Wednesday, December 30, 2015

When Is A Hitch Not A Hitch...But Still A Hitch?

Ready To Tow
    Most RV's have Hitches. I've been using mine for various things lately. Carrying my electric motorcycle, towing a friend's trailer to flea markets to make some extra money for travelling and towing my small hovercraft, It's really nice to have one. Typically RVs are outfitted with a 2" receiver. This is the elongated box shaped section that your hitch goes into. Most of the hitches are ball shaped. Sometimes in various sizes, but similar. But not always. It figures that I would buy a trailer that didn't have a ball hitch at all.Now I had to figure out what I had and what was needed to setup my RV to tow it safely. Simpler said, than done!

Lunette Eye
The military doesn't use ball style hitches for much of anything heavy duty. They use something called a Pintle Hook. This goes together with the trailer mounted Lunette Eye. It's a's very strong, can perform some nifty tricks, but sure isn't all that common in the RV world. Of course, I had to have one to pick up something I bought as military surplus. A trailer is a trailer, right? Wrong. As I would discover, you need some very specialized towing gear to pull one of these military trailers. Not to mention some interesting trailer wiring adapters! It's definitely a do-able thing, but I am sure glad I did all the research and ordered all the correct parts before I tried it! Saved me a LOT of grief.

Way Higher Than A Ball Hitch!
The Military, on the HMMWV (Hummer), mounts the hitch to the bumper with 5 bolts. It's much higher than a traditional ball hitch. In fact those usually hang lower than the 2" receiver itself. Thankfully, it wasn't all that difficult to find a 2" receiver hitch adapter. The one I located and bought sticks straight out from the receiver. It's OK for many applications and it's rating is an incredible 2000 lbs on the tongue and 10,000 lb tow load! Wow!! The trailer I am picking up only weighs 4235 lbs and has a 290 lb tongue weight. No sweat! Well, maybe. Seems that the height may become an issue. If the nose of the trailer is attached too low or too high it could cause some major handling problems. Now what?

Well, after some research online it seems that you can buy a 2" hitch extension that will also raise or drop the 2" receiver hole by up to 10". I did notice that the higher (or lower) you go, the lower the towing weight capacity. At 10" it was down to 3500 lbs from 10,000 lbs! Obviously, that wasn't a good thing. I went back and measured the actual rise I needed to get the trailer mostly level and it turned out to be around 6" of rise. At that height I was still well over 5000 lbs tow rating so it would work! Looking around I managed to find one for about 50 dollars with free shipping. Keep in mind these things are heavy! Shipping could cost a sizable chunk of $$$. Thankfully there are lots of free shipping deals to be had!

I'm not sure how many of you will ever need a Pintle style hitch, but they are out there along with 5th wheel, goose-neck and ball hitches. I now have the ability to buy military surplus (mounted on trailers) and pick them up during my travels. Who knows, maybe that's a new business model. Or maybe just a good excuse to travel! And Happy New Year!!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Air & Water - Leaky Window Tightening For Better Insulation.

    We've had a short reprieve from winter here in the North East. Though now it's getting very cold at night. I got to thinking about the insulation factor (R-Factor) of RV's. We all know they really aren't designed for all year use. But does that mean you shouldn't try and insulate them a bit better? Better insulated RV's will keep cooler  when it's Hot and warmer when it's Cool. The same advice you would get in a traditional home applies to RVs. Find the places that leak and fix them. While in the RV yesterday, I noticed a draft coming in from around a window frame. That' shouldn't be. However, it's an easy fix....usually.

Depending on your RV's design and what kind of windows it uses, you may have framed or frameless versions. I have framed windows. All around the perimeter of each window is a frame on the inside and the outside. These two pieces overlap the RV's body and are screwed together to make a tightly sealing "sandwich." There is typically a gasket or sealant in there as well. The action of driving your RV down the road will eventually loosen ALL the fasteners, but the window ones are particularly susceptible. If they are just loose, simply tightening them (not too much!) will close the tiny gap and the leak will vanish. Thankfully, that's all I had to do. What if that doesn't work?

