RV Clinic April 2015
Jeff Johnston and Ken Freund
December 14, 2015
Filed under Trailer Q&A
Where to Level?
Q: We recently purchased a 2015 Forest River Sierra fifth-wheel that has the kitchen in the rear. My understanding is that the unit should be leveled at the refrigerator for optimum efficiency. Since the refrigerator is in the rear of the RV, the slideouts have to be extended to access it. I have been told that damage can be done to the slideouts if the RV is not level prior to their extension. If this is the case, how would you recommend I level the RV at the campsite?
Jim Monforte | Phoenix, Arizona
A: Any flat surface inside the trailer that runs parallel to the floor can work for leveling, Jim. That includes the floor. In theory, the refrigerator has been installed such that it’s perpendicular to the floor, so measuring directly at the refrigerator is not required. You can place a bubble level or regular carpenter’s level on the floor inside the entry door, for example, or set it on a flat surface such as a kitchen counter or a lounge area cabinet that has a flat surface.
As for the slideouts, they can operate just fine if the trailer isn’t level. They are more sensitive to the trailer being out of square or “twisted” along its length. For example, if the trailer is mostly level but the left front corner is too high, that twists the floor and structure so the floor isn’t flat. Imagine holding the rear of the trailer solidly and twisting the front. That twist means the openings for the slideouts and their rack or rail mechanisms are not square and true, as they were designed to be. Under those conditions, the slideouts can bind up if you try to move them and can possibly damage the mechanisms. Just keep your trailer as square and true as you can — you’d need to try pretty hard to get it to twist far enough to cause damage — and your fifth-wheel’s slideouts should be fine. — Jeff Johnston
2WD or 4WD for Towing?
Q: In the very near future I will be ordering a new one-ton crew-cab dually diesel pickup to tow our fifth-wheel trailer. What are the pros and cons of a 2WD as opposed to a 4WD vehicle used primarily for recreational towing?
Ed Harris | Howell, Michigan
A: This question comes up now and then, Ed, and it’s worth a revisit. A 4WD truck costs more than 2WD, it weighs a bit more, which means it may achieve slightly lower fuel economy numbers and may be rated to tow a bit less, and it represents more drivetrain hardware to maintain in the long run. Some 4WD trucks are a bit higher than their 2WD counterparts, and that’s worth keeping in mind when making a match with your fifth-wheel. Thanks to today’s suspension technology, most 4WD vehicles ride about the same as their 2WD counterparts, but you can determine that by taking a few measurements. A 4WD pickup will also enable you to drive and tow under poor traction conditions that would leave a 2WD pickup stuck. From a performance standpoint, a 4WD tows very well and delivers the same type of handling, braking and steering you’d expect from a 2WD truck. In the end, it’s your decision regarding how often you’ll likely need the extra traction capability when towing. — J.J.
Dry Camp Power Use
Q: I have a 2014 Keystone Outback 298RE with one battery installed by the dealer. I want to dry camp and I understand that the one battery might not be enough. How much time can I get on one battery if I use the furnace only when needed and some lights? The refrigerator can run on propane. Should I install or have my dealer install another battery, and how much time or how many days can it run on two batteries?
I understand I can buy a Honda 2000i generator to connect to my trailer to run basic things as mentioned and recharge the battery. What is the story on using generators in state and national campgrounds? I hear you can use them in some for only a few hours. Is that going to be enough? I am afraid to wake up one morning and find I have a dead battery in a remote area of Yellowstone or Yosemite!
David Gordon | Teaneck, New Jersey
A: How long a battery will last is a hard question to answer because there are so many variables. These include state of charge of the battery, its age and size, the ambient temperature, the size of your RV’s furnace and its power draw when operating, how many lights you use and for how long, and so forth. In my experience one average battery may power a furnace for one day dry camping but not much more if it’s cold at night and the furnace runs frequently. Adding a second battery will double the time you get from the furnace and other accessories. For this type of use, adding a solar charging system to your trailer can go a long way toward keeping the battery, or batteries, alive for a dry-camping trip.
Use of a Honda generator to power the converter to charge the batteries will help, but even running all day long, given the modest charge rate from most standard equipment converters, will bring the batteries only partly back toward full charge.
Generator usage rules vary between all types of state and national parks and private campgrounds. As a rule, a campground has quiet times, for example, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., when generator use isn’t allowed. I haven’t heard of a rule that regulates generator use to a certain number of consecutive hours, but that’s possible. Your best bet would be to do an Internet search for the places you plan to visit and then check each place’s website for specifics about generator use. Those websites should have the current rules and regulations readily available. — J.J.
