hopped out and instantly set up the barbecue, right there in the Camping World parking lot. He happily began grilling burgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken and brats.

“We can’t let all this good meat go to waste!” He said to me as he handed me the bacon and sent me inside to fry it up.

It turned out he’d invited the service guys to come on over to our place for a barbecue lunch, and when the yummy smells from our grill began to waft across the Camping World parking lot, they quickly showed up in a golf cart and began chowing down.

The crew enjoys a barbecue lunch

The Camping World service team stops by for an impromptu barbecue. Thank you guys for a super job!

At last it was time to settle up the bill with the service manager, Rick. Our RV warranty deductible was $100. Indiana charges sales tax on deductibles, so our total out of pocket cost for this phenomenal repair was only $107. Wow!!

Our RV warranty (less our $107 deductible + tax) covered $1,647 on this one repair alone — that is nearly the cost of the entire four year RV extended warranty itself!

Shockingly, this RV refrigerator replacement was just one of a slew of major repairs our trailer needed in a four month period in 2015:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,420
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,045
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,375

Our trailer warranty has more than paid for itself, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

Are we happy with our extended trailer warranty? OMG Yes!!

Having suffered four major repairs in four months, we have come to the conclusion that anyone with an RV older than four or five years should seriously consider getting an RV extended warranty, especially if they don’t like unexpected financial surprises.

What a shock it was to find out that RV refrigerators are expected to fail by their tenth year of service. All you need is that one repair plus another one or two (air conditioner, water heater, furnace, slide-out mechanism, hydraulic leveling system, etc.) to cover the cost of a four year warranty and even wind up ahead.

Do I sound enthusiastic and excited about our trailer warranty? I am!! I was hugely skeptical about RV warranties before our trailer axle and RV refrigerator replacements, and all I can say is that this has been an amazing process!!

If you want to find out what a warranty would cost for your rig, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Call our contact, Staci Ritchie-Roman at (800) 939-2806 or email her at staci@wholesalewarranties.com. Or go to this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

The discount comes off of the quoted price at the time of purchase — just be sure to aks!

To learn how RV warranties work and how they differ from RV insurance, see this article:

What Is An RV Warranty and Is It A Good Investment?

If propane RV refrigerators are so prone to failure, why don’t we have a residential refrigerator? — It takes a huge solar panel array and big (heavy) battery bank to power a residential refrigerator along with everything else in an RV. See the following:

Can a Residential Refrigerator Run on Solar Power in an RV?

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Full-time RV Tips – Mail, Domicile, Insurance, Saving Money!

The full-time RV lifestyle is absolutely fantastic, and we’ve been loving our nomadic life since 2007. Many people who are new to the idea of RVing full-time wonder how full-timers get their mail or file their taxes or what kind of insurance they buy. What the heck do they use as a home address (known in legalese as a “domicile”) and where do they register to vote? And how do they save money on RV park and campground costs?

This page, the third part in our series on full-time RVing, reveals all that we have learned about these topics in our many years on the road. The previous two articles are: Working and Living in an RV and Which RV is the Best Rolling Home?

For easy navigation on this page, and to read a little now and come back for more later, click on these links:

Links to the entire series and its various chapters are here: Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips

Full-time RVing Domicile Mail Forwarding Taxes RV Insurance

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SELECTING A DOMICILE: TAXES, MAIL FORWARDING & VEHICLE REGISTRATION

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Once you run away in an RV, you lose all the familiar pillars that supported your life before: mail no longer arrives daily at your doorstep, the washer and dryer are no longer just steps from the kitchen, the bank is no longer on a familiar corner. With a little flexibility all these things are easy to handle in a traveling lifestyle.

Selecting A Home State – Taxes and Vehicle Registration Rates

When you trade your home address to live on the road in an RV, you need to decide how to receive mail and what to call “home” on your tax returns. Some of the full-time RVers we meet retained the state of residence where they were living before they hit the road. Most of them still own property in that state, and they often have a relative or friend who forwards their mail.

However, most full-time RVers change their state of residence, or domicile, and there are valid reasons for doing so, including tax, insurance and vehicle registration rates.

States Without A State Income Tax

Not every state has a state income tax. South Dakota, Florida and Texas are among the states that have no state income tax, and they are the most popular states for full-time travelers. They are also fairly lenient for establishing residency, and they have many companies that offer mail forwarding and vehicle registration services.

Choosing a Domicile address and residency

When you no longer have a permanent physical home address, your legal address or “domicile” can be
in any state. Some states are better than others for this purpose.

State Sales Tax Rates

The sales tax rates also vary from state to state. The sales tax in one particular state may not seem important for someone who is going to be traveling all over the country, but the sales tax in your home state can actually be very important. If you buy a new vehicle — car, truck, trailer or motorhome — during your travels, you will register it in your home state and pay that state’s sales tax in the process. Many full-time RVers upgrade either their RV, tow vehicle or “toad” at some point. We have purchased a truck and two trailers during our years on the road. The sales tax rates in the most popular states for full-time travelers are:

South Dakota 4%
Florida 6%
Texas 6.25%

Other Considerations – Additional Taxes and Insurance

Vehicle registration fees and vehicle insurance rates, as well as cell phone taxes and health insurance rates also vary between those states. Health insurance varies dramatically from state to state and health insurance needs and qualifying criteria also vary from person to person.

For those concerned about dental and medical care on the road, another option is to zip across America’s southern border to get good dental/medical care in Mexico. We have gotten a lot of excellent dental care in Mexico, both in our lives as RVers and our lives as boaters living in Mexico. We have detailed information about dental care in Mexico at this link:

Mexican Dentists – Finding Affordable Dental Care in Mexico

South Dakota is popular among full-time travelers because it boasts no inheritance tax, no property tax and no vehicle inspections. We chose South Dakota as our domicile right before we hit the road as newbie full-time RVers in 2007.

There are other states that have either no income tax and/or no sales tax besides these three most popular ones (SD, TX and FL). However, those states make it a little more difficult to establish residency, leaving full-time travelers in a bind, and they have fewer companies offering mail forwarding and vehicle registration services.

The Impact of Non-Residents on these Popular States

The advantage to these states and communities of having lots of non-resident residents is that they receive many thousands of dollars of sales taxes, insurance premiums and registration fees that wouldn’t otherwise come their way. The presence of mail forwarding companies also creates jobs in these states that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

At the same time, this non-resident residency impacts the local politics of the cities and towns where the biggest mail forwarding companies do business because of the huge number of absentee voters. These voters may vote like each other — full-time RVers have a lot in common with each other — but they don’t necessarily vote like the other residents of their adopted hometowns.

The Right to Vote

Many Americans assume that they have a constitutional right to vote. Surprisingly, that is not the case. States control who can vote and who can’t, from local elections on up to presidential elections. For more info on this, visit FairVote.org.

Uncle Sam Right to Vote for nomadic RVers

In early February, 2016, a bill was introduced in South Dakota that would effectively deny anyone using a South Dakota mail forwarding service as their legal domicile the right to vote. The history behind this bill was that in Pennington Country a vehicle tax increase of $60 came up for a vote, and prior to voting day, certain politicians assumed that the nomadic RVers with legal domiciles in that county would unanimously vote against it.

Interestingly, in the end only 11% of the RVers from Americas Mailbox in that county actually cast a vote. Of course, 98% of them did vote against the tax, which continued to raise an alarm for the politicians.

As a result, Senate Bill 164 was proposed by Republican Senator Craig Tieszen to deny voting rights to residents who did not maintain a home in the state. The bill was tabled in committee, due in large part to the very vocal response from the RVing community, but the issue still rankles certain politicians in South Dakota, so it would not be surprising if it surfaced again in the future.

We have posted a detailed article explaining the issue as well as a detailed analysis of the committee hearing written by the Escapees Advocacy Director in an email to Escapees members. The comments made by Senator Tieszen at the hearing make it clear he is going to continue to work towards eliminating the voting eligibility of people who are not physical residents of the state.

The “Right To Vote” is a Privilege Some Full-Time RVers Might Lose

Selecting A Mail Forwarding Company — Your Home Address

In addition to finding a state that makes financial sense for your lifestyle needs, finding the right mail forwarding company is very important. This company will give you your actual legal mailing address for everything you do, from banking to borrowing to filing income taxes to voting.

South Dakota, Texas and Florida are all home to major mail forwarding services that will help you become a legal resident, help you register and insure your vehicles and help you become a registered voter. Your postal mail will be sent to your address at the mail forwarding service. They will then sent it to you, wherever you are. You will have to show up in person in your new home state to get your driver’s license. The terms for renewing a driver’s license vary from state to state.

If the company goes out of business (and we’ve heard of that happening), not only might you lose some mail, but you are left without a legal address. Of course, it is easy enough to “move” when you live on the road, so you won’t be homeless for long. But you will have to make a lot of phone calls and online address changes wherever your mailing address is recorded.

“Virtual Mail” Service

Dakota Post

Mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up
with Dakota Post and get a month for free!

Most of the bigger mail forwarding services now offer some kind of “virtual” service where you can see a scanned image of each envelope as soon as it arrives and then request to have the envelope opened and the documents inside scanned as well, with options to do something special if the document needs to reach you physically right away.

We have been enjoying the Virtual Mail Service at Dakota Post since they implemented it, and we have found it is really handy to know what is waiting for us in the mail before we have it shipped to us.

Mail Forwarding Service Providers

In South Dakota, one of the largest mail forwarding services is Dakota Post out of Sioux Falls. We chose to work with them when we started and have been very happy. We call them once a month and tell them where to send the mail. Mail forwarding providers in South Dakota include:

The locations can be seen on this interactive Map of South Dakota

In Texas, Escapees has the largest mail forwarding service in the country. They receive a semi tractor-trailer load of mail everyday. We saw this truck come in everyday while visiting the main Escapees Headquarters campus in Livingston, Texas, and we toured their mail sorting facility. We were absolutely floored by the operation (our blog post about it is here: Rainbow’s End – Escapees RV Club Headquarters in Livingston Texas. Another Texas mail forwarding service is Texas Home Base.

In Florida, cruising sailors have relied on St. Brendan’s Isle mail forwarding for ages. To my knowledge, they were the first (by at least 5 years) to provide virtual mail where you could see a scanned image of your mail in an email message. This kind of service is now provided by Dakota Post and Escapees and others as well. Other mail forwarding services in Florida are Nato Mail, Escapees, Good Sam Club and My RV Mail.

US Mail truck at Escapees RV Club mail sorting facility Livingston Texas

A US Mail semi tractor-trailer arrives at the Escapees mail sorting facility in Texas with one day’s mail.

How Do You Get Your Mail Forwarded To You?

Usually we have the mail sent to a post office, addressed to us via “General Delivery.” We get the zip code for the post office online from www.usps.com. If we are in transit, we try to guess what town we might be traveling through in a few days. The post office holds all General Delivery mail for 30 days, so there is plenty of time to locate the post office and retrieve our box.

The format for a General Delivery address is:

Your Name
General Delivery
City, State Zip

When selecting a post office, be sure they offer General Delivery services (you can find out at the www.usps.com link). Virtually all full service post offices do, but some of the “Approved postal providers” that they list don’t. When you go to get your box o’ mail, they will ask for your ID before handing it to you.

You can also have your mail sent to an RV park where you are staying or to a friend’s house. If mail is going to a friend, address it:

Your Name
c/o Your Friend’s Name
Street
City, State Zip

We find it is far preferable, in all mail and shipping matters, to select a smaller, quieter rural post office instead of a big chaotic urban one.

