Apr 262010

I received an e-mail yesterday from a fellow who attended several of my classes at Life on Wheels, informing me that he is getting out of the RV lifestyle after two years on the road.

That happens sometimes. This fulltime RVing isn’t for everybody. Some folks try it and find that they miss the family and friends, and usually the grandkids, that they left back in their hometown. Others find a place they really love and decide to settle down there permanently. Sometimes a couple discover that while they do okay in a house or apartment, living in the close confines of a motorhome or fifth wheel trailer is just too much “togetherness.” There are also those who just don’t adapt well to the mobile lifestyle, and once in a while we hear from people who say they just cannot afford the RV lifestyle.

In this gentleman’s case however, his reason was that he is just, in his words, “tired of throwing money at this damned RV to keep it running.” We know what it’s like to have a lemon RV; our first motorhome was a Fleetwood Pace Arrow Vision that just disintegrated going down the highway. After eighteen months on the road, we finally dumped it and bought the MCI bus that we converted and lived in for over eight years.

However, after reading more of his long e-mail, I quickly realized that this fellow is unrealistic in his expectations for any RV, or any other vehicle, for that matter. Here is his explanation of the money he was “throwing” at his RV to “keep it running,” cut and pasted from his e-mail:

We’ve had this ’98 American Dream for two years now, and it had 82,000 miles on it when we bought it. We have put another 17,000 miles on it since we started fulltiming. In that time I have had to have the windshield wipers and arms replaced, for $75, replaced the switch for the automatic step for $49, replaced the water pump for $149, oil change and filter for $199, generator oil change $99, replaced two steer tires $800, and replaced original TV with LCD flat screen $500. And that doesn’t include fuel or campground fees!”

Now, I was never very good in math class, but according to my trusty calculator, the above comes to $1871. That’s not bad for two years of fulltiming in a twelve year old motorhome with almost 100,000 miles on it!

I would assume that the tires were probably the original ones, and if they were, they definitely needed replacing. We just replaced all six of our original tires, with less than 40,000 miles on them. The tread was still excellent, and the sidewalls looked fine, but I considered it an investment in our safety.

I do not see the windshield wipers, step switch, or water pump as extraordinary replacement items. Things do wear out and break down once in a while. As for the oil changes on the motor and generator, those are maintenance items, and  a part of owning any vehicle, whether it be an RV or a passenger car.

I’m not sure if the final item he listed, the TV, was a replacement or an upgrade, so I won’t comment on that. The original TV in the front of our Winnebago motorhome just gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago and we had to replace it. Again, things do break down once in a while.

Anyone expecting to buy an RV and never having to spend any money on its upkeep is just not going to happen. Especially an RV that experiences the wear and tear of fulltiming, instead of just being a carport queen that is only used for an annual vacation and an occasional weekend at the lake. When you factor in that this fellow bought an older RV with a considerable number of miles on it, I would be amazed if he didn’t have to spend some money on it.

I’m curious, how many of you fulltimers or extended time travelers  have an annual budget for maintenance and repairs, or have an idea of what you spend in a year for upkeep. Care to share?

Bad Nick doesn’t have an RV to take care of, so he spent his time yesterday posting a new Bad Nick Blog titled Shake And Bake Celebrities. Check it out and leave a comment.

Thought For The Day – My mind works like lightning, one brilliant flash and it’s gone.

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Nick Russell

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  22 Responses to “Unrealistic Expectations”

  1. We have owned our 2007 4-slide diesel pusher for 6 months. Our original maintenance budget was $100 per month. I track every penny we spend and my husband keeps detailed maintenance records. Thus far we are averaging $135 per month for maintenance. However, some of those costs were incurred because it was time for a couple of new batteries and oil and filter changes soon after we purchased the coach. Having a husband who is able to take care of many maintenance and preventative maintenance items definitely helps keep our expenses lower than someone who isn’t capable or choses not to do the work.

  2. Budgets have been part of our married life since Day One so when we decided to go fulltime in 2003, it helped us decide what we could afford and how we could make it happen. Truck and fifth wheel repairs have always been budget items, some years as little as $25/month, others up to $300/month, depending on what repairs are needed. We budget for oil changes, wipers, routine maintenance items as well as anticipating tires, brakes, batteries, etc…Even with the budget, unexpected repairs pop up and blow the budget, but we feel it’s the price of enjoying our lifestyle. Larry has often said having an RV is no different than owning a home in some respects -there’s always maintenance that has to be taken care of.

    We’ve not been in the right place at the right time to attend any of the Gyspy rallies so we’re not sure what seminars have been offered and I may be suggesting one already done – something on budgeting or possible expenses related to our lifestyles?

  3. Nick, we haven’t tracked our maintenance costs, but I’m sure I could generate a report using Quicken. However, we just keep a vehicle maintenance savings account in which we save $200/month so that when repair or replacement needs come up, we have the money. Sometimes, though, a repair happens that you’re just not prepared for, like the head gasket that went up on our F550 tow vehicle last summer. Then, you just bite the bullet, pay up and move on.

