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"