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.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Winter Camping At Home -- Say What?

In most of the colder parts of the country, winter means storing our RVs and camping gear and holing up in front of  a cozy fireplace until the warm weather returns.  Those in the sunbelt can continue to enjoy outdoor pursuits.  When we lived in southern California even New Years Day was an opportunity for RVing and dirt biking in the Mojave Desert.  Not likely that is going to happen here in Utah!  So why the heck would anyone what to do any winter camping at home?

One big advantage to winter camping at home is you don't have far to go to recover if anything goes wrong.  Just as we've often suggested driveway or backyard "outings" as a way to develop your skills and get used to your equipment, you can use them for winter preparations as well.  If you should run into trouble, like say running out of propane, you can just go back inside to keep warm whereas, if you had a problem in a remote location you might not have any convenient way of handling the issue(s) and may experience a considerable amount of discomfort before  -- or even get sick or die --you could recover.

If you have an RV you store at home during the winter you might consider spending a night or two in it just for fun, to maintain your familiarity with systems and supplies, and to keep your equipment in peak operating condition.  We did that in our truck camper when the onset of winter sneaked up on us before we could take it out for a shakedown cruise.  If you're in freezing weather you won't want to use any of the water or sewer systems, but you can still test out the furnace and determine if the bedding is adequate for cold nights.  And you could cook and eat in the RV.  Just be sure to take all the dishes back into the house to wash them.  Using your RV systems periodically while in storage is actually good for them.  Run the generator for an hour so two.  Disuse is one of the hardest things on equipment.

Our motorhome and camper have both served as extra guest rooms when we've had family visiting at Christmas on a number of occasions.  We had to educate our guests that there was no water and to not use the toilet, but otherwise they were quite warm and comfortable and enjoyed more privacy than they might have had crammed inside the house with other guests.  The grandkids especially liked staying in an RV.  If you live in the sunbelt where winterization isn't necessary, using the RV is even more convenient since they can use the water based systems.

Winter opportunities for tent campers are more limited but still possible.  You may have to set up your tent in the snow, but even that can be surprisingly comfortable if you are prepared for it.  If that doesn't appeal to you and your family you might resort to setting up your tent in the garage or an outbuilding.  I've noticed that the temperature inside my garage is typically in the mid 40s even when the outside temperature is in the teens.  I've read that even just having a roof over your head can raise the temperature 20°F, which is often enough to prevent freezing of RV water lines etc.  A barn, shed, or greenhouse could also provide a temperate location for setting up a winter tent.

I've even seen folks set up dome tents in their family rooms and living rooms for the kids for a fun night or two and there is no reason that couldn't be done by kids of ALL ages.  You'll need a self standing tent, not one that needs stakes and guy ropes.

Practicing your winter camping skills could turn out be more than just a fun diversion.  If you should experience a long term power outage during the winter, being able to  move into your RV or set up your tent in your living room might be your best way to survive.  The threat of long term power outages grows stronger every day.  Not only are we now facing possible outages from a strong EMP from solar activity, the terrorist organization ISIS is reportedly actively planning ways to disable the US power grid.  Many people aren't aware of just how vulnerable the power grid is nor how long it would take to replace damaged transformers and restore power.  It would likely be years!  Recent estimates I've read say that disabling as few as 9 key substations would disable the entire US power grid for a year and a half.

Practicing your campfire skills can also be fun in winter.   Gathering around a blazing fire is a good way to ward off the chill of winter activities.  Campfires may also become critical for cooking during an extended emergency. 

Be cool and keep warm!


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Blowouts!

While a "blowout" sale is usually a good thing, having a tire blow out on your RV or tow vehicle certainly is not.  Blowouts can cause serious damage as pieces of the fragmented tire slam into parts of the vehicle or friction heats things up and causes a fire.  I've had motorhome and trailer tires blow out a few times, and it is never a pleasant or inexpensive proposition.  After a tire blew out on my enclosed motorcycle trailer I discovered it was likely caused by a failed magnet in the electric brakes that had locked up the brakes and made the tire drag.  In addition to the tire itself, it destroyed the wheel and the fender skirt and the collapse of the tire allowed the entry step to hit the ground and get bent way beyond repair.  Same with the pricey electric tongue jack.  The leaf spring on that side was also damaged.  I had to replace both springs and both brakes (springs and brakes should always be replaced in pairs).  I was unable to find a matching fender skirt so I had to replace the skirts on both sides to maintain a satisfactory appearance.  By the time all was said and done the total bill came to about $1200 from a single blowout.

