RV Clinic May 2015

Jeff Johnston and Ken Freund
January 4, 2016
Filed under Trailer Q&A, Trailers

RV Furniture

Q: We have a 2008 Dutchmen Victory Lane toy hauler. We no longer ride motorcycles and want to turn the back into a den. The trouble is, where do we find RV furniture? We would like to get an L-shaped couch and replace the bench-type dining table with a table and chairs.

Tim and Claire Kirkland, Richmond Hill, Georgia

A: A Google search for “RV furniture” will reveal many places that specialize in RV furniture sales, and you can check the Camping World catalog as well. Dining room tables and chairs are available everywhere in many sizes. Dave and LJ’s RV Interior Design in Woodland, Washington (www.daveandljs.com), sells RV furniture
and can even redesign the garage for you. (See “Interior Motives” on page 103.)

Given the kind of space you have to work with, regarding the L-shaped sofa, you could also look into the use of conventional residential-style furniture, although you may need to do some extra searching to find products small enough for your trailer. Specialized RV furniture will likely be lighter in weight and could also include the types of tie-down hardware you’ll need to be sure the furniture doesn’t move around while driving. — Jeff Johnston

 

Trailer Brake Capacity

Q: I have owned numerous travel trailers and now have a Forest River Cedar Creek 36RE fifth-wheel. There have been no braking issues, since I have a diesel with an Allison transmission and an exhaust brake, but before owning this pickup, I had challenges with stopping. I weighed the fifth-wheel on platform scales at a truck stop, and I know the weight of the truck with it full of fuel. This fifth-wheel is just about to gross weight. This was true of previous campers and tow vehicle combinations I’ve owned. I am familiar with the importance of matching the tow vehicle to the hitch weight and wheelbase for proper handling.

My question is, are trailer brakes rated for the gross vehicle weight of the trailer? If so, should the tow vehicle need the braking capacity to stop just itself and its load (passengers and supplies) but not the trailer weight?

Rob Dill, Homer City, Pennsylvania

A: A trailer’s brakes are rated to handle its full gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), Rob, just as any other vehicle’s brakes are rated. With a properly adjusted brake control, which is a far more important aspect of this matter than towing with a diesel-powered truck, the trailer handles its own weight when stopping.

A vehicle manufacturer tests a lot of parameters when assigning a tow rating, including braking capacity. Because engineers need to take emergency situations into account, such as a detached trailer wiring plug or complete trailer brake failure, they also test for stopping the combination using just the tow vehicle’s brakes. This is done at the tow vehicle’s full gross combination weight rating (GCWR), because the trailer brakes could fail and the vehicle must be capable of stopping the load.

Ideally, you should adjust the brake control so each vehicle provides its own braking in a balanced way, without the trailer pulling on or pushing the tow vehicle. — J.J.

 

Refrigerator Inverter Use

Q: We have a 2015 Jayco Pinnacle we just purchased. It came with an 18-cubic-foot Samsung residential-style refrigerator. When not plugged in, it is designed to run off the 1,000-watt Xantrex Pro 1000 inverter. We were told that the batteries would hold up for a day and a half. Fully charged, they last only seven hours without anything else on before the warning beeper comes on, which registers 11.1 volts. Fully charged, it registers 13.2. Is this normal?

Rudy Rodriguez, via email

A: A residential refrigerator draws more current than most people expect, Rudy, and I’m not sure that anyone can say exactly how long a given bank of batteries will last under that kind of load. It depends on a lot of factors including the state of charge of the batteries when you begin, the battery age, the thermostat setting in the refrigerator and other factors. I think the operation as you describe it is about right, with the Xantrex warning you when the available current is getting too low for effective operation.

