Mark Nemeth has been involved with all things RV for more than 15 years, including almost five years on the road as a full-timer. He is the RV education director for Escapees RV Club and oversees the highly acclaimed RVers’ Boot Camp and SmartWeigh programs.
Hi, folks. This month we’ll talk about voltage spikes, tires, towing, leaks, and weird holding tanks
Remember, you can submit your RVing questions to[email protected].
In the one year we have been fulltime RVing, we have had a few voltage spikes that have caused serious problems with both our Sharp microwave and our Iota converter. I looked at a system-wide voltage protector, but they are quite expensive, in the $300– $500+ range, can be large and some require professional installation. I now have individual voltage protectors on the microwave and converter and plan to add one to the refrigerator. These protectors cost $6–$8 and are small and easy to install/replace. To your knowledge, are there other appliances, especially expensive appliances, susceptible to damage from voltage fluctuations, which should be protected such as the two televisions? Brooks
Anything electronic can be hurt by surges, including your televisions. Only the 120VAC appliances will be in danger. Other equipment that runs on 12V will not be affected (water heater, refrigerator, etc.). While individual protectors may help protect your appliances, be aware that most low-cost surge protectors utilize a single MOV (metal oxide varistor) to couple surges to ground. These devices will stop a large surge, but typically will be damaged or even completely opened (burnt out) by a large surge, and then your surge suppressor will no longer be functional. Most cheap suppressors won’t have any indication on them to warn you that the MOV is toast, either. So you may be trusting a suppressor that is no longer operational. The large units are more likely to survive repeated surges, and most also have a true functionality indication on them and user-replaceable MOVs.
Our question is about tire pressure and maintenance. We have four types of tire gauges and get different readings from all. How do you know which is the most accurate gauge? Thanks, Jerry
Which tire gauges are the most accurate? Well, the digital ones are fairly likely to be correct when you buy them, but the first time you drop one, its accuracy may be affected. The dial-type gauges are pretty good if you buy quality units using ANSI commercial grade gauges (avoid those $10 made-in-China knockoffs). Price is a tip-off here; expect to pay more for a quality gauge. With most dial gauges, the mechanical accuracy rating is ± 2 percent from 25 percent to 75 percent of scale and ± 3 percent below 25 percent and above 75 percent. A surprisingly good choice is a pencil-style gauge, the ones where a tube or scale slides out of a barrel to give you a reading. These gauges are generally pretty dependable and take abuse well; about the only thing that bothers them is dirt on the slide, so keep them clean. The gauge likely to have the absolutely poorest accuracy is the one you find attached to a gas station air hose. Subjected to extremes of weather and lots of casual abuse, these gauges should not be used to determine the pressure in anything you care about. No matter which type of gauge you choose, select a tire gauge so the typical pressure you will be testing is near the middle of the gauge’s rating. That’s where most gauges are the more accurate. Example: For a typical car tire that runs at 32 psi, you would select a 60 psi. (Max) tire gauge and for an RV tire that runs at 90 psi, a 180 psi. (Max) tire gauge. Be careful to never attempt to test a pressure higher than the gauge is rated for, as this will damage the gauge and affect its accuracy. In all cases, price is a clue: inexpensive gauges will generally be less accurate and less reliable over years of use.
We tow a car now with a manual shift and are thinking of replacing it with an Automatic. Many campers tow a Saturn. Is that the only choice we have or are there other cars with Automatics that can be towed with a tow bar? What criteria do we have to consider? And what will the alterations be? Karin and Dieter
Hi, Karin and Dieter,
There is a comprehensive list of vehicles that can be towed 4-down (without modifications) available at Motorhome magazine’s web site. See www.motorhome.com and click on “Resources”, “Dingy Guides”.
Many vehicles with automatic transmissions can be towed this way without modification, and most are supported by at least one tow bar manufacturer for base plates and adapters. Also, vehicles that are not listed as towable-4-down can often be modified with either a transmission lube pump or a driveshaft disconnect. Remco makes the lube pumps and disconnects. For pumps, visit www.remcoindustries.com/Towing/Store.php. Driveshaft disconnects are available from www.remcodsc.com/
In all cases, be sure to double check with the vehicle manufacturer for the final word on tow restrictions before deciding on a particular model. Most models that can be towed 4-down will have specific instructions in the owner’s manual that you must follow to prep the vehicle for towing.
We’re in the process of shopping for a new RV and we’ve found that several new models utilize a single, huge holding tank instead of separate black and grey water tanks. Would you please comment on the advantages/disadvantages of each system? David and Jane
Hi, David and Jane,
Well, you’re asking for an opinion and I do have one! I feel that putting it all in a single tank is a bad idea! A single tank setup will prevent you from keeping the nasty and disgusting black water separate from the relatively benign grey water. That means that you’ll be unable to dispose of them separately. I’d much rather tote a blue tank full of soapy water over to a dump station than a tankful of poop! What will I use to rinse the black goop out of my hose if I have no grey water handle to pull? Also, it will be much harder to use any kind of bacterial/enzymatic black tank treatment when you are also filling the tank with anti-bacterial soapy water and cleaning products. But, worst of all: We all know how unreliable tank gauges tend to be, and I’m sure that most of us have allowed our grey water tank to get a mite too full. The result is usually grey water backing up into the shower or tub. Now, that I can deal with, but BLACK water in the tub? Time to break out the Clorox and the brillo pads before setting foot (ewww!) in that tub again!
I think “one tank for all” is the concept of simplicity taken a step too far. Thankfully, RVs set up this way are rare. Let’s hope that manufacturers don’t all head in that direction in order to save manufacturing costs!
We have a Winnebago class-C motorhome. Last year we noticed a leak of black water running from the cab overhead to inside the front window and side windows. The dealer found several leaks and repaired them by caulking. The inside wood has started to bow, and they supported it with more screws. Now I am paranoid of this happening every year. We covered the cab with tarp mid-winter. Is this a common problem?
Unfortunately, class-C motorhomes are notorious for leaks in the cab-over area. This is where the RV structure meets up with the cutaway van or truck chassis and where the stress and vibration can cause leaks. Unfortunately, once water has entered the structure, some damage to the wood and framing is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to become a terminal condition. What you must do now is prevent any further water damage by ensuring that no more water can get in!
It is critical to inspect the roof and cab-over surfaces for any defect that could allow water to enter. It may also be necessary to apply sealant to all seams and around any vents. Check the running lights and windows to ensure that the sealant has not deteriorated or pulled away from the surface of the RV skin. If you find any problems with the windows, don’t just apply sealant around the outside of the frame. That’s a temporary fix at best. It is much better to remove the window completely, clean the sealing surfaces, and reinstall the window using fresh butyl tape sealant. The same thing goes for running lights. If you inspect the roof and cab-over a couple times a year, you can probably stop worrying so much about leaks and water damage.
Do you have a question for Mark? Please submit your question via email to [email protected].
Please remember, material will be edited. Because of the large volume of material and correspondence submitted, individual replies will be limited to questions that are chosen for publication.
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