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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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tent Floors

Most tents, except pup tents and military "shelter halves", have sewn in floors.  Having a sewn in floor helps maintain the shape of the footprint of the tent and prevents drafts and critters from slithering inside when the door is zipped closed.  However, tent floors are generally not very sturdy nor waterproof so you always benefit from using a good ground cloth beneath your tent.  I like to use one inside my tent too.  A ground cloth beneath your tent will help protect the floor from debris and moisture.  One inside the tent helps protect the floor from damage from walking on it or setting heavy objects on it and gives you extra protection against moisture.  I've seen outside oversize ground cloths carelessly installed such that moisture dripping of the tent was caught on the top of the ground cloth and ran under the tent, largely defeating on of its major purposes.

Some tents have floors made of the same light weight material as the walls and roof.  That might be good in a back packing tent where weight is a primary concern, but for larger family tents used for car camping having a sturdier floor will usually yield better protection and last longer.

Just about any tarp can be used as a ground cloth outside or inside the tent for an extra layer of protection.  The heavier the tarp, the more protection.  A sturdy canvas tarp will provide stronger resistance to damage from rocks or sticks beneath the tent, but may be heavier to carry and stiffer to lay out.  Light weight blue "poly tarps" are better than nothing, but the heavier silver tarps or green "farm" tarps will be sturdier and last longer.  Try to match the size as closely as possible to the footprint of the tent.  If it is too large it can be folded under so it doesn't trap moisture running down the sides of the tent.  If it is too small you may have exposed edges where debris can still damage your tent floor and expose you and your equipment to the cold, camp ground.

For even more protection and added comfort, you might consider using foam tiles like those used as anti-fatigue mats in front of workbenches -- if you have room to carry them.  They are typically about 2' square and about 1/2" thick.  They connect together with interlocked tabs kind of like those on jig saw puzzles.  They usually come in sets of 4 so yo may need multiple sets to cover the entire tent floor.  They will protect the floor, give an extra buffer against cold, damp ground, and provide extra padding for sleeping comfort.  If you don't care for the industrial look of the standard gray-black mats you can usually find brightly colored ones at home centers.  You'll probably pay a little more for them, but they will most likely be more fun to use.

Floor it!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Shake Down Cruise

Shake down cruises probably apply mostly to RVs, but even tent campers can benefit from them, especially when you are just starting out or have purchased new equipment you need to try out.  The purpose of shake down cruise is to try out all systems and equipment and see if there are any problems that need to be addressed.

A shakedown cruise should be fairly close to home, in case you find any major issues you need to deal with.  If you need to test a motorhome or tow vehicle you'll want to make the trip long enough to properly exercise the mechanical components and capabilities but you probably shouldn't take off on a major trip (inter-state or cross-country) until you're sure you have the bugs out.  Sometimes you can check out a lot of things by "camping" right at home, although you will need to do some driving to prove vehicle systems.

Hopefully weather will allow you opportunities to check out both heating and air conditioning systems in your RV an/or other vehicle.  We found a recent shakedown cruise in April was ideal.  Days were warm enough to test the A/C and nights cool enough to use the furnace.  Be sure to exercise all the major systems and watch for any signs of failure or poor performance.  Plumbing leaks on RVs, even new ones, are fairly common.  Look for wet spots or drips beneath your RV or on the walls or floor.  If the 12-volt water pump cycles when you don't have an fixture in use you probably have a leak in a pipe or connection that you should to track down before your next trip.  Until then, turn the pump off when you are not actively using water to minimize water damage until you can fix the leak.

If your RV refrigerator uses more than one power source (gas, 120 volts, 12 volts) be sure to try all the options.

Tent camping shakedowns can be done in your own back yard unless you need to test out your vehicle.  It is especially helpful to learn how to setup a new tent before you have to do it under the stress of doing it in camp and in front of other campers.  Checkout your camp store and lanterns.  Test your sleeping bags and sleeping pads so you can make adjustments before you are totally dependent on them.  I once discovered my 10° bag was useless even at 40° because it had been too tightly rolled in storage for too long and had lost virtually all of its insulating properties.  In most places all there was were two thin pieces of nylon cloth.  Unfortunately that happened on an actual outing and I had to make do.  Had I taken the time the check things out beforehand, I would have been able to replace the bag or at least bring along some extra blankets.

