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.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fall has fell...

Well, almost.  September 21, which is only a few days away, marks the official beginning of fall on the calendar.  Don't know about where you are, but where I am in western Oregon now, it is beginning to feel like fall.  Unusually hot summer temperatures have faded and we're headed into Oregon's famous rainy season.  It is about time to think about putting our RV and camping equipment away for the season.  See End of Season  for details about winterizing your RV and preparing your other equipment for storage.

If you live where you will get freezing temperatures you will need to winterize your RV and make sure there is nothing in your tent camping storage that will be damaged by freezing.  Tents and sleeping bags should be clean and dry before storage.  Sleeping bags should not be rolled tightly during extended storage as it will crush the loft and destroy their ability to keep you warm.

If you're feeling adventurous you might venture out for a few more outings before the really cold weather hits.  If you do you will want to take weather conditions into consideration and bring along warm clothes.  Be sure your RV has plenty of propane and that the furnace is working properly.  A tent heater might let you extend your camping season a bit, but be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully to avoid any problems.  Tent heaters can cause fires so make sure they are kept away from tent walls, sleeping bags, clothing, etc that might catch fire.  Tent heaters, even catalytic heaters that allegedly give off no toxic fumes, will still consume oxygen so make sure you have adequate ventilation.

A trick I learned for sleeping on snow or cold ground is to unroll and unzip a couple of old sleeping bags.  Put one under the sleeping bag(s) you'll be sleeping in (I like it between the bag and the sleeping pad) and the other one over the top.  If you are sharing your tent with a companion, put the second sleeping bag so it covers both sleeping bags.  That way any heat that escapes from your primary sleeping bags is caught by the top cover and you effectively share body heat to keep you both warm all night.

If you are camping in desert areas where night time temperatures are still warm, you may want to add or include a battery powered tent fan.  We recently spent a night in the Virgin River Gorge in northern Arizona and it was 106ยบ around 7:30 pm and didn't really cool down enough to sleep until around 3:00 am!  We used a spray bottle liberally to cool both us directly and the little bit of breeze we got through the screens but a fan would have been very welcome.  It is definitely on the list for next time!

I've always found it more difficult to keep cool than to keep warm.  After all, you can always add layers to keep warm but there is only so much clothing you can remove to cool down!

Fall camping is cool!

Friday, July 28, 2017

2 Wheel Bug Out Vehicles?

When we think of bug out vehicles we usually think of trucks, SUVs, or RVs that can carry us and a lot of survival equipment.  However, there are other options that might be more versatile.   For example, I keep my dirt bikes ready to use at any time.  If roads are impassable due to an earthquake or flooding, I can use my dirt bike to get to safety through or around all kinds of terrain that would stop just about any other kind of vehicle.  If you prefer an ATV or side-by-side, it too could provide options to go places where a normal street legal vehicle can't.  You'll need to find a way to attach some kind of hitch to the frame of the dirt bike.  Towing a trailer will limit some of the places you can go but it will give you the ability to carry a lot more survival gear with you.

An option seldom considered is a bicycle.  Bicycles have several advantages.  They are not terribly expensive (unless you go for fancy road racers or competition level mountain bikes), they require no fuel, they are light weight so you can carry them through terrain too rough to ride through.  A good bike could be your best bet for escaping an unsafe situation.  You don't see too many folks pulling trailers with bicycles, but it is possible and would increase your cargo capacity.  You should be able to pull up to 600 lbs on flat ground, which gives you considerably more room to bring along what you need than you'd have in even the biggest back pack.  If you decide to include a bicycle in your survival gear, the best bet would be a mountain bike, with off road tires and multiple gears.  Racing bikes are great on pavement, but the narrow tires wouldn't handle damaged roads or going off road if necessary very well.  A cruiser style bike will have tires capable of handling more types of terrain but usually are only one speed so they wouldn't be as good for negotiating hills.  As with a dirt bike, you will probably have to engineer your own trailer hitch if you decide to pull a small trailer.  

You will need a pretty small trailer to use behind a dirt bike or bicycle.  There are some trailers designed to pull behind ATVs and some for street bikes that might be a starting point.  Even a little garden cart designed to be used with riding mowers and garden tractors might work, but they usually aren't designed to be particularly light weight.  You might also consider building your own trailer from scratch.  The trailer kits you can find at places like Harbor Freight will usually be too big and too heavy for pulling behind a bike (pedal power or motorized).

You will  need to limit the size of the trailer for several reasons.  First up, you don't want it to be too heavy.  The lighter the trailer, the more gear you can carry and the easier it will be to pull.  Secondly, you want something that you can pull through small spaces without difficulty.  In really difficult terrain you might even have to pull the trailer by hand or even be able to lift it over obstacles.

I have seen neat little tent trailers to pull behind ATVs that would even provide shelter, but you will sacrifice some cargo capacity if you choose one of these and they would probably be too big and heavy to reasonable tow behind a bicycle.  If you need or want to be able to camp along the way, an easy, light weight, and inexpensive alternative is to toss in a small tent or maybe just a tarp you could toss over you and the trailer to protect you from hot sun or bad weather.

