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.

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!

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!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Take a Hike

Take a hike is a term often used to express disdain for someone.  But it can also be good advice.  Hiking is a pretty safe and healthy form of recreation and it fits well with the RVing and camping lifestyle.

In most places there are many hiking trails readily available, ranging from simple, almost flat paved trails to extremely steep, rocky, difficult trails for the more adventurous.  There are trails in or around many Forest Service campgrounds.  Some are interpretive nature trails with either self guided or ranger led tours.  Some trails are available for multiple uses:  hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, even OHV riding.  When  using a multi-use trail, give appropriate consideration to other  users and recognize they have as much right to be there as you do, even if they choose a different mode of movement.  Do some research about any trail you choose before you begin.  Know the difficulty and any special risks (weather, animals, water crossings, avalanche, fire danger, etc).  Be sure to check in with the local ranger station and let them know when you are starting out on the trail and when you expect to return so they will know where and when to begin search and rescue operations if  you fail to return at the expected time.  Check the weather report so you can avoid going places that are likely to flood during rain or face avalanche danger if it snows. 

Be sure to bring plenty of water.  Even moderate hiking is fairly strenuous exercise and even on cool days you can work up quite a sweat.  You'll need to replenish your water and your electrolytes to maintain strength and alertness needed for your excursion.  Some trails have natural sources of water available along the way.  Even very clear, clean, pure-looking water can be contaminated so be careful.  Check with the local ranger to find out which water sources are safe.  In most cases the most common affect of bad water is simply a case of diarrhea, which can quickly seriously dampen your spirits  (and other things) but water around old mining or manufacturing sites may be contaminated with dangerous chemicals, such the deadly cyanide used in gold refining.  Even when taking water from "approved" sources, be sure to check for contamination from animal carcasses and feces.  Look as far up stream as you  see and if the view is blocked, it is well worth taking a few minutes to move far enough to be sure the water doesn't contain anything unhealthy before you drink or fill your canteen.  Even washing  your hands and face in contaminated water can expose you to biological and chemical agents that could make you sick.

Like any other outdoor activity, you need to be properly prepared.  First, make sure you have no health problems or  physical limitations that will be a problem during your hike.  Pre-hydrate your body by drinking plenty of water and/or sports drinks starting the day before your hike.  Choose proper clothing according to weather conditions.  Even on warm days it is a good idea to tuck in a light weight nylon jacket or a plastic poncho in case of rain.  Even if rain isn't the the regional forecast, many mountain areas create their own local weather.  Be sure you are wearing proper footwear.  Comfortable running shoes are favorite among many hikers for easy trails but for more difficult terrain and for added safety anytime, wear good hiking boots.  They will protect you from stubbing your toes on rocks and logs and will help guard against sprained ankles.  Choose a good sock system to ensure your feet are properly cushioned and protected from blisters.  Socks should be heavy enough to cushion your feet without overheating and should be made of a fabric that will  wick away perspiration.  Many times it is useful to wear a thin pair of socks under your heavier hiking socks to help prevent blisters.  Usually the thin socks will stick to your feet and slide against the thicker socks instead of having socks rub directly on your skin. If you do get blisters, a product called "moleskin" is a good first aid treatment to cover and protect blisters.  If you are prone to blister and know where, you might apply some moleskin to the affected areas before you start out to prevent blisters.  Many hikers like to use a hiking stick.  It is a good way to help stabilize yourself on the the trail and often eases the burden on your legs, feet and back, making it more comfortable.  I have a collapsible aluminum Coleman hiking stick that takes up little room or weight in my pack when not in use and yet provides a lot of comfort on the trail.  In a pinch it could be used to help splint a broken arm or leg.

First aid, having a proper first aid kit and knowing how to use it, can mean the difference between a minor injury causing a little discomfort and a more serious situation that ruins your hike.   Blisters, insect bites, and small scrapes and scratches are likely to happen along the way.  Each person should carry at least a small pocket first aid kit with bandaids, moleskin, and antiseptic cream.  For larger groups, someone should bring along a more comprehensive first aid kit with sterile dressings, gauze, adhesive tape, and some pain medication.  Everyone should have basic first aid training and advanced first aid skills are strongly recommended for larger groups and when hiking difficult or dangerous trails.

