Wecome To RVs and OHVs

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

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Friday, October 17, 2014


There are many tradeoffs to take into account when considering a camping lifestyle.   One of the first decisions is whether you like any kind of camping.  Next is whether you want to tent camp or camp in some kind of RV.  While cost is often a major factor in deciding between tent camping and buying an RV, it certainly isn't the only factor.  Tent camping can be done in a wide variety of locations.  It also gives a more primitive, adventurous spirit to outings which can be very satisfying.

If you choose tent camping, one of your biggest choices will be what kind of tent to buy.  If you have a large family you will need a large tent.  If, on the other hand you plan to do a lot of backpacking, you'll need a very light weight, compact tent.  I've used 10'x14' cabin tents for family camping and a tiny little back packing tent that is really little more than a sleeping bag cover for solo back packing.

If you decide you'd like the additional creature comforts and security of camping in RV, you'll need to do some research to figure out what kind of RV will work best for you.  There are many options, ranging from relatively inexpensive tent trailers with minimal facilities to huge luxury RVs with amenities that rival high-end residential homes.  Budget may be a significant factor for most people, but intended use and desired lifestyle will also play an important role.  You will need to decide if you want a self-propelled RV (motorhome) or a towable (trailer).  Another option is  truck camper.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each type.  Trailers are usually less expensive, but you also have to consider the cost of a tow vehicle unless you already have a vehicle capable of towing your chosen trailer.  There are many tradeoffs in choosing between the various options within each category.  Motorhomes range from Class B van conversions that are essentially the same size as a regular full size van, to Class C's, built on a cutaway van or truck chassis, to large Class A units that resemble large buses and, in fact, are sometimes built on bus chassis.  Trailer options begin with small tent trailers and can range up large fifth wheels measuring 35' in length or more.  In between are a variety of "bumper pull", goose-neck, and fifth wheel trailers. Bumper pull trailers use a standard trailer hitch that is usually mounted below the bumper.  Goose-neck trailers have a trailer ball mounted in the middle of a pickup bed.  Fifth wheel trailers connect via a special hitch similar to those used by large semi-trailers, which is also mounted a pickup bed.  The towing characteristics of each type of hitch will be somewhat different so you'll want to research the handling and load capacities and, if possible, try out any options you want to consider BEFORE you buy.  Truck campers allow you to remove the camper from the truck when it is not in use and use the truck for other tasks.  Truck campers tend to be less spacious than motorhomes or trailers and are usually more top heavy.  If you live in a state where there is a lower speed limit for vehicles towing trailers (such as California), you may want to consider whether you can live with longer travel times.  The argument for differential speed limits is based on the assumption that large vehicle are safer at lower speeds and ignores the more pragmatic and scientifically proven "85 Percentile" approach, which recommends universal speed limits should be set to the speed 85% normally driven on a given stretch of road.  Consistent traffic speed has repeatedly been shown to be safer than situations involving "traffiic sheer" (different speeds in different lanes, known to be one of the most dangerous practivies), yet many states continue to post differential speeds.

Once you have decided on what type of RV you want, you're likely to face many more tradeoffs before you finally select a specific vehicle.  Some of the normal issues you will face will include new versus used (usually determined up front by budget), age or mileage versus luxury features (you may be able to get luxury features you want and stay within your budget by buying an older model), power versus fuel economy (if you need to tow a boat or OHV trailer  you'll want more power and will probably have to sacrifice fuel economy to get it).  Whether you opt for an older model to get more features or a newer one to minimize mechanical risk and potential maintenance cost, will depend on how badly you want the features and what resources you have (skill, tools, money) to handle additional maintenance.  Some other considerations may include intended use:  do you plan to stay mostly in campgrounds with full hookups or will you be doing a lot of "boondocking"?  Class A motorhomes generally have larger fresh water and waste water holding tanks than Class B or C units and allow you longer boondocking stays.  Class C motorhomes, oddly enough, often offer bunkhouse configurations that provide more beds and may be better suited for large or growing families.

Where you are in your life may be a signficant factor in making tradeoffs.   Having a young family will obviously swing things in favor of "bunkhouse" motorhomes with lots of sleeping capacity and room for growth.  And older couple may favor more conveniences and more luxury.  RV manufacturers know this and you'll find that those huge, high end, luxury coaches are often designed mostly for two people.  A young family may want to favor a late model low mileage unit.  An older couple may choose to spend the same amount of money to get an older coach with more amenities.  The longevity and resale value may be more important and of more use to a younger user while comfort and convenience may be more appealing to an older couple.

You may want to consider whether certain accessories or features are essential in your initial purchase,  or whether you can add them on later.  Some features, such as slide-outs, are not practical or cost-effective to add on to existing vehicles.  Things like hydraulic levelers are pretty costly and usually require expensive professional installation.  If you're a moderately good handyman and have the rigth tools and equipment, you may be able to install awnings yourself and anyone with basic mechanical skills can add wheel simulators to improve the appearance of a rig with uncovered steel wheels.  Likewise, you can probably add or replace a microwave oven or TV without too much expense or difficulty, but replacing a refrigerator is a much bigger job.