US Post Office Mail General Delivery

We find the smaller post offices are easier and more fun to work with, like this little log cabin
post office in the historic village of Washington outside Maysville, Kentucky

How Do You Have Packages Shipped To You?

Because we don’t like to plan more than a day in advance, we have small items sent to our South Dakota mailing address. Sure, we pay double shipping sometimes (first to get it to SD and then to get it to us, wherever we are), but that’s a small price to pay to be on the road full-time, happy, free and independent.

We have larger packages shipped directly to us, wherever we are. This takes some planning and strategizing, as explained below.

Can FedEx and UPS Packages Be Shipped to General Delivery Post Office Addresses?

UPS and FedEx packages are most easily shipped to real street addresses (RV Parks or friends) or to post office box holders at a post office or to a shipping store like FedEx/Kinko’s or a UPS store or Mailboxes Etc. If you are staying somewhere for the season, you can get a PO box at a mailing services store.

If you don’t have a real street address at the moment (i.e., you are boondocking), the easiest way to go is to have packages shipped by the US Postal Service to General Delivery at a post office. Doing it this way, the package stays within the US postal system the entire time from shipping to delivery.

We have at least two dozen shipping addresses listed in our Amazon account. LOL!! Reading through those addresses is like reading a brief history of our RV travels, as the addresses date back to our first year on the road!!

If the shipper can’t or won’t use the Postal Service, then they can ship via a dedicated shipping company like UPS or FedEx to a post office General Delivery address. However, this is more complicated because the package is handled by both the Postal Service and the shipping company.

The Postal Service coordinates shipping and deliveries with UPS and FedEx, but they are also direct competitors with them, so things can get muddy and there are no strict rules and regulations that we know of.

We’ve had the Postmasters at several different Post Offices give us totally conflicting information. We pressed two different Postmasters to call their district supervisors to get the details clarified, and even then we got conflicting information. So it seems the Postal Service is is still working out its relationships with UPS and FedEx as far as General Deliveries go.

Postal Service Fees For Packages Shipped By UPS and FedEx

Sometimes packages shipped by UPS or FedEx to a General Delivery address at a post office are handed to the recipient free of charge. However, sometimes the Postal Service charges the recipient a fee at the pickup counter before handing over the package. I know this seems odd, because FedEx or UPS carried the package all the way across the country while the Postal Service is merely carrying it from the mail room to the front counter. But it happens.

We have received many Post Office General Delivery packages shipped by both UPS and FedEx without being charged a penny by the Postal Service. However, we have received just as many packages where we were charged a fee of as much as $12, depending on the size of the package, when we went to the post office window to pick it up. There is no way of knowing what the fee will be ahead of time, as it is out of the hands of the company that shipped the package and is entirely up to the local Post Office that delivers it to you via General Delivery.

Shipping to a Warehouse Distribution Center

To get around this, you can look up the nearest warehouse distribution center for either FedEx or UPS and have the package shipped to that distribution center with “Hold for Pickup” written on it. You will not be charged a fee at pickup. However, you will need to track the package and you will have 5 days to pick up the package before it is returned to the sender.

Delivery to a Shipping/Mail Services Store

If the distribution center is too hard to get to, you can opt to have the package shipped to a UPS Store or FedEx/Kinko’s store or other shipping store like MailBoxes Etc. The store will likely charge you a fee, even if it is a UPS store and you are shipping via UPS or is a FedEx/Kinko’s and you are shipping via FedEx. We’ve seen the fee range from a flat fee of $3 whenever you pick it up to $7 per day, however these stores are more likely to hold the package longer than 5 days. So, check with the store before having something shipped to them to get the details and verify how they want the package to be addressed.

Case History – UPS Goes Above And Beyond!

This all may sound complicated, but sometimes it’s as smooth as silk.

One time we had a package shipped via UPS to a post office General Delivery address in a small town. We tracked the package, and noticed its status was “On the truck and out for delivery.” This seemed to imply that the package was on its way to the post office, so we called the UPS distribution center to find out at what time of day the truck might get to the post office so we could drive in to get it.

The UPS distribution center was small, and they said only the driver would know the exact time. To our utter astonishment, they gave us the UPS driver’s cell phone number. So we called him!! He was very friendly and said he could drive over to where our RV was parked and hand deliver the package in about 10 minutes. We were both totally shocked when he pulled alongside our rig and handed our package to Mark — at no charge. Now how’s that for service?!

UPS Package Delivery to an RV

A UPS driver hand delivers a package to Mark at our fifth wheel!

Vehicle Registration

We have registered four vehicles with Dakota Post: two trucks and two trailers. Each time they have emailed us a few forms and worked with us on the phone to fill them out properly. They have then submitted the forms to the registry of motor vehicles and we have received our license plates in the mail a few weeks later.

Each year we get new tags for our plates. We handle this via the phone or online with a credit card or check, and the tags come within a week or so. Easy!

We have shared our good experiences with Dakota Post on this website since we first started writing about our travels in 2008. They’ve taken notice, and in appreciation, they have a special offer for our readers:

Mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up for a new account and get a month of mail forwarding for free.

Banking

Online banking has made full-time travel much easier than it was years ago. Almost everything can be done with plastic in person and then by paying the credit card bill online. For cash needs, you can get “cash over” on a debit card at the supermarket without any fees rather than worrying about finding a branch of your bank in some obscure town or paying extra to get money from an ATM machine. Buy a pack of gum for a buck and get $100 over. If you need to deposit a check, get the mailing address of your bank branch and mail them a short explanatory note, a deposit slip and the check, endorsed “For deposit only.”

If you will be RVing in Canada or Mexico a lot, get checking and credit card accounts from Capital One to avoid international currency exchange fees (Capital One doesn’t charge anything whereas most US banks charge a 3% fee on every transaction made outside the US).

We have other notes for RVers headed into Canada here: Tips for RV Travelers Going to Nova Scotia

 

FULL-TIME RV INSURANCE

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These are notes from my own recent calls to 7 different insurance agents representing a variety of providers. I got mutliple quotes from National General (Good Sam Club), Nationwide (Allied), National Interstate and Progressive .

Some agents represented the same companies as each other, but getting an apples-to-apples comparison between agents and providers proved extremely difficult and required repeated phone calls and lots of persistence. The differences are all in the fine print, which no one likes to read.

How Much Is That RV Worth?

New insurance policies for late model RVs can cover the RV for its Replacement Value. That is, within the first 2 to 5 or so model years, depending on the insurer, if the RV is destroyed, you can shop for a new one of similar type and features. In the next model year after the insurer’s time limit for Replacement Value coverage has ended, your coverage will change to Actual Cash Value which is the current market value of the year, make and model of RV.

If your RV is covered for Actual Cash Value, at the time of a claim, the insurance adjuster will determine what that current value of it is using the NADA guide or similar pricing tool.

Tow truck towing a motorhome do they have insurance

Bummer.

Liability Coverage

When you give up your home owner’s policy, you give up a lot of nice blanket coverages that come with it, like liability coverage and the loss of personal belongings. Quite a few companies offer “Full-time RV insurance” that includes liability coverage similar to what would typically come with a home insurance policy. Coverage for personal belongings is a whole different story, however. See below.

Personal Effects

The biggest problem for full-timers is covering their personal belongings. Anything that was not originally sold with the RV and is not attached (imagine turning the RV upside down to find out what’s “not attached”), is considered “Personal Effects,” and most RV policies include some kind of coverage for Personal Effects. However, from my research, this coverage is woefully inadequate if you have anything beyond basic camping gear in your rig.

The following is a summary of how the various quotes I received were explained to me. I list the specifics here not so much to suggest one company’s product over another but so you can see just how much you need to press for the exact details if you really want to understand the insurance you are buying. Obviously, the companies mentioned may change their policies, and it’s possible I misunderstood something.

The value of Personal Effects coverage available generally ranges from $2,000 (National Interstate) to $20,000 (National General), and the full amount is reimbursed in the event of the RV’s total loss. In the event of theft, there has to be proof of forcible entry and a police report must be filed (the time limits for filing the report vary). In case you disagree with the value the adjuster assigns to an item at the time of a claim, it helps to have dated photos of each item and receipts.

In the event that there is a partial loss, like theft of just a few items, there are caps on what is covered. With National General, if the theft occurs inside your RV, then the cap is 25% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. For example, if you have a $20,000 Personal Effects policy, then this means there is a cap of $4,000 per claim. If the theft occurs outside the RV but on your campsite, then the coverage is 10% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. Again, for $20,000 total coverage, this means a cap of $2,000 per claim. There is no coverage if the theft occurs away from the RV (i.e, your bike is stolen from the bike rack at the coffee shop in town).

Bicycle insurance and camera insurance is separate from RV insurance

Bikes and cameras are covered (more or less) on your campsite but not away from the RV.

In the case of Nationwide (Allied), there is a four page description of how personal effects are covered and the capping methodology used, including more than a page of listed exclusions. Some highlights: There’s a cap of $500 per individual item. Groups of similar types of items are capped differently, for instance items grouped as “camera equipment” or “fishing gear” or “musical instruments” are capped at $1,000 per group while items grouped as “computer equipment,” “tools” and “silverware” are capped at $3,000 per group.

On the other hand, the “outside the RV” coverage with Nationwide is more generous than National General at 25% of the total Personal Effects coverage rather than 10%.

All of these reimbursements may be subject to your overall policy deductible or may have a specially applied Personal Effects deductible (for Nationwide it is $250).

Getting Personal Effects coverage above and beyond the $20,000 limit generally requires scheduling each item and giving it a value. Progressive requires each item to be appraised ahead of time and submitted as part of the application process for securing an insurance policy. Nationwide doesn’t require appraisals but asks for receipts showing prices paid and date of purchase so they can determine the depreciated value. I’m not sure how either handles the “outside the RV” scenario if the base coverage is higher than $20,000.

So, as you can see, you won’t get much for your stuff unless the whole RV and everything in it goes up in smoke, even if your policy says that $20,000 of personal belongings is covered.

We had National Interstate at first and were very happy with their speedy payment in covering a very large claim. However, their Personal Effects coverage just isn’t adequate, so we have National General at the moment and are still shopping.

How About Renter’s Insurance?

Renter’s Insurance provides tenants with a policy that is much like a homeowner’s policy, covering all the items in the home whether the loss occurrs in the home or somewhere else. These can be set up with small deductibles (like $50) that make sense for a $2,000 loss. However, you must be renting a stationary home and you must provide the address of the place you are renting. Unfortunately, your mail forwarding address or a relative’s address don’t count, and using an address where you are not living constitutes insurance fraud.

Awww… We Don’t Have Nuthin’ — We’re Livin’ Cheap!

You may look around at your stuff and say, “Bah… I don’t have anything of real value here.” But imagine trying to replace all your clothes (winter and summer), shoes (running, walking, hiking, dress shoes, slippers, sandals, boots), jackets, sweaters, blankets, pillows, sheets, towels, everything in the bathroom vanity, food in the fridge as well as pantry, dishes, pots and pans, kitchen appliances, CDs, DVDs, BBQ, portable generator, tools in the basement, spare parts, musical instruments, laptops, printers, cameras, smartphones, bicycles, kayaks, books, etc.

It adds up quick! It is worth it to take five minutes with a calculator and get a figure, just so you know.

With any luck, as the full-time RV lifestyle grows in popularity, insurance companies will come up wtih a way for full-time RVers to insure all their worldly belongings beyond just their vehicles and to provide useful replacement coverage for it.

