My secondhand RV was an expensive mess. Here are the 10 ways I saved over $4,000 in repairs.

·7 min read
a white RV parked at Burning Man in the desert with a colorful sky in the background
The RV originally needed almost $9,000 in repairs. Jen Peng for Insider
  • My boyfriend and I bought an RV that needed repairs, and we saved nearly $4,000 fixing it ourselves.

  • We winterized and weatherproofed the RV ourselves for a fraction of the cost.

  • We relied on coolers instead of a fridge and settled for a noisy, portable generator.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Without doing our research, my boyfriend and I purchased a used RV. We ended up with a total lemon that needed an estimated $8,800 in repairs.

Taking on a lot of work ourselves, we made most of the repairs and renovations for $4,600 - nearly half the estimate - by compromising on things we could live without and prioritizing ones we couldn't.

My boyfriend works in construction and has experience with plumbing, electricity, and installations, but many repairs we did could be accomplished with some time and YouTube tutorials.

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

We replaced the leaking waste line ourselves

We discovered during our first trip with the RV 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 pieces we needed on Amazon for $40.

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

Before our next trip, we tested the system a few times to make sure it all worked.

We installed a new shower unit but had to settle on the size

Man standing in white van shower that is too small for him
The shower wasn't nearly large enough. Jen Peng for Insider

We didn't test the shower when we bought the RV, and we later learned it didn't work.

Although we didn't expect to take a shower every day while on the road, it was still something we wanted to have, especially for longer trips.

So we measured the space we had to work with and looked for reasonably priced hardware online. My boyfriend was able to remove the old shower unit and install the new one.

We still couldn't create more space for the actual shower, so we wished we had properly inspected the RV in the first place.

Vinyl flooring is easy to clean and affordable

The RV came with awful carpeting that looked like it might've been the original from 1986. We weren't sure if it had been properly cleaned since then either.

To update the interior and make cleaning easier down the line, we replaced the carpet with vinyl flooring panels, which we also used on the walls to swap out the worn, peeling wallpaper.

You can get a range of vinyl flooring panels for less than a few dollars a square foot that are pretty easy to install. We updated the interior of the RV at a reasonable price and for less than 10 hours of labor.

We settled for a loud, portable generator

A red and black generator
This generator is noisy but more affordable. Jen Peng for Insider

Our onboard generator didn't work and would've been the most expensive item to repair at $3,000. So we saved money by purchasing a portable option that could still power important features like the air conditioning.

We needed need 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 since a quieter one would've been double the price and we figured earplugs cost way less.

Coolers are smaller and cheaper than refrigerators

Although the freezer stayed cold enough, the main section of our fridge never did.

But we were always able to regularly get ice and realized we could rely on coolers instead - a huge money saver.

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

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

By foregoing the fridge, we freed up space to install a cheap AC unit, which was way more important to us anyway.

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

Our onboard, ceiling-mounted AC unit didn't work since the fan would blow but it never got cold inside the space. The RV repair shop quoted us $1,580 in parts and $556 for four hours of labor.

We considered AC an essential since we 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 had so many other fixes to make.

Instead, we purchased a cheap AC unit meant for a single room 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 applying caulk to the window of a white van
The entire process took about five hours. Jen Peng for Insider

Although weatherproofing is a relatively easy task that many people can do, we were quoted $150 for materials and $417 for at least three hours of labor.

So we purchased spray sealant, tape, and caulk (a rigid, waterproof seal for cracks and trims) for less than $100 and weatherized everything ourselves.

We taped over cracks on the roof, sprayed all of the seams with sealant, and applied caulk around the windows. Even though this task took about five hours, we check the RV's condition every season in case we may eventually have to redo it.

But if we had any major water damage, we might not have been able to reseal everything ourselves since serious cases need to be appropriately dealt with. In that case, we might've spent over $4,000 replacing the roof or $3,000 rebuilding the front wall.

Most people can winterize their vans at home

Since we live somewhere that freezes during the 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 the first year and had to spend thousands of dollars replacing their entire plumbing system.

Local dealers charge at least $100 to winterize and about the same to de-winterize, but these are both easy tasks just about anyone can do.

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

To de-winterize, we flushed out the antifreeze and filled up those areas with fresh water, also checking that other key items, like tires and seals, were still in good condition.

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

We stored the RV on our friends' land and used a tarp as a makeshift cover

Our Homeowners Association wouldn't let us store our RV in our parking lot, but we luckily had some friends with land nearby who let us keep it there for a while.

Protective covers specifically made for RVs can cost around $200 to $400 for the size we needed, so we spent $80 on a heavy-duty tarp instead. We chose a decent one that would last us more than a season.

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

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

Large white RV parked on the side of the road with trees and blue skies in the background
Towing can be an unexpected expense. Jen Peng for Insider

Even though it isn't renovation-related, this membership has saved us money since RVs can be expensive to tow if they break down.

Our RV's back tire blew out on the way to Burning Man, so we were charged $500 to get towed by a lowboy trailer.

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

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