RV Tech

RV Tech (27)

Wednesday, 18 September 2019 12:54

4 Season RVs Mean Protection from Cold, Heat

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As more people go to full-time RVing, interest in four-season RVs has increased. Even seasonal RVers may have an interest in a four-season RV if they head north or west to see relatives or enjoy snow around the December-January holidays, or if they stay in areas with extreme heat. 

There are no standards for four-season RVs, and no legal definition, but common sense dictates certain inclusions. Here are some considerations.

Big Mistake About “Canadian Standards”

Let’s get a common misconception out of the way.

Many folks, especially first-time RV buyers, think an RV built to “Canadian Standards” is better equipped to handle winters. Some people even buy an RV based on that assumption.

Fact: Canadian Standards and winter-readiness have nothing to do with each other. Canadian Standards, or CSA, are a set of electrical and mechanical-systems standards that some manufacturers voluntarily adhere to. By and large, an RV built to Canadian Standards is built to the same weatherproofing levels as other RVs.

What Is a 4-Seasons Camper?

In the broadest sense, a four-seasons RV is a camper that can protect its occupants and equipment from the harshest seasonal effects: from extreme heat in summer and from harsh cold in winter. Four-season RVs tend to be more expensive—and heavier. Many are bigger models.

Beware descriptions that lack specifics. If a maker says a camper is “certified” four seasons, how so? Who certifies that it is? What is required for this “certification”? If a sales person says the RV is winterized, what does that mean? He may mean merely that there’s antifreeze in the water system to allow for winter storage—meaningless in the four-seasons livability sense. It’s your money. If it’s “Alaska Ready,” what does that really mean? Demand specifics.

In practical terms, here are characteristics a four-seasons RV would have, whether a motorhome, travel trailer or fifth wheel:

Better insulation

Better insulation results in two things: Heating and cooling with lower energy requirements, and more comfort in extreme weather.

The higher the R-value, the better, but finding a dealer who can tell you an RV’s R-value isn’t easy. Most RVs have walls with fiberglass batt insulation rated between R-6 and R-9. A Four-season RV ideally would have walls rated R-11 or higher.

More important are floor and ceiling R-values, probably via fiberglass bolstered by foam. In floors, look for R-21 or more, with values up to about R-36. Slide-out floors should be about R-15.

Ceilings are likely at least R-18, ranging into the upper R-30s.

Find out about construction. Foil radiant barriers do little good without an air space between them and the insulation. Also make sure insulation is adequate on surfaces that meet storage areas. Poorly insulated adjacent walls will transfer cold.

Sad to say, but take notes and try to verify a salesman’s claims. It’s easy to say “high R-value.” That’s an opinion, not a specification. How high? Consult product literature, although it often is just as vague, or call the manufacturer’s customer service line.

Sealed Gaps

RVs have gaps—around windows, vents, exterior doors and wires, and in corners. Wires inside cabinets and coming in from storage areas don’t fill the holes that provide passage. Look to see if the holes are filled with insulation. If they’re not, the RV will leak a lot of energy.

Double-pane windows.

Windows present a problem that’s tough to solve. Glass, at a typical R-1 per pane, just doesn’t block temperature transfer as well as an insulated wall. Double panes will do a bit better with the space between panes. The best attribute of double-pane windows is that they reduce or prevent interior-surface window condensation.

Low-emissivity glass, which reflects heat toward the warmer side of the window, helps in winter and summer. Insulated curtains help a bit, but the best thing is probably to cover windows with reflective foil during extreme weather to reflect cold temps out and warm temps in. It’s a DIY job involving Velcro and reflective foil. The downside: Your RV will be darker.

Higher heating capacity

A heater needs to be at least 30,000 BTUs; bigger spaces will need even more. An undersized heater on a thermostat will run non-stop if the weather is cold enough. You may need to supplement with a propane fireplace or heater. The downside of the propane is higher humidity levels, so you may want to add a dehumidifier.

Water and Waste Systems Protection

Pex plumbing lines are somewhat flexible if the fresh water inside them freezes, but the key is keeping them from freezing in the first place.

A heated, insulated enclosure beneath the rig keeps water and waste lines, tanks and dump lines from freezing. At the very least, lines should be sheathed in foam insulation.

Roof vents

Roof vents, like windows, are a major escape route for cooled air in summer and heated air in winter, even if the vents are closed. First, think carefully about how many vents you really need. The more you have, the less your RV—in any price range—will be sealed against energy loss. (The catch: More roof vent fans will help cool without air-conditioning in summer, using far less power than an air-conditioning unit.)