Q: I have a 2009 ViewFinder V19FK trailer by Cruiser RV. The refrigerator is in the slideout, which means there is no top vent, and the setup has a fan in back of the refrigerator to help move the heat out of a vent in the side wall near the top of the slideout. The small high-rpm fan originally used for this produces a very high whining noise. I met a fellow in a campground who told me he had replaced his small fan with a larger computer fan and that almost eliminated the noise. I have since done this but find the computer fan is lower rpm and wonder if it moves as much air. I left the original fan installed, and all I have to do is reconnect the wire to make the smaller fan work again. How do I know if the refrigerator is overheating or not? How do I know if the fan is moving as much air as the smaller one? Does the refrigerator shut down if it overheats, or how does it react?
The smaller fan will run for hours in the heat of the day when we are using the trailer. This fan is 3 inches in diameter; the larger fan is 4 inches. The refrigerator is a Dometic. We have not used the trailer since I installed the new fan, so I do not know if it works yet. The new fan specifications show 39 cfm at 1,200 rpm.
Roy Diers | Hastings, Nebraska
Q: I have a 2012 Forest River Cedar Creek Silverback fifth-wheel. I have a couple of issues with the refrigerator that you may be able to help me with or steer me in the correct direction. The first problem is that the refrigerator fan seems to be quite noisy. When we purchased the fifth-wheel, we had the dealer check out the noise, and they said the fan “works as designed.” The second, and most critical, problem is the frequency that the fan comes on. As soon as the temp outside reaches 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the fan turns on and runs for a long time and continues to cycle off and on throughout the day until the temperature cools down. When we are at an RV park with hookups, this is not a real big issue, other than the loudness, but when we are dry camping and I am gone more than six hours, the batteries are almost completely gone by the time I return.
I have found that removing the top grate behind the refrigerator on the outside of the fifth-wheel keeps the fan from coming on as often. It seems there may be an airflow issue. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?
Tom Wood | Santa Fe, New Mexico
A: As you know, Roy and Tom, the fan that’s in your refrigerator compartment helps improve air circulation over the refrigerator cooling coils. The wall-mounted vent is not as effective as the roof-mounted vent because the hot air, instead of just flowing straight up and out, needs to make a 90-degree turn to exit via the wall vent. The fan helps pull the heated air out of the opening.
As for knowing if the new fan is moving enough air, you’ll need to investigate the airflow specs on the old fan and compare them to those of the new fan. Otherwise, as long as the refrigerator keeps working OK, you know the fan is moving enough air. If the refrigerator overheats or doesn’t have enough cooling air moving, due to extra-warm weather, for example, the fridge will simply not work as well as if it were operating up to spec. This can happen to any absorption-type refrigerator under summertime high-temperature conditions and isn’t limited to those with the cooling fan installed. It’s called heat saturation.
Tom, you might want to consider swapping in a larger-diameter computer-type cooling fan, as mentioned in Roy’s letter. Those computer fans are designed for quiet operation and low power consumption. Regarding the power drain, mounting a solar panel on the roof can solve the dead-battery problem. Those fans don’t draw a lot of current, so even a modest-size solar panel wired in as an auxiliary power supply for the fan would help avoid draining your trailer’s battery. Better yet, add enough solar panels to charge the battery as well — a 200-watt setup would do very nicely in your area — and that would solve most of the battery use and discharge issues. — J.J.
Trailer Lost its Luster
Q: My 2009 Open Range has lost its luster on the side walls. Rubbing compound and wax are just not enough to bring it back. Are there any reputable products that will work, shy of the paint shop? I’ve read about a couple of solutions but would like to know if you know what works.
Bill Knipper, Las Vegas, Nevada
A: There are a variety of buffing and polishing compounds available for use on RVs, Bill. A visit to your local RV service center and its accessory shop may turn up what you need, or visit an auto-parts store and peruse the offerings in the finish-and-wax area. Camping World sells a wide range of such products designed for RV use. It would also help to use an electric orbital buffing machine (a rotary buffer can do more harm than good if you’re inexperienced), as it can produce far better and more consistent results than trying to cover an entire RV by hand.
That Las Vegas sun can be brutal on an RV’s exterior finish. Paint that isn’t too far gone can generally be brought back to a decent shine. If your trailer has fiberglass skin that’s faded, it can take some doing to get it back to snuff. Whatever you do, follow the product directions, because you can go too far and damage the finish, if you aren’t careful. If all else fails, try a visit to a detail shop that can handle an RV, and they may be able to work their magic on your trailer. It costs a bit but can yield some impressive results. — J.J.
Q: I am looking to purchase a new fifth-wheel trailer, but the dry kingpin weight is 2,941 pounds. My new Ram 2500 has a payload of 2,720 pounds. I will have air bags installed. However, I am worried about having too much weight on the truck’s axle bearings, how long they will last and if the warranty will cover replacement. The kingpin loaded weight could reach much higher.
