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Monday, April 14, 2014

Generator Fuel Usage

We have a diesel generator on our motorhome. The generator uses the same fuel/same tank as what runs the motor. How much fuel will the generator use, let's say, in an hour? How can I figure out my gas mileage when using the generator once in awhile? Janice F. (Clifton, CO)

Janice, when the generator and the coach engine share the same fuel supply, typically the draw tube (dip tube) for the generator ends at about the one-quarter level in the fuel container; this, to prevent the generator from running the tank empty, rendering you stranded. How much fuel the generator consumes depends on size generator you have, how long (in hours) it runs and at what load. The heavier the load, the more fuel consumed. Most all makers of generators will publish a guideline of sorts that will estimate the gallons-per-hour rate at a certain load. Once you have that estimate, calculate the number of hours the generator is used on the each full tank of fuel and simply deduct that amount from your fuel mileage calculation. The result will probably be close enough, all things considered. So you have a little homework to do.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Old Water Heater Burner Needed

Hey Doc! I'm asking if you could help me find a water heater burner assembly for a 1977 Comfort. I don't want to get a new heater if this part can be replaced. It is an old camper and I have redone the whole inside floor, ceiling etc. The heater is a American Appliance 6-gallon water heater, model #6ARV. I hope you can help me or at least steer me in the right direction! Thanks! Chris (no city/state)

Chris, American Appliance was purchased by Suburban Manufacturing some years ago. It’s doubtful they’ll still have parts for the old line, however. Your best bet, short of replacing the entire water heater would be to locate an aftermarket repair facility that specializes in RV appliances. Many of these specialty shops have older components for obsolete units still in the field. One such shop I relied on many years ago was Howell’s RV Appliance Repair. I've known Leonard for forty-plus years and if anyone would have old obsolete components, it would be him. You didn't tell me where you're located, but Leonard still runs a mobile business in the greater San Diego area. Give him a call at 619-449-6231. You could also contact local RV dealers and repair shops in your area as well, but I'd put my wager on Howell's first.

Monday, March 10, 2014

PRVCA's Fun Monthly Contest!

Hey RV Doc readers! Does a free $100 gas card interest you? What about a 5-pound chunk of Hershey bar? Check out the Monthly Photo and Video Contest established by my friends at America's Largest RV Show. Just click here to learn more about the "My RV Moment" contest.

Keep Those RV Tires Clean and Dry

You have taught me so much over the years, thank you. You have discussed every aspect of vehicle care, including the importance of taking proper care of the RV tires. In some of those articles, it has been mentioned that something should separate your tires from the concrete. Would you be kind enough to either tell me, or make mention of it in one of your columns, the type of material that should be used? Harry A. (Smyrna, TN)

Harry, if you’ve ever attended one of my seminars, you know I’m a big proponent of keeping moisture, dirt and grime from accumulating on RV tires as well as preserving and protecting them from ozone and the UV rays of the sun during periods of non-use. Sure, they’ll get dirty while traveling, but be sure to wash them with a mild detergent the soonest you can after coming off the road. Applying a protectant such as 303 to help preserve and protect the rubber will also go a long way. 

Not so much on concrete, but when parked on asphalt, it’s advisable to have a barrier between the tires and the surface of the asphalt. Though wooden blocking is often used to separate the tires from the asphalt as well as to lift that corner of the motorhome, I also favor a separation between the wooden blocks and the tires to avoid excessive moisture and/or heat build-up. Plastic, web-like blocks are readily available in the aftermarket that allows you to accomplish this. The accompanying photo shows such a separating block. There are many on the market, but look for the type that will drain and not trap moisture. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

GFCI Hums in Class A Motorhome

I have replaced the GFI in my Class A motorhome and the new one hums when the inverter is on. Do you know why? Denise D.

My immediate thought is that the new one simply does not know the words Denise! Or it might have something to do with an internal line balance-detecting transformer (more likely). This, of course, is assuming no modifications were made to the wiring at the inverter itself. None would have been required if the inverter was installed correctly to begin with. The humming could also be related to the type of inverter in the system. Is it a true sine wave inverter, or perhaps it has a modified square wave output form. 

All GFCIs have a set of contact terminals labeled “Line” and another set labeled “Load.” The black and the white wire, (hot and neutral) from both the line and the load must be connected to the correct terminals on the GFCI. If, for instance, the hot wire from the line is wired to the “Line” terminal, but the neutral wire from the line is wired to the “Load” terminal, it will confuse the GFCI. The main purpose of the GFCI is to monitor the balance of that circuit between the black and white conductors. Mis-wiring the hot or the neutral at the GFCI may render it inoperable, but not to the point of actually causing it to trip. Nor will it likely trip the circuit breaker for that circuit. 

