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, May 25, 2015

Dump Valve Maintenance and Repair

Dump valves are pretty reliable unless they freeze or get damaged by impact with something.   However, they will sometimes need repair or replacement in normal use due to ordinary wear and tear on the seals or getting debris trapped as they are closed.  You can also break the internal slide or bend the shaft if you don't pull and push the valve straight in and out.  If you discover sewage accumulated inside the dump cap between dumps, you probably have one or more leaking valves.  The color and smell of the accumulated fluid will tell you which valve is leaking.  Foul smelling stuff that is blue, brown, or green is coming from the black water tank.  Grayish, soapy water that is nearly odorless is from the gray water tank. The black water valve will  be large, 3" valve.  The gray water valve may also be a 3" valve but on some rigs it is a smaller, 1 1/2" valve.  Having a clear plastic dump cap instead of a black on will let you see if there is anything behind the cap before you open it.  Always make sure both valves are fully pushed in before deciding you have a problem with the seals.  Sometimes a bit of debris may get caught in the valve when it closes causes it to leak until it is opened and flushed again.  A persistent leak is a strong indicator that the seals need to be replaced  Having a clear plastic dump cap will let you see if there is leakage before you open the camp and get doused with nasty stuff.  Having a dump cap with a hose fitting allows you to slowly and easily drain the accumulated sewage safely into the dump hose or a container before you open the cap and get a big "whoosh" of nasty stuff all over you and the ground.  The space between the valves and the cap can usually hold a quart or two of nasty leakage.   Dump your tanks before attempting to work on the valves.  After you get home and parked where you're going to be working on them, put a container under the valves and remove the outer cap and leave the valves open for a while to let everything drain out and stop dripping.  This will help avoid getting sewage up your sleeve or dripping in your face while working on the valves.

To avoid problems with your dump valves, always pull and push the handles straight.   Any angle on the handle could bend the shaft, damage the seals, or crack the slide.  Once any of these things has happened you will have to replace the valve.  Fortunately they aren't very expensive (around $20 each at even high priced RV parts stores and even less at discount outlets) and they are usually pretty easy to change.

Always wear protective rubber, nitrile, or vinyl gloves when working with sewer hoses and dump valves  to avoid exposure to chemicals and nasty waste products.  Then thoroughly wash your hands after you have removed and discarded the gloves.  Coveralls are a good idea too, and be sure to wash and disinfect your work clothing when you're done, especially if there was any spillage.

Sometimes the problem is due to worn seals, which can be replaced without replacing the entire valve.  However the effort is pretty much the same whether you're replacing just the seals or the entire valve.   Seal kits will be a little less expensive than complete valves but since the valves are fairly inexpensive, I prefer to replace them rather than just change the seals to avoid any extra labor if just changing the seals doesn't solve the problem.  Some valves can only use their own branded seals and if you get the wrong ones, they will leak.  That is one reason I prefer to replace the whole valve so I don't have to worry about matching old seals.  You'll need to dump and flush the holding tanks before beginning any repair.  The valves are blade valves that are fastened between flanges on either side --one on the outlet from the tank and one on the pipe that leads to where you attach the dump hose.  They are secured by 4 bolts -- one in each corner of the square part of the flange on the valve.  Remove the 4 bolts, then carefully pull out the valve.  Remove the old seals and clean the flanges.  Install the new seals on the flanges.  Make sure to put the large end of the seal over the lip on the flange.  Then very carefully slip the valve (new or old) into place, taking care not to dislodge or distort the seals.  This can be tricky.  Replace and tighten all 4 bolts and you should be good to go.  New valves should come with new bolts, another benefit of replacing the valve and not just the seals.  Always hold the nut and tighten or loosen the bolt head because the nut is knurled to prevent it from slipping.  Turning the nut will grind the surface of the valve.  Tighten the bolts until the heads begin to bite into the plastic flange.  Once the bolts are tightened, close the valve to make sure it operates smoothly.  If there is any resistance or it won't close completely the seals have probably slipped and you'll need to take it out and reinstall them properly.   At least partially fill the tank with clean water to test the installation.  Sometimes the old bolts will be so badly rusted you can't unscrew them to disassemble the valve.  If there is room you may be able to cut the bolts using a hacksaw or a die grinder with a metal cutoff blade.  Since you will be replacing the old valve you can cut right through the valve itself.  Cut the the center of the bolt and be careful not to damage the flanges on either side of the old valve.  The flange on the valve itself should provide enough buffer to prevent you from damaging the flanges on the tank and pipe.  If you damage those flanges you'll have a lot more to repair!