Make a list of any findings.   Your list might include provisions you need to restock as well as any required repairs and desired updates.

Shake it up baby!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Trailer Brakes

Trailers over a certain size/weight must have brakes.  Virtually all travel trailers are heavy enough that they are required to have brakes.  Some small utility trailers and motorcycle trailers don't have or need them legally, but it is always a good idea to have them.  Tow dollies may also be equipped with brakes.  There are basically two kinds of trailer brakes:  electric brakes and surge brakes.

Electric trailer brakes are controlled by a brake controller in the tow vehicle.  The controller is connected to the brake switch so it is activated when the vehicle brakes are applied.  The controller contains a device that measures momentum.  The harder and faster the vehicle decelerates when the brakes are applied, the stronger the application of the trailer brakes.  Controllers typically have adjustments to allow the driver to increase or decrease the sensitivity of the controller to tune the trailer braking.  They also have a control to manually apply the trailer brakes.  The brakes on the trailer are activated by a magnet controlled by the amount of power transmitted from the controller.  The magnet grips the inside face of the brake drum and an attached lever push the shoes out against the drum to slow or stop the trailer.  Most larger trailers have electric brakes.  One advantage to electric trailer brakes is that the sensitivity can be tuned by the driver so the trailer brakes just right, not too much and not too little. 

Surge brakes are self contained on the trailer.   Surge brakes are hydraulic brakes.  The master cylinder is included in the surge brake activator on the trailer tongue.  The activator is designed to apply hydraulic pressure to the braking system when it senses the tow vehicle is slowing down.  What happens is there is some flexibility in the activator so that when the vehicle slows down and the trailer pushes forward against the hitch, pressure is applied through the master cylinder to the brakes to slow the trailer.  The main advantage to surge brakes is that they don't need a controller in the tow vehicle.  The main disadvantage is that the driver cannot manually apply the trailer brakes.

Trailer brakes have an emergency disconnect that applies the brakes automatically if the trailer gets disconnected from the tow vehicle.   Normally, electric brake systems use the trailer battery to power the brakes if the disconnect switch is activated.  The disconnect typically consists of a pin connected to the tow vehicle so that it is pulled out of the switch if the tow vehicle is separated from the trailer.  The pin normally holds the switch open so it closes when the pin is removed, activating the trailer brakes.  On surge brakes, a cable attached to the vehicle typically pulls on a lever on the trailer if the two become separated and the lever applies the brakes.  Emergency braking helps to  control the trailer if it gets disconnected from the vehicle.  Of course the first line of defense are the safety chains that should keep the two fairly close together and keep the trailer from wandering off by itself.

Properly adjusted trailer brake systems will apply braking proportional to the tow vehicle braking so both units slow down at the same rate.

If trailer brakes are too tight or too sensitive, the two vehicle driver should feel the trailer holding the vehicle back when the brakes are applied.

If trailer brakes are too loose or not sensitive enough, the vehicle driver should feel the trailer continue to push the vehicle when the brakes are applied.

Trailer brakes are adjusted about the same way drum brakes are adjusted on any vehicle.  There is a star wheel between the bottom ends of the brake shoes which is turned to push the shoes out against the drum.  Once the shoes are pushed out enough to keep the wheel from being turned, the star wheel is backed of just enough to let the wheel turn freely.  In my experience I can usually still hear the brake shoes lightly brushing the drum.  If the brakes are adjusted too tight they will drag and overheat.  This diminishes brake performance and life and can get hot enough to cause a fire.  It will also accelerate tire wear.  If the brakes are adjusted too loose, they won't work effectively to slow or stop the trailer when needed.  If you aren't sure you can adjust the brakes correctly, have it done by a mechanic who knows what he is doing.