Make sure gaps around vents are filled with insulation or sealant. Insulating the vent openings themselves is an easy DIY job. All you need is a vent insulator that fits into the standard 14-inch roof vent opening. These pillow-like insulators typically have heat-reflective top and bottom surfaces. For about $10, it’s one of the most cost-effective insulating steps you can take.

Here are some 4-season RVs to give you an idea of what’s available. As you read these sites, you’ll notice that even some home pages and product brochures use ambiguous, non-specific descriptions of insulation.

With the growth in popularity of smaller travel trailers, especially among younger, active campers, there’s often no need for many RVers to have a full-size tow vehicle.

Truly small trailers—teardrops and popups, for instance—typically weigh less than 2,800 pounds, with many coming in under 1,500 pounds. Travel trailers of 13-, 16- and 21-foot lengths usually weigh less than 4,000 pounds. None of them requires a half-ton pickup with a tow rating of 9,000 pounds.

The people who say “any car out there can pull one of them” may not be quite accurate. The days of Crown Vics and Impalas with full body-on-frame construction are long gone. Those cars could pull up to about 2,000 pounds without breathing hard. But there are quite a few cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs built the past five or so years that can tow light- and even medium-weight trailers.

What To Look For

Before you buy any tow vehicle, especially a used one, know its capabilities.

You can find information on any model pretty quickly by consulting edmunds.com. Search edmunds year make model features specs. The Edmunds specifications page includes such useful information as exterior and interior dimensions, including passenger and cargo space—with seats up and down in hatchbacks, crossovers and SUVs.

Edmunds also lists maximum towing capacity and payload, which is just as important when considering a tow vehicle. Don’t forget that you’re towing a loaded trailer, not an empty one, so look for appropriate towing capacities. Warning: Towing with a vehicle that’s not recommended for that use may void your warranty.

Before buying anything, also look up the owner’s manual for the year and model, then read the towing entry.

Insisting on a CarFax report is helpful, since CarFax includes service histories. CarFax isn’t infallible, but it’s a good guide.

Edmunds includes actual owner reviews, some of which are helpful and some of which are merely “I love the color of the blue paint.” Discard the worthless reviews and look or patterns. If 10 owners report transmission or engine failures, that’s a pretty good indication that you may want to consider a different model.

Gauging Reliability

Especially if you’re boondocking, you don’t want a tow vehicle that’s historically unreliable, so make one last check: Go to carcomplaints.com.

Look up the number of complaints about any make and model. The site includes complaints made directly to the site and those made to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It also has recall information.

Complaints made directly to carcomplaints.com include the engine and transmission type where options are available, while NHTSA complaints do not. (Sometimes it becomes obvious in the paragraph describing the problem.) You can compare complaints of any model by year. The site recommends the best and worst years for each model.

What’s Out There?

If you really do want a full-size pickup, all U.S. models—RAM, Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado and its GMC twin, the Sierra—have 6-cylinder engines that are as powerful as the V8s of less than a decade ago. They are rated to tow up to 6,000 or 7,000 pounds, even without a turbocharger. All have diesel variants, but you really won’t need them for a light trailer.

There are also midsize pickups that can tow light trailers: Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. All have 4- and 6-cylinder options. Like the bigger trucks, they have body-on-frame construction that can handle the stress of towing. Some have diesel options—again, unnecessary.

Midsize and bigger SUVs can tow quite a bit, but like pickups, they’re pricey. Tow package-equipped V8 Dodge Durango/Jeep Grand Cherokee twins can tow up to 7,400 pounds; V6 models can handle 6,200. In that range are the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Tahoe.

Small SUVs and crossovers are a good option, many with V6 engines available, or strong turbocharged 4-cylinders. Cars.com lists 10 compact crossover/SUVs that are rated to tow 2,000 pounds or more, with the Jeep Cherokee topping the list. The Cherokee—the smaller model, not the bigger Grand Cherokee—can tow up to 4,500 pounds when equipped with the V6 and tow package. With a turbo four and tow package, it can handle 2 tons. Even the base 4-cylinder can tow 2,000 pounds.

Minivans and some sedans can tow light trailers. With front-wheel-drive, it’s best to stay with trailers 2,000 pounds or lighter. Check out the U.S. News ratings.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia.org

Wednesday, 31 July 2019 19:54

Sanitizing an RV Fresh Water System

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When we think of dirty tanks, it’s easy to think of black and gray. But nothing can make you sick faster than an unsanitary fresh water tank. After all, you’re drinking that water, and bathing in it, however briefly.

