Thursday, September 27, 2012

Give Me Your Tired, Your Broken, Your Floppy Door Handles

    Coming home from my last trip (Hershey RV Show) I needed to stop for fuel. Seemed like a no-brainer, right? Yeah, I thought so too. After unlocking my Driver's side door as usual and pulling on the "paddle" instead of opening, the paddle snapped off in my hand! Before you ask, I am NOT some kind of mega strong gorilla, just a regular guy. It was incredibly frustrating! Now I couldn't open the door at all, making backing up in a tight space, in the dark, a much more daunting task. Obviously, I made it back, or I wouldn't be in a position to fix anything.....

Just to Be "Extra Weird" The Door Handle Is Upside Down!
After doing a bit of investigative work, the manufacturer of my door mechanisms was Tri-Mark. They make an awful lot of these (other things too) and I figured I'd just replace the inside paddle and be done with it. Nope. That would be far too easy. It seems that the paddle lever is not sold as a separate piece at all. Instead, you have to buy the entire inside plate with the red plastic levers and all. Seemed like a waste to me, but who am I to argue with the manufacturer. They just needed the model number of my latch assembly. problem...except it isn't listed ANYPLACE on the thing at all! I went to the Aero Cruiser forum and asked what the stock handles were. I was pointed to an article (very informative) that told me what to replace the originals with, but not what they were to begin with!

Why is everything so ridiculously difficult to get done. The simplest things are the most time consuming and frustrating!

Brand New Assembly, All Inclusive
OK, so now I knew what the replacement was. If I wanted to replace the entire lock assembly, inside and out. I really didn't want to do that if I could help it. New keys (or special ordered lock cylinders.) Bleh. Then a random thought struck me! Of all the photos I had seen, the inside plate (the one with the paddle) all looked the same. Yes, I know looks can be deceiving...but worth a shot. I looked up all the part numbers for the "deadbolt" style mechanisms and called Tri-Mark to confirm what I had found. All of them use the same inside plate!!! two plastic levers and a big paddle to open the door. All the screw holes and lever inserts were the same. That's a REALLY useful piece of information. I asked how much the piece was and was quoted a price. Ouch! On to ebay, where I found the part WITH the striker plate AND the outside plate AND the lock itself for $11 dollars LESS than what I had been quoted. All for a NEW unit! Score! Before it vanished I bought it now.

New Assembly Installed
I opened the driver's side door from the outside, unscrewed the 3 TORX style fasteners and removed the broken plate. After a bit of fiddling with the alignment of the "D" shape holes in the floppy red levers (and extra pair of hands would have been really nice!) I managed to get it to slide on. Tightened up the 3 fasteners and crossed my fingers. Closed the door and locked it. Unlocked it from the outside and made sure I could still open it from there. Then repeated that on the inside. MUCH easier to open and the paddle stayed in one piece! Wow, that was too easy!

New Outside Assembly Installed In Main Door
Not one to ever leave well enough alone, I decided I would finally tackle the "floppy" outside handle on the main door. I repeated the dis-assembly procedure on this one (since it uses the same lock assembly and took a look inside. I couldn't see ANY reason why the outside lever would stay tight up against the mechanism. Just flopped about listlessly. A bit lazy if you ask me. Then another random thought! (Wow, two in one day!) I had a spare outside latch assembly including all new keys and the internal mechanism. Maybe it would fit. To be honest, the club's website did say that fiberglass modifications would be needed to getthe new style lock assembly to fit in the old space. Undeterred I slid the old one out. Quite easily...what a nice surprise. I compared the two of them, old and new. I couldn't find any differences at all, except for normal wear and tear. I cautiously slid the new assembly in the FIT! Someone MUST have already done the fiberglass work.

