Welcome to RV Mishaps, a content series written by RVers about problems they’ve encountered on the road, how they solved them, and lessons learned. Have a mishap story of your own that you’d like to tell? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My wife and I, along with our adventurous dog, have been traveling full-time for more than a year. We’ve covered 33 states in our 30-foot motorhome and were excited to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the International Balloon Fiesta, which has been a bucket-list destination for a long time.
We were about 55 miles into our drive from Cortez, Colorado, when we experienced our RV mishap.
What Went Wrong
We were cruising along when I heard a steady beeping coming from somewhere, which isn’t usually a good thing. The beeping was coming from our coach’s automatic leveler control pad, which read: “Retract Timeout Error” and “Return Unit for Service.” I felt a pit in my stomach.
We immediately pulled off Highway 64 between Shiprock and Farmington in New Mexico, in the middle of a long stretch of desert. I tried to reset the control panel and heard a loud fizzle sound from under the rig. I knew immediately that we’d blown a hydraulic line on the leveling system.
I got out and looked under the coach. Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) or hydraulic fluid was all over the undercarriage along with a pool on the roadside. The hydraulic line connecting the front leveling jacks had blown near the fitting on the driver-side jack housing. I could see that the line had ruptured where it rubbed through in contact with the vehicle frame.
After giving it some thought, we had a pretty good idea about how this could have happened. A few months prior, in Montana, I miscalculated a parking lot exit and hit the leveler on a curb. The leveler itself was fine, but the impact shifted the jack housing, pushing the upper hydraulic hose forward against the rough edge of the frame where it already had little clearance. Initially, I hadn’t seen this issue when checking the leveler for damage. It took 1,000 miles or so, but it was enough to wear through the hose and cause it to blow out.
Hydraulic slide-outs use the same hoses and system, so if you’re having trouble with those, these tips may also help.
We knew we had to replace the ruptured line or we wouldn’t be able to level the rig. However, we were a long distance from any RV service or repair facility, all of which probably had weeks-long wait times and could be expensive. Plus, we had the Balloon Fiesta to get to in 2 days. So we were determined to fix it ourselves.
A cursory online search helped us find a nearby auto parts store that built hydraulic lines. I called them to verify and they said to come by. I made sure that the jacks would stay retracted and we continued driving.
Upon arrival, I explained what type of fittings we needed and the hose length—we measured from both sides of the rig and added a foot or so to be safe. Within an hour we had a new hydraulic hose with fittings. Now we needed a place to perform the repair.
There are mobile hydraulic repair companies that can make these types of repairs. They typically work on heavy equipment at construction sites, but most will also do RV jack and slide-out hoses.
I found the San Juan County Fairgrounds complex about 6 miles away, which has hundreds of RV sites and space for dry camping. We booked a dry camping spot away from other campers so we had plenty of space.
I removed the blown hose and repositioned the fitting to clear the frame and installed the new line. We refilled the automatic leveling system reservoir, performed four leveling and cycling tests, and checked for leaks and any other issues. Then, with all the jacks retracted, I topped off the reservoir once more after all the air had been purged from the new line.
Always make sure all jacks and slide-outs are fully retracted anytime you fill a reservoir tank with hydraulic fluid.
We spent a restful night at the fairgrounds knowing that we had an extra travel day heading to Albuquerque. The rest of the journey was an uneventful scenic drive and we arrived at the International Balloon Fiesta on time—and, yes, we needed those levelers. Overall, we were proud of ourselves for not panicking and working through this RV mishap at minimal cost and time.
Every mishap is a learning opportunity. This particular incident underscored the following:
- Build extra time and flexible days into your travel plans for unexpected events.
- You don’t always need to be dependent on finding an RV dealer or service facility for the issue. Consider local mobile RV tech services if you don’t feel comfortable with attempting the repair yourself. Also, consider learning from instructional videos online or at your own RV-related membership organization.
- Have a basic tool kit aboard, and seek out local non-RV-related resources for parts if you’re in a pinch.
- Carry spare parts for your rig. We now carry two hydraulic line fittings for our rig. So, if this ever happens again we’ll only need a replacement hose. Also, carry extra ATF or hydraulic fluid.
- Check the underside of your rig thoroughly for any loose, dangling hydraulic or electrical lines. Zip-ties are handy for securing any loose wires, cable, or hoses. Also, check carefully for any lines or wires that contact the rig frame and are prone to wear. Either secure them away from the frame or protect them with an automotive plastic wire loom.