In a pinch you could rig a travois behind a bicycle or dirt bike to carry your gear or even transport an injured person.  You need a couple of poles lashed together at one end to attach to your bike with a tarp, blanket, or net stretched between the other, spread out ends to carry your load

Speaking of bicycles, I have even seen some three-wheeled rigs with a camper attached,  looking kind of like kind of pedal-powered Class C motorhome.  While those might provide the ultimate comfort for bugging out, they wouldn't be very practical on damaged roads or rough terrain and I, for one, would not want to try to pedal one of those up much of a hill!  Likewise, there are custom made motorcycle based Class C motorhomes that would provide many of the features of a larger motorhome as a Disaster Recovery Vehicle, but might have greater range due to lower fuel consumption.

One of the chief characteristics of survivalists is their ability to innovate.  Be innovative in your preparations as well as in your survival techniques.

Think outside the box!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Camping Equipment Maintenance

Tent campers may not have to deal with the mechanical maintenance tasks that those who choose mechanized or motorized modes of travel and recreation, but there are still some things we need to do routinely to keep our gear and equipment in top shape.  Failure to maintain gear and equipment is a sure recipe for premature failure.  A couple of good times to do routine maintenance are when you are preparing for an outing and when you return and put you stuff back in storage.

Tent maintenance.  Maintaining tents mostly consists of cleaning them and inspecting them for leaks or tears and making necessary repairs.  Small tears can  usually be sewed up and sealed with seam sealer.  If caught in time making repairs will avoid catastrophic failure that would force you to buy a new tent.  Temporary repairs for small cuts and tears can be made in the field using duct tape or some kind of waterproof sealing tape.  These should be properly sewed and sealed when you get home and before your next outing.  Another important part of tent maintenance is cleaning.  You should always sweep out your tent before taking it down and brush away debris from the fabric as you roll or fold it up for transport and storage.  If it is wet or damp from rain or dew, be sure to unpack it and let it dry out before you put it back in storage.  Inspect the roof and sides for soiling from birds or tree sap and remove such deposits as soon as practical.  Avoid putting your tent into storage with soiled spots.  Bird crap can usually be removed satisfactorily with soap and water.  Sap may require a stronger solvent such as Goo Gone.  Some folks use turpentine to remove tree sap but it may damage tent fabrics so it would be wise to test it on something non-essential (like the tent peg bag) before using it on your tent.

Sleeping bag maintenance.  Unless your sleeping bag is badly soiled or smells bad all you normally need to do is hang it out for a few hours to let it air out and dry before putting it away.  It would be a good thing if you have room to store it hanging.  It avoids compressing the fill.  Tightly rolling your sleeping bag may let you store it in a smaller space, but it will destroy the loft and it will no longer keep you warm.  If you can't or don't want to hang your sleeping bag, fold it carefully and store it in a tub or box that lets it remain loose.  If you detect a light odor you might try spraying the bag lightly with a fabric freshener such as Fabreze.  Be sure to let it dry before rolling or folding it for storage.  Badly stained or awful smelling sleeping bags should be taken to our local dry cleaners for cleaning.  It isn't cheap, but its way less than a new sleeping bag!

Gas stove maintenance.  Gas stoves, whether white gas or propane, are usually quite reliable, even without a lot of preventive maintenance.  But that doesn't mean you can or should ignore them.  Be sure to clean up any cooking spills after each use.  Clean the burners and the bottom of the stove.  Be sure to clean the openings in the burners.  If there are places where a spill has clogged some of the openings, there won't be any flame there, creating a cold spot in your cooking surface.  Gas stoves have a pump built into the fuel tank to create the pressure needed to feed gas to the burners.  These pumps usually use a leather washer which can dry out and become inaffective.  A drop or two of oil will usually restore flexibility.  If that doesn't work you may have to rebuild the pump.   Rebuild kits are available at most sporting goods stores where the stoves are sold.  If the pump is working fine and there is fuel in the tank but the stove still doesn't work, it probably has a bad generator.  This is a little brass tube through which the liquid gasoline travels and is converted to a gas before entering the burners.  Generators are fairly easy to replace and only cost around $10.

Gas lanterns.  Gas lanterns may use gasoline or propane.  Propane cylinders are pressurized.  You have to pressurize the fuel tank on gasoline lanterns using the pump built into the tank.  If the pump stops working, a drop or two of oil may soften the leather gasket and restore enough flexibility to get it working again.  If it is too badly worn it may have to be replaced.  Just as with gas stoves, there are rebuild kits.  The kits for any given brand can usually be used on both stoves and lanterns so you shouldn't have to carry multiple rebuild kits.  The most frequent maintenance chore for gas lanterns is replacing the mantles.  Th mantles are little sock-like mesh bags.  You have to remove or lift the globe of the lantern to replace the mantles.  There may be one or more mantles in each lantern depending on its size.  The mantles have a string threaded through the open end.  Slip the open end over the end of the flared tube inside the globe and tie it tightly in place with the string.  Then take a match or lighter and burn the silk mesh sock.  The ash that remains is heated white-hot when the lantern is lit.  Because the mantles are made of ash, they are quite fragile.  Bumping the lantern may cause them to crack or break and then they will no longer confine the gas and burn properly.  Always carry several replacement mantles with you when you're using a gas lantern.  Another routine task is cleaning the globe.  Always do this when the globe is cool.  Cleaning a hot globe may result it burning your fingers.  If the hot globe comes in contact with cold water or a cold cloth, it may crack or even shatter.  Carefully clean both the inside and outside of the glass globe before each trip and s often as needed when using the lantern.  Cracked or broken globes should be replaced.  Most gas lanterns are  held together by a knurled nut at the top.  Make sure this nut is always snug but don't over tighten it.  Regularly check to see if the bail or handle is properly attached.  If it is loose and you try to pick it up, the lantern my slip off and fall.