Usually I am not at all happy about previous owner's "modifications....but this one was great! I took the old interior handle and red lever plate and slid it on the new outside assembly. Fit like a glove. Tightened the screws and help my breath. Closed the door. Not only did the handle stay tight, it opened INCREDIBLY easily compared to the old one.I may need to file the end of the deadbolt down a little to make it easier to turn the key all the way (still works, I'm just a perfectionist!) But I am one happy camper, literally!
Total cost for the whole job? $67 including shipping. Fixed both doors and locks. I shudder to think what it would have cost to have someone else do it. Especially since it was so easy.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Down The Hershey Highway - 2012 PRVCA RV Show

Settled In
Last Friday I packed up and drove down to the yearly PRVCA (Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association) East Coast RV Show. This is billed as the largest event of its kind in America and is really a great place to see many, if not most of the new crop of RV's coming off the lines for the following year.

After an uneventful trip...well mostly. Don't you hate major detours from a secondary road that take you through winding, hilly terrain on skinny local roads? Thankfully, my RV is small....I'd hate to have to wrestle a 40 Foot Diesel Pusher through those twists and turns!

The "Not-So-Photogenic" Side Of The Aero Cruiser
Upon arriving, I went around the Hershey Park perimeter road three times until I realized the signage for Overnight parking was on one of those big LED roadsigns that change every few seconds. Murphy being who he is and me being who I am, I went by the sign exactly when it said, "Handicap Parking" of course a second later it indicated "Overnight Parking," but hey random chance being what it is...I missed it. Twice! After finally getting in to the lot I was lead to my overnight dry camping spot in the Giant Center's massive parking lot. They rope off around 100 spots for over-nighters and charge $25 a night. Not really bad considering you can easily walk to the entrance and back during the day for lunch or a break.

Packed Lot Adjacent to Overnight Parking
The only issue? People that ignore the spots and park haphazardly in every crazy direction. Since my friend Brian was joining me in his 30 Foot Toy Hauler Trailer and Van combo (a REALLY good combination!) I tried to situate my rig so he could park next to me "door to door." We often eat together or cook in one RV and eat in the other, depending on how many people are joining us. The first night it was just Brian and myself so we cooked and ate in my RV. His lovely wife, daughter and a friend would be joining us (in their own car) later in the evening. Hershey is great for Non-RV'ers who'd like to go shopping as there is a giant outlet mall VERY close. In fact it's on Hershey Park Drive!

The Arena Floor
Once inside the show there are hundreds of RV's you can look at, go inside and "play" with. I always start with the indoor Arena section. Its on the floor of the Arena and where most of the "stuff" vendors set up. I like to see what's new and pick up a few miscellaneous items I've run out of. Bought a new sewer elbow and adapter, a very cool collapsible salad spinner that doubles as a large serving bowl and a colander and a new fridge fresh hanging smell reducer. I like its cool shape and it's purple.

Sometimes you even get a glimpse of new technology that is looming on the horizon. This time I got a good close look at a Fuel Cell for RV use. It uses Methanol (a form of Alcohol) to silently and without combustion generate electricity. Pretty cool. A unit the size of a large toaster will generate 7.5 Amp/Hrs. of power. Not quite enough to run your RV, but as a battery charger it's OK. Especially at night when Solar Power isn't available. Eventually the German company will bring larger units into the U.S. and I'll take a good look at the specifications. Stay Tuned.

Looks So Small Next To Other RVs

One of the best things about this trip? I got to spend some time with the Grand Poobah of the RV Newsletter, Chuck Woodbury. Chuck is a highly experienced and knowledgeable RV'er that enjoys sharing his thoughts with the rest of us. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't likely be writing these articles! We chatted about all sorts of things and he finally got to see my "Orphan" Aero Cruiser RV. There is a very good chance I'll be working with Chuck on an RV-Centric News Magazine TV Show. LITERALLY, Stay Tuned!

When my friend Brian and I walked the outside sections of the show, we noticed a few "themes" this years' crop[ of new RVs. Lots of exterior cook stations, large LCD TV/Stereo installations and side opening basement doors. I noticed that almost none of the interiors were cloth (or those riotous crazy color schemes) Microfiber suede and Pleather were the rule rather than the exception. Mostly in solid colors. I believe they make the interiors more modern and up to date, Brian likes the cloth versions better. To each his own.

