Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Even The Simple Repairs - Replacing TPMS Sensor Batteries

The Dash
    Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) are really important. So important  that they are now mandated on all new cars in the United States. A blow out or flat in a car is bad enough, but one on a heavy vehicle like an RV can be catastrophic! My RV only has 4 wheels, so I like to continually monitor their pressures and temperatures while traveling. A while back, I found a great deal on a TPMS system that was inexpensive, monitored and displayed all four wheels (and the spare tire) at the same time and was incredibly easy to install. Well, now that I've had it for a couple of years, I noticed some of the sensors didn't always report to the display properly. This is quite common, and usually signals the need for new batteries. Not that hard to do. No, really, it isn't.

The Battery Cage
First, you have to figure out what kind of batteries your sensors take. If they are INSIDE your tires, this is NOT a DIY job! But if they are the screw on to your valve stem versions, it's easy. Simply unscrew one of your sensors that needs a battery and then unscrew the plastic cap on the battery/sensor housing. There will be an o-ring or two there to keep out water. On all my sensors, they were broken and dry rotted. I did not see any evidence of water getting into the sensors, but I am going to replace the o-rings every year now. Under the cap, you will see a small "watch" style battery in a metal cage. It simply presses out of one side. I used a small piece of wood (not metal!) to lightly press on the battery side and slide it out of the cage. Once out, I could read the battery number. CR-1632.

Bulk Packaging
CR-1632 are 3V Lithium batteries. If you buy them from a big box store or a pharmacy they can be $5 EACH! No way was I spending that kind of money on a tiny battery. Looking online, I found on an auction site MANY MANY companies with 100% feedback in the tens of thousands, selling name brand CR-1632 batteries bulk packed with free shipping for A LOT less. I got 30 of them for only $3.99. At that price, I will be replacing all 5 of my sensors' batteries (and o-rings) each year when I de-winterize. As for o-rings -- They are VERY small and easy to lose (don't ask.) They are also very thin, so if they are not situated correctly in place, simply screwing the caps down will destroy them easily (again, don't ask.) I will be ordering about 50 of them to keep "in stock."

Once replaced, I set the tire pressures with a digital gauge and fired up the base unit which houses the display. All the tire sensors came up MUCH faster with fresh batteries and are working properly now. The whole job took about 45 minutes (the spare is underneath my rig so is tough to get to easily). Something this inexpensive and this easy that could save you from disaster is always worth doing!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Even The Simple Things - Tiny Folding Plastic Step Stool

Taken While Standing On The Stool.
    Let's face it, unless you are a vampire or some other form of immortal ( ;) ) you will get older. I know I am. Nowadays, when I want to check the battery water levels or find something in my storage bay I like to have something to sit on that's low enough to give me easy access and strong enough to hold my weight easily. Not to mention high enough to get up from! To be honest, I'd seen those small folding plastic step stools often at RV shows and at large RV and camping retailers but thought only of how short they were. Since I am "vertically challenged" I am always on the lookout for a compact device that let's me get close to my roof. This really wasn't going to work for that. Turns out I was looking in the wrong direction. I should have been looking down this stool is perfect for sitting on and working on something you would otherwise have to bend down to see or touch.

In addition to using it as a seat, I've found that it does work as a step of sorts. Great for cleaning the RV windshield when there isn't a long-pole version of the squeegee available at a fuel stop. It's also great for replacing clearance light bulbs. (Or just smacking them a bit so they turn on!) It's very sturdy even though it is made from molded plastic. I've jumped up and down on it without any issues. I don't RECOMMEND doing that as a matter of course, but it held up fine. Both open and folded it has a convenient carry handle built into the seat so it's easy to grab and go.

It folds down essentially flat, and fits nicely behind my barrel chair up against the wall near my fire extinguisher. I've never secured it, it just sits there comfortably and hasn't moved or fallen out...ever. Pretty remarkable, really. I would recommend securing it in a compartment or using a strap or bungie to hold it down. At the the princely sum of $9.95 retail, it's a bargain. Something functional and useful is often hard to come by. If you want some beauty added in, it comes in a variety of colors. Of course, I liked the plain black version. I've been using this quite a bit, and it still looks new.

You may not need this little beauty....yet. You may never need it. More power to you! But I find it makes many tasks much easier on my back and knees. Try it, you'll like it.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Editor: Here's the link for the folding step stool at Amazon

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Scotty, We Need More Power...Solar Power That Is! [Part 3]

    I'm Back! After a 5 day trip with no hookups of any kind, I was able to give the new solar charging system a good workout. I am happy to say it outperforms the last one hands down. The new panels still cannot be seen from the ground, require no holes in your roof and are much smaller than the last set. Add to that my design for wiring, a well-programmed charge controller and an inverter (with all the associate switches, fuses etc.) and you have a system that will allow you to do anything you'd like. Well, except run your air conditioner for any real, useful length of time.