Some small leaks might be temporarily repaired using a wet patch roofing tar.  This is not a suitable permanent repair.  The underlying cause must be diagnosed and repaired, but if there is a small drip around the junction of the valve body and the flanges it mounts to, sealing it with tar might let you finish a trip and then make appropriate permanent repairs when you get home.  Using wet patch sealant avoids having to wait until the tanks are drained and dried.  Wet patch roofing tar is intended to be used in rainy conditions and may not be resistant to the chemicals and other contaminants in sewage.  While it may stick to wet surfaces, it may not stick to greasy, soapy surfaces or those contaminated with human waste and holding tank chemicals.  Clean the surface as well as you can before attempting to apply wet patch.  I  like Henry's wet patch cement, available in 10 oz tubes to fit a caulking gun at most home centers.

Maintaining dump valves mostly consists of keeping them lubricated so they operate smoothly without any tearing or excessive wear.  Lubricate the shaft of the valve with a silicone spray.  DO NOT use WD40 as it will disolve the grease that helps seal around the shaft and will make the valve harder to open and close.  The plastic "paddle" that actually opens and closes usually doesn't require any direct lubrication but some holding tank treatments contain valve lubricants or you can buy special valve lubricant to put into your holding tanks.  Valve lubricant is usually dumped down the toilet when the tank is empty so it goes directly to the valve.  You will have to put lubricant down a sink or shower drain to lubricate gray water valves.  Choose the drain closest to the gray water tank and put it in when the tank is empty.

Dump valves may have metal or plastic handles.  These handles sometimes get bent or broken, especially the plastic ones.  If the valve is otherwise in good shape, the handles are easily replaceable.  Open the valve, then grip the shaft with cloth protected pliers to avoid damaging the shaft, while twisting the handle to remove it.  Then screw on the new handle and tighten it and close the valve.

Some dump valves are located away from the outside edge of the RV and are operated via extension cables.  If you have valves that are difficult to reach you may be able to replace them with cable operated valves for added convenience.  When replacing existing valves with cable operated valves, use new Bladex/Valterra valves.  They are specially designed to operate easily with cables.  Follow the installation instructions carefully to ensure proper operation. Some ultra-luxury units even have electrically operated dump valves.  To me that is overkill and unless you have physical problems that prevent you bending over to reach the dump valves or to pull the handles, I don't think it is worth the expense and it introduces extra electro-mechanical parts that can be additional points of failure. If you have cable or electrically operated valves, make sure to push the handles all the way in when you are done flushing your tanks.   For some reason it seems easier to forget to close them than it is to close the directly operated valves and the results can be very nasty the next time you take the cap off the dump port to connect your sewer hose!

Dump it!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hydration

Maintaining adequate hydration while camping and involved in related activities, such has hiking, OHV riding, boating, and horseback riding, is essential to both comfort and good health.  Because of lot of our camping and related activities take place in warm or even hot weather, our hydration requirements are usually greater than normal.  However, hydration is still an important factor during colder times.  You will still lose body fluids through respiration and perspiration even when the outside temperatures dip below freezing.  The effects of dehydration can range from discomfort to coma to death!  If you find yourself feeling really lethargic in hot weather, you probably aren't drinking enough water.