How To Insure Specialty Items Like Camera Gear and Bikes

If you have expensive camera gear or very high end bicycles, it is possible to insure them with specialty insurance. Cameras can be covered through a photography membership in NANPA. Bikes can be covered through Big Ring Insurance.

Upgrades to the RV

If you install solar power, a big battery bank, or upgrade your converter or inverter or have any kind of add-on that is pernamently attached to the rig, and you have an older rig that you are insuring for Actual Cash Value, that upgrade will be part of the Actual Cash Value figure that the insurance adjuster will be calculating at the time of a claim. If you are insuring for Replacement Value, check with your agent how best to cover major upgrades.

Photograph the equipment you have upgraded, locate the receipts, and ask your agent if they want those things at the time you apply for insurance or if they should be supplied at the time of a claim. They all vary!

RV upgrade solar panels on roof

Mark installs flexible solar panels on the roof of a friend’s motorhome.

RV Extended Warranties

We carry a trailer warranty policy through Wholesale Warranties now that the original manufacturer’s warranty is no longer in effect.

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,420
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,045
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,375

Our trailer warranty has more than paid for itself, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

We were so exhausted by these repairs (they hit us all at once between August and October of 2015), that I haven’t yet written a blog post about the last one. It just isn’t fun writing that stuff!! However, hopefully you can see the incredible value of getting a motorhome warranty or trailer warranty, especially if your rig is a few years old (ours is a 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer).

The beauty of an RV Extended Warranty is that it picks up where a regular insurance policy leaves off. Our entire trailer is covered for all failures other than regular wear and tear. This includes having the frame crack or slides fail to come in and out or the suspension give up the ghost (it did) or having the air conditioner or refrigerator die (which it did too).

These could be very expensive repairs, and it is worth the peace of mind to carry an RV Extended Warranty policy rather than risk a large, unexpected repair expense. We use Wholesale Warranties, and you can get a quote for a policy from them here.

To learn more about RV Warranties and what to look for when you buy one, see:

What Is An RV Warranty and Do You Need One?

 

Internet and Phone – Staying Connected On The Road

We do not have a cell phone, but getting internet on the road is pretty easy. We have written an article on how we get get internet access and live without a phone here: RV Mobile Internet Access – A Minimalist Approach

Laundry

Many RV parks have laundry facilities on-site, and some full-timers purchase RVs equipped with a washer and dryer. We like to use the local laundromat in town. We can do four, five or six loads of laundry in two hours flat. We use the biggest front loading washers in the laundromat we can find because they are usually the best ones both for washing and for spinning dry. Laundromats can be a great place to meet people and learn about an area. In Flagstaff, Arizona, if you want to meet Navajo Indians, go to the local laundromat, preferably on a Saturday when it’s busy!

However, if you want the place to yourself, go to the laundromat midweek around noon, well after the daily morning rush and before the after work crowd arrives.

Laundry facilities in RV parks can be very crowded and usually have just a few smaller top loading machines. Most parks have only a few machines and when a park is full they can get very busy and it can be hard to get a machine.

Washers and dryers installed in RVs are really small, and it is common to do a load a day to keep up. However, you can do it “in the background” while doing other things around the rig, the way you used to in your old conventional life back home!

Hair

Along with all the other changes when you start a life in an RV on the road, you’ll find yourself adjusting to having a new hair stylist — and sometimes a new hair style — every time you get your hair cut. There are Great Clips and Super Cuts everywhere, and Walmart has their in-store salons.

One of the best ways we’ve found to get to know a small town is to get a haircut from the local barber. We have many special memories from haircuts in towns from Kansas to Utah to North Carolina to Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

But perhaps our best hair cutting story is in this blog post:

It’s Not About The Hair!!

 

SAVING MONEY ON RV OVERNIGHT COSTS

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There are three basic options for where to park the rig and spend the night:

  • Private RV parks
  • Public campgrounds and RV parks
  • Boondocking

Private RV Parks

There are private RV parks everywhere. They are extremely easy to find online, in commercial guide books and by asking at visitors centers. The AllStays App is a very popular resource. Private RV parks range from about $30/night to $60/night or more, tending to even higher prices in popular destinations at peak season in choice sites that offer more amenities (like a view). The parking is generally laid out in rows, and the sites can range from drycamping sites (no hookups) to electric and/or water only to electric/water/sewer with cable TV, telephone and free WiFi. Usually the site includes a picnic table, and sometimes the park has a pool, showers, shuffleboard or horseshoes, sometimes bike and canoe rentals, a small store, or other goodies.

Staying for one night is most expensive. Commiting to a week or a month or a season will get you a much lower nightly rate.

Public Campgrounds and RV Parks

Public campgrounds run the gamut from rustic campgrounds on-site at the national parks to state park campgrounds to national forest service and BLM campgrounds to Corps of Engineers campgrounds to regional park campgrounds and fairgrounds. Somewhere along the line there is a crossover to municipal and city RV parks. These campgrounds and RV parks often offer fewer amenities than private RV parks: there may (or may not) be water spigots or vault toilets (non-flushing), or there may be electric and water hookups and hot showers. Usually there are no sewer hookups but there is often an RV dump station in the campground.

RV camping at public state park campground_

Many state park campgrounds are in beautiful locations like
Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona.

Usually there are picnic tables and campfire rings at each site. Often the sites at national park, national forest and Corps of Engineers campgrounds are too small for a larger RV. However, some state park campgrounds have absolutely gorgeous big sites that are in a natural setting with a jaw dropping view. Generally these campgrounds cost anywhere from $8/night to $35/night, depending on the amenities offered, the beauty and popularity of the surrounding area and the the season you are visiting.

Many of these public campgrounds (except the state parks) honor the National Senior Access Pass (for citizens aged 62 and over) and Federal Land Inter-Agency Pass (the annual “National Parks Pass” that is available to everyone) offering a 50% discount to carriers of one of these passes.

Don Wright has written two books that list inexpensive public campgrounds:

Generally there is a stay limit at these kinds of campgrounds, typically 2 weeks, and generally there are no discounts given for longer stays.

Boondocking

Many National Forests and most lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allow RVs to camp outside the confines of their campgrounds. Also, it is generally legal to park in public parking areas and rest areas that are not posted with signs prohibiting overnight parking. And you can always camp out in a friend’s driveway! The price for these kinds of overnight stays is $0. However, you need to equip your rig to run without hookups to take advantage of these places for an extended period of time.

For more info about boondocking, check out our pages on:

Campground Memberships

There are a lot of campground membership programs that offer discounted nightly rates at private RV parks. Each program is different, however they fall into two general categories: inexpensive memberships that offer modest discounts on nightly rates and “investment” memberships that cost a lot up front but offer big discounts on nightly rates.

The inexpensive memberships generally unite thousands of independent RV parks under a single umbrella. The “investment” memberships tend to include fewer RV parks in their networks and insure a higher standard and better consistency in RV park quality.

Inexpensive Campground Memberships

The most popular inexpensive campground membership is offered by Passport America. They charge an annual fee of $44 ($79 for 2 years) and offer a 50% savings off the nightly rate at any of the 1,900 member RV parks. Another similar membership program is Happy Camper which costs $40 per year and also offers 50% off at their 1,200 member RV parks.

There is little risk in joining these programs, as they are cheap to join and you do not have to renew if you don’t like the program. Sometimes they even offer a money-back guarantee for the first 90 days. However, because the member parks are independently run, parks join and abandon the programs as suits their individual business needs. When you make your reservation, double check that the park is still a member of your program.

“Investment” Campground Memberships

“Investment” style campground programs cost a lot up front but offer very inexpensive overnight stays.

The Thousand Trails network offers 30 free overnight stays in a 12 month period for $545 at campgrounds that are within one of five zones across the country. After you’ve used up the 30 free nights, the rest of your overnights for that year are just $3 a night. Each zone has between 13 and 23 RV parks in it. You can stay at any RV park in your zone for up to 14 days and then you must stay somewhere outside of the network for 7 nights before coming back. You can repeat this cycle indefinitely. Right now they are offering a special of two zones for the price of one. An added perk is that you get a 20% discount on overnight stays at the affiliate Encore network of RV parks too.

Other “investment” campground programs are structured like a timeshare. You buy into a “home park,” pay an annual fee, and can then stay at member parks for $10 to $15 a night. You learn about these membership programs just like a timeshare — by taking a tour.

We have taken two such tours, and they were a lot of fun. In each case we were given two free nights at the RV park, and at some point during our stay we took a 2-3 hour tour. The sales technique is the “hot seat” method, but it is easy enough to smile and say “no” politely if you aren’t interested. One of our tours was at the Havasu Springs Resort.

One of the biggest programs is offered by Good Sam Club’s Coast Resorts which has 400 member parks. You can sign up for their free two night stay and tour package here.

RV Resort Membership Programs - Thousand Trails

“Investment” campground memberships aim to offer higher quality RV parks at a discount

These kinds of campground membership programs are a complicated, and the companies change the rules as their profitability and growth plan requires. It is best to book your stays 90 days or more in advance and there may also be a complex set of rules to follow regarding staying within the network and outside of it. Sometimes an alternative campground network is offered so you have somewhere similar to stay when it is time for you to stay outside your home network. Two we’ve heard of are Resorts of Distinction and Adventure Outdoor Resorts given as the alternative networks.

Moose and Elks Clubs

We have met several full-timers who are members of the Moose Club and Elks Club and use their RV facilities on a regular basis. This seems like a terrific option, although we have not joined either organization yet. Membership requires a sponsor, but each time we’ve stopped in and inquired, people have offered to be sponsors right at the bar! The membership fee is on the order of $100 or so a year and overnights in the RV parks are $10 to $20 or so. Some lodges without formal RV park sites may allow members to dry camp in the parking lot if there’s room.

Military RV Parks

For those people that are retired from the military, there is a fantastic network of RV parks located on many bases throughout the US. If you enjoy dry camping, you may be able to cut the cost even more by parking on the grass (we have!).

Final Thoughts

I hope these notes have given you an idea of what becoming a full-time RVer entails when you are ready to turn your fun RV vacations into a lifestyle. Despite all the words I’ve written here and in the other two posts in this series on full-time RVing, going full-time isn’t all that complicated.

Do your research, get out and talk to as many full-time RVers in person as you can find, practice a little by renting or buying a small rig, and then take the leap and go have an awesome RVing adventure!!

Renting an RV

Have fun with your research and planning!

Further Reading:

This was the third part in our 3-part series on full-time RVing. You can read the other parts in this series or skip to its various chapters via these links:

Living and Working in an RV:

Which RV is Best for Full-time? and How To Transition?

Full-time RV Tips – Mail, Domicile, Insurance, Saving Money!

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Going Full-time – How to Transition & Which RV Is Best?

Traveling in an RV is a blast, and living in one full-time is even more-so. The exhilaration of hitting the open road and discovering the hidden jewels the lie just over the horizon is a peak life experience, and being able to live this way day after day, year after year, is deeply fulfilling.

The transition from a conventional life to full-time RVing can have its ups and downs, however, and there are some pitfalls to avoid and things to consider as you go through the planning process. Just for starters, what kind of RV is best for living and traveling in?

This is the second article in our three-part series on full-time RVing and it explores some of the issues involved in getting from here to there. The other two articles are: Working and Living in an RV and Full-time RVing Tips – Mail, Domicile, Insurance, Saving $$?