Let the trading begin!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

RV Batteries

RV batteries are an essential part of making RVs convenient and comfortable.   On motorhomes there are two separate battery systems:  a starting battery, and deep cycle coach batteries.  The starting battery functions just like the battery in any other motor vehicle, providing power to start the engine and operate lights and other 12-volt features, like radios and power windows.  The battery is charged by an alternator driven by the engine.  Deep cycle coach batteries are used to supply power for lights, fans, furnaces, and some electronic devices in the RV.  There may be one or more 12-volt batteries or two or more 6-volt golf cart batteries .  12-volt batteries are connected in parallel to supply higher amperage.  6-volt batteries are connected in series to create 12 volts.  Golf cart batteries are usually stronger, more durable, and can be recharged more times than 12-volt deep cycle batteries. 

Batteries are a critical component of the 12-volt electrical system that powers most RV lights and fixtures.  Not only do they provide power for the lights, but they also power control boards for furnaces, refrigerators, and hot water heaters.  Most modern furnaces also have a 12-volt fan.  Some older furnaces worked by convection only.  A convection furnace doesn't have a fan but it doesn't distribute the heat as well as a forced air model.  Anomaly of 12-volt furnaces is that when the batteries get low, the fan keeps running after the burner has shut off.  If you wake up in the middle of the night and your furnace is busily blowing cold air, your batteries are low.  If that happens occasionally, you probably aren't charging your batteries enough during the day.  If it happens frequently, you probably need new batteries or a larger battery bank.

Pretty much all of these batteries are some form of lead-acid batteries.  Lead acid automotive batteries have been around since Cadillac introduced the first electric starters way back in 1912.  The basic design has not changed much in over a hundred years, but there have been some improvements.  Basic batteries use lead plates submerged in a solution containing sulfuric acid and are known as "flooded cell" batteries.   They have removable caps so you can check and replenish the water level as needed.  So-called "maintenance free" batteries are sealed don't require the frequent addition of water in normal use.  Absorbed Gas Mat (AGM) batteries use saturated mats between the cells instead of liquid, reducing the chance of spillage.   Another option are gel cell batteries, in which the electrolyte, instead of being liquid sulfuric acid is a gel.  Gel cells are usually lighter than other batteries and very unlikely to spill.  By the way, it is best to only add distilled water when batteries need more liquid, but, in an emergency, ordinary tap water can be used.  The damage caused by conataminates in the tap water will do less damage than allowing the plates to be exposed.  Distilled water isn't very expensive.  It would be a good idea to carry a gallon jug of distilled water in your RV to top off your batteries as needed.

If your batteries need water frequently, they are probably being overcharged or charged at too high a voltage.  I once had the charging circuit in a converter go bad and found it was blasting the batteries with 18+ volts, which boiled out the electrolyte every few days!

Many RVs, (motorhome, trailers, and campers) have a single 12-volt deep cycle battery to provide power for all coach needs.  If you do a lot of boondocking you may find a single battery doesn't have enough reserve capacity to meet your needs.  When that happens you may be able to find a location where you can install a second battery.  Replacing a single 12-volt deep cycle battery with a pair of matching 12-volt batteries in parallel will just about double your reserve capacity.  Replacing a single 12-vole deep cycle battery with a pair of 6-volt golf cart batteries in series will usually result in greater reserve capacity and longer battery life.  When installing 6-volt batteries they must be connected in series in order to produce 12 volts to run RV fixtures.  Motorhomes will have a separate automotive starting battery.  This should not be a deep cycle battery but in an emergency you may be able to borrow one of your coach batteries ro replace a dead starting battery or use it to jump start your engine.  Some motorhomes have a switch on the dashboard that activates relays to connect the coach batteries with the starting batteries when you need extra starting power, precluding the need for jumper cables.

There is a growing trend to large battery banks and inverters in order to handle a demand for quiet, portable 120-volt power anywhere.  An inverter is a device that changes 12-volt DC power into 120-volt AC power.    This is convenient for running entertainment systems and microwave ovens.  Some large luxury motorhomes even have large enough battery banks to run residential style 120-volt refrigerators full time, but that takes a lot of batteries and frequent recharging.  Keeping the batteries charged becomes a primary concern.  They can be charged from shore power, an on board generator, or from solar panels.  Solar systems can be expensive but once they are installed you get free power from the sun.  Some RVs have inverters built it.  If yours does not, they can usually be added (if you have sufficient battery reserves).  For small 120-volt devices you can often use a fairly inexpensive inverter that plugs into a cigarette lighter style 12-volt outlet.  Large inverters, say 1500-2000 watts, need to be hardwired with large gauge wire and the output can be routed directly to dedicated outlets.  Some RVs have an option to switch selected outlets from shore/generator power to inverter for added convenience.  But unless you know for sure you have plenty of reserve battery power, running 120-volt appliances on the inverter can draw you batteries down rather quickly.  120-volt appliances will consume power at 10 times the rate of 12-volt appliances of the same rating.