All in all, the show was a great resource for ideas. You can really get a feel for the direction the RV Industry is headed from a show of this size. I go every year. Maybe I'll see you there next time?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wow, Cool Radios Are So Much Less Expensive Nowadays

First Replacement Stereo
When I bought my RV, it had a "bargain basement" brand no-name car radio in the dash. It played, but really not all that well and all four speakers were dry rotted and dropping little bits of black speaker cone material on the carpet dash cover. Not pretty.... Fast forward a few months and you'd find me installing a new in-dash stereo and 4 new speakers, sized to match the old ones, but with a bit higher quality. This all worked well and i was happy. For a while. Not wanting to leave good enough alone, I started looking at the newer in-dash models. So many new features! So inexpensive (comparatively speaking.)

Note The "Goofy" Wire On The Left
While my first replacement gave me better sound, a bit more power and a front mounted AUX input (3.5mm headphone jack style) I had always wanted to have a input on the BACK so i could route my TV/Entertainment system's audio permanently without a goofy wire hanging down from the cabinet, plugging into the front of the stereo. It  worked, but not so great to look at. AND every time I opened the cabinet after a drive, the cable fell out. Not to mention the "Hum" from the speakers. Arrrgghh.. It was time for a fix. I figured if I could find one from the same manufacturer it should be a "plug and play" (vs. "plug and pray") replacement. Yeah...sure it would.

Pioneer Inno Portable XM Radio
After researching a while and knowing I wanted a rear panel input I found a later model from the same manufacturer. It needed an inexpensive ($3 + shipping) adapter to use the AUX input on the back. Not only would it let me permanently connect the TV/Entertainment components, it had a myriad of cool extra features! Which ones.....? Well, it had a built in HD Radio tuner. for those that don't know what that is, or have heard about it, but not tried it.....UPGRADE! When I am home, in the driveway, I could only get 2 radio stations. They were both on the edge of reception range and sounded pretty awful. Analog radio (AM/FM) isn't that great in fringe areas. With the HD Radio, which is digital, you either get perfect sound or none at all! I now have well over 25 stations in my driveway! Wow...I'd say that's an improvement!  In addition, the new radio gave me a Bluetooth connection for the GPS and my phone. Pretty neat that it will display the caller's name/number on the display! It was also, XM/Sirius compatible, but that requires another box under the dash and a subscription. I have XM, but use it with a portable device that has an FM transmitter built-in, so I can send the XM audio through the in-dash stereo's FM tuner. Since it's about 2 feet away from the works really well!

Gaping Hole In Dash
On to the install. After the dash was lifted, I unplugged all the wires from the back of the stereo. Then loosened the bolt on the back of the bracket holding the unit in. Using the two metal "keys" inserted on the front left and right of the radio until they clicked (these come with the radio), I released the radio from it's frame in the dash and slid it out. I had already unpacked the other radio so I packed the old radio into that box for storage. I slid the new radio into the space vacated by the old one, it clicked in place and locked.

The Connectors
Now back on my back under the dash I tried to reconnect all the wiring. Antenna problem. Main wiring harness connector...problem. I compared the two and they really LOOKED identical. I tried to press it in, all different ways, multiple times. It wouldn't fit. They say that repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of "crazy." You folks make that call here!

I had to cut the old connectors wires and replace it with the new one. Thankfully, the color of the wires from the old harness matches the new one so it was simple to swap. Extra work...but still simple.
Scotchlocks Installed
I used "Scotch-lock" style wire connectors. Many people love these for this kind of install, including me. Have never had a problem with them. Your mileage may vary! Once it was all wired up, I used zip ties to secure it from flopping around under the dash or getting pulled out when the dash is lifted.

Now for the big test. After turning it on and listening to the sound I moved the fader and balance from front to back and left to right to confirm the sound was coming out of the speaker it was supposed to. It worked!

Bad Photo Of Back-lighting

You all know how hard it is to read stereo instructions, especially if they were originally in another language, right? These were no different. I spent a while "translating" and managed to setup the features. Even the clock was set! You can even set the colors of the display and key back-lighting to match your dash illumination.