There was a time when navigation depended on topographical maps and a good compass.  While these are still effective, inexpensive, and even fun to use, modern GPS devices provide easier and more accurate ways to know keep track of where you are and where you're going.  You can also get "beacons" that transmit your location and status to be delivered to one or more designated recipients when the panic button is placed.  Some are even capable of detecting unusual conditions, such as a fall or prolonged inactivity resulting from an injury or illness.  Some can be programmed to deliver regular status reports to chosen locations  to friend and family at home know where you are and that you are OK.

Modern electronic communication devices give us lots of ways to call or help or just keep in touch when on the trail.  It is sometimes surprising to find cell phone coverage in some relatively remote areas.  If  you have the budget for it, a satellite phone will work almost anywhere, but beware, they are VERY expensive!  CB and Ham radios generally required line-of-sight between stations but even that might be sufficient in some situations.  Citizen Band walkie talkies are a good way to maintain communications between members of a common organized expedition.  You can even get hands free,  helmet mounted versions for use on OHVs, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Never hike alone is a good rule to follow.  Even a simple injury like a twisted ankle may require some assistance and having help in more serious situations could literally mean the difference between life and death.  In 2003, experienced solo mountaineer Aaron Raltson was trapped for days in a remote slot canyon in southern Utah when an 800 lb boulder came loose and trapped his arm against the canyon wall.  After several days and having long since exhausted the two burritos and a quart of water in his backpack, in desperation he broke the bone in his own arm, then cut through flesh with dull multi tool to free himself from his predicament. You can read details of his story here.  Aaron was a very experienced mountaineer, having scaled 59 Colorado peaks over 14,000, 45 of them solo.  If YOU choose to do some solo hiking, be careful and be sure to leave details of your planned trip with family, local rangers, or law enforcement so they can send help if something happens and you can't get back.  A simple hike on a popular, familiar, and frequently used hiking trail probably will probably be pretty safe for just about anyone.  However, as Aaron's story illustrates, even the best qualified hikers can get in serious trouble in difficult and/or remote locations.

One of the good things about hiking is you can choose the level of difficulty and effort.  That means you can start out easy and work your way up to more challenging routes and you can tailor each hike to your  current physical, mental, and emotional condition.  You can also customize hikes to accommodate the skills and strength of any other hikers in your group.

Take a hike!



Friday, April 21, 2017

Getting the Most Out of Your RV

RVs often represent a significant investment.  Even a small tent trailer can run you around $5000 NEW.  Unfortunately, many people only use them for occasional camping trips (average about 12 trips a year according to some reports) so they spend a lot of time sitting unused.  That makes pre-owned (used) RVs especially good values for subsquent purchasers, but wouldn't it make sense to get as much  use out of your investment as possible?  With a little creativity you may find many ways to use your RV.

Our primary use for our motorhomes has been to support our dirt bike outings.  With a family of 6 kids (4 boys and 2 girls with a 14 year difference in age between the oldest and youngest) is served as our base camp for our OHV rides.  We spent just about every 3-day holiday weekend on one of these trips when the kids were growing up.

A second major use was summer vacations to visit the kids' grandparents in another state.  Even though motorhomes don't get great mileage, the savings in motel and restaurant costs plus the added convenience during travel and at our destination, more than offsets the fuel costs.  When you measure the fuel in "passenger miles per gallon" like is often used for mass transit, transporting a family of 8 in a motorhome delivers a respectable 56 passenger miles per gallon!  That sounds a whole lot better than the raw fuel economy of 7 miles per gallon.

With six active children, we often had several soccer games to attend each weekend.  We soon discovered our motorhome was perfect for transporting our small army and all their gear and provided us with a  shelter and other useful facilities for resting, eating, and cleaning up between games.  Our on board first aid kit let us lend  help dealing with many small injuries among their teammates as well as our own kids.  Some of the soccer fields were located at schools that were locked on weekends so having our own sanitary facilities was also a boon.