Here's something you can check; be sure the coach is not plugged in and the inverter is off before proceeding. With the GFCI removed from the receptacle box, there should be two sets of Romex conductors located in the make-up box. The black and white wires from each must be kept relevant to each other. In other words, the same pair of black and white conductors must attach to the correct (line or load) terminals on the GFCI. With the motorhome plugged in, the “line” set will be energized; the “load” set is everything else downstream of the GFCI and will not be hot when the GFCI is tripped. There is a remote chance the new GFCI is faulty, but chances are it is simply a case of incorrect wiring. I’ve actually seen all the white wires bundled into one wire nut behind the GFCI; a no-no for GFCI wiring. It is best to have a pro RV service tech take a look if you are unfamiliar with working on a live circuit. I certainly don’t recommend it. The circuit must be energized at a certain point in order to differentiate between the line-hot and the load-not hot sets of wires at the GFCI. I know this may sound a bit confusing, but a pro tech with an accurate VOM will be able to quickly discern the problem with a few simple measurements. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

RV Doctor Interviews Matt Lynch from Torklift Central!

I had an opportunity recently to interview Matt Lynch from Torklift Central regarding the importance of having the correct safety equipment to properly tow a dinghy car behind a motorhome. Safe towing involves more than just adding a tow bar! 

In addition to the specific components needed, Matt also explains the importance of readying the original coach frame in order to safely tow. Torklift Central has long been a proponent of motorhome safety and Matt makes some compelling points about beefing up the frame during the installation of any hitch and tow bar assembly. Check out our video interview here, and be sure to read Torklift's complete blog post. It's very informative and it could very well eliminate potential problems while towing a car behind your motorhome!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sticky RV Slideout Solenoid

I'm a 70 year old retired Air Force veteran and I desperately need your input. I have a 1998 5th wheel RV with a slideout living room. My problem is that there must be a relay some where that is sticking when I attempt to close the slideout. I have talked to numerous RV repair shops, even the factory themselves, and no one can help me. When it is coming in, it does not want to stop when I release the switch. The In and Out switch is okay. It has a Dewalt hydraulic pump that operates the slideout. It is one that you can electrically bring the slide in or you can manually pump it in. Could the pump itself have the relay inside of it? Your help will be most appreciated. J.R.M, USAF Retired

First of all, thank you for your service J. R.! Without knowing the brand and model number of your particular slideout drive mechanism, it's hard to tell with 100% certainty what the problem might be, but it sounds like the hydraulic solenoid valve itself may be sticking. The battery switch solenoid might be mounted right on the pump itself. This was typical back then. It will likely be cylindrical and silver in color as well. It is wired between the coach battery and the pump motor and is activated by the slide switch. Such solenoids had a tendency to stick as they age. 

My recommendation would be to locate the pump and then identify the solenoid. It should be a generic battery type solenoid, so you can get a replacement at your local auto parts or RV store. Just make sure the replacement is made for heavy duty applications. They are inexpensive, so if you are not adept at bench testing the solenoid itself, I recommend you replace this part first and see if that eliminates your problem. If this does not fix the problem, then I suspect a hydraulic valve spool or another of the solenoids is sticking. This could be due to dirt stuck in the valve. In this case, you will have to take your coach to an experienced RV service facility to inspect, clean, and/or replace these pump components. It takes specific expertise to perform services on the internals of the pump assembly, unfortunately.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Delamination Dilemma

I have a 2004 RV with a wood frame. Last summer I noticed what I believe you call "de-laminating" on the front section. The camper's exterior fiberglass appeared to be rippling. I suspected this was related to a leak so I resealed the entire front of the RV. Recently, during a heavy rain storm, I found some water in a closet which verified there was in fact a leak and also that I didn't catch it when I resealed the RV. If I can get the leak to stop will the "de-laminating" continue? Can you repair "de-laminating" without pealing back the entire exterior? If I get the leak to stop, will problems continue (dry rot etc.)? Am I in deep trouble or what? Dennis D., (Klamath Falls, OR)

Dennis, in many cases, wood frame construction is relatively easy to fix in the event that there is any damage to the structure. You are correct in that the leak source must be identified and stopped before repairing the damage. If you are having a problem finding the leak, carefully and thoroughly inspect all moldings, fixtures, window frames, and lights. Re-seal any areas that look questionable, even if you do not find any breaks or voids. To be 100% sure where the leak(s) are located, check out this short video.