And although you see the connection at the fresh water station in a camp, you really have no exact answer to the question, “Where does that water come from?” Sure, it’s from a well or a city water system, but you don’t know what shape they’re in.

So let’s review how to clean the fresh water tank and lines in your RV.

Frequency of Cleaning

You should sanitize the fresh water system:

  • At least twice a year.
  • Before storing your RV.
  • After removing your RV from storage.
  • If you find out the source of your water was cited for a health risk.
  • If an accident would splash unsanitary water against the fresh water intake.
  • If the water filling the tank exhibits signs of uncleanliness, such as sediment or a bad odor. You may want to sanitize it after driving through highly dusty areas.
  • After buying and before camping in a used RV.
  • After lending out your RV.

What You Need

clorox bleachSanitizing the fresh water system isn’t particularly difficult. It is a bit tedious. You need only a handful of items:

  • Chlorine bleach—bleach only, never a cleaner that contains bleach and/or other chemicals.
  • 1-cup measuring cup.
  • 1-gallon pitcher.
  • Funnel—one you don’t use for anything else and bag to keep clean.
  • White hose with which to fill the tank from a water source you know is safe.

A plastic cup and pitcher are ideal here; nothing will break. If you have a pitcher that catches shower water before it heats, use that. You’ll waiting between some steps, sometimes for hours. Plan accordingly.

Where To Do It

If you drain your tank onto the ground after sanitizing, don’t let water pool in areas of vegetative growth, even though the solution is weak enough that damage should not occur. Bleach in strong concentrations can harm plants.

What To Clean

First, decide whether to sanitize the cold water lines only, along with the tank, or the hot water system as well. Some folks sanitize the cold water lines only, reasoning that the hot water will discourage the growth of germs, and to keep chlorine from the water heater. It’s up to you.

What To Do

Here’s how to sanitize your RV fresh water system:

  1. Put on old clothes and shoes. (Even tiny splashes will spot clothing.)
  2. Refer to your owner’s manual to find out how many gallons your fresh water tank holds.
  3. Turn off the water pump.
  4. Turn off the ice maker if so equipped.
  5. If you don’t want to sanitize the hot water lines, turn off the water heater.
  6. Drain the fresh water tank by opening the drain valve, then tighten the valve again.
  7. Using the measuring cup and pitcher, add a quarter-cup of household bleach for each 15 gallons of tank capacity. Fill the rest of the pitcher with clean, potable water. (Take care: Too much bleach can damage the tank and seals.)  
  8. Hook up a hose to a source of clan water and fill your tank until you see overflow beneath the tank. Turn off the fill line.
  9. Open the gray water tank drain valve. (As an alternative, you can start with an empty grey tank, drain the bleach solution into it, then empty it at a grey water dumping station.)
  10. If you have a water filter, bypass it so bleach doesn’t run through.
  11. If you are cleaning the hot water system, bypass the heater, too.
  12. Turn the water pump back on. One at a time, open each faucet and your shower (don’t forget exterior faucets or showers!) until you smell bleach at each, then turn each off. (Open cold faucets only if you’re cleansing only the cold-water lines; turn the heater back on and open the hot water faucets too if you’re also cleansing the hot water system.)
  13. Allow the bleach solution to sit in the lines and tank for at least 4 and up to 12 hours. If you fill late in the day, you’ll be ready to drain in the morning.
  14. Optional: Drive your RV a few miles to get the solution to splash around and reach every part of the tank, or simply drive to your next RV park, emptying and refilling there.
  15. After the solution sits, open each faucet and let the water drain.
  16. Refill your fresh water tank.
  17. Turn on each faucet again and run water until you don’t smell bleach.
  18. If the bleach odor persists, refill the tank and drain again until the bleach smell is gone, then refill.
  19. Turn the heater lines and filter lines back on.
  20. Tighten the drain on your gray water tank, or dump it at a fill station.

Sanitize your tank again if you smell an odor or store your RV.

Image Credits: Stikeseff (Wikimedia Commons), Jose Manuel Suarez (Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, 03 July 2019 21:22

Dealing With RV Repair Services While Traveling

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You’re on the road, in the middle of your long-awaited vacation, and it happens: Your motorhome won’t start. Or the refrigerator breaks. Or a window shatters and the forecast is for a week of rain. When you’re RVing and not near home, you’ve got to find someone to make repairs—ASAP.

