Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fall Camping

Fall is when most campers put their stuff away for the winter.  But there are some really great experiences to be enjoyed as the leaves begin to turn.  Weather won't be too bad yet and is usually even more comfortable than hot summer days.  The cooler evenings are perfect for campfires.  You probably won't have to deal with freezing weather in early fall, but, depending on how high up in the mountains you go and how late in the season it is, you might encounter some pretty cold nights so be prepared to protect you and your equipment against freezing temperatures.

Fall brings colorful leaf changes in many parts of the country.  Be sure to check out potential locations near you where you can enjoy the bright yellows, oranges, and reds as deciduous trees prepare to shed their leaves for the winter.  The only downside to seeking good viewing of fall foliage is that you may encounter heavier than normal traffic as others take the "scenic route" to also enjoy the colors.  Be aware that it is often freezing temperatures that trigger the dramatic changes in leaf color, so don't be surprised if you encounter very cold nights.

Fall doesn't usually deliver the freezing temperatures of winter, but Mother Nature may choose to surprise you, so be prepared.  I remember a "Fall Encampment" I did with with one of my sons in Boy Scouts when it dipped to 24° overnight.  The boys were totally unprepared for temperatures that cold and took turns warming their hands and other body parts in front of the fireplace in the lodge.  Make sure the furnace in your RV is in good working order and that you have sufficient propane and battery power to keep it going.  If you're tent camping, bring along your tent heater and/or your cold weather sleeping bags -- or an extra set of sleeping bags in case you need to double up to keep warm.

Camping facilities, especially Forest Service and other government run campgrounds, may begin to shut down as winter approaches.  Sometimes that means they are completely closed.  Other times they may have already shut off the water to faucets and bathrooms, but the camp sites ares still open to those who come prepared to do without an on site water source.  Commercial venues are less likely to shut down but you may still encounter some reduction in services so always check ahead of time so you don't get surprised and have to forgo your planned activities.

If you are camping at a full hooku campground in an RV, be sure to bring along some heat tape to wrap your city water connection (hose and faucet) in case you encounter any freezing temperatures.  Often it is freezing overnight temperatures that trigger the magnificent change of leaf color that makes fall camping so much fun.  If you don't have heat tape, disconnect your hose from the faucet, drain it, and store it inside a protected cabinet each night.  If you leave it connected, the frost-free faucet can't drain and both your hose and the faucet can freeze.  If that happens YOU will be liable to the campground for the cost of repairing the freeze damaged faucet!  As you can imagine, they are not cheap and the labor to dig them up and replace them is not trivial.

Cooler fall days are often a good time to hit the trails on your dirt bike, ATV, horse, or just hiking.  Moderate temperatures make for pleasant outings.  It is usually much easier to dress in layers to accommodate cooler weather than to try to stay cool when temperatures soar.  After all, there is only so much clothing you can remove when it gets too hot!

Fall is often hunting season in many parts of the country.  That can be a mixed blessing.  You may want to go camping to do some hunting, but if you are not a hunter, you may find yourself wandering around where they're likely to be shooting so you'll want to take appropriate precautions.  Wearing bright orange clothing is one way of distinguishing yourself from potential game but it is a better idea to avoid tramping around in popular hunting areas in the first place.  Most hunters are thoughtful and careful but there are always a few bad apples that spoil things for everyone else.  When I was growing up in Idaho a hunter was bragging in the barber shop that he "got off some sound shots but didn't hit anything".  When the barber asked him what he meant by "sound shots" he said "I heard a noise in the bushes and shot at it, but I didn't hit anything."  The barber proceeded to shave stripe down the middle of his head from front to back in a kind of reverse mohawk and when confronted by the hunter for what he did he defended his actions with a straight razor in his hand and said, in affect,"guys like you should be marked so everyone can see you coming".  Taking any shot without a clear view of the target -- and what's behind it -- is never a good idea.  Even if you're lucky and don't hit something you shouldn't (like a fellow hunter!), obstacles in the path of the arrow or even a bullet can deflect the shot so you miss your target and possible hit something you didn't intend to shoot.