Stopping the leak is the important first step, but delamination usually occurs only after the underlying wood and framework have become saturated with moisture. Even after stopping the leak, the wood can stay wet due to the absence of airflow and further damage could result. Some people proclaim you can inject glue behind the delamination and stick it back down. Typically this is a waste of time and effort, as you cannot get glue to stick to old adhesive and wet wood for very long no matter what you use. Also there is no opportunity to repair any underlying damage or even time to dry the wood effectively. 

If delamination occurs and the area of the damage is small compared to the size of that section, a good body expert can repair the damage with a patch. In your case of delamination on the front of a RV, I would recommend replacing the entire front, as it is a relatively small area and the cost to replace vs. repair (if the damaged area is small) is insignificant, especially when you consider the integrity of the repair. Replacing the entire front is guaranteed to be a more robust repair than a patch. A patch is also not an option if the damaged region spans a significant area. The repair process involves stripping the moldings and other fixtures, and removing the fiberglass panel from the wood frame. The insulation is removed in order to dry the wood frame and interior wall panel. This drying stage is very important for proper repair.  Any water damaged wood framing is replaced, new insulation installed, and the wall material replaced with new, including any backing that was used on the original. 

In the case of a patch, it is done the same way, except only the damaged portion of the fiberglass is simply cut out. Then the framing is dried, repaired and a new section of fiberglass is inserted into the cutout and the joints finished with fiberglass cloth and painted. This is a relatively complex repair job and I don’t recommend you attempt it yourself. Seek out an RV repair facility experienced in collision repairs. The job should not be overly cost prohibitive, since a front wall is not a large area to repair, however, such things are subjective!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Our P-Traps Froze!

We were recently caught in that arctic freeze that inundated the Northeast. We went to ready our RV today for a trip next week and found our sink drain p-trap in the bathroom frozen shut. We had to pour hot water down the sink in order to melt what appeared to be a solid block of ice. My husband tried to take apart the p-trap at the joint, but it would not budge. Was anything damaged by this? How can we avoid this in the future? We don't winterize the RV since we use it during the winter some. We're sure it had something to do with the recent very cold weather system that came through. Thanks for your helpful hints! Mary D., (New Brunswick, NJ)

Wow! You were in some seriously cold weather Mary, as was much of the country of late! I have one word for you; Florida! Seriously though, I'm sure many p-traps probably froze during the recent cold weather in those parts of the country. Unless proper precautions are taken, it probably happens more often than most people realize!

One of the problems with the standard p-trap in an RV is that they require regular maintenance. Unlike p-traps in residential or commercial sink drainage systems, the RV p-trap is not used as regularly, therefore diligence on the RVer is necessary. Some of the drawbacks to RVs equipped with standard, run-of-the-mill traps is that the water lock must be maintained at all times. Without that sealing water lock, odors from the holding tanks can rise up and into the living portions of the RV. And keep in mind, it is code-compliant (and fairly common) for some sinks to be plumbed to the black, solid waste holding tank. So odors from either tank may have a direct conduit to the interior of the RV if you do not keep a watchful eye on the level of the water in each trap. (How many of you with RVs equipped with a combo washer/dryer have ever checked the p-trap associated with the washing machine drain?)

Because we don't use RV sinks as often as the sinks in our homes, it's also plausible for the water in the p-trap to lose its sealing ability due to common evaporation. Also, as RVs round corners, especially on curvy mountain declines, the water in the trap can be swished out of the trap, again creating that free pathway for odors to enter the living areas.

I've even seen instances where the lavatory sink was plumbed to the toilet holding tank and simply flushing the toilet caused the water in the trap to be siphoned out of it, enough to negate the water lock.

For RVers who are prone to actually using the coach during cold weather, it's not a bad idea to pour a 1/4-cup of RV anti-freeze down each sink drain every few days to ensure the water does not freeze if that sink happens to sit idle during a cold snap. As an alternative, windshield washer fluid, which is less expensive in most locales, can be used instead of RV anti-freeze. 