Well, the correct way is to remove all the screws around the window and then carefully push the window out. It's best to have someone help! Maybe two people if the window is large. Depending on how the window was sealed at the factory, (or repaired by a previous owner) it may come out easily or require the sealant to be carefully removed with tools. In any case, clean as much of the residue as possible from both sides. If your window used a gasket, get a replacement. The old one is just that...old. There are many different types of liquid window sealant. Make sure the one you buy is all season and designed for RV's. That is, it will withstand a lot of vibration and repeated hot/cold temperature cycles. Most RV superstores will have what you need. One Large tube goes a LONG way. Find a good spot to place your window down carefully. I usually use an old blanket or large towel. Don't dent or bend it!! If you do, it may not seal properly when re-installed. I only remove one window at a time, just in case of bad weather. If you are lucky enough to have indoor storage, this isn't really a problem!

Once the window is out and both it and the body cleaned and prepped, you can reinstall. Make sure the gasket isn't pinched or torn or out of place. If using sealant...use as little as possible. It will squeeze out to fill gaps and too much will make a mess. Put the screws back in and tighten them like you would lug-nuts on a wheel. What I mean is start one screw, tighten a bit, then go crosswise to another screw, then crosswise, etc, etc. Until you get all the way around. Then keep doing that until they are all equally snug all the way around. If you used a liquid sealant, wipe away the excess and make sure you give it enough time (a the proper temperature!) to cure. Take a good look all the way around and make sure things are reasonably even. The gasket may or may not go all the way around, mine doesn't! It's designed to keep water flowing down from above and alongside from getting behind the window from the top. While you are here, make sure all your drainage channels are clean. Some low pressure compressed air works nicely.

If you track down all the little (and not so little) air leaks, you'll make you heating and cooling much more efficient. Why waste?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tire Killer! - Check & Cover Your Tires From Harmful UV

    Tires. How long do they last? That question goes around and around when it comes to RVs. Typically they run out of time before you rack up enough mileage to wear them down enough for replacement. Well, unless you are one of the lucky folks that can stay on the road all year long! Different tire manufacturers suggest various times for replacement. Going past that amount of time could have a catastrophic effect. Or....nothing could happen. Is there any way to extend the life of your tires and keep them in better shape during their lifetime? The answer is YES! Several in fact.

Don't Forget To Convert WEEKS To Month!
All tires have a date code stamped on them. Federal law requires it. That code will let you know when your tires were manufactured. Well, at least the month and year. We won't quibble about 30 days plus or minus....The picture/diagram on the left tells you how to read them. I get nervous when I reach 5 7 I am sure that one or more will fail! On my RV I only have 4 tires, so if one could be very bad! So what can we do to ensure they last at least as long as the manufacturer says they will? Well, the most important thing is to keep them inflated properly. I use a TPMS system AND periodically check the pressures manually, just in case. Usually before each trip.

After inflation problems, the biggest enemy of tires is the Sun. The best insurance against UV radiation is to keep your tires covered with a UV opaque material. Most RV tire covers will stop 100% of harmful UV. They aren't all that expensive and they are easy to put on. Even if you don't cover your entire RV, tire covers are a good idea. They will also keep a good bit of rain and dirt from getting to your tires and can prevent premature dry-rotting and damage. So, why not use them? If you live in REALLY sunny areas, these are critical!! You should put them, on any time you have the opportunity to do so.

As always, my philosophy is, "better safe than sorry." If it's an easy thing to do, Why not? I just purchased new tires last year, and I'd like to get as much use from them as possible. Your Mileage May Vary.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Toad Alternatives? - From Motorcycles To Electrics

It's Small, But Once I Park I Like To Stay!
    I don't pull a toad. I've looked into buying an older Geo Tracker 4x4 (it's light and useful) but to drag it around on a 2-3 day trip is wasteful. Not having it really got me thinking about alternate means of transportation after you get to your campsite. I boondock or dry-camp almost exclusively, so once I arrive, I like to stay in one place for the meager days I am allotted. (Yup, not retired yet!) To take the RV (small as it is!) to go shopping for anything is a drag. A long while back I purchased a motorcycle carrier that slid into my hitch receiver at the back of the RV. I have a small electric Motorcycle (Lectra VR-24) that I have been putting on it. It charges from my Solar Panels while under way (really any time the house batteries are full) and goes about 45 miles at 51 MPH. Usually that's plenty for a quick run into town or joy-ride from camp. It got me thinking what other conveyances can be used, aside from a traditional towed car?

