I was talking with a friend about his RV set-up that allows him to go hunting and stay off the grid for weeks at a time. I thought this info might be helpful to RV’ers of all kinds so I’m going to do a series on batteries, which will lead into solar set-ups too. Just so you know I’ll be using references from the “RV Repair & Maintenance Manual” by Bob Livingston Trailer life books 1998.
The electrical system in your RV runs on two types of current; AC (alternating current) the same as your house, and DC (direct current) the same as your car. The stronger your DC system, the longer you can remain off the grid. The terms you need to understand are amps, watts, and volts. Most RV’s run on a 12 volt system, but did you know 2 – 6 volt batteries wired in a series will run your lights and appliances longer than 1 – 12 volt battery? Before you go and replace your batteries lets look at some basic information in this post, and the pros and cons along with the requirements of each set-up in posts to follow.
Batteries are not created equal
- A car’s battery is designed to provide a very large amount of current for a short period of time. This surge of current is needed to turn the engine over during starting. Once the engine starts, the alternator provides all the power that the car needs, so a car battery may go through its entire life without ever being drained more than 20 percent of its total capacity.
- A deep cycle battery is designed to provide a steady amount of current over a long period of time. A deep cycle battery is also designed to be deeply discharged over and over again, something that would ruin a car battery very quickly. To accomplish this, a deep cycle battery uses fewer, but thicker lead plates often coated with antimony or calcium, which increases the hardness of the plate.
Deep cycle batteries tend to cost more than the average car battery, but buying a regular car battery for your RV will only save you a few dollars on the short run. It will wear out quicker making it necessary to replace sooner.
We are preparing for a year long journey beginning next June (2012). We are currently looking at travel trailer floor plans just to figure out what will work well for us. Today we stopped by Curtis Trailer on Powell BLVD in Portland. As I mentioned in my previous post my family fell in love with a 5th wheel that is way out of our budget. In general I’m not a 5th wheel fan, but the space was amazing. Today we wanted to look more in our actual price range.
Honestly I wrote off 5th wheel trailers as an option because you lose pick-up bed space, and they tend to be harder to resell. I may-be changing my mind. I looked in several today and discovered they have more storage space than the typical travel trailer. That is a huge consideration for us with a family of 5 on a long journey. The salesman also mentioned that they tend to ride smoother, and are easier to connect/disconnect than hitch trailers. 5th wheels usually have a 12′ height compared to 10′ on a travel trailer. That 2′ makes a big difference in the size of exterior compartments and interior cabinet space.
The floor plan that we all liked was on a Keystone Outback, but either Keystone has discontinued the Outback 5th wheel or they have changed the name. I found the same floor plan on a Keystone Copper Canyon. This trailer is roughly 30K. That is more than we are going to spend. Unless we find an incredible deal, we expect to buy used. I love the brand new look and smell, but I don’t like losing value just by driving off the lot.
Next step is to find out what other models have that floor plan and when it was introduced into the market. Anyone know? I think I’m becoming a 5th wheel fan.
If you’ve been following us at all you know that in 9 months we plan to travel the US with our three boys for one year serving in different non-profit organizations along the way. We still have a lot to do to get ready. Things like sell existing vehicles, and purchase ones that will function best on a long journey. We also need to map out our travels. Keep following and you will see us reveal and put plans into place.
To involve our boys in the process we thought it would be fun to go look at some new travel trailers to see what floor plans we like and think would work to actually live in for a year. The reality is the majority of travel trailers are not intended to live in as a primary dwelling. There are some, but they are designed with the retired couple in mind. So we walked to B.Young RV, it’s not too far from where we live, and it was a nice day for a walk. Some of the features that are important to us are storage, room for individual space, and functional kitchen and bathroom.
The first trailer we looked at pushed the upper limits of our budget At 31 feet my wife said “I’m not sure this is big enough, I’ve seen trailer floor plans with more floor space in the bedroom.” Our two older boys were impressed that there was space for 2 TV’s and immediately commented how this would work great with the Xbox. They were ready to buy, not caring about how their belongings would fit, as long as the Xbox fit.