But to be 100% worry-free, and 100% odor-free, I recommend replacing all the RV p-traps with a HepvO waterless sanitary valve. You've probably heard me mention the HepvO in a video or seminar somewhere before, but I can't say enough good things about this unique plumbing device. It is 100% maintenance free and eliminates the possibility of holding tank odors from ever entering the living space of the RV. It also provides for more storage space under the sink since it can be installed vertically or horizontally and can positioned as high up as the sink will allow. It's hard to argue against any serious RVer who can appreciate the positive attributes of the HepvO. Another good thing is that it is easily installed by the average handyman. I'd encourage you to take a look at my video regarding the HepvO valve. You can view it right here.

I doubt the severe cold snap you encountered damaged anything in the drainage system, unless of course you see leaks when running water through that drain, but I can guarantee you'll never have a freezing problem again, since the HepvO waterless sanitary valve is not dependent on a water lock to prevent odors from coming into the RV, hence the "waterless" part of its name. Check it out... Click here to order your HepvO valves.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cooking My RV Batteries

Can you give me some important tips on storing my RV? I park my RV behind my garage and plug in to a 30-amp shore power cord. I have discovered that my battery bank of two, Group 27 batteries are "cooking" and I don't know why. Sure would appreciate any input. Dee S. (Seal Beach, CA)

Dee, aggressive overcharging by the on-board converter/charger would likely be the reason the batteries appear to be “cooking.” Many RV converter chargers are equipped with, what I call, mediocre technology concerning the battery charge function. They serve as outstanding converters (converting AC electricity to DC electricity), but lack the complexity of a processor-controlled battery charger. Many common converters force the maximum amount of current into the battery bank at too high of a voltage rate. Some may taper the amount of amp-hours (current), but it takes special and specific charging algorithms to push the correct amount of current at the correct amount of voltage at a rate that is advantageous to that type of battery, all the while considering its state of charge at that moment in time. 

As a battery charges (accepts and stores amp-hours), the voltage and current rate must constantly be evaluated and modified to ensure that any given battery will not be overcharged or undercharged, yet charged fully. A sophisticated, processor-controlled, three-step charger is needed to accomplish this. I’m a fan of employing the stock converter as a converter only, but to add an aftermarket, multi-step battery charger to be solely in charge of keeping the battery bank(s) fully charged while connected to shore power. The newer technology allows for an RV to be kept plugged in all the time, without the risk of overcharging or “cooking” the batteries in the system. Some are applicable to the various types of RV batteries; wet cell, AGM, gel, etc. I would suggest you upgrade at some point. Until then, if you opt to leave the coach plugged in all the time, be sure to inspect the condition of the batteries every couple of days. Unplug the coach or disable the converter, (simply turn the circuit breaker off), if overcharging or gassing at the batteries is discovered. 

Some RVers have used a timer placed in the AC circuit of the converter to only allow it to operate at certain times. But I’d rather see the stock converter convert and a separate battery charger charge. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Leaky RV Slideout

We purchased a 2004 coach three months ago. From the moment we got it the slideout has leaked. It has leaked so bad that the wood trim around the interior of the slide out has all been removed due to mold and the laminate on the dinette table is all buckled. My husband tried to put some sealant on the top of the slideout but it did not work. This is the first RV we have owned with a slideout and we are just beside ourselves. I am pregnant and my daughter is four; the last thing we need is mold around us. Do you have any suggestions on how to fix the slide out and where we would go to get replacement trim? We tried the dealership that we purchased it from that claimed to have a "rigorous leak detection test before release to a buyer" and they told us it just happens. So any advice on where we would start would be great! We just want to enjoy RVing without the "money pit" effect we currently have. Chris A. (Georgetown, MA)

Chris, I’m so sorry to hear about your slideout leak. Water intrusion is indeed the number one maintenance consideration with any RV and as you’ve found out, can be quite difficult to rectify. It’s important to locate the actual entrance point of the water. Assuming the leak is at slideout and not coming from a point above it, there are four possible locations along the room. The first thing would be to check the integrity of the slideout seals on both sides, the top and the bottom of the slideout. Remember, it must remain leak-free in two positions; with the room retracted and extended. Another procedure is to have the slideout mechanism checked for proper operation. Ensure the slide moves in and out evenly without it “crab-walking” its way in or out. It’s quite possible that it’s time to replace all the seals on the slideout. 

