RV Tech Q&A: November 2019

Grahic illustration of thermometer, snowflake and sunburst

Refrigerator Misbehavior

Red letter QI bought a new Aliner A-frame LXE two years ago.

I am now on my third Dometic refrigerator. Despite countless efforts of troubleshooting between my dealer and Dometic, the fridge will not run on LP-gas. After receiving my new refrigerator two weeks ago, I precooled it electrically to 29 degrees Fahrenheit. I then loaded it with two frozen water bottles and chilled food. Forty-eight hours later, while camping in the shade with no hookups and temps in the 70s, the temperature in the refrigerator was 55. At this point, I don’t know what could possibly be wrong.

Jeff Jasmin | Gastonia, North Carolina

Green letter AThis is a tough kind of problem to address, Jeff. You’ve had the product in the hands of several factory-trained technicians who’ve used their test equipment to diagnose the problem with no success. As such, for us to accurately suggest a solution would be chancy at best.

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Proper Care of RV Appliances Lowers the Risk of Failures

I’d hope the dealer techs already checked it, but since the trailer is a fold-down, you probably have the air-circulation openings in the side wall instead of the warm-air outlet being on the roof. These side-wall-only setups aren’t as efficient as those with the roof-mounted vent, and airflow across the fridge cooling coils is critical.

First, make certain you always operate the unit in a level position. Inspect the area behind the fridge for any blockage, which hopefully would have been resolved when the technicians pulled the old unit out and the first fridge replacement took place.

The refrigerator cabinet has to be a very specific size for the model of refrigerator, and many techs ignore this, so check the dimensions against the installation manual.

Since the problem is more centered on the LP-gas side of things, testing the propane system and regulator for proper pressure is essential. If the regulator isn’t putting out 11 inches of water column, the flame will be weak and won’t heat properly, and the unit will fail to cool adequately. Also, since the unit is working well on AC power, issues with the cooling unit are basically eliminated and concerns with air circulation in the cabinet are reduced.

If the problem is cooling-unit air circulation, adding the Dometic refrigerator-fan kit may help but that’s about the best we can suggest under the circumstances.


Battery Charging, Dry Camping, Part 1

Red letter QWe recently purchased a Coleman tent trailer. We replaced the old battery with a 12-volt deep-cycle battery. The things that run on electricity are a water pump, heater fan and lights. I’m wondering what size or wattage of battery charger I would need to maintain the battery while we are dry camping. We usually go for two to four days at a time. We plug in a converter a few days before our trips. I plan on pulling the battery out for the winter and using a trickle charger to keep it up.

Also, can you recommend a gauge that would show the condition of the battery?

Ben Dorsett | Sonora, California

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Green letter AA battery maintainer, such as a Battery Buddy or another brand, is designed as a trickle charger to keep a battery fully charged while in storage. It has a “smart” multistage charging system that brings the battery up to a full charge, then it reduces its output to a trickle charge that keeps the battery topped up without damaging it by overcharging. Your trailer is equipped with a converter that’s powered when you plug into the shorepower at a campground. It has a battery charger segment that is not very effective if it doesn’t have multistage circuitry.

If you’re dry camping and trying to keep the battery charged, you’ll need something like a separate generator to do the job, or use a portable solar-panel system. Something in the neighborhood of a 160- to 200-watt system should do a good job of keeping the battery charged for the duration of the camping trip. Solar panels are an elegant way to keep the battery in good shape without the annoyance of using a generator.

See the following letter for a battery-gauge recommendation.


Battery Charging, Dry Camping, Part 2

Red letter QWe have 2015 Jayco Jay Feather Ultra Lite X254 trailer. We enjoy going to NASCAR and NHRA races, a few of each every year. New York’s Watkins Glen International is one of the tracks we attend. There are no power or water hookups at the Glen, other than a 1,000-watt generator we have. Since there are no power hookups, before we left on our last visit I made sure that the battery, which is a year old, was fully charged.

One of my brothers uses a CPAP machine at night. As I mentioned, the battery was fully charged. The first night there were no issues. The next two nights were not so good. The battery level never got higher than three-quarters charged, according to the factory meter on the wall, even after running the generator for six hours. We used the interior and exterior lights throughout the weekend but still ran the generator at random times.

