Mark My Words – June: Putting the RV Back on the Road

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June 23, 2016

Mark Nemeth

Hi Folks
This month we’ll talk about fridges, awnings, water heaters, and putting an RV back on the road after a long idle period. Remember to send your RVing questions to [email protected].

Good Day…
I have a Jayco trailer that has an electric awning and I’ve recently moved it to a permanent lot. My question: is it possible to tie down the arms of the awning, and what do you suggest; bungee cords (allowing a slight bit of movement) or rope tied down to something solid (deck)? Of course in high winds this would be retracted. I don’t want the wind to destroy my awning but would like to enjoy a bit of shade and cover of the door. I appreciated your comments. Thanks, Colleen

Hi, Colleen
There’s no problem tying your awning down, but before you do, I suggest that you disable the electric retract before you tie it down. Some awnings have a lock button on the control switch, on others you may have to pull the fuse. If you don’t disable it and the awning tries to retract when tied down, bad things will happen! I suggest using a pair of automotive ratchet straps like these: and some ground augers like these: I like the ratchet straps because they are easy to snug up and they make a firm and stable connection between the awning and the ground attachment point. Be aware that you MUST remove the straps and retract your awning if high winds or storms threaten, as straps like these will not protect your awning from damage by strong winds.
The Norcold refrigerator freezer in my 1998 Holiday Rambler is making frost on the back wall. It just started doing this. Do you have any suggestions as to what is causing this and how do I prevent it? Thanks, Bev

Hi, Bev
I’m assuming your fridge is operating normally and not running excessively cold. That’s easy to check with a thermometer. The inside fridge temperature should be between 35 and 45 degrees F. Unusual frost buildup in the fridge may be caused by excessively humid air in your current location, or possibly by moist warm food or containers that you have placed in the fridge. Frost buildup can also be caused by a failing door seal. Open the door wide and inspect the seal on the door. Any gaps or damage will allow moist air to enter the fridge and the moisture will condense out as frost. If the seal looks OK, try the dollar bill test: place a dollar bill in between the door and fridge box and close the door. Pull on the dollar… if it slips out easily, that indicates that the door seal is not seating properly. Try this in several places all around the door. If the door seal is damaged, or not sealing properly, it can be replaced.

Due to illness, job conflicts, etc., our lovely motorhome has been sitting still for over two years. Occasionally, the engine and generator have been turned on. They sound fine. The gasoline has an additive in it. The house part had someone living in it for part of that time. So that’s not a concern. So, in order to get it back safely on the road, I know the tires might need replacing as well as all fluids, etc. But how far can we drive it to get to a service department? Any advice and suggestions welcome. Thank you from two old ladies.

Hi, ladies,
Before driving the RV, I would do the following things.
1. Inflate all the tires to the proper pressure and visually inspect the tires for obvious damage or dry rot. Some light surface cracking is acceptable, but large cracks or faults in the body or tread are not.
2. Change the engine oil and filter. Check all other fluid levels.
3. Start the engine; let it warm up; then move the coach a short distance to be sure that the brakes are not hung up. Turn the steering wheel lock-to-lock several times. Listen for any unusual noises. Look underneath to check for any leaking fluids.

If everything sounds OK and the coach seems to work normally, shut it down; let it sit for a few minutes; then re-check all fluid levels. If everything still looks good, it should be reasonably safe to drive it for several hours, if needed. While on the road, pay close attention to any weird noises or smells, and just take it easy. If you need to drive it quite a ways to get to the nearest service place, you might consider taking out some towing insurance before you start down the road, and be sure to take a cell phone with you. Once you get it to a service facility, I recommend that all fluids and filters be replaced, and add some fuel injector cleaner to the tank and top it up with fresh fuel.


Dear Mark,
I am having trouble getting gasoline into the tank of our 34-ft. 1993 Bounder. No one seems to know what the problem is. We keep holding up the customer lines at the pump because the back pressure keeps stopping the pump. I can only pump very slowly. This wasn’t a problem until the last couple of years. Do you know of anyone else who has had this problem? Do you have any suggestions as to what might be the problem? Thanks, Carl

Hi, Carl,
I personally had similar problems with my old 34-foot Southwind. These large RVs often have a very long set of hoses connecting the fuel tank to the fuel filler. If, over time, one of those hoses collapses or gets a kink in it, it will make filling the tank an all-day proposition. Take a look under the rig. In most cases, you’ll be able to see the hoses. There should be a large hose that carries the fuel to the tank and a smaller hose that vents the tank while it is filling. If you find a collapsed area on a hose, you can sometimes encourage it to open up by putting a worm gear clamp (the kind used on radiator hoses) around the collapsed area. Tightening the clamp will force the hose back into a round shape. If that won’t work, you may need to replace the offending hose.


Dear Mark,
When using our house trailer for the first time this year, we noticed, at the end of the weekend, black soot up the side of the trailer by the water heater exhaust. We had no problem with the water heating up but wondered what would cause this and how to prevent it from happening again. Yours truly, Jaye & Maxine

Hi, Jaye & Maxine,
That black soot indicates that the water heater flame is burning without enough air. Several things can cause this, and, thankfully, they are easy to fix. The most common cause is small spider webs or nests inside the burner tube. For some reason, spiders seem to like the odor of propane and will often nest inside the burner tube. Simply remove the burner tube (usually only a single screw) and clean it out. While it is off, make sure there are no obstructions inside the combustion chamber tube (where the flame from the main burner goes). Mud dauber wasps love to build nests in there. That should cure the problem, but if it doesn’t, then you may need to adjust the burner air shutter. This is a simple rotating collar that restricts the air going to the burner and can be found on the outside of the burner tube, close to where it connects to the gas valve. Not all water heaters have adjustable shutters, but if yours does, they are easy to tweak. With the heater burner running, adjust the shutter to get a nice blue flame with just a hint of yellow in it. If you start getting a blowtorch or “jet engine” sound, you have opened it too far. If you are still having the problem, or if you don’t feel comfortable messing with propane appliances, take the rig to a propane supplier or RV service center and ask them to service the heater.

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