Dave, Haynesville, Louisiana
A: Airbags don’t change your truck’s payload capacity, Dave, they just help keep your truck level. Any amount of overload you apply to the truck that exceeds its gross axle weight rating (gawr) or gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) can cause suspension and powertrain parts to wear out faster, or, in the case of the brakes, to not work as effectively. If the damage can be traced back to an overloaded situation, the warranty can be voided for that repair. We’d recommend you select a trailer that’s a better match for your truck’s tow rating and other specifications. — J.J.
Electric Blanket Power
Q: January’s “Electric Blanket Surprise” letter from Patrick Bullard referencing an electric blanket failure when powered by a generator could be the result of the blanket’s control system. Some generators produce power that is more of a square wave than a sine wave, and the blanket control system may not operate correctly on a non-sine-wave power source. Bullard would probably be better off getting the old-fashioned type that uses a mechanical control rather than an electronic control.
A recent power outage in the Northeast showed me that the generator I have for the house would not power the new microwave oven in my house for the same reason.
John Bottrill, Amherst, New Hampshire
A: You’re right about the square-wave versus sine-wave matter, John, and a rough square-wave power supply is not going to be compatible with many sensitive electronic devices. If in doubt, an inverter-type generator such as the Honda EU2000i or Yamaha EF2000iS should do a good job with even the fussiest electronics in consumer products. — J.J.
Multiple Extension Cords
Q: We purchased a 2015 Rockwood Signature in October of last year. We towed it home and placed it in a covered area but have not used it yet. The trailer sits about 75 to 80 feet from our 50-amp receptacle that is under our house/carport.
We just had an electrician run a new line from the breaker box to a new 50-amp receptacle under the carport. We have the original 50-amp cord that came with the Rockwood that is 25 feet long, and we purchased another 50-amp extension that is about 30 feet long, so both combined are 55 feet long.
Can we purchase another 50-amp, 30-foot heavy-duty extension cord and be able to use two extension cords with the original cord, making the total run about 85 feet? We want to be able to do this from time to time instead of having to tow the trailer out of the barn every time. We would do this only when we start loading the trailer for a trip, not as a full-time setup, nor for long periods of time. Will this cause too many problems?
Gloria Evans, Waco, Texas
A: There’s nothing wrong with supplying occasional power to your trailer this way, Gloria. The only time it could be problematic is if you try to operate too many electric appliances when using the long cord setup. For example, trying to run two air conditioners at once may not work because the extra resistance of all that wire, plus the resistance that occurs at the plugs, can decrease the voltage available at the trailer. Trying to run high-draw appliances on lower-than-usual voltage can damage equipment.
However, if you’re just going to run the interior lights, perhaps a furnace, the refrigerator and so forth, you should be just fine. Likewise, one air conditioner should also be fine, as long as you don’t overdo it by adding a toaster oven, hair dryer, vacuum cleaner and other such items in the mix. — J.J.
Battery Caps During Charging
Q: I have a 12-volt deep-cycle battery. I remove the battery and put it in the basement on a shelf for five months during the cold season. I am using a Battery Tender Plus to charge the battery. I want to leave the battery hooked up to the charger for the five months. Do I have to leave the vent caps on the battery off or can I leave them on? I am concerned about the pressure buildup and I am also wondering about leaving the vent caps off for five months.
Albinas Butler, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
A: Unlike a so-called “trickle charger,” which continually charges the battery (albeit slowly) and can deplete the electrolyte over time, a smart charger brings the battery to a full state of charge, then maintains it at the proper storage voltage. The Battery Tender Plus puts out only 12 volts DC at 1.25 amps, and automatically switches from a full to float charging mode to prevent damage to the battery. With this low voltage and slow charge rate, the built-in vents in the caps are enough to allow any outgassing. Now, if you were to fast charge the battery (which, by the way, is tough on it), removing the caps would be a good idea, but leaving them off could lead to contamination from dust or present a danger to children or animals in the area. In any case, you should remove the caps and top off the cells with distilled water before charging, then check them after a month or so just to make sure electrolyte depletion isn’t excessive. — Ken Freund
Q: My wife and I own a 10-foot pop-up camper. Could you please give us some tips on how we can make the camper more stable?
Paul Webber, Fort Myers, Florida
A: By “stable,” we don’t know if you mean while towing or when you are moving around in the parked unit. If towing, the simplest and cheapest cure for stability at highway speeds is to add a sway control, such as the friction devices sold by a variety of companies. If it’s the camper moving around when you are in it that bothers you, you may need to add jacks underneath near each corner to support the floors. Both types of products are available through Camping World (www.campingworld.com) and other RV-accessory outlets. — K.F.