I tested each one of the input sources...all good. Ran a wire from the upper compartment TV/Entertainment cabinet all the way down to the back of the dash. That sentence contains about 2 hours worth of aggravating work! But it got done.

After putting in a DVD and selecting "AUX 2" as the source...I was stunned. The hum was still there! All that work and NO relief. I DID finally figure out where the hum was coming from and it was a simple problem. We'll talk about THAT next week....stay tuned.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Keeping Your Engine Battery Juiced - Without The Engine!

My Main Electrical Panel
    My electrical system is convoluted. There, I've said it. I have some VERY weird issues between my start battery and my house batteries. They don't always get along. That's an ongoing project. The real question here is, "What do you do to keep your start battery charged when you AREN'T going to run the engine?" If you have shore power or a decent solar charging system than you can "steal" some amps from the house charging system when the batteries are charged or charging and route them to your start battery.


A Common "Charge Thief"
Easy. Some enterprising folks have designed an manufactured devices that do just that. They range in price from under $100 to well over $500. The expensive ones have some bells and whistles, but the simple one works for my application. It comes with all the hardware to set it up either hardwired or with alligator clips. I would be hard-wiring mine to the engine start battery.

The Knife switch Disconnect
In my setup I have a "knife" switch that disconnects the start battery from everything. That is, until I figure out why it won't get along with the house batteries under certain conditions.

So, on to connecting the "Amp Thief."

You will be connecting 3 wires.Yes, you read that right ONLY three wires! One is the ground. This connects to the chassis or any ground point you can find (even a battery negative post.) The next 2 are for power. The first one connects to the engine start battery positive and the second one connects to the house battery positive. These wires can also be connected to any convenient place you can access positive wires from both batteries. Your battery isolator or perhaps the solenoid disconnect switches. If you are unsure have someone install it, or run the wires to the batteries directly to avoid any issues. Make sure you use heavy enough gauge wire if you need more than what is supplied by the manufacturer of the charger.

Engine Battery with Blue Wire Attached
Locate your engine start battery, or a convenient place to connect to both the engine start battery and the house battery systems. This could be under the "hood," in the rear engine bay, in a compartment or even inside your RV. Once located, you will connect one of the positive leads from the charger (the BLUE one!) to the positive post of the battery.

Make sure you clean any corrosion from the terminals to make a good electrical contact. Yes, I should have cleaned mine MUCH better. I'm replacing the batteries this year, at the end of the season so....

Next, locate your house battery(ies.) these could be almost anyplace. I've seen them in separate compartments, under the hood, inside the RV on a vented box, hanging name it, I've seen it. Anyway...find yours! Once there, connect the other positive wire (the YELLOW one!) to the positive post. If you have MANY batteries, it's a good idea to connect this to the same battery that feeds your RV's electrical needs. It's always better to deplete the power evenly across all the batteries than to favor one.
Charger Mounted and Wired

Green LED Means Maintaining
The way my RV is wired, all house Negative loads feed through the Battery Monitor's Shunt. This allows me to tally all the power used and put back into the batteries so I have an idea of where they stand, power-wise, at any given time. At the moment, my batteries are tied together, so negative is negative and everything feeds through the shunt. When I finally work out my battery oddities, I will move the charge thief's negative ground to the shunt itself to let the battery monitor keep track of it's draw as well. But that's a winter project.....stay tuned!

Mount the charger anywhere that is convenient. It's basically waterproof and shocks don't bother it either. I mounted mine to a convenient vertical support in the engine bay with plastic "zip" ties. You can mount it with the included self tapping screws as well. I made sure to mount it in such a way so that I could see the three LEDs that indicate what it's doing at any given time.

Green is Maintaining, Yellow means charging and Red is a Reverse Polarity problem. Likely, you've got a positive to a negative or vice versa. Check the wiring!

So far, it is working very well. The Solar Charging System charges the batteries, the charge thief charges the engine start battery and everyone's happy. No dead batteries, no "Battery Boost Switch" needed. Also great for long term storage, if you have a source of power! A very elegant solution to a general problem.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"