Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, 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. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Care and Feeding of your RV Refrigerator or Camp Cooler

RV and other portable refrigerators provide us with ways to preserve perishable foods on the road and in camp.  They approximate the features and functions of your home fridge, but their operation and capacity are much different.  Most residential refrigerators use electrically powered compressors for cooling.  Most RV units are gas absorption models that run on propane.  Funny to think that a flame is used to cool things!  If you're interested in just how that works, look it up on the Internet.  Basically, the flame provides the energy to circulate the coolant.  Gas absorption refrigerators need to be kept pretty level for proper operation.  Newer units are less sensitive than older designs, but leveling your RV is still necessary for efficient operation.  Leveling isn't an issue when the unit is in motion so climbing or descending hills won't cause your RV fridge to malfunction. The problem with being off level when stopped is that liquid coolant can pool at low spots in the system and block circulation.  Proper leveling in camp  or movement when you're on the road, avoids this problem.  Some portable refrigerators, including ice-chest sized ones used by truckers and tent campers, us a different technology.  These units can often be used as either warmers or coolers, depending on the switch settings.  They operate on 12-volt DC power using thermo-electric devices that act like heat exchangers to take heat out of or put heat into the food compartment.  Depending on the setting you can keep your pizza warm or your beer cold.

Many of the principles for best performance for RV refrigerators and ice chests are the same. First, whenever you can, cool down the unit before putting anything in it.   For an RV fridge, turn in on a day or two before departure.   For ice chests, put a bag of ice in them a day ahead.   Sacrificing one bag of ice to chill the cooler will improve performance, keeping food cooler longer.  Make sure all the food is cooled before you put it in either an RV fridge or an ice chest.  At home, cool everything in your home fridge.  On the road and in camp, let things at least cool to ambient temperature or put them in a pan of cool water to cool them before putting them away.   Limit opening your fridge or ice chest.  Each time you open it you lose cold air and allow warm moist air in. Keep ice chests in the shade.  Make sure the cooling coils and vents on your RV fridge are clean and clear.  An extra fan can be installed to help move air across the cooling coils.   I like to use a solar-powered fan so it doesn't draw down the batteries.  Check the status of the burner on gas absorption refrigerators periodically to be sure it is not restricted by debris or insect or vermin infestations and that the flame is properly adjusted.  Don't over pack your RV fridge.  The air needs to be able to circulate to maintain proper cooling.   Avoid storing large containers that block air flow. Transfer large volumes of foods into multiple smaller containers for better performance and added convenience.  Air circulation is not as important in ice chests, but allowing room for ice between items is still a good idea.   Put large, flat packages on top so they don't restrict circulation and don't sit in ice melt and get soggy.

Most modern RV refrigerators are have electronic controls,  and all you have to do is select the right power source (gas, 120 volt AC, 12 volt DC).  In automatic mode, most refrigerators will operate on 120 volts whenever it is available and switch to gas when the shore power is unplugged or the generator shut down.  The 12 volt setting usually has to be manually selected.  Older models may need to be lit with a match or at least depress a "Push To Light" button.  Pressing the button allows a small amount of gas to flow to the burner to get it going.  Once it is going, the thermocouple  or sensor will open the gas valve to keep it going.  If you have an older fridge that has to be manually lit, follow the lighting instructions carefully to avoid accidents.  Holding the pilot button down too long before lighting the burner or not waiting long enough between tries a can result in a flash explosion that will easily remove your eyebrows and lashes and might set your hair or your RV on fire!

How cold is my fridge/ice chest?  There are special refrigerator thermometers available to measure the temperature.  A fridge should be kept at about 40°F to preserve perishable foods.  The mixture of ice and water in an ice chest will remain at exactly 32°F until all the ice has melted.   The air above the ice/water mix may be slightly warmer.  Don't drain off the ice melt until you need to lighten the chest to transport it.   Draining off the ice water just wastes some of the cooling resource.  The ice water will be at 32 degrees and can still absorb a lot heat from the things you put in the ice chest.  If you do have to dump the water because it is soaking the contents, dump it over another ice chest (or the same one) to cool the outside and help keep it cooler inside.  Waste not, want not!

