Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Even The Simple Maintenance - Check Your Carbon Monoxide/Propane Detector!

Appliances Can Be Deadly
    Last week I wrote about checking to make sure your RV smoke detector (or more than one!) was working well and had fresh batteries. That was very important. One of my readers pointed out that the Propane Gas/Carbon Monoxide detector is of equal importance in making sure you are safe in your RV. Any propane (LP) gas leaks can usually be smelled before they become a problem. The mercaptan that is added to propane is a substance that gives it that bad "rotten egg" odor. It's a quick way to know if you have a leak as a very small amount stinks to high heaven. Even so, you may not notice until it's too late. Having an LP detector is an extra layer of safety. 

The same cannot be said about Carbon Monoxide. It is odorless and very deadly in small concentrations that could occur inside an RV. It is produced by all gasoline burning engines and all propane appliances. We have these in our RVs. How can we protect ourselves?

Simple. Most (if not all) RVs have a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector installed. This device will sound a loud alarm if it detects very small amounts of CO. Many of them are dual detection systems and will also detect Propane (LP) gas as well. Just like smoke detectors, it is worth taking a look at them when you inspect your RV( I like to test them every month). Some run on batteries, and those should be replaced at least once a year or more often if they are exposed to extreme cold that may shorten the life of the battery. 

In my case, the LP/CO detector is wired into the coach's main house battery system. To test it, I simply push and hold the TEST button until it sounds the alarm. You could get a small sample of CO or LP gas to test it with, but that can be difficult and possibly dangerous -- I don't recommend it. If it works, great. If not, REPLACE IT! OK, maybe there is a wiring problem or your house battery is dead. Check the battery and 12V house system. Then, if that is OK and it still won't work, REPLACE IT! It's not worth the risk.

Battery Powered Style
There are a few companies that make detectors that recommend they be replaced every 5 years. And some of those actually "chirp" when it's time to replace them. It's a bit of an expense, but why not? A little under (or over for built in) $100.00 for 5 years...that's not much money for 5 years of of service and peace of mind. Go for it! Besides, there are newer models that use a "Fuel Cell Electrochemical" sensor that is more sensitive and less prone to false alarms. Great! An upgrade with your replacement. 

How do you know if you are beginning to get poisoned by Carbon Monoxide?
The symptoms are similar to the flu, but without a fever. They also may include:
• Dizziness
• Vomiting
• Nausea
• Muscular twitching
• Intense headache
• Throbbing in the temples
• Weakness and sleepiness

• Inability to think coherently

If you feel any of these and don't have the flu or some other disease you are aware of, get outside immediately and breathe normally, away from your RV. If you begin to feel better, there is good chance you just saved your life. If you don't feel better, call 911 and request assistance!! The sad thing about CO poisoning is that it often happens at night, when you are asleep, whether from a heating appliance or a bad generator exhaust or something similar. You don't have a chance. You'll never know there was a problem and the results could very well be fatal. Isn't it worth around $100 to shift the odds in your favor? Better safe than dead.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Even The Simple Maintenance - Check & Replace Smoke Detector Batteries!

    My RV came with an adorable smoke detector. Like my motorhome, it's a 3/4 scale version of a full size detector. I test it regularly, so I know it's still working. Not just by pressing the TEST button, but by blowing out a match a few feet away and making sure it triggers the alarm. Usually, it's very easy to replace a battery in a smoke detector. Some of them can be a bit fiddly to get the old one out....but most of the time it's simple. Why not try and see if you can get it done yourself? An ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound (or MANY dollars!) of cure.