When you begin to feel thirsty, you are already starting to get dehydrated.  To avoid dehydration start by pre-hydrating your body prior to your activities.  When dirt biking we start drinking plenty of water and sports drinks the night before our planned rides.   For sure there is a trade off between drinking enough water and too many nocturnal trips to the restroom.  It may take some experimentation to work out what works best for you. Then be sure to drink enough water or sports drinks during your activities the next day. You won't want to "tank up" on liquids just prior to physical activities.  Too often it can cause serious stomach distress which sometimes results in throwing up everything you just drank!   Not pleasant nor a very effective way to stay hydrated.  The ubest way is to take frequent sips of water or your favorite electrolyte frequently throughout the day.  While having enough water is the biggest concern, you will also need to maintain a proper balance of electrolytes to ensure comfort, performance, and good health.  One of the most important electrolytes is salt and it is one of the first to get depleted through perspiration.  You can buy salt tablets that are convenient to carry during activities.  How much salt do you need?  That will depend on several factors, including your body size, outside temperature, level of perspiration, and amount of activity.  You might be able to find some guidelines via online research, but it may be best to check with our doctor so you get enough but don't over do it.  Too much salt isn't good for you.  Isn't it interesting that salt is composed of two deadly poisons:  sodium and chlorine.  The scientific name for salt is Sodium Chloride.  Either component taken by itself will kill you but you need the compound to live.  Some researchers believe it is more than a coincidence that the percentage of salt in your bloodstream is almost same as it is in the ocean.  If you become extremely dehydrated and require medical attention, one of the treatments will be to give you a saline solution (salt water) intravenously to quickly restore hydration and electrolyte levels.  However, drinking salt water is not usually a good idea, only if you are experiencing symptoms of dehydration such as heat cramps. Trying to drink salt water to simply quench you thirst will result in stomach problems and even more dehydration as your body works to process the salt.

If you find yourself feeling particularly lethargic or weak during hot weather, you are probably starting to suffer from dehydration.  Drinking plenty of water will probably restore your energy levels.  By the way, as mentioned above, it is best to drink small amounts frequently rather than gulp down a whole bunch at once.  This is especially true if you are involved in vigorous physical activities where a large amount of cold water in your stomach could cause rather severe pain and discomfort.

Drink small amounts of fluids frequently, especially during very hot weather and/or strenuous activity.  Don't wait until you feel thirsty and then chug-a-lug a whole lot of liquids.  Maintaining your fluid levels by small drinks throughout the day works much better and you will be far more comfortable.   That's one reason I like to wear a Camelbak style hydration pack when dirt biking -- I can take a few sips of water any time I want.  You REALLY don't want to chug down a quart of cold water and then do something physically demanding, like running or riding a dirt bike or a horse!  That is a good way to feel really sick to your stomach really quickly and you'll be likely to loose everything you drank very quickly through vomiting.

A frequent and painful symptom of dehydration is heat cramps.  These usually occur in the arms and legs but can affect just about any muscle, like those in your throat or even your tongue.  They are like really bad charlie horses.  For immediate relief try stretching the offending muscle if you can.  Sometimes you may get cramps in both the front and back of your arms or legs and then it is impossible to stretch out one without aggravating the cramping in the other.  When that happens, about all you can do is find the most neutral position and have someone bring you some electrolytes to drink.  We've found that dill pickle juice works very well, especially if you hold some under your tongue before you swallow it so it can be directly absorbed into your bloodstream.  If you don't have pickle juice, drink a little salt water.  A teaspoon or so in a glass of water should be about right.  To avoid heat cramps altogether, drink plenty of water and sports drinks throughout the day to maintain your fluid and electrolyte levels.

Symptoms of more severe dehydration will include hot dry skin (when you stop perspiring you are dangerously dehydrated and your body can't cool itself).  You may become nauseous, dizzy, and get headaches.  If you or any of your companions exhibit these symptoms, you need to cool them down and get some fluids into them as quickly as possible.  Severe dehydration can lead to unconsciousness, coma, and, eventually, even death.  Douse a severely dehydrated person with cool water and encourage them to sip water.  An unconscious victim will require intravenous liquids so seek medical attention as soon as possible.

There are several convenient ways to carry water with you during your activities so you can drink as much as you need throughout the day.  Bottled water comes in handy sizes and a lot of backpacks and fanny packs have special outside compartments to keep them easily accessible.  There are also carriers designed specifically to hold bottled water that can be worn slung over a shoulder or around your neck if you're not wearing a fanny pack or back pack.  Some are even made of neoprene to insulate the bottle to keep the water cooler.  Here are some examples available from Amazon.com.

Canteens have been used for many years by campers, hikers, scouts,soldiers, and cowboys to carry water.   The come in various sizes, shapes, durability, and ways to be carried.  Here is a typical boy scout canteen, with a carrying strap to sling it around your neck and/or over your shoulder:
                                                   



                                                  Image result for boy scout canteen

Here is an army style canteen that is carried on your belt:




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Blanket style canteens are often used when horseback riding.  They come in various sizes ranging from less than a quart to a gallon or more.  The blanket covering can be wet so that evaporation helps cool the contents.