Controller sensitivity on electric brakes is adjusted by a switch on the controller.  It may be a rotating knob or a sliding switch.  Increasing sensitivity makes the trailer brakes come on faster and stronger; decreasing sensitivity makes them respond slower and weaker.  If the trailer seems to be tugging on the tow vehicle when you apply the brakes, the controller is too sensitive.  If the trailer doesn't seem to slow down when you apply the brakes or you can feel it pushing on the tow vehicle, is isn't sensitive enough.  Adjusting sensitivity is largely a trial and error situation.  Ideally you want the trailer braking to match the tow vehicle braking so the two slow down and stop together.

Trailer brakes are inspected by removing the drum and examining and/or measuring the amount of lining on the shoes.  Linings that are thin, cracked, or badly glazed should be replaced.  To remove the drum you will have to remove the axle nut and outside wheel bearing.  The axle nut is a castle nut that is prevented from spinning loose by a cotter pin through the gaps in the outside of the nut and the axle.  Always discard the used cotter pin and replaced it with a new one.  While you have the drum off, inspect the wheel bearings.   If they show signs of rust or wear, replace them.  Repack the wheel bearings before reinstalling the drum.  The outer bearing can be repacked by placing a glob of grease in one hand, then holding the bearing in the other hand and pressing the outer (larger end) edge of the bearing into the grease repeatedly until the grease squished out the small end of the bear between the rollers.  Repacking the inner bearing can be done in the same way if you can safely remove it.  The inner bearing is held in place by a grease seal that will have to be replaced it you remove it to extract the bearing.  The axle nut must be properly tightened when reinstalling the drum.  Your owners manual may give you instructions or torque specifications which you should follow.  If you don't have a manual or specifications, snug the nut up until the bearing retainer is tight against the bearing, making sure it doesn't cause the bearing to bind when the wheel is spun.  Then back it off about one or two gaps in the castle nut to install the cotter pin.  If the axle nut is too loose, the wheel will wobble, most likely destroying the bearings, the hub, and the drum.  If it too tight, the bearings will be overstressed and will run hot, thinning out and loosing the grease and burning up.  Here again, if you aren't comfortable with your ability to make the right adjustment, have it done by a qualified mechanic.

Stop right!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

OHV Tires

OHVs often require special tires,depending on the terrain and riding style.  A common type of tire is an "all terrain" tire, designed to provide pretty good handling and service on most types of terrain the vehicle is designed for.  However, there are specialty tires for special conditions.  One of the most noticeable are the "paddle" tires used on dirt bikes, ATVs, and dune buggies that are driven mostly in sand --like on  the beach or in the dunes.  These tires provide a lot better grip in sand than ordinary knobbies.

OHV tires come in various hardnesses or grades of the rubber.  Which hardness or grade you need will depend on several factors such as the terrain where they'll be used and the weight and riding style of the operator.  Harder tires will last longer but may not have as much grip as softer tires.  There is no easy formula I know of for determining which tires you need.  Finding the right tire for you and your ride is mostly done by trial and error.  You might talk with your fellow riders who ride the same trails you do and see what they use and then use that as a starting point.  If you don't like the way your ride feels with a particular tire, try something else.  A tire that is too soft will wear out quickly and may give your ride kind of a squishy feeling on the trail.  Tires that are too hard may allow the front end to wash out too easily or make the whole ride feel stiff and maybe even a bit squirrely.

OHV tire pressures are often very subjective.  As with any tire, don't exceed the maximum pressure on the sidewall.  My dirt bike riding friends and I typically use a "squeeze test" on our dirt bike tires.  Grip the tire between the thumb and fingers and squeeze hard.  I like it when there is just a little give so that my tires aren't too hard nor too soft, but right in the "Golidlocks" zone.  On the other hand, we were meticulous about setting the tire pressure to factory specs on the ATVs and side-by-sides we rented out when I worked as a mechanic at an ATV resort.  If you feel your ride is too hard or you feel every little pebble in the trail or road, you may be running your tire pressure too high and might want to try backing it down a little at a time.  OHV tires don't need to be rock hard.

Keep rollin, rollin,rollin.

RV Tires

RV tires, in general, tend to time out long before they wear out.  Unless you're on the road constantly, like rock band or something, you RV is proabably going to spend more time sitting than it does rolling.  I've often seen RV tires with side-wall cracks bigger than the grooves in the tread, even though the tread was still well within acceptable safety limits.