There are lots of ways to get around once you are parked and setup where you are camping. Some are simple. A bicycle. There are lots and lots of choices for bike racks on an RV. On the front, on the back, on the roof, someone makes one to fit every scenario. You can even buy folding bikes that fit inside a compartment or even a closet inside the RV! I like bicycles. I prefer not to have to pedal too far. Some folks cannot for some physical reason. That leads to electrically powered bicycles. These, like the moped of old have both a motor AND a set of pedals. Depending upon the particular model you purchase, they can have a pretty decent range and they weigh very little. The better ones CAN get a bit pricey.

My Electric Lectra VR-24 Motorcycle
Then there are gasoline powered conveyances. These can be Mopeds, Scooters, Motorcycles, Trikes, Four Wheelers and even gas powered skateboards. If it has wheels..someone at sometime has put a motor on it. These types are the easiest to deal with. Gas is plentiful (if sometimes a bit expensive) almost everywhere. You don't need to run your generator for extended periods and you get, essentially, unlimited range. On the other hand, if you have a decent Solar Charging System, and aren't in a huge rush (and don't need huge range) you are better off with Electric.If I had to choose an all-around gas powered two wheeler I'd likely look for a can pedal too!

On the subject of electric conveyances...there have been some wild ones out there. Remember the Segway? Well now there is something they call a "HoverBoard." No, it's not like the one from Back to the Future. I wish! But its like a scaled down Segway with no t-handle. It sort of self-balances...but there's a learning curve to riding one. Looks cool, especially with the dual LED lights in front, but I don't think I would use one as a daily rider. To each his own.

No matter how you slice it, it can be VERY convenient to have transportation OTHER than your RV when you are camped. I'm going to stick with my Electric Motorcycle for now. Though, to be honest I am looking for a Yamaha TW200 for more "off the beaten path" trips and then there's that Moped...

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Winter Camping? - Will That Even Work?

    Winter Camping.  I've always loved the idea of traveling in colder climates (yup, even the snow) in my RV. Stopping for the night and bedding down in a warm RV with a hot meal before. Getting up in the morning to have a hot shower and some brewed coffee and breakfast. Watching the snowfall through the big windows.
 Great idea. Difficult in practice. Most RVs aren't equipped to camp in the dead of winter. If the temps stay below freezing, all sorts of things can go wrong. Can you camp in the winter anyway?? Well, the answer is...sort of. Read on.

The primary concern is water. When it freezes it expands. Enough to burst pipes and do some real damage. If you aren't aware, most RVs plumbing has pipe runs that are VERY difficult to get to. A split in one of those could be catastrophic. Hard to repair since they are almost impossible to get to without taking down or cutting into the walls and floors! This is why we drain all the water and blow out the remaining water before winter storage. You could also pump in non-toxic RV antifreeze instead. Next up is the heat lost through single-pane windows and the seals. Thankfully, I have dual-pane glass in all my windows, so they are not that bad. Still, they can be insulated easily with plastic film.

The main problem with wintering in RVs is they aren't really designed for colder weather in the first place. Most aren't well insulated and lose heat VERY fast from the interior spaces. The water and waste tanks have at least one surface hanging below the living areas (though a very few RV's have enclosed tanks) so they are exposed to the cold with NO insulation. How can we get around these limitations??? I started with using Mylar to fully insulate all the windows. This stuff is easy to work with and very inexpensive AND works great!

My Single Compartment
Insulate and heat! If you are going to be parked a long time (the definition of long is really flexible depending on your own opinions as to what it takes to set up and tear down!). You can surround the lower exposed sections of your RV with insulating material and seal out the wind and weather from getting underneath. This will do A LOT to keep things warmer under there and inside. Much heat is lost from underneath and insulation is the easiest way to stop a great deal of it. As always, the primary concern will always be the water in your pipes. If you have compartments that are next to the pipes, you can either run a duct from your furnace into the compartment(s) or simply place a low-wattage light bulb in there to generate heat. The first solution is great if you can make it work. You have to use an old style incandescent bulb (no LEDs!) because they generate about 85% heat for 15% light output. That will keep the compartment (and the pipes) above freezing.

