When the refrigerator stopped working in the RV belonging to full-time RVers Mark and Emily, replacing it was an expensive and complicated task.
The couple, who operate the travel blog Road Less Traveled, frantically called repair shop after repair shop to find someone who had the fridge they needed in stock—most said it would take two weeks for a fridge to arrive. When all was said and done, their repair bill totaled over $1,600.
Mark and Emily’s experience is not unique. Tammy Williams spent $1,800 replacing her refrigerator’s cooling unit after deciding against paying $4,000 on a new fridge. A quick glance at online RV forums will reveal that replacing your RV’s fridge can be surprisingly expensive if you are new to RVing.
The issue isn’t limited to refrigerators, either. As many long-time RV owners can attest, keeping your rig running properly requires a substantial amount of money.
Repairs to both automotive components and appliances can be more expensive than with a regular car or a residential home. There are a few factors that might contribute to RV repairs being more expensive.
Not everyone can work on an RV. RV service centers require a lot of space to fit motorhomes and large trailers. Technicians need to get under the vehicles to access automotive components, which usually requires enormous heavy-duty lifts. And since parts may take a week or two to arrive, shops often require extra space for RVs waiting for repairs.
Think of everything that could break on an RV. Service centers need a wide range of parts, tools, and skills. So it’s no surprise that labor rates are high—they average between $150 and $170 an hour nationally. A price like that makes even simple, commonplace repairs expensive.
Many RV repairs occur at dealerships, which may be even more expensive. The RV enthusiasts over at AxleAddict tell readers to expect to pay a minimum hourly rate of $129 and a maximum of $189. According to AxleAddict, rates can be high because “Some dealerships have the attitude that if you can afford to pay several hundred thousand dollars for a coach, you can afford whatever they want to charge to repair it!”
And labor rates are only going up. RVs are rapidly gaining popularity in the US. During 2020 and 2021, RV sales hit record numbers, an increase driven partly as a response to the pandemic and social distancing.
Some Repairs Require Many Labor Hours
While people expect engine or transmission replacements to take awhile, the RV coach contains a number of items that require way more time to replace than they would in a stationary home.
The refrigerator is a great example. Due to their size, refrigerators do not always fit through the RV doors. To replace a refrigerator, windows or even entire slide-out rooms must be removed to remove the old unit and install a new one.
Hoisting a refrigerator through a window is a tricky process that requires two people, and removing a slide-out room eats up valuable shop time. Mark and Emily, the couple mentioned above, write that the repair team working on their RV had to remove a window and use a forklift to get their new fridge inside their coach.
Similarly, slide-out system repairs can be extremely costly even though the parts required are inexpensive. Replacing a $75 gear can require over 10 hours labor.
Seal repairs, like replacing an axle seal, can require a lot of labor to get the RV raised and to get to the seal itself. Leveling systems can require 2-4 hours of labor for each ram, and the rams themselves can cost up to $1000 each.
Parts Are Expensive
As with boats, RV parts often cost more than regular automotive parts. RV appliances, furniture, and interior systems like electrical and plumbing typically cost more than their residential counterparts. One reason for this: RV appliances typically weigh less, take up less space, and require power that an RV can deliver.
Let’s continue with the example of the RV refrigerator. RV-specific refrigerators are connected to multiple power sources, and most of them switch automatically between sources to maintain cool temperatures. They’re also built to better endure bumps in the road and extreme temperatures.
RV refrigerators are smaller and more expensive than residential fridges even though they offer fewer features. While many full-timers opt to install a residential fridge, the modifications required to most RVs are a barrier for others.
Consumers can expect to pay around $1000 for a basic RV fridge model, though luxury units can cost up to $3000 (and sometimes more).
Air conditioning units are fairly expensive as well, costing from $950 to $1600. Unlike residential units, they cannot be serviced, meaning that even small malfunctions require replacing the entire unit.
RV microwaves are special induction units that secure at the top instead of bottom so they can hang from the cabinetry. Expect to pay $500-$700 instead of the $50-$150 you would pay for a residential countertop unit.
As demand for RV repairs increases, some parts are becoming harder to find. For instance, as of August 2021, rooftop air conditioner units are on backorder on a national scale. This scarcity drives up prices for parts. In addition, many repair centers add a markup to the price for parts.
RVs Lack Standardization
Because the same make and model of a given appliance isn’t always available year after year, finding replacement appliances and systems for the coach can occasionally be difficult. Replacement parts may require additional labor to install, although in recent years the RV industry has made strides in this area.
The continuing supply chain shortages caused by the Covid-19 pandemic occasionally cause issues for items that require certain electronic components.
Don't Forget Towing Costs
If your rig needs a tow, expect to pay $4-$7 per mile, with most companies trending towards the maximum. An 80-mile tow could easily cost $600. The high cost of towing is a major factor in the popularity of RV roadside assistance packages.
Remember that your RV may need a tow even if nothing is wrong with the automotive components. If a slide-out, awning, or power step is stuck in the extended position, it’s unsafe to operate the RV, and it must be towed.
Of course, even regular vehicles require towing when they are broken down, but like other aspects of RV repair, towing an RV costs more than towing a regular vehicle.