Speaking of tread wear, an easy way to determine if the tread on you tires is getting too low, is to stick a penny into one of the grooves in the tread with the top of Lincoln's head pressed down into the groove.  If you can see he top of Lincoln's head, your tire needs to be replaced.

Sunlight and ozone are two factors that are very hard on tires.   Simply putting tire covers on your RV can significantly extend the life of your tires.  Keeping your RV in covered storage also helps a bunch.  I've heard that parking it under high voltage power lines and speed tire deterioration because of an increase in ozone generated by the power lines.  Properly cleaning and treating tires will also help prevent premature degradation.  Side-wall cracking is the result of the rubber drying out.  Clean, properly protected tires won't dry out as fast and some tire treatments may actually help replenish lost chemicals that protect the rubber.  I had one tire guy suggest using brake fluid to protect tires, but I'm afraid it would attract dust and dirt.  Commercial "tire shine" products should contain UV blockers and other substances that protect the tires without leaving a sticky residue.  I sometimes use the same SC-1 detailing spray I use on my dirt bikes on my tires to give them a nice shine and layer of protection.

When your RV is in storage the tires should be insulated from the ground.  Park on wood planks or plastic leveling blocks.  Parking on gravel or concrete is better than parking on bare dirt, but it is even better to put something between the rubber and the road.  Some folks recommend even jacking up the vehicle and taking the load off the tires.  That certainly won't hurt the tires, but it is a lot of work and, if not done properly, could create an unstable and unsafe condition.

Improper inflation and poor wheel alignment are two of the worst things you can do for you tires.  Under inflated tires will wear on the edges and run hot, significantly increasing the chance of a blowout.  Over inflated tires will wear in the middle and will reduce traction, often making the vehicle steering "skittish" to the point of being unsafe.  A vehicle with over inflated tires will be much more susceptible to wind and to the "blow by" from passing trucks.  Proper tire inflation will also help maximize fuel economy. 

Really proper tire inflation is more than just inflating tires to the max pressure indicated on the sidewall.  The right way to set inflation is to weight each corner of your RV with it fully loaded the way you use it, then look up the correct inflation in inflation tables based on the weight on each tire.  If you aren't able to use this method, check the owner's manual or the ID sticker for the manufacturer's recommended tire pressure.  If you don't have an owner's manual or ID sticker, use the pressure indicated on the sidewall as a starting point.  The pressure on the sidewall is the MAXIMUM recommended pressure.  Exceeding that pressure, even if the tire looks low, is risking a blow-out.

Keep rollin, rollin, rollin!

RV Flooring

You will find lots of different types of flooring in RVs.  For many years most motorhomes were carpeted throughout.  While this provides extra insulation to keep the floor cool in summer and warm in winter and helps suppress road noise, carpet isn't always the optimal floor covering in galley and bathroom areas where it can become easily (and often permanently) soiled and stained.  Light weight laminate flooring and vinyl are good options for these areas.  Some high end RVs are even opting for ceramic tile.  Sure, it looks very good and adds a touch of class, but it is quite heavy and brittle.  I haven't seen enough of it yet to decide how it will stand up to the stress of vibration and tweaking during travel.  Vinyl and laminates are flexible enough that it isn't a problem.

If you have worn or faded carpeting in your RV, you can replace it.  You may want to have it professionally installed to ensure it is properly stretched so it fits snugly.  If your carpet is still in fairly good shape but merely faded or you want to change the color, you may be able to have it dyed.  If you end up replacing your carpet, you may want to consider whether you still want carpet throughout the RV or if you'd like to switch to vinyl or laminate in the kitchen and bathroom areas.  You will probably want to retain the carpet in the bedroom.  Carpet in the entry and main traffic lanes can be be hard to keep clean, but, if you switch from carpet to a hard surface flooring in the main aisle you may have to deal with cold floors during the cooler months and might have increased road noise.  If you really want the easier-to-clean floors, consider adding insulation under the flooring to mitigate these problems. 