Where do you begin when trouble crops up on the road? Do you try to find an RV dealer/repair center to do the work? Or do you call a mobile RV repair service to come to you?

Starting Point

The place to start actually is at home, long before you turn the key on the first day of vacation. In other words, follow maintenance requirements.

Like most RV owners, you’ll do what you can yourself. If you know how—or you can learn if given reliable how-to information and have the time to get it done—that’s always a money-saving proposition.

What you can’t do yourself, have your local dealer/repair center do routinely. It’s much better to have someone you know and trust work on your RV than to have a stranger work on it while you travel. Know what maintenance your RV requires and stick to the schedule. To make sure you know the schedule, read the owner’s manual; find one for your model and year online if you don’t have one. Properly maintaining an RV, and a tow vehicle if you use one, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have no problems on the road, but it certainly increases the odds.

In addition to maintaining the engine and transmission, you must maintain the suspension, brakes and tires. Replace tires that are worn or old.

Buy Roadside Assistance

Roadside assistance is, in essence, a form of insurance, and it’s one you really should have. At $100 to $150 a year, it’s a lot cheaper than having to pay for a tow—especially a long-distance tow, and even more so if you have a bigger motorhome.

Get Recommendations

If you do need repairs while traveling, get recommendations on a shop. If the problem is not an emergency, ask about repair shops close to your campsite. Call and make an appointment, and drive there. The camp operator and your camping neighbors may have experience with a shop that they would recommend—or that they would avoid.

It’s a good idea to join online forums. A good-sized forum is bound to have members from all over who can recommend a shop wherever you are.

Check out the reputation of any shop you consider. See if there are unresolved complaints with the Better Business Bureau. Facebook also often has reviews of businesses.

Mobile Repair Services

You’ll probably pay more if a repairman comes to you. A mobile repair service is likely to charge a fee just to make the visit—not unreasonable. If picking up and driving to a service center is too inconvenient, a mobile service may be worth the extra fee. Make sure the park where you’re camping allows repair visits.

It’s wise to be a little more cautious about hiring a mobile repair service. To find out if businesses must be licensed in the state where you need a repair, go to the Small Business Administration website and look for “State By State Information.” If the state requires a business license, ask the mobile repair service for its license number. There’s no bricks-and-mortar location, which is normally something that’s advisable before hiring any business, so make sure a mobile service at least has a web presence.

Ask for recommendations, same as you would for a service center, from an RV park operator and/or your park neighbors. Definitely check for a BBB rating and unresolved complaints. Also do an Internet search for the name of the mobile service and the word court to see if any lawsuits involved him.

Ask up front how much the service call fee is, and get the fee, cost estimates and conditions in writing. It’s always possible by email. Ask whether he has experience fixing the problem you’re experiencing. When paying, use a credit card, which gives you recourse if a dispute arises. If the mobile repair service says cash only, continue your search.

It’s not unusual to see an RV towing a dinghy, usually a small car or SUV. A motorcycle or two on a small trailer is also common. And people almost expect to see bicycles on a trailer- or motorhome-mounted rack.

Bicycles had been less about transportation, though, and more about exercise and fun. Advances in battery and motor technology are making electric-assist bicycles—or e-bikes—into real transportation alternatives.

E-Bike Classes Dictate Use

In Florida, as in many states, electric-assist bicycles with a top speed of 20 miles per hour and no throttle require no registration and no driver’s license with motorcycle endorsement. Florida e-bike operators must be 16, but they do not need a license—unless the bike is a Class 2 or a Class 3.

Here’s the breakdown on e-bike classes:

  • Class 1. The most common e-bike, it can be pedaled alone but has an electric motor that assists pedaling. It cannot have a battery more powerful than 750 watts or a top speed higher than 20 mph. A passenger is allowed. No helmet is required.
  • Class 2. A throttle can propel this e-bike without pedaling. Florida requires a Class 2 to be registered and an operator to have a driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement
  • Class 3. This is serious transportation, with some models having a top speed approaching 30 mph. Florida and most states consider a Class 3 a motorcycle requiring registration and a licensed operator with a motorcycle endorsement.

Using an e-bike on a trail or sidewalk is not allowed in Florida. Use in parks is often governed by local law or the agency overseeing the facility. A Class 2 or 3 might be restricted to areas open to motor vehicles. You’ll have to check before using these sites.

For regulations by state, check out People for Bikes.