For easy navigation on this page, and to read a little now and come back for more later, click on these links:

Links to the entire series and its various chapters are here: Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips

Going full-timg rving motorhome class a towing a trailer which rv to buy

A classy Class A motorhome tows a matching utility trailer in the Arizona desert

 

HOW DO “FULL-TIME” RVers TRAVEL?

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Full-time RVing includes a wide range of lifestyles, from folks who travel a lot to folks who stay home.

Part-time RVers

Many “full-time” RVers are technically “part-timers,” living in their rig for a few months a year and maintaining a home somewhere.  This is a great way to go if you can afford to have both a house and an RV, especially if you can leave your home under the watchful eye of a friend.

For most of these RVers, the travel routes are pretty much north/south.  After spending the first months of our first winter in southern Arizona, meeting people from Idaho and Montana, we were amused to go to South Padre Island Texas and discover many of the RVers were from Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Everyone we’ve met in Florida seems to be from Michigan or the Northeast!

As a side note, if you are looking to simplify your life as well as travel, splitting your time between two homes like this can be a little complicated, as you have either a house or an RV that is always vacant and will need some TLC when you leave it and return to it.

Heading down the highway in an RV

There’s nothing like hitting the open road!

Full-time RVers With a Home Base

A lot of full-timers don’t actually travel 12 months a year.  Some rent or own a site in an RV park somewhere for part of the year, using this location as a home base and roaming around as the spirit moves them. 

Seasonal RV park rates are reasonable, and some parks include a storage area for boats and ATVs or even an alternate RV like a “weekending” or “summer travel” truck camper. Some of these parks also allow you to spread out to do repairs on the RV and clean it up after a season of travel. 

Some full-timers split their time between two RV parks where they have sites they rent or own. Many RVers work camp in a northern location in the summer and in a southern location in the winter.  These types of full-timers have a strong sense of home and community because they return to the same places year after year.

Full-time RVers Who Travel All the Time

Many full-time RVers wander all over the place, more or less in perpetual motion.  Some camp in state parks and forest campgrounds or boondock most of the time, and others stick to RV parks which have more amenities.  Some belong to campground membership programs, giving them a primary resource for finding places to stay, and also giving them a rich social life as they make friendships within the programs and plan their stays to coincide with their friends’ stays.

Full-time RV Residents

Some full-time RVers stay in one park year-round. A few of these folks are retirees who no longer wish to travel but want to remain in their RV. Others are younger working people that have a full-time job in the area that keeps them rooted in one spot.

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GO FULL-TIME? TRANSITIONING TO A LIFE ON THE ROAD

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Starting a full-time RV lifestyle is an absolute thrill. Leaving the bonds of a conventional life to live in total freedom made both of us feel vibrantly alive. Years ago I wrote a blog post about why we decided to go full-time, called Why Do It? I outlined the many reasons we decided to leave our old lives behind and try a life of adventure on the road.

Going full-time sounds great, but there can also be some bumps in the road on the way to your dream RV lifestyle, and that’s to be expected. The whole process may go swimmingly and you may live happily ever after. But more than likely you will experience some heartache on the way. We did. It’s part of what happens when you deal with important things like Lifelong Dreams, Personal Growth, Enrichment and Fulfillment.

Downsizing

The downsizing process can be intense, especially if you are emptying a large house that you have lived in for years. Keeping your dream alive and priorities straight during this (sometimes) stressful time is really important. When we downsized a second time as we moved off of our boat and back into our RV, I wrote a post On the Road to Your Dreams, Stay the Course to help me keep the big picture in mind.

Vintage station wagon towing trailer

Ready for adventure!

For a lot of people, downsizing all the way into an RV is a really liberating experience. After the hard part of sorting through everything, there is an uplifting sense of relief and unburdening that happens when you let most of it go.

Retiring and Going Full-time Simultaneously

Many people begin full-timing at the start of retirement. This means they are going through two major life transitions at once. Simply changing from the workaday life to one of an agenda-free retirement is a shock to the system. Downsizing into an RV and moving away from old friends and life structures at the same time can become a little overwhelming.

Retiring early is a super idea, but there is no badge of honor for going full-time. In some cases it might make sense to enjoy retirement for a little while first. Going on some shorter duration RV travels before you jump ship all together might accomplish the same travel and freedom goals without giving up the security of everything you know right away.

Life Partners

At the same time as all of this, you are dealing with your life partner in a whole new way. You are together much more than you used to be and are suddenly dependent on each other in ways you’ve never been before. Learning how to operate the systems in the RV, navigating unfamiliar roads in a hugely oversized vehicle in traffic, and getting in and out of RV sites with an audience watching can put a lot of stress on a relationship.

Loving couple in the moonlight

What a marvelous night for a moondance…

To diffuse the tension a little, revel in acquiring new skills, whether it’s learning to read a map or learning to take directions from your spouse as you drive. Respect and patience go a long way as you both adjust to new daily patterns, and in the darkest hours, remembering why you fell in love in the first place always helps. Any scratches that appear on the RV as a result of your joint learning curve can always be repaired!

Build Up and Let Down

There is a huge build-up to the Day of Retirement, and even if you are 30-something and are starting full-timing, there is an even bigger build-up to the Day of Driving off to a New Life in an RV. Some kind of let-down is only natural.

There is also the shock of reality. The RV life depicted in blogs (including this one), books and magazines (including articles I’ve written) may not reveal some of the more mundane and even yucky aspects of life on the road. For us, this lifestyle is almost entirely one of wine and roses, but roses do have thorns and you have to learn to deal with them.

You may be ecstatic when you cast off in your new life, and you may be Living The Dream right from the get go. But if not, don’t panic. There’s an adjustment phase and a learning curve that most new full-timers go through.

Full-time RVing

It takes time to figure out your travel style and what works best for you.

Pacing Your Travels

It’s really common for new full-timers to drive thousands of miles to dozens of destinations at a breakneck pace the first year. We sure did. Heck, you’re excited! You’re free! You run around like crazy! And then you drop from exhaustion.

Learning to slow down and to alternate the sightseeing days with the chore days takes time. Allowing yourself to have a few down days of doing nothing so you can absorb all the thrills you just had during some exciting sightseeing days may make you feel guilty at first. But a life of full-time travel can’t be lived like an endless vacation. You’ll wear yourself down to a frazzle!

Embracing A Hobby

It can be exhausting to spend all day everyday either reading travel literature, sightseeing, or writing in your journal or on your blog about all you did and saw. There needs to be something more to life than scrambling from one tourist destination to the next.

Picking up a hobby can help immensely. Our travel lives changed dramatically when we decided to learn photography and learn to write and maintain a website. These are activities that are beautifully linked to our travel adventures, but they are hobbies in their own right too.

Making music, bicycling, hiking, geocaching, running, yoga, kayaking and learning to make videos are other hobbies that fit a traveling lifestyle well and will ensure you feel like you are living a life that is bigger than just being a tourist.

Making music on the road in an RV

Making music is a fabulous pass-time on the road

What If It Doesn’t Work Out?

Even after dodging that mini minefield of possible obstacles on your way to living the RV Dream, you may decide the lifestyle just isn’t for you. What then? Is the fear that this might happen enough to keep you from giving it a try? I hope not!

You already know how to live a conventional life, and that life will always be available to you. There may be expenses involved in returning to it, but at least you won’t look back later and say, “I shoulda…I coulda…I woulda” Instead, you’ll say, “I did it! I lived my dream, even though it turned out not to be a dream I wanted.” More than likely, the experience will lead you to a dream you do want.

Jumping in with both feet

The most important thing to keep in mind throughout the whole transition process is that this is just a phase of your life. It is definitely not for the rest of your life Without a doubt, your full-timing adventure will end some day, and you will probably move on to another lifestyle that doesn’t include living in an RV.

So, set aside any fears you have, and live your dream. The full-time RV lifestyle may not last forever, but the memories will.

 

WHICH RV MAKES THE BEST FULL-TIME RIG?

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The most popular full-time rigs are Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels. Class C’s, Class B’s and travel trailers are less common. However, it is possible to travel fulltime in just about anything. Some of the happiest people are those that are debt-free in a smaller rig.

All that really matters when you select an RV for full-timing is that it feels like home to you.

The first time we boondocked in Quartzsite Arizona, we found we were neighbors with 150 Alpine motorhomes (worth as much as $400K) on one side, and a guy living out of the back of his pickup truck on the other side. 

Outside of Phoenix we met a couple who were living in a tiny truck camper with no slideouts on the back of a half-ton gas pickup. They had lived in it for two years and they were loving their simple life.

Half-ton pickup truck camper RV

Do you need a huge Class A to have fun full-timing?
Heck no! For two years this has been home for one couple we met.

In Florida we spent some time with a couple in their sixties who had sold their house and been happily touring the country fulltime for the past four years in a popup tent trailer.

The most seasoned veterans on the road have owned a variety of rigs.  The average owner keeps an RV for just three years, and, having purchased three rigs in our first four years of RV ownership ourselves, we were ahead of the curve for a while! 

If you haven’t done much RVing yet, the best way to get your feet wet and figure out what kind of RV you like and what features are important to you is to get a small and inexpensive one and take it on some long road trips:

Go Cheap, Go Small, Go NOW! Have FUN and Learn the RVing Lifestyle in a Little RV

In the end, the bottom line for buying your new rolling home is:

When you walk inside, do you smile and say, “Ahhhh…home sweet home!!” ?

Also, keep in mind that your first full-time RV probably won’t be your last. You can see our progression of trailer upgrades and truck upgrades throughout our full-time RV travels here:

The Rigs We Have Used for our Full-time RV Lifestyle

Some thoughts about different styles of RVs for use in long term travel:

Both motorhomes and trailers have their pros and cons, and certainly either one makes a fantastic home. These notes are intended to give you some food for thought if you haven’t developed a preference yet. They are not meant to imply that one style of RV is superior to another.

We live in a fifth wheel trailer and have always owned trailers, because we like the look and feel of them, they are simple in their design, and they are fairly easy to understand and repair. Afterall, a trailer is just a box on wheels. We tow our trailer with a big beautiful Ram dually truck. Our hitch is a B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch that uses the new in-bed puck system from Dodge Ram (we have a pictorial installation guide for the B&W hitch here).

Motorhomes are inherently more complicated than trailers because they combine the propulsion and the living quarters all in the same vehicle. Higher end Class A motorhomes also feature more complex systems in an effort to make them more like a residential house. Trailers, even high end fifth wheels, are usually outfitted with simpler systems.

Class C Motorhome RV

There’s a big beautiful world out there… Honestly, any rig will be fun!

We have not lived in a motorhome, but our 44′ sailboat was very similar with a combined propulsion/house design and many of the exact same components as are found in a Class A diesel pusher.

Simplicity equates to less time spent on maintenance and repair and less overall expense for everything from initial purchase to insurance and motorhome warranty, to registration to maintenance and repair.

Small rigs:

  • Popup tent trailers are easy to tow, they fit in the garage, and they offer a lot of space for a small package. However, they can’t easily be used to stop for lunch at a rest area or overnight at a Walmart
  • Truck campers and vans make for tight living but can be parked anywhere, from National Park campgrounds to tiny urban roads in the congested northeast.

Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels:

  • Travel trailers are cheap but can require a bigger truck than you might think to tow efficiently in the mountains (ours did).
  • Fifth wheels are easier to back up and hitch up than travel trailers but generally require a big diesel truck.
  • Fifth wheels are a lot taller and heavier than travel trailers (so you get fewer miles per gallon), and it’s easy to swipe everything off the roof by accident when driving under a low overhang.