Proper maintenance is essential for good performance and long life for all batteries.  Some components of proper maintenance include avoiding excessive discharge, correct charging, maintaining tight, clean connections, and maintaining proper electrolyte levels as necessary.  Try not to let your batteries be drawn down until they are "dead" before recharging them, then use the right charging system to restore them to full charge as soon as possible.  Frequently check all battery connections to make sure they are tight and are not becoming corroded.  The terminals that connect the large battery cables to the battery posts are especially susceptible to corrosion and when they get corroded should be remove and cleaned.   The electrolyte levels in all but maintenance free batteries should be check frequently and kept at about 1/2" above the plates.

One sure sign that your battery capacity is insufficient, is when the furnace fan continues to run after the burner has shut off.  You may wake up cold in the middle of the night and find the furnace blowing cold air.  It is ironic that when the batteries get too low, the circuitry that shuts off the fan fails and the fan continues to run, further depleting the batteries.  If this happens with an old battery it may just mean it is time to replace it.  But if it happens often, you probably need to increase your reserve capacity by installing a larger battery, multiple batteries, or converting to 6-volt golf cart batteries.  Of course, make sure you have been keeping your batteries properly charged before running of and blowing a lot of money or new batteries.  If you try to run your furnace for several days and nights without charging your batteries, you can pretty much count on it blowing cold air sooner or later.  If you don't run your generator enough each day  or your solar system doesn't get enough exposure (shade or clouds for instance), your batteries are going to suffer.  You can check the state of charge using a voltmeter if your RV doesn't have a battery meter.   A fully charged 12-volt battery should normally read about 12.7 volts.  Be sure to test it without any charging voltage.  Charging voltage is often around 14.2 volts; "float" or maintenance charge should be about 13.8 volts.  Higher voltages will overheat the battery.  I once had a charger board in a converter that went bad and was putting out 18 volts.  It "fried" batteries like crazy!  I had to add water to my coach batteries a couple of times a week until I found out what was causing the electrolyte to boil away.

Here is a table of voltages and what they mean:

     12.7 = fully charged
     12.5 = 85% charged
     12.4 = 65%
     12.3 = 50%
     12.2 = 35%
     12.1 = drained

Battery indicators on the monitor panel don't usually give actual volts, but are calibrated to reflect approximate percentages, usually indicating 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and full.  Checking the actual voltage at the batteries will give you a more accurate reading.  For best performance and longer battery life, avoid letting batteries get below 50% charge before recharging.

Charging your batteries.   The alternator on motorhome is usually wired to both the starting and coach batteries so it charges them all whenever the engine is running.  It should be connected through a battery isolator that prevents drawing down the starting battery while using lights and appliances in the coach.  A charging circuit can be wired from the alternator through the trailer connector to charge trailer batteries.  If your vehicle and/or trailer doesn't have this circuit it can usually be added at a nominal cost.  Be sure to include a battery isolator so using power in your trailer in camp doesn't run down your starting battery and leave you stranded.  There is often much discussion among RVers about whether charging batteries with the vehicle alternator or the on board generator is better.  If you need a quick charge, using the vehicle alternator is probably your best bet and the engine at idle will most likely not consume much more fuel than the generator.  In camp, coach batteries are usually charged by the the convertor whenever you run the generator.   If you use the generator enough, like to run the A/C for several hours on hot days, it will usually be enough, but in cooler weather you may have to schedule some generator time just to keep your batteries charged.   But be aware that the battery charging capabilities of most converters is limited.  Newer "smart" multi-stage converters like Progressive Dyanmics "Intelli-power",  have more efficient battery charging systems.  Multi-stage charges usually sense the battery condition and select one of four modes as necessary to maintain batteries in optimal condition.  The four modes are and their functions are:

     Boost Mode - (14.4 volts) to rapidly bring the battery up to 90% of full Charge.
     Normal Mode - (13.6 volts) to safely complete or maintain the charge.
     Storage Mode
- (13.2 volts) to maintain charge with minimal gassing or water loss during                                    periods of  non-use.
     Desulfation Mode - (13.2 volts with 15 minute 14.4 volt burst every 21 hours)

Compare that with the charging circuits on older converters that typically supply a constant voltage of 13.6 volts.  Some may sense when the battery is fully charged and reduce the amperage to maintain a "trickle charge".  The different voltages are required to provide proper charging and maintenance.  Boost mode helps recharge batteries quickly; Normal Mode tops off the charge; Storage mode provides a "trickle charge" to compensate for normal voltage drop of batteries that are not in use; Desulfation mode provides a high boost during storage to "burn off" sulfation of the lead plates to maintain electro-chemical efficiency.

An easy and fairly inexpensive alternative to smart converters is to install an automatic automotive battery charger connected to the coach batteries and plugged in so that it charges them whenever there is 120-volt power -- from shore power or from the generator.  Another way to "quick charge" your RV batteries is to run the vehicle engine.  Estimates show it will use only slightly more gas than running the generator since the alternator is far more efficient at charging the batteries than converters and even auxiliary battery chargers.  Of course, solar panels are also a good way to keep your batteries charged -- if you have a large enough array and sufficient sunlight.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Finding Water in the Wilderness

Water is one of the basic human needs.  You won't last long without it.  In a survival situation your first priority will probably be shelter .  You can survive only about 3 hours in adverse weather conditions before you succumb to exposure.  In hot times, you need to seek shade.  In colder or wetter times, you'll need shelter to conserve body heat.  Generally you can live about 3 days without water, although some people have survived longer than that.  Thus, finding water will be near the top of the list if you are in a moderate climate that doesn't require immediate shelter or after you've taken care of your shelter needs.

