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.

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 or you may just find one you like better.  Changes in family size, camping interests, wants, and lifestyle may all contribute to the motivation to trade.  Your family may outgrow a rig or, as kids leave home, you might want a smaller unit.  Should you get in an accident with your RV or experience a fire or a catastrophic mechanical failure, 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, size and placement of the bedroom, 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 unless you have a solar charging system.  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.  At least not without some major adjustments to habits we'd developed over years of camping with sufficient resources.  Downsizing from a family of 8 to just the two of us did not reduce our water consumption by 3/4ths.

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 leery of significantly under priced units.  That usually indicates some major problems you may not want to deal with, sometimes hidden problems.  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 trade offs 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 trade off 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.

Should you trade in your old RV or try to sell it privately?  Using your old RV as a trade in will usually cover the down payment so you don't have to come up with extra cash.  However, if you are able to sell you RV yourself, you can sometimes get more than the trade in allowance for it and come out ahead.  Of course there may be advertising costs associated with selling it yourself and it may take some time, perhaps so much time the the replacement unit you identified might no longer be available when you get the money for it.  Trading in your unit is usually quicker and more convenient and you won't have to invest time or money in detailing it for sale.

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.  When trading cars you can usually just move your "stuff" from the old car to the new one right at the sales lot, but moving out of one motorhome and into another one is more like moving from one apartment to another!  You might be surprised at how much stuff you've squirreled away over the years!  Plan on spending at least a day or two emptying out our old rig and at least as much if not more to move into your new home one wheels. 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 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 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.  Moving an RV with a slideout extended can cause serious damage.  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 and/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 vehicle liability insurance should cover the property damage, but not damage to your RV.  For that you need collision and comprehensive coverage

A valuable 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 and protects you against the cost, 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 as well as wind and hail damage.  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 and the cost of coverage on some older units may cost more than you're willing to pay.  The age and condition of the vehicle may also affect whether or not a company will insure it.

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, even if it isn't worth repairing.  If you chose not to keep the vehicle, the insurance company will sell it to a salvage yard and they'll come and take it away.  If you suspect your vehicle will be declared a total loss you'll probably want to do some research to determine what it will cost to replace it with a similar vehicle so you can be comfortable with the payout.  If yours is an older and somewhat rare RV it may be very difficult to establish or prove a current value.  In that case you might collect prices for the nearest comparable vehicles.  If the offer from the insurance company is way below what you believe it will cost to replace your vehicle you can negotiate with them.  That's where it is important to have some relevant research readily available to justify YOUR appraisal.

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 claimed by the insurance company.  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.  If you expect you'll want to keep and repair your wrecked RV, be sure to exercise your option to pay the salvage value right away.  If you accept full payment, the rig then belongs to the insurance company and you no longer have any rights to it.  You might be able to buy it back from them after the fact, but chances you'll be successful aren't very good.

Your insurance rates are likely to increase when you file a claim.  Some companies offer "accident forgiveness" for the first one.  You rates may stay higher for as long as 3 years.  You may want to consider that in your decision on whether to file or not if the damage is minor. I've seen premiums double because of claims.

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.  If you're lucky, it may even be more than you would get selling it privately before the accident.  It may be chance for you to up-size or down-size, depending on your situation, or to get a newer 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!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

RV Ovens and Ranges

RV ovens and ranges are designed to emulate the ones in your home.  Basically they look about the same, only smaller.  However, there are some differences you should be aware of.

The first major difference you will notice is size.  Residential range/oven combinations are typically about 30" wide.  RV ranges are about half that size, normally 17" wide.  This affects more than appearance and available cooking space.  The smaller oven means the burners are closer to the cooking platforms so getting even heating is more difficult.  You may have to experiment with your oven a bit to determine the right combination of heat and time to make it work.  Smaller burners on the stove top may mean longer cooking times.

RV ovens don't normally have a light inside.  That means you have to open the door and shine a flashlight inside to see how things are going.  Each time you open the door you let heat escape so that is going to affect cooking times.  While some newer models are starting to include oven lights, chances are you aren't going to see them very often.  And they aren't something that can be added to an existing older oven.

Most RV ranges are powered by propane but a few luxury models may have an electric cook top.  Electric cook tops are very visually appealing but you have to to have shore power, an inverter with LOTS of batteries, a big solar system, or have the generator running to use it.  A gas stove can be used anytime as long as you have propane to run it.

