Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Staying Safe and Comfy in Arby

Arby is a dear and delightful motorhome, but time takes its toll on all things mechanical.   Our choices in the adventure of becoming motorhome owners were essentially divided into two possible approaches: purchase a new motorhome or purchase a used motorhome.  Each had its drawbacks; a new motorhome could tie up finances well beyond what we considered reasonable, and since we had not harbored the dream of the RV lifestyle, we weren't prepared to pay for it.  A used motorhome had the danger of not knowing how well the rig had been cared for.

We had already ruled out the idea of renting an RV after looking at costs and hearing stories of malfunctions on the road.  The whole RV concept was looking unworkable until Helen and her daughter Jeanette got wind of Joe's project and started thinking seriously of offering their motorhome for sale.  This RV had been an important part of their vacation plans for many years, but they were realizing that their trips were no longer as viable as they once had been, and it was an exciting idea to think that their motorhome would be a grand support for a grand adventure.

And so we became the proud owners of a well-maintained and well equipped but slightly vintage 1994 Fleetwood Flair Class A motorhome.  Mechanics have consistently told us that this one is "sweet" - sturdy and reliable, should last for a good bit longer.  And the interior is almost pristine, especially the upholstery.  Little tasks, such as reattaching laminate strips that are coming loose, were easy.

But there are bigger ticket items to deal with, even with a well-cared for vehicle. Tires, for instance.  Because all that we read had said that tires can be unreliable after many years, despite their seeming pristine state, we replaced all the tires on the motorhome soon after we purchased it.  Ka-ching! went the budget.

And because we have the very sturdy and wonderful 1995 Saturn to accompany the motorhome, we also replaced the tires about a month into the trip, when we realized they had a bit of a shimmy to them that wasn't just a realignment problem. Twice (you'd think that once you'd made the mistake, you'd learn, but apparently we each needed to learn the lesson...)  we had made the horrifying mistake of not releasing the tires to roll freely and by the time we realized it (a scream of a sound-- you really don't want to continue moving forward!), we had dragged Toad for a bit, leaving lovely stripes on the street.  Apparently, this intense wear on one side of the tire makes a problem.  So it was not any deep surprise when we were advised to replace the tires, which we did.    Ka-ching! went the budget, again.

It's almost inevitable that moisture finds its way into a motorhome at some point or another, and as Helen prepared it for sale, she realized that water had seeped in and replaced the rubber roof.  Some of that water had come into the bedroom and found a spot to settle in a mattress, which necessitated a new mattress (Ka-ching again, but it's really nice, so that's also a luxury).

Window coverings also need attention.  The blinds were kind of functional, but they stuck and one became disattached at the bottom. So we replaced them. (Ka-ching!) Installation of blinds, particularly behind wooden cornices, is no picnic, but Joe managed.  Some of the water damage in the bedroom affected a window shade and we also wanted to add insulation and light control so we got open cell honeycomb shades. (Ka-ching!) And I wanted to update the fabrics in the bedroom, but that was a grand adventure in do-it-yourself, so the ka-ching in that project wasn't so tough.

Generators are important parts of motorhomes, as are refrigerators and heating systems.  In Arby, the refrigerator is superb, as is the heating system, but the cooling we had hoped to enjoy (and actually ARE enjoying as we travel south from Kentucky into Tennessee) was not available in the long, hot, dry days across Texas.   Helen had advised us that to minimize the strain on the motor and maximize the comfort in the cabin when driving, we should power up the generator and run the large air conditioner for the cab when driving, rather than the car air conditioner, in order to lessen the demand on the RV motor.

But we couldn't get the generator to run when we wanted relief from the weather. Not only would we be steamy for long rides (yes the windows do open, and that was a life-saver, but it's still very steamy in hot weather and we're spoiled Californians), but we would not have option of boon-docking (camping without electrical or water hook-ups) with generator support.

One thing we discovered when crossing Texas is that not many people want to work on RV generators. Places that fix most things in an RV just don't work on generators.  Places that sell stuff for RVs are glad to offer to sell you an emergency generator to get you through for now. Luckily, these places do offer advice about who might be able to help.

It seems that in RV parks, local mechanics will put business cards out and are willing to come out to the park to check your problem.  Luckily we had just pulled in for our first multi-day stay in Austin, Texas, because it took the guy two days to answer our phone call, but he was still a big help.  What he told us was that the voltage regulator was malfunctioning and would have to be replaced.  He, of course, didn't have one, and it would take a few days at least to order one.  All of my anxieties about time conflicts involving keeping a tight schedule and taking good care of ourselves and our vehicles were surfacing.  But there was a solution!  

We checked our schedule to find out when we would next have a chance to be in one place long enough to have someone work on the generator, and found two possible businesses that could do the work our time in Louisiana.  It was a little dicey, as any mechanic generally wants to do his own diagnosis on a problem before attempting a repair.  Ordering an expensive part (Ka-ching!) and getting stuck with it in case the distressed traveler never showed up would not be fun. And the voltage regulator, about the size of two small fists, cost over $300, and that did not count the labor costs in either city.   

It turned out well, but there were thin moments: One shop in Covington, Louisiana didn't offer the service, and when we first called the second shop, the wife who owned the shop asked her husband, who did the work, if he could do it.  "Nope", he replied, not wanting to take the risk of a sight unseen diagnosis on a generator that wasn't familiar (he didn't even usually work on RVs).  Much to our benefit, she encouraged him to just give it a try.  We brought it in at the appointed time, and the mechanic installed it while his wife provided me an air-conditioned spot to wait and some great conversation.  And now, because of them, the 92 degree ride towards Jackson, TN is far more comfortable than the 95- 99 degree rides through all of Texas.  We have a sweet, soft breeze from the air conditioner.

I'm choosing to believe that we have dealt with the more sizable repair opportunities this trip offers. Everything seems to be working fine, and we are feeling more and more at home here.  We have just come back to Arby after a week of staying with friends and family, and it feels like home.  Yay!  One month down, three to go.  Stay tuned for more adventures.   

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