In forest and mountain areas you may be able to find natural sources of water:  springs, streams, ponds, lakes, snow and ice.  However, even water that looks clean is often contaminated with biological or toxic substances that could kill you faster than dehydration.  It is best to boil water from natural sources before drinking it or using it to cleanse wounds.  There is some argument about how long you need to boil it to kill germs, but the general thinking now is that you only need to bring it to a boil.  Note:  boiling does NOT remove toxins!  If the water is contaminated with toxic chemicals, like arsenic near old mining and smelting sites, it would still be dangerous after drinking.   Removal of toxins might require special filters or chemicals that would neutralize the bad stuff, neither of which you're likely to be carrying  around with you in a survival situation.  Some filtered water bottles are capable of removing at least some toxins.  Mountain tops often retain patches of snow or ice long into the summer months and these can be a possible source of water.

In dryer environments, like deserts, finding water is much more difficult.   On rare occasions you might find a spring or a stream.   Even if the stream appears dry there might still be some water in the ground, especially under rocks or overhanging banks.  The most likely place to find residual water is along the outside bank of curves in the stream.  Look for patches or strips of green vegetation or watch animals and insects that might lead you to their sources of water.. You might get water from desert plants like cactus and prickly pear.  The juice from these plants may not be very palatable, but it might give you enough moisture to extend your survival time.  Don't use it if the liquid is milky or smells bad as that usually indicates it is poisonous.  Prickly pear is a safe source of both water and nutrition.   Even vegetation that appears dry will  have some moisture in it if it is still alive.  Sometimes you can extract water from plants using a kind of solar still.  Wrap a section of the growing plant in plastic, sealing it as well as you can.  The heat from the sun should evaporate water from the plant.  When the plastic cools (usually at night), the moisture inside the plastic will condense on the inside surface and you can collect a small amount of water for drinking or medical uses.  Water collected in this manner does not have to be boiled.  You can also use a solar still to reclaim your own urine and extract drinkable water from vehicle coolant.  Dig a small hole and place a cup in the bottom.  Soak the area around the cup with urine or antifreeze.  Cover the pit with plastic and place a small stone in the middle so it forms a dent in the plastic directly over the cup.  As solar heat evaporates the liquid in the pit, it will condense on the plastic and drip into the cup.  Blood from animals you get for food might also be put into the pit.  Since most animal blood, including human, is quite salty, it is unlikely you'll get any hydration benefits from drinking the blood directly, but the water that evaporates from it in the pit would be useable.  A downside of putting blood into the pit is that it may attract varmints or may introduce a nasty smell as it decomposes.  Despite how dry things may seem, there may be some moisture in the air that will condense into dew at night.  Look to soak up dew from the leaves of plants or turn over a rock so the moisture can condense on the cooler underside.  Soak up the dew with a handkerchief  or other article of clothing and wring it out into a container or directly into your mouth.

Drink up!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Trading RVs

It is very likely that if you own an RV, sooner or later you will make a change -- up size, down size, or replace a worn out, or damaged or stolen unit.  Changes in family size, camping interests, wants, and lifestyle may all contribute to the motivation to trade.  Should you get in an accident with your RV, you may be forced to make a trade.  Regardless of the reason for making a trade, there are several things to consider.  If your RV was damaged you might want to seek an exact replacement if you were happy with the old  unit.  Any other motivation for change will automatically dictate some of the parameters you will want to use in choosing your next unit.

Carefully consider what features you MUST have along with those options you would LIKE to have.  Must-haves are those features that are necessary for the RV to serve your needs.  Some typical examples are the number of beds, length, horsepower, generator, and holding tank capacity.  The length may be determined by how and where you plan to use your RV.  If you want to visit a lot of Forest Service campgrounds where there are size limitations you will need to have an RV that doesn't exceed those restrictions.  The number of beds needed will be determined by your family size, or the number of guest you plan to take camping with you regularly.  Occasional, short term guests, like grandkids, might accommodated on the floor or in an attached awning room or even a tent, but if you have family of 6 that regularly goes out together, you'll want an RV with 6 beds.   Having already had some experience owning and driving an RV, you may have some thoughts on horsepower.  Was your old unit under powered?  A larger engine will likely decrease fuel economy but improve performance and increase towing capacity.  If you routinely tow a boat, a dingy, or an OHV trailer, you need to make sure your motorhome has sufficient towing capacity.  In improperly sized receiver would make towing dangerous and often illegal.  Too little power (torque is often a better measure of towing capacity that horsepower) can make driving frustrating and may also cause dangerous situations if you are unable to accelerate adequately when entering freeway on ramps or climbing hills.  Underpowered vehicle are also likely to experience premature drive train failures.  If you always stay in full hook-up campgrounds a generator may not be a must-have for you, but it will be if you do a lot of boondocking.  Even if you are frugal and avoid running the roof A/C you still need to run the generator enough each day to keep your batteries charged.  Holding tank capacity, likewise, won't be an issue if you camp only in campgrounds with hook ups, but is very critical when boondocking.  Your camping experiences will be frustrating or cut short if you don't have enough on board fresh water or enough room in your gray and black water holding tanks.  Fresh water and waste water tanks on Class A motorhomes are usually larger than you'll typically find on Class Cs.  While a Class C may be a desirable size for Forest Service and National Park campgrounds, it may lack sufficient holding tank reserves to keep you going for more than a few days.  We discovered that when we downsized to a Class C a few years ago and found the small, 25 gallon fresh water tank wasn't even enough to get even two of us through  3-day weekend camping in the Mojave Desert.

