Following on from last week’s blog post and video, we continue the saga of “3 Breakdowns in a Month” here in Part 2, when we actually broke down two more times – in one day. Good times! This time, we broke down twice in an hour, found ourselves stranded on the side of US-93 and had to call roadside assistance for a tow truck – yet again. Here we go!

You can watch the Part 2 video here – it gets especially entertaining after the first few minutes – despite the frustration, of course, you know we always see the bright side and the humor in every situation. Read on for the full story.

Picking up from where we left off…

Sunday, November 27: It all started just after midnight in Phoenix, AZ. We had flown to Denver, CO for Thanksgiving with Marc’s family while our coach was in for repair number 2, related to breakdown #1 (king pins and alignment), and after a series of flight delays, we finally arrived at Robert’s Tire to collect our coach at the ungodly hour of 1am. We had asked the repair shop to leave the coach waiting outside for us to collect, as we expected to return around 10pm but, just like RV travel, air travel doesn’t always go according to plan.

While the coach was in for repair, we had specifically asked the technicians at the shop to either keep the coach plugged into 110v power as much as possible – or run the generator daily – to keep the batteries topped up. Unfortunately, they either didn’t do this, or perhaps they just didn’t do it often enough or for long enough.

So when we arrived back at the coach at 1am and Marc tried to start the engine…. nothing. The chassis battery was dead. He managed to use the Auxiliary button to get the coach started, which meant we were able to drive the half hour or so to our campsite for the night. We snuck in stealthily, pulling the coach very quietly into our site, nose first, to avoid waking our neighbors. Marc hooked the coach up to the power to get it charging back up again, and we collapsed into bed to grab some sleep.

The next morning, Marc needed to use the Auxiliary Button to start the coach up again, so it was clear we needed to replace the chassis battery ASAP. In fact, we knew that ALL of our coach batteries were in need of replacement, as the RV was 5 years old and that’s usually about as long as they last. We had been tossing up whether or not to replace our regular lead acid batteries with AGMs and started the research process, but hadn’t reached a decision yet. They had been hanging in there and new batteries were going to be our coach Rocky’s Christmas present! But after our battery levels ran so low at the shop, that was pretty much the end of them. Or the chassis battery at the very least.

On a deadline to get to Las Vegas, NV

We had an additional factor to consider on this particular drive day. One of my friends from Australia was flying into Las Vegas to spend 5 days with us in the coach – plans we’d made long ago. She was arriving the morning of Sunday, November 28, so we were on a mission to get to Las Vegas ASAP so she didn’t have to wait around too long for us. With the coach starting up with the help of the Auxiliary button, we decided to get moving – figuring the drive to Vegas would charge the battery up some – and once we were settled into our campground at Las Vegas, we could focus on our battery replacement plan the following week.

Breakdown #2 – Roadside Assistance Jump Start

We drove for about an hour and a half (65 miles) and stopped to fill with gas at Wickenberg, AZ. When Marc tried to start the coach up again, this time she just wouldn’t turn over – not even with the Auxiliary button. We called Roadside Assistance, but before we could finalize the call, we noticed another Roadside Assistance technician at the gas station helping a woman who had locked her keys inside her car.

Dan came over to assist us and, after using both the power from his truck engine and a heavy duty jump starter, he got Rocky started once again. He tested our alternator and confirmed it was working fine. We explained our situation to Dan – knowing we needed a new chassis battery but that we also needed to get to Las Vegas ASAP – and he was confident that as long as we didn’t turn the coach off again, we should be able to get to Las Vegas. So we continued on!

Breakdown #3 – Calling Roadside for a Tow Truck (again)

We got about an hour (50 miles) down the road and started going up a hill in the right-hand lane of course. As is the case with our gas coach on grades, our speed dropped down from about 60mph to 40mph and so Marc put on the hazard lights to warn other vehicles that we were driving extra slow.

CLUNK!