                                                     Image result for blanket canteen

My favorite water system for outdoor recreational activities like dirt biking is the Camelbak Hydration pack.  These are soft back packs with a vinyl bladder inside and a tube from which you can suck water directly through a "bite valve" that keeps it from leaking out between drinks.  I add a Velcro tab to the bite valve and a mating tab on the center of my chest protector so keep the tube handy for use while riding.  Sometimes it takes some extra glue or even a tiny cable tie to  keep it in place.  If you can't get the Velcro to work, just tuck the bite valve in the side of your chest protector.  Here is an example of a Camelbak hydration pack:

                                                    camelbak 60282 hydration pack,50 oz./1.5l,black

If you use a Camelbak you may want to pre-cool it to keep your water cooler longer.  However, don't freeze it.  The ice will block the drinking tube and it will probably be several hours before you will be able to drink from it.  The best way I've found is to empty out any stale water, fill the bladder with ice cubes, then refill it with as much water as it will take.  Doing this my 70 ounce Camelbak gives me ice cold water for 8-10 hours even in air temperatures hovering around 100°.  To help keep it cold I wrap the pack itself with a reflective windshield cover.  The reflective surface together with the little bit of foam helps keep heat from penetrating the pack and warming the water. 

What hydration system you use will depend on the kind of activities you will be participating in and the budget you have for acquiring a system.  Small canteens are relatively inexpensive; large hydration packs will cost several times as much but will carry more water more conveniently.  The most important thing is that you make sure you always have an adequate supply of water.

You can fill your canteens or hydration packs with water or with sports drinks.  However, if you fill them with sports drinks you will have to make sure you clean them out regularly to avoid spoilage or sticky deposits.   In many, many years of dirt biking in the Mojave Desert I have found water to be the best source of hydration on the trail.  Then I consume some sports drinks when I return to camp to balance my electrolytes.  Water is far more refreshing and avoids the sticky aftertaste that often accompanies sports drinks.  I definitely do not recommend filling canteens or hydration packs with sodas!  First of all, sodas are not ideal sources of hydration, especially if they contain caffeine.  Secondly, the bouncing of the container will make the soda fizz, possibly leaking out and quickly losing all the carbonation so it goes flat.  If you're out on the trail for any time, the contents of your hydration container is going to get warm and warm, flat soda is disgusting and not something you will likely drink very much of.  Water is the best thing to fill your hydration system -- and your body -- with.  It is even still healthy and refreshing when it is luke warm.

Having plenty of good tasting drinks you enjoy on hand is a god way to stave off dehydration.   Water is the very best, with sports drinks that replace lost electrolytes coming in second.  Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages should be way down the list and used only in moderation.  Typical sodas may deliver a lot more calories than you might like to consume while sitting around and relaxing around camp.  Diet sodas probably have artificial sweeteners that can have very unpleasant side effects.  For example, the popular sweetener "aspartame", found in many "diet" products, blocks the transfer of lactic acid out of tired muscles.  It is the accumulation of lactic acid that makes your muscles ache and feel fatigued.

Whatever type of container you use for hydration you will want to keep it clean.   Those used only for water usually need little maintenance unless they have been contaminated.  If the water begins to get cloudy or smell bad, you will want to clean and sanitize your canteen or hydration pack.  A canteen can be sanitized by filling it with water and adding a few drops of unscented chlorine bleach.  Put on the cap, shake it well, and let it stand for a few hours.  Then dump it out and rinse it until the chlorine smell is gone.  Rinsing it with a solution of water and baking soda can speed removal of the chlorine smell.  Hydration packs can be cleaned in essentially the same way but the drinking tubes sometimes require additional cleaning with special little brushes.  You should be able to purchase a hydration pack cleaning kit where ever hydration packs are sold.  They aren't cheap but neither are they terribly expensive and they will make cleaning your hydration pack a lot faster and easier.  Your taste buds will thank you!

Drink up!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Gas versus Diesel

Gas versus diesel powered motorhomes and tow vehicles.  The question always comes up.  And, unfortunately, there is no easy answer.  But there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to each the potential buyer should be aware of.  Personal preferences also play a significant role.