You may have to make some compromises based on your budget and the availability of qualifying vehicles.  When that happens, look for ways to get the most out of your purchase.  For example, if you have a strong desire for the extra space provided by slide outs but don't have the budget for a rig that has them, look for units that have fairly open floor plans that make them more appealing.  If you find a unit that meets your other requirements you might be able improve the open area by removing lounge chairs from the salon area if you don't have a strong need or desire for them.

When it comes times to make a change it pays to do some research and shop around.  If you have the budget for brand new unit you can go to a dealer and order one to meet your specifications but a lot of folks are going to be buying pre-owned units.  The variety of makes, models, ages, mileage, features, and prices can be truly amazing and sometimes confusing.  Suffice it to say you can usually find many choices and can very likely find a very acceptable unit, with low miles, within your price range.  Be very leary of significantly underpriced units.  That usually indicates some major problems you may not want to deal with.  It may take a little time and perhaps even some travel, to explore your options, so give yourself plenty of time and don't rush to buy the first thing you see.  If you have done your planning correctly you will be able to focus on appropriate vehicles that will meet your minimum requirements so you don't waste time looking at stuff that you wouldn't even consider.  Be sure to do a thorough inspection and test drive each one you are considering.  Check maintenance records if they are available.  If you aren't knowledgeable or comfortable verifying mechanical condition, take it to a qualified mechanic to have it checked out.  Yeah, you'll have to fork over some dough for his services, but it could save you from making a VERY expensive mistake.

You will probably have to consider some tradeoffs as you evaluate possible purchases.   Once you have decided what your budget is, you are likely to find a variety of choices.  You may find some newer, low mileage units and some older, more luxurious RVs for about the same price.  You will have to decide whether the low miles or the luxury features are more important to you.  Given the low usage many RVs get you may be able to get an older, low mileage luxury RV.  In that case your tradeoff is age versus price and features.  And older, low mileage RV might be a good deal, but it could also be a source of frustration if it needs any work, now or in the future.  There is usually enough interchangeability in appliances and even mechanical parts that those repairs are possible, but  body damage on older units can be difficult or even impossible to find matching parts to fix them properly.  If the unit is in good shape and has extra features you find desirable, you may get more enjoyment out of it than you would a newer, less well equipped unit at a similar price.  Whether your have the resources (tools, skills, or money) to perform needed work may also be a factor.  If you aren't prepared to take care of existing or future problems, it may slant your decision in favor of a newer unit.

Whenever you change units you'll be faced with emptying your personal belongings out of your old RV and loading them into your "new" one.  This can often be a much larger task than you anticipate, especially if you've had your old RV for some time.  You might be surprised at how much stuff you've squirreled away over the years!  It provides you a good opportunity to lighten the load.  Transfer only what you need to the new unit and get rid of duplicates and excess clutter you never use.  I once found at least 4 12-volt work lights in the various compartments of my RV that I had accumulated over the years.  I'm sure I thought I had a good reason for buying each one, but I really don't think it is really necessary to haul that many around all the time.  This is also a good time to take inventory and refresh your memory of what you have and where it is so you CAN make use of it.  Anything that is buried in the back or bottom of a seldom used storage compartment where you a) can't get to it when you need and b) forget you even have it, is just excess baggage that adds to weight that can reduce performance and fuel economy -- and may take up room you could use for something that is actually useful.  Take time to think through how you can best organize things in you new unit so they'll be safe during travel and accessible when you want to use them.

Trade up!

Friday, September 26, 2014

What If You Wreck Your RV?

Traffic accidents involving RVs are relatively infrequent, but they can still happen.  In addition, some of the places we go in our RVs can subject them to unusual risks.  Misjudging vertical or horizontal clearance can result in the loss of a roof air conditioner or an awning.  Of course prevention is the best remedy, so always be sure of overhead and side-to-side clearances before proceeding.  Another frequent RV mishap occurs when backing into a campsite.  You back into or over an unseen obstacle and cause property damage or significant damage to your RV.  Look before you back and, if there is any risk, have someone stand behind your RV and guide you.   Your liability insurance will cover the property damage, but not damage to your RV.