RV range burners usually have to be lit manually while your gas stove at home probably has electronic ignition that lights the burner when you turn on the knob.   Most RV ranges are designed so the gas flows immediately to the burner when the knob is turned on and will continue flowing as long as the knob is on, whether the burner is lit or not.  Always have your match or lighter ready to light the burner as soon as you turn the knob to avoid releasing excess gas into the living space.  If too much gas escapes before you light the burner you'll likely blow yourself up as soon as you strike your match or light your lighter!  Some RV ranges will have pilot lights that will stay lit after you turn the burner off.  The knobs on these should indicate a "pilot" position as well as an "off" position.  You can take advantage of the pilot lights to make using the range more convenient while you're actively cooking, but is it a good idea to turn them all the way off between meals to conserve fuel and critical to turn them all the way off when traveling for safety.  Some newer and fancier RV ranges include thermocouples on the burners to prevent gas from flowing unless the burner it lit but most in use today do not.  Thermocouples are commonly used on older water heaters and refrigerators, but not on stoves.  The thermocouple generates a small electric current when it is heated and this current is used to operate a solenoid to open the main gas valve to the burner.  If the burner goes out, the thermocouple no longer generates any electricity, the solenoid closes, and the gas flow stops.  On a device equipped with thermocouples you usually have to push and hold a valve to allow gas to flow temporarily until the burner lights and activates the thermocouple.  Most modern water heaters and refrigerators use a computer board and sensors to control gas flow and ignition so you don't have to think about it other than turning on the switch.

An RV range and oven can provide a lot of service and convenience in camp.  If you consider its limitations and adjust your cooking and baking accordingly, you can enjoy nearly full residential functionality without too much frustration. 

Happy cooking and baking!

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" family 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.  Always look for seasonal sales and "manger specials" to get the best deals.

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 pulling it out and 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.  When you winterize your RV, don't forget to drain the hot water heater.  It will save a lot of antifreeze if you have a bypass system to bypass the hot water heater when filling the water lines with antifreeze.  If your RV doesn't have one, you can purchase one for about $20 and can probably install it yourself.  Given  that the 6 gallons of antifreeze can cost $30, a bypass kit pays for itself right away, saving you both time and money.  It will also save time time when you de-winterize your rig next spring.

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.   Some things, like checking fluid levels and makings sure cabinets are free from spills that would attract pets should be done not matter what kind of climate you live in but full winterization to prevent freeze damage is required if you live where you get freezing overnight temperatures.  Coolant should be checked to verify it contains enough antifreeze to protect the engines in RVs, OHVs, adn tow vehicles against expected low 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.  Then add RV antifreeze to the holding tanks to protect the dump valves.  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 only 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.   In a pinch  you can lower the freeze point a few degrees by adding salt to the water.  Plain water freezes at 32° F.   Salt water, fully saturated with salt (about 23% salt by weight) freezes at  -21° F.  If the jugs freeze they 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 in and around your RV 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 if they die inside the walls.  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.  So much better to drain the tank and run all the fuel out of the carburetor before you put your OHV into storage.  A light coat of oil on chains and other ferrous metal parts will prevent rust.

Fuel systems on RVs and OHVs that will not be used for several months should be drained or treated with a fuel additive such as Sta-bil.  You can usually drain the fuel tanks on OHVs pretty easily, then run the engine until all the fuel remaining in the lines and carburetor is used up.  Draining the large fuel tanks on other motor vehicles usually isn't practical.  Add enough Sta-bil for the tank capacity and top off the tank before storage.  A full tank will collect less moisture and condensation than an empty one.

Propane powered camping stoves and lanterns usually only need to be cleaned before storage --  once the fuel canister has been removed.  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 and less expensive!

Tent campers will also need to store their tents and other equipment.  Tents and sleeping bags should be clean and dry before being stored.  Sleeping bags should not be rolled tightly.  Hang them so they can air out an restore loft if you can.  If not, pack them loosely in "stuff sacks".  Try to repair any damage before you put things into storage.  Make sure your pots, pans, utensils, dinnerware, and silverware are clean.  Remove persishable food and medical items before storage and, if your stuff will be stored will be stored where it could freeze, remove any liquids that might freeze.  Clean all your tools and coat metal surfaces with a light coating of oil to prevent rust.  This is also a good time to check for damage and make a list of those that need repair or replacement.   Drain fuel from gasoline stoves and lanterns.  Remove batteries from battery powered gadgets and store the batteries indoors.  You might want to include mouse bait near where  you store your stuff to minimize the chance of rodents infesting things.

After you've got all your gear and equipment taken care of, you can turn your attention to yourself.  You'll probably be facing an extended vacation from your favorite outdoor activities, especially if you live in northern climates with four real seasons.  Some people have enough winter activities that they don't miss camping, but many people will be getting a serious case of cabin fever long before Spring arrives and you can once again enjoy  your outings.  There are a number of fun and productive things you can do during the off season.  I find it is a good time to inventory, repair, clean, and detail my RV, camping and OHV equipment.  It may a good time for installing upgrades to your equipment.  You can also organize your photos and notes from last season's outings and begin making plans for next year.  Plan a regular exercise program to help stave off holiday weight gain and stay in shape so you'll be ready when Spring finally arrives.

Rest easy!