Fall into fun!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cruise Control

Cruise control is a useful tool for drivers of both motorhomes and tow vehicles as well as the family car.  The primary purpose of cruise control is to maintain a preselected speed and relieve the driver from having to constantly maintain pressure on the gas pedal.  On long drives that pressure often results in cramping and stiffness.  Using cruise control can allow the driver to be a little more relaxed.  To the extent that relieves stress, its a good thing, but you certainly don't want to become so relaxed that you get apathetic or drowsy!  Avoiding leg cramps is definitely a good thing.  Using cruise control is said to improve gas mileage too.

Cruise control can usually help get better fuel economy.  Each time you press down on the acclerator pedal the fuel system dumps gas into the engine.  Cruise control minimizes these surges and allows the engine to operate more efficiently.  However, cruise control can be problematic when towing a heavy trailer or negotiating hills.  Many drivers of heavy vehicles like to "get a run" at steep or long hills and cruise control cannot anticipate upcoming hills.  It can only react when the hill has already slowed you down.  Drivers who routinely maintain a steady foot on the accelerator won't see as much mileage improvement as those who tend to surge and back off frequently.  I once had a construction supervisor whose inconsistency on the gas pedal was enough to make his passengers car sick.  Fortunately I wasn't susceptible to motion sickness but other employees were. Riding with him was not comfortable.  He would have seen significantly better mileage by using cruise control (and probably avoided passengers vomiting in his truck!).

Why does cruise control improve gas mileage?  For one thing, each time you press down on the accelerator it dumps extra gas into the engine.  Avoiding frequent and often unnecessary movement avoids his extra fuel usage.  Some years ago I recall seeing something called an "Econometer" that supposedly helped drivers improve gas mileage.  It was a dial with green, yellow, and red segments and the goal was to keep the needle in the green as much as possible to get the best possible gas mileage.  How did this work?  Well, what it really was, was a vacuum gauge.  Low vacuum occurs when the engine is under load, so maintaining a steady throttle and avoiding putting load on the engine improves gas mileage. 

Cruise control should NOT be used on wet, snowy, or icy roads.  It has been demonstrated that cruise control, attempting to maintain speed on slick roads, can sometimes cause you to loose control  of your vehicle.  Even a little rain can be enough to cause problems.  Vehicles tend to hydroplane on wet roads.  When that happens you aren't driving on the pavement, you are driving on top of the water on the pavement and you have very little traction and very little control.  Because of lack of traction, the speed doesn't increase as it normally does when the cruise control opens the throttle, so it opens it more and more and when it eventually does get traction, the reaction is sudden and much more than needed, sending the vehicle out of control. snopes.com lists this as TRUE.

I've seen drivers use the cruise control buttons like manual driving controls instead of using the gas pedal.  While I have no hard evidence that this isn't a good thing to do, common sense tells me it isn't.  There is usually some delay as the cruise control responds to input to accelerate or slow down, a delay the "real" driver doesn't normally introduce and I seriously doubt such use will provide the fuel economy benefits of setting the cruise control and leaving it alone.  I do not recommend using cruise control in heavy traffic.  The speed changes too often and the potential for another vehicle suddenly cutting you off and forcing you to slow quickly is too great.  Cruise control cannot anticipate nor even react to such things.

There are many anecdotes about naive drivers treating cruise control like an "auto pilot".   Hopefully, none of them are true, but in the interest of a little humor I will retell the story of the RV driver who wrecked his new motorhome after he set the "auto pilot" and went back to make a sandwich or a cup of coffee! Other variations include the driver who got in the back seat of his sedan to take a nap and the woman who went back in her van to care for her crying baby after setting the cruise control. Not surprisingly, snopes.com lists these as LEGEND.

Cruise along!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

When Are You Too Old for RVing, OHVing, or Camping?

When Are You Too Old for RVing, OHVing, or Camping?  I suppose there may come a time when physical or neurological limitations may interfere with camping and off road activities.  But unless your doctor has issued restrictions or you have severe disabilities that would make camping or riding unhealthy or dangerous to you or others, there is no reason you shouldn't keep on going out as long as you feel like doing it.  I have a friend in is late 70's who still organizes and leads two week-long dirt bike rides in Mexico every year.  To celebrate my own 70th birthday this year my wife and I spent several days camping and riding in the west desert of Utah around Chimney Rock Pass, logging more than 50 miles of trail riding on our dirt bikes.  That birthday celebration also gave me a chance to confirm that "A potato baked in the campfire for one hour makes and excellent side dish".  I have no plans to confirm the second part of that quote (i.e., that "A potato baked in the campfire for three hours makes an excellent hockey puck".) 