Battery lanterns.  Battery lanterns are far easier to care and less fragile than gas lanterns.  But that doesn't mean they don't need some attention.  You will want to check the condition of the batteries before each trip and either recharge the lantern or replace the batteries if the voltage is low.  Check the battery compartment for signs of leakages or contamination.  Carefully clean any yucky stuff out of the battery compartment paying special attention to the contacts the battery connects to.  They should always be clean and shiny.  You may need to clean the globe periodically too.  Since there is no soot or smoke inside, normally all you have to do is clean the outside.  Window cleaner, like Windex, usually works well but just to safe, check your owners' manual.  Some plastics may have special cleaning instructions.  Ordinary soap and water is usually safe for all surfaces.   Be sure not to rub too hard or too long in one place as it may scratch or burnish the surface.

Camp chairs.  Camp chairs mostly just need to be cleaned once in awhile.  Some of the old style aluminum folding chairs used screws to hold the mesh to the frame.  If you have one of these you'll want to make sure all the screws are tight before each trip.  Cloth chairs like the popular "quad" chairs can be cleaned with soap and water, rinsed with water, and let dry.  The mesh on folding aluminum chairs can also be cleaned with soap and water if badly soiled but if they're only dusty you might just blow them off with compressed air.  If you find your folding chairs are getting hard to open and close or they make squeaking sounds when you open and close them, you might want to put a little bit of lubricant on the pivot points.  Don't use a lot of oil because it will just collect dust and get on the fabric when the chair is closed up for storage.  A dry Teflon lubricant would be a good choice.  If you use a wet lubricant like WD-40, be sure to avoid spraying on too much.  You might even want to spray some in the cap and apply it with a little water color brush or Q-tip so you don't get goo much in one place.  The legs on some chairs have caps or feet on the end.  These often get lost or damaged.  You may be able to purchase rubber cane tips to replace missing feet on round legs. 

Knives and axes.  Inspect  your knives and axes.  Test the blades and makes sure they are clean and sharp.  Gently sand away any rust.  Coat the metal surfaces with a light oil.  Make sure handles are secure in axe heads and that the handles are smooth and in good condition.  You may sand rough wooden handles.  Rub wooden handles with linseed oil to protect them against moisture, make the comfortable to handled, and give the handle a nice "glow".  Dull tools are more dangerous and more difficult to use than sharp ones.  Sharpen blades as needed and use some kind of blade protector while the tools are in storage.

Other equipment.  Depending on what kind of recreational activities you normally participate in you may have other pieces of equipment that need your attention.  If you have an owners manual or instruction sheet, be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations.  Lacking specific guidelines, be sure to regularly clean and inspect each item and make repairs as needed.  Check the functionality of each item to make sure it is working right.  If it doesn't work right, examine it for damage.  A frequent cause of problems in anything with moving parts is contamination or lack of lubrication.  A little dry Teflon or even a modest application of WD-40 may work wonders.  Metal components of equipment may have gotten bent and you might be able to restore proper movement by straightening the bent part.  Slight bends can usually be successfully straightened but anything that has been kinked will probably have to be replaced.  Check for and tighten any loose fasteners but take care not to over tighten them.  Over tightening can damage parts and interfere with proper movement.

Keep it working!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

OHV Mechanical Maintenance

Like any other piece of machinery, an OHV is going to require a certain amount of maintenance.  Without it you will experience premature wear and equipment failure.  The last thing you want is for your dirt bike or ATV to break down when out on some remote trail miles from nowhere.  Performing regular maintenance will help minimize the chances of that happening.

Each machine is going to have its own maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer.  The maintenance schedule will be included in the owner's manual.  If you purchased a used machine and didn't get an owner's manual you may be able to find one at your local dealer or on the Internet.  In the meantime, there are many routine maintenance tasks you can perform to keep your machine in top shape.  You may have to guess about period between major tasks like changing engine or transmission oil or servicing hydraulic brakes and clutches but it wouldn't hurt (except perhaps in your pocketbook!) to do them once a year.  Engine oil should be changed more often, especially if the machine is getting lots of use.  2-stroke engines rely mostly on the oil mixed in the gas and don't have oil in the pan.  4-stroke engines do have an oil pan and pressurized lubrication systems and you need to keep an eye on the oil level (check it before every ride).  If when you check it is gritty or smells burned, it needs to be changed regardless of how recently it has been done.   Black oil is OK.  Most oils contain detergents to keep the engine clean so fresh oil can quickly become black soon after an oil change.  Other lubrication should be done as needed.  Drive chains should be lubricated before every ride and after they have been cleaned.  Wheel bearings and suspension should be lubricated several times a years, more often if your rides include water crossings.  Throttle, brake, and clutch cables should be lubricated frequently.  Because they are enclosed they probably don't need to done for every ride, but once a month would not be too often.

If you have the owner's manual, or can copy the maintenance schedule from someone who does, be sure to follow the manufacturer's guidelines.

