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RV Life – What Does It Really Cost?

Written By: John Linden

You are nearing retirement or perhaps you’re young and thinking that you’d like to live in an RV to save money while you do most of your college courses online and be able to travel a bit. Many people are turning to social distancing and RVing during the pandemic. Some people are viewing it as a way to survive if they lose their homes or apartments.

This is certainly a way of life that can be inexpensive, depending on what you are willing to forego and the level of comfort you wish to live in daily. The fact is that RV life can be more cost-prohibitive than you might be aware of and that can cause you to rethink some things. It’s better to know before you are neck-deep in the RV lifestyle.

Today, our goal is to show you some of the things that cost you money out on the road; the expensive fixes and maintenance jobs that need to be done sometimes. Knowing the maintenance costs will help you keep your expectations realistic so that you can truly make the most of living in your RV.

General Maintenance and Costs of Travel

The first thing that you must know is that average Class A, B, or C RV (which are those that are driven units with a motor) only get 10 mpg or less.

This makes travel between destinations quite expensive. I once spent $350 on gasoline to go from Fort Myers Beach to St. Augustine in Florida. That takes some planning if you are going far. It may prove that you’ll be rooted in place more or even permanently set-up in a campground?

If you want to run your refrigerator in situations where you are not plugged into power, you’ll need propane tank(s) filled. This will allow you to use a water heater for showers and washing dishes, cook with the stove, run the heater, etc.

Depending on your usage, this propane refill can last a month to three months. If you are running heat, it may only last a few days, depending upon the outside temperatures.

You will need to maintain your tires. Investing in tire covers to prevent dry rot when you are parked is a very good idea. There are also tire lifts that will lift your tire off the ground and prevent them from getting flat spots from the sheer weight of sitting in one place. Replacement tires on your RV can be well over $100 each. The life-extending products are a wise investment.

Dual wheels are very difficult to change yourself but a common thing on campers. These give added stability in the wind on both driveable and towable RVs. It is a very good idea to join a roadside service for RVs. If you ever have a flat on an inner dual wheel, you’ll want help unless you are very experienced.

Towing and roadside services are extremely expensive if you pay the full cost. Joining a service like Good Sam can save you hundreds of dollars and have you back on the road far more quickly than if you were on your own out there.

You will honestly feel as if you have a team on your side with just one quick call. They will track down the closest service to where you are and make dozens of calls, if necessary, to get someone to rescue you. You can avoid most issues by performing regular maintenance, however.

Finding a tow truck that can handle an RV is also hard to do sometimes. It can take hours, depending on where you break down or have a flat. Class A motorhome RVs have to be towed by specialty rigs that have a set-back hitch. This set-back enables them to lift the front wheels and still be able to turn without damaging the fiberglass on the front of the RV.

Check your tires at every single stop. Look under our engine for drips as well. Make sure that you change the oil, lube bearings on all the wheels, and have your brakes checked every 6 months to a year. Brakes can lock from sitting.

Start your RV once per week when you’re parked for extended stays and pump your brakes a few times while parked. This helps keep them in working order and you will feel if there is any loss of power or softness in the pedal that is abnormal.

Do not drive your RV, even a short distance, if you suspect an issue with your brakes! Some RV technicians will come to you and do repairs. This is a premium service but might be your best option over being towed for a hundred miles to the closest repair shop that can lift a rig the size of yours.

Keep your RV clean and check for rock holes in your fiberglass that should be repaired. Water seeping into these cracks can rot wood on the inside. Inspect your roof regularly as well. Many people don’t realize that an RV roof should be re-coated with sealant every year.

The cost of sealant isn’t much, typically under $100 if you do it yourself. This will save you from leaks that can be devastating to an RV. If you have a leak, fix it immediately. This should be budgeted into regular yearly maintenance. Plan on $200 to coat your roof and check the seals around air conditioners and vents. Coat those areas liberally.

Service your refrigerator regularly. Read your warranty and follow the guidelines it lays out for you. Propane refrigerators are slightly different from regular electric refrigerators you are used to. The most common issues with these refrigerators are worn-out lines, igniter, and a dirty pilot light housing that is clogged. General maintenance for these things can save you a ton of money.

You should also be careful to keep your battery healthy. If you are parked somewhere without power and using your lights and water pump, start your engine and allow your rig to run a while to charge your chassis battery from the engine battery. If you’ve got a towable RV, you should invest in a battery charger that has a small solar panel so that you can trickle charge your battery at any time from any location.

If your battery is dead, you will have no lights, no water pump, and you cannot pull slides in or put them out. Make sure that you check water levels in your deep cycle battery each month or you’ll find yourself needing to replace it.

These are just a few of the general maintenance costs of the unit. You should also plan on camping fees as well. Depending on where you stay, you can spend $350 per month to $1500 per month to live in a campground.

Unexpected Costs of Travel in an RV

We’ve already discussed some things that can turn into unexpected costs when general maintenance is ignored. That said, no matter how well you prepare for a nomadic life on the road, something will always come at you unexpectedly.

Things can happen that are drastic, even catastrophic. Plan for as much as you can. Here is a general list of the costs to replace items if they break. These are fairly common.

These are some of the more common failures that cost a lot of money to fix. Maintenance is the key to all of these. Seals and gaskets on doors and windows should be checked constantly. Do the service on your water lines and make sure to winterize your RV. Never run bleach through your lines or anything caustic.

Check tires and batteries often. Maintain engine oil and check it at every stop for gasoline to be sure you are not using oil. When you are, it is time to have your engine serviced and new gaskets and engine seals looked into.

Many major repair costs can be avoided when you spend far less by maintaining your RV. Learn how to do these things. Save yourself thousands of dollars.

Read articles like this one. Join forums to learn and ask questions. If you purchase your RV as new, make sure you’ve got an iron-clad warranty and have your salesperson walk you through all of the maintenance that must be done and how to do it.

Understanding fully what your responsibilities are will ensure that you never have a major catastrophic failure that puts you in danger or wrecks your savings.