Cleaning/defrosting.  Ice chests need only to be emptied and cleaned with a good household cleaner. I like to use a window cleaner with ammonia.   It cleans and disinfects the surface and helps prevent mold or mildew from forming.  Any good disinfecting cleaner will do.   Since most ice chests have white interiors, using a cleaner with some bleach in it can eliminate stains and help keep it looking new, but don't go overboard on chemical cleaners.  They can damage the plastic surface.  For really stubborn stains, try spraying them with WD-40 or use a "Magic Eraser" on them.  Leaving the lid or door slightly open during storage will deter growth of mold and mildew.  RV fridges require the same kind of cleaning periodically, but you will also need to defrost the freezer compartment.  Some modern fridges include a "frost free" options that reduces or eliminates frost build up, but you may choose to turn the feature off to conserve energy.   If you do get frost builidup during a trip you may need to defrost the fridge to maintain efficiency.  The end of each trip is a natural time to clean your fridge.   The best way to do this is to turn off the unit, open the doors, and let it defrost naturally. Scraping is a bad idea! It is too easy to damage the shelving and even puncture the cooling lines.  I've seen people use a heat gun or hair dryer to speed defrosting but I don't recommend it.  The heat can melt or warp plastic and even warp metal components.   If, in desperation, you do resort to using a heat source and damage the plastic, seal it with silicone caulk.   A safer technique to speed defrosting is to place bowl of warm -- not hot -- water in the compartment.  Avoid or reduce frost build up in the first place by limiting opening the freezer and wipe any moisture off any items before you put them in the freezer.   I pre-freeze my ice cube trays in my home fridge before each trip.  That reduces initial load on the RV fridge and the frozen trays won't spill.

Gas refrigerators require a proper flame to operate efficiently.  Yes,gas refrigerators are cooled by fire!  The flame should be blue and steady.  If it is not, it needs to be adjusted or the fuel supply may be faulty.  If the flame is yellow, flickers, or sooty, there is definitely a problem.  The only adjustment available to the owner is the collar that controls the air fuel mixture right on the burner.   It is usually secured by a single small screw that needs to be loosened so the collar can be turned to increase or decrease the air/fuel ratio.  If you can't achieve a proper flame by adjusting the collar, you have plenty of propane in the tank, and the main valve is fully opened, you may have to have a trained technician make repairs.  He/she will be able to check the gas pressure to ensure the regulator is working properly and that the lines and valves are clear and operating correctly.  Gas pressure should normally be 11" water column as measured by a manometer.  Since most of us don't have a manometer in our tool kits, this is best done by a qualified RV or propane appliance technician.

All refrigerators and powered coolers have cooling vents that need to be kept clean and free from any obstacles that might reduce air flow.  Dust and dirt or other debris may accumulate on the cooling coils on a gas refrigerator or the air flow may be blocked by insect or rodent nests or a damaged vent cover.  Check the vent and the coils periodically to make sure they aren't contaminated.  Use compressed air to blow the dust off the coils.  While you're at it, check the burner to make sure insects or rodents haven't take up residence there too.  Take care where you put your portable powered cooler and avoid blocking its vents. You can add 12-volt or solar-powered fans to aid in moving air past the cooling coils to improve the performance and efficiency of your RV refrigerator.  Most RV refrigerators have a roof vent that aids in creating a chimney effect to help exhaust hot air from the coils.   Design limitations sometimes force top and bottom side vents, which are typically not as affective.  Adding an auxiliary cooling fan can often mitigate problems with side-vented refrigerators.  The most convenient solar powered kits have the solar panel built in to a new roof vent cap.  Solar kits are 3-4 times as expensive as 12-volt direct wire fans, but they won't run your battery down.  The only downside to solar fans is they won't get power at night, so if you live where you have very hot nights you may want to consider a direct wire fan instead or in addition to your solar fan.   Check both the amperage draw and the fan output (cubic feet per minute).  You want the highest output you can get and the lowest amperage draw.  If you have the need to replace a vent cover anyway, you might want to consider upgrading to a solar fan kit at that time.  That way you can apply the cost of the replacement vent cover toward the cost of the solar kit making it more affordable.  I've seen people adapted computer cooling fans to cool their RV fridges.  There are quite a large selection of fans at varying amperages and air movements to choose from.  The more powerful the fan, the better it will work, but the more amperage it will draw. 

Operating/usage tips.  First, limit opening your refrigerator or ice chest as much as possible.   Plan your retrieval or storage of items so you can do as much as possible in one opening.  Close the door/lid as quickly as possible.  Let cooked food items cool and wipe of any excess moisture before putting them in the fridge or freezer.  Take care not to over pack your RV fridge.  Internal air circulation is critical to proper operation.  The addition of a "Fridge Mate" battery powered fan that sits on a shelf can aid in circulation. You can usually get Fridge Mates at places like Camping World for around $20.  They run on 2 "D" cell batteries so you'll want to check the batteries regularly.  I have tried door guards but quite frankly didn't find them to improve things as much as simply limiting opening the doors.  These guards are made of flexible clear plastic in strips about 3" wide. You may have seen them on doors to walk-in refrigerators in supermarkets.  The idea is reduce to flow of cold air out and warm air in. Judicious opening of the door is usually sufficient and is more convenient and less costly than using a door guard.   I recently saw a fan kit that attaches to the fins in the refrigerator using Velcro and is wired into the interior light.   It draws a little power from the battery but moves a lot of air directly over the fins and greatly increase cooling efficiency.  As I recall, they are a little pricey, pushing $100, but they are more powerful than battery powered fans and you don't have to keep replacing the batteries.