As you mature you may modify your riding style or even switch from dirt bikes to ATVs or side-by-sides, but in general there is no good reason to abandon your sport just because the calendar says you're getting older.  I have been forced to acknowledge that my body doesn't heal as readily as it once did so I try harder to avoid crashing.  I have even found that the ground comes up a lot faster and harder when I jump down from my pickup truck than it used to.  One of my riding buddies was once asked why he didn't take up golf.  His reply:  "Because I can still get my leg over my motorcycle!"  I must admit I came back from one particularly technical ride in the Mojave Desert and announced that "I think I need some new shocks -- and my bike could probably use some new ones too!

"You don't stop riding because you get old.  You get old because you stop riding."  is one of my favorite quotes and one I firmly believe in.  Of course you could substitute "RVing" or"camping" or any number of pleasant and popular activities for "riding", but any way you cut it, giving up on the things you like to do will age you much faster than the mere passage of time.  My grandfather was fond of saying "A man will rust out quicker than he'll wear out" and I've seen plenty of folks "retire" to a life of leisure as couch potatoes who didn't last very long.  I know one gentleman who, upon retiring, parked himself in front of the TV and refused to do anything physical and within just a few months had to trade his favorite easy chair for a wheel chair which was, in turn, exchanged for a coffin.  One time when visiting my Dad in Oregon I helped him haul 30 bales of hay on his little Datsun pickup and stack them for the calf they were raising.   We felt pretty proud of our accomplishment.  The next day we drove to Idaho to visit my Grandfather who, at 88, we discovered, had spent the morning hauling 80 bales of hay and storing them in the loft of his neighbor's barn -- by himself!  Dad and I just shared a knowing look and said nothing about our puny efforts the night before.  BTW, Grandpa was not a big husky fellow, but he was strong and in incredibly good shape for his age.  He was only 4'11" tall.  I like to tell people I come from a long line of short people (my Dad was 5'3").

Don't let the calendar -- or anyone else -- tell you when to stop enjoying your favorite outdoor activities.   You (or your doctor) should be the only ones to set limits.

Keep on keeping on!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dump Valve Maintenance and Repair

Dump valves are pretty reliable unless they freeze or get damaged by impact with something.   However, they will sometimes need repair or replacement in normal use due to normal wear and tear on the seals.  If you discover sewage accumulated inside the dump cap between dumps, you probably have one or more leaking valves.  The color and smell of the accumulated fluid will tell you which valve is leaking.  Foul smelling stuff that is blue. brown, or green is coming from the black water tank.  Grayish, soapy water is from the gray water tank.  Having a clear plastic dump cap instead of a black on will let you see if there is anything behind the cap before you open it.  Having a dump cap with a hose fitting allows you to easily drain the accumulated sewage safely into the dump hose or a container before you open the cap and get a big "whoosh" of nasty stuff all over you and the ground.  The space between the valves and the cap can usually hold a quart or two of nasty leakage.   Dump your tanks before attempting to work on the valves.  After you get home and parked where you're going to be working on them, put a container under the valves and remove the outer cap and leave the valves open for a while to let everything drain out and stop dripping.  This will help avoid getting sewage up your sleeve or dripping in your face while working on the valves.

To avoid problems with your dump valves, always pull and push the handles straight.   Any angle on the handle could bend the shaft, damage the seals, or crack the slide.  Once any of these things has happened you will have to replace the valve.  Fortunately they aren't very expensive (under $20 each at even rip-off RV parts stores and even less at discount outlets) and they are usually pretty easy to change.

Always wear protective rubber, nitrile, or vinyl gloves when working with sewer hoses and dump valves  to avoid exposure to chemicals and nasty waste products.  Then thoroughly wash your hands after you have removed and discarded the gloves.