Fifth Wheels and Motorhomes:

Driving

  • The comfort and view from the driver’s and passeneger’s seats in a big Class A motorhome are far better than in a truck.
  • Tooling around town in a car and getting parked is much easier than in a big ol’ long bed truck.
  • If you are driving a motorhome and need something in “the house,” the passenger can just walk back and get it.
  • Sometimes the huge windshield and large interior space of a Class A motorhome can make for hot driving and you need to run the generator and house air conditioning while driving to cool it down.
  • Gas stations are tough to maneuver in with any large RV. You can gas up a truck when it is unhitched from the trailer. Motorhomes don’t have that option but do have bigger tanks and need gas less frequently.

Fuel Mileage

  • Gas mileage on a truck towing a trailer may be slightly better than on a large motorhome towing a car (especially if the truck has an engine tuner)
  • Gas mileage around town on a car (if traveling with a motorhome) is better than on a big truck (if traveling with a trailer)
  • Depending on how much you drive hitched up versus unhitched, the total fuel bill for a motorhome-car combo may be the same as for a fifth wheel-truck combo (our driving split is 50-50, towing vs. not towing)
Motorhome towing an antique car

To get around town, most full-timers tow a car or “toad” behind their motorhome.
Sometimes the toad becomes a handsome prince and is towed on a trailer rather than its own four wheels.

Maintenance and Repair

  • Larger Motorhomes require a “toad,” or car towed behind, if you want to get around town easily. That’s two engines to maintain — motorhome and car — and the car tires wear as they are towed.
  • Motorhomes are more more complex vehicles than fifth wheel trailers, so they take more time and expense to maintain and repair.
  • A truck with a dead engine can stay overnight in the repair shop while you live in your healthy trailer somewhere else. A dead motorhome engine may leave you looking for a hotel room and eating out if the repair shop won’t let you stay in it there.
  • With a truck and trailer combo, the propulsion part of it (the truck) is mass produced. There are dealerships in every town, and it fits in any repair bay at any shop, including Jiffy Lube.
  • You can change the tires on a truck and trailer with a jack stand and tire iron but will need to call someone for help to change the tires on a big motorhome

Cost:

  • A truck-and-trailer combo of the same quality, size and age as a motorhome-car combo is generally about 1/2 to 2/3 of the price all together. Insurance, warranty and registration costs are less too.
  • Truck and trailer tires are much cheaper than larger motorhome tires.
  • Oil changes are cheaper, although more frequent, on a truck than on a motorhome

Storage and Living:

  • A large motorhome will likely have a much bigger payload capacity ( > 5,000 lbs.) than a fifth wheel (< 4,000 lbs.) which is important for full-timers carrying a lot of stuff with them. Lots more info on that here: Choosing a Trailer for Full-time RVing
  • Bikes can be stowed inside a large motorhome bay, or in the hatchback of a “toad” with the back seat removed, or in truck with a cap towing a travel trailer, but they mostly likely have to be left outside on a truck and fifth wheel.
  • While at a campsite, the area under a fifth wheel can provide shade for camp chairs and protection from rain for outdoor goodies.
  • Almost all motorhomes come with a built-in generator which means that air conditioning is available at the push of a button, something solar power can’t easily do.
  • If you love your house but hate how it drives (or it has chronic engine/drive-train problems) or if you love the drive but the house has lost its luster, you can upgrade your truck or trailer independently of one another.
  • There is an urban myth that a motorhome is more appropriate for shorter stays and a fifth wheel is better for longer stays. This year alone, in 8 months on the road, we have stayed at 75 different locations for an average of 3 nights each. We’ve had a ball and it has been easy. We set up and break down in about 10 minutes. I’m baffled by that urban myth, have no idea where it came from, and can only say that it doesn’t apply to us and our fifth wheel! (Wait, what kind of “pacing your travels” was that?! Well, this wild road trip was preceded by 4 months of staying put in Phoenix AZ and included a one month stop in Sarasota, FL)

A few things we have learned about buying an RV:

If you are willing to buy used, there are a lot of great deals to be found.  RVs depreciate really fast.  In five years an RV will be worth 50% to 70% of what it was new. In 10 years it will be worth 40% of its purchase price or less.

Negotiate hard. Mass-market brand “vacation” quality RVs often sell for 25-35% less than MSRP and higher-end “full-time” brands often sell for 20-30% less than MSRP, depending on the manufacturer.  The NADA Guide gives the values of used RVs.

If you are buying a trailer, look at the sticker at the hitch end of the trailer on the driver’s side.  This will show when the trailer was built.  If it has been on the dealer’s lot for a while, sitting in the elements (snow, rain, mud, etc.) and enduring lots of foot traffic from customers, there may be a lot of nit-picky problems when you first move in.

The sticker will also give you the payload capacity of the trailer. Many “full-time” trailers are built with a payload capacity of less than 3,000 lbs. In our experience, that will not be enough in the long run. Our fifth wheel trailer has a payload capacity of 3,300 lbs and I sure wish it were closer to 5,000.

Climb up on the roof of the unit you are buying to see what condition it is in. While you’re up there, check out the other roofs in the lot. You’ll be able to tell which units are the newest ones at the dealership by the condition of the roofs!

Visit lots and lots of dealerships and talk to lots and lots of salesmen. The more time you spend shopping the better purchase you will make. Besides, it’s fun!

New Tiffin Allegro Motorhomes for sale

A line of beautiful new Tiffin Allegro motorhomes for sale

Further Reading:

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This was the second part in our 3-part series on full-time RVing. You can read the whole series or skip to its various chapters via these links:

Living and Working in an RV:

Transitioning to Full-timing & Which RV to Buy

Selecting a Domicile, Mail Forwarding, Insurance & Money Saving Tips

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  • Gear Store - A list of the goodies, equipment and gear we've found useful in our RV lifestyle!

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the top MENU above.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

RVing Full-time – Living & Working on the Road

The RV lifestyle is catching on across the country, and there are lots of people who are curious about how to live in an RV full-time. Full-timing is a fabulous way to live, and we have been loving it for years. This 3-part series covers all the basics about full-time RV life, from who’s out here doing it to what to consider when buying a rig for full-timing and how to insure your new rolling home. The other articles in this series are: Full-time RV Tips – Mail, Domicile, Insurance, Saving $$ and Which RV is the Best Rolling Home?

For easy navigation, and to read a little now and come back for more later, use these links:

Links to the entire series and its various chapters are here: Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips

RVing full-time and working on the road

Just another day at the office…what a place to live and work for a season!

OUR FIRST GLIMPSE OF FULL-TIME RVING

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” — St. Augustine, 354-430 A.D.

The first time we learned about the full-time RV lifestyle was in 2006 at Lake Cahuilla Campground outside of Indio / Palm Springs California. We were staying there for a week one February in our popup tent trailer to participate in the Palm Springs Century bicycle ride.  We noticed that every afternoon there was a large gathering of people outside one or another of the RVs parked at the campground.  These folks were all grey haired and whooping it up.  Suddenly we saw an old-timer walking through the campground yelling, “Okay everyone: Time to get up from your naps.  It’s happy hour!”  It was a party on wheels!

We started talking to our neighbors at the campground about how they were living.  Everyone was having a ball and seemed so free.  We heard one woman talking to her adult child on the pay phone, saying “I’ll call in a few weeks to let you know where we are.”  That sounded good to me — I had to be back at work on Monday!  We talked to another woman who was getting a tan in southern California while her friends back in Idaho were shoveling snow.  We heard a few folks making music around a campfire at night.  From what we could see, they lived simply, they had fun with each other, and they seemed happier than anyone we knew at home.

We left California with a new idea taking shape in our minds. 

Our popup tent trailer had become a key to new adventures and a new lifestyle!  We researched what we could online and quizzed the campground hosts wherever we took the popup.  Over time we learned that many people work as they travel, often as “work campers” at various tourist sites.  Suddenly the idea of taking off on a long term travel adventure — with the backup option of getting part-time jobs if we ran out of money — seemed feasible.

We set off on our full-timing adventure within the year!

 

WHO LIVES THE FULL-TIME RV LIFESTYLE?

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Full-time RVers are a rare breed that set out in their RVs for a life of travel.  Many sell their homes, and most have gone through the life-affirming self-discovery process of downsizing all the way to an RV.  They share a curiosity about what lies beyond the horizon, and they are willing to accept a few bumps in the road to find out. The full-timers we have met on the road include the following:

Retirees

The vast majority of full-time RVers we have met, perhaps as many as 98%, are retired couples.  The average age is mid- to late-sixties, with a lot in their seventies, a few in their eighties and a few in their fifties. Of course, this is the age group that has the money, the time and the lack of day-to-day responsibilities that easily allow for this kind of free-spirited lifestyle. We have read about full-time RVers at both ends of the age spectrum. Many younger full-timers keep fabulous blogs, and some of the oldest old-timers have been written about in the magazines, including a woman who started in 1966 and was still out there in 2008 at age 90, and another fellow who started in 2007 at the young age of 104. We interviewed and wrote a magazine article about a terrific full-timing couple who began in their late 30’s and are still at it in their sixties.

Singles

There are quite a few singles on the road. We have run into the Wandering Individuals Network or WINS groups quite a few times over the years. They are a very active group of singles that has a great time together. Another group is Loners on Wheels. If you are a member of Escapees RV Club, you can join their Solos Group. We have camped near them quite a few times in Quartzsite, Arizona.

Surprisingly, we have met lots of women traveling alone.  These gals are strong! A popular group for women RVers is Sisters on the Fly, which is open to any woman with an RV who wants to spend time with other women with similar interests, whether they are single or married, full-timing or not. 

Sisters on the Fly RV club for women

The “Sisters on the Fly” have a ball on gals-only RV adventures.
Many of them have wonderfully decorated vintage trailers!

We have also met two men who had full-timed with their wives until their wives died unexpectedly.  Deeply saddened and lonely, both men opted to downsize from a fifth wheel to a truck camper and continue traveling.  We also met a solo woman who had lost her husband and decided to keep going, big RV, towable boat and all!

Families and The Under 50 Crowd

There is a growing interest in full-time RVing among younger folks, and there are many great blogs by younger RVers who are working on the road. Technology is making it possible for people to have a professional career without having to show up at an office every day.

We have read and heard about these fortunate people, but have met fewer than five on the road since we started RVing full-time in 2007. The youngest full-timers we have met personally was a couple in their early thirties. We’ve also met a handful of couples in their forties. We’ve met one family on the road, a French couple in their late forties with a 3 year old son. They were in the second year of a seven year RV trip around the world! Another family we know took a one year sabbatical in their RV with thoughts of continuing if they could put it together and liked it.

The Xscapers branch of Escapees RV Club is dedicated to this growing group of younger RVers. Two websites dedicated to families living on the road are: Fulltiming Families and Families on the Road.

The online world of exciting blogs and social media groups related to full-time RVing for the younger set can make it look like there are tons of families and young couples out adventuring in their RVs full-time. This is a wonderful and lovely thought. However, in our personal experience on the road, we have met only an extremely very rare few.

 

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO LEARN ABOUT RVing FULL-TIME ?

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Campground hosts enjoy sharing insights into their RV lifestyle

An offer of free beer is hard to turn down!

You will learn the most about full-time RVing by
talking to full-timers IN PERSON.

Where can you find them? At RV parks and campgrounds!

Most hosts are either full-timers or part-timers, and they are a wealth of information about every aspect of RVing, from rigs to travel to jobs to living small.

They may also know of other campers staying in the RV park or campground that are full-timers that you can talk to.

