Do you really need RV roadside assistance?
When we started out full time RVing, we did ask ourselves if we REALLY needed RV roadside assistance, as many full timers probably do. I had carried car roadside assistance for several years without ever needing it, but in my mind driving around in an RV all over the country, was a whole different thing than driving a car mostly in a city you live in. So is RV roadside assistance really necessary?
In some ways it probably is like insurance. You know, Insurance is what you carry in case the proverbial shit hits the fan. There are a lot of areas where people chose to self insure for various reasons. For most people, it’s a risk vs. cost kind of calculation.
We compared various options, such as adding roadside assistance to our RV insurance with Progressive, signing up with AAA and we also considered Coach Net. Offers can differ widely when it comes to number of tows within a certain period of time as well as towing mileage caps and circumstances. At the end we felt Good Sam Roadside Assistance had the best offer for the cost in the areas that mattered to us. So we signed up for a reasonable introductory rate for a year’s worth of coverage with Good Sam a few days before we hit the road full time back in 2016.
They even threw in a $20 coupon for Camping World, which I passed on to a friend to buy some trinket, as we had already bought our tire covers and a bunch of other stuff we needed. Other RVers certainly come to different conclusions about which roadside assistance program is best suited for them. It pays to read the fine print and compare coverage offers carefully for sure.
When our year was almost up, Good Sam started bombarding us by mail with increasingly confusing offers trying to get us to renew. We looked into renewing our contract and realized that the cost would go up by quite a bit compared to the introductory rate. TDA argued that at this point we probably would be better off self insured for three reasons:
1. We are often camped far away from main roads, as we boondock on BLM or NF land whenever we get a chance and most programs would not cover us there.
2. We have a tow vehicle, so we could drive to the next town, buy parts and fix many things ourselves
3. In all the years he had been RVing, he did not carry roadside assistance, did not need it and in the events it would have been useful he would not have been covered in the first place.
I was skeptical to say the least, but trusted TDA with his now 10+ years of full timing under his belt. Then last summer we had the “getting unstuck incident” in Idaho, which happened a few days after our coverage would have been up for renewal. We figured that most of the roadside assistance programs would probably have been pretty useless in that particular situation, so that reassured me a little bit. Still, I would have preferred to just pay the $120ish a year just for the peace of mind. I am usually pretty frugal, especially when it comes to evaluating reoccurring costs. However, this is a subject I was less willing to take chances on, as my friend Murphy always loves to stay nearby and strike on all kinds of occasions for whatever reason. By now, you probably know where I am going with this.
Murphy reared his head again in February this year in the form of a flat tire, and just like TDA had suggested, we took the car, went to Discount Tire in the next town, ordered a replacement as well as a replacement for the spare, which had gotten a bit old, while we were at it. We brought back the tires in the car and installed them on the motorhome. Fine. Maybe TDA was right after all.
Then one beautiful sunny day in May on the lovely winding and hilly Highway 1 up the California Coast, our transmission started acting up. Harry, our RV, sometimes refused to shift into first gear when trying to downshift downhill for additional breaking power. When we stopped for the night, we checked the owner’s manual, verified and added a bit transmission fluid and researched transmission service shops on our route. We decided to take Harry to a tranny shop in Eureka, CA once we’d get there to have the transmission serviced just in case.
Great! Good decision! We were being proactive.
What we didn’t know yet though and were soon to find out, is that we would not make it that far. The next morning, we had just driven a few miles, the transmission started to be real glitchy and TDA decided to pull over to double check.
Did I mention HWY1 is winding and hilly and some areas are pretty tight. So it took a little while to find a good spot to pull over safely. By that time we saw some smoke coming from the engine area, which later turned out to be dripping transmission fluid hitting the hot exhaust.
Luckily we had cell service and saw there was an auto repair shop in the next little town, which is the teeny tiny town of Leggett, CA, home of the famous Drive Through Tree Park.
I stayed with the RV, while TDA took the tow vehicle and headed to the auto repair shop. The owner said that HWY1 is notorious for giving RVs transmission issues. He sent TDA off with several bottles of transmission fluid and instructions to let the RV cool off first and then refill fluid and try to get to the shop so he could have a look what was going on.