I’m not sure how accurate the meter is. I’m thinking there is a more aggressive charging process running off the vehicle while driving to the Glen than there is running a 1,000-watt generator. Do you think there is an issue with the converter on the trailer? Is it a trickle charger? Maybe an issue with the converter that came with the CPAP machine? Do we need a bigger generator, for example, 3,000 watts?

After driving home, approximately three hours, the battery was fully charged, and I was able to open and close the awning as well as operate the rear slide.

Craig Loeffler | Holland, New York

See related video: Installing and Testing the Zebra Sunsparks RV Solar Kit

Green letter AThis type of power situation is something we frequently address in RV Clinic, Craig, and you could start by checking the RV Clinic FAQ page on the our website, and also search the monthly RV Clinic posts. You’ll find numerous reader letters and answers pertaining to exactly this kind of situation. You’ll also find that many of the battery-level monitors that come on new RVs are best used for estimates only. You’d be better off replacing it with an aftermarket voltmeter that specifically indicates the battery voltage, which in turn indicates state of charge.

It seems you frequently go dry camping, so an ideal setup would be a solar battery-charging system. Based on your described power needs, something like a 200-watt system, at minimum, or even 300 watts, should cover your battery-charging needs. A solar system is a lot quieter and less hassle than using a generator to replenish the battery all the time. The converter used to power your brother’s CPAP machine draws a fair amount of current from the battery at night, especially if it has a heater. A solar array would help recharge the battery by day.

The Jay Feather’s converter is not likely a multistage charger; therefore, complete battery conditioning is not possible. That information can be found in the converter’s owner’s manual and on the converter’s data sticker. Using the stock, non-multistage converter off the generator will not improve the situation. Upgrading to a “smart” multistage unit like those from Progressive Dynamics, Iota, WFCO and others is a good investment.

Of course, you also have the option of bringing a standalone multistage battery charger to run off the generator, but don’t plug the trailer into hookup power at the same time.


COMMENT: HITCH-PIN FAILURE

I purchased a $30 Reese Towpower hitch-receiver lock from O’Reilly Auto Parts. I took a 100-mile camping trip and discovered that the Reese equalizer hitch had nearly come loose from my pickup. The “cap” had evidently come off, and it allowed the pin to work itself loose. I had thought that the pin was a solid machined piece of steel; I was sadly mistaken.

I was extremely lucky that my trailer didn’t come loose in heavy freeway traffic. Even if Horizon Global, Reese’s parent company, replaces the pin, I will be reluctant to use it if it has the same pressed-on cap. My goal is to alert your readers to be vigilant if they have purchased this item (O’Reilly part number 7030200).

David Reed | Arvada, Colorado

We haven’t received any other reader reports of this hitch pin failing, David, so it doesn’t appear to be a widespread problem. Since it appears to have failed after just a 100-mile trip, I’d definitely be looking for another cause.

Under normal operating conditions, there is very little lateral pressure on a hitch-receiver pin. Most of the load is front to back across the pin’s shaft. Check the hitch-head shaft to make sure it isn’t extra loose in the receiver. Look at the hitch-pin holes. If they’re oblong or misshapen, it can cause more hitch-head movement, and that can cause lateral stress.
Every time the tow rig and trailer move and the hitch head shifts side to side or up and down, which you would likely be able to hear as repeated clunking noises out back, that can cause hitch-pin stress. During a close inspection, you’ll likely find something else that’s not up to snuff with the hitch setup, and that can be the cause of the pin failure. Correct the problem, and it should solve the premature-wear situation.


Have a Tech Question?

Email [email protected] and include your full name and hometown. Selected letters will be answered in the monthly RV Clinic column, but time does not permit individual replies.


Man leaning over engine wearing blue shirtJeff Johnston 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. In his monthly RV Clinic column, Jeff replies to Trailer Life readers’ technical questions about RVs and tow vehicles. He also serves as associate producer of Rollin’ On TV, a nationally syndicated television program for RV enthusiasts.


 

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