The noise startled us both and all the lights on the dash started flashing erratically. Marc turned off the hazard lights and the engine started to slow. He had enough power to drive another 300 feet or so, and as we were pulling onto the shoulder to bring the coach to a halt, he tried putting on the hazard lights again. The dash lights starting wigging out yet again, right as the engine stopped.

Great. We were broken down on the side of yet another Arizona highway, this time US-93. But hey, at least we had another shoulder to pull onto!

We were baffled. Marc got out to take a look under the hood and see if he could identify anything that had gone wrong. Although we knew the chassis battery was toast, there was clearly something else going on. Was it the transmission? The electrical system? We didn’t know. But we were pretty sure we were going to need to call for a tow this time!

But we were in the middle of a desert highway, with no signs of civilization around. Was there even cell coverage around here?

And where were we, anyway!?

5 Miles from Nothing

Surprisingly, despite our desolate location, we actually had great coverage and were able to put in a call to Roadside Assistance. They began calling around to find an RV repair shop as well as a large tow truck that could handle our 36′ motorhome.

But here’s the funny thing. When we started looking up our GPS to give them our exact location, we discovered that we were literally 5 miles south of a town called Nothing. Yes, seriously. So when we say we were broken down in the middle of nowhere, it was actually pretty close to the truth!

We knew it was going to be a long wait for a tow truck, so Marc headed out to remove the chassis battery from the coach. We knew we needed to replace it anyway, and who knows, maybe that would fix the problem? We weren’t sure, but it was worth a try. And it gave us something to do while waiting for the tow truck.

Fortunately, this time the highway traffic was much less and also much slower than the last time when we were broken down on the side of I-10W south of Phoenix. Because we were on a hill, traffic was driving slower, and so while it still wasn’t fun being stuck on the side of the road, at least we didn’t feel nearly as unsafe as we did a couple of weeks earlier.

Replacing the Chassis Battery

Marc stayed with the coach and I jumped in the MINI to drive the old chassis battery back to Wickenberg and pick up a new one at the local auto parts store. Marc did a great job videoing a video narration of the entire story in the hour and a half I was gone. And, he managed to install the new chassis battery before we lost light.

Oh, and it also started to rain. Which doesn’t happen too often in the desert, but of course, it did that day!

The next test was starting up the coach and seeing if we could get it running again. Marc turned the ignition and… success! The engine started running. The lights worked too, but he was still too nervous to press the “Hazard Lights” button. After all, the previous two times he’d done it, the dash lights went ballistic. Everything seemed to be going well, and he didn’t want to fry our new chassis battery or jinx us!

Should he press the hazard button or not!?

He let off the parking brake and gingerly edged the coach forward a few feet.

BANG!

For a moment, we both jumped, before quickly realizing it was just the camera Marc had set up on a tripod on the dash while filming our latest escapade had fallen forward when the coach moved. Phew! No harm done – to the camera OR the coach.

The Tow Truck Arrives

It was well and truly dark (around 6pm) by the time our tow truck driver arrived. Because we were on a hill, he wasn’t comfortable loading the coach right there as he didn’t feel it was safe. Marc explained the coach seemed to be running fine with the new chassis battery, so the driver suggested we follow him up the hill to a wider, flatter pullout area to load the coach, with Marc in between the two truck and MINI – each with hazard lights flashing.

By the time we got the few miles up the hill to the truck rest area, it was raining even harder. The idea of loading the motorhome onto the tow truck in the pouring rain – with the risk of damaging the coach (always a possibility) was unappealing and in fact, quite concerning to us both. Given that the coach was clearly drivable with the new chassis battery, we decided to follow the tow truck driver back to Kingman, AZ instead – and if there was any issue along the way, we would simply pull over and load on the truck then. But at least we had an escort and a backup plan, so we all set off for the 2.5 hour (125 mile) drive to Kingman, with the coach driving between the tow truck and MINI, which meant Marc was able to use his driving lights and didn’t need to use the hazard lights at all.