Another protection against the affects of damage to your RV is to have the right insurance.  Liability insurance is required to operate your RV on public roads.  That protects the other driver or the owner of property you might run into, but it doesn't reimburse you for damage to your vehicle.  For that you need Full Collision and Comprehensive coverage.  Collision coverage covers just that:  collisions.  You may collide with another vehicle, a pedestrian, or an obstacle.  Comprehensive usually covers things like glass breakage and good policies will cover accessories like awnings and antennas.  You will pay higher premiums for full coverage, but it may be worth it.  Considering the cost of even vintage RVs, full insurance coverage usually makes good sense if you can get it and if you can afford it.  Most likely you won't be able to get full coverage on an RV with a salvage title, even if it has been completely repaired.

Insurance covered repairs for older RVs can sometimes be confusing or even problematic.  As units age it parts get harder to find, especially body parts.  A relatively minor accident might damage your RV so that is considered "totaled" by the insurance company.  That simply means that it will cost more to repair it than to replace it -- theoretically.  The question becomes, what is the value of your RV?  Some, but not all, can be found in the NADA Guides (www.nadaguides.com).  As units get older there aren't enough transactions to establish a NADA price.  When that happens the insurance company will have an appraiser set the value of your RV.  You will want to make sure the appraiser is aware of any special additions or modifications you've made that might affect the value.  If , for example, you recently installed a new engine are have made significant improvements or modifications that don't appear in the options list in the Nada Guide.  You may also find it very difficult or even impossible to find an exact replacement and will have to look for an alternative.  Before accepting that check from the insurance company, do some research of your own to determine the replacement cost of your vehicle.  If you can't find any exact replacements, get the cost of comparably sized and equipped units of the same age. You may be able to negotiate a better settlement from the insurance company.  Once you cash the check you absolve the insurance company from any further liability.

If  your vehicle is considered totaled there are several things  you can expect.  In most states the title will be marked "SALVAGE", which typically reduces the market and the price you could possibly get for the RV if you should choose to repair it.  Your insurance company will drop your full coverage and, even if you get it fully repaired, might not ever reinstate it, based on the fact that once totaled, it has no value, at least in their view.  You have the right to keep the vehicle and either have it repaired or dispose of it yourself.  If you do, the insurance company will deduct a "salvage value" from your payment.  You should find out what that deduction is before you decide to go that route.  You may want to keep the wrecked vehicle to scavenge accessories or parts to use on your replacement vehicle if the salvage value isn't too high.

Why would you want to keep a damaged vehicle?   Normally, people have little or no interest in hanging on to a totaled vehicle but there may be times when it makes sense.  A particularly unique RV might be worth fixing regardless of what the insurance company says.  You may also have accessories and features you added that you might want to transfer to a replacement vehicle.  In that case you need to compare the cost of new items to the salvage value.  And don't forget to include the labor cost for removing them from the wrecked vehicle and installing them on the replacement.  You may think you can find a buyer who will pay you more than the salvage value.  Be very careful here.  Most likely anyone willing to buy a salvage vehicle will have detailed knowledge about the salvage value and won't be likely to pay more.  Why should they?  Unless your vehicle is extremely rare and desirable, they can go buy another wreck somewhere else.

If your RV is truly unique and/or you REALLY like it, you might want try to get it repaired even if the insurance company decides it is a total loss.  You will want to be careful if you choose to consider this option.  Sometimes replacement parts are simply not available and you may have to wait years to find what you need in a junk yard.  Often the repair costs will be much higher than you might expect, so be sure to have a detailed, guaranteed estimate from a reliable shop so you know what it is going to cost.  You will have to live with a "SALVAGE" title, which will affect insurability and future resale value.  If you are unable to find replacement parts you may have to live with less-than-perfect repairs.

Sometimes having a vehicle declared a total loss is an opportunity for you to make some desired changes.  Chances are the insurance settlement will be higher than any trade-in value you might get from a dealer if you wanted to change units.  It may be chance for you to up-size or down-size, depending on your situation, or to get a unit with features you want that your old one didn't have or you can be rid of some features you didn't like on the old rig. 

Safe motoring!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

End of Season

It is the middle of September and camping season is winding down.  With the kids back in school, you've probably already done your "last harrah" outing before summer ended.  It is likely that end of season sales on camping equipment already started back in July or August, but there might still be some bargains to be found.  It won't  hurt to check around at your favorite retailers.  You might find exceptionally good deals on anything that might still be left since they need to move it out to make room for winter stock.  You may also see camping stuff showing up in garage sales and online as people wrap up their current seasons and dispose of unwanted gear before they have to find a place to store it.

Its just about time to be thinking about winter storage.  Tent campers probably already have their stuff safely tucked away after the last trip but it might be worth doing a quick inventory to make sure everything is clean and in good repair and properly stored.  Leaving things dirty while in storage for long periods invites additional damage.  If tents, canopies, or sleeping bags aren't thoroughly dry when put into storage they can be ruined by the time you get them out again.  Any cooking residue left on stoves, grills, pots and pans, and utensils will attract bugs, rodents, and bacteria that will make a real mess to be dealt with next spring.  Make sure you know where everything is so you don't have to go on a major hunt for it next season.  Now is also a good time to inventory your gear and supplies and make a list of any needed repairs, replacements, or additions.  That way you can spread the cost out over the winter months when there is no urgency.