Big Boost

Peopleforbikes.org, which promotes bicycle riding, endorses e-bike use. It says e-bikes will help people ride when they might not be able to use a traditional pedal-only bike “due to limited physical fitness, age, disability or convenience.”

You might not want to ride a pedal-only bike to a restaurant or work, or even to visit a friend, if doing so would soak you in sweat. E-bikes reduce or eliminate sweating. And if pedaling is too stressful physically, electric-assisted pedaling may let you ride a bicycle again. (Don’t take our word for it, though. Consult your physician.)

Range varies, but it’s not unusual to get up to 40 miles per charge from a sub-$1,500 e-bike that is also pedaled, and up to 100 miles on a $2,500 e-bike. That will get you to places that might be too far from your campsite to pedal comfortably without an electric assist.

All Sorts of e-Bikes

There’s not one kind of e-bike. There are single-speed boulevard cruisers with pedal-assist only; fat-tired e-bikes for sand or snow; road bikes with multiple gear sets, which ease pedal-only travel; and e-assist mountain bikes (eMTB), also with multiple gear sets.

Some e-bikes have big hubs containing a lithium-ion battery, motor and gearing (think Copenhagen Wheel). Copenhagen wheels can be fitted to an existing bike or bought mounted to a new frame. Many new e-bikes have batteries that mount on the frame and a motor that clips onto the pedal-driven sprocket (as with the FLX Bike).

To Learn More

Check out the e-bike section of Bicycling.com, produced by Hearst’s Bicycling magazine, which has a reputation for solid reporting on and testing of bicycles. It has evaluated less-expensive e-bikes as well as higher-end models.

Features To Look For

If you’re not handy, make sure your bike comes mostly assembled.

The following features make an e-bike more enjoyable:

  • Battery as close as possible to 700 watts, without exceeding that if you want to avoid registration.
  • Available extra battery.
  • 40-100 mile range.
  • Gear sets 7 speeds or higher, to ease pedal-only biking and to preserve battery power.
  • A motor that disengages when not needed, also preserving power.
  • Front suspension (for off-road use).
  • Fat tires (for use in sand or snow).
  • Handlebar-mounted digital readout of speed, distance, battery reserve, navigation.
  • Smartphone mount and app for readout of speed, distance, battery reserve and navigation.
  • Removable battery, or lockable battery and motor to deter theft.
  • Sprocket-mounted motor and removable battery for balance on your RV bike rack.
  • Bright lights front and rear for better visibility, and to see after dark, and brake light.
  • Cargo rack or predrilled attachment points.
  • Comfort seat for long rides.

Image Credits: wikipedia.com

If you’re asking yourself whether you should switch the tires on your trailer to radials the next time you replace tires, there are some experts who strongly believe you should: the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association and the National Fire Protection Association.

Don’t think for a minute that the fire protection group cares only about such things as wiring safety, insulation and the type of fire extinguisher your RV carries. It was the NFPA that suggested equipping all new RV trailers with radial tires, and no longer with bias-ply units.

The RVIA, which represents 98 percent of all travel trailer manufacturing, agreed. It has been placing radials on all new trailers manufactured since September 2017 with wheels 13 inches in diameter or bigger.

Study: Radials Improve Trailer Safety

The switch to radials in RV manufacturing grew from a safety report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  It cited tire failure as a major safety concern for RV trailers. All it takes is to see a trailer flip at speed—dragging the tow vehicle down with it—to give you hesitation about using less-stable bias trailer tires. In reacting to the study, the NFPA recommended radial fitments for new trailers and suggested tire maximum weight ratings at least 10 percent greater than the maximum axle rating.

The greater payload ratings are intended help to overcome failures from overloaded trailers and from the stresses created by under- and over-inflation.

New Travel Trailers Get Radials Only

The radials-only policy applies to new recreational trailers, and not even to utility and closed cargo trailers, or to boat trailers. But it makes you think, If radials are considered such a safety feature, should I dump my bias plies for radials the next time I get new tires?

You don’t have to. Bias-ply trailer tires will continue to be available at tire and RV dealers. The big question is for how long, especially as manufacturers of cargo and boat trailers begin switching to radials on new units.

Bias Ply ST Tires Not Going Away—Yet

Bias tires rated ST will continue to be manufactured. They are perceived to continue as a strong market for contractors, landscapers and even for boaters. But RV dealers may be tempted to stock radials only, since they’ll need them for motorhomes and trailers.

The price difference has shrunk, making radials appear to be a better bargain. And for dealers, it’s a mater of costs: It will cost less to stock radials only than to stock radial ST tires and bias ST tires.