The 9V Battery Compartment
First, you have to remove the detector from its mounting. On mine, I just had to grasp the detector like I was removing a jar lid and gently turn it slightly counter-clockwise. You can feel the detector release from its ceiling mount with a "click." Once removed, flip it over. On some, you will just see the battery in a small compartment. On others there will be a battery tray with a lid that either has a screw holding it on or a small plastic lever that you push to one side and pull up the cover. Most detectors I have seen use a 9 Volt battery. That's the sort of rectangular one with two snap-on contacts on one side. There are MANY different kinds to choose from including some VERY expensive ones allegedly designed just for smoke detectors. I just use a plain old, good quality, alkaline one from a major manufacturer. So far, I haven't ever had a failure. Besides, the manufacturer's manual told me to use them!

Be Careful Of The Thin Wires, They Are Easily Damaged.
Once you manage to remove the old battery, take a look at the innards of the detector. Everything look OK? Have any water leaks gotten inside the unit? If so, I would replace it. You never know what water and electronics mixing together will do. Most of the time it will cause a failure. With a safety device, it's not worth taking any chances. Before installing the new battery, make sure the contacts are clean and the wires aren't frayed or have bare spots rubbed through the insulation. If it looks good and has been working it's probably OK. Insert the new battery and route the wires so they don't get pinched when you replace the battery cover and reinstall the detector in its mount. Now test it. You can press and hold the test button first...but I still use a blown out match to be really sure.

Peace of mind is worth a few minutes of easy work. Just go online and do a search for motorhome fires. They can be devastating. Prevention is the key!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Even The Simple Maintenance - Tighten Your Refrigerator/Appliance Screws!

   Like most of you, I drive my RV lots of miles. I'd wager if you drove a sticks and bricks house down the road at 60 MPH lots of stuff would get loose and/or break free. So it's no wonder that the major appliances and their mounts in the RV are going to do the same. It really pays to check them out after every (OK, not EVERY) trip. Recently, I heard a strange thump come from my refrigerator (just after my mirror changed it's position) After checking it out, it was caused by several of the screws holding the fridge to its frame mounting getting loose from the vibration of a drive. How can you stop that?

Well, you really can't completely eliminate screws backing out from continual vibration, but you can certainly slow them down. Easiest thing to do is tighten them up periodically. In my case, that stopped the movement of the fridge and I was done. Next time, or when I begin to winterize, I may remove each screw and use some thread locking compound (or just some white glue) to try and keep them tightened for a longer time. I will be looking into doing that at a later date. Maybe I'll even write an article about it...

Pay No Attention To The Bottle Of Seltzer!
On my Dometic refrigerator there are several screws inside the door frame on either side holding the fridge to the front framing of its enclosure. When I first bought the RV the original ones were completely stripped out or missing entirely. I replaced them with regular wood screws that fit the holes well, but aren't all that pretty, They hold well in the wood framing and the refrigerator door shuts completely, so looks aren't all that critical here. In addition to the screws on the door sides (fridge AND freezer compartments) there are screws at the top and bottom of the unit. In order to get to these, several small screws need to be removed to allow the plastic cover panels to be taken off and the screws accessed. The bottom one is pretty easy, but the top one has wiring for the control panel in it, so you have to be very careful when you pull it away from the fridge itself. Afterwards, just tighten the screws and replace the covers. Be careful not to pinch any wires or accidentally detach them! You'll know pretty quickly as the fridge display won't work properly. Don't ask how I know.

This is a tiny bit of easy preventive maintenance you can do whenever you have a few spare minutes. I keep a Phillips head screwdriver handy so I can tighten various screws around the RV. Especially after a particular bumpy ride. You'll also prevent the screw holes from becoming enlarged and that's a whole 'nother repair. Better to have an ounce of prevention than a pound of cure!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Even The Simple Repairs - Fix Your Loose Oustide Mirrors

Elephant Ears!
    Outside mirrors are good. BIG outside mirrors are even better. Even with a backup camera, they are still a true necessity when navigating an RV both on the highway and in tight spots. There are a few companies that make them, but they all work essentially the same way. There are powered and unpowered versions. My RV has the powered variety. That just means I can adjust the mirrors themselves when I am driving without getting out of the RV. I was having a problem with the passenger side mirror moving out of position when I hit a large bump in the road. This was NOT due to the electrically adjustable mechanics of the system, but rather the simple ball and socket mount at the base of the mirror itself.