Sometimes the problem is due to worn seals, which can be replaced without replacing the entire valve.  However the effort is pretty much the same whether you're replacing just the seals or the entire valve.   Seal kits will be a little less expensive than complete valves but since the valves are fair inexpensive, I prefer to replace them rather than just change the seals to avoid any extra labor.  Some valves can only use their own branded seals and if you get the wrong ones, they will leak.  That is one reason I prefer to replace the whole valve so I don't have to worry about matching old seals.  You;ll need to dump and flush the holding tanks before beginning any repair.  The valves are blade valves that are fastened between flanges on either side --one on the outlet from the tank and one on the pipe that leads to where you attach the dump hose.  They are secured by 4 bolts -- one in each corner of the square part of the valve.  Remove the 4 bolts,then carefully pull out the valve.  Remove the old seals and clean the flanges.  Install the new seals on the flanges.  Make sure to put the large end of the seal over the lip on the flange.  Then very carefully slip the valve (new or old) into place, taking care not to dislodge or distort the seals.  This can be tricky.  Replace and tighten all 4 bolts and you should be good to go.  New valves should come with new bolts, another benefit of replacing the valve and not just the seals.  Always hold the nut and tighten or loosen the bolt head because the nut is knurled to prevent it from loosening.  Tighten the bolts until the heads begin to bite into the plastic flange.  Once the bolts are tightened, close the valve to make sure it operates smoothly.  If there is any resistance or it won't close completely the seals have probably slipped and you'll need to take it out and reinstall them properly.   At least partially fill the tank with clean water to test the installation.  Sometimes the old bolts will be so badly rusted you can't unscrew them to disassemble the valve.  If there is room you may be able to cut the bolts using a hacksaw or a die grinder with a metal cutoff blade.  Since you will be replacing the old valve you can cut right through the valve itself.  Be careful not to damage the flanges on either side.

Some small leaks might be temporarily repaired using a wet patch roofing tar.  This is not a suitable permanent repair.  The underlying cause must be diagnosed and repaired, but if there is a small drip around the junction of the valve body and the flanges it mounts to, sealing it with tar might let you finish a trip and then make appropriate permanent repairs when you get home.  Using wet patch sealant avoids having to wait until the tanks are drained and dried.  Wet patch roofing tar is intended to be used in rainy conditions and may not be resistant to the chemicals and other contaminants in sewage.

Maintaining dump valves mostly consists of keeping them lubricated so they operate smoothly without any tearing or excessive wear.  Lubricate the shaft of the valve with a silicone spray.  DO NOT use WD40 as it will remove the grease that helps seal around the shaft and will make the valve harder to open and close.  The plastic "paddle" that actually opens and closes usually doesn't require any direct lubrication but some holding tank treatments contain valve lubricants or you can buy special valve lubricant.  Valve lubricant is usually dumped down the toilet when the thank is empty so it goes directly to the valve.  You will have to put lubricant down a sink or shower drain to lubricate gray water valves.

Dump valves may have metal or plastic handles.  These handles sometimes get broken.  If the valve is otherwise in good shape, the handles are easily replaceable.  Open the valve, then grip the shaft with cloth protected pliers to avoid damaging the shaft, while twisting the handle to remove it.  Then screw on the new handle and tighten it.

Some dump valves are located away from the outside edge of the RV and are operated via extension cables.  If you have valves that are difficult to reach you may be able to replace them with able operated valves for added convenience.  When replacing existing valves with cable operated valves, use new Bladex/Valterra valves.  They are specially designed to operate easily with cables.  Follow the installation instructions carefully to ensure proper operation. Some ultra-luxury units even have electrically operated dump valves.  To me that is overkill and unless you have physical problems that prevent you bending over to reach the dump valves, I don't think it is worth the expense and it introduces extra electro-mechanical parts that can be additional points of failure.

Dump it!

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Maintaining adequate hydration while camping and involved in related activities, such has hiking, OHV riding, boating, and horseback riding, is essential to both comfort and good health.  Because of lot of our camping and related activities take place in warm or even hot weather, our hydration requirements are usually greater than normal.  However, hydration is still an important factor during colder times.  You will still lose body fluids through respiration and perspiration.  The effects of dehydration can range from discomfort to coma to death!  If you find yourself feeling really lethargic in hot weather, you probably aren't drinking enough water.