You can do several things to help your situation. First, add more batteries to the system, preferably 6-volt “golf cart” batteries wired in series to deliver 12 volts. Make sure your trailer’s converter or inverter is fully up to the task of charging the batteries when you’re plugged in. If you depend on your tow vehicle charging the batteries while you drive, it’s doubtful they’ll ever come up to full charge to start with. It’s also important to have an efficient onboard charging system (converter/charger or inverter/charger) that will condition the batteries properly.

Finally, consider adding a healthy solar-panel array and a good charge controller to your trailer. Something in the 400- to 600-watt range of solar panels would go a long way toward keeping the batteries charged enough for longer-term operation. For more specific advice on a solar array, check your local solar-power supplier or try AM Solar in Springfield, Oregon (www.amsolar.com). — J.J.

 

Trailer Shock Absorbers

Q: We are purchasing a travel trailer that has a loaded weight capacity of 7,000 pounds with spring suspension and tandem axles. How do you feel about the installation of shock absorbers on such a trailer? Will they improve the ride for trailer and contents, or would they be detrimental? The product being considered is the Joy Rider shock system by RV Improvement Systems.

Because of the trailer’s fully enclosed underbelly, one of my primary concerns is drilling into something that might be running along the frame, such as gas lines or electrical wiring.

Lee deVries, Crawfordsville, Oregon

A: Shock absorbers are terrific for trailers, Lee. They improve the unit’s ride and reduce excess bouncing on the road that can save wear and tear on the RV. The system you have in mind is a good option.

You’re right, it’s important to know where you’re drilling. You should detach part of the underbelly material to get a good view of the frame area before drilling. A small opening to allow a visual inspection may be all that’s required and can easily be reattached. If there is a need to cut some of the material away, any gaps can be sealed with EternaBond tape and/or exterior silicone rubber sealant.

While you’re at it, be sure to have your trailer tires balanced. That, too, can smooth your ride and help reduce trailer and tire wear and tear. — J.J.

 

Furnace Fix

Q: I read Jeff’s answer to Fred Kirchhoff’s “Furnace Flightiness” question in the February 2014 issue. I wanted to tell you that I had the same problem with my RV’s furnace heating up for a few seconds and then going out without reigniting. When I finally pulled it out and took the burners apart, I found a gnat that had gotten in the line when I changed the propane cylinder. It was stuck in the orifice of the burner. I removed that, and it worked perfectly from then on.

Steve Meeker, via email

A: Thank you for the suggestion, Steve. Critters have a way of getting inside propane-fired hardware, and they can affect the tiny burner orifices and the like. For others who have this problem, it’s worth checking. — J.J.

 

Suspension Upgrade

Q: I just read the February 2015 article on suspension upgrades, “Rolling Smoothly and Safely.” We had a 2003 Thor fifth-wheel before our current one, and a leaf spring broke and put a hole in the frame. It ended up with all new springs, shackles and equalizers, as the bolts were frozen in all of the components.

The total loaded weight of our current trailer is 8,640 pounds. My wife and I figure we have put about 8,000 miles on the trailer since buying it new and are planning a big trip with it this year.

I installed the MOR/ryde heavy-duty shackle kit, which I was very impressed with. I like the idea of thicker shackles and brass bushings. Most of the nylon bushings that I took out were worn through, and there were shackles that were starting to get the holes enlarged and a couple of bolts that where already frozen in the springs. The MOR/ryde kit is only $100, and it sure takes the worry out of having problems. I grease them about every six months; that way I do not have to worry about mileage.

Bill Allender, North Hills, California

A: Replacement greaseable shackles are an aftermarket accessory that we encourage everyone to investigate, Bill, for exactly the same reasons you’ve discovered. Many stock trailer suspensions are functional as they leave the factory, but some components are subject to premature wear. The greaseable bolt shackles help avoid those problems. Thank you for the comments. — J.J.