That won't help with the exposed tanks though. There are quite a few solutions to that problem, mostly based on heater pads that stick to the tanks themselves. The main issue with all these electrical solutions is that they rely on A LOT of amps to work. Fine if you are at a campground, plugged into shore power, not so good if you are running on battery power only. You COULD just not use water. Some folks use RV Antifreeze to flush their toilets. Umm...OK, but I really like having a hot shower in the morning and I am NOT bathing in the "pink stuff!" Besides, my tanks are large and would need some BIG pads.

Winter camping can be done...after a fashion, but it's not really the same as my perfect image. Maybe the manufacturers will catch on and make some RVs that are configured for four season...though I don't believe that is likely.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Don't Forget To Turn Off Your RV Propane Main Valve AND Empty Your Lines!!!

    OK, I admit it....I forgot to turn off the main valve and bleed the remaining gas out of my propane system. To be fair, I was working inside up until very recently and the heat was nice to have (Especially now since the thermostat is working!) Makes me wonder if my memory is beginning to go. I have that item on my Winterizing Checklist. It's a CHECKLIST! With actual check boxes next to each item. How did I forget/miss it? No idea. I DO know that it's very bad to have propane in your lines over the winter and leaving your main valve on can cause problems next season.

Typical Propane(LP) Main Gas Shutoff Valve
What problems? Well, if you had a small leak, you'd be filling your interior with flammable gas....what happens if there is an electrical malfunction? All it takes is one spark. Or at the very least you will begin the season with an empty propane tank(s). That stuff is not so cheap anymore! The main valve could become stuck in the open position. So...what do you do in an emergency to shut off the main flow? Imagine standing (a good distance away!) with a propane main valve knob in your hand as your RV burns to the ground. All you have to do is turn off the main valve at your tank(s) and then purge what's left. I do that by lighting a single burner on my stove top and waiting until it goes out. That uses up most of the propane left in the lines. Simple and quick.

Will any of this happen? Probably not. But it's possible. Why take the chance when it's so easy to shut off? 20 years ago, when you could fully fill a propane tank, keeping it full over the winter stopped any moisture from condensing inside, preventing rust and extending the life of the tanks. Today's systems really only fill to around it's not as important as it once was. Still, I fill them up at the end of the season so they are ready to go in the spring. Not to mention emergencies like power outages and hurricanes during the "off season." Nice to have heat/hot water and electricity when its out everywhere else!

For something that will take about 5 minutes to do, it's not much of a chore. It may never become a problem. But it could. That's it. Simple peace of mind is worth a lot on its own. Of course, you should ALWAYS have an Propane(LP) gas detector and a Smoke Alarm (with fresh batteries!) just in case. Better safe than dead. You know?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Clean Your Stove Vent Grease Screens!

    At the end of every season I make it a habit to clean as much as I can in the RV. I hate cleaning, but some of it is more important than regular cleaning though. One prime example is the Stove Vent Mesh Grease trap. This is the contraption that filters the grease out of the vapors sucked up from the stove while you are cooking. It traps grease and oil before it coats your chimney and gets to be a big mess and fire safety hazard. The more you cook, the more often it should be cleaned. It's pretty easy to do and not all that disgusting! Besides, it will increase safety and make the vent and fan more efficient. What's to lose?

First, find your screen. Look underneath your stove vent and find the mesh that covers a good portion of the area underneath. Normally it is held in place by a slot at the back and a small plastic lever or knob in front. On mine a simple quarter turn releases the front and a simple tug pulls it out of the slot at the back. I try and handle it by the edges since it's going to be covered in grease to some extent. You could wear rubber gloves if it's really nasty. Put some paper toweling on your work-space and lay it down on it. It could be quite dirty and you don't want to have to clean grease off any other surface.

Once out, you'll be able to see how much crud it has accumulated on both sides. I've found that if you fill up a basin or just the sink with a couple of inches of nice hot water and a good grease cutting dish soap you can soak most of the crud away without resorting to scrubbing. After it's soaked for a while, I usually use a long bristle brush to do a "once over" to make sure everything is loosened and then a rinse with hot water will clean the rest. Make sure the water runs clean before you put it aside to dry. It may need more soak time and a bit of additional brushing.

