Get the Lowdown on Window Shades and Tweak Awning Tension

RV advice from May's Mark My Words monthly post

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May 1, 2019

Image: Airstream. Airstream motorhome in bright sunshine.

Hi Mark My Words readers! This month, we have a bunch of quick and easy fixes for common RV problems including window shades, awnings and driving on gravel roads. Check them out, and keep those questions coming to [email protected].

Professional photograph of Mark NewmanMark,
I have a Class A motorhome with large day/night window shades in the living room area. These shades will not stay open, a condition that has developed over the last several months. Can you recommend a fix?

Hi Richard,
If your shades are the typical ones that use string tensioners, they are easy to adjust. If you look at the wall below the shades, you’ll see a small plastic string mount on either side, where the shade’s guide strings are attached. Most of them look like a little bobbin or spool. What you need to do is increase the tension on those strings. In most cases, you can do this by loosening the screw that secures the mounting spool or bobbin and turning the bobbin to increase the string tension. Start with a small adjustment and tighten both sides equally. If the blind still slips, increase the tension on those springs until it just stays put. Tighten it only enough to fix the slipping, as over-tightening can lead to rapid string wear.

My wife and I are full-timers in a 37-foot Mobile Scout (Sunnybrook) fifth-wheel. When we bought the unit, we had the dealer install slide toppers from Carefree of Colorado. Recently, I noticed one of the toppers sagging. I have reviewed the owner’s manual, but it does not indicate how to adjust the tension on the topper. Can you give us any guidance on how it can be corrected?
Tony and Lynne

Hi Tony and Lynne,
While it is possible for you to adjust the spring tension on that awning yourself, I strongly suggest you have someone with proper training and experience do it. In most cases, you have to remove one of the mounting arms and rotate it to increase the spring tension. The problem is that most folks don’t realize how dangerous it can be to lose control of that arm during the adjustment! There is a frightening amount of energy stored in that awning spring, and it can inflict serious injury if you make a mistake. Please have an RV repair shop do it!

Rugged gravel road near a coastal area.

Image: Dimitry Anikin

Thanks for the great info! We plan to travel over about 40 miles of a gravel/dirt road this summer and wanted your thoughts on reducing the tire pressure on our small Class C motorhome for that part of the trip to get a smoother ride and help with any mud along the way. I normally have 60 psi on all six tires (80 psi max), so I would reduce that while driving 35 mph or less, then using my portable air pump to go back to 60 psi when back on pavement. Your ideas on this would be appreciated.

Hi Richard,
While I have occasionally “aired down” when driving my truck in soft sand or on a beach, that was primarily to increase traction. Driving your RV with reduced tire pressure, even at less than 35 mph, is not a good idea. Most RV tires are loaded very heavily and need the proper air pressure to handle that load. Running tires that are under-inflated affects their handling, their ability to deflect road hazards and their ability to stay on the rim when cornering. In dual wheel sets, lower air pressure increases sidewall bulge, which can lead to the tires touching. That’s a bad thing. My suggestion is to leave the tires at the correct inflation pressure and just slow down to reduce the rattles and bumps. Driving slowly will also help prevent rock impact and gravel “erosion” damage to under-vehicle parts and accessories.

Hi Mark,
Is there a way to totally drain the freshwater tank? I’ve opened all the valves, but usually have a couple of inches of water left in the tank. I’m assuming what doesn’t drain out gets stale. I purchased a pump with a hose that I stick down the water inlet pipe and can get some water out that way, but it still leaves quite a bit of water in the tank. One thing I haven’t tried is to park the trailer on an incline so most of the water runs to the side of the tank with the outlets.
Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Hi Robert,
You have already hit on the answer! Figure out which side of the tank has the drain hose connection, then use a couple of leveling blocks under the tires to raise the RV on the side opposite the tank drain. It only takes a little bit of slope to encourage all the water to exit the tank. If you have a large motorhome with hydraulic levelers, just raise the correct side of the coach a little to encourage draining. This also works well to improve the way your holding tanks drain at a dump station.

The steps on my Class A motorhome sound like they’re cycling back and forth and move for a half inch. Sometimes they will come out, then retract. On some occasions, they come out and stay. They are unpredictable. What can I do to solve the problem?
Thank you,

Hi Larry,
Most of the automatic step mechanisms use a door switch that signals the step controller when the door opens or closes. Some are magnetic, some are pushbutton. These switches do wear out over time, and most erratic step behavior can be traced to a misadjusted or failing door switch. The problem can also be caused by damaged wiring going to that switch or by a poor or intermittent ground. The door switch, usually located in the door jamb, is easy to remove and inspect. If it appears wobbly or worn, replace it. If the switch is OK, crawl under the rig and inspect the ground strap that runs from the metal frame of the step assembly to the vehicle frame or other ground point. If this cable is loose or missing, it can cause the steps to operate erratically. If you still have the problem, it could be a wiring harness problem, or the “brain” for the steps may be getting senile. The majority of these steps are made by Kwikee and parts are readily available. See for more info, troubleshooting guides and parts.