 

Stability and Rough Ride

Q: We drive a 2014 Ram 3500 SLT regular cab 2WD truck with an 8-foot bed. We added the Air Lift LoadLifter 5000 Ultimate air-suspension system and run the airbags at 40 to 45 psi. We tow a 2005 Keystone Montana Mountaineer 335RLBS travel trailer with an estimated loaded weight of 9,300 pounds. Its estimated tongue weight is 1,040 pounds. We have a Reese weight-distributing hitch with 1,200-pound-rated square spring bars. We have an 1,100-pound Honda trike on the back of the truck.

A local RV dealer told me that friction-type sway control is ineffective on my 35-foot trailer, and I tend to agree. The air springs lift the rear of the truck a good inch with the trike loaded. The truck does not feel light in the front when on the highway. The trailer will sway in a good wind but otherwise
follows OK.

Interstate highway travel is tiring because of the stiff ride. The air springs take some of the jolt away, but there does not seem to be any flex between the truck and trailer. It feels like one long unit pounding down the road, and I’m not so sure that playing with the hitch system will help. Any ideas on how I can improve the ride comfort?

Jim Learned, Utica, New York

A: I’m not sure I understand why you’re finding it necessary to run the airbags at such a high pressure, Jim. You didn’t state whether or not this truck is a dually, but even the single-rear-wheel model has a payload of at least 4,080 pounds. Assuming your hitch weight and trike calculations are correct, that puts 2,240 pounds in the back of the truck — this should pose no problem for a 3500, even with single rear wheels.

Be sure your weight-distributing hitch is properly adjusted, and you may find it helps to tighten the spring bars and remove a bit of air from the airbags, as that will help transfer more weight to the front suspension. You might be able to get some relief by reducing the air pressure in the tires, but before that can happen you’ll need to know the weight carried by each tire. It’s best to find a place that has individual wheel scales rather than using a truck scale to get axle weights and dividing the number by two or four (dually). Once you have the individual loaded wheel weights, you can check the tire manufacturer’s load/inflation charts and use only as much tire pressure as you need to carry the load. Good aftermarket shocks such as Bilsteins can help smooth things as well.

As far as sway control is concerned, any travel trailer is going to be pushed around by the wind. The larger the trailer, the more it’s going to be affected, due to the greater wall area. No trailer automatically “needs” a friction-type sway control. That device is a partial cure when a sway condition can’t seem to be solved by any of the usual means, such as making sure the trailer is properly loaded, adjusting the weight-distributing hitch properly and so forth. Due to its greater weight and inertia, a larger trailer will put more of a load on a sway-control device, but it can still be effective. Some users even go so far as to add a second set of mounting points on the ball mount and trailer frame to accommodate a second sway device, but that’s for more extreme situations. — J.J.

 

Power-Draw Solutions

Q: In regard to the John Kester’s “Mystery Power Draw” in the February 2015 RV Clinic, I had a problem with the RV battery being drained after the trailer sat for two weeks. I found that the display for the tank levels has a small red indicator light that stays on all the time. This was running the battery down over time. I also left the radio on one time with the volume turned down, and, of course, that ran down the battery. I installed a key-operated cutoff switch to the positive leg of the battery to prevent this problem. I found the switch at NAPA Auto Parts store.

Wayne Bishop, Christiansburg, Virginia

Q: I had a similar problem to the one described by John Kester in February’s “Mystery Power Draw.” The solution was shutting off my Dometic refrigerator’s self-defrost feature. There’s a switch inside the fridge door, so it’s easy to shut it off and stop the power drain.

Dick Bennett, Ontario, Oregon

A: Thanks, guys, for two more solutions to the battery-power-drain problem. Not all RV refrigerators will have a self-defrost feature, but it’s worth checking. — J.J.

 

Another Power-Draw Solution

Q: Reading February’s RV Clinic, I found the “Mystery Power Draw” letter just like a problem I had. In fact, I owned two trailers that had the same problem. After much testing, I found that the carbon-monoxide detector was the reason the batteries went dead in storage. It’s on all the time, so I put in an on-off switch with an indicator light and turn it off during storage.