We toured several other models and floor plans, in fact we looked at every model they had available. We found one that that we all saw the potential. It met all the requirements we have in a year long road trip, except it is not even close to our budget. It was a 39 foot toy hauler starting at $90K.
This trailer has 4 queen size beds. Perfect for a family of 5. Because it’s a toy hauler there is lots of open space, well and it’s nearly 40 feet long.
Besides the fact that we would need to sell our house, which is not part of our plan, and purchase a semi-truck to pull it, it was perfect. I have to admit the the trim, the space, and the design were impressive.
The kitchen isn’t quite a full size, but it definitely rivals a apartment size kitchen. Yeah, this would work for a year.
The bedroom had lots of closet space compared to many travel trailers I’ve seen.
It’s tough to see the top of the line trailer, and then work your way down to reality.
May be you have a vintage trailer that has been sitting around your backyard, and unlike some very creative people, you can’t think of what to do with it. So it sits collecting dust (mold, mildew, and dry rot)
or may be you just have an older trailer that needs some repairs.
I found a resource, actually they found me first on Twitter, that has a collection of everything you might need to find parts, learn how to for some of the common repairs, or sell what you think is just junk in your backyard. It’s the Tin Can Tourists.
As I started to click through the pages I was impressed with the wealth of information and the amount of helpful links I found. It’s a great site if you’re looking for help with a vintage travel trailer.
I was searching the RV forums and found one talking about a trailer that was hit by softball size hail. The question led to a discussion on the quality and craftsmanship of RV’s. The following comment gives some good advise that I felt was worth repeating.
“Looks to me like you have all the information to buy a unit that will satisfy your quality concerns. Nothing like maintaining a vehicle for a period of time to point out poor design, or poor quality. Looking at a new rig at the dealer (I always suggest a show where side-by-side comparisons are easier) and really inspecting it can give you the information on quality.
A few things I’ve learned to look at – Does the wiring look neat and organized, or are their bundles of wiring behind the sink or converter, wiring pulled across underside that should have been secured? Are wood braces cracked by screws or staples? Is there excessive caulk covering poor fitting trim. Are their screw-heads dog-eared out from poor workmanship? If you stand back and look at the rig, are lights, trim, windows in line and mounted straight? Are the axles sized with enough extra capacity or are they the minimum for the weight of the trailer? Are the axles provided with shock absorbers?
I’m a professional QA/QC person, and travel the country (and a few places outside the US) to buy transit vehicles, commuter rail cars, locomotives, and subway cars. My experience is that if it “doesn’t look right” it most likely isn’t. Finally, it is possible to make and sell a perfect RV. Problem is no one can afford it. Quality is what we, as consumers are willing to accept. You may want a Lexus, I may think a Ford is fine, both of us will be happy if our expectations of quality are met, neither if the vehicle is a lemon.
No travel trailer is made to withstand softball sized hail. Your best plan for that is store it under cover, and make sure you have insurance coverage. How often does hail like that appear anyway? I’ve never seen or heard of it in the West.
There is wisdom in knowing what you are buying and a quick look for quality control will give you a pretty good idea of what you are getting into.
As I have mentioned before my Trailer is a 1986 model. UV rays and temperature changes take their toll on plastic over time, and marker light lenses are no exception. The lenses on my trailer are cracked, faded, and letting water inside the housing.
I picked up some new marker lights at Walmart for less than $3 ea. I will walk you through the process of changing the entire marker light. It’s pretty simple. First remove the 2 screws, and then the red lens should pop off.
The only thing holding the housing to the trailer at this point is some plumbers puddy. Gently pull on the housing and it should pull away from the trailer, be careful the wires in the back should have room to pull out, but could catch. You don’t want to break a wire and have it stuck inside the wall where you can’t reach it.
I’m not sure if all trailers use the same color coding for their wires, but on mine green is for the power side of the marker light and white is the ground. If you are not sure you can pull off a taillight and see what colors are connected to the bulb and what color is grounded to the trailer body.
