What Do You Need? Can I Help You?
With the Covid-19 Pandemic (2020) restricting the travel of many, I received numerous calls from RV owners, who are using the downtime to update or repair their unused RV. During our conversations, I ask them for the Year, Make and Model information, then I probe to determine what exactly they are looking for. Some calls are from owners seeking help with an older RV, for which the original maker is no longer in business, either because that manufacturer closed, or was amalgamated into another firm. Occasionally their RV is so old, that the original maker no longer supports the product.
Many of the recent calls are from ‘new to RVing’ owners that do not understand the difference in supply chains between the RV and the car or truck service networks. Many of these owners are conditioned to taking their cars and trucks to their dealer for service. They take this approach, since their vehicles often have a multi-year, factory warranty which encourages owners to take their vehicle to their local dealership for service to maintain that warranty. Contrast that to the typical RV, which usually has a one-year warranty, (or on motorhomes a longer one for the chassis or powertrain). Often there is no local dealer. Since RVers travel far and wide, when a problem arises, they may not be near the selling dealer. RVs are unique vehicles, assembled from major components provided by many suppliers. For instance: a motorhome may have been built upon a Ford, Chevrolet, Workhorse, Freightliner, Spartan or Mercedes chassis (among others), whereas the Engine may be a Chevrolet (GM), Ford, Cummins, Caterpillar, or Mercedes. The Transmission may have been supplied by Ford, GM, Allison or Mercedes. Of course, the body was fabricated by the Coach builder and it is that Brand name by which we refer to as the make of RV. Each major component has a distinct Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or a Serial/Product Number, together with a Maker production number such as the Fleetwood Identification Number (FIN). Each number is relevant in administering the warranties, obtaining replacement parts and to title the vehicle. It is a good idea to keep track of those numbers in a way that they are readily available when service or a replacement part is needed. These facts are certainly a new revelation to those used to routine servicing of a car or truck.
What is the Problem? Deal with It!
When I probe to see how I can assist, I often find that they may not need a part, at least not until they do some preventative maintenance. As an example, a system (say the air conditioning) is not responding to the thermostat, leading them to begin searching for a thermostat. However, the presence of corrosion on the connections, especially if the system uses an electronic controller, can shut down the communication between the system components, causing a malfunction. The air conditioning may have been intermittently acting up, leading one to feel the system is slowing deteriorating. While the result is the same (a malfunction), frequently, the issue is one that requires some simple maintenance to correct. In other cases, the component the RVer thinks has failed, is functioning, there is a failure of some other part of the system. By questioning, we can isolate the problem, or at the very least, give some direction towards determining the real issue.
An Array of Solutions:
For simplicity, I am going to assume we are dealing with a motorhome. If the issue is related to the chassis (Engine, Transmission, Drivetrain, Suspension etc.) then the maker for that system is likely still in business, although there are some that have been consolidated into other firms. Doing a Google search for the Chassis name: Spartan, Workhorse, Gillig, Freightliner, Chevrolet, Ford and so on will likely bring up the name of the company that provides service and parts. For the Coach side, a similar search should lead to the current seller of that brand of coach. Searching for the brand (Fleetwood or American Coach) rather than the model (Bounder, Pace Arrow, Eagle, Tradition, since those models may or may not still be in production), will lead you to the Rev Group Inc., the current manufacturer of these coaches. For a list of some common RV Coach Makers and Suppliers, follow this link from our website: https://www.rv-partsplus.com/useful-links
Depending upon the system, which is the focus of the investigation, it is possible that the RV maker installed a common brand of product. As examples: the toilet may be a Thetford or a Dometic, the water heater and/or furnaces may be an Atwood or Suburban brand. The point is that those brands rise above the actual RV brand and are used by many RV makers. This makes looking for a part easier, since in addition to the coach maker, most RV dealer Parts and Accessory stores either will stock the part or can order it, if from their parts distributor. Those distributors sell products and parts to many dealers which may be selling various RV brands.
External Body Components:
When looking for body parts, supply is more limited. Major extrusions on the body, cargo doors or molded parts are usually only available from the original maker (or their new owner). Light fixtures and many pieces of hardware (windows, door handles, catches, etc.) are also used across brands. Mirrors are often available from the Chassis maker (Ford or Mercedes Class B & C Vans), Velvac or Ramco (Class A & some Class B & C). Other exterior components are exclusive to the RV maker, which may limit your parts source to the RV maker.