When you begin to feel thirsty, you are already starting to get dehydrated.  To avoid dehydration start by pre-hydrating your body prior to your activities.  When dirt biking we start drinking plenty of water and sports drinks the night before our planned rides.  While having enough water is the biggest concern, you will also need to maintain a proper balance of electrolytes to ensure comfort, performance, and good health.  One of the most important electrolytes is salt and it is one of the first to get depleted through perspiration.  You can buy salt tablets that are convenient to carry during activities.  How much salt do you need?  That will depend on several factors, including your body size, outside temperature, and level of activity.  You might be able to find some guidelines via online research, but it may be best to check with our doctor so you get enough but don't over do it.  Too much salt isn't good for you.  Isn't it interesting that salt is composed of two deadly poisons:  sodium and chlorine.  The scientific name for salt is Sodium Chloride.  Either component taken by itself will kill you but you need the compound to live.  Some researches believe it is more than a coincidence that the percentage of salt in your bloodstream is almost same as it is in the ocean.  If you become extremely dehydrated and require medical attention, one of the treatments will be to give you a saline solution (salt water) intravenously to quickly restore hydration levels.

If you find yourself feeling particularly lethargic or weak during hot weather, you are probably suffering from dehydration.  Drinking plenty of water will probably restore your energy levels.  By the way, it is best to drink small amounts frequently rather than gulp down a whole bunch at once.

Drink small amounts of fluids frequently, especially during very hot weather and/or strenuous activity.  Don't wait until you feel thirsty and then chug-a-lug a whole lot of liquids.  Maintaining your fluid levels by small drinks throughout the day works much better and you will be far more comfortable. You REALLY don't want to chug down a quart of cold water and then do something physically demanding, like riding a dirt bike or a horse!  That is a good way to feel really sick to your stomach really quickly.

A frequent and painful symptom of dehydration is heat cramps.  These usually occur in the arms and legs but can affect just about any muscle, like those in your throat or even your tongue.  They are like really bad charlie horses.  For immediate relief try stretching the offending muscle.  Sometimes you may get cramps in both the front and back of your arms or legs and then it is impossible to stretch out one without aggravating the cramping in the other.  When that happens, about all you can do is find the most neutral position and have someone bring you some electrolytes to drink.  We've found that dill pickle juice works very well, especially if you hold some under your tongue before you swallow it so it can be directly absorbed into your bloodstream.  To avoid heat cramps altogether, drink plenty of water and sports drinks throughout the day to maintain your fluid and electrolyte levels.

Symptoms of more severe dehydration will include hot dry skin (when you stop perspiring you are dangerously dehydrated and your body can't cool itself).  You may become nauseous, dizzy, and get headaches.  If you or any of your companions exhibit these symptoms, you need to cool them down and get some fluids into them as quickly as possible.  Severe dehydration can lead to unconsciousness, coma, and, eventually, even death.  Douse a severely dehydrated person with cool water and encourage them to sip water.  An unconscious victim will require intravenous liquids so seek medical attention as soon as possible.

There are several convenient ways to carry water with you during your activities so you can drink as much as you need throughout the day.  Bottled water comes in handy sizes and a lot of backpacks and fanny packs have special outside compartments to keep them easily accessible.  There are also carriers designed specifically to hold bottled water that can be worn slung over a shoulder or around your neck if you're not wearing a fanny pack or back pack.  Some are even made of neoprene to insulate the bottle to keep the water cooler.  Here are some examples available from Amazon.com.

Canteens have been used for many years by campers, hikers, scouts,soldiers, and cowboys to carry water.   The come in various sizes, shapes, durability, and ways to be carried.  Here is a typical boy scout canteen, with a carrying strap to sling it around your neck and/or over your shoulder:

                                                  Image result for boy scout canteen

Here is an army style canteen that is carried on your belt:

                                                        Image result for army canteen

Blanket style canteens are often used when horseback riding.  They come in various sizes ranging from less than a quart to a gallon or more.  The blanket covering can be wet so that evaporation helps cool the contents.