On one occasion the limousine our kids ordered for a school dance failed to show up and we transported about half dozen kids to the dance in our motorhome.  It was definitely an unusual mode of transportation for such an event, but it provided at least as much room for the kids as the limo would have and even better facilities for the more than 1 hour drive downtown to the venue for their dance. 

A motorhome or other RV makes an excellent guest house for visitors.  You can keep your visiting relatives close by but still give them a lot of privacy by setting them up in your RV.

Another popular use for motorhomes is tailgate parties at sporting events.  Be sure to check with the venue to make sure they will admit rigs the size of yours before you show up and get turned away.  RVs provide perfect facilities for your pre-game festivities.

Shopping trips? You probably wouldn't think of taking your motorhome on a shopping trip.  Too many issues with traffic snarls and limited parking.  But sometimes it might be just right.  Not only does it have lots of space to put your purchases, it can provide you a comfortable place to recuperate between stores -- get a snack, catch a few Z's, freshen up.

New Years Eve celebrations.   I read of an enterprising owner who used  his motorhome to transport his wife and some friends to New Years Eve outing at a nightclub about 90 minutes from their home.  Knowing it would be a late night and drinking would be involved, he obtained permission to park on a vacant lot near the club so they had a safe and comfortable place within walking distance when the night's festivities ended.

Taking a group out.  Whenever you have more people than will fit in your family car or minivan, you might consider using your RV.  However, not all the seating in an RV is rated for occupancy on the highway. Any approved seating should be equipped with seat belts.  Passengers in other locations might present a safety hazzard and, in case of an accident, you may face liability issues.

Think outside the box.   You'll probably come up with even more fun, interesting, and innovative ways to use your RV.

Be creative!
 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Overhead Cabinets

Most RVs have many overhead cabinets.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  Having plenty of storage is a wonderful thing.  However, I've seen overhead cabinets in several RVs pull loose due to age and/or overloading.  Sometimes water intrusion into the ceiling and/or wall will have promoted dry rot that weakens the mounting points, but often they were just weakly mounted in the first place.  Storing potato chips and napkins isn't likely to cause any problems, but avoid heavy items like spare batteries and tools.  Even though individual items may not be especially heavy, the cumulative weight may exceed the intended design.  I've seen cabinets that looked like there were only screwed into the 3/16" plywood wall paneling with no attempt find studs in the wall for better support and additional strength.   Installations such as this are lucky if they are strong enough to support empty cabinets!

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Re-attaching loose cabinets is NOT an easy or fun job so you will want to avoid it if at all possible.  Begin by only putting light items in overhead cabinets.  Then monitor the cabinets so you can tell if they are starting to come loose so you can deal with it before they fall off.  Even light weight items will add up if there are a lot of them.