Make sure any bottles or containers are tightly closed or sealed before you put them in your fridge or ice chest.  Normal vehicle motion will cause things to shift and may spill, wasting provisions and making a nasty mess to clean up when you reach your campsite.  Make sure the door on RV refrigerators is securely latched so contents don't spill out into the aisle on turns.  Take care when opening your fridge or ice chest when you arrive in camp. T hings are likely to have shifted around inside and may spill out when you open the door or lift the lid.  This is usually a more common problem with RV fridges than with ice chests.  Shifted contents inside an ice chest may shift further when the lid is opened, spilling inside the chest instead of out onto the floor.

Odors can be a problem in ice chests and RV refrigerators.  Your first defense is to avoid odors by properly packaging all foods before you put them in.  Over time, some odors are bound to accumulate.  A box of ordinary baking soda will absorb many odors and help keep your fridge smelling fresh.  It can be used in ice chests too, but be careful to keep it up out of the melt water. Proper cleaning of ice chests and refrigerators between uses will also help keep them smelling good. Just about any good household cleaner will do the job.   I prefer using a window cleaner with ammonia to freshen the unit and inhibit mold and mildew.  If you get odors while using your fridge or ice chest, first look for and discard any rotting food. Then clean up any residual ooze it may have left behind.  Use a box of baking soda to absorb errant odors.  Keep any foods with strong odors in tightly sealed containers.   You don't want your chocolate cake to absorb the odor of last night's cauliflower!

Cool it!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

RV, OHV, and Camping Safety

Overall, RVing, OHVing, and Camping are pretty safe.  In fact, statistically, the most dangerous part of our dirt bike outings to the Mojave Desert was getting there on southern California freeways in spite of sometimes popular opinions about the dangers of riding off road motorcycles.  However, there are potential risks one should be aware of and take appropriate steps to avoid problems when venturing into the great outdoors.  There have been a few reported cases of violent crimes in campgrounds, but, generally there is little violent crime in and around campgrounds.   Most of your dangers will come from normal driving to get there and back and from carelessness in the activities you might be engaged in.   If you fear you may be the victim of a violent crime, you should take steps to ensure your safety and protect your family.  High risk individuals probably already have personal security for other places and should continue it during recreational activities.  Your usual bodyguards are usually well qualified to handle urban situations but they may not have the experience and expertise to deal with recreational activities so you might want to seek someone who specializes or at least has experience in that area.

RV Risks.  The highest risks associated with RVs have to do with driving them.   While RVs are purported to enjoy a lower accident rate than ordinary vehicles, they are still subject to the same traffic patterns and failures -- and their size and weight introduce additional factors their drivers need to take into consideration.  That doesn't mean you should be timid or fearful driving your RV.  Quite the opposite.  You need to be confident and aware.  Many RV dealers and owners clubs offer RV driving classes.   If you're new to driving an RV or lack confidence, taking one of these courses would be helpful.  It may even save you money on your insurance.  Being mindful of the size and weight of your rig will help you avoid potential hazards.   Your RV is much taller than your family car so watch for overhead obstacles like branches and street signs.  Even experienced RVers sometimes forget or misjudge a clearance, often with expensive consequences.   One Class C owner decided to drive into a parking structure to avoid walking in the rain.  His rig cleared the warning sign at the entrance, but a little further in he got tightly wedged under a low beam and severely damaged his air conditioner.   I ripped the A/C off my enclosed motorcycle trailer at one of my daughter's desert races when I drove under low hanging branch in the pit area.   A motorhome or trailer is usually about 8' wide.  With mirrors on motorhomes they need at least 10-12' clearance.   I once got squeezed by traffic in a small town and knocked one of the mirrors off my Class A motorhome by hitting a street sign along the curb.   Look ahead and plan your path to avoid tight spots and traffic that might force you into a tight spot.  In my case I'm sure I did the right thing. Losing a mirror was a lot less traumatic and expensive than a head-on collision!  Weight will affect stopping distance and how sharply you can turn.   Even if you don't tip over, weight may not let you turn as tightly as you would with a smaller vehicle.  Once again, plan ahead -- slow down and give yourself plenty of room.  Be especially careful on wet or snowy roads.  Wet roads have 50% less traction than dry ones.   Snowy or icy ones reduce traction to near zero.   Traction affects acceleration, turning, and stopping.  Because an RV has many if not all of the features and systems of a home, you also have many of the risks you face at home, including fire.  Because of the fuel (motor fuel for a motorhome and propane for motorhomes, trailers, and campers) you have an even higher probability of an explosion than you normally have at home.  Inspect your fuel systems regularly to ensure you have no leaks.   If you smell propane inside your RV or the propane alarm goes off, GET OUT and leave the door open.   Avoid anything that might cause spark, even turning lights on or off.  Propane alarms usually don't false alarm, but sometimes they can be set off by the volatiles in perfume, after shave, and cologne.  My dad discovered that flatulence from his little dog, whose favorite napping spot was near the propane detector, set it off.  But until you KNOW FOR SURE it isn't a propane leak, treat it like one whenever the alarm goes off.  Keep one or more fire extinguishers easily accessible.  RVs are required to have at least one fire extinguish and they're usually quite small, intended primarily for little cooking fires.   Keep one near the galley.  I also carry a larger, commercial size fire extinguisher for an added measure of safety.   It won't put out the flames if the whole rig is involved, but it could handle an engine fire if used soon enough.  If the fire is too large for you to handle, get you and your family out and away from the unit as quickly as possible.  Any fire larger than a waste basket requires professional firefighting equipment and techniques.  Your RV can be replaced. Lives can't.  And be sure to get a safe distance away.  Propane and other fuel tanks can explode with extreme force.