Remember, I only have space for TWO batteries and haven't made the switch (and LARGE investment) to Lithium Phosphate batteries. With this current system, sized for two group 31 batteries with 130ah each) and using around 80 ah each night I was at 80% charged before 11AM each day! Because of the design of the charger and the nature of flooded lead acid batteries the last 20% takes much longer. Mine is set to about 3 hours (absorb) before it goes to "float." That's how the charger is programmed and it protects the batteries and extends their life. Well, that is if you care for them properly!

A Solar Charging System Monitor Is A MUST!
The big discovery all of this was regardless of the level of sun, it charged the batteries quickly Yes, it was completely overcast for 2 of those 4 days and even rained  on one of them. Even if you begin using power before they are fully charged, I found that I could keep up with my demand AND charge the batteries with a meaningful amount of amps. That just means that you could make a cup of coffee (electrically!) take a shower using the pump, run fans, use lights, charge the phone, etc...without really affecting the rate the batteries were charging. With everything I could plug in running I saw a max of 284 Watts, with no change in charging, so it will likely cover anything I can throw at it for now.

I firmly believe using the correct gauge wires and properly soldered/crimped/protected ends, choosing the correct equipment that allows for custom programming (so it can be sized/set for YOUR needs!) and having an  informative monitoring system really make all the difference here. The high efficiency solar panels help a great deal. I couldn't have dreamed of harvesting so much power from my first set several years ago! I went from around 16% to around 22% efficiency. Technology marches on. If you do not wish to install it yourself, at least figure out what your power needs are and make sure you find a reputable installer that you can ask questions of AND stands behind their work. Being able to find them after it's done is important too!) Problems may not surface for months (or more) just because most of us cannot full-time. Even though many of us wish we could!

I am a firm believer in solar power. You could use it RIGHT NOW!  Without really sacrificing anything at all. If it gets too hot, you could still start your generator (I'm not quite ready to give that up yet!) The costs have dropped significantly and a usable system including all parts can be had for about $2500,  if you install everything yourself and then set it up properly. Once all that's done, it really is self working. You still have to maintain your batteries with distilled water....but maybe when Lithium gets a bit cheaper....that will become a thing of the past as well.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Solar Power -- Part 1
Solar Power -- Part 2

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Aggravating Mice Munching - How to Stop Rodents from Destroying Your RV!

    While prepping for a trip recently, I found lots of evidence that mice (or some other small critters) were munching on my Vellux blanket. Now, I love that blanket! These annoying creatures had had their evil way with this blanket when I first bought it. I had a 4-inch sort of round threadbare piece in the middle. Looked awful! But then they left it alone. Until now, that is.. Now I have multiple missing bits. Some in the middle, some on the edges. This had to stop! Time to do a bit of research and figure out what was causing the damage and how to stop it! This wasn't the first invasion I had to fend off!

This is STILL My Favorite Blanket!
After looking closely at the damage, it appeared to be rodent based. Could have been Chipmunks or Field Mice. OK, so they are small critters. We should be able to stop them. Likely, there was some access point they found to get inside. I began a thorough search. They can get in through gaps that look ridiculously tiny. Get a good flashlight and look in every cabinet and every drawer. Remove them if you cannot see well behind. I checked under my couch and everywhere I have wiring going in and out through the side, roof and floors of the RV. Looked at the air conditioner vent, fan vent(s) and fridge vent. I made sure all my windows were sealing properly. Then I got to the doors.

My RV has two entry doors. One is on the driver's side (for the Driver!) -- which is great when you want to quickly refuel yourself and the RV -- and the main mid-side door on the passenger side. The driver's door sealed nice and tight against its weather-stripping but the main door had a 1/2" gap at the very bottom. It looks like the weather-stripping finally wore out. This looks like where they got in. I checked the hinges first to see if the gap was because they were out of alignment. Nope. The door was sitting properly in the frame.

The Main Door
Of course, I can't find the original rubber seal that goes all the way around the door. For now, I just found some regular weather-stripping that will fit over the old seal and fill the gap. I couldn't find any other ingress points. Even so, there are some things you can do to make your RV a less hospitable place for rodents and other small mammals. I have read about so many remedies for keeping vermin out of your RV that I am thoroughly baffled. Peppermint Oil, Mothballs, D-con Bait...traps... you name it, I've read about it. Obviously, traps will likely work, but if you store over the winter and don't check on may come inside when Spring is sprung and find a nasty surprise or two!

The so-called "humane" traps work well, but if you don't empty them it's cruel and unusual punishment! So far, I have sealed all the gaps, even REALLY tiny ones. I used the rapid-expanding foam that comes in a spray can, painted peppermint oil on all the spots that have wires or hatches that come through the body and roof (even if I cannot see a hole) and put some mothballs in little cheesecloth "sachets" I made by cutting squares and rubber-banding the ends together with the mothballs inside. Let's hope this actually works! I'll let you know in the next few months and over the next winter. I hope I've managed to locate all the holes, gaps and places where critters can get inside. They really can do a lot of damage to your RV. I've been VERY lucky as far as damage goes. But I won't forgive them messing up my favorite blanket.

Oddly enough, there was plenty of packaged food in the pantry, but NO evidence that any of it was munched on! Maybe I should get a better quality level of snacks?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"