Costs To Rise

Costs may not be so much higher that the radial switch on older trailers is discouraged. You’ll still have choices in load range, with lower prices for radials with, say, 6-ply ratings than for radials with higher-strength 10-ply ratings, and often from the same manufacturer. That difference will certainly come into play if the tires are for small boat trailers versus 30-foot travel trailers.

Like bias-ply ST tires, radial ST tires have stiffer sidewalls than non-trailer tires to promote stability and reduce sway. Radials are likely to improve fuel economy because they have lower rolling resistance compared with bias tires.

So, it comes down largely to owners of older-model trailers as to how complete the shift to radials will be. Are those owners changing overwhelmingly to radials when their bias ply tires wear out and need replacement? Just a few months after the switch by manufacturers, that’s not yet the case.

But as more dealers stock the radials and the availability of bias plies drops, the switch is likely to become broader and more thorough throughout the travel trailer market.

Monday, 25 June 2018 22:27

Removing Mold and Mildew from Your RV

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Mold and mildew are two of the worst enemies an RV owner could face. They can cause allergic reactions or even illness. They’re highly persistent and an spread if they’re not eradicated.

Obviously, the best way to ensure that mold and mildew will not recur and spread is to find and eliminate the source of moisture that causes them. With this blog, we’re talking only about how to clean mildew- and mold-infected areas inside and outside your RV.

Perhaps the most important consideration is killing the mold or mildew and removing the stain that they leave without discoloring any part of your RV. The wrong cleaning agent can ruin carpet or upholstery.

Cleaning Interior Surfaces

Hard surfaces are often the places that mold and mildew show their ugly face. We’re talking high-moisture areas of the RV, especially the bathroom but also the kitchen. Surfaces adjacent to, and including, windows also are prone to mold/mildew growth, as is anyplace where leaking water collects.

If you don’t like using chemicals, try some natural mold/mildew killers, which are less likely than chemical cleaners to damage carpet and fabric: tea tree oil with water; white vinegar and warm water in a 1:1 mixture; or about 2 dozen drops of grapefruit seed extract with 2 cups of warm water. Spray any of them onto the mold/mildew and let the solution work in. The infection will die off within hours (vinegar), a couple of days (tea tree oil) or a few days (grapefruit). Then wash with soap and rinse.

If a stronger remedy is needed, mix one part bleach with four parts water in a spray bottle and shake. Let the solution work against the mildew/mold for about an hour, which should kill it. Wipe, then wash with a household cleaning soap in water and rinse. Caution: You cannot use bleach on fabric or carpet without damaging it. Reserve bleach solutions for hard, impervious surfaces, such as counters, sinks, showers or backsplashes.

Some chemical and commercial cleaners with citrus are available. They will work similarly to the natural solutions. Test for colorfastness in an unseen area before using.

Exterior Cleanup

Mold or mildew on the exterior of an RV is not unusual, especially if the RV has been sitting and not regularly washed. If it sits in an area that continually heats and cools, such as a parking space that’s shaded part of the day, it may be more susceptible.

The signs are obvious: Black or dark green growth appears on the surface of the fiberglass or aluminum and spreads. Often it will form in patches where water is frequently present and slow to dry, such as below a drain rail or window.

What you need to do, as inside the RV, is attack it with an agent that kills the culture and wipe it off. A good example is LA’s Totally Awesome. It’s sold in spray bottles and is quite cheap—probably less than $2 a bottle. You can find it at discount stores or online.

How it works is simple: Spray liberally and directly onto the infected area and let it work—less than a minute will do. Wearing disposable gloves, use a clean rag or paper towels to wipe it off. You’ll have to work your cleaning material into cracks and crevices to make sure you get all the mold/mildew.

It’s possible that you’ll remove some oxidized paint and wax as you scrub and wipe the cleaner off. Follow up the mold/mildew removal by washing the area you’ve cleaned with a good automotive cleaning agent and water. Rinse thoroughly and let it dry. Then put on a fresh coat of wax.

Testing for Toxic Mold

Is the mold in your camper toxic? Find out with a toxic mold test kit, about $10, plus a lab analysis fee. Toxic mold may best be removed by a professional wearing a protective mask and clothing.

Image Credits: Prolab

Monday, 07 May 2018 18:13

RV Wall Fasteners

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RV Cypress Trail Velcro WIKIPEDIAFastening something to an RV wall presents some problems, but none that can’t be overcome.

RV walls typically are hardboard or paneling on studs or insulation. Neither surface holds screws adequately.