Another significant part of routine maintenance is checking for and tightening or replacing loose or missing fasteners.  The constant vibration and sometimes jarring impacts OHVs experience causes bolts, nuts, and screws to work loose.  Using a thread locker like Loc-Tite will help keep them secure but is no substitute for checking them often (at least before every ride).

Some, but not all, OHVs have electric starters.  If yours does, it will  have a battery.  You will need to monitor the battery condition and make sure is properly charged for each ride.  Check the electrolyte level at least once a month and top it off with distilled water if it is low.  Use a "trickle charger" to keep the battery fully charged when your equipment is in storage between outings.

Brakes and clutches need regular adjustment to function properly.  Brakes that are too tight or clutches that are too loose will slip.  When that happens not only do they not function right, they will wear out quickly.  Brake pads or shoes can usually be changed by a fairly handy DIY mechanic at home.  Clutches often require special tools and techniques, but many riders learn how to do this themselves too. 

Spending a little time and money doing routine maintenance will pay back many times over in avoiding expensive and inconvenient breakdowns out on the trail.

Work it!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Trailer Mechanical Maintenance

The living quarters of travel trailers required basically the same kind of routine maintenance as any other RV:  regular cleaning, checking for and sealing leaks, servicing appliances, dumping and flushing holding tanks, winterizing (if you don't live in the Sun Belt), and sanitizing the fresh water system.

Unlike motorized RVs, travel trailers have only a few mechanical compnents you'll need to take care of.  Motorized RVs have literally ALL the mechanical systems (and potential problems) as any other motor vehicle:  engine, cooling system, transmission, drive line, suspension, tires, and brakes.  Travel trailers don't have engines or power trains so they require a lot less mechanical maintenance but there are things you need to watch for and tasks you need to do on a regular basis.

Tires and wheels.  One of the most visible and most obvious mechanical parts of a travel trailer are the tires and wheels.  While some ordinary car or truck tires may fit your trailer wheels, you should use trailer rated tires.  They are designed specifically for the kind of use (or non use) they get on trailers, including long periods in storage.  Check your tire pressure frequently and always maintain the proper pressure.  Your trailer should have a tire pressure label or you can get it from the owner's manual or the manufacturer.  Lacking any specific recommendations, inflate the tires to the maximum pressure indicated on the side wall.  If your trailer is light, using the maximum side wall pressure may over inflate the tires.  When that happens you will see excess wear in the center of the tread and the trailer may feel "squirrelly" in the wind or when buffeted by passing trucks.   Over inflated tires also created a harsher ride that might you might notice as vibrations or bumping transmitted through the hitch to your tow vehicle.   If your tires are under inflated you will see excess wear on both edges of the tread and the tires may run hot, which reduces their life expectancy and, if the get hot enough, can cause blowouts.  Excess wear on only on one edge, the axle is out of alignment, caused the tries to be dragged a little sideways.  Mushy tires will increase rolling resistance, making your tow vehicle work harder to pull the trailer and lowering fuel economy.

In addition to proper inflation, regularly inspect your tires for wear and side wall cracking.  Most RVs, including travel trailers, get limited use and tread life usually exceeds the expected life time of the tire.  Side wall cracking is an indication that the tires have "timed out" and are becoming susceptible to blowouts.  Wear patterns can be an indication of other problems so monitor them closely.  As mentioned above, excessive wear in the center of the tread indicates over inflation; excessive wear on both edges indicates under inflation; wear on only one edge is probably due to misalignment;  more wear on one tire than the others on a trailer may indicate a brake is dragging on that wheel or that the wheel bearings are going bad and have extra resistance.  Brake or wheel bearing problems will also result in the affected tire(s) getting hotter than the others.

Lug nuts are one of the most often neglected components of trailers.  Sometimes they are hidden under hub caps but even when they are exposed, most people tend to ignore them.  If they are in good condition and have been properly torqued they usually won't have any problems.  However, the constant vibration can loosen lug nuts.  One indication is a shiny ring behind the nut(s) where the wheel has been wobbling.  It is a good idea to check your lug nuts regularly, at least before each trip.  You might do it using a proper lug wrench and making sure they feel tight but the best way is to check them with a torque wrench to be sure they are correct.  When you tighten lug nuts or other fasteners the bolt inside is slightly stretched as the they are tightened.  A torque wrench measure just how tight the fasteners are.  Torque specs are provided by manufacturers indicating the proper tension  needed for them to operate at design capacity.  Under torqued fasteners may come loose; over torqued fasteners may stress the bolts and nuts and cause them to fail prematurely.   Extreme over torquing can even strip the bolts and nuts.  When checking the lug nuts also inspect the wheel for signs of damage:  dents in the rim or any cracking.  Have someone stand behind the trailer and watch as you pull it forward a few feet to see if the wheels wobble.   Wobbling wheels may be bent, loose, or may have bad wheel bearings.

