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Tools to Carry in Your RV
There's been a number of discussions regarding what kind of tools the average RVer should carry with them as they travel. The problem is, that there is no such thing as the average RVer. We're all different and so are the skill levels and desires to actually repair something. You'll find some RVers who carry only a cell phone and if something breaks they call for someone else to come and fix it. Then there's the MacGyvers among us who carry a rolling Snap-On Tools truckload with them and are capable of handling any repair. Most of us fall in between these two extremes however.
Tools can be handy because many times a simple fix can be made and you're on your way again. Calling road service is fine for the big stuff, but do you really want to wait for them to come and replace a fuse for you so you can continue driving? Downtime is aggravating and can be expensive if you are on a tight schedule. Being able to handle the problem quickly by yourself can be a real time saver. Therefore, we'll need to carry some tools along.
The big question is How many tools? The prime consideration when selecting which tools to carry along is Only carry those tools that you are capable of and willing to use. If you're the type that's somewhat "mechanically challenged" then it doesn't pay to carry a large assortment of tools. Still, anyone can handle a few of the basic tasks and having the right tool can make the difference between getting the job done or not. The vast majority of problems that occur in an RV are really related to some minor items that don't require an extensive selection of tools. Most of the time it's a light bulb, fuse, leaky hose, or something that came loose that needs to be corrected. You won't be needing the piston ring compressor on an RV trip so you can leave the heavy duty stuff at home. In addition to tools, consider some spare parts. Tools won't do you any good if you don't have a spare fuse, light bulb, or fastener to use.
Because RVers vary in what they can, or want to handle, let's look at some different levels of tool selections:
Stage I - Bare Minimum:
This setup is for the RVer who would rather go for the cell phone when something doesn't work. Still there are a few simple things, such as light bulbs, fuses, and loose fixtures that can be better served by doing it yourself. These are the basic bare minimum tools and supplies that I would recommend.
Tire pressure gauge - Proper tire pressures are critical to tire life and your safety. This is one area you don't scrimp on. Buy a good quality tire pressure gauge, one that's capable of handling pressures in excess of 100 PSI. Also be sure that it can get to your valve stems. A long handled dual-head (push-pull) tire gauge will allow you to get at both valve stems on a set of duals.
Screwdriver Set - There are lots of different style fasteners used in an RV. Rather than get a large set of screwdrivers, get a kit that uses a ratcheting screwdriver head that accepts interchangeable bit tips. These 1/4" hex bit tips are standard in the industry so you can add any missing tips later if you need to expand. Be sure to get Torx bit tips as well as the #2 square drive head styles as they are popular in the RV industry. These screwdrivers generally are magnetic, which will help hold the screw to the bit tip when installing the fastener. Pick a model with a nice hard case so you can store all the bit tips with it. There's always something that's loose in an RV and this set will take care of the majority of those tasks.
Hex Key Sets - Commonly called Allen wrenches, hex keys are used all over. Many of today's socket head fasteners are also metric so pick up a set of SAE as well as metric hex keys. You can get these in small compact sets or as folding sets. The individual hex keys are generally easier to use than the fold-up sets.
Electrical Repair Tools - Most of your repairs will fall into this area. There are a number of multi-purpose wire tools on the market that perform a wide variety of functions. If you buy a multi-purpose wire terminal tool check to see that it has the features you need. Many terminal tools are designed for crimping spark plug wires, threading machine screws, etc. Ideally your terminal tool should have serrated gripping tips so you can use it to turn things loose, a wire cutter section, various wire stripping dies, and a section to crimp #18 thru #10 wire connectors (red, blue, and yellow connectors). In addition you'll need a utility knife and a needle nose pliers.
You'll also need to test if you have power at any given point. There are two ways to do this. One is with a 12 volt test light. You just clip the alligator clamp on the ground wire to a good ground then stick the needle point into a wire or on a fuse to see if there's power there. The advantage to this is that it's quick and simple, doesn't require batteries, and it's easier to see than a dial or LED readout. However, it is limited in that it can't tell you how much voltage is there, it can't tell you resistance, and it doesn't work on 120 volt systems. For that you'll need a voltmeter.
Voltage readings are best handled by a multimeter. These meters are available just about anywhere and vary in price and quality. They will have a selection of ranges and scales that can be used to measure either AC or DC voltage. They also have an "ohms" section that can be used to check resistance or continuity, which is great for testing fuses. In an RV, a multimeter can be a handy item to have, especially if that's the only means you have to check AC voltage at the campground pedestal.
