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RV insurance: Temporary repairs

An RV in the middle of a roadside tire change

No one wants a minor RV breakdown to stop them cold in their tracks. It's frustrating to hear the vacation time clock tick away because a “little” damage creates a long delay. But it doesn't have to happen.

Chances are a temporary repair can get you back on the road again without disturbing your plans. Just a few preparations and precautions can help you fix many kinds of minor damage that might otherwise ruin your trip. Sound too complicated? Not if you know what repair items to bring, how to make simple, on-the-spot repairs, what to expect from roadside assistance and how to keep your RV going until you can get it properly repaired at home.

Be prepared for temporary RV repairs on the road.

Just about any RV owner can easily make temporary repairs, depending on how handy you are and the nature of the repair. But if you don't feel comfortable attempting a minor repair, you can contact a mobile RV service that will come to your location to replace a broken windshield or make other small repairs.

Roadside, or on-site services are intended to help you overcome minor problems with your RV and get you on the road again in a hurry. You can get towing and roadside assistance as part of your RV insurance policy or buy it separately from a service provider.

Look for towing and roadside assistance that can dispatch qualified help to you anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, doesn't make you pay out-of-pocket expenses and has a 24-hour toll-free number staffed by people familiar with RVs. It's true that every RVer needs a reliable towing and roadside assistance program, but it's also a good idea to prepare to make simple, temporary repairs on your own.

Handy things to carry

In order to make temporary repairs, take these items with you on every trip: flashlight, jumper cables, trickle battery charger, road flares, adjustable wrench, various types of screwdrivers, hammer, pliers, pocket knife and duct tape for quick-fix repairs. Carry a few spare parts, especially for long trips. Include some spare belts, hoses, fuses and headlights. Even if you check these items before you leave, they can break at any time while traveling. Bring along a variety of screws, staples, nails, rivets and other fasteners. Also bring the common fluids your RV uses; for example, oil, transmission fluid and anti-freeze.

Make a solid, stable jack your number one piece of tire-changing equipment, then add a jack stand and wheel blocks. A hydraulic jack is easier to use than the kind that's often supplied with RVs. Or, a leveling jack can also be used. Larger rigs should carry a 3/4-inch breaker bar with a socket that fits your vehicle's lug nuts or lug bolts. You can get great leverage when you use the breaker bar to loosen or tighten nuts or bolts.

When you change a tire, make sure you're well off the road and on a flat surface. Set up some flares or triangular reflectors if it's dark, then block the rear wheels before you begin. Place a jack stand under the RV in case the jack gives way. Once your RV is lifted, don't get underneath it. Use flat-tire spray only as a last resort. It may only fix your tire temporarily and may make the tire difficult or impossible to fully repair later.

You'll also need two, easily accessible, 5BC, 2 1/2 lb. fire extinguishers. Check them before you leave to make sure they are charged and usable. Then familiarize yourself with their operation before your trip. If an engine fire occurs, it's too late to learn how to use the extinguisher. Another important piece of equipment is a portable air compressor. It takes up little room and permits you to temporarily repair a slow tire leak. An air compressor only costs about $25, and you can also use it to inflate rafts, toys and other items without making a special trip to the service station.

Store large, strong trash bags and a lightweight painter's polyethylene drop cloth in your RV, along with an ample amount of duct tape. Let's say a sudden windstorm damages your RV's roof. You can use plastic trash bags or the drop cloth and duct tape to keep leaking water out of your rig's interior. You can also reduce water damage by putting vent covers on as soon as possible. The idea is to keep the water out of your RV to prevent it from getting into the walls or damaging carpet and upholstery.

An Ounce of Prevention

Experienced RVers know the value of preparing for emergencies or temporary repairs, and they also take precautions to avoid breakdowns on the road. For example, plan to make a stop every few hours to cool down your rig's brakes and tires. At the same time, look under your motor home for leaking oil, transmission fluid or anti-freeze. Inspect hitches and your travel trailer's suspension system. Look at the tires, then put your hand close to the tires to see if they're hotter than they should be. Be careful not to put your bare hands on a hot tire. This could hurt! This is also a good time to check the radiator hose for cracking, but use caution — it's hot in there.

If your RV is overloaded, it may overheat under some driving conditions. Overheating can occur in very hot weather or when climbing a grade. When the temperature gauge rises, turn off the air conditioner and shift to a lower gear if the minimum speed limit allows. You can also help lower the temperature if you pull off the road, put the gearshift in park, set the parking brake, leave the engine on, raise the hood and rev up the engine a little to get air through the radiator.

Also, consider adding a transmission cooler before your trip to help keep your transmission from overheating.

In Case of an Accident

Every RVer needs a pencil and pad of paper that lists what to do immediately after an accident. A mechanical pencil is best because a pen's ink dries out over time and a regular pencil lead can break or wear down easily. Keep the pencil and paper in a plastic bag inside the glove compartment at all times.

List critical information about your RV insurance company, like the policy number and phone number, and who to contact in case of an emergency. Write these questions in your notebook: How can I contact the police department? Who is the other driver's insurance company and what is his or her policy number? What is the other driver's license plate number, full name, address and phone number? The notebook and a disposable 35 mm camera will help get the facts straight regarding damage from a collision.

After an accident, secure RV body parts if they are loose and save any parts that fall off. Never throw them away, because many parts are difficult to replace. That's especially true for fiberglass siding and fiberglass on front and rear caps. Many RV fiberglass parts take six weeks or longer to obtain. And, sometimes they aren't available at all. If you look at the NADA RV book, you'll see that some manufacturers have gone out of business and fiberglass parts may not be readily available for these units.

Never let a repair facility throw away fiberglass pieces from the front cap or other areas on a motor home. Fiberglass is easier to repair than replace. When it's replaced, factory seals can be disturbed. Just like a boat hull, the repaired section will be the strongest area of the cap once finished.

When small parts end up on the pavement after an accident, pick them up and put them in a covered plastic container, so grease and grime won't get on your carpet. Chances are your repair will be better and faster when you're able to save or secure all good parts. It's a good idea to bring along extra plastic containers or empty coffee cans. Not only will they come in handy if you're in an accident, but you can also store small parts or tools in them in the meantime.

Avoid Rip-Offs

After an accident, call the police first, then your RV insurance carrier. Don't commit to major repairs unless you first check with your insurance company. The local insurance adjuster can help you find the right kind of repair service in a hurry. Be aware that the main source of RV repair rip-offs is the highway filling station/garage that depends on transient business. Many operators are completely honest, but some dishonest ones prey
on RVers in crisis.

RV Insurance

When shopping for RV insurance, think first about what the insurance company offers if you have a serious breakdown and need help. For example, the Foremost Insurance RV policy includes a service that eliminates the need for separate emergency road service from auto or RV clubs. This service, called TraveLine Towing and Roadside Assistance is available in all 50 states and Canada. You can call a toll-free number 24 hours a day for assistance that will be on its way to you in minutes.

Finally, remember there's no substitute for preventive maintenance. Before your next trip, take your RV for service to make sure all mechanical aspects and systems are in good shape. And, always be prepared for temporary repairs — just in case.

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