Hubs and wheel bearings are another part of the system that is "out of sight, out of mind" for many people.  That can be a dangerous mistake!  Properly lubricated wheel bearings will last for many years and many thousands of miles if not abused.  Abuse comes when the the axle is overloaded or the  lubricant is compromised by water, dirt, or solvents or simply get used up.   Check you owners manual or with your dealer to determine the recommended schedule for servicing your wheel bearings.  Lacking any other guidelines, service them at least once a year.  Servicing them consists of removing the bearing from the hub, cleaning an inspecting the bearings and the  hubs for wear, re-packing the wheel bearings with appropriate grease, reinstalling the wheel bearings and torquing the axle nut to the proper specification.  Most axle nuts have a slotted cover that has a cotter pin that goes through the slots and through a hole in the end of the axle to keep the nut underneath from spinning as the wheel turns.  Always use a new cotter pin.  The old one  will have been weakened by bending and unbending as it is installed and removed and could break.  If the axle nut is too loose, the wheel will wobble, stressing the hub, bearing, wheel and tire.  If the axle nut is too tight,  it will put extra pressure on the wheel bearings, causing them to overheat.  When you remove and inspect the bearings some of the things to look out for are contaminates in the grease (dirt, water, metal shavings), burned grease (may be black and dusty instead of greasy or may only smell burned), any loose or missing balls in the bearing, any signs of wear on the bearing race inside the hub.  Damaged races can sometimes be pressed out and replaced but very often by  the time the race is damaged the hub also needs to be replaced.   Packing the wheel bearings with grease before reinstalling them is a crucial step.  You want to make sure the grease fills the bearing.  There are tools that clamp around bearings and have a grease fitting that allow you to use a grease gun to pack the bearings but the most common way of packing bearings is to place a dollop of grease in one hand  (your left hand if you're right handed or your right hand if you're left  handed), then hold the bearing firmly by one edge in your dominate hand with the wide side of the bearing down.  Press  the edge of the  bearing opposite your and down into the grease in the other hand until is squeeze out the top side of the bearing.  Then rotate the bearing slightly to the next position and repeat until you have packed grease all the way around the bearing.   Different applications may require different types of grease.  Ordinary wheel bearing grease is the most common, but boat trailers should use a special waterproof grease.  General purpose grease is usually OK for most trailer wheel bearings but for best results use Disc/Drum Brake Wheel Bearing Grease.

Trailer suspension.  Most travel trailers I've seen have leaf springs that connect the axles to the frame and absorb some if not most of the bounce when the wheels encounter an obstacle or rough surface.   A few also  have shock absorbers.  Sometimes shock absorbers can be added to minimize bouncing of the trailer.  Since you're not riding in it, minimizing bouncing mainly helps avoid unwanted rearranging of the contents and reducing stress on coach components but if you can feel excessive bouncing of the trailer through the hitch into the tow vehicle, you might want to explore the possibility of adding shock absorbers.  Springs generally don't require a lot of maintenance.  For the most part you just need to make sure all the fasteners are tight and not damaged.   Spring shackles should be greased periodically.   Lacking any specific recommendations from the manufacturer, they should be lubricated at least once year.  When you inspect your springs, the leaves should all be neatly stacked on top of each other, not twisted or skewed and there should be no signs of cracked or broken leaves. Usually the springs are slung  under the axles and held on by massive U-bolts.   Sometimes, if the ride height is too low, you can do what they call "flipping the axle".  That generally means moving the springs so they rest on top of the axle instead of being slung underneath it and raising the height of the body several inches.  If you have a drop axle and need even more height, it might be possible to literally flip the axle over.  Normally drop axles drop down between the wheels to  lower the trailer body. Flipping it over or replacing it with a straight axle will then raise the trailer body.  Exercise caution and check with a qualified technician before "flipping" an axle.  Doing so may have unexpected consequences.  For example, some axles are designed to the wheels tilt slightly.  Flipping them over will reverse the angle of the wheels, which will affect handling as well as clearance inside the wheel wells.

More on trailer springs.  Most trailers have leaf springs that require little maintenance but over time, the vibration and flexing may cause one or more leaves to break.  If you have to replace the springs, be sure to measure them so you get the right length and get the right style shackles.  Always replace springs in pairs.  Doing just one side will likely result the new side being higher than the old one and will stress both the axle and the body of the trailer.  Sometimes you can increase ride height and weight capacity by using heavier springs.  Sometimes you can also adjust ride height by changing the spring shackles.  But be aware that using longer shackles may put extra stress on the shackles and their mounting points because of additional leverage so consult a suspension expert first.  In addition to replacing springs,  a good spring shop and re-arc and rebuild existing springs.  Re-arcing restores the shape and function of the original springs.  Rebuilding replaces damage leaves and/or adds leaves for extra capacity. 

Trailer axles.   Trailer axles are usually pretty sturdy and don't require any maintenance.  They may be solid or tubular, round or square, straight or drop style.  You should visually inspect your axle(s) from time to time to ensure they are securely attached, properly aligned, and have not been damaged.  Bent axles will affect handling and cause excessive tire wear.  Cracked axles are rare but are in danger of breaking and dropping your whole trailer onto the pavement!  If you have a bent or damaged axle you might be inclined to try to repair it rather than replace it.  Not a good idea!  Damaged axles should be replaced.   You will want to find a matching axles (length, diameter of the tubing, straight or drop style) unless you have a need to change the ride height. 