You may not need or want to put everything in storage just yet, but it is still a good time to start thinking about it and planning for it so that when the times does come, you'll be ready.  For example, if you need to winterize the fresh water system on your RV you can start looking for good prices on Marine/RV antifreeze (the pink stuff) and stock up on it even if freezing weather is still weeks or months away.

RVs and OHVs that won't be used for several months should be winterized and properly stored.  The degree of winterization required will depend on the climate where the vehicles are stored.   Coolant should be checked to verify it contains enough antifreeze to protect the engines against expected temperatures.  Coach water systems MUST be freeze protected in cold climates.  Any provisions that may be damaged by freezing should be removed and stored in a warm place.  Holding tanks on RVs should be dumped and thoroughly flushed before storage so foul odors don't permeate the furnishings during storage.  Batteries should be kept on a maintenance charger or removed and stored where they won't freeze.  If possible, store RVs and OHVs in a garage or shed so they'll be out of the winter weather.  Lacking a suitable structure, consider purchasing an RV cover.  They cost a few hundred dollars and are likely to pay for themselves in just a single season by protecting paint, decals, curtains, and exposed upholstery.  You may see people using ordinary cheap tarps to cover their RVs.  While this does block sunlight and usually protects against precipitation, they also trap moisture and are sometimes abrasive enough to damage the finish.  RV covers are made of  soft breathable fabrics that avoid these problems and are usually designed so they fit better.  Because they are designed to fit they are usually easier to install and their built-in anchor systems keep them in place during windy weather better than attaching a tarp with ropes or bungee cords.  By the way, if you MUST use a tarp, one simple way of anchoring it without damaging the vehicle is to fill empty bleach jugs with water (or, even better, old antifreeze) and hang them from the grommets on the tarp.  Be careful if you just fill them with water if the vehicle will be exposed to freezing temperatures.  The jugs may crack and then the water will all leak out and your weights will become useless.  You may come out to find your tarp blown off or blown away.  Any crumbs or spills should be thoroughly cleaned up to avoid attracting pests.  You might even want to place some mouse bait in strategic locations to discourage the nasty little critters from taking up residence in your mobile residence.  I prefer using bait over traps.  Products like D-con not only kill rodents, but also contain a desiccant that causes their bodies to dry out instead of decaying and creating bad odors.  You may still have to dispose of their little mummified remains that are likely to be hiding beneath the bottom drawers or other out of the way places.

You will need to protect OHVs that have liquid cooled engines with the proper antifreeze.  It is also a good idea to drain the fuel tanks and the fuel lines and carburetors before storage.  If, for any reason, you choose to leave fuel in the tank, treat it with a fuel additive like Sta-bil to minimize deterioration during storage. These simple steps of prevention can avoid costly service to get your machine running again next spring.  I've found it typically costs $80-$100 to get the gunk cleaned out of the fuel system.

Gas powered camping stoves and lanterns usually only need to be cleaned before storage.   Gasoline should be drained or treated with Sta-bil just like an OHV engine.  Battery powered lanterns with removable batteries should have the batteries removed.  Rechargeable lanterns should be plugged in periodically to keep the batteries charged.   A convenient trick to to plug them into a timer so they aren't always being charged, which can sometimes damage the batteries.

Proper storage will avoid unnecessary damage during the off season and make getting ready for your first out next season a lot easier.

Rest easy!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Road Trips

Road trips are traditional ways for many people, including families, to visit relatives and tour different parts of the country.  The high cost of gasoline has put a damper on some road trips, but they can still be a comparatively economical way to travel, especially for families.  While traveling in a large RV may large consume amounts of fuel at ridiculously high prices, leveraging the cost across several family members makes it fairly reasonable.  Say you have an RV that gets 7 mpg and you have a family of four.  That calculates to 28 passenger miles per gallon.  Another advantage of traveling by RV or making camping part of our trip is savings on food and lodging.  Instead of constantly forking out big bucks for over-priced food and hotel/motel rooms, you can stay in campgrounds and cook in camp, usually saving  a lot of money.  For example, a family of four is likely to pay around $30-40 for meal even in a fast food restaurant and closer to $60-80 in a nicer sit-down establishment.  Four people will probably need at least 2 rooms each night at a conservative estimate of $50/room per night or $100 a night.  A week on the road could easily cost a family of four $700 in lodging and $900 in food.  Compare that to staying in campgrounds at under $40 per night (for all four people) and preparing most meals in camp and probably spending about the same you would for food at home and the cost comes way down.  We found a small private campground on a recent trip where we were able to get tent site for just $7.00 when the cheapest motels in the same area were more than $50 a night.

But cost savings are not the only reason for taking road trips and camping along the way.  The experience itself is the major factor.  You and your traveling companions will share many sights and activities along the way -- if you plan properly.  If you hit the road with little or no planning you may still have a fun and spontaneous trip, but even that means a certain amount of preparation.  There are many attractions along our major highways, and even more a short distance off the main routes if you take time to look for them.   A lot of the preparation for a spontaneous road trip is mental.  Give yourselves permission to explore things along the way.  Plan to stop for ice cream or visit a road side fruit stand or just take time to stop and read some of the historical markers along the way.  In today's world our focus is often so much on the destination that we fail to enjoy the journey.