There is nothing like the back-and-forth of a real conversation to get all your questions answered quickly and to explore other subjects that suddenly spring to mind.

Before we started, we learned a lot this way. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bernie and Phyllis, hosts at Bonito Campground in Flagstaff, Arizona, who talked to us endlessly about trucks and fifth wheel trailers and solar power.

If you feel funny about taking up their time, ask the hosts if you could bring over some drinks and snacks at happy hour and chat with them about the lifestyle for a while. Few people will turn down a free drink and a chance to talk about a lifestyle they love!

You can do this kind of in-person research with experienced RVers whether you are staying in a hotel near an RV park, staying in a tent at a campground or staying in an RV.

Where can you find a high density of RV parks and full-timers? In the southern states in winter! Take a roadtrip to Quartzsite, Arizona, during the Quartzsite RV Show in January, and drive around on all the roads within a 15 mile radius of town. Pitch a tent and go make some friends. Or visit Yuma or Mesa, Arizona, or southern Texas or anywhere in Florida!

Buy A Cheap RV and Go Play!

Another great way to learn about full-timing is to get a smaller, cheaper RV and go try it out. As mentioned above, we started with a popup tent trailer. By the time we hit the road full-time, we were very seasoned RVers and had dry camped in campgrounds over 150 nights. This made it very easy for us to begin boondocking as newbie full-timers and know what to look for in a trailer.

Rental RV - learning how to RV full-time

Renting an RV for a week’s vacation in southern Utah is a great way to sample the lifestyle.

A small used trailer or used Class C or van would work just as well.

This experience will teach you a million things about RVing and about yourself: the kinds of places you like to stay, the kinds of people you’re likely to meet in your travels and how the systems on an RV work, whether you are plugged into hookups or are dry camping somewhere.

You will also learn what you want and don’t want in your full-time rolling home!

Rent an RV and Try It Out!

If you don’t live in an area that lends itself to easy weekend RV travel, then flying to a gorgeous place and renting an RV is a fabulous way to go.

Renting an RV for a week may look really expensive on paper, but the memories will last a lifetime and the lessons you will learn will be priceless.

There are lots of RV rental companies all over North America. Most companies rent Class C motorhomes, and we’ve seen them everywhere in our travels. A few companies to look into that have their own fleets of rental RVs are:

America:

Canada:

There are also companies that offer rental RVs that are owned by private individuals or are part of smaller RV dealership rental fleets. These companies provide a “peer-to-peer” rental experience and function much like AirBnB and VRBO in the vacation rental property industry.

This kind of RV rental company acts as the middle man between the owner, who is renting out their own RV or one in their fleet, and the renter. The company’s website serves as an “aggregating” searching tool to put these two groups of people together.

This concept is potentially a great boon to both RV owners and to people who want to try out a particular style of RV before committing to buying one. For RV owners, there is a potential to make a few dollars on an RV that is otherwise sitting unused in their driveway. For prospective RV buyers, it is a neat way to try a tear drop trailer or fifth wheel trailer for a weekend and get more of a feel for it than just by looking at it on a dealership lot.

One of the first companies in this industry is RVshare.com.

Of course, both lessors and lessees need to enter into these contracts with eyes wide open, as there is the potential for things to go awry. An unscrupulous owner might be trying to make a few bucks from a junker that has been rusting in the back yard for a few years, or an unscrupulous renter might throw a wild party in someone’s meticulously maintained RV.

Rental RV in the Canadian Rockies

Take a vacation to a beautiful place in a rental RV!

The key to enjoying a happy RV rental, whether from a single source rental company that has its own fleet of RVs or through a website like RVShare.com that brokers deals between individual RV owners and renters, is to make sure you have covered all the bases before signing on the dotted line.

A few things to consider:

  • Have you tabulated all the hidden fees beforehand and do you have them in writing?
  • Do you have a written contract detailing how and when your security deposit will be refunded to you?
  • Do you understand exactly how the unit is insured (many private RV insurance contracts do now cover RVs that are leased out)?
  • Do you have all the codes and phone numbers necessary for obtaining roadside assistance if it is offered?
  • Have you done your due diligence searching for complaints against the company and pondering any negative reviews?
  • Have you contacted previous renters to find out if they were happy with their RV renting experience?
  • Do you have the phone numbers and names of the key people at the rental company so you know who is responsible and who to call in the event of breakdown or a financial concern?

Research the RV Lifestyle Online

In between your weekend and vacation RV adventure travels, there are lots of resources that will help you with your planning.

One caveat about any online discussion group or website where the writers are fairly anonymous is that they may or may not be experts about the topic. Take everything with a big grain of salt and trust your own instincts. I was amazed to find out that a very outspoken member of a popular cruising forum hadn’t sailed in 30 years and lived hundreds of miles from the ocean. Yet he expressed his opinion on every cruising topic. It was his way of feeling connected to a world and activity he loved and dreamed of doing.

Learn RVing with a Popup tent trailer RV

An inexpensive popup tent trailer can give you some incredible RVing adventures

 

WHAT DOES FULL-TIME RVING COST AND HOW DO YOU MAKE MONEY ON THE ROAD?

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The full-time RV lifestyle can be very inexpensive or very costly, depending on how you choose to live. We are budget travelers and have posted a detailed explanation of our costs and budget over seven years of full-time travel here:

Full-time RVing Costs and Budget

There are a myriad of options for making money on the road. The range of things available depends largely on how much money you need to make.

We started full-timing before retirement age, however we do not work. We live very simply and we were lucky enough to have a small nest egg before we began our adventures. We set up our investments before we left home.

Consulting Work or Part-Time Work In Your Profession

One approach to working on the road is to take part-time jobs in locations where you want to live for a while. Some professions lend themselves to that. Nurses can get three- to six-month contracts that pay a full professional wage. A couple we know of in the oil and gas industry takes contract work within their profession. We met a young couple that was waiting table at swank restaurants near their favorite national parks each summer and making enough money to float their RV lifestyle all winter. We met a woman who was a contract waitress for a catering firm in Las Vegas and she was doing very well too, bopping in and out of Vegas whenever funds ran short.

We have also met construction workers and electricians who work on jobs for short periods and then move on. If your profession doesn’t lend itself to part-time contracts, you might have skills or a hobby that lends itself to part-time jobs.

Early on, we met a young pair of musicians living in a popup tent trailer for the summer and playing gigs across the country. They booked themselves about 3 to 6 weeks out at various bars and other venues and were having a blast. We heard of a pair of sailors that did the same thing across the South Pacific ocean!!

One strategy is to work a “real” job for a period of time and then travel until the money runs out, and then repeat the cycle. School teachers can travel in the summertime. A ski instructor or sailing instructor can travel in the off season.

Ordinary Part-Time Jobs In Seasonal Tourist Destinations

There are also “help wanted” postings for part-time work in many towns that have a seasonal tourist industry. What fun to work in a boutique shop for a while! Many employers have trouble finding seasonal part-time workers among the local population, and they are happy to hire RVers who want to stay in town for a season.

In Jackson, Wyoming, where the billionaires have pushed out the millionaires, we spotted a help wanted sign in tne window of a fabulous bakery and coffee shop. I asked it they would hire RV travelers for two to three month stints. Absolutely! They loved the idea of mature workers who would be prompt and reliable. In the summer of 2014 they were paying $10 an hour.

Working on cruise ships and luxury charter yachts are another option. Just store the RV for the months you are at sea.

Self-Employment

Some RVers come up with a product to sell at the many RV rallies held around the country. Others write books about RVing or their travels or take on some freelance writing. An engineering friend of ours absolutely loves to grill meat, and he was hanging out on his favorite website about barbecuing and grilling one day when he noticed they wanted someone to do scientific testing on grill thermometers. He made $8k last year testing thermometers for them. Who woulda thunk??!!

Transcription work can pay really well. Full-timer Wendy Estelle explains the details on her blog, Gypsy Gibberish, HERE

Many people dream of making money on the internet from a blog, or some sort of web service, or from online product sales. This is highly competitive, however, as everyone in the world wants to stay at home and make money on the internet, whether or not their home is an RV.

RV travel blog writing

Is an RV blog a good way to earn a living in the road?

So, can an RV blog support your travels? Our blog has given us priceless experiences and opened some wonderful doors and given us some great opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. For cold, hard cash, however, a “real job” (flipping burgers) would pay far more per hour for the first few thousand hours. I explain a bit about how all this works in this post: In the Spirit of Giving.

I’m hardly an expert on travel and RV blogs, however, and my experience is limited. A far more experienced blogging couple, both of whom work on activities related to their blog (which is one of the top travel blogs in the entire world) all day every day has this to say on the subject: I Want To Know Your Secret

In a nutshell: if you need to earn cash on the road to make your dream of a full-time RV lifestyle come true, the bottom line is to get creative. What do you love to do? How would you like to spend your days?

 

Work Camping – What Is It and How Do You Find Out About Job Openings?

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Work camping is part-time work that is geared specifically towards RVers, often including an RV site on the jobsite or nearby as part of the compensation or at a reduced rate. Work camping is super popular with full-timers, and many choose their destinations based on work camping opportunities. Most of them seem to love their work.  If you don’t need a full-time job to cover your expenses but do want a little supplemental income or want to work in exchange for a “free” RV site, this is a great way to go. 

RV Work camping can be lots of fun

A very happy work camper on the job

The best workcamping options, according to the workcampers we have met on the road, are often found either in private deals or at small out-of-the-way places.  One workcamper who has been at it for over 15 years told me that his favorite places were small historic sites. 

Another workcamper we met on the Oregon coast was assigned the task of distributing literature to beach-goers about a rare plover that nested in the dunes.  He loved birds, and these plovers were interesting little creatures.  What a fun way to keep the public informed about an unusual bird and get an RV site with full hookups in exchange.

A good arrangement I heard about was a very wealthy absentee estate owner who needed someone to mow the lawn once a week.  The estate owner had installed RV hookups and the work camper lived on very plush grounds for a few months in exchange for mowing the lawn and “being a presence” on the property. 

Some private RV parks pay a good wage for workers that can maintain the grounds, check people in and out, etc. We’ve heard of pay rates as high as $20,000 for a couple, each working 25 hours a week, for six months. One of our readers told me about a fabulous job she has manning the guard shack at an oil field. The work is easy and the pay is terrific.

Work campers at the Escapees CARE Assisted Living facility in Livingston, Texas, receive meals as well as an RV site, and they get a discount on future stays in other Escapees RV parks to boot.

In Mesa, Arizona, where thousands of snowbird RVers flock each winter, we met two couples work camping at a cute little bakery called RaVeS Cafe. It has an RVing theme and is adorably decorated with RVs and RVers in mind.

RV cafe RaVeS for RVers and RVing

Work campers at RaVeS Cafe in Mesa Arizona

And, of course, some people work camp not because they need the cash but because they want to give back to society. There are loads of opportunities through the National Park Service, US Forest Service, BLM and Army Corps of Engineers.

One really fascinating workamping volunteer position we discovered was cataloging ancient Indian pottery for the National Park Service. This job was described to us by our vivacious tour guide on a ranger-led tour we took of the ancient Indian ruins at Tonto National Monument in Arizona: Workamping with the Ancients at Tonto National Monument

Another very popular program designed specifically for RVers is Amazon Camperforce where you can join dozens of other RVers at the big Amazon warehouses during the holiday season, packing boxes and shipping products, and make some really good money while you’re at it.