Trailer hitch.  One more critical mechanical component is the trailer hitch.  Hitches take a lot of stress and, over time, may develop problems, such as cracking in various places or stretching where they fit around the ball (bumper pull trailers).  The pin on 5th wheel hitches may get worn or bent or become loose.  Worn or damaged components should be replaced as soon as possible as a failure is likely to have catastrophic consequences for the trailer, the tow vehicle, and any other nearby objects or person.  The hitches on some trailers are welded to the tongue; some are bolted on.  If you're is bolted on, you can probably replace it yourself.  For best results use new bolts and nuts when  you replace the hitch.  If the hitch is welded on, it will have to be cut or ground off and a new one welded on.   Many trailer owners overlook the need to grease the ball when hooking up their trailers.  Often the ball on the receiver on the two vehicle is a nice, shiny chrome and greasing it makes it look ugly and you get dirty grease all over your pants whenever you happen to brush up against it.  However, greasing the ball will reduce wear so the ball and hitch last longer and it minimizes binding between the ball and the hitch when turning.  Sometimes an ungreased hitch will create an annoying squeak when pulling the trailer.  That squeak is a sign of excessive wear happening every time the ball moves inside the hitch.

About the only other mechanical parts on travel trailers are tongue jacks and stabilizing jacks.  Tongue jacks may be manually or electrically operated and usually need little maintenance other than cleaning and lubrication.  Be sure to periodically check the electrical connections on electric jacks.  A common problem is a loose or corroded ground wire.  Manual jacks usually are operated by  a crank and the handle on the crank may need cleaning and lubricating.  The gears inside the jack should be packed in grease.  Sometimes you can service these gears, sometimes you can't.  If the jack gets difficult to turn when there is no weight on it, try cleaning and lubricating the gears if you can get to them.   If you can't service them, about your only option is to replace the jack.  Not all trailers have stabilizing jacks but if yours doesn't, you may want to add them.  The most common stabilizer jacks I've seen on travel trailers are scissor jacks.  They are welded or bolted to frame.  You may only have two at the back (and use the tongue jack to level the front) or you may have them at all 4 corners.  They usually require little maintenance, other than cleaning and light lubrication on the moving parts (the screw itself and the hinge points for the scissors).  If any tongue or stabilize jacks are bent they should be replaced.  Sometimes you can straighten bent parts to get by for a while, but having been bent and straightened they will have been weakened and are likely to bend again -- and again -- until they cannot be corrected or fail completely, usually causing additional and expensive damage to the trailer.

Trailer on!

Motorhhome Mechanical Maintenance

Motorhomes have at least all of the mechanical components and systems of other motor vehicles, like your car or truck.  That being said, you will have to perform the same regular maintenance (oil changes, chassis, lube, brake service, etc) as are needed on you daily driver.   However, because motorhomes don't get as much use as our daily drivers, the maintenance intervals may be more likely to be determine by the calendar instead of the odometer. 

Be sure to follow the maintenance schedule in  your vehicle owners manual.  Unless you are taking a long trip, you'll  probably need to schedule oil chances and chassis lubes based on time rather than mileage.  At the very least you should change the oil and lube the chassis at the beginning of each season.  It is also a very good idea to change the oil at the end of the season before you put it into storage for the winter.    That means you could sometimes log zero miles between the pre-storage oil change and the start of season oil change.  Why would  you need to do that?  Well, you should be running the engine at least a few minutes each month while it is in storage but even without that,  the oil in the crankcase will absorb some contaminates left behind from before the oil was changed and moisture can accumulate during storage and affect the oil.  Always install a new oil filter when  you change the oil.  If you do the oil change yourself, examine the old oil for possible problems:  metal shavings, moisture, antifreeze, or a burned smell.  Metal shavings sometimes show up in new vehicles as a result of left overs from the manufacturing process but in older engines they are a sign of internal problems and excessive wear.  Moisture may just be from condensation during storage but antifreeze indicates a coolant leak into the engine.  The most common problem is leaking head gasket but it could also come from cracks in the head or the block.  A burned smell indicates the engine has been overheating.  An engine can overheat from internal resistance enough to scorch the oil without ever raising the coolant temperature enough to be reflected on the temperature gauge or to activate the "idiot light".  If you find and evidence of problems you should seek to have them diagnoses and corrected before they can cause further damage.  Chassis lube should be performed together with each oil change.  Be sure you can identify and access all the lubrication points if you are doing this yourself or take it to a qualified specialist.

Air filters should be checked whenever you change the oil or more frequently if the vehicle is being operated in dusty conditions.  Dirty, clogged filters should be replaced.  Clogged filters negatively affect performance and fuel economy.  Replacement paper filters are inexpensive and are easy to change.  An alternative for increase performance is to install a K&N reusable air filter.  These are oil-charged and can be cleaned and reused over and over.  They also are less restrictive than ordinary paper filters, increasing the flow of air into the engine. 

Fuel filters should be inspected and replaced per the vehicle maintenance schedule.  A clogged fuel filter may cause fuel starvation, decreasing both performance and fuel economy.  Many large vehicles have more than one fuel filter, so be sure to locate and replace all the filters.  There may be a small filter in line near the engine and another one back near the fuel tank.  Some filters are internal to the fuel tank and therefore are impossible to inspect and difficult and expensive to change. 

Check the coolant in the radiator.  If it is low there may be a leak that needs correcting.  Typical places for leaks are radiator hoses, heater hoses, heater cores, and the radiator itself.   Correct any leaks and top off with the proper coolant.  If there is any sign of oil in the radiator there is internal engine damage, such as crack in the head or block, that is allowing oil to be forced into the cooling system.   Some cooling system leaks can be temporarily cured by  adding stop leak to the radiator.  However, anything that can plug leaks can also plug the radiator core so it is better to have the leaks properly repaired.