Wrenches - An adjustable wrench can be used in a variety of situations. Ideally, you'd have two wrenches because most leaky fittings require one to hold the adaptor and one to tighten the fitting. It would be nice if you'd also have a few open end wrenches in the common sizes, 3/8x7/16, 1/2x9/16, 5/8x3/4 to help out also. A vise grips pliers can also help you out of many jams.
Accessories - You'll definitely need a small 12 volt fuse kit but also pick up a few light bulbs that are common to your RV, such as tail light, turn signal light, and clearance light bulbs. Don't forget tape. A roll of electrical tape for the small jobs and a roll of duct tape for the big stuff. A few jugs of motor oil, engine coolant, and windshield washer fluid should be packed as well. A few common screws and nuts and bolts can also be lifesavers.
Don't forget the everyday items, such as water filter wrenches, blowout adaptors for the water system, awning rods, WD-40, slicone spray, glass cleaner, hand soap and a pair of good quality work gloves to protect your hands.
Tire Changing Tools - We're assuming that you will be using road service to handle this. Many of the larger RVs don't even carry a spare tire. However, some do and you may not necessarily want to change it yourself but a passerby may be willing to lend a hand. After all, they're faster than road service and they'll probably charge less. In that case you'd better have a lug wrench. A standard wrench won't do though. These lugs get torqued to some pretty high specs, generally 475 ft-lbs. You'll need a cheater pipe to give you enough leverage to break them free. A heavy (4 lb) hammer is useful for a number of things, even pounding in awning stakes or thumping tires. Check to see if you can get the tires off easily. You'll probably have to remove some trim rings. On my rear duals there is a large hex nut that holds the hub cover trim cap on so I need a large channel lock pliers to remove it. The same holds true for those little chrome nut covers that slip over the wheel studs. Next, a crowbar to wiggle it off the axle works wonders. If you don't have spare and wish to rely on road service, then you won't need this stuff. Don't forget about the toad. Can you change a tire on it if needed?
Do you have on-board air? You may not need to change a tire but what if one's low on air? Do you have a portable compressor or on-board air (most diesels do)? If so, you'll need a hose long enough to reach all of the tire locations. Make sure to use standard quick disconnect fittings and buy a tire chuck to fit that hose. It's also a good idea to buy a blow gun to blow out any dirty radiators or air conditioners.
Stage II - The Handyman:
Assuming you want to do more than the above, we'll add some tools to help us perform more tasks. In addition to the above tools we'll add the following:
Screwdrivers - We already have the interchangeable bit tip screwdriver set but there's times when just a plain old screwdriver works best. I'd get a #2 Phillips as well as a few of the basic sizes. Besides, it/s easier to use a standard screwdriver as a pry bar than the interchangeable bit tip style. Of course you should never (although everyone does) use a screwdriver as a pry bar.
Electrical Repair Tools - I'd prefer a dedicated wire cutters rather than the multi-tool. A good diagonal cutting pliers does a better job at cutting wire. I'd also pack a soldering gun and some solder. I pack a spare plug end for the trailer light umbilical cord so that I can replace it when on the road should I need to. A handful of nylon cable ties is also handy. The volt-ohms multimeter is a must in this level.
Wrenches - Now it's time to expand a bit. A 3/8" drive socket set is a must. Get one of those combination metric-SAE kits that has two sets of sockets and 1 set of extensions/ratchet, etc so that you can handle either fastener. A small 1/4" drive set is also handy for those small jobs, such as behind the instrument panel. A basic set of combination wrenches eliminates having to use those bulky adjustable wrenches for everything. Keep the adjustables though for those times when you need two of the same size.
Accessories - A caulking gun and some self-leveling caulking will help seal up any sudden leaks. Add more screws, bolts, and other fasteners to your hardware selection. Don't forget about worm drive hose clamps to fix a leaky hose and a spare belt for the engine.
Tire Changing Tools - You may want to eschew the OEM tire iron and invest in a good 3/4" drive T bar handle and socket for your lug nuts. Be sure to get the hardened impact sockets to keep from splitting the standard 12 point chrome sockets. If you have a pneumatic impact wrench, this can make the job go even faster but be sure it's powerful enough to break the lug nuts free.
Stage III - NASCAR Pit Crew:
OK, assuming you want to really be self-contained add the following:
The above information will give you some idea as to what may work for you. Every coach is different as is every RVer so your needs will undoubtedly be different. Hopefully this will give you some ideas to base your tool selection on.
Submitted by Mark Quasius - 4/05/06
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