See The Rusted Set Screw?
In most installations there is a mounting arm that is screwed to the side of the RV and the mirror assembly itself mounts into it using a set screw or screws to adjust the tension on the ball inside the socket. Since it was adjustable, I figured I could simply reset the mirror and tight the allen/hex head set screws to keep it there. Sure, that would have worked except both set screws were rusted and impossible to turn! I sprayed a whole bunch of penetrating oil into the screw area and began hoping. You see, the housing is made of a different metal than the screws, so only the screws were rusted. I had a chance!

After a day (and two resprays) I was able to slowly back both screws out and clean them up. I also cleaned the screw holes and made sure they were clear of debris before putting the screws back in. Once that was done, I adjusted the placement of the mirror (definitely helps to have another person!) and tightened the screws till it stayed put. That's when I realized the other side would likely be the same....of course, Murphy was indeed an optimist!

I treated the set screws and holes the same way on the other side. I cleaned the holes, re-inserted the screws and I was done. A very simple fix. Though, the waiting for the penetrating oil to work was long. I rate this project a solid 2 out of 10 for difficulty. You need to be careful when you take the screws out. It would be very easy to strip out the threads in the holes and that would get expensive if you had to source an entire replacement mirror mount and then reinstall and seal it to the side of the RV. Be careful!

Now I have solid, sturdily mounted mirrors that I can adjust from the driver's seat at will. No more changes in aiming due to bumps...what could be better than that?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Even The Simple Mods - Adding Lights To Gauges

My Gauges At Night!
    I like to be able to see my engine and other gauges when I am driving. It's always a good idea to monitor your systems while under way. Having back (or front) lit gauge faces is very helpful at night! Unfortunately, some gauges come from the factory unlit. A few years ago, I had to replace some push button valves on my rear air bag system. While working on them in the dash, I noticed they had a place for bulbs to be inserted, but had none! Hmmm, how tough would it be to wire them into the existing dash dimmer? Actually it turned out to be pretty easy.

Tiny Bulbs!
The gauges themselves had spots to insert bulbs from the factory. Odd that there weren't any installed. This particular airbag system was put together during the RVs original construction. Strange they wouldn't add a couple of bulbs. Oh well...that's what I was about to do. Usually I use LED bulbs wherever possible, but of course dimming them is always a problem. I could have used a PWM dimmer module for LEDs. They are very inexpensive on Ebay and work well, but  that would have added a lot of wiring work and a new subsystem to the original dash gauge wiring. Instead, I decided to use very small incandescent bulbs. These are often called "grain of wheat" bulbs because of their size and shape. They would fit in the existing holes and be plenty bright enough for the indicators to be read easily.

Daisy Chain Done!
I simply ran a ground wire from my under dash common ground (you could use almost any chassis ground point for this use.) After that, I had to locate a positive lead that could support the amp draw, which was VERY small, as well as it's original draw. Ideally it should light up (and dim) with the existing dash lights. I decided to build a simple blade style connector jumper to tap one of the existing dash gauge lights. This way, it would dim in concert with all the other gauges and it would be easy to access if it needed fixing later on. I built a "Y" shaped connector with two females and a male blade connector and then looked at the bulbs themselves. The wiring on the bulbs is REALLY tiny. Very thin wires that would break easily. These really couldn't be crimped into a connector easily, so I twisted them onto the ends of the wires and soldered them in place, making sure I slipped on a piece of heat shrink tubing beforehand. Each bulb is"daisy chained" with the other. So I had both negatives and both positives running back to the common ground and positive tap. Sounds isn't!

Once the bulbs were inserted and everything secured I tested the light....looked perfect! How often does that ever happen? I got to thinking, what else could do with some dimmable illumination? Maybe I will backlight the labels on all my switches?? That would be really convenient and look pretty cool. We'll see...

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"