Motorhome transmissions undergo a lot more stress than the one in you family car.   The size and weight of the motorhome are the major factor but it may also be affected by towing a dinghy or a trailer.  You will want to keep a close eye on the transmission fluid.  Automatic transmission fluid should be a deep reddish color.  If it is brown or black or smells burned, the transmission  has been overheating and is in danger of failing.   Check the fluid level when the transmission is warm (vehicle has been driven at least a few miles), with the transmission in PARK and the engine idling.  If it is low, add fluid to bring it up between the marks on the dipstick.  Sometimes if I need to add fluid I will use Lucas transmission additive instead of plain transmission fluid.  The Lucas product contains additives to reduce friction and to treat seals and gaskets to keep them pliable and working well.

Wheels and tires.   Check tire pressure before each trip and, preferably, every morning before hitting the road.  When you stop for gas, lightly touch each tire to see how hot they're getting.  All the tires can get pretty hot on a hot day, but if one tire is hotter than the others, it may be under inflated or there may be some abnormal resistance, such as a sticking break or a bad wheel bearing.   Inflate your tires according to the vehicle manufacturer's recommendations or the the maximum pressure on the sidewall.  For even better pressure settings, have each wheel weighed at a truck scale and use tire weight inflation chart to match the tire pressure to the actual load on each tire.  Over inflation will cause excessive wear in the center of the tread and usually the reduction in surface area in contact with the road will make the vehicle feel squirrelly and ride rougher than normal.  Under inflation will cause excessive wear on both outside edges and cause the tire to overheat and the vehicle to feel sluggish.  Turning the front wheels when stopped may be harder and you might hear tire squeal on turns.   Excessive wear on just one outside edge indicates an alignment problem.  Cupping of tires indicates an out-of-balance condition.  When inspecting your wheels and tires, be sure to check the lug nuts and look for any damage to the wheels.   Damage maybe in the form of dents that come from impact with obstacles or cracking from vibration.  Loose lug nuts might be indicated by a shiny ring behind the nut even if the nut feels tight.  At the very least check the tightness of all lug nuts periodically using your lug wrench.  For an even better check and added peace of mind, check the lug nuts using a torque wrench to be sure they are properly tightened.  Check with your local mechanic or tire shop if you can't find the torque specs in you owner's manual.

Wheel bearings.  The rear wheel bearings on most vehicles are lubricated by oil from the differential.    Front wheel bearings require grease and should be checked and service at least once a year.  You have to remove the hub to get to the wheel bearings.  Once you have the bearing out, inspect it for wear, contamination, and loose or missing balls.  If there are loose or missing balls, replace the bearing.  Inspect the race (the part the bearing rides on in the hub).  If it is rough or shows other signs of wear, it may also need to be replaced.  Usually you can press or drive the old race out and press in a new one.  If that doesn't work,  you will have to replace the hub.  If the old bearing is serviceable, clean it with solvent and dry it thoroughly.  Then pack it with wheel bearing grease.  You can buy a tool to pack bearings.  It consists of pair of shallow cones that clamp on the sides of the bearing and has a grease fitting through which you force grease with a grease gun.  The old mechanics standby method of packing wheel bearings doesn't required any tools, just your bare hands.  Put a dollop of grease on your non-dominant hand.  Hold one edge of the bearing with the wide side down in your dominant hand.  Press the bearing down into the grease  until is squeeze out the top side of the bearing.  Then rotate the bearing to put grease into the next segment.  Continue until the entire bearing has been filled with grease.  When reinstalling the hub, tighten the axle nut to the torque specified for your vehicle.  It it is too tight it will put extra  pressure on the bearing and cause excessive wear and over heating.  If it is too loose the bearing will rattle and wear unevenly and the wheel may wobble.  The axle nut has a slotted cover through which a cotter pin is inserted through a hole in the end of the axle to prevent the nut from spinning as the wheel turns.  Always use a new cotter pin.  The old one will have been weakened by bending and unbending during installation and removal and might fail.

Air conditioners.   Many motorhomes are equipped with automotive dash air conditioners.  There is little owner maintenance associated with these systems other than to make sure the condenser (looks like a small radiator in front of the radiator) is clean, that the fan belt is in good condition and properly adjusted, and that the clutch on the compressor goes on and off as you turn the A/C on and off.  Testing and refilling the coolant in the system requires special equipment and training.

