Size of RVs makes repairs more complex - and costly
Published: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 21, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
OCALA - The term “fender bender” is not in J.R. Challancin's workplace vocabulary.
That's because when your job is to repair luxury motor homes worth tens of thousands — or hundreds of thousands — of dollars, even a minor accident can carry a heavy price tag.
“When you have even minor damage to a large RV, fifth wheel or motor home, you can have tens of thousands of dollars of repairs because of the sheer size and design of these vehicles,” said Challancin, manager of Tradewinds RV Collision & Repair Center.
“Often, entire panels have to be replaced or made up from fiberglass in custom molds we construct because the parts are unique and obsolete.”
Retirees Joyce and Andrew Moniuk, natives of Connecticut who live in Oak Run, use their 2012 Itasca Meridian 43-foot motor home to tour Florida without having to worry about finding pet-friendly motels that will take their dog.
The couple was heartbroken when the motor home, with only 6,000 miles on the odometer, was sideswiped in a parking lot.
“We parked and went into a store, and when we returned someone had hit the side of our motor home. I was very upset,” Joyce said.
“We took our home to Tradewinds RV collision and repair center because we understood he had the equipment and people to do the repair. It's better than new now.”
Or, as Challancin would say, the Moniuk's motor home was restored to “pre-loss condition”
Challancin said in some cases, large panels must be replaced in one piece due to damage in one small area of the panel.
The exteriors panels are typically constructed of “filon” or a gel-coated fiberglass and wood composite.
“A single 40-foot motor home is like eight or more full-size cars put together as far as repairs and paint,” he said. “Where a car may take a gallon of clear coat at $350 a gallon and one gallon of paint at $200, the motor home may take eight gallons of each.”
The 12,000-square-foot repair facility is just west of I-75 off State Road 40 and is a sister business to Tradewinds RV Sales on U.S. 441 south of Ocala.
The repair shop is set up to handle exterior panel and roof repair and interior framing and finish work — even appliance replacement.
The shop also has a drive-in paint booth capable of easily digesting the massive vehicles.
“Our paint booth is 65 feet long, 20 feet wide and 16 feet tall, one of the few of its size I know of in Central Florida,” Challancin stated.
The technicians at Tradewinds are used to a wide array of repairs.
They put a new roof on a 40-foot Redwood Fifth Wheel, which was damaged when a tree fell on it, said technician Bobby Lewandowski.
The 2012 Redwood — which retails for about $100,000 — has push-button expandable, or slide out, living room and bedroom sections, making the width on those rooms about 14 feet.
The Redwood also features an island kitchen, satellite television, climate control, vacuum cleaning outlets and a complete bath and shower with skylight.
Exterior and interior repairs to the Redwood Fifth Wheel took about 320 hours.
Technician Jim Childers, 58, a 30-year veteran of the RV and motor home repair business, said knowledge of many trades is necessary to fix these homes on wheels.
“You've got to be a plumber, 110-volt and 12-volt electrician and both a rough-in and framing carpenter. I once had six toilets to repair in a row, and often the waste tanks, which hang below the frame, hit something and have to be repaired,” Childers said.
Accessories on the large vehicles include on-board gas and diesel generators to supply independent electrical power and LP gas systems for cooking and some refrigerators.
The repair facility is licensed for LP work, Challancin indicated.
Paint technician Michael Heeter, 36, has 17 years experience in meticulously taping up and painting the big vehicles.
The flamboyant swirls and decorations on the outsized vehicles often require applying up to four different colors in a small area.
The shop employs a special system with a camera tied to a computerized blending process to copy existing paint for repair jobs.
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