I had a nearly new right front tire blow out on a class A motorhome on one trip.   I discovered the cause of the failure was a new valve extension installed by the tire shop.  The technician there had claimed the braided stainless steel extensions I had been using were prone to failure and talked me into installing solid semi-truck style extensions.  Unfortunately, the new extension rubbed against the wheel cover until it wore a hole in it and allowed all the air to leak out of the tire.  The flapping of the exploded tire ripped out all the wiring for the lights (headlight, park light, and turn signal) and destroyed the outside cabinet behind the wheel well.  We gathered up the scattered contents of the shattered cabinet and avoided driving after dark until I could re-wire the lights.  Then I had to rebuild the cabinet when I got home.

The loss of a left rear inside dual on a 40' diesel pusher managed to damage the primary plumbing near the water pump adjacent to the wheel well.  All my fresh water leaked out and I couldn't even use park hook ups until I was able to repair the broken pipe.  I never did figure out what caused that particular tire failure.  The tire had been in good condition at the start of the trip and I religiously check tire pressure every morning before hitting the road.  I suspect it may have been damaged by some kind of debris on the road.  You never know when you'll pick up a stray nail somewhere. 

Way too many blowouts are simply a result of under inflation.  A soft tire will quickly overheat and together with the stress of excessive flexing of the sidewalls will soon fail under highway conditions.  Under inflation can usually be avoided by simply checking tire pressure regularly.  Under inflated tires will usually look "squishy" and will be hotter than properly inflated tires after driving.  They will also wear excessively on the outside edges.  Under inflated tires may show excessive wear on both edges of the tire.  Whenever you discover an under inflated tire, bring it up to the correct pressure as soon as possible.  However, driving on an under inflated tire will sometimes have already caused enough internal damage that the tire has been weakened and will fail prematurely.  The best way to ensure proper inflation is to check tire pressure with an accurate gauge.  Truckers and some RVers will use a "tire thumper" as a way to quickly see if tire pressure is approximately where it should be.  Soft tires will give off a dull thump instead of a sharp thud and an experienced driver can usually feel as well as hear the difference when the thumper strikes the tire. 

Over inflation isn't good either, but it usually doesn't cause the rapid and catastrophic failures associated with under inflation.   Over inflated tires will cause handling and ride problems, making the vehicle feel skittish and the ride harsh.  Over inflated tires will show excessive wear in the center of the tread.  Driving on overinflated tires too long could cause the tread in the center to wear enough to cause a blowout.

Overloading is another common cause of tire failures.  Some large motorhomes are very close to the maximum chassis and/or tire rating as they come from the factory so it is all too easy to over load them with passengers and equipment.  If you suspect your vehicle is overloaded, take it to a truck scale and weight each individual wheel.  Having the weight on each wheel will allow to set the right tire pressure for the load.

Dragging trailers brakes can also cause tire failures.  If trailer tires get unusually hot when towing the brakes may be dragging and should be inspected and adjusted.  Sometimes the problem is that the brake controller in the tow vehicle is maladjusted and that isn't really an equipment failure, it is an operator error.

Failed suspension components can put inappropriate stress on tires.  Weak or broken springs and/or shocks can stress tires and sometimes either rub directly on the tire or allow it to rub on other parts of the fame or body.  If a vehicle sags more on one corner than the others or if a wheel seems to be leaning or the body appears to be lower than it should be you should have the suspension checked.  Worn, bent, or broken suspension can not only cause tire failures but could cause a loss of control that may result in a serious accident.