Here are some solutions for attaching to an interior RV wall:


Velcro keeps wall-mounted artwork stable and safe. Buy adhesive-backed strips, placing the “hook” strip onto the picture and the “loop” strip on the wall. Velcro should hold moderately sized frames and art in place even over unsettling bumps.

Although strong, this method is temporary. Simply pry off the fastened artwork, then apply an adhesive remover, such as Motsenbocker’s LiftOff, to remove the strips from the wall.

Self-Tapping Screws

self tapping screws for motorhomes

RV wall studs measure only 2x2, or smaller, not 2x4 like home framing. You may be able to attach directly to them. Locate studs with an electronic, battery-operated stud finder, available at hardware stores, home centers and online. Get one that finds not only studs but also electrical wires. A good example is the Zircon StudSensor e50, about $25. You can use this tool at home as well as in the RV.

Once you mark the studs’ location, you can use self-tapping wood screws to fasten a shelf or TV mount directly to them if the mount doesn’t span two studs, attach a strip of wood ¾-inch or thicker onto the studs, then attach the mount to the wood strip. Before attaching, turn the edges the wood with a router and dress it up with stain or paint.

gorilla glue for motorhomesGlue

A strong adhesive such a Gorilla Glue will mount light items, as long as you can find a way to hold the object in place until the glue sets. But beware: Removing the object my leave a marred wall, so be sure you won’t want to take it down later.

RV Cypress Trail TektonPop Rivets

Pop rivets require, in addition to a drill/driver, a pop rivet tool, about $12 at discount or hardware stores, or home centers. They make a neat, strong, nearly flush bond and require smaller holes than an anchor would. You may need a helper to hold whatever you’re mounting:

  1. Mark in pencil the location of the object you’re mounting and the mounting holes.
  2. Drill holes appropriate for the size rivet you are using, taking care not to drill clear through to the exterior fiberglass or siding.
  3. Hold the object you’ll attach so it’s aligned with the mounting holes.
  4. Insert the rivet through a mounting hole, up to its flange.
  5. Place the end of the pop rivet tool over the mandrel on the rivet and squeeze the handles together until the mandrel pops.

As you squeeze, the mandrel’s inner end reshapes the body of the pop rivet assembly into a second flange on the inside of the wall, holding in place the object you’re mounting.

RV Cypress trail wall fasteners Hollow Wall Anchors

Designed for fastening to hollow doors—also found inside RVs—these anchors are about an inch long, which is shorter than the anchors used to attach to a home wall. The anchors come with machine screws that thread into the anchor. The procedure is simple:

  1. Drill a hole of appropriate diameter, taking care not to drill clear through to the exterior fiberglass or siding.
  2. Remove the screw.
  3. Use a hammer to tap the anchor into the hole.
  4. Insert the screw and tighten it with a drill/driver and an appropriate bit.

As you tighten, the anchor will draw toward the interior wall, spreading out flat against the back of the interior paneling. That creates a flange considerably wider than the threads on a screw.


Wednesday, 11 April 2018 20:04

Automated Trailer Backup

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It was surprising enough to see cars and trucks that could parallel park themselves. Now there’s one more tricky driving task that’s been automated: backing up a trailer.

On F-150 pickups made since model year 2016, and on the Expedition full-size SUV, Ford offers what the company calls Pro Trailer Backup Assist. It will back up a trailer without the driver having his hands on the steering wheel.

Many are thinking, “If you can’t back up a trailer, you shouldn’t own one.” Maybe, but it’s possible a driver doesn’t have the neck mobility he once had. Or maybe another driver in the family struggles with trailer backing. Either way, it’s help—and besides, it’s optional.

Electronics Make It Possible

Like any electronic automotive capability—delayed windshield wipers, anti-theft engine immobilizers, cylinder deactivation, blind-spot monitoring, keyless start, smartphone links, hands-free lift gates—the technology is likely to proliferate. Although it hasn’t yet, it’s also likely to gravitate to smaller, cheaper tow vehicles.

Land Rover has a similar system, and Chevy dealers offer an after-maket system for some Silverados that have blind spot monitoring.

How Trailer Backup Assist Works

 Screen Shot 2018 04 04 at 3.20.26 PM

Let’s see how the Ford system operates. Three things enable automated trailer backup to work: electric power steering, a backup camera and a programmable onboard computer.