By the time we pulled into Joe’s Auto RV and Truck in Kingman, AZ we were just about ready to call it a night. It had been a long day.

Still no power inside the coach

Marc plugged the coach into the 110v power outlet outside of the shop. It was 35 degrees F outside and nothing inside the coach worked at all. Not even the LED lights. Not the propane fridge. Not the water pump. Nothing. Everything related in any way to the coach house batteries was completely dead.

Fortunately, Marc pulled out our electric heater and began heating up the RV while I boiled the kettle, made a cup of tea and busted out the chocolate while we sat by LED candle light and filmed another video update. There was nothing else we could do until the repair shop opened at 7am the next morning – a Monday.

Meanwhile, my dear, jet-lagged friend Sheree from Australia booked herself into a Las Vegas hotel for the night and waited for an update from us the following day.

Replacing the house batteries, plus another problem

The repair techs inspected the house batteries and surprisingly, they were actually showing voltage! But of course, they replaced them anyway. Given the situation, we had little option but to have them install whatever batteries they could get a hold of, so we have 2 more 12v lead acid batteries in the coach again! We weren’t exactly in a position to be high maintenance and insist on AGMs or anything else. And to be honest, the lead acids work just fine and Marc is diligent about checking and topping them up each month, so it was really no big deal.

But then, they discovered power still wasn’t coming into the coach. Hmmm. This required more investigation.

Being a Monday, and with Marc’s workload that month being especially demanding, he settled into the customer waiting area of the shop to work, while I took over liaising with the techs.

The guys were great – diligent and very patient with me as I asked questions and videoed a good part of the diagnosis and repair for this video.

As it turns out, they identified we had a faulty 12V Solenoid, which they quickly replaced. I went inside the coach to test the power again and voila! Everything was working again – the fridge, lights, tank level gauge and battery testers. Success!

Finally, with the coach all working fine again, I jumped in the MINI and drove the 2 hours (103 miles) to Las Vegas to collect my friend Sheree, while Marc wrapped up his work, finalized things at the repair shop and headed to Las Vegas in the coach soon after.

Repair #3 – Batteries & 12V Solenoid

 

DIY Repair
Chassis Battery = $142.47 (replaced by Marc)

Joe’s Auto, RV and Truck Repair
Parts – 2 x House Batteries @ $136.99 = $273.98
Parts – 1 x 12 Volt Solenoid = $72.14
Labor – 2.75 hours @ $100/hr = $275.00
Shop supplies = $11.00
Tax = $23.91
Total: $656.03

GRAND TOTAL= $798.50

We also filled our propane tank at Joe’s, as it was convenient. Cost: $51.67.

This repair was not covered under our extended service contract. These are considered maintenance items and the batteries were due for replacement anyway, so that wasn’t an unexpected expense. We just didn’t expect to have to replace them in the way we did on this day.

What could we have done differently to avoid this?

We like to be as prepared as possible for our coach repairs and we are diligent about our coach maintenance – both preventative and scheduled. We believe this has been a big factor in having enjoyed a pretty smooth and reliable run with our coach over the past few years, especially being 5 years old and with almost 50K on the clock. But sometimes, things you least expect – and can’t plan for – happen.

The track bar bolt falling out and the king pins needing an early replacement were both – according to La Mesa RV and Robert’s Tire technicians – highly unusual. In fact, La Mesa had never seen a track bar fall out like that before. Likewise, Robert’s Tire techs were puzzled by our coach needing a King Pin replacement so soon. The general consensus seemed to be that a big (and potentially weight overloaded) trip by the very first owners – a family from Texas – who drove to Alaska and back on rough roads could have been a very likely cause. But the truth is, we’ll never know for sure. What we DO know from our own experience is just how easy it can be to overload an RV and exceed the safe weight ratings, which can cause undue strain on the coach chassis. We suspect the first owners probably weren’t as aware, diligent, or perhaps didn’t even care as they sold the RV immediately upon their return from their Alaskan adventure.