A blowout on a motorhome is usually very apparent the instant it happens but drivers of tow vehicles are not always immediately aware of tire failures on trailers.   A few years ago an older couple pulling a travel trailer through Idaho and Washington failed to notice a flat tire on the trailer.  Flaming debris from the dragging tire ignited several wildfires along their route.  How can a driver not notice a flat tire?  A flat on the vehicle you are driving is usually pretty obvious, but one on a trailer can be well disguised, especially if the trailer is relatively small compared to the weight and power of the tow vehicle.  The driver of a 40' motorhome pulling a little 15' utility trailer probably won't feel anything if a trailer tire blows out.  However, he should be able to see the trailer leaning when he checks his rear view mirrors or back up camera and you may see smoke, dust, or sparks from dragging components.  You should frequently monitor the attitude of your trailer when towing. 

If you do experience a blowout, DON'T jam on the brakes!   Keep a strong grip on the steering wheel and slowing gradually,  pull over out of traffic, allowing the vehicle to slow, using the brakes as little as possible.  Jamming on the brakes can cause a sudden grabbing of the damaged tire and wheel, resulting in an unexpected change of direction and/or loss of control. If you lose a front tire you may be able to slow down using the hand or emergency brake which usually activates the rear brakes or a special brake on the drive shaft on some vehicles.

Smoothe motoring!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dealing With Flooded Camp Sites

Noah had advance warning and considerable time to prepare for The Flood.  When we're camping, we usually don't get much advance warning.  In fact, if we knew it was coming we probably wouldn't be camping in the first place. While completely avoiding situations where your camp site might get flooded is certainly the best approach, there may be times when you get caught in flood waters.

If you select your camp sites properly, you shouldn't have any problems with flooding.  But sometimes your options are limited.  Given a choice, set up camp (tent or RV) on a slight rise so that any water that may arrive doesn't flow under your RV or into your tent.  Never set up camp in a dry wash or a deep depression if there is any chance of rain.  Even if the rain is many miles away, flood waters may rush down dry washes with surprising force and speed.  Always avoid RV camping on marshy ground where vehicles can sink in.  If the ground is already soft, a sudden rain can nearly liquify it, allowing tires and leveling jacks to sink deep into the mud and making it very difficult or perhaps even impossible to drive out  Getting towed out of a situation like that can be very expensive.  I've even seen would-be rescuers get stuck and have to towed out, greatly multiplying the frustration, delay, and expense.  In some places even extremely hard ground can get surprisingly soft when it rains.  I've seen places where rocks that were so gripped by the hard dirt around them a pick broke trying to dig them out, but the same rocks sank out of sight when stepped on after a light rain!  Marshy ground isn't a good place to set up your tent either.  Pegs are likely to pull loose and you will probably get a lot of water wicking up through the floor unless you have a really good ground cloth. 

I got surprised by flooding during one desert camp out.  We were on solid, gravely ground that was fairly level and we were in a frequently used parking area, not in a sand wash or dry creek bed.  Even so, heavy rains one evening delivered water rushing down off the nearby hills and under and around our RV, bringing with it enough silt that our grass patio mat was completely buried under about a half inch of mud the next morning.   Basically the entire parking area was in the path of runoff from not too distant hills, turning into a broad, shallow river. Further analysis showed the only way to have avoided the problem would have been to camp somewhere else.  There was little we could do except do our best to avoid tracking mud into the motorhome, usually by leaving muddy shoes outside or just inside the door and wait for the sun to dry things out.  When we packed up at the end of the outing we shook as much mud and dirt off the grass mat as we could, then folded it up and stuffed in the back or our motorcycle trailer.  At home we hung in on a corral fence and used a power washer to restore it to usable condition.  We left it hanging on the fence and by the next day it was try enough to roll up and store back in its proper cabinet on the motorhome, clean and dry and ready to use again.

If you do get flooded out, sometimes your best bet it to just sit tight until the water recedes and the ground dries out enough for you to drive out.  Hopefully you won't be in water deep enough that it gets inside your RV, although that is a possibility if you are in a low enough spot and/or there is enough rain.  Attempting to exit over soft or flooded ground is likely to result in getting your vehicles thoroughly stuck.  If you must leave before things dry out, it is a good idea to walk the route you plan to take to see if there are any soft spots or unexpected drop offs.  Driving through flood waters isn't a good idea.  You can't see obstacles and are likely to find yourself and your vehicle in a worse situation than you started.