Was there any warranty offered when you purchased the coach? It’s apparent your dealer isn’t willing to accommodate you in any way without charging you. But check your warranty or other guarantees that may have been included in the purchase. You may have recourse there. It’s paramount a certified RV service tech inspect and rectify that leak as quickly as possible. Unattended, the leak will only get worse and more structural damage is likely. I wish I had better news, but barring any structural deficiencies in the room itself, it’s apparent the seals have failed and that they are in need of replacing. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

RV Generator Cannot Carry a Load

I read your column with much interest and one question regarding inexpensive water heater bypass valves in a recent issue caught my attention as I had a similar problem with my fifth-wheel. In my unit the hot water pressure was very low and flow was slow but the cold water was full bore at all taps. Living here in Calgary I had stored my unit for a lengthy period in a winterized condition and that was exacerbated by a delay. I now have an older Rialta and until this year all was fine. Now the generator will start and run with no problem and I can turn on low load lighting without trouble, but as soon as a load is placed on it like the air conditioning or microwave, it quits right away. Any ideas for a fix? H. Greuber, (Tucson, AZ)

Hank, depending on the number of hours on the generator and how old it is, it just may be time for a set-up/tune-up. All RV power plants require regularly scheduled maintenance. Adjustments to the carburetor and possibly the governor may be in order. A certified RV service technician can quickly diagnose the generator by connecting it to a device called a load bank. RV generators cannot be tuned or set-up by ear and I caution the service technicians I teach that every mechanical adjustment on the generator has a direct electrical consequence. 

Unfortunately, this one is better left to a pro technician because of the specialized equipment necessary to diagnose it. No load and full load voltages and frequencies must be within spec for the generator to carry a rated load. You can rule out a fuel issue by inspecting the fuel line from the tank connection to the generator connection. Old rubber fuel hoses can crack and begin sucking air, which could lead to operational ills when a load is applied. You might also try running the generator from a separate fuel source, then applying the load. If it quits again, you'll know the problem is in the generator and not the fuel supply.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Frozen Holding Tanks

I think I really messed up; last night the temperature dropped to minus-5 degrees. I thought about the fresh water and left it dripping at a faucet, but I never thought about the holding tanks. They were left closed and by the time I thought about it at 2:00 am, it was too late. What is the best way to get them thawed out? The temperature is supposed to stay below freezing for a couple of days. Thanks! John R.

John, if your holding tanks are not in a heated compartment, but protected by a sub-floor or an enclosure on the bottom of the coach, a drop light with a 100-watt bulb placed within the same void will eventually thaw the contents of the tanks, albeit somewhat slowly. If the tanks are exposed underneath the RV, a common hair dryer, or better yet a heat gun, can be used to gradually thaw the tanks. But be extremely careful to not allow the gun to stay focused on one portion of the tank for very long; it can easily melt the plastic container. Slowly moving the heat gun over the bottom of the tanks in a slow arc will eventually de-ice them. It may take a while, depending on how large the tanks are, but it will eventually thaw. Be very sure the tanks are completely thawed prior to operating the waste valves for evacuation. It’s okay to also use the heat gun on the valves themselves, just don’t linger too long in one spot. In the future, you can always add windshield washer fluid (if permissible in the sewer system in your area) or RV anti-freeze to each tank to keep them from freezing. The fuller the tanks, the less likely to freeze. Just keep adding a half-gallon of anti-freeze each day the temps remain below freezing. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

RV Floor Cut-Out

I have a 1997 Jayco Eagle 30-foot travel trailer. I am doing a complete tear out and rebuild. I have come across replacing the bathtub and I noticed a cutout of the floor directly below the drain with a piece of aluminum below it. I'm just wondering if they cut this out in case the drain leaks? I do not want to punch a hole the aluminum in case that leads to the holding tank. What can you tell me about this? Joe R.

Joe, that is simply an access point for the P-trap for the tub. By code, all P-traps must be accessible and having that floor cut-out satisfies that requirement. The technician can access the trap from under the coach if necessary. There is likely some air space between the cut-out in the floor and the top of the holding tank. It might be prudent to use a flashlight and a mirror to verify first.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Failed Lift Mechanism on a Folding Camping Trailer

I have a 2000 Coleman Timberlake Pop up camper. Weeks ago we had a camping trip and when we finish putting everything we needed in the camper, we started to close it. When I started to crank it down it didn't move. I tried again and again and it started spinning loose. There went the camping trip. Now I don't have a clue what happened and I cannot take it to a repair shop. I see no broken cables. The rod under the trailer doesn't move. There are two little sprockets before the rod. Any tips? Enrique R., (Lehigh Acres, FL)