***A word of warning! Do NOT do this in your RV sink, remember that sink feeds into your grey water tank so all the grease and other stuff will end up coating your tank. This is in no way a good thing. It could smell REALLY bad, or begin growing some flora you really don't want to have to clean out!! At the very least it will coat your sink drain pipes and make a mess in there. If you do gunk up your pipes, do NOT use a harsh chemical drain cleaner in PVC pipes. It will not end well. OK Back to the regular scheduled cleaning. There could also be "chunks on the screen. Make sure all of them are off!

Once done, air dry the screen on a dish towel (wipe it a bit if you wish.) While it's drying, I usually wipe down the fan blades with a paper towel sprayed with a household cleaner. Wipe GENTLY and don't bend the blades. Most of them are just plastic and can be brittle if they are getting up there in age. (Don't I know that feeling!)  I also wipe down the underside of the vent, as best I can, to get any remaining grease or splatters clean. I'm always surprised how far cooking splatters will fly. I mean it's at least three feet from the pan and I've found chunks of past meals up there. Yuck!

This should take about ten minutes or so, less if you do it regularly. You'll also notice an increased efficiency in airflow when you use the stove vent. In the spring (Maybe sooner) I am going to retrofit the old, noisy and power hungry fan with a 12 V "computer type" muffin fan. I'll get more flow with MUCH less noise and less power draw. Always a good thing! Of course, I'll write it all up!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How To Cheaply Add XM/Sirius Satellite Radio To Your RV and MORE!

The "Cockpit"
    A while back, I bought a new car that came with an XM/Sirius Radio trial subscription. basically, they give you three free months to try it out. I've always been a radio fan. Lately tuning into stations while traveling has been getting more and more difficult. I use my mini laptop or cell phone, connected via Bluetooth to my RV stereo to playback my collection of music. That's all well and good, but what about news? Music I DON'T have? Comedy? You see (or rather hear) the picture. I liked XM/Sirius...lots of choices not so many commercials. My RV Stereo doesn't have a satellite radio compatible receiver built in. How could I get the programming then?

I know it's a subscription service, but if you already have a subscription for another vehicle, adding on an extra receiver is pretty reasonable. On a monthly basis (I usually pay for the year to get the discount.) it worked out to less than $9.00 per month) I didn't like the idea of having a permanently mounted receiver in the RV...what if I wanted to take it inside the sticks and bricks house? Or Hiking? Or even another vehicle. I have a great system on my Motorcycle to listen to music through my helmet comm system and frequently use a portable music device as a source. Now I can have Satellite radio as well.

Pioneer Inno
After doing quite a bit of research, I found a (now out of production) XM radio made by Samsung and marketed under both the Samsung and Pioneer brands,. It's called the "Inno" and was marketed as a completely portable solution for satellite radio. If you look online, you can find LOTS of them on auction sites for VERY little money. I found one, with the home docking kit and extra antenna for under $50.00 shipped. The rechargeable battery is replaceable and it uses the same one as MANY digital cameras. I found them for about 1.00 dollar plus shipping! There are others, but I liked the color screen and the home docking system would work great in the RV.

Samsung Helix
The only real difference between the Samsung and Pioneer versions was an FM TRANSMITTER. You know the kind that lets you transmit to your Stereo on an unused FM frequency/channel. Since I had already used my extra input for my Digital media system, I wanted the FM Transmitter to work. After a bit of searching, it appeared that the Pioneer and Samsung versions were exactly the same hardware and the FM transmitting ability was left out on the Pioneer firmware. I found (online, where else) that you could "flash" (reprogram the device) from your PC with the Samsung firmware and it would activate the feature! Sure enough, I downloaded the Samsung firmware and the maintenance/update application, clicked a few times and Voila! I had FM capabilities. It came with a remote control as well...I can operate the system from anywhere in the RV or my passengers can tune in what they like without being in the driver's seat. (Which is very difficult if I'm driving!)

After that, it was a simple matter to attach the cradle/dock to the dash with velcro and run a 12V cable for power. I put the antenna on the dash, near the windshield and have great signal. Now I have cheap (Relatively) satellite radio in the RV when I want it and elsewhere when that comes up. Win/Win!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Even The Simple Repairs: Replace Your Tired Wireless Backup Camera

    A while ago (years, actually!) I added a wireless back-up camera and 7" screen to my RV. It lasted a long time, but recently I noticed some additional static creeping into the picture and sometimes it wouldn't come on at all. The screen was working fine, but the camera wasn't. On closer inspection, the camera was filled (almost) with water. Guess the "waterproofing" didn't last. Hmmm...What to do. I had gotten a really good deal on the system and the screen was beautiful and mounted in the perfect place. Surely, I could simply get a replacement camera from the company. Nope. Now what?