Dealing with a flooded camp site in a tent can be lot more devastating.   Had we been camping in tents instead of RVs when the above mentioned incident happened, it would have been our tents and sleeping bags instead of a grass mat that were buried in mud!  It is CRITICAL that tents be set up on high enough ground so they won't ever be in the path of rising water.  Finding "high ground" when camping in the desert can be difficult and options will be very limited when staying in developed campgrounds with assigned spaces.  Hopefully, developed campgrounds will have been properly engineered to drain properly without flooding the pads intended for tents.

Stay dry!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Covering Your RV

Covering your RV to protect it from the elements is basically a good idea -- if its done right.  One of the best ways to protect an RV from summer sun and winter precipitation is to put it in a garage or under an RV "carport".  Next best is to use an RV cover made especially for the purpose.  Because RV covers are more expensive than blue polytarps, people will often opt to cover their RVs with tarps with some very unpleasant and unwanted consequences.  RV covers are made of a soft fabric that won't damage the moldings and finish on the RV.  Tarps have a rougher weave that over a single winter can polish the paint right off corner moldings and sometimes the sides of the RV itself.  RV covers are NOT waterproof.  They are water resistant and breathable.  While they protect the surface from the effects of precipitation, being breathable prevents them from trapping moisture inside the cover the way tarps can where it can eventually saturate the walls and cause delamination.

RV Covers are available in standard sizes to fit most RVs.  That is the most economical way to go.  For added convenience, purchase a cover that is custom made for you RV.  It can be made with a zipper door that coincides exactly with your entry door for convenience in accessing the interior while it is in storage.

It is good to shade your RV during summer months to prevent sun damage and minimize heat buildup inside.  Also use tire covers to protect the rubber from exposure that will speed deteriorization.  It is OK to shade your RV with a polytarp, just don't wrap it around the entire vehicle.  Hang it on a frame over the RV or use it to cover the roof only.  Avoid letting it come in contact with edges and corners where it can damage the surface.

RVs usually need protection from precipitation (rain/snow) during winter months.  As mentioned above, the best protection is inside or under some kind of sturdy structure that will protect it from sun and from snow loads.  If that isn't feasible for you, invest in an RV cover.  Custom covers will fit best but are a bit pricey.  You can usually find a generic cover sized to closely fit most RVs.  RV covers are made from a soft,  breathable material that will not damage RV surfaces.   Custom covers usually have a zipper door to give you easy access to the entry door during storage.  Off the shelf covers probably won't have a zipper door or it may not be where you need it.  Covers should have straps to secure them under the RV or grommets where you can attach bungee cords or ropes to tie them down.  If you don't have to worry about freezing weather, an easy trick for holding down a cover is to tie it to one gallon plastic bleach or milk jugs that have been filled with water.  Since water weighs 8 lbs per gallon, each jug anchors its anchor point with 8 lbs of force.   Use several jugs all around to keep the cover from blowing off.  If you have to deal with freezing weather, secure the bottom of the cover to the bottom of the RV or to stakes driven into the ground.   In freezing weather, water filled jugs might split and as soon as it warms up all the water would leak out and there wouldn't be anything hold the cover down.  You might use inverted plastic bins spaced on top of the RV to create a uniform height and keep the cover above air conditioners, vents covers, and antennas.  If there are sharp corners, like on antennas or awning latches, cut a slit in a tennis ball and put it over the obstacle to prevent it from poking holes in your cover.   If the cover is in direct contact with somewhat narrow features like roof racks or the top of ladders, the cover may be damaged or worn through as the wind whips it over the obstacle.  Ladders and racks can be wrapped in bubble wrap or soft cloth (like an old blanket) to cushion them so they don't damage the cover.

It is advisable to use tire covers whenever the RV is in storage,  both summer and winter.  Tire covers are relatively expensive and a whole lot less expensive than tires.  I've seen folks cut a piece of plywood or OSB they can slip in the fender wells to shade tires.  This will keep them out of direct sunlight, which is the biggest threat, but it is better to use canvas or vinyl tire covers, which wrap around and  protect the tires from ozone as well as sunlight.

Cover up!