I replaced the yellow wire nuts with new ones because the old ones were rusty inside. I also put some electrical tape on the wires to keep them together (RV’s bounce and rattle going down the road). I placed some plumbers puddy on the upper edge of the marker light, this lets water run down if it gets inside, but makes a nice seal on top. It is also being used to keep the housing mounted even and tight.
I screwed in the new marker light housing, and put a liberal amount of caulking around the housing. I did leave weep holes on the bottom side to allow for water drainage.
I snapped the new lens on and it’s good as new. The entire process took about 20 min. It’s as easy as that.
My trailer is a 1986, it’s old but it’s paid for. The floor itself was in good shape, but the floor covering was not great (honestly half of it was really bad – the carpeting). We decided the carpeting had to go, and the linoleum could use an update. I know how to lay down sheet flooring, but the thought of working around all the corners and cabinets seemed challenging. We thought we would try stick on tiles. We found the cheapest tile @ $.29 a square and it had a 80’s look too. I wasn’t sure if the sick on tile would stay stuck with the temperature changes. It’s stayed in place for over a year now.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Remove the carpeting (linoleum is installed the entire length even under the carpeting, do not remove)
2. Make sure there are no staples or tacks. I pulled most but had to pound a few down and grind a few.
3. Remove items that you can like the toilet or tables.
4. Use a product like TSP to clean the linoleum. It gets rid of wax and dirt.
5. If you have any tears in the old linoleum you can use a skim coat to level out the flooring. Any bump or dirt will show up with the shine of the new linoleum.
6. I started my first row at the door way. Remember you need to keep tiles square (a little bit off shows up way off on a long run) existing cabinets & walls should be square.
7. Slide the tile close to the wall leave about a 1/8″ gap. I found these tiles need a little room for expanding and contracting.
8. Slide the next tile snug against the previous tile. Start with that edge pressing down working your way to the next edge.
9. You can cut the tile with the protective paper still on as you perfect the fit around items like cabinets. Remember to leave a little room for the tiles to expand.
Here’s my final product.
This tip may-be extremely basic. I wish someone would have told me what to do on my maiden voyage with our trailer. On our first trip we pulled out the awning, it was a beautiful day. The awning provided great shade. That night the rain rolled in and the water pooled. In a trailer you know it’s raining because you can hear it, but unlike tent camping you don’t have to get out of your warm comfortable bed. If you roll your awning out level, like I did, you will find out how strong your awning is. The next morning I noticed the awning canvas was sagging. We’re not talking a small amount of water. Fortunately the awning held up, but it could have easily buckled or ripped.
Now when I set up the awning I always leave one side just a little lower than the other it allows the water to run off that side of the awning. Look at the ground to figure out if their is a better side to lower that will allow water running off the awning to drain away from the trailer.
Anyone learn this lesson after your awning broke?
Have a leak in a seam, a rip or a tear in the roof or side of your trailer? I did. I had a dent in the roof of my trailer that is right on a seam. It allowed water to pool, and eventually leak. The best fix I found was 10’x6″ white sealing patch tape (Di-seal I think). The white tape was the closest match to the color of my trailer. What I did was apply the tape the entire length of the seam to make sure it was completely sealed. You need to Clean the area well. Make sure it is dry and free of debris. Apply the tape on a warm day it makes the adhesive stick better, and makes the tape more pliable. My trailer is aluminum with ridges, and the tape adhered well. I put the tape on two year’s ago and the leak is still sealed. You can see in the picture it goes completely across the width of the trailer.
Update: This post was written before I started living in our RV. I now sanitize the fresh water tank about every 3 months. I’ll update the process soon.
There are a lot of great tips to be found on the web. I was reading the top 10 RV tips. I’m one of those RVer’s who doesn’t use the fresh water tank for drinking water, in fact the majority of the time that tank is empty. So I never gave much thought to sanitizing the fresh water system. I know..Gross…Don’t tell my wife. The site recommends every 6 months sanitizing the entire system. Is this a good rule of thumb for an RV that sits over the winter with the drain valves open. Is an annual cleaning good enough or should it be more often. What do you do?