Exterior body components can present a challenge to replacement. A knowledgeable Body Technician, familiar with the materials used in the construction of a RV body, can often fabricate or repair, then paint a surface to look just like the original. Sometimes, there is firm or craftsman which specializes in refabricating certain components, that can be painted and finished to match. In addition, there are suppliers of RV body components that can fabricate replacement parts to fit your RV. If, for example, an exterior compartment door is not available from the original manufacturer or on the used market, (see below) then possibly one can be made by www.rvfabrication.com, one of the companies shown on our links page on our website:https://www.rv-partsplus.com/useful-links
Interior Body & Cabinet Components:
On the inside of the coach, most of the cabinetry is fabricated by the RV maker or a nearby woodworking facility. The control systems, electronics, monitor systems, beds, and so on may have been customized for the RV maker, however usually they are similar to those used by other RV makers. Appliances, heating and air conditioning systems, refrigerators, stoves and cooktops are used by many makers across the industry. While some RV makers may produce their own specific interior components such as window blinds and trim, most cabinet hardware, ventilation fans, sink and plumbing fixtures are standard (RV) parts. Shower stalls may be made by a third party, which may be a division of one of the RV makers that supplies to a variety of RV brands, in addition to their owner’s product assembly lines. Soft goods such as driver and passenger seats, sofa beds, and padded chairs, may have been supplied by Villa International, Flexsteel®, divisions of Lippert Components or RecPro. The replacement market has Lambright Comfort Chairs among others. There may be a badge somewhere on the product or a label affixed to the underside of one of the furniture pieces that shows many of the details needed to obtain an exact match.
Used RV Parts Sources:
As the age of the RV increases, getting the exact part may be more difficult, since just as RV makers have merged and consolidated, so have some of their suppliers. The used parts market often is a great source of these parts. Fortunately, in a December 2015 Blog article on my website, I published a list of Used RV Parts Sources. These companies take damaged RVs of all types and sell the parts off them. Here is the link: https://www.rv-partsplus.com/blogs/used-rv-parts-sources-4
Aged out electronic equipment can be updated with a little effort. Swapping a LED Flat Screen version for older ‘tube-type’ Televisions, significantly reduces the weight of the TV, while greatly expanding the viewing area. With a little extra effort to utilize a swing-out TV wall mount, the reward often is a large storage area behind the TV. The sound system, DVD player and/or Home Theater System can also be upgraded, or possibly swapped for a Sound Bar. Using a universal remote control, such as a Logitech Harmony, allows a single remote control to operate all components instead of using each individual component’s remote. Once the setup process is completed, this universal remote allows control of various brands of equipment, giving greater flexibility in selecting replacement components.
When replacing the electronic components, it makes sense to replace the outdated interconnecting cables with newer versions. Many decade old coaches use component video and audio wiring, whereas modern RVs use HDMI cables, which will deliver clearer video and audio signals, allowing your RV to take advantage of better incoming signals. Often, in the original construction the existing wiring was run behind cove moldings in the ceiling to wall junction. Removing the molding is the largest part of the task of replacing the wiring, since the wood is often brittle from age.
Windows that are Fogged Up:
There are companies that specialize in repairing or replacement of defective (often referred to as ‘fogged-up’) windows. Sometimes they need to replace the existing glass with new since, it is etched from the impurity that leaked into the air space between the panes, whereas others, after removing the glass panels, separating them into their component pieces, inspecting, cleaning then reassembling them with improved seals, then they place them into their frames and reinstall in the RV body. I discussed these companies and showed some of the work of one such company in two TechTips #78 and 79. Here is the link to the first one: https://www.rv-partsplus.com/blogs/tt-78-foggy-window-repairs-part-1
In conclusion, while it may seem like a arduous task because of the complexity of an RV, it usually is possible to find many of the components that need to be replaced from new or used parts sources or to find suppliers which have built a business in fabricating and repairing existing components. Resourcefulness and flexibility to look at wise alternatives are often the qualities necessary to achieve the desired outcome.