The Transmitter
My system was made as a set, so the camera frequency and the monitor frequency match. Was it even possible to get a new camera with the same frequency and just replace it? Luckily, I had a couple of extra cameras lying around(!) to test. Nope. None of them worked with the screen. Back to the drawing board. Fortunately, the original, now not working, system had a separate transmitter that was not attached to the camera. It had proprietary connectors leading to the camera but I believed I could wire a NON-wireless backup camera into the existing transmitter. It SHOULD work. So, I carefully cut the wires leading from the old camera to the existing transmitter and wired in the new one. Success!! I had a picture.

Now I had to remove the old camera and figure out how to wire in the new one. I remembered that it was REALLY difficult to fish the wires through the first time, so I tried to keep as many old wires as possible. That didn't work. I ended up putting the new camera on the back of the RV and running its wires through the existing hole. Of course, the camera isn't as wide of an angle, so it had to be placed differently to give me a reasonable view of the back bumper. I mostly use it to see if I am going to hit something when backing up! That would be bad.

Leave The Tape On Until The Adhesive Cures!!
On my RV, there was no easy way to power the camera from the inside. I wanted to have it powered by the chassis battery rather than the house batteries, so power had to come from someplace on the rear of the RV. After a lot of searching I ultimately tapped into the wiring for one of the clearance lights in the center. Not a perfect solution as they tend to get a bit low in voltage. Later on I found that they are all wired in a "daisy-chain" fashion that reduces the voltage across all the lights (and now the camera as well.) Replacing them with LEDs will likely solve that issue as they are much lower in power consumption. (But that's for another article!)

See The Double Lines
So now I have a newer camera working with my older display. Everything is fine, but the new camera puts its own backup lines on the screen and the screen does its own. A little bit confusing...but workable for now. I had to remove the old camera and sealant from where it was installed and find a spot for the new one. Helpful Hint: Use TAPE to position the camera BEFORE drilling holes or using adhesive!!! I was lucky, I could see my 7" display through the back window of the RV, so positioning the camera was MUCH easier. After I figured out where it was to be placed, I affixed it with a silicone adhesive. Letting it fully cure before removing the tape.

I am so glad I managed to get this done before my last trip. I was towing a trailer. It's REALLY nice to be able to see how the trailer is doing in the rear view display. Both when backing up and while underway. Not to mention how much easier it is to hitch it up when you can SEE the distance to the hitch! I highly recommend having some kind of a backup camera system.

Be Seeing You... Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Emergency Thermostat Repairs - Don't Be Cold!

The Aero Cruiser
    I don't like to be cold. Most other people don't either. One of the greatest things about an RV is the shelter and comfort it provides when the weather outside turns nasty. Waking up on a cold morning when the furnace is working and the coffee is perking is one of life's small (but wonderful!) pleasures. That is, until something doesn't work and you have NO heat! Then waking up and getting out from underneath the covers isn't all that fun. That's just what happened to me a couple of weeks ago when I was at a swap meet/flea market. It got very cold at night (rainy too!). I thought, "No problem, I'll just set the thermostat and get some more sleep." Nope. Slid the switch to "on," set the temperature slider and waited (it takes a few seconds to start up the furnace) and waited...Nothing! Now What?

Pay No Attention To The Red Jumper Wire, YET!
The typical RV mechanical thermostat is a pretty simple device. It allows 12 Volts to flow to the furnace at anything below the temperature you've set. You don't really NEED a separate on/off switch, but I like having one. It absolutely makes sure you cannot get 12 Volts to the furnace and have it turn on. Unless there is a short someplace else.... For the temperature sensing, inside is a small coil of flat bi-metal wire. As the coil warms up and cools down it expands and contracts. When it drops below the temperature set on the thermostat, it completes the 12 Volt circuit and the furnace turns on. It will then run until the temperature reaches your set value and the coil has contracted enough to break the contact. Simple...not super accurate, but it works and doesn't require any electrical power.