The batteries were needing to be replaced anyway, as they were right around 5 years old (most lead acid RV batteries only last 4-5 years anyway. It was unfortunate the batteries were not kept topped up by 110V or generator power at Robert’s Tire, but in hindsight, we’re glad this happened with our old batteries and not new ones. Had we replaced our batteries before those repairs, the new batteries would have been at risk of dropping below 50% voltage, potentially causing damage. We believe it was not having the batteries powered while in the shop is what finally pushed them over the edge, necessitating an immediate replacement, but are also well aware that being around 5 years old, they were on their last legs anyway.

We do believe that the chassis battery power going so low is quite possibly what caused the 12V Solenoid to fail. Fortunately, this wasn’t an expensive repair. The biggest factor in all of this was the inconvenience, especially having 3 breakdowns and several related repairs all in the month of November – but that’s all part of the RV life. Nothing is ever going to go 100% smoothly all of the time. But we still consider ourselves pretty fortunate, staying safe, with no major damage done, and a good portion of our repairs being covered by our extended service contract, minimizing the amount out of our own pocket.

November Repair Costs

So let’s take a look at what the financial damage was for the month of November 2016 and put it all into perspective.

All of the coach repairs, plus our hotel and meal expenses while the coach was in the shop came to a total of $4,762.02. Ouch! BUT, when you take a step back and look at the big picture and then break it down, you’ll see we actually came out of it pretty well.

All up, taking into account all of the repairs we had done in November at La Mesa RV, Robert’s Tire and Joe’s Auto, Truck and RV, plus the chassis battery Marc replaced himself, the total cost of parts, labor etc was $3,422.86 and our extended service contract covered $1,924.65 of that. Here’s a complete snapshot.

Total expenses for the month:
Cost of all parts, labor, freight, shop supplies, tax etc = $3,422.86
Hotel and meal expenses: $1,339.16
Total $4,762.02

What our extended service contract covered:
Repairs: $1,924.65
Hotels and meals expenses: $1,339.16
Total: $3,263.81

The difference? We paid just $1,498.21

We actually consider this pretty darn lucky, especially when you factor in the following:

  • We would have been up for a $400-$500 bill replacing the 3 batteries in December regardless. The breakdown on November 28 simply expedited this by a week or two.
  • Serendipity was on our side as we had already booked our flights to Denver to visit friends and family over Thanksgiving a few months earlier. However, with the coach King Pin repair coinciding with our Thanksgiving week plans, it meant 2 nights of hotel accommodation plus meals were actually covered under our extended service contract. That was a $500 or so saving to us right there.

So in the end, while November 2016 was definitely our most inconvenient month since buying our coach in May 2014, there were still some real positives that came out of the experience.

About our Extended Service Contract

After our last blog post and video, we had a lot of people contact us to ask which extended service contract (also commonly referred to as an extended warranty) we have. There’s a good reason we didn’t include that in our first post originally, as we feel it’s important for you to understand that just because we have a particular policy, it doesn’t mean we think you should get the same. Let us explain.

In a nutshell, we inherited our policy with the coach from the previous owners (we’re grateful they had the foresight to buy it!). We were able to transfer the policy into our names for just $75, so now we get the benefits each time we make a claim. As we did not do our own research (as you know we always like to do), we were not comfortable sharing the policy name (it’s XtraRide by the way) as it may have been perceived as being an endorsement by us. It’s not. Even though we have had no complaints, it’s worked well for us and we’ve been covered each time we needed it, one of the biggest issues is you cannot simply call up Xtraride and buy one of their policies. You can ONLY buy it from a dealer. And we suspect it was a lot more expensive than other comparable policies that are independent of RV dealers. Now, ours has been a good policy and they have a solid reputation. If you already have one, don’t be concerned! BUT there are a few catches you need to be aware of if you are considering buying an extended warranty yourself and shopping around.