    Life in an RV isn’t that much different than in a sticks & bricks when it comes to repair. Things break, no matter where you live! And maintenance is a fact of life. But, in an RV, you can change your view any time you like, if you want to!

  4. Well, let’s see. TV to flat screen – didn’t sign up for the converter box and could not find one?
    wiper blades – replace ours yearly in the fall – never replaced an arm so, why????
    generator oil – wonder what the oil in the lawnmower looked like?
    2 tires, $800 – oh my stars!!! spent $460 on the wifes car for 4, $1500 on the pickup for 6, I better park them both.
    OH OH, the alternator on the p’up has gone out twice at $135 each time. I better drive with the lights off (only has 350K on it)

    This person probably had lawn service, leased cars or took the subway, and lived in a condo. But these did not cost anything either.

    What was that R Heinlein quote ‘ there is no such thing as a free lunch’

  5. I’m driving a 1985 Toyota Class C, and I fulltime in it. Note the age! In 2008 I averaged $85 a month; in 09 it was $111/mo.; and so far this year, it’s $55/mo. Things do break — like the radiator or the alternator bracket (which meant a new alternator, too). Things do need replacement (like tires every so often, or wiper blades, or lightbulbs). Things need maintenance, too, like roof seals, window seals, etc.

    And I had to replace my TV somewhere in there, too!

    My M&R account includes everything from radiators to new curtains, so I think my rig is doing pretty well.

  6. Nope, no budget, We fulltime and i just fix or change things as i need to or can afford to. Just after we got the bus i put about $17,000 into it. New windows, furniture, solar panels, tires, inverter, batteries, tv’s etc. Could have lived with most of what was there, but we had the money at the time and wanted to do the upgrades so we did. Have never regretted spending the money, just would have spent it on something else anyway. I always have a list of things i want to do and things that i have to do, such as yearly service items. Hmmmm, my wiper blades are at least 7 years old and still work well but maybe i should change them, better put them on the list. :>)

  7. Lindig, you posted while i was writing mine. ” note the age” An 85? that is a NEW rig to us! Our bus is a 68 :>)

  8. We budget $100 per month for routine maintenance on the truck and fifthwheel and have a “rainy day fund” to pay for repairs. In the past three years we’ve spent $900 for a waterpump and serpentine belt replacement (2008). Replaced rear wheel and pinion gear bearing for $1300 (2009). And, the biggie was this year (2010) – $4500 to replace all eight injectors. (Me thinks our rainy day fund is becoming a sprinkling day fund – time to replenish it.) I guess we should be considering getting off the road as this lifestyle is getting a little pricey – NOT!!

    People like to justify their decisions, rather than say that this lifestyle just didn’t work out for us they look for someone or something to blame; i.e., maintenance costs is too high. Oh well, what ever makes you feel validated!

  9. We have only been on the road since September, 2009. We own a 2000 Foretravel and while I have budgeted $300 per month for coach maintenance and another $50/mo for the toad; other things always seem to creep up that have to be taken care of. Just like unexpected “house” expenses that happen. Recently we replaced all the tires (coach and car), we could have waited but it bought us a lot of peace of mind as the coach tires were 5 years old with 1 troublesome tire that was overheating. I don’t want to experience a blowout, ever. They say that the first year on the road you spend a lot of money. Which has been true for us also, but then we also have done upgrades (MCD shades) and replaced the microwave with GE Profile Advantium. But just like in a house, these upgrades have improved our “life on the road”. Even if you are lucky enough to get a quality made RV, there are always things that need to be replaced or repaired over time. But we aren’t discouraged by the unexpected expenses and we hope to be back “in budget” in due time. I am fortunate that my husband stays on top of preventive maintenance things and has been able to do some of the things like oil change of the generator himself, which saves us money.

  10. Here we go again with someone who gives lame excuses for not RV’ing. I believe the true reason is that it is just not a good fit for everyone. That is hard to admit, so people tend to come up with other reasons. Remember the people who have to return home to do their taxes each spring? Nick said it right when he said there were grand kids, etc. that tend to make people want to stay at home. That’s OK ! Just man up and be truthful.

  11. The fellow is unrealistic. All stuff you own has to be maintained or fixed as you use it and it ages. Seems as others have said just an excuse not to RV anymore. I think for two years and all those miles he got a good deal.
    We spend between $1000 to $10,000 per year on the coach. She is a 1993 and we try to keep her in very good shape as we hope to continue to RV in her until we hang up the keys. We remodel inside and get paint fixups outside as needed. I might point out this is a lot CHEAPER than getting a new coach or even a newer used one. We know this coach very well now after 14 years and don’t want to learn new systems and have new problems with a different coach.
    Thankfully not everyone wants to live our lifestyle. It would be too crowded out here.