Thermostat "Guts"
What happened to mine? I pulled the cover off the thermostat and looked. Nothing. Everything looked burn marks, no melted plastic, no bent metal....weird. I gently pushed the contact at the end of the coil manually up against the contact, hoping it was just a faulty coil. It made contact easily, but no furnace startup. Hmmmm..... I then connected a jumper wire (I keep several lengths and gauges of wire around with alligator clips on each end just for this kind of testing) to each side of the circuit on the front of the thermostat. STILL nothing????? I went outside (in the cold) and opened the access door to my furnace. On the door is a simple diagram of the wiring. I located the terminals that fed the thermostat and jumped them....SUCCESS! The furnace turned on and ran fine. HMMMMmmm. Connecting the wires out here would run the furnace, but it wouldn't turn would get VERY hot inside!! I removed the jumper wire and closed up the furnace. Back inside.....

I figured that I must have a break in the wire between the furnace control box and the thermostat. OK, I can run new wire. It wouldn't be fun, but it's do-able. Next, I removed the thermostat from the wall (it's only two screws) and disconnected the wires from the two screw terminals. When I did this, they touched. And lo and behold, the furnace turned on!! Obviously there was no break in the wire in between. I thought, "Loose connection?" So I reconnected everything and turned on the thermostat switch, re-set the temperature to max and waited....and waited. STILL no heat.  WHAT?!? After a lot of head scratching I tried connecting the jumper wire to the BACK of the thermostat (at one screw terminal) and on the FRONT to the coil contact. It WORKED!!! Huh?

I pulled out my tester and used its continuity function (it beeps when you have a connection between two points) to see where the break was. To make a very long testing process short, turns out, where the metal strips attach from the front to the back, on one side..there was no actual contact. The rivet they used must have gotten loose or oxidized enough to NOT conduct electricity. So the thermostat never connects the 12 Volt wire and ignites the furnace. Never seen this before. Ever. Temporarily, I just left the jumper wire in place...since it all worked. Once home, I filled in the rivet with solder and everything was back to normal.

This is a perfect example of something simple to fix that could ruin your trip. It pays to figure these things out and have the right bits to do the figuring. I could have also gone to a big box store and purchased a house-style thermostat for "heat only." That MAY work..depends on your particular installation. Of course, you have to GET to the store. Now that the heater works...I am stuck winterizing the RV. It's getting too cold for my water system to survive....there's always next season!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Using An RV For Fun AND Profit!

    After I had gotten my trailer wiring squared away, I was ready to tackle something new. Namely, a HUGE 1000+ Vendor flea market in Stormville, NY. With the weather getting colder and colder in the North East and RV trips dwindling down to a precious few, this seemed like something different! So we loaded up a borrowed trailer with lots of stuff, made sure we had a confirmed space and off we went! On the way there (and back) there were steep hills, up AND down that I had to tackle. Not completely fun on the way there in the rain...but doable if you didn't rush.

Saturday Setup
The company that organizes this event had been doing it for MANY years, so getting some reserved space was easy. They even assigned me two spots that I could easily pull straight in and out of, all the while using the RV and trailer combination as my "back wall." Each space was 20' x 20' so I had 40' x 20' to work with. This was a good thing, because, even though my RV is only 23'8" long, add a trailer to that and I was at around 37' plus a few inches. I made sure the door was facing correctly so I could go in and out while "working" the show. The trailer had 3 12' x 12' EZ up style canopies and 5 6' tables. When setup and organized it made for a cozy and secure "shop."

So Nice We took A Tent DOWN!
It was pretty cool that the organizers of the event allowed RV dry camping at the location. They even let you come in Friday afternoon for a Saturday and Sunday market. Once we arrived on Friday, there was just enough time to set up the tents and the tables. Make sure the tents are well secured!!!! Wind can be crazy at night. We just managed to beat the rain showers and were safely inside eating a hot meal and watching a movie before bed. If we hadn't arrived Friday, you could arrive Saturday at 5AM (You KNOW I'm not a morning person!!) and then begin setting up for a market that opens to the public at 8AM. Doesn't sound fun at all. We woke at 7AM, made coffee, showered, dressed and began unpacking in a very relaxed manner. Not bad at all.