First, note that our XtraRide policy is now ONLY available to buy at the time of RV purchase and from certain dealers that sell them – and remember the dealer’s goal is to sell you a policy – not educate you on them. Second, the biggest catch of all is that dealers mark these policy prices up – A LOT. In fact, they often make more money on the extended service contracts than they do on the sale of the RV itself! Yep, that and financing are two of the ways dealers make even more money from you than on the sale of your RV. There are many more reasons and we covered them in detail at the end of our last blog post. I also plan on writing a more detailed article covering the pros, cons and sharing some pointers on what to look for, but in the meantime (and to save repeating this information from our last post again) here are some key tips and our thoughts.

7 Tips for Getting an Extended Service Contract

  1. Shop around and get 2-3 quotes – do NOT simply accept the policy or price a dealer gives you – get an independent quote as well
  2. Get an EXCLUSIONARY policy (NOT inclusionary) for the best protection as it lists the items NOT included
  3. Compare apples to apples, especially when it comes to reading the fine print
  4. Consider the price, customer service and reputation of the company selling the policy
  5. Ensure the policy is backed by a reputable firm and the underwriter is an A-rated insurance company
  6. Find out if travel expenses (hotels and meals) are covered if you are out of your RV during repairs (and how much)
  7. Choose the right deductible level for you (larger deductible = cheaper policy but also means you need to reach a larger repair threshold to make a claim worthwhile.

So, is an Extended Service Contract worth it?

This is a personal decision and depends on your RV, the age, value, and your own risk tolerance for repairs and paying for them. It can be a gamble. If you buy a policy for a few thousand dollars and barely use it, it may not be worth it – but you will only know that with hindsight. If you buy a policy and use it, it may pay for itself several times over – again, only in hindsight will you know. Hence the gamble.

For us, having a 2-year-old coach that was out of warranty, and being RV newbies at the time, we have really valued having the peace of mind that an extended service contract gives us (see our 2 Years of RV Repairs blog post for more RV repairs). When a larger repair is needed, we know that our financial liability is capped at our deductible (ours is pretty high, being $500). Of course, if you have a much older rig, you will need to weigh up the cost vs the benefits – it may just not be worth it.

Personally, even though our coach is a quality brand (Tiffin), we take good care of it and has been mostly very reliable, we feel that even if we had paid for the policy ourselves, it would still have been worth it. The peace of mind – and knowing we can have an experienced technician do the repairs instead of Marc trying to DIY (say for the water heater) and fit into his busy work schedule – has been invaluable to us. We have an idea of what the policy originally cost, but I’m going to do some sleuthing to see if I can confirm this and present a detailed report and analysis of cost vs usage in a future post. We still have about 9 months remaining on our existing policy.

Would we consider buying an RV extended service contract again? Yes. Our next RV will most likely be a ‘newer’ unit (certainly under 10 years old, more likely under 5) and we would buy an extended service contract to cover us for expensive repairs.

We recommend getting a quote from Wholesale Warranties – they don’t mark up policy prices like the dealers do (ie. they are wholesale prices); they have warranty specialists that actually educate you on what’s important and how to make the most of your policy, and will help you get your claims processed. You can buy a policy at any time (ie. not only at the time of RV purchase) and they have a great reputation for service (4.9/5 on Google reviews).

We have also personally met the owner, Jeff, and several members of their team and we were impressed. They have been around for a long time, are a reputable company – in fact, they used to sell the XtraRide policy before it changed to being dealer-exclusive – and so modeled their own Viking Protection Plan off the XtraRide policy benefits. Importantly, they are independent of dealers – another big reason we feel comfortable recommending them. Click here to learn more or get a quote.

Got more questions? Feel free to shoot us a note.

 

What’s been your experience with RV breakdowns? Tell us in the comments below.

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