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If you’re looking to start full-time RVing, you’re instantly faced with one giant decision: motorhome or pull-behind? While there are a dozen different types of RVs, they pretty much all fall into one of these two categories. Except for truck campers, which are a breed of their own.
Heath and I have always chosen motorhomes—first a Class C, then a Class A. This was an easy choice for us since we don’t own a large truck and didn’t want to throw down a bunch of money on a new truck to haul around a large rig.
We’ve loved both of our rigs and highly recommend choosing a motorhome when people ask us which rig to buy. Motorhomes are easier to handle on the road. You can choose if you want to tow a car. You can use the bathroom and raid the fridge while your husband drives you around the country. It’s perfect.
But after suggesting buying a motorhome, people come back with this unexpected question: But where do you sleep when your motorhome is in the shop? What do you do when your house goes to the mechanic?
While it’s true that the engine in the motorhome will land you in the mechanic’s shop more often that a pull-behind, chances are, if you travel long enough, you’ll end up at the mechanic. Speaking as someone who has spent a lot of time at mechanic’s shops in the past month, let me explain your options for what to do when your motorhome is in the shop:
1. Put that insurance to work!
On the two-week anniversary of our marriage, we were granted the precious gift of a broken down RV in the middle of the Arizona desert. Our fuel pump gave out, leaving us completely stranded. Fortunately, we were a hundred yards from a mechanic’s shop and miraculously coasted into their parking lot.
It was 4:30 PM on a Friday afternoon in June. This was the first time I realized that if our motorhome is the bay, we were homeless. HOMELESS. I know, I probably should’ve realized this before hitting the road for a year.
The kind mechanic, realizing our plight, told us he couldn’t get us on our way till Saturday morning, but offered to let us stay the night. He plugged us into their power (only 15 AMP) in their bay, so we could run our fan and refrigerator.
Keep in mind, this is June in Arizona. It was over 100 degrees and our RV would not cool off enough to be comfortable. That’s when Heath remembered the best investment we could’ve made: our Good Sam RV Insurance. With our full-timer policy, we have a $500 stipend to cover hotel nights if our rig is in the shop. We walked to a nearby hotel, found a room for $120, and paid with our credit card. Our insurance had us reimbursed in two weeks’ time and we had the chance to enjoy endless hot water and central A/C for a night. For only a few extra bucks on our insurance bill, this insurance feature paid for itself in one night. Dealing with an insurance company may be a hassle, but the luxury of enjoying a night in a hotel might just be worth it.
2. Stay with friends
If you’re not full-timing or if you happen to be close to friends or family, you always have the option to crash at their place…assuming they will let you and assuming you like them. When we had our 1994 Class C, we chose this option more often than not. Now that we are in our 2016 Winnebago, we usually opt to stay in our home and park it at the mechanic’s shop.
It’s hard leaving your home in the hands of strangers. People ask me all the time if it makes me nervous leaving my house with strangers. They wonder if I take all my valuables or lock them up somewhere. We travel with multiple computers and a lot of camera equipment. I don’t worry too much about a mechanic stealing from my RV, but Heath is a little more cautious when it comes to things like this. If you’re worried about leaving your RV unattended at the mechanic’s shop, there are a few other options for you to consider.
3. Stay in the bay
When we were offered to stay in the bay in Arizona, we chickened out on account of the heat…okay, and a little bit because of the sketchiness of sleeping in a mechanic’s shop. But staying the bays while mechanic’s work on your bay isn’t unheard of. In fact, when we had work done on our slides in Amarillo last month, the mechanics let us sit at our kitchen table and work while they worked around us.
Check out Cherie of Technomadia’s Instagram about how they stayed for days in a mechanic’s shop in New Jersey:
Staying in a bay is obviously not an ideal solution, but it means you don’t have to move your home, pack up your things and go to a hotel, or deal with the headache of insurance claims.
4. Call a mobile mechanic
Mobile mechanics sound so convenient! And they are–if they can actually fix your problem. (From our experience and what we’ve heard from others, they are helpful about 50% of the time). If your troubles leave you stranded somewhere, this is likely your best option, so you can avoid the costs of being towed to a mechanic.
We have coverage for hiring a mobile mechanic as part of our warranty through Winnebago and through our insurance. We’ve used it twice: once with Franklin, when our tow dolly blew a tire and needed replacing; and once last month when our slide was stuck half-in, half-out. In the first case, it took a couple of hours to track down the tire we needed, but we eventually got help and were on the road. Fortunately, our tire blew on our dolly, not our motorhome so we could escape being stuck on the side of the highway.
With our Winnebago last month, the guy showed up, told us he couldn’t help us, and gave us a bill for his trouble. Ick. I’ve heard many similar stories from other full-timers. So while mobile mechanics are a good option if you’re stuck on the side of the road and can’t move, they aren’t the most reliable!
5. Visit a small RV dealer for your service
Not all mechanics are created equal and this is never truer than when it comes to RV mechanics. Sometimes it takes calls to every mechanic in town before even finding a bay that can fit your 12-foot tall rig. That’s why it’s always easiest to get your rig serviced at a dealer or dedicated RV mechanic.
However, you must, MUST avoid chains of dealerships. Never go to Camping World, for starters. And avoid any large local chains as well. We recently dropped our RV off at Campers Inn in New Hampshire and had the worst service experience of all time. We ended up going to an auto shop to fix the damage Campers Inn did to our rig.
There’s one small catch in getting service appointments: RV dealers (and RV mechanics in general) are notorious for having 4-6 week waitlists. So if you run into this issue, tell them these two things:
1) you’re a full-timer and you need immediate help since you are just passing through town and
2) beg loudly, as necessary.
No one is better at this than my husband, who has gotten us into mechanic’s shops the same day, after first being told we had to wait at least a month. He’s a magician.
RV dealers will always offer a place for you to stay overnight and many will have space to park your rig overnight. Many dealers will let you boondock in their lot overnight and some even offer hookups. We stayed overnight at Crestview RV in Buda, Texas for free with full hookups each night after they worked on our RV. Recently we stayed at a Winnebago dealer with 50 AMP hookups (and free wifi!) off the interstate in Colorado for a night after they worked on our slide.
Mechanic shop parking lots don’t sound like a sexy place to stay for a night, but they will let you stay for free (since you are of course paying an arm and a leg for service) and will often offer hookups.
So when it comes to deciding if you want a motorhome in your adventurous world travels, know that even if your engine craps out or your slides don’t work or your roof is leaking, finding a place to stay is likely easier and cheaper than you think.
Have you ever stayed the night in a mechanic’s shop? Share your story in the comments below!