A common problem associated with those lifting mechanisms Enrique, is the eventual failure of the shear pin that connects the drive mechanism to the whiffle tree. Of course there are multiple parts in the link, but the most common component to fail is that pin. In some cases it’s difficult to get to it. Here’s where you can download the manual for that lift mechanism. Use the manual to determine how to effectuate the repair. It shouldn’t be too difficult, but do your homework and read through the manual first. A closer inspection, once you open up everything, will determine your course of action. Wish I had more definitive solutions for you, but the manual should help. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Leaky RV Shower Stall

We have a 2007 Damon RV with a leaking “hex” shower stall. It is leaking somewhere in the glass section framing or where the shower sides, glass and plastic connect to the bottom section. The water appears at the bottom of the glass framing where it connects to the plastic shower stall, which is nearly inaccessible. I have half a tube of silicone caulk spread over and through the connection points on the inside, but it is still leaking. Would it be beneficial and easy to take the framing out and really caulk the areas? John W., (Schenectady, NY)

John, it’s tough to choose a repair path without actually having the benefit of looking at the shower enclosure in question, but in past experiences with single-sided enclosures, it was always proven best to disassemble, clean off the old sealant and reassemble with new sealant. One troubling aspect with this method is that some manufacturers are likely to install the shower enclosure before attaching other cabinetry in the lavatory making it nigh impossible to disassemble and reassemble after the fact. 

 Before attempting anything yourself, I would suggest seeking out a Damon dealer near you. It may even be worth a day trip to find one. Perhaps Damon issued a service bulletin if this problem was chronic. A selling dealer would be on that mailing list. And just perhaps they’ve seen this symptom previously and will know exactly where the leak is originating. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. 

One thing you might try; saturate the enclosure in sections; only allowing the water to pour down one section at a time. This may isolate the offending portion and help pinpoint where the water is entering before exiting. My guess is that it is coming out of the enclosure at the very bottom so it probably doesn’t matter where it actually enters. I’m thinking the seal under the bottom frame is where the leak originates. If there is any “play” in that bottom frame member, perhaps it will be possible to carefully pry it up a fraction of an inch and squirt some silicone under the frame member all the way around. Again, without seeing it firsthand, it’s difficult to diagnose. A long shot is that the enclosure itself is cracked somewhere allowing the water to escape. This is unlikely unless the enclosure was installed in place while under stress. This could happen if the factory secured a cabinet up against the enclosure after the original installation. Stressing the enclosure at any time after the initial installation can cause the plastic to flex enough to break the sealant. I hope some of these suggestions will help John! Plus, our readers may have some ideas as well!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Burned Wires in IOTA Transfer Switch

I just found my IOTA, 50-amp transfer switch smoking badly. I opened it and found all the wires burned up inside. I found a recall; NHTSA Recall No. 12V-516, and it does involve my unit, but I have a 2010 Cameo and they went out of business, so I think I'm at a loss here. My question is, do I even need this thing? I don't have an in-house generator. And it's only there from what I can figure out, to transfer from shore power to generator power if I loose shore power. Is that correct? Can I just wire around it? It looks like I can connect the inbound wires from the the pedestal to the wires going to the inside circuit breaker box and eliminate this auto transfer switch altogether. The other wires go to an inside, built-in generator switch and the heavy wires appear to go to the generator, if I had one to connect to it. Can I just eliminate it? Bill K. 

Along with the recall, the Internet is rife with problems associated with that IOTA transfer switch Bill. I see no problem with you removing it altogether if you do not have a generator OR an inverter. Be sure to use an approved, listed electrical box to make the connection between the shore cord and the load side of the coach’s system. It can be mounted right where the transfer switch is located now. Tape the wire nuts securely also. I would also label the generator-ready wires inside the proposed generator compartment to alert future owners of that coach that a modification was made. Leave the conductors in place but label both ends of the generator circuit just in case someone eventually installs a generator. 

A transfer switch (either manual or automatic), is only required when more than one source of 120-volts AC is available to power the coach circuits. Some transfer switches control all three available RV sources; shore power, generator and inverter. In an RV equipped with only a shore cord connection, the conductors simply end up at the main panelboard breaker box anyway. There is a junction box somewhere in the circuitry of those coaches that transitions from the stranded shore cord conductors to solid romex wires inside the RV. So without a generator (even though it's prewired for one) and no inverter, you can safely bypass and remove that failed IOTA transfer switch.

Monday, December 16, 2013

RV Hot Skin

I read in a recent issue of Family Motor Coaching your advice to Michael regarding the use of a proximity tester. I am a retired electrician with almost 50 years on the job. Almost 20 years in hospitals and the rest in industry, some construction and the rest maintenance.