                                                     Image result for blanket canteen

My favorite water system for outdoor recreational activities like dirt biking is the Camelbak Hydration pack.  These are soft back packs with a vinyl bladder inside and a tube from which you can suck water directly through a "bite valve" that keeps it from leaking out between drinks.  I add a Velcro tab to the bite valve and a mating tab on the center of my chest protector so keep the tube handy for use while riding.  Sometimes it takes some extra glue or even a tiny cable tie to  keep it in place.  If you can't get the Velcro to work, just tuck the bite valve in the side of your chest protector.  Here is an example of a Camelbak hydration pack:

                                                    camelbak 60282 hydration pack,50 oz./1.5l,black

If you use a Camelbak you may want to pre-cool it to keep your water cooler longer.  However, don't freeze it.  The ice will block the drinking tube and it will probably be several hours before you will be able to drink from it.  The best way I've found is to empty out any stale water, fill the bladder with ice cubes, then refill it with as much water as it will take.  Doing this my 70 ounce Camelbak gives me ice cold water for 8-10 hours even in air temperatures approaching 100°.

What hydration system you use will depend on the kind of activities you will be participating in and the budget you have for acquiring a system.  Small canteens are relatively inexpensive; large hydration packs will cost several times as much but will carry more water more conveniently.  The most important thing is that you make sure you always have an adequate supply of water.

You can fill your canteens or hydration packs with water or with sports drinks.  However, if you fill them with sports drinks you will have to make sure you clean them out regularly to avoid spoilage or sticky deposits.   In many, many years of dirt biking in the Mojave Desert I have found water to be the best source of hydration on the trail.  Then I consume some sports drinks when I return to camp to balance my electrolytes.  Water is far more refreshing and avoids the sticky aftertaste that often accompanies sports drinks.  I definitely do not recommend filling canteens or hydration packs with sodas!  First of all, sodas are not ideal sources of hydration, especially if they contain caffeine.  Secondly, the bouncing of the container will make the soda fizz, possibly leaking out and quickly losing all the carbonation so it goes flat.  If you're out on the trail for any time, the contents of your hydration container is going to get warm and warm, flat soda is disgusting and not something you will likely drink very much of.  Water is the best thing to fill your hydration system -- and your body -- with.  It is even still healthy and refreshing when it is luke warm.

Drink up!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Gas versus Diesel

Gas versus diesel powered motorhomes and tow vehicles.  The question always comes up.  And, unfortunately, there is no easy answer.  But there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to each the potential buyer should be aware of.  Personal preferences also play a role.

Gasoline powered vehicles are generally less expensive to purchase than diesel.  They are usually less expensive to work on also.  But they generally get poorer fuel economy and don't have the high torque of diesel engines.  If you have gasoline powered motorsports toys you can use your spare gas in your vehicle if you run low.  I've even burned pre-mix 2-stroke fuel in my truck in a pinch.  Gasoline powered chassis usually have the engine up front in a "doghouse" between the driver and passengers seats.  For some people the engine noise and heat can be a problem.  You can buy fuel for gasoline vehicles at any gas station, although you sometimes have to look for one with adequate lateral and overhead clearance to accommodate an RV.  Surprisingly enough, many motorhomes run on regular unleaded gasoline but some require more expensive premium fuel.  Be sure to know what your vehicle requires.  If you use a low or mid grade fuel and the engine starts to"ping", upgrade to premium fuel soon, before permanent engine damage can occur.  One cause of pinging is pre-ignition, which means the fuel mixture ignites before the spark plug fires.  This can burn valves, which leads to per performance and reduced mileage and are expensive to repair.  Gasoline powered vehicles will be subject to annual emissions inspections when the vehicle is registered where such inspections are required.  A poorly tuned engine also creates high levels of pollution (NOX and unburned hydrocarbons) that are really bad for air quality.