If you have an overhead cabinet that is coming loose, the first thing to do is to empty it out to minimize the damage and gain access to repair it.  Once is is empty you may be able to push it back into place and re-anchor it to the wall.  Sometimes the cabinets are secured via screws inside the lower shelf.  To get to them use a screw driver or putty knife to lift the edge of the paneling on the top of the bottom shelf until you can remove it completely.  That will expose the framework inside the shelf, including the back piece through the cabinet is screwed to the wall.  If the cabinet has pulled completely away from the wall you'll need to back out the old screws to be able to get it back in place.  Screwing the old screws back into the stripped holes is probably a waste of time.  If they were originally screwed into studs you may be able to repair the hole by inserting wooden repair plugs before re-installing the screws.  If the screws only went into the plywood, you'll need to relocate the screws to a sturdier location.  Try to find studs to screw into.  If you can't find any studs you might get some additional strength by using moly bolts.  You'll need to drill a big enough hole in the wall for the moly bolt, but tight enough so it will hold the sleeve so you can tighten the bolt.  The face plate on the sleeve usually has little prongs that dig into the surface to help keep it from turning so the sleeves need to be tapped into the holes.  The sleeve on moly bolts spreads open as you tighten the bolt, gripping the back side of the plywood and spreading out the load a little bit so they don't pull out as easily as ordinary screws.  If you have enough depth in the wall you might try Wingit brand fasteners.  They perform the same function but use a different design that spreads out behind the wall board.  They are very strong:  rated to hold 300 lbs each.  However,  you have to drill a 3/4" hole in the wall to install them.  Moly  bolts usually only need about a 3/8" hole.  Wingits usually come with 3 1/2" bolts.  Sometimes those are too long and might begin to penetrate the outer skin.  If that is the case you can buy shorter bolts, but be sure they're long enough to engage the nut in the end of the part of the Wingit that goes in the wall after they go through the cabinet.  With either Wingits or moly bolts, the strength of the installation is still dependent on the strength of the wall board they're mounted in so it is still a good idea to try to find some structural member behind the wallboard into which you can drive good screws.  I like Grabber screws and they come in a variety of sizes.  Choose a length that will extend into the wall about 1 1/2".  Another possible fix is to secure a sturdy screw strip to the wall so it will be next to the top of the bottom shelf.  Make sure to anchor it into structural members so it will hold strongly.  Then you can screw up through the bottom of the cabinet to hold the cabinet in place.  Doing this will sacrifice a little bit of shelf space in the cabinet, but is a pretty darn good way of making sure the cabinet says in place.  If the top of the front of the cabinet has pulled away from the ceiling, you may need to do the same thing to reattach the top of the cabinet securely.  Wingits are not recommended for installations in ceilings and moly bolts probably have the same limitations so you may have to install a strip  you can screw the top of the cabinet to.  If you have to install screws through the front of the cabinet where they will be visible you may want to purchase plastic screw covers to disguise them.  These consist of two pieces of plastic:  the base, which is usually a translucent white and a  snap-on over, which should be a color that closely matches the color of the cabinets.  Put the screw through the base so the head of the screw holds the base tightly against the cabinet when the screw is tightened in place.  Then snap  the cover on the base.

For particularly heavy cabinets or if you plan to put a heavy load in an overhead cabinet, you may want to explore ways to support it from below.  If it is over a counter, you may be able to install decorative wooden spindles between the counter and the bottom of the cabinet for a sturdy support.  For cabinets over furniture, you may be able to add a support against the wall all the way to the floor.  Depending on the design and strength of the ends of the cabinet you may need to add shelf supports under the cabinet and anchored to the wall support.  If you have to resort to this solution you can mitigate the appearance of the supports by covering them in fabric or wall paper or painting them to match or complement the wall color.

Good luck!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Hey! Its almost spring again!

Spring time is an exciting time for those of us who enjoy RVing, camping, and off road activities.  After several months of having our equipment in winter storage, most of us are at least beginning to feel the effects of cabin fever, itching to hit the roads and the trails.  Yes, I know, this isn't my first post on spring cleaning, but hey!  spring comes every year and getting ready for another fun season of camping and riding is something we all need to do every year.

To make the most of a new season of camping and riding we need to make proper preparations.  If you live in a climate with freezing winter weather you will have to de-winterize your vehicle(s) and equipment.  If you are lucky enough to live in the sun belt you might have been able to avoid putting your stuff into storage for the winter, but it is still a good time to inspect all your equipment to make sure it is in good condition and ready for another season of fun.

RVs, OHVs, and water craft should be properly serviced and inspected for any damage that might have occurred over the winter.  If water systems in RVs have been winterized you will want to wait until you no longer expect freezing overnight temperatures before de-winterizing them.   Be sure to check the manufacturer's recommendations for regular maintenance.  Pay special attention to rubber items, like belts, tires, and hoses, as they are often adversely affected by winter temperature changes.  Check fluid levels and check and test batteries. Don't forget the batteries in flashlights, lanterns, smoke detectors, and remote controls.

Other camping equipment and riding gear should be gotten out and inspected.  Things should generally be OK if they were properly stored at the end of the last season but sometimes insect or rodents can infest stuff and do a lot of damage.  Make sure everything is clean and in good repair.

Go through your tool boxes, spare parts, RV galleys, and camp kits to confirm that all necessary items are there and are clean and in good repair.  Check to be sure cutting tools, such as knives, axes, hatchets, and saws are sharp and free from rust.  Make sure handles are secure and smooth.  See to it that wrench sets, screwdrivers, and socket sets have all their pieces.  Replace missing or damage items.

