RV Maintenance Tips
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It doesn't matter whether you own a pop-up or a diesel pusher, when you made the decision to purchase an RV it was a major investment. Like any other major investment there are certain things we must do to protect it so we can enjoy it. Your RV needs to be maintained just like your house and automobiles need to be maintained. There are three basic types of maintenance for your RV: preventive maintenance, scheduled maintenance and emergency maintenance.
Having electricity in your RV almost feels decadent. After all, many people call this camping but really, it's like having a house - but on wheels. The ability to run a microwave, hair dryer, TV, toaster, espresso machine - even a washer/dryer - is brought to us by the magic of "shore power" (usually) or a 12-volt system with an inverter. In this article we'll discuss electric derived from the post and plug.
It's important to note that in an RV you can't run several appliances at once or you'll blow your breaker. Here's the skinny. Your RV has either 30 amp or 50 amp capability. Amperage is the amount of power available to use. Each appliance pulls a specific number of amps. Exceed 30 or 50 amps (depending on your rig's system) and poof - the power overloads and the breaker trips. Here's a handy list of some of the typical appliances and the approximate amps required to operate them:
Microwave 12.8 amps
Air Conditioner - 15,000 BTU 12.5 amps
Electric Water Heater - 6 gallon 12.5 amps
Toaster 10 amps
Hair Dryer 10 amps
Electric Frying Pan 10 amps
Electric Coffee Pot 10 amps
TV 2 amps
Crock Pot 1.5 amps
Heating Pad .5 amps
Most electrical products note how many watts or amps it takes to operate them. If you only see watts divide the watts by 120 (volts) and you'll have the amps. Reverse that - multiply amps by 120 (volts) and you'll have the watts.
While amperage is the draw, voltage is the flow. Think of voltage as a river. If you're canoeing down a dammed river you have to paddle a little harder to move along. If the river is free-flowing you don't have to work as hard to get downstream. Acceptable voltage (at 110 to 127 with no load on the system) allows your appliances to run in an efficient and easy manner. Drop below 110 and your appliances must work harder, get hotter and suffer the possibility of failure. For instance, never operate your A/C when your voltage is below 106 (when it's running) or you risk damaging the motor - a costly repair (or replacement).
How do you know the volts flowing into your RV? Simple - test it. I might go a bit overboard but I hate the thought of an improperly wired or inadequately powered electric connection zapping my system. This is the very first thing I do when I arrive at a site in case the power's unacceptable and I have to move. To start with, I use a polarity tester (a little plug with red and amber lights and a key telling me what combination of lights should or should not light up) to make sure the power is wired correctly. Next I use a digital volt meter (set on AC Volts) to check how much voltage is going between ground and hot, neutral and hot, and ground and neutral. It's not as complicated as it seems. The first two numbers should read within a volt of one another and should be in the 110 to 127 range. The other reading should be less than 1 volt (0 is optimal). If anything's off kilter I don't plug in and head back up to the office for assistance - maybe a different site or ask for maintenance to come have a look. Sometimes it's a loose wire, a worn out breaker or receptacle -sometimes it's more serious.
At the very least, I recommend you do a polarity test outside and use a line voltage monitor plugged in to an indoor outlet to check the incoming volts.
Other power options include using your 12-volt system with an inverter, a generator or even solar power. The bottom line is knowing what you require to camp comfortably and assuring you have an adequate energy supply.
Do you remember that iconic tire commercial that extolled the virtues of their product - "because you've got a lot riding on your tires" - with an image of the cutest baby sitting in a tire? It was true then and it's true now - your tires are literally where the rubber meets the road. Making a good purchasing decision and maintaining your RV's tires can mean the difference between a pleasant trip and an unpleasant, unplanned stop. In this article we'll discuss the specifics of trailer tires but several points pertain to motor homes as well.
Look for special trailer tires - denoted with an ST in front of the string of numbers on the sidewall. These are designed with trailering in mind - they have stiffer sidewalls than a P (passenger) or LT (light truck) tire, are more flexible cornering and backing, and are designed for long duty cycles to name a few differentiating factors.
When choosing trailer tires you'll need to know the weight of your fully-loaded trailer. It's a great idea to actually weigh it - the manufacturer's numbers are almost always low. This information is critical in determining the load range (weight capacity of each tire) you'll need. Trailer tire load ranges are identified by a letter - usually B-D - the higher the letter the more the tire can carry. Remember that your tires work in conjunction with the axles and other suspension components - a high load range tire doesn't mean you can exceed the axle ratings, etc.
Believe it or not, trailer tires are designed to last 3-5 years or 5,000-12,000 miles and are not designed to wear out. After a mere 3 years - traveling or garaged - approximately one-third of your tire's strength is gone. Without question, it's extremely difficult to purchase new tires when yours look perfectly good but it's essential to your safety. Using sidewall data you can see how "fresh" your tires are. Look for a four digit number following the DOT serial number - typically on the back of the tire. The date code will be stamped rather than molded in an oval shape. The first two digits are the week of the year in which the tire was manufactured (01 thru 52) followed by the final two digits denoting the year it was manufactured. A tire stamped "1206" was manufactured in the 12th week of 2006.