Back At Home
The show went quite well. I managed to get rid of a bunch of stuff that was cluttering up my garage and house. Stuff I didn't even know I had lying around! Made back the 240.00 dollar space rental fee (2 x 120.00 for the entire weekend) and only purchased 1 item. (A large Cornflower pattern Corningware casserole dish 12.00) Each day I made lunch, several pots of coffee and dinner. Being right next to the stuff made me feel more secure than simply leaving it overnight AND I didn't have to drive 2 hours each way to go home. That second night the temps dipped to 37 degrees. No problem right? Wrong. My 15-year-old  Hydro Flame thermostat decided to die right then. After some major diagnostics, it turned out to be the contact strip that gets electricity from the front of the thermostat to the back. A jumper wire got it working overnight...whew! [See an article later on about how to fix one!]

Exiting on Sunday evening was a snap. Especially since I was packing less stuff going back than we'd brought. It was easy to maneuver out once the people blocking us in had moved a bit. Drove home, parked and that was it. I may even do this again. After some final calculations, I paid for gas, food, the space at the market and my aforementioned Corningware dish with a few hundred leftover. I may try a few more of these next season. Who knows, I may end up with some extra storage space!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Even The Simple Repairs - New Hitch Receptacle And Trailer Wiring

    Likely because my RV is a 1991, it had a round 4 pin trailer wiring receptacle. A while back (OK a LONG while back) I bought a 4 Pin Round to 4/5 pin Flat connector to use with my old trailer. All was well. While preparing for a trip that would require a different type of trailer last week, I found out that the new trailer had a 7 blade connector and there was no adapter available. In fact, I wouldn't be able to use the electric brakes, trailer auxiliary power nor the reverse lights! That wasn't going to work. Time for a new receptacle and wiring. It's only 7 wires total, how hard could it be?

Old Receptacle
First I had to source a new receptacle for the RV side. Thankfully most auto parts store chains have several to choose from. I decided to go with the newest "standard" the seven blade style that the trailer I was borrowing had. I found one that had that AND an additional 4/5 flat style connector so I could use my old trailer without an adapter. was MUCH larger than my old one. After taking the old one out. It was only two machine screws holding small nuts to a very beefy steel welded bracket attached to my hitch cross-member, it became obvious it wasn't going to fit in the original hole. I could have simple let it hang lower on the supplied bracket. But aside from looking terrible, it worried me being lower than the hitch receiver. If it COULD get caught on something it WILL get caught on something!

Out came the Dremel with a cutting wheel. Most likely you would NOT have to do this, but I did. Remember, Murphy was an optimist! I traced the new circular size on the old metal welded bracket and cut. And cut...and cut some more. I went through 5 abrasive discs before I was done. Not difficult, but time consuming. But now the new bracket would fit in the space the old one was and wouldn't stick much farther down. To be honest, it IS bigger! I'll try and paint it later on. It will be prettier and more rust resistant as well.

Snakes' Nest!
Next was the wiring. Lets open up this can of worms. (Get it..wires...worms..) My 4 way round connector gave me tail and lights, left and right signals and brake lights. That's it. The new 7 Blade one adds reverse lights, electric brake signal, and auxiliary trailer power. First I had to connect the 4 wires I already had. According to the manual from the new receptacle I should have a YELLOW wire for Left turn signal a GREEN wire for Right turn signal a BROWN wire for tail lights (and marker lights) and a WHITE wire for Ground. Seemed simple enough. I even had those colors in my harness. Spliced the colors together, plugged in the trailer and....nothing. Well I had a left signal flashing.


OK removed all the wires and swapped left and right. reconnected. Now I had a right flashing signal and nothing else. What!?! OK, time to pull out the test meter. After a few quick tests, it seems that not a single one of my wire colors matched the "standard" pattern. What have I learned? TEST FIRST!! With everything connected, properly taped and working I mounted the new receptacle in its newly enlarged bracket. Now I have both receptacles for both the trailers I currently use AND the ability to buy an adapter for ones I don't. This SHOULD take care of towing for the immediate future.

What about the additional wired features? The reverse light addition was easy. I simply connected the trailer receptacle purple wire to the reverse light on one side of my RV. The other ones will have to wait until after the trip. Likely I will have to run long wires to make it all work. I really like the idea of having an electric brake controller and being able to charge or run lights and batteries in the trailer. But that's for another article!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"