Gasoline powered vehicles are generally less expensive to purchase than diesel.  They are usually less expensive to work on also.  But they generally get poorer fuel economy and don't have the high torque of diesel engines.  If you have gasoline powered motorsports toys you can use your spare gas in your vehicle if you run low.  I've even burned pre-mix 2-stroke fuel in my truck in a pinch with no negative side effects.  Gasoline powered chassis usually have the engine up front in a "doghouse" between the driver and passengers seats.  For some people the engine noise and heat can be a problem.  You can buy fuel for gasoline vehicles at any gas station, although you sometimes have to look for one with adequate lateral and overhead clearance to accommodate an RV.  Surprisingly enough, many motorhomes run on regular unleaded gasoline but some require more expensive premium fuel.  Be sure to know what your vehicle requires.  If you use a low or mid grade fuel and the engine starts to"ping", upgrade to premium fuel soon, before permanent engine damage can occur.  One cause of pinging is pre-ignition, which means the fuel mixture ignites before the spark plug fires.  This can burn valves, which leads to per performance and reduced mileage and are expensive to repair.  Gasoline powered vehicles will be subject to annual emissions inspections when the vehicle is registered where such inspections are required.  A poorly tuned engine also creates high levels of pollution (NOX and unburned hydrocarbons) that are really bad for air quality.

Vehicles equipped with diesel engines are more expensive to purchase but the usually deliver better fuel economy, higher torque, and longer life than gasoline engines.  However, the increased price means it may take a lot of driving to recoup the additional cost in fuel savings or longevity.  If you plan to full time and/or put a lot of miles on your vehicle, a diesel may be advantageous.  At one time diesel fuel was cheaper than gasoline, and that coupled with better fuel economy, reduced fuel costs.  But these days diesel tends to higher than premium gasoline (at least where I live),which doesn't make a lot sense because diesel is made from the dregs left over from refining gasoline.  If you do a lot of boondocking for OHV activities, you may have to carry some extra diesel fuel since the gasoline for your toys is not compatible with diesel engines.  Diesel engines in general are a bit noisier than gasoline engines, not necessarily in the exhaust system, but from direct sounds generated within the engine.  They do not have spark plugs to ignite the fuel.  The fuel is ignited by heat generated from compression.  This can sometimes be heard as a sort of knocking sound, which some people find objectionable. Some people don't like the smell of diesel exhaust either. Diesel chassis often have the engine in the rear (known as a "diesel pusher").  On large motorhomes this puts the engine up to 40 feet behind the driver, greatly masking any engine noise.  Finding diesel fuel on the road used to mean looking for truck stops, but the proliferation of gasoline powered automobiles has made diesel much more available.  Yet even today, not all gas stations carry diesel, so you need to check the signs before you pull in.  Make sure you use only the designated diesel pump.  Putting gasoline into your diesel vehicle will cause a lot of problems and can be expensive to remedy.  Motorhomes with diesel engines may have diesel or propane powered generators.  If your camping style is such that you use a lot or propane, you may want to make sure the generator is diesel powered to conserve propane for other uses or carry extra propane.  In some areas subject to emissions inspections, diesel powered vehicles are exempt from emissions inspections.  They will still be required to pass any required safety inspections.  Diesel powered vehicles often have higher weight carrying and towing capacities than their gasoline counterparts. So if having a really big motorhome or being able to tow a really large trailer is important to you, you may want to seriously consider getting a diesel.  Be sure to check the horsepower and torque ratings  and Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating so you can be certain you're getting enough power for satisfactory performance.   All diesels are not alike.  You might be disappointed with some of the older, smaller diesels.

I have owned both gasoline and diesel powered motorhomes and found both to be satisfactory.  I've never full timed or taken long cross-country trips, so I was never able to take full advantage of the higher fuel economy attributed to diesel vehicles.  My diesel was a 40' pusher, and, due to its size, age, and weight, did not get deliver particularly good mpg numbers.  Unfortunately, I also saw diesel fuel climb from cheaper than unleaded regular to more expensive than premium gasoline which quickly negated the cost savings I anticipated when I bought it.  More recently, diesel dropped below regular unleaded again, the bounced back higher than premi,m. so you may have to keep any eye on prices and trends before you make any decision.

Choose the right fuel.