Diesel engines are more expensive but the usually deliver better fuel economy, higher torque, and longer life than gasoline engines.  However, the increased price means it may take a lot of driving to recoup the additional cost in fuel savings or longevity.  If you plan to full time and/or put a lot of miles on your vehicle, a diesel may be advantageous.  At one time diesel fuel was cheaper than gasoline, and that coupled with better fuel economy, reduced fuel costs.  But these days diesel tends to higher than premium gasoline (at least where I live),which doesn't make a lot sense because diesel is made from the dregs left over from refining gasoline.  If you do a lot of boondocking for OHV activities, you may have to carry some extra diesel fuel since the gasoline for your toys is not compatible with diesel engines.  Diesel engines in general are a bit noisier than gasoline engines, not necessarily in the exhaust system, but from direct sounds generated within the engine.  They do not have spark plugs to ignite the fuel.  The fuel is ignited by heat generated from compression.  This can sometimes be heard as a sort of knocking sound, which some people find objectionable. Some people don't like the smell of diesel exhaust either. Diesel chassis often have the engine in the rear (known as a "diesel pusher").  On large motorhomes this puts the engine up to 40 feet behind the driver, greatly masking any engine noise.  Finding diesel fuel on the road used to mean looking for truck stops, but the proliferation of gasoline powered automobiles has made diesel much more available.  Yet even today, not all gas stations carry diesel, so you need to check the signs before you pull in.  Make sure you use only the designated diesel pump.  Putting gasoline into your diesel vehicle will cause a lot of problems and can be expensive to remedy.  Motorhomes with diesel engines may have diesel or propane powered generators.  If your camping style is such that you use a lot or propane, you may want to make sure the generator is diesel powered to conserve propane for other uses.  In some areas subject to emissions inspections, diesel powered vehicles are exempt from emissions inspections.  They will still be required to pass any required safety inspections.  Diesel powered vehicles often have higher weight carrying and towing capacities than their gasoline counterparts. So if having a really big motorhome or being able to tow a really large trailer is important to you, you may want to seriously consider getting a diesel.  Be sure to check the horsepower and torque ratings  and Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating so you can be certain you're getting enough power for satisfactory performance.   All diesels are not alike.  You might be disappointed with some of the older, smaller diesels.

I have owned both gasoline and diesel powered motorhomes and found both to be satisfactory.  I've never full timed or taken long cross-country trips, so I was never able to take advantage of the higher fuel economy attributed to diesel vehicles.  My diesel was a 40' pusher, and, due to its size and weight, did not get deliver particularly good mpg numbers.  Unfortunately, I also saw diesel fuel climb from cheaper than unleaded regular to more expensive than premium gasoline which quickly negated the cost savings I anticipated when I bought it.  More recently, diesel has dropped below regular unleaded again. so you may have to keep any eye on prices and trends before you make any decision.

Choose the right fuel.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Venerable GM 454 Engine

Many gasoline powered motorhomes are fitted with a Chevrolet 454 "big block" V-8 engine.  You will find them on many older Class A's based on the Chevrolet P-30 chassis and on the modern Workhorse Chassis.  They are generally quite powerful and reliable, but not particularly stingy when it comes to fuel economy.  I've owned several 454 powered Class As, ranging from 28' to 35' and they all pretty much got about 6-7 mpg -- up hill, down hill, head wind, tail wind, towing a trailer, driving solo.  A popular saying is that a 454 can pass anything but a gas station.  I like the power of the big block engine in a motorhome, especially when towing my enclosed motorcycle trailer.

Over the years the 454s have developed a reputation for a few specific issues you may want to watch for if your RV is thus equipped.  For starters, they tend to generate a lot of heat.  The typical solution is to improve the exhaust system, replacing the stock manifolds with headers, enlarging the exhaust pipes, and installing free flow mufflers.  I've seen the stock manifolds on more than one motorhome glowing cherry red after climbing a steep hill.  That kind of heating contributes to warped manifolds causing noisy and dangerous exhaust leaks.  Upgrading the exhaust system will have other benefits beyond getting rid of heat.  A more open exhaust reduces back pressure and lets the engine "breath" better.  I experienced a very dramatic demonstration of the affects of a restricted exhaust system when I blew out the "donut" gasket between the manifold and the exhaust down pipe on one of my 454s.  I was climbing a gentle hill at the time and the motorhome jumped forward like it had been kicked in the butt when that gasket blew out.  A better exhaust is one of the key features of the famous "Banks Powerpack".  Another major component of the Banks upgrade is an improved air input system.  Together these two changes typically deliver both improved performance and better gas mileage, which is a pretty good deal since most performance modifications improve power at the cost of fuel economy or fuel economy at the cost of power.