Each trailer, to be backed up by the truck’s system, must be identifiable by the system. The system will store up to 10 trailers—great if you tow an RV and, say, a boat and a snowmobile trailer. Renting a towable cement mixer? You can enter that into the system, too.

Park the truck and trailer in a straight line on level ground. To enter a trailer into the system, first place a sticker on the frame of the trailer, from 7 to 22 inches from the center of the ball. Because of this requirement, gooseneck trailers and fifth wheels won’t work. Place the sticker on either fork of a “Y” frame.

Then take four measurements, in this order, and write them down: from the license plate to the center of the ball; from the center of the ball to the center of the sticker; from the backup camera to the center of the sticker; and from the tailgate to the center of the trailer axle, or to the md-point between axles on a dual-axle trailer.

Get into the truck and enter the information into the computer. Press the “on” button for the backup control, and use the arrows on the steering wheel to choose and select commands, numbers and letters on the screen. Name the trailer, then go through the menu to select trailer type, brake type and brake effort (higher for bigger trailers). Input the measurements in order, identified as “A” through “D.”

Look: No Hands

To use the system, shift into reverse with your foot on the brake. Turn the backup assist on and twist the knob to the left or right—whichever direction you want the back of the trailer to move. Then take your foot off the brake and your hands off the wheel. The truck will steer itself. You’ll have to apply gas and brakes. If you need to go in the other direction, stop and twist the dial again.

Repeated as often as needed to get the trailer where you want it.

Screen Shot 2018 04 04 at 3.10.14 PM

New RVs, whether motor homes or camper trailers, have three safety detectors every RV needs: smoke, carbon monoxide (CO) and liquefied petroleum gas (LP).

If you have an older camper, or maybe have adult offspring who are buying an older model as their first RV, the detectors may need maintenance or replacement. Some older models may lack the detectors altogether.

Smoke Alarm

Smoke detector for RV

If your smoke alarm uses a 9-volt battery (rectangular) or any other battery, replace the battery when you change clocks for daylight savings time or standard time. (Daylight savings time arrives Sunday, March 11.) Just as important, press the test button weekly. Place the alarm on the ceiling near the sleeping area, far enough from a ceiling vent that could carry the smoke away from being detected. A hard-wired alarm is powered by the 12-volt RV electrical system and has an internal backup battery.

Here’s what you may not know: An RV needs a dual-sensor smoke alarm. A typical sensor detects ionization from a cooking fire or, say, a brake fire when the lining overheats. A second, photoelectric sensor detects smoke from an electronic fire, from an electronic appliance, such as a refrigerator or microwave oven, catches fire.

An example of a dual-sensor alarm is the Kidde Pi9010, which costs about $23, or is available in multiple packs.

Battery replacement: With semi-annual clock change; if you store for the winter, replace each spring

Test: Weekly and before each trip, by pressing a test button

Detector replacement: Every 10 years

CO Alarm

Kidde Pi9010 CO2 detector

Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible—and deadly. It first may cause dizziness, nausea, blurred vision and a headache. It’s especially dangerous at night, when you may feel no effects. The detector is best near the sleeping area, away from a ceiling vent.

An RV has multiple sources of CO: an LP-burning stove, the motorhome’s exhaust and the generator’s exhaust. The exhaust system doesn’t have to be faulty for CO to enter the RV. Carbon monoxide can work its way in if:

  • You’re parked so the exhaust empties into the wind.
  • You’re too close to a snow bank or extremely heavy vegetation.
  • A window catches the fumes.
  • The structure of the RV has a leak, especially underneath or around the generator.

Test: Weekly and before every trip, by pressing a test button.

Replacement: Every five years.

LP Detector

Atwood RV LP detectorLiquified Petroleum gas is liquid under pressure, with vapor at the top of the canister. When the valve is opened, the vapor—a gas made to smell—flows through the connected lines. It’s typically not a problem when tanks and lines are sound. LP gas is explosive, but it can make you sick before it reaches combustible levels. The detector alerts you well before danger levels.

Sources of LP gas are the tanks, lines to the stove, refrigerator and furnace, and the LP-fueled appliances themselves. No defect is required for an LP buildup; leaving a burner on can do it.

LP gas gravitates toward the floor. An LP detector should be mounted within 18 inches of the floor, on a wall inside the RV and near the sleeping area. It’s also the reason an LP detector is best purchased separately from a CO detector, and not as a single unit carrying both sensors, since CO is better detected on the ceiling.

An LP detector is hard-wired into the 12-volt system that runs off the battery bank.

Test: Weekly by pressing button

Replace detector: Every five years.

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