While RVs are often the most convenient way to take a road trip, you can take one in your family car.   You will have to plan on finding gas stations or rest areas for necessary rest stops but fuel costs will most likely be substantially reduced.  You will want to pack your car so that you have convenient access to drinks and snacks along the way.  You will probably want to keep sweaters and jackets handy too, in case you run into inclement weather.  Sunglasses are essential for bright days.  You'll probably want to have a camera ready to capture special sites and outstanding views along the way.

Not all highways or even sections of the same highway are the same.  Some places are overflowing with areas of historic and/or geologic interest.  In these sections you may have trouble allocating enough time on a trip to accommodate all the things you want to do and see.  Yet there may also be long stretches of road with little or nothing to see or do.  I have driven I-5 through the Central Valley of California many times and while there are interesting side trips available if you plan ahead or watch for them, cruising for hundreds of miles along a mostly flat, mostly straight freeway is going to tax the attention span of even the most intense observer.  I once drove across Iowa.  Miles and miles of cornfields and flat as a table as far as the eye could see.  Having grown up in the Rocky Mountains, driving across Iowa reminded of the old song "Too Much of Nothing".  My apologies to fans of Iowa.  The drive from Salt Lake City, Utah to Portland, Oregon follows much of the old Oregon Trail and while there are occasional historic markers along the way, it has been said that modern travelers will find much of it just about as lonely as did the pioneers in the 19th Century.  When you encounter stretches of road like this it will behoove you to have planned for it.  You may need in-vehicle activities, especially if you're traveling with children and you need to schedule regular rest stops for relief and to stay alert.  The options today far exceed those we had when I was a kid or when we were raising our kids.  We were pretty much limited to reading (which doesn't work for some people as it makes them car sick), playing games (like I Spy, the Alphabet Game, and counting license plates), singing songs, and telling stories.  Card games could be fun for everyone but the driver.  Today you have additional electronic options like books on tape, live Internet access, and portable DVD players.   Something that is usually fun for everyone is watching the information signs and billboards along the highway to find interesting places to stop for meals, snacks, or short visits.  Some billboards can be quite entertaining.  When I was a teenager we took several trips across southern Idaho and the highlight of the trips were the Stinker Service Station signs.  The front side had  picture of a skunk and typically advertized the location of the next Stinker gas station but it was the back side we always focused on.  Each one had a unique and amusing saying on it.  For example, in the middle of nowhere was one that said "Lonely Hearts Club Picnic Grounds"; another said "Just think: If you lived here you'd be home now"; yet another in a lonely stretch of road proclaimed "Its uncanny; there are no restrooms in this area".

Access to services is another consideration along lonely sections of highway.  Know how far you can go on a tank of gas and plan to stop for gas  to make sure you don't run out in the middle of nowhere.  If you're vehicle has a tripmeter you can reset it at each gas stop so you know at a glance how far you've gone to help you gauge when to get more fuel.  Lacking a tripmeter you'll need to jot down the odometer reading and do a little math to keep track of when you'll need gas next.  Gas stops usually come up fairly frequently along Interstate highways, but you can go for 50 or 100 miles between gas stations on some of the older highways.  In today's economy, many stations have gone out of business so even if you've been able to buy gas at roadside stops or small towns before, they might not still be in business. 

Napping in the car is sometimes a fairly good way to help the time go more quickly in boring sections of the trip. Some people enjoy napping in the car; others can't get comfortable.  Of course it is NOT an option for the current driver!  If you begin to feel tired or sleepy, pull over at the next safe opportunity; get some fresh air and stretch your legs.  An occasional stop like this will take a lot less time than recovering from an accident!  Passengers will want to reserve nap times for uninteresting sections of the highway.  On most long trips there are plenty of them, so staying awake when there is something beautiful or interesting to see makes a lot of sense.

Hotels, motels, and campgrounds along the way can provide a welcome respite from driving.  In a pinch you can pull into a freeway rest area and snooze for a bit if you get really tired, but having an actual bed, even if its a sleeping bag in a tent, will be more restful and overnight stops give you something to look forward to.  Sometimes you can choose places with several amenities to enhance your stay (pool, wi-fi, hot tub, sauna, restaurant, even golf).  Even if there is not a restaurant in the hotel there will usually be a number of eating establishments nearby offering you a choice.  We like to seek out small, local cafes where the "home cooked" meals are often superb and reasonably priced.  "Country" breakfasts seem to be especially good values.

Road trips can also be educational in ways that are a lot more fun and personal than reading it in school or watching it on the History Channel.  One time we chose to take Highway 49 instead of I-5 up through central California.  Highway 49 follows the route of the "49ers', early California gold prospectors, and there are dozens of historic sites along they way where you can get hands on exposure to how the miners worked and lived.  There are many such routes in different parts of the country that highlight local history.  It will take you a little longer than zipping up the freeways, but we've found such variations to be well worth the extra time. Not only are they interesting and educational, we found the trip to be less stressful and a log more fun.

Trip out!