The number one factor in tire failure is improper inflation. It's recommended to inflate your tires to the maximum PSI stamped on the sidewall. The trick however, is to be aware of how the elements affect tire pressure. Higher elevations increase tire pressure as does warmer temperatures. When traveling you should check your tires prior to setting out on the trip and each day before hitting the road - always when they are "cold" and that means before moving the vehicle. Take this opportunity to do a visual inspection, keeping an eye out for unusual tire wear, bulging, cracking, etc.
Another interesting and important fact is that ST tires have a maximum speed rating of 65 MPH. Drive faster than that and risk tire failure. That's because as heat builds up the tire's structure starts to disintegrate and weaken. The load carrying capacity gradually decreases as the heat and stresses generated by higher speed increases. Plan enough time to get there without a tire mishap.
Bring and use tire covers for stays longer than a weekend - UV rays accelerate tire disintegration. Use only soap and water to clean your tires. Never - and I mean never - use a product with petroleum distillates on your tires. Again, this will degrade your tires.
Before leaving on your trip check your spare (when checking your other tires) and properly inflate it. Make sure you have all the pieces of your jack system and know how to use it.
Do yourself and those you share the road with a favor - make your tires your number one priority. Be slow, be prepared, be safe. The simple fact is that each one of us does have a lot riding on our tires. See you on the road....hopefully not on the side of the road.
Holding tanks, certainly not the glitz and glamour of hitting the open road, are a fact of life when RVing. Most RVs have a black tank, one or two gray tanks and a freshwater tank. There's no getting around it - without holding tanks we wouldn't be able to enjoy the "home-style" plumbing features in our rigs. But holding tanks present mystery and perhaps even a bit of confusion to a new RVer. What, when, how...read on for answers.
An RV's freshwater tank holds water a camper may use when no outside water hook-up is available - whether in a campground, at a rest stop or during travel. The water is pumped to your plumbing system via a 12-volt water pump - usually operated by a switch in the kitchen or bathroom. The most common freshwater tank maintenance task is sanitization. Remember, this is simply a tank full of water - infrequent use can cause bacteria buildup resulting in bad tasting or smelling water or even a bug that may make you ill.
Eliminate this unpleasantness by sanitizing with a bleach water solution. Drain your tank, fill half way with fresh water, add cup of bleach for every 15 gallons your tank holds, fill tank, run "cold" water through your faucets, run the "hot" water to get the bleach water solution in your hot water tank. Let stand for four to six hours. Drain the tank (including hot water tank via faucets) completely. Mix a cup of baking soda with a gallon of water, pour into tank and refill tank. Open all faucets to allow the fresh water to pump throughout the system - this step removes the bleach odor. Drain tank once again and refill - ready to use. Even sanitized, it is a good idea to use bottled water for drinking and cooking.
One more fresh water tank tip - water weighs eight pounds per gallon - factor that weight in when traveling. I typically travel with only five or six gallons for rest stop needs. Most camps that do not have water hook-ups at the sites do have a water station to fill up prior to parking.
The gray water system is the holding area for waste water from showers, the bathroom and kitchen sinks, etc. Be careful when washing dishes not to let many solids - like rice grains, etc. - down the drain. It's okay to leave the tank valves open when connected to a sewer system. Occasional odors can be treated with the same holding tank solution used for your black tank - nothing fancy required.
Black water is the boogieman of an RV's holding tank system. This is where the "solids" reside. Plainly said, this is your toilet waste. Tip number one - DO NOT leave your tank open - even when you are connected to the campground's sewer system. Your black water tank should be 1/2 to 3/4 full before dumping. This little technique allows the suction of the sewer dump to force the solids out. That's a good thing, no one wants stinky left behinds (no pun intended) to solidify on the bottom of your tank. Once that happens it is almost impossible to loosen it up and flush it out completely. It's never a bad idea to run a few cycles of fresh water through the system when flushing the tank with a wand or other nifty tool meant for the job.
Black tanks need a chemical "holding tank treatment" and a few gallons of water added after dumping. Look for an environmentally safe, formaldehyde-free solution. These treatments come in liquid form (which I like the best), tablets (never sure if they dissolve) or granules. These treatments may also contain a tank conditioner to lubricate the valves and seals.
You don't have to purchase camping store TP, either. Look for a one-ply product like Scott's and your black tank will be fine. To test a TP put a sheet or two in a tall glass of water, allow to sit five minutes and stir. RV acceptable TP will disintegrate upon stirring. Lastly, nothing exotic should go down the toilet - waste and TP only, please.
The tank meters inside your rig rarely work. Use another system to determine when to dump your tanks.
Use a sturdy sewer hose with several end connectors on board and carry a rubber donut - required at more and more campgrounds.
You may run into a law that prohibits the sewer hose from touching the ground. Be prepared by carrying a few pre-cut gutters and a wood block or two.
And lastly, you know the old saying "it doesn't run uphill," much to the surprise of many campground engineers (especially in government parks).