Charles Bayne, Chehalis, Washington

A: Thanks for writing and sharing your experience, Charles. The main reason these detectors don’t come with an on-off switch is because it will not meet code. Manufacturers of these critical devices don’t want people to forget to switch them on. Therefore, it best to install a master battery disconnect switch that can isolate the batteries from the RV when it is stored. — Ken Freund

 

Noisy Hitch

Q: There is a problem with my trailer hitch. When I turn left or right, the noise is so loud that I can hear it in the enclosed cab of the truck. I have an Equal-i-zer hitch with the four-point sway-control system. The hitch is rated at 10,000 pounds. The trailer weighs 5,772 pounds empty, carrying capacity is 1,649 pounds, hitch weight is 658 pounds, trailer length is 30 feet and axle weight is 5,114 pounds. The truck is a 2012 F-150 EcoBoost rated to pull 9,800 pounds. The hitch was set up by a dealer when I bought the trailer, and it didn’t make the noise that it does now. No adjustments have been made to the trailer, truck or hitch. Any suggestions?

Mike Reyes, Kerrville, Texas

A: According to Equal-i-zer’s Website, www.equalizerhitch.com, “The steel-on-steel friction of the Equal-i-zer hitch will always generate some noise. This is not bad or a sign that there is something wrong with the hitch or setup. In fact, it usually suggests that your hitch is working just like it’s supposed to. You can do several things that usually reduce most of the hitch noise: 1. Try using a set of Equal-i-zer Sway Bracket Jackets on your L-brackets. These were specially designed to help reduce the noise at this joint, without the mess of using grease. 2. Keep your hitch ball mount and the sockets lubricated. 3. Readjust the angle of your hitch so that the arms sit more parallel with the trailer frame. For example, when your hitch is hooked up, if your spring arms angle up slightly from the ball mount back along the trailer frame, try adding a spacer washer to the ball mount and lowering the L-brackets one hole. This will give you the same weight distribution but make the arms more parallel to the frame of the trailer.”

Equal-i-zer sells lubricant for its hitches and states that other hitch lubes can be used. — K.F.

 

Battery Life

Q: This past summer I purchased a used 2003 SunnyBrook fifth-wheel from a private party. The owner stated that the trailer had an 8D battery installed, and it was about 11 years old. How do I tell when the battery is no longer serviceable? So far, there have not been any electrical problems that I can tell. This is a gel-type battery.

William Weime, Sierra Vista, Arizona

A: Gel-type batteries typically last considerably longer than flooded wet cells. In addition, larger batteries with more robust internal plates seem to hold up better. For long battery life, it’s important to charge them properly and fully, and don’t allow them to sit partially or fully discharged. This battery has probably been properly maintained, resulting in its unusually long service life. Most batteries are good for five to six years. — K.F.

 

Mice Advice

Q: We have a 2011 Jayco RLS we bought brand-new. Last summer we had trouble with mice getting in it. It is all enclosed underneath, and the only place we know they might get in is at the corners of the slideouts when they are extended. How can we keep them out? We have put mothballs, rubber snakes and peppermint inside the camper.

Rex Norton, Marshall, Illinois

A: Mice can get through very tiny openings and gaps. You’ll need to crawl underneath the trailer and carefully inspect every area. Check where wiring, plumbing and LP-gas lines go through walls and floors. Use wire mesh screwed or stapled into place to close off gaps; mice won’t chew through that. Make sure that no food is left inside the trailer, including packs of dried food, boxes of cereal and condiments. — K.F.

 

The Tech Team

KEN FREUND: Ken is a former ASE Certified Master Technician, service manager and shop owner who has authored numerous books on automotive repair.

JEFF JOHNSTON: Jeff served as technical director of Trailer Life for 20 years and has been an RV enthusiast, mechanic and writer since he could hold a wrench.

 

RV Clinic from May 2015 Trailer Life

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