  12. We full-time in a 2005 Dutchstar and the average maintanence cost has been ??? each month. After 37 years as an accountant/finance manager I truely retired from that field. If it needs somthing, it gets it. Money seems to be holding up, so off we go to Alaska next month — CAN’T WAIT. Oh, we have to wait, two of our grandsons are going with us, along with two sisters in their rigs.

  13. I agree that these folks were unrealistic in their expectations. We have maintained a budget of all expenses since we started full timing in 2006. We also track nearly everything expense on a daily basis by category. Currently, we allow 175 per month for motorhome maintenance, which is largely consumed during the annual service on our 2006 Itaska Meridian 39. So far we have had limited unexpected repair costs. That will change, I am sure, as the warranties are nearly over and everything is getting older.

    We also replaced all our TV’s last year to digital HDs, but did not consider that Motorhome maintenance, but misc expenditure.

    Perhaps you could query your readers on experience with after market warranties, as I have considered them but concerned about how good they really are.

  14. “Murphy’ Law does prevail”. Been at this full timing for over three years now and see no end in this life style. Drive a 97 coach and never had a issue putting money into my home whether it be maintenance or upgrades. There are no free rides and life does go on.

  15. I agree this person sounds like full timing just was not their thing. In the past year we have had to put 6 new tires at around $2600 yes we could have gone cheaper but we put safety first, we has also had to replace the switch for our stabilizers, the chains on our stabilizers, not counting the fact we had to replace capacitors on the ac unit after a power surge. We do not have a budget per say but have a special account just for these type of repairs. This does not include our routine maintenance such as oil changes etc. When we had our stick house we spent more keeping it up than we have ever spent on our rig. This is our home and we will do anything to keep it up and running. This is the only life style we want and enjoy the freedom we have with it. We will stop when we have to hang up the keys.

  16. I have a 1996 Bounder which was bought new. I (I am a single woman) spend about $1,500 a year for regular maintenance. Every year I have my RV guy check everything on the RV to see what needs attention and get it fixed. Last year it was close to $5,000 had all my running lights switched out, new tires, new shocks and general maintenance. It is now ready for another year. I have completely redone the inside of the motor home over the years. I call it my money pit, but hey where can you go as cheap as this and have a ball doing it.

  17. Hmmm…let’s see now… No house, no property tax, no state tax if South Dakota is your “adopted” state of residence, no utility payments every month. Fuel and campground fees, yes…but Nick has proven that you can keep the campground fees down by parking at truck stops, Walmarts, casinos, etc. Computer and cellphone are a must for us but may not be for others, so that cost is elective. That leaves maintenance. $1871 for a 12-year-old motorhome…over a 2 year period…I’d say that was a bargain! And, yes, everything you own does wear down, break down or die so maintenance is a “given”. Balancing out the pros and cons, this is a great lifestyle!!!

  18. We live in an antique Prevost (1981). This is very fresh in my mind because I just ran the numbers this morning. In 2009 we spent $6,732.72 for what I call Coach R & M and $5,875.45 for what I call House R & M. In the coach number there is about $1700 for new steer tires but that’s the only really big number. The nickel and dime stuff adds up on these big machines. In the House account there’s roughly $2200 for a rebuild on the genset Kubota and a couple of $500 bills for LED upgrades but again the rest is normal stuff that adds up over time. Personally I don’t consider those numbers to be excessive. When I think back it seems like we had a pretty low cost year. Compared to the prior year when we put an inframe on the 8-92 last year was a breeze.

  19. Wow! This is an area I hadn’t really thought too much about. I’m just a wannabe/maybe soon. I’m inspired by a woman from Nashville who took up the RVer life in 2009 and have been reading her blogs to help me get through the mundane days. Maintenance costs? I just spent $340 on yard maintence and having a dead tree cut down and removed after it fell in the last storm, my Florida room under an inch of rainwater that seeped in after the torrential rains this weekend but count myself lucky we didn’t get more than rain, My monthly electric for heat/ac and other appliances runs 200-300 month and the ac system may need some work. So paying maintenance costs/upkeep is nothing new, but paying it while traveling the country sounds a lot more bearable than being trapped in suburbia. Makes me feel better about shopping the used RV market.

  20. We put ~$400/month into an account for maintenance and service for both vehicles and when something needs to be fixed, or maintenance needs to be done, the funds are there.

    Some people will look for any excuse to use rather than saying they tried it and didn’t like it.


  21. We have a 2002 Fleetwood Fiesta which we purchased in 2004 with 4,000 miles on it. I don’t have good records covering our “practice” retirement travels. We went full time the end of March 2007. We track actual expenses and we find that as each year rolls around we become more detailed. Our first 9 months of 2007 show $318.15 for “MH maint”. 2008 brought a new set of tires bringing our “MH maint” column to $2,836.87. In 2009 we had no surprises and a total of $1,153.42. I think I had estimated $150.00 a month prior to retirement.

    We have learned that Mama was right when she said, “Take care of your toys and they will last longer.”

  22. Nick,
    I have a maintenance budget based on the “Zero Based” system…I start out with zero and at the end of the year I still have zero.

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