The RV Engineer Goes to RV Tech School! (Part 3)

If you’re reading this post before reading Part 1 and Part 2, don’t. That’s like reading the last chapter of a book first, and there’s a special circle of hell reserved for people like that.

To briefly recap: Almost a year ago, I left my position as an RV design engineer to become an RV repair technician. I attended the NRTVA in Texas to become a Certified RV Technician. While I was there, I patiently endured no end of ribbing about my previous position as an RV designer. Suffice it to say that most techs and RV owners are NOT impressed with the way RVs are put together! (nor am I).

As I look back on my first season as a mobile repair technician, I am struck by how little prepared I was for “the opposite side of the tracks.” You would think that as an RV engineer, I would enjoy an unfair advantage, that I could troubleshoot an air conditioner in my sleep.

The truth is, many of my prior skills didn’t really transfer over. My knowledge of the OEM supply chain hasn’t helped me much as an aftermarket dealer. My proficiency in Autodesk Inventor 3D modeling has yet to help me diagnose a wheezing furnace. Nobody has asked me to explain the difference between lumber-core and hardwood face frames. I don’t remember the last time I compiled a Pugh chart, wrote an FMEA, or released a CNC G-code program.

In fact, as an RV designer, I could often ignore the internals of the appliances: slide-out mechanisms, furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators – all the things that are the bread n’ butter of an RV technician. 

For example, consider the humble air conditioner. As a designer, I just needed to know the physical dimensions, roof location, matching thermostat, rooftop location, and power draw. There was hardly ever a need to peek beneath the shroud. That was enough information for the floor plan, wire harness, etc. Same story for furnaces, water heaters, etc. If an appliance didn’t work, we got an RMA. Other than that, you made it fit and you ran wires to it (I’m vastly oversimplifying, but you get the idea). 

As a technician, my responsibility is reversed. I have zero say in how and why the RV was designed the way it was. Instead, I spend all my time digging around the appliance internals! Compressors, evaporator coils, PCBs, reversing valves – these are components I never, ever thought twice about when simply installing the unit. But now, understanding the appliance internals is my full-time job.

Plus, all of my design experience was in towables, mostly travel trailers. You can imagine my initial confusion when troubleshooting my first Class A battery isolation manager (BIM)! I felt like I had discovered a new species. 

I’d be embarrassed to admit just how much technical information had leaked out of my head over the years. As a manufacturing engineer, I had sunk deeper into the business-y side of things (supply chain, production, etc.) rather than R&D. But I kept all my textbooks, so I stayed up many late nights reading about hydraulics, induction motors, KVL and KCL circuit laws, and other concepts that I had abandoned to grow moldy after my college years. Thankfully, the details returned as quickly as they departed. (And to be honest, I had to redo several articles on this website!)

I hate to steal an Eastern cliche, but I see the “RV Designer” and the “RV Technician” sides as yin and yang. If I had known more about appliance repair as a designer, I dare say I would have done a better job designing – and now, vice versa. Creative, generative thinking is a different but complementary skill than diagnostics and troubleshooting. Here’s hoping I can master both!

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