While I was waiting, I put out our road safety warning triangles and then proceeded to google our transmission issue. I found many reports on leakages with this particular tranny (Ford E4OD) that could be fixed by replacing the front seal and the hub on the torque converter.
By the time TDA came back with the fluid, it had gotten late, so we decided to call it a night. We were in a reasonably safe spot and did not want to end up in a worse position after dark, in case the refill strategy was not going to work. This also allowed us to let the engine cool down completely.
The next morning, we got up early, filled the tranny up, checked for spills and when we only saw a drop or two coming out after a while, we were hopeful and felt encouraged to drive. TDA drove the motorhome and I followed in the tow vehicle. After only 1.5 miles he had to pull over one more time, as the transmission was starting to act up again and a steady stream tranny fluid was dripping down from Harry. We were only 3.5 miles away from the shop, most of which would be downhill, but the last mile had two pretty bad uphill parts, that we were concerned about.
We figured the tranny was probably still salvageable at this point but if we really pushed it to get to the shop, we’d probably have to refill fluid every few yards and most likely would ruin whatever was left of it and would then need a new transmission for sure.
We decided to head back to the automotive shop in the car to discuss options with the owner. We pretty much had two options. 1) Get him to replace the hub and seal, cross our fingers that that would fix the situation well enough to get us to a tranny shop further north, where we could get the tranny serviced. 2) Get a replacement transmission and have him swap out the whole thing.
Either way, we’d need to find a way to get to his shop and it was pretty clear we would not be able to limp there on our own, even refilling fluid every few yards. Did I mention winding and hilly?
If at this point, this story reminds you a bit of the Oliver Stone movie U-Turn when Sean Penn (aka Bobby) breaks down in the middle of nowhere (Superior, AZ to be specific) in his Mustang and encounters Darrell, the mechanic from hell, played by Billy Bob Thornton….yeah, that’s EXACTLY what crossed my mind…. Are we ever going to get out of there in one piece, like ever????
Thankfully it was nothing like that at all! Let me tell you, if you ever need vehicle repair and are in the area of Leggett, CA, I highly recommend Kelley automotive. I am in no way shape or form associated with them, but Mark, the owner, was fabulous to deal with. He really went out of his way to help us, both in getting us there AND getting us back on the road again. I had no cell service in the area of his shop, so he called around different towing companies to get pricing. This place is in the middle of nowhere and all towing companies that could tow a big RV like ours were at least an hour or so away. Mark also kindly agreed to let us camp out in our RV, while waiting for parts to come in. Little did neither he nor we know that we’d end up staying camped out in front of his shop for a total of 17 nights until finally all parts had come in and he could get us back on the road again.
To make a real loooooong story short, we ended up with a $1000 towing bill! In words ONE THOUSAND dollars!!! For like those last 3.5 miles to get to the shop (the clock starts ticking once those guys leave their home base, so if you are out in the boonies, that can add up pretty quickly!) ! That’s like 8-9 years worth of the yearly fee for roadside assistance!!! So if you are asking yourself if RV roadside assistance makes sense or is REALLY necessary or useful…..well, that’s for you to decide 😉 you know insurance, shit.hit.fan and all…..
Or you could say Harry got hitched for only $1000 within a week of his namesake over in the UK. I bet the other Harry paid a lot more for getting hitched. I am pretty sure though, he had more fun, doing so as well.
The guys who came to tow us told us we were the third rig within the last 24 hours, the other two being much newer RVs than ours. So yes, this can pretty much happen to anyone, even if you own a brand spankin’ new RV. Apparently Hwy1 in that area is notorious for stranded RVs. A fish and game warden, who had stopped to check on us, while we were waiting for the tow truck, confirmed that they see a lot of RVs with issues along this stretch of the highway, especially in the summer when temperatures are higher. If you ever need a business idea, consider opening up a tow business on HWY1, those guys make serious bank!
Needless to say, I signed us up for a three year roadside assistance contract with Good Sam the very next day. Just to fend off my friend Murphy! At least we got the introductory deal again, because we were considered a new customer, not a renewal .Very, very, very small consolation in the grand scheme of things, believe me! If we don’t ever need it again, I’ll be all the happier! If we do, I’ll be all the wiser!
Safe travels RVing friends!