Websites that list work camping positions include the following:

Things to Ponder About Work Camping

We have not work camped yet, but we have met a lot of people who have. Listening to their stories prompts these thoughts:

— Choosing a work camping position is a hunt both for property and for a job. Not only do you need to make sure you want to do the work that’s required, but it needs to be in a place where you want to be, both on the map and within the grounds of the location.

— Sometimes work campers are given a yucky site next to the dumpster out back. Sometimes they are required to work 35 hours a week instead of the advertised 20 hours a week they saw when they took the job. The National Parks subcontractor Xanterra has been notorious for offering poor work and sub-optimal RV sites for minimal pay.

On the other hand, we’ve met RVers work camping at state park campgrounds on the waterfront in San Diego that keep going back and back and back again because they love it so much.

Mark plays air guitar with his rake

Raking is fun but taking a break to play air guitar is even more fun!

— Whatever kind of part-time work you take, whether in your professional field or work camping at a National Park, it is important to evaluate both the work required and the wage being paid to make sure you feel the exchange is fair. If you are trading labor for a site, make sure the site and the hours of labor you are paying for it match up with other RV park sites in the area — or that you are happy with the trade.

— For many retirees, there is nothing more fulfilling than helping out at a national or state park, and the positions can be in the gift shop, at the front gate, on the grounds or in the bathrooms. We met an 81 year old whose RV site at a national forest campground without hookups would have cost him just $3 a day if he didn’t workcamp there. However, he was more than happy to put in 8 hours of work a day picking up trash for four full months. He made a massive contribution to the area, and was sorely missed when his workcamping stint was over. He sure wasn’t being paid fairly, but he was one happy camper!

— For younger folks that need a living wage, the step down from a professional white collar position to cleaning the bathrooms at a private RV park can be a big jolt. Sometimes the bosses don’t remember you had a fancy career and they treat you like grunt labor. It’s important to think all this through before ditching a good paying conventional job and a big house mortgage to live in an RV and bounce from RV park to RV park doing menial work.

Fortunately, there are many kinds of work camping opportunities, and judging by the number of very happy work campers we have met, it is definitely a viable option to flush out the travel kitty and reduce camping costs.

Further Reading:

Return to top

This was the first part in our 3-part series on full-time RVing. You can read the full series or skip to its various chapters via these links:

Living and Working in an RV:

Transitioning to Full-timing & Which RV to Buy

Selecting a Domicile, Mail Forwarding, Insurance & Money Saving Tips

Subscribe
Never miss a post — it’s free!

Below are some of our most POPULAR POSTS (also in the MENUS above)

RV UPGRADES, SYSTEMS & TIPS MONEY FULL-TIME RV LIFESTYLE GEAR STORE
  • Gear Store - A list of the goodies, equipment and gear we've found useful in our RV lifestyle!

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the top MENU above.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

What Is An RV Warranty – Do You Need One? Is It A Good Investment?

An RV Extended Warranty (or “RV Warranty“) is a mechanical breakdown protection product that you can purchase for your RV to give you a financial boost in the event that a system on your RV suddenly fails. By their very nature and reputation, RV warranties are contracts that most RVers either swear by or swear at, and for those of us whose eyes glaze over when reading legal documents, it can be really hard to figure out whether or not buying an RV extended warranty is a worthwhile investment.

This article is the first in a series of articles about RV extended warranties that present our personal case history with our RV warranty on our 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS fifth wheel trailer (four year warranty cost: $1,904). This first article begins by explaining what RV extended warranties are, how they work, and how they differ from RV insurance. It also explains what to look for when buying an RV extended warranty contract. Then it goes on to show our own RV warranty in action during our first claim which was an axle replacement on our fifth wheel trailer ($1,136 reimbursement).

The rest of the articles in this series show our warranty in action. How valuable is this extended trailer warranty to us?

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,420
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,045
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,375

Our trailer warranty has more than paid for itself, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

What is an RV Warranty and should you have one?

To buy or not to buy an RV warranty?

You can navigate through this article using these links:

 

RV Extended Warranty Overview

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All RVs come with a manufacturer’s warranty when they are purchased new, and these warranties are good for a year or two.

After the manufacturer’s warranty expires, you can purchase an RV Extended Service Contract, commonly known as an RV Warranty, from an independent warranty company for another few years. Or you can just hope for the best.

RV extended warranties are contracts that describe in detail what is covered and what is not covered by the policy, and they have a specific start date and end date. You can pay for the warranty outright when you sign the contract or you can purchase it over time with payments. These contracts are designed to cover the mechanical working components on and in your RV.

If you have an RV extended warranty, when there is a system failure on your RV, you begin the process of filing a claim with your warranty provider by finding an RV repair shop of your choice to diagnose the problem. The shop then calls the warranty company’s administrator for authorization to do the repair. The claims adjustor then reviews the details of your failure to determine if the failure falls under the coverage offered by the contract you purchased. After a covered repair is completed, the RV repair facility contacts the warranty company to present them with the bill, and the warranty company pays for the covered items immediately with a corporate credit card. You then pay for the items that were not covered by the warranty plus a deductible.

The real sticking point comes with what is covered and what is not covered by the warranty. It is up to you to determine the likelihood that enough items on your RV will break during the time period that the warranty is in place to cover the cost of the warranty. Obviously — and hopefully — it will cover a bit more than that, just to make you feel like you made a smart decision by buying a warranty in the first place.

What Is The Difference Between Insurance and A Warranty?

In a nutshell, the difference between an insurance policy and a warranty is that insurance covers damage caused by an incident or accident happening, while a warranty covers the failure of something mechanical that shouldn’t have broken.

Insurance is there for damage that can be pinpointed to an event on a particular date: a fire, a theft, a tree falling on the rig, a tornado. Warranties are there for systems that die without an obvious cause: the hot water heater can’t warm the water any more, the fridge can’t keep the food cold any more, the air conditioning is on the fritz, or a slideout room refuses to budge in or out.

Insurance is something we all understand pretty well since we’ve all had to have car insurance since we bought our first car. Warranties are a little less familiar because, for most of us, our only experience is with manufacturers’ warranties or with a home warranty we got as part of the deal when buying a house. There are no laws that say we have to purchase a warranty of any kind for any big asset we own, so many folks (like us) steer clear of them!

Risks

The value of an RV warranty all boils down to risk. Just like insurance, you pay some money up front in the hopes that something major goes wrong that will cost a lot more than the money you paid for the contract. It’s a way of protecting yourself from having to come up with a massive amount of money to pay for an unexpected repair — a way of hedging your bets by paying a little now instead of (possibly) a lot later.

Just like playing the slot machines at the casino, you put in quarters — either with regular payments or by paying for the whole contract at the beginning of the warranty — and you hope the bells suddenly go off and a huge pile of quarters lands in your lap. Unfortunately, in the back of our minds, we all know that when it comes to casinos, “the house” always wins. And who owns the biggest and fanciest office buildings in most major cities? The insurance companies!

So, while we consumers are betting that something bad will happen when we buy insurance or a warranty, the insurance and warranty companies are successfully betting that it won’t.

Our RV warranty Personal Case History

RV extended warranties provide the most value for folks that have a rig that is two or more years old. Our fifth wheel trailer that we live in full-time is a 2007 model, and its aging equipment could be very costly to repair. The hot water heater, RV refrigerator and air conditioning systems are all more and more prone to failure as the days pass. Sometimes older rigs like our develop cracks in the frame or the big slide-outs fail (we have three slides). We’ve heard heard horror stories from fellow RVers of broken trailer axles and unexpected $1,700 refrigerator replacements. We realized that an RV warranty could make a lot of sense for us.

As we did our research, we had no idea that we would soon experience both trailer axle AND RV refrigerator failures!

We decided to work with Wholesale Warranties, an RV extended warranty broker. We gave them the details about our rig, and they got quotes from the warranty companies they work with and chose the one that was best suited to our situation. We signed a contract with Portfolio Protection for a $1,904 four year Exclusionary RV Extended Warranty with a $100 deductible.

Fifth wheel trailer RV at Harvey RVs in Bangor Maine

Our fifth wheel peeks out from the its hospital room at Harvey RVs in Bangor Maine

Some warranty companies are fly-by-night operations that might go out of business before the contract period ends, and others have top ratings with the Better Business Bureau and are backed by A-rated insurance companies that will step in and take over if the warranty company fails.

Wholesale Warranties makes it their business to sort out which companies are the best ones and to establish relationships with them. Wholesale Warranties has been growing by leaps and bounds and was named one of Inc 5000’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2014, and one of San Diego’s fastest growing companies in 2015. More important, they have made many clients very happy.

What is unusual about Wholesale Warranties is that they don’t simply sell a contract and walk away. They are there for their clients to help smooth the process, if necessary, when a claim is filed. In fact, they are willing to pay for a client’s claim themselves, if they believe it was wrongly denied, and then fight with the warranty company behind the scenes after the fact.


Little did we know that before the first year of our contract was up, we would need FOUR major repairs on our trailer and we’d end up almost $4,500 AHEAD of the cost of our trailer warranty!

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The RV Warranty In Action – Trailer Axle Replacement!

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About three weeks ago, in mid-July, 2015, Mark noticed some serious and irregular wear on the passenger side tire on our rear trailer axle. Our tires were just 14 months old, had been properly cared for, and had less than 10,000 miles on them. Oddly, one half of the tire had okay tread while the opposite half, 180 degrees out, was a mess. On the bad half, the tire was severely cupping on the outside tread and was nearly bald. The other three tires looked great. Much research and many phone calls later, we realized that our problem was probably a bent axle.

Bald tire

Weird tire wear: bald on one side, on one half of the tire

Bald tire other side

Same tire spun 180 degrees – bad but not bald!

We were wrapping up our travels in Nova Scotia at the time. We weren’t sure what was involved in replacing an axle, and even though our warranty covered repairs in Canada as well as the US, we had friends in Bangor, Maine, and felt better about doing the repair there. Lippert Components helped us locate a phenomenal RV repair facility in Bangor — Harvey RVs — and we nervously drove 450 miles to Bangor on the faulty tire and took the buggy in.

The diagnosis was exactly what we had expected: a bent axle. The bizarre wear on the tire was due to the tire “dribbling” like a basketball as it rolled down the road. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Bangor, the driver’s side tire on the bad axle was also beginning to cup, and we needed both tires replaced.

We decided to take advantage of our RV warranty to have some other broken items repaired as well. This way, one deductible payment would cover all the different warranty repairs. The extender on one of our awning arms had sheered off, and we had just developed some kind of leak in the fresh water tank during the last few weeks.

Brent Horne, the service manager at Harvey RVs, called our warranty company’s administrator and got same-day authorization to do all three repairs, with the water tank repair pending a full diagnosis.

The axle replacement and awning arm replacement went like clockwork, although we did have to wait ten days for the new axle to be built and shipped from Indiana. A minor complication with the replacement was that the new axle came with electric drum brakes pre-installed and we had to move our new disc brakes from the old axle to the new one.

The diagnosis on the water tank was inconclusive. The leak was at the top of the tank, and we would have to drop the tank out of the trailer frame to determine the cause. Because it was at the top of the tank, it leaked only when the tank was totally topped off, not when it was less than full. We decided to defer that repair to the service folks at the Kansas RV Center (which used to be NuWa, the manufacturer of our trailer) rather than delay our travels waiting for a replacement tank to be shipped to northern Maine. Kansas would be in our general direction as we headed west in the fall.