If you have hard surface floors that get uncomfortably cold on cooler nights, you can always add rugs or runners as a buffer for bare feet.  Rugs and runners have an advantage over permanently installed carpet in that you can remove them as needed for cleaning or roll them up when you don't need them.

RV floors are one of the common places you may find dry rot.  I've always found it interesting that dry rot is caused by wetness.   A plumbing leak or a leak around a vent, door, or window, and allow water to seep under the flooring where it rots the sub-floor.  The primary symptom of this type of damage are areas where the floor feels spongy when you walk on it.  There may also be a musty odor that is difficult to get rid of.  If  you suspect you have damaged sub-floor you will need to remove the flooring and inspect the underlayment.  Any rotted or damaged sections should be carefully cut out and replaced before reinstalling the flooring.  Depending on how long the leak has been around, the damage may be limited to the underlayment or could have affected structural components like joists below.  When repairing this kind of water damage always replaced ALL the damaged components.  For my money, I would replace anything that is even in doubt to avoid having to do it all again before too long.

Protect your RV floors from premature wear by keeping them clean.  Use an awning mat or at least a welcome mat to trap mud and dirt before you track it inside.  A handy "rug" to wipe your feet on is an old burlap bag.  It's coarse material helps scrape off stubborn deposits and you can hose if off or even toss in the the washer between trips to keep it clean and functional.  Sweep and/or vacuum floors often to remove loose grit that can scratch hard surface and actually cut off carpet fibers.   Clean up spills quickly so they don't stain flooring or seep beneath it.

Don't be floored by flooring!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ice Makers

Some high end RVs have built in ice makers,  but they certainly haven't reached the state of becoming close to being standard equipment yet.  They receive water from the RV plumbing system and most are powered by 120-volt AC current from shore power, generator, or inverter.  RV refrigerators typically have freezer compartments that can make a tray or two of ice cubes at a time, but an ice maker will produce far more ice more quickly.  You might be able to add one to an RV that doesn't have one, but it will require access to a 120-volt outlet and running a water line -- and you need to have a cabinet or closet space large enough to hold it that you can sacrifice.  I've seen listings on line for propane powered ice makers so it may be possible to get around the 120-volt requirement but it would take extra plumbing of gas lines to install one.

Having plenty of ice is more than just a convenience for keeping your favorite summer beverage cold.  It can have important medical benefits.  If someone gets a sprain, ice packs are the standard treatment.  Ice can be used to help reduce body temperature when a patient is has become over heated.  Cold packs at strategic locations (arm pits, groin, wrists, neck) to cool the blood can help reduce body temperature.  Take care to keep a comfortable buffer between the ice and the flesh as direct contact and cause injury and great discomfort.

Permanently installed ice makers in RVs are typically adaptations of residential models.  A quick Internet search showed models starting at about $300, plus installation.

Some large luxury RVs have residential style refrigerators that may include an ice maker,  but most RV fridges don't have ice makers and could probably not have them added.

For those of us who don't have built in ice makers, there are portable ice makers.  They typically produce around 25 lbs of ice per day and I've seen claims they can make ice in as little as 6 minutes.  They run on 120 volt AC so you still need shore power, generator, or an inverter to run them.  They typically cost from $120 to about $300, but I've seen some on ebay around $100 so they can be surprisingly inexpensive.  Because they are portable, they won't need permanent connections for a water supply.  You have to pour water into a built in reservoir.  You will need to find a place to set them near a 120-volt outlet  to use them and someplace to secure them during transport.

Having an on board source of continuous ice can be a real boon when boonbocking in hot weather.  Even if you're staying in campgrounds where you may have access to ice from the office or camp store, having you own ice maker is a convenience and can save several trips to get ice.  While certainly not an essential component like a working refrigerator, an ice maker can definitely be a nice addition to the RV lifestyle.  Portable ice makers could even be useful for tent campers if they have a generator or access to some other source of 120 volt power.  I spent almost every holiday weekend for 30 years dry camping in the Mojave Desert and, even when I had an ice maker, I seldom used it, so, at least to me, it isn't a critical piece of equipment.

Ice it!