That heat also translates into well known starter problems.  The starter is necessarily tucked in right under the right exhaust manifold where it is exposed to very high temperatures.  The most common symptom is hard starting when the engine is hot.  The starter binds up inside and can't overcome the internal resistance with enough force to turn the engine over.  Over time, the problem further damages the starter so it doesn't work well anytime.  After market high performance and geared starters are available and are said to help mitigate common 454 starter problems.  You may also be able to install a heat shield to keep some of the heat from the exhaust manifold from impacting the starter directly.

There is another problem that is often mistaken for a starter problem.  The symptoms are much the same.  The starter will turn over once or twice and then stall.  This is often due to a faulty ground strap between the engine and the vehicle frame instead of a dead  battery or worn out starter.  Over time the connection between the ground strap terminal and the frame can become rusted or corroded so it doesn't make a good connection.  If you experience starting problems that would be one of the first things to check.  Many times it can be corrected simply by cleaning the terminal and the spot where it attaches to the frame.  Or you may want to replace the entire ground strap, especially if it is small or flimsy to start with.  And old fashioned braided steel battery ground strap about an inch wide is a good choice if you have to upgrade.  I've even heard of at least one RVer who added a second ground strap on the right side of the engine.  Perhaps he has a "Valley Girl" mentality ("For sure, for sure.").  A second strap shouldn't be necessary, but it certainly won't hurt.

You may find folks who recommend an oversize oil filter to increase oil capacity.  They will often claim it will even help dissipate engine heat, especially if the filter is equipped with cooling fins.  I tried the oversize filters on a couple of my rigs and can't say that I notice any perceptible difference.  However, having nearly an extra quart of oil in the system certainly won't hurt anything (except a small pain in your wallet for an extra quart at each oil change).  The extra filter area may also be more efficient at removing contaminates.  It could reduce contamination and prevent unnecessary wear.   The impact of these factors is difficult to measure.  The oversize oil filter is usually available as a direct replacement for the regular spin-on filter, but will be a lot longer.   The consensus I found in my most recent research is that over sized oil filters probably aren't worth the extra cost, but if it gives you peace of mind, it certainly won't hurt anything.  I put it in the "good to have", not the "must have" category.

On the subject of filters, there is another filter worth thinking about:  the air filter.  First of all, you always want to keep your air filter clean.  A clogged air filter will significantly reduce mileage and performance.  I like to use a K&N resusable air filter.  They generally allow greater air flow than standard paper elements and can be cleaned and reused over and over. They are a bit pricey to buy, but since they don't have to be replaced frequently, they pay for themselves over a few change intervals.  The improved air flow gives better power and better fuel economy.

Most 454s are equipped with fan clutches that engage and disengage the fan depending on the temperature.  You can usually hear when the fan kicks in or off  from inside the coach.  The sound can be quite dramatic.  Many drivers mistake it for downshifting when the fan kicks in.  If the fan is always engaged, the clutch may be faulty.  The purpose of the clutch is to engage the fan when it is needed for cooling.  If it is on when it isn't need, it puts some additional drag on the engine, which could have a slight affect on fuel economy and perfomance, and it may prevent the engine from reaching proper operating temperature by over cooling the radiator.

Speaking of radiators, I've seen some motorhomes equipped with what I would consider to be undersized radiators.  I'm not talking about the square inches of surface or height and width, I'm talking about the number of rows of cores inside.  The more rows, the better it will cool.  If you have consistent overheating problems you should have the radiator checked.  First of all, there can be internal deposits that restrict flow and significantly reduce cooling capacity.  This can be tested with an optical sensing thermometer.  If there are places the radiator is hotter than in other places, there is something restricting the flow, most likely some kind of internal blockage.  Secondly, you might have a radiator with only a few rows of tubes in the core.  If boiling out the radiator to get rid of deposits doesn't solve your problem, check with your radiator shop about upgrading to a heavier duty radiator with more core tubes.  Unless the extra thickness pushes the radiator back into the fan or interferes with something out front, a heavier duty radiator should bolt right in where the original was without any modifications required.  Of course the heavy duty radiator will be more expensive than an OEM replacement, but it might be worth it.

Big blocks rock!