Your advice about the proximity tester was a bit off base. That type of tester is a great troubleshooting tool in the hand of a professional, but not so good for the novice. A far better choice for the novice is a circuit tester/ ground monitor. The device is not much bigger than the plug on the end of an extension cord. These testers will check reverse polarity, open ground, open neutral, reverse hot and ground and open hot. 

This tool can be used at the end of an extension cord, at the 120 volt outlet or inside the RV. It is safer to use and gives more information. Like all electrical safety testers this tool should be tested on a known good circuit before testing an unknown circuit. In this case to be sure all of the lights are working. Dave S.

With all respect, I beg to differ Dave. Those three-light testers cannot identify a certain scenario containing reversed polarity along with a bootleg ground. Those two faults, when coupled, even fool digital volt/ohm meters and ground loop testers and all the RV surge protectors now on the market. And results in everything metallic in and on the RV becoming electrified; what we call a hot skin condition. We’ve found that by measuring the voltage with a reliable volt-meter and then verifying that voltage with a proximity test device is the safest way to determine the true polarity of any receptacle. Remember, on RVs, the ground and neutral conductors are isolated from each other. Only at the voltage source is the ground and neutral bonded.

My buddy Mike Sokol (a frequent contributor here), had an interesting article published in EC&M magazine. All serious RVers need to check it out; it explains the reasoning behind our recommendation.

The other advantage using the non-contact proximity test device, which is totally safe for the novice by the way, is that no conductors need to be exposed or circuits interrupted. All you have to do is get close. It’s perfect for testing for a hot skin condition.

Mike has produced a bunch of videos that show the advantages of hot skin testing using the proximity test device. I feel this topic is so important, every RVer needs to read through all the reference sources.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Boiling Batteries

I just bought a used coach equipped with dual auxiliary batteries. I used my voltmeter to test them and only got a reading of 8.5-volts. When I checked the cells I found they all were almost dry. I refilled them all with distilled water and plugged in my outside power cord to allow a trickle charge. I checked the battery readings every day for three days and the readings were still routinely 8.5-volts. Today when I pressed the AUX button on my panel, all five indicator lights came on to the 'Full Charge' indicator. I tested the batteries again and they all registered 8.5- volts. I flipped the auxiliary battery switch to "On" with the outside power still connected and immediately heard a humming sound coming from the battery compartment. When I leaned down over the battery storage compartment I also heard a sound like boiling water and there was a strong nauseating odor. I tested the batteries again while this was occurring and they tested at 13-volts. I turned the auxiliary battery switch' to "Off" and again tested the batteries which were back at 8.5-volts. I turned the switch to "On" again and it hummed, sounded like boiling water with the same odor and tested at 13-volts. Yet when turned off, they tested at 8.5-volts again. The two utility batteries are Group 24 Marine/RV batteries. Is this normal or do I have a problem? Are there specific procedures for checking and recharging utility batteries? Ken V. (Tyrone, NM)

Ken, first of all, in order for the onboard converter/charger to actually charge the battery bank, that auxiliary battery switch must always remain on or “Connected.” It is apparently a battery disconnect switch; typically used during periods of non-use. It basically takes the battery out of the system altogether, including the charge current coming in as well as the battery current going out. But it is quite possible you have more than one problem; a battery charger problem, a miswired battery bank or, since we don’t know their true condition, simply faulty batteries. 

A process of elimination will determine the culprit, but it’s obvious the batteries probably suffered some damage just by being boiled dry. The first thing pro RV service techs do is eliminate the battery bank as the cause of the problem. It may be time to have a tech fully test them by using a carbon pile battery tester. Not usually found in the DIYers tool kit, a carbon pile battery tester will reveal internal battery problems not normally detected by simple voltage measurements. 

But here’s what’s probably happening. The batteries are definitely dead and may be sulfated and damaged beyond rescue. But since the battery bank is removed from the circuitry by virtue of the battery disconnect switch being off, you are actually measuring the converter/charger voltage at the monitor panel while the motorhome is plugged into shore power, not the actually battery voltage. When you turn on the disconnect switch (bringing the batteries back into the system), the converter/charger is suddenly tasked with trying to charge two completely dead batteries. Since you added water to the electrolyte, the sulfuric acid content is very low in each cell and the charger is trying to pump as much current at the highest voltage it can into those dead batteries. The off-gassing (bubbling and odor) are the result. The first step would be to fully charge them prior to having a carbon-pile test performed. If possible, disconnect the batteries from the RV charging system and charge them both independently using a shop battery charger. Of course, if during the off-line battery charging process, it's discovered that both batteries simply will not take a charge, than we can probably assume they are internally sulfated beyond resuscitation and it may simply be time for a new battery bank. But if they indeed begin to accept a charge (meaning the open circuit voltage and the specific gravity gradually increases), under a low charge rate, they may still be salvageable. 