Old trailer axle new fifth wheel RV axle

The new axle (left) has electric drum brakes and old axle (right) has our nifty new disc brakes.
The challenge with this repair was moving the disc brakes from the old axle to the new one.

When the bill for the repairs came, it was the following:

Awning Arm, tax and labor 46.73
Trailer axle, tax and labor 1,089.42
Freight for trailer axle 219.90
Tires, tax and labor 417.78
Total Repairs: 1,773.83

The Service Manager, Brett, called the warranty company and was immediately paid by credit card for the following:

Awning Arm, tax and labor 46.73
Trailer axle, tax and labor 1,089.42
Total Covered by Warranty: 1,136.15

Our bill was the following:

Freight for trailer axle 219.90
Tires, tax and labor 417.78
Deductible 100.00
Total Out of Pocket: 737.68

 
So, on a total bill of $1,773.83, our savings was $1,036.15.

 

RV Warranty Analysis

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As mentioned above, RV warranties are intended to reimburse the parts, tax and labor expenses for repairing system failures, and the trailer axle and awning arm piece were clear system failures.

However RV warranties do not cover the freight costs for shipping large replacement parts from the manufacturer to the RV repair facility, and they don’t cover “maintenance items” that wear out or need regular maintenance to operate correctly. There is also a very large gray area when it comes to items that were damaged by the failure of something else, like the tires being damaged by the failed axle. Similarly, water damage due to plumbing or roofing failures may or may not be covered.

In our case, even though the tires were very obviously disintegrating because of the bent axle, they are classified as a maintenance item so they weren’t covered. We learned later that Wholesale Warranties has a separate policy for tire failures due to road hazards, but it wouldn’t have helped us in this case either.

So, we paid for the tires out of pocket.

Has our RV warranty done the job so far?

Absolutely! 10 months into our 4 year warranty contract, here’s where we stand:

 
Cost of warranty: $1,904.00
Reimbursed so far: $1,036.15
Remaining to break even: $867.85

We are 20% of the way through our warranty contract period.
We are 54% of the way through our contract cost.

So, we are ahead of the game at this point. $867.85 more in repairs in the next 38 months, and we will have matched the cost of the warranty.

NOTE: We did not know at the time we wrote this that we’d have a bunch more major repairs in the next THREE MONTHS!

A financial breakdown of all our repairs is at the top of this page HERE

Harvey RVs Bangor Maine

All smiles at Harvey RVs after the repair is finished
Expert Technician Steve and Service Manager Brett join me in front of our rolling home.

Could An Insurance Policy Have Done The Job?

Usually, insurance and warranties don’t overlap in the kinds of things they cover. Insurance generally requires an event that caused damage while a warranty generally requires a system to fail on its own. In this particular situation of a bent trailer axle, however, if we could have pinned the axle failure to a particular event, perhaps when we hit one particuarly gargantuan pothole of the thousands we encountered in Nova Scotia, then we could have filed an insurance claim based on hitting that pothole.

Using insurance, our claim would have been:

Trailer axle, tax and labor 1,089.42
Freight for trailer axle 219.90
Tires, tax and labor 417.78
Total Claim: 1,721.10

Note that we couldn’t have slid the awning repair into the insurance claim.

If the claim were approved, all of those items would have been covered. However, we have a $500 deductible on our trailer insurance and we would have had to pay the $46.73 awning repair out of pocket.

Here’s the breakdown for comparable repair work (axle and awning) using our warranty versus our insurance policy:

Covered Out Of Pocket
Warranty 1,136.15 737.68
Insurance 1,721.10 546.73

 

Why Use a Warranty When Insurance Works Too?

If we had filed an insurance claim, there would have been a wait for an insurance adjuster to assess the damage. With the warranty, the authorization for the repair is given to the service provider as soon as they call. Also, our “reward” for filing the insurance claim would have been a ding on our insurance record which would have affected our insurance premium in the future.

If we had had one of those nifty insurance policies that has a “disappearing deductible” that decreases each year that no claim is filed, the clock would have started over again at the maximum deductible amount the next year after we filed the claim.

I’m not sure if the difference in out of pocket costs of $190.95 ($737.68 in the case of using the warranty minus $546.73 in the case of using the insurance policy) would have been made up in the next three years of insurance premiums (the time period that the warranty will continue to be in effect), but it’s easy to imagine this claim resulting in an increase in our annual insurance premium of $66.67 ($190.95 / 3 years).

Of course, this particular system failure — a bent trailer axle — is unusual in that it is even possible that an insurance policy might have been used to pay for it. In most cases, RV systems die on their own without a specific event causing the failure (an accident, road hazard, theft, etc.), and those failures are not eligible for insurance coverage at all.

 

Is An RV Warranty A Good Value?

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RVs are notorious for system failures, and sooner or later big expensive stuff is going to break on every RV.

If you don’t like large, unexpected financial outlays, an RV extended warranty can mitigate or eliminate the cost completely when a major system on board goes on the blink. There’s a lot to be said for that when you are suddenly jerked off the road and away from your travels and dumped into the waiting room at an RV repair shop while you nervously wonder if the service guys are any good and if your rolling home is going to be repaired correctly.

Bicycle riding in Nova Scotia Canada

It’s a shock to be dragged away from your happy travels to deal with an RV repair

Obvioiusly, you could simply bank the amount you would have put into buying an RV warranty and use that cash as needed when things fail. It is easy to go that route when you remember that, on average, RV warranties must work out in favor of the warranty companies or they couldn’t stay in business.

However, an intangible in all of this is peace of mind when chaos reins. Abandoning your travels to take care of an ailing RV is really stressful. Believe me! And there are lots of stresses involved in any repair that is big enough to be warranty-worthy.

There is stress in finding a repair facility that has the right equipment and the right skill set and a good reputation, especially when you are traveling in a part of the country you don’t know. There’s stress in taking a detour to get your RV to the shop if it’s not in totally safe driving condition (like ours was). There’s stress in figuring out where you’re going to stay while your RV is in the shop, if you can’t stay in it. And there’s stress as you wait, first for a shop appointment, and then for the necessary parts to come in.

Going through all that stress while also knowing in the back of your mind that the repair is going to put a big hole in your bank account makes it even worse.

Directions to Everywhere

It’s all fine and dandy to be traveling in remote areas,
but where do you find a top quality RV service repair shop?

The purpose of an RV warranty is to pay up front to cover potential costs later. Where they get the bad rap is when you pay up front to cover potential costs that never materialize or that materialize but aren’t covered. However, if you think about it, in many ways the devil that you don’t know may be worse than the devil that you do.

What I mean is that paying a fixed amount for an RV warranty, an amount that you know up front, may save you more or less cash for repairs in the end, but at least you’ve lessened the surprises and you know your costs. Plus, you may save far more than just cash when all is said and done. Even if having the warranty doesn’t save you all the cash you spent on it, you can view the difference as the price of peace of mind. If it saves you more than it cost you, you’re ahead.

 

What to Look For in an RV Extended Warranty

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It is easiest to turn to a company like Wholesale Warranties to get a warranty. When you work with them they will evaluate which warranty product is the best fit for your RV. Whichever warranty company they recommend for you, one of their requirements is that the warranty company call them if you file a claim that is over $500 so they can be part of the claims process and help it be as smooth as possible.

Since we got our RV warranty (our warranty company is Portfolio Protection), Wholesale Warranties has grown a lot and has begun providing their own warranty protection in addition to brokering for warranty companies like Portfolio Protection. This is a new and exciting development, because they have been through the claims process with their clients so many times that they know what RVers really need. The name of their warranty company is Viking Protection.

However, if you want to research RV warranty companies on your own, here are some things to think about:

Inspection and Age of RV

With the better warranty companies you will need to make your RV available for an inspection to determine the condition of everything at the start of the contract. This way, when you file a claim, there is no question as to whether the problem was a pre-existing condition. The warranty companies that Wholesale Warranties works with will send an agent to your RV, wherever it is parked, to do the inspection, and you don’t have to lift a finger.

If your RV is older than a 2001 model or has over 100,000 miles on the odometer, it may be difficult to find a warranty company. In some cases, a motorhome with more than 100k miles can get a “coach only” warranty for everything except the engine and drive train.

Warranty Types

There are two major warranty types: Stated Components and Exclusionary Contracts. Stated Component contracts cover only what is listed in the contract. Exclusionary Contracts cover everything EXCEPT the items listed. Definitely get an Exclusionary Contract, as many more things are covered in that type of contract.

You Choose the RV Repair Shop

Make sure there’s no clause that restricts who can do the work. You want to choose the best repair facility you can find and not be forced into using one that is not up to your standards.

Deductible

Deductibles can vary. Make sure you know what it is!

Fair Treatment of the RV Repair Shop

Be sure the warranty company guarantees to pay the RV repair shop quickly, preferably immediately with a corporate credit card, and make sure they pay the shop’s standard prices for the parts rather than wholesale or some amount to be negotiated. RV repair shops are often little outfits, and they can’t afford to be toyed with by a warranty company.

What Happens if the RV is Sold

Be sure the contract will be valid for another owner, just in case you decide to sell before it expires. A warranty is a nice perk to offer the buyer that may set your rig apart from others they are considering.

Cancellation, Missed Payments and Refund

Find out what happens if you decide to cancel the contract prematurely, and whether the purchase price will be refunded in whole or in part, and find out what happens if you miss a payment. Some warranty companies offer a month-to-month payment arrangement, but in the event that you miss a payment the contract terminates. Wholesale Warranties goes the extra mile and will work with you if you have extenuating circumstances that make it hard to make a payment, and if you cancel before the contract is up, you will be refunded the unused portion of the contract.

Hotel & Lodging Reimbursement

Some warranties cover a certain amount of lodging if you can’t stay in the RV during the repair. This is where Wholesale Warranties is really taking care of RVers with their new Viking Protection contracts. You will be reimbursed for “trip interruption” expenses of: $150/day in hotel rooms (up to $750), $50/meal for 2 meals a day (up to $500), $75/day for a rental car (up to $450), up to $100 towards boarding your pet and up to $200 to cover a mobile mechanic’s upfront fee for coming out to your RV.

Towing and Roadside Assistance

Some warranty companies offer reimbursements for some amount of towing and/or roadside assistance. Wholesale Warranties‘ new Viking Protection reimburses up to $750 in towing expenses.

Canadian RVers and RVing in Canada

If you plan to travel to Canada, make sure the warranty company covers repairs done in Canada. Also, not all warranty companies cover RVs that are registered in Canada. Wholesale Warranties’ new Viking Protection does!

 

Final Notes

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We couldn’t be happier with our RV warranty so far, and have been convinced in the value of purchasing an RV warranty.

At this point we still have three years to go on our warranty, and we have a big repair looming as we tackle the problem with our fresh water tank. We have no idea how our RV warranty will come into play on that repair, or if it will at all, and of course, we will be posting and analyzing that repair!

It’s a pain to feel that you have to buy yet one more big ticket item for your RV, and I am the last person to say you need to do this or that in your RVing adventures. However, if you are interested, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Mention that you heard about them through our website, Roads Less Traveled, and they will deduct $50 from the quoted price at the time of purchase. Just be sure to ask! You can get a quote for your RV (not including the discount) at this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

Or you can call them at 800-939-2806. Ask for our contact, Staci Ritchie-Roman. Or email her at staci@wholesalewarranties.com.

NOTE: We had no idea during this first repair that in the next few months we would have a slew of major failures after our trailer axle was replaced. The summary of our warranty reimbursements to date is below:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,420
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,045
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,375

Our trailer warranty has more than paid for itself, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

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