Q: How can I remove the old caulking from my fifth-wheel trailer roof so I can redo it?
Bob Thornett, Whitehorse, Yukon
A: On a flat roof with fiberglass or aluminum skin on top, try a narrow putty knife, preferably a plastic one so it doesn’t scratch the finish. Work slowly to remove the caulk commonly found on roof vents and seams. Push nearly parallel, in a straight direction and only slightly down to avoid cutting into the fiberglass. Most caulking comes off fairly clean. It may take some elbow grease to get off the small bits that are left. To clean the surface before applying new caulking, use isopropyl rubbing alcohol or a little lacquer thinner (but not acetone on fiberglass) and a clean rag. It evaporates cleanly and does an excellent job removing the dirt and film that prevents adhesion. — K.F.
Q: We have a 2008 Trail-Lite by R-Vision. When connected to 120-volt AC shorepower, I get shocked when I touch the metal exterior of the trailer. I learned of a safety recall in which the neutral wire in the circuit box was installed incorrectly. I did as the recall recommended, and that made no difference. I tried tripping each breaker, but the condition still exists. I purchased the trailer new and have no idea how long this condition has existed. Any help would be appreciated, because various people we have contacted keep passing the buck.
John Cope, Greensburg, Pennsylvania
A: The recall, which is 07V547 in the USA and 07-375 in Canada, applies to a number of 2007 and 2008 R-Vision models, and calls for the converter neutral wire to be moved to the neutral bar in the load center. This should cure the problem. Perhaps you did not make the change correctly, or there may be a second problem causing it. Usually, the manufacturer wants a dealer to perform recalls. Contact the manufacturer at 877-466-6226 to report that the problem covered by the recall has not been remedied. If the problem is not resolved, contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 888-327-4236. — K.F.
Q: I use approximately one or two cups of baking soda in my RV’s toilet, then open the flush and pour vinegar in equal amounts into the tank. It’s the best solution for it. I had used this method to clean regular drains, sinks, tubs, toilets and most clogged pipes. Usually, I pour the baking soda and vinegar into it in the morning, then in the evening I open the drain and run hot water through the toilet. Last, I put another cup of baking soda, then vinegar, and leave it for another week. I don’t believe this has done any damage, and it is always a better aroma.
Sharon Evans, Gilbert, Arizona
A: Vinegar is a mild acid, and baking soda is a mild alkali. They both can be used for cleaning, and when mixed they foam and form a mild salty solution. I don’t recommend this in place of holding-tank chemicals. — K.F.
Q: We have a 2004 Fleetwood Prowler 25RK trailer that has a roof problem. I need to replace an 8-foot x 26-inch section of the roof. The roof at one time developed a leak somewhere. The water never came through the ceiling — it seems like the wood trusses and insulation absorbed the water. I contacted Fleetwood’s Maryland office, and they said they have not handled the Fleetwood trailer line since 2009. My main concern is how to replace the rubber skin. I also have to replace the wood above the slideout.
My regular dealer went out of business due to the economy. I have contacted two dealers, and they told me that, for them to do the repair work, I would be looking at a $10,000 repair job. I am looking for any repair advice I can get.
Robert Walukiewicz, Pittsgrove, New Jersey
A: Depending on your DIY skills, you may be able to do all or part of the job. Many owners do the own repairs. There are several major steps, which could include removing the old damaged parts and repairing the woodwork and trusses before installing the new roof. You may be able to work out a deal with a shop to perform the steps you don’t feel confident doing, or you can simply look for a shop that may do the job for less — $10,000 seems unreasonable. — K.F.
Q: I tow a 2009 Jayco Eagle 33-foot travel trailer with my 2003 Ford F-250 diesel Crew Cab pickup. Some of the roads we take are cement and have been repaired many times. These roads will shake your guts out. Are there any ideas you can offer on how to lessen the severity of the shaking? We’re using a Reese 2-inch hitch bar with equalizing bars and a friction anti-sway bar. We run 80 psi in our ST225/75R15 trailer tires and 75 psi in our LT265/75R16 truck tires.
Clayton Clevenger, McCalla, Alabama
A: You might get a slight bit of relief if you weigh your trailer and tow vehicle, and set tire pressures on each axle according to actual load, using a load-inflation table from the tire manufacturers. You may also get some improvement by installing high-quality aftermarket shock absorbers. However, the changes will be minor, relative to what you will experience if you change to an air-ride suspension. One of the major suppliers, Kelderman (800-334-6150, www.kelderman.com) offers kits for both front and rear axles on your truck. — 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 April 2015 Trailer Life