Completely dead Group 24 batteries, though not huge in terms of battery capacity, may still take a few days under a slow/low charge rate to fully charge. Here's how to determine when any given battery is fully charged. While charging, monitor the specific gravity in each cell using a temperature compensated hydrometer. As the battery continues to accept a charge, the specific gravity will continue to rise. At some point the specific gravity simply will stop increasing. When it refuses to keep escalating in all cells after a two or three-hour period, that battery is indeed fully charged. It simply will not store any more amp-hours. By the way, if there is a difference of .050 points between any two cells on the same battery when using the hydrometer, that battery is indeed faulty and should be replaced. Test over! 

Once the batteries are each fully charged, have them tested on a carbon-pile load test. Some RV shops may not be equipped with a carbon-pile tester (though they indeed should), but you can also have this service performed by any independent battery retailer. If the batteries indeed become fully charged and they pass the carbon-pile test, next, be sure they are reinstalled and wired correctly. Two 12-volt batteries are wired in parallel to double the storage capacity yet still remain at 12-volts output. Be sure the "hot" wire from the RV charging system is wired to the positive post of one of the batteries and that the negative ground wire is connected to the negative post of the other battery and to a good, clean and dry connection on the coach frame. 

I wouldn't put too much faith in the onboard battery meter on the monitor panel. Rely on a good volt-ohmmeter (VOM) for more accurate measurements. I recommend every RVer carry a decent digital VOM anyway. This leads me to the third possibility; the condition of that onboard battery charger. Depending on the brand and model, some less expensive converter/chargers have a propensity to overcharge batteries, hence the condition you found the battery bank in originally. There are much better chargers available that may be a better choice. And you always have the option to upgrade. But with shore power connected, the battery switch activated and the charger operating, you should measure an increase in the voltage at the batteries, above what the batteries measure in an open circuit situation. All this said, I'd wager the charger is probably okay, simply typical and mediocre and that the batteries will fail one of the tests mentioned above. If I'm right, new batteries and an investment in a sophisticated, chip-controlled RV battery charger will probably eliminate your issue forever. If you opt to keep the current charger, be sure to monitor the electrolyte level in the batteries often while the coach is connected to shore power.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Winterizing Woes

Winterizing my motorhome is a joke. There are no bypasses and to reach the pump you have to crawl over the bed to access it. There’s hardly room to add a winterizing kit and there’s no valves to bypass the hot water tank. Accessing the back of the water heater, you have to get on your knees go under a closet just to see anything! I sent an email to the manufacturer to redesign this and to give them a general slap on the hand for having a terrible product mechanical-wise. Us older adults should not have to crawl on our knees to get at things. I also don't want to buy ten gallons of RV antifreeze. Do you have suggestions on a quick fix? I asked the manufacturer to go out on the plant floor and look over a model and tell me what one of them would do. They sent me a schematic, which is great, but what to do? Joe Z. (Buffalo, NY)

Joe, regarding the difficulty in accessing certain components in your motorhome, you appear to be not a bit reticent. I have a seminar about “technically choosing” an RV and one of the precepts is, how easy is it to gain access to certain components. We look at floor plans, color schemes, amenities, etc., but some manufacturers rarely consider the owner’s access concerns. Not all, mind you, but some. 

Most water heaters will indeed be installed on the floor of the coach, so chances are, it will still take getting on your knees to switch the by-pass valves. Aftermarket by-pass kits are readily available for water heaters and I recommend the type that utilizes brass valves rather than plastic. To me, they hold up better in the long run. A certified RV tech should also be able to modify the fresh water line between the tank and the pump and make it easier to pump in the anti-freeze. But keep in mind, you can simply pour a couple gallons of RV anti-freeze directly into the fresh water tank and accomplish the same thing. An astute RV tech can also retrofit the plumbing by-pass equipment using electrically-operated solenoid valves, but this might prove a bit costly. But it is an option. I do encourage you to keep suggesting to manufacturers how to improve their products. Though they often may not have the answers you’re looking for at that given moment, they will, at least, listen to what you have to say.
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