Review all your on board medical supplies, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and non-persishable ingredients to make sure you have everything you might need and that all is serviceable.  Winter temperatures can have a dramatic affect on many products, especially those in liquid form.  Bulging or leaking canned goods can be a health hazard.  Discard and replace any suspect items.

Review your personal readiness to resume recreational activities.  Illness or injuries during the off season may have taken their toll on your physical and/or mental status.  If you've been somewhat lax in physical activity over the winter, it would be a good idea to begin a moderate exercise program to regain the strength and mobility you will need to be able to safely enjoy your summer fun.

Begin making plans for your first outing.  I recommend the first trip be to a familiar destination fairly close to home in case anything pops up that needs special attention.  Save the more adventurous outings for later in the season when both you and your equipment have both once again been proven up to the task.  It isn't unusual for it to take a trip or two before you get back into the swing of things and feel completely comfortable.

Spring ahead!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

UTVs or Side-by-sides

UTV stands for Utililty Task Vehicle.   As the name indicates, they were originally designed for utility work.  They are also known as side-by-sides because of the seating configuration.  The Kawaski Mule and the Yamha Rhino  were two of the first.  They were small 4-wheel drive vehicles, usually equipped with bucket seats and a steering wheel so they drive like a car.  The origihal Mules and Rhinos looked a little like a Jeep or a small pickup truck.  Their potential for sport use was quickly recognized and soon there were models that looked more like a custom Baja racer than a utility vehicle.

They are designed for high performance off road use,  often having as much a 13" of wheel travel to absorb some pretty big bumps.  Driver and passenger are secured by seat belts or harnesses.   3-point harness are the norm but for racing and other high impact activities a better 5-point harness is recommended.  They usually have roll bars and a small cargo bed at the rear.  Most if not all are equipped with 4-wheel drive, giving them a "go anywhere" capability, as long as the road or trail is wide enough for them.  There are many trails designed for dirt bikes and ATVs where UTVs are prohibited.  

Most UTVs carry 2-5 passengers, but some, like the Ranger, can carry up to 6 passengers.  That makes them popular for family outings, especially when you have children too young or other family members who don't ride.  And the cargo space means you have plenty of room to bring along a well-stocked picnic basket and cooler for lunch out on the trail.

There are many optional accessories available to customize UTVs to an owner's individual needs and wants, including off road lights and elaborate sound systems.  You can even purchase body kits that fully enclose the passenger space and add a heater for winter riding.

I've seen a number of  UTVs equipped with snow plows for clearing winter driveways and small parking lots.  And, of course, they are capable of towing any off-road trailer.  The cargo area makes them useful for hauling a variety of things, ranging from a cooler full of your favorite summer beverages to firewood, medical supplies, and tools

UTVs are usually too wide to be driven on regular ATV trails and definitely too big for single track dirt bike trails.  They are very much at home on fire roads and other dirt roads and the  wide puffy tires, together with 4-wheel drive, provide excellent traction in sand,  mud, and snow.

Because of their larger size and more complex design, they are more expensive than dirt bikes or ATVs, but being able to carry 4-6 people may make the "cost per passenger" more within reach.

In some cases UTVs might be modified to be street legal, but most are intended and purchased strictly for off road use.  Off road tires won't last long on pavement and can contribute to dangerous  problems in handling.  This might be mitigated by changing the tires but in doing so you usually sacrifice some the off road capability for better on road manners.

UTVs may offer hard core off road enthusiasts a way to continue to enjoy their sport even after age, illness, or injury prevents them from straddling a dirt bike or ATV.  Riding in the cushy seats of a UTV for many hours is always going to be more comfortable than sitting in the saddle of dirt bike or ATV and the strain on the driver's arms from the steering wheel will be much less than that from  wrestling with handlebars.   The tires, suspension, and body weight absorb a lot of the jarring impact that is transmitted directly to the riders of dirt bikes and ATVs.

UTVs are smooth!