Belts and hoses.  Belts and hoses are made of rubber and are subject to deterioration over time as well as wear and tear from use.  Inspect the fan belts to be sure they aren't frayed or show signs of slipping (a slick, high gloss on the side of the belt that contacts the pulleys).  Check to see if they are properly adjusted.  You can usually adjust a belt by loosening one of the accessories it drives, like the alternator, power steering pump, or air conditioning compressor, pushing the accessory to tighten the belt (you might need some leverage such a a large screw driver or small crow bar to do this), and then re-tightening the mounting bolts for the accessory.  Any frayed, cracked or badly stretched fan built should be replaced.  There may be multiple fan belts.  Sometimes they are simply redundant or added safety but usually there are different belts for different accessories.  Be sure to inspect and adjust all the belts.  Many newer engines have a serpentine belt instead of fan belts.  Serpentine belts are wider and flatter than regular fan belts and the inside of the belt has rubber teeth that fit into corresponding teeth on the pulleys or sprockets.  Serpentine belts weave around wrapping around several pulleys on the front of the engine.   If your vehicle has a serpentine belt instead of fan belts and it is damaged, it will have to be replaced.  There will be a tensioner that holds the belt tight.  It usually has notch  or square slot to fit a 1/2" ratchet to move the tensioner so the belt can be removed.  It also has to be moved to install the new belt.  Unless the tensioner is damaged, it should automatically maintain the proper tension on the serpentine belt.  Check all the clamps on radiator and heater hoses.  These are common points where leakage occurs and can usually be corrected by tightening the clamp (if it is a screw type clamp that can be tightened).  Crimp clamps may have to be replaced.  Make sure the leak is from the end of the hose and not around the clamp where over tightening may have weakened or cut into the hose.  Heater hoses often leak at the connections and often there is enough slack to cut off the damaged end and reinstall it without having to replace the entire hose.   If the hose is hard and brittle it will have to be replaced.  After checking the clamps on the radiator hoses, squeeze them where you can reach them to see if you can feel any weak spots.  Those with  internal wire reinforcing will be difficult to test this way, but plain rubber hoses often have soft spots you can feel.   When you find one with soft spots, replace it before it ruptures and allows the coolant to escape and cause the engine to overheat.

The engines for on board generators required the same kind of regular service as the vehicle engine:  change oil and filter, check and, if necessary, replace air and fuel filters.  The schedule for the generator motor is normally done according to hours on the meter but it is always a good idea to service it at least once a year regardless of low use.  Check spark plugs.  If burned or crusted, clean or replace, being sure to set the gap to the proper measurement.  Most RV generators are air cooled.  But, if yours is liquid cooled, inspect the coolant, hoses, and radiator as you would the vehicle cooling system.

Some motorhomes are equipped with hydraulic or electric leveling jacks.  The jacks themselves need to be inspected, cleaned, and lubricated.  The hydraulic fluid level needs to be checked and proper hydraulic fluid added if it is found to be low.  DO NOT use regular motor oil!  Check all the electrical connections and clean an tighten as necessary.

Motor  on!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Camping Stores

 In a previous post we addressed "Camp Stores".  They are the little stores in a campground that usually offer some staples and camping supplies as opposed to camping stores, that focus on selling camping supplies and equipment.

Camping stores might be appropriately applied to any store that regularly sells camping supplies and equipment.  We usually think of places Camping World, L.L. Bean, and REI.  Department stores such as Walmart, Kmart, Target, and Sears usually have a large camping section.  Sporting goods stores like Big 5, Dicks, and Sportsmans Warehouse are also good place to find camping supplies and equipment.  Many RV retailers have in house stores that sell mostly RV oriented supplies and accessories.  You may also find camping supplies at your local grocery store and large pharmacy chains like Rite Aid and Walgreens.  Some auto parts stores stock a limited amount of RV supplies too.

When I'm in the market for camping supplies and equipment, whether for tent camping or RVing, the first place I usually look is ebay.com.  That is, if I can afford to wait a few days for the items to be delivered.  For more immediate needs, I'll head to a local store like Big 5 or Walmart.  I've kept track of my ebay purchases over several years and have found that by judicious choice of purchase I've saved an average of over 50% over retail.  But whenever you use an Internet auction site, be sure you know what things will cost through regular local or online retail outlets so  you don't over bid.  Remember, to some extent, to win an auction on ebay you must be willing to pay more than anyone else in the world!  Don't let yourself get drawn into a bidding war over something you can get elsewhere.

Thrift stores are not normally thought of as camping stores, but they can often be an excellent source of inexpensive equipment for camping.  You won't always find equipment like tents, lanterns, stoves, or sleeping bags, but when  you do you will probably be able to get them for a fraction of their original retail cost and very often they will be gently used and still in good condition.  You can almost always count on finding plenty of kitchen items -- pots, pans, utensils, dinnerware etc.  They usually have a large selection of clothing from which you can build up your camp wardrobe.  Good winter jackets, like ski parkas, can be VERY expensive when new but you can often find excellent used ones at thrift stores that are more than suitable for camping.  Other good sources for used items include garage sales and local classified ads.

My advice to you is to look for camping and RV supplies and accessories where ever  you go.  Even hardware stores and home centers sometimes have items you may find useful, even if they aren't specifically designed for camping.  I've even found unique items at truck stops and travel centers during road trips.

A couple of tips for keeping cost down:  1) check to see if you already have some excess or duplicate items you can repurpose for camping before you spend good money on new ones and 2) keep your eyes open for sales -- watch for clearance and manger special signs whenever you go shopping.  One other thought:  stock up on bargains when  you have a chance.  That applies mostly to durable goods and supplies.  Buying large quantities of perishable items only makes sense when you have an immediate need and will use them up before they go bad, such as for a large family or group outing.

Some items you might find it useful to watch for and stock up on might include spare parts for stoves and lanterns, tent pegs, personal grooming items (such a camping mirrors, biodegradable soap, pocket first aid kits, etc), LED flashlights and batteries, fire starters, parts for back packs, sunglasses, and bandages and other durable medical supplies.  RVers or tent campers with a porta-potti will want to stock up on toilet/holding tank chemicals.  If you use a gasoline camp stove or lantern, a couple extra cans of camping fuel would be handy.  If your have propane stove or lantern, you can save money by buying multi-packs of propane canisters when they're on sale.

Shop 'til you drop!