My Secondhand RV Was Expensive to Repair — How I Saved Money

  • My friend and I bought an RV that needed fixing and we saved nearly $ 4,000 to fix it ourselves.
  • We winterized and weatherproofed the motorhome ourselves for a fraction of the cost.
  • We relied on cool boxes instead of a refrigerator and opted for a noisy, portable generator.
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Without doing our research, my friend and I bought a used RV. We ended up with a lemon in total that was estimated to need an estimated $ 8,800 in repairs.

We did a lot of the work ourselves, doing most of the $ 4,600 repairs and renovations – almost half the estimate – by compromising on things we could live without and prioritizing those we couldn’t.

My friend works in construction and has experience with plumbing, electricity, and plumbing, but many of the repairs we’ve done could be done with a little time and YouTube tutorials.

Read on for 10 ways we saved money on our renovations.

We replaced the leaky waste line ourselves

During our first trip with the mobile home, we noticed that our gray water pipes were leaking.

Although the RV shop quoted us $ 417 for three hours of labor and $ 75 in parts, I found the parts we needed on Amazon for $ 40.

My friend has some plumbing experience from his construction work, so he removed the old drain pipes and valves and installed the new ones.

Before our next trip, we tested the system a few times to make sure everything was working.

We installed a new shower unit, but had to be satisfied with the size

Man is standing in a white van shower that is too small for him

The shower wasn’t nearly big enough.


Jen Peng for insiders

We didn’t test the shower when we bought the RV and later found out that it didn’t work.

Even though we didn’t expect to take a shower every day on the go, we still wanted it, especially for longer trips.

So we measured the space we had to work in and looked for cheap hardware online. My friend was able to remove the old shower cubicle and install the new one.

We still couldn’t make room for the actual shower, so we wished we’d had a good look at the RV.

Vinyl floors are easy to care for and inexpensive

The motorhome was carpeted with horrible carpeting that looked like the original from 1986. We weren’t sure whether it had been properly cleaned since then either.

To update the interior and make cleaning easier, we replaced the carpet with vinyl floor tiles that we also used on the walls to replace the worn, peeling wallpaper.

You can buy a range of vinyl flooring panels for less than a few dollars per square foot that are pretty easy to install. We have modernized the interior of the motorhome for a reasonable price and for less than 10 working hours.

We chose a noisy, portable generator

A red and black generator

This generator is loud but cheaper.


Jen Peng for insiders

Our onboard generator was not working and would have been the most expensive item to repair at $ 3,000. So we saved money by buying a portable option that still powers key functions like air conditioning.

We needed at least 3,500 watts to power the things that mattered to us, so we found a 4,400 watt generator for $ 450.

We also opted for a louder model as a quieter model would have been twice as expensive and earplugs cost a lot less.

Coolers are smaller and cheaper than refrigerators

Although the freezer stayed cold enough, the bulk of our refrigerator never did.

But we were always able to get ice cream regularly and realized that we could rely on coolers instead – a huge money saving.

Based on a quote from an RV repair shop, it would have cost more than $ 2,500 in parts plus labor to replace the refrigerator.

Even if we wanted to replace it ourselves, a comparable RV refrigerator would have cost at least $ 1,000, and even the smallest option would cost $ 400 and hold less than some coolers. It just didn’t seem worth it.

By eliminating the refrigerator, we created space to install cheap air conditioning, which was much more important to us anyway.

We replaced our ceiling-mounted device with a single-device AC

Our ceiling mounted AC unit on board did not work as the fan was blowing, but it never got cold in the room. The RV repair shop quoted us $ 1,580 for parts and $ 556 for four man hours.

We thought AC was essential as we had planned to take the RV to Burning Man, where temperatures can be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but we didn’t want to spend more than $ 2,000 on repairs when we are doing so many other repairs had to.

Instead, we bought a cheap single room air conditioner for $ 400 and spent an additional $ 50 on insulation and wood to build a shelf and frame for it.

We weatherproofed our RV for under $ 100

a hand sealing the window of a white delivery truck

The entire process took about five hours.


Jen Peng for insiders

While weather protection is a relatively simple task that many people can do, we were given $ 150 for supplies and $ 417 for at least three hours of work.

So we bought spray sealant, tape, and sealant (a rigid, waterproof sealant for cracks and moldings) for less than $ 100 and weathered it ourselves.

We taped up cracks in the roof, sprayed all the seams with sealant and provided the windows with sealant. Although this task took about five hours to complete, we check the condition of the motorhome every season in case we need to repeat it.

But if we had major water damage, we might not have been able to reseal everything ourselves, as severe cases need to be handled appropriately. In that case, we might have spent over $ 4,000 on replacing the roof or $ 3,000 on rebuilding the front wall.

Most people can winterize their van at home

Since we live in a place that freezes in winter, we knew we had to winterize our RV to prepare the pipes and tanks for harsh conditions like snow and ice.

This is a really important step. Our friends who moved from a warmer location didn’t winterize their RV for the first year and had to spend thousands of dollars to replace their entire plumbing system.

Local vendors charge at least $ 100 for winterization and about the same for de-wintering, but these are both simple tasks that almost anyone can do.

We bought 2 gallons of RV / boat antifreeze for $ 10 and spent an hour draining all of the water lines and tanks to coat them with.

To take the winter away, we rinsed out the antifreeze and filled these areas with fresh water, also checking that other important things like tires and seals were still in good condition.

We also changed the oil ourselves and had friends who were more mechanically inclined to help us with other problems, such as replacing the spark plugs and the air filter.

We parked the RV on our friends’ land and used a tarpaulin as a makeshift cover

Our homeowners association didn’t let us park our RV in our parking lot, but luckily we had some friends with lots nearby who allowed us to do so for a while.

Sleeves made specifically for RVs can cost anywhere from $ 200 to $ 400 for the size we need, so we spent $ 80 on a high-performance tarpaulin instead. We picked a decent one that would last us for more than a season.

We also got a set of tire covers for around $ 20 as UV rays can damage the sidewalls of tires and shorten their lifespan.

Our AAA membership saved us hundreds of dollars when we needed a tugboat

Large white motorhome parked on the roadside with trees and blue sky in the background

Towing can be an unexpected expense.


Jen Peng for insiders

Even though it didn’t have to do with renovations, this membership saved us money as towing RVs in the event of a breakdown can be expensive.

The rear tire of our RV burst on the way to Burning Man, so we were billed $ 500 to be towed by a flatbed truck.

Thankfully, our expenses were covered as we had our annual AAA Premier membership of $ 119, which includes towing RVs for up to 200 miles.