OHV risks.  Non-riders see OHV users as risk takers.   Certainly the popular media have done their share to promote this image.  OHV crashes make spectacular videos, safe riding isn't nearly as entertaining.  While it is true there are some risks associated with riding any OHV, most of the risks are under rider control.  Exercising reasonable caution, developing your skills, and wearing proper protective gear will significantly reduce your chances of being injured.  Like any situation involving vehicular traffic, you may be the victim of someone else's carelessness, but most of what might happen is under your control.   You can minimize your risk of falling prey to someone else's folly by staying alert when you are riding and watch for other traffic.  Make sure you are riding legally and in control.  Many self-inflicted accidents are due to riders failing to recognize and ride within their current limits.  That doesn't mean you can't have fun or shouldn't learn new skills and grow.  It just means you should do it carefully.   Don't blindly follow an expert rider up a technically difficult trail you aren't qualified to handle.  Seek instruction from competent riders to guide you in developing your skills.  Experienced riders make things like wheelies and jumping doubles look easy -- and perhaps for them it is.  But in reality it has taken them a lot of training and practice so don't expect to be able to just do it.  My own kids were anxious and impatient to emulate their favorite Supercross stars.   It took some leaning on them to get them to take time to work up to some of more technical maneuvers.  You don't want to completely suppress your kids -- or your own -- desire to master the fun stuff.  But you do want to keep it fun, and getting hurt is NOT fun!  I asked my kids to back off just 1/2 of 1 percent.  It is often that last little push that takes them over the edge.   We also learned to avoid making "just one last jump" or climbing "one last hill" or taking "one last ride" at the end of an outing.  Seems like those were often the times when things got out of control and resulting in damage to vehicles and riders.  Wearing proper personal protective equipment is also something that is fully under a rider's control and goes a long way toward preventing unnecessary injuries.  Never, ever ride without a helmet and goggles.  Proper boots and knee protection are also necessary.  You should also wear gloves and elbow pads and a chest protector.  My first chest protector didn't have shoulder pads and I ended up breaking a collar bone in a rather mundane crash.  Some riders don't like the shoulder pads because they get in the way of your full face helmet when turning your head, but personally, I think the restriction is well worth the extra protection.  My broken collar bone was the result of my full face helmet effectively judo-chopping  my collar bone as I tucked and rolled when my bike and I parted company on a smooth, flat dry lake bed.  The main thing that will keep you safe, is to THINK!

Other Activities, like boating, swimming, hiking, or horseback riding, each require their own appropriate safety equipment and procedures.  Equestrian helmets aren't as fashionable as cowboy hats, but they offer a lot more protection if you get thrown off your horse!   Head injuries from equestrian accidents exceed those from motorcycle accidents, yet, for some reason, there is no public outcry for an equestrian helmet law.   Life jackets or other approved flotation devices are required in most regulated boating areas and are simply common sense wherever you go on the water.   Hunting and fishing each have their own risks and safety concerns.  Hunters are encouraged to wear bright orange clothing to make themselves visible to other hunters so they don't become targets.  Always make sure you have a clean shot at any target.  Fishing accidents can occur when you fall into the water or you may be injured by your own or someone else's fish hooks.  Fly casting safety requires you maintain an adequate distance from other fisherman, spectators, and any obstacles that might snag your line.  Hiking protocols dictate staying on designated trails and watching where you step. Remember that prey follows trails, predators parallel trails.  If you suspect you are being stalked by a predator, you may want to get off the trail for a short time, maybe just stop and take a break and give the animals time to find other opportunities.  Avoid stepping over rocks or logs that could conceal a snake or other creature who might bite you.   Don't run, especially on steep or rocky or twisty trails or if there are predators around.  Running tells a predator that you are 'prey' and may encourage them to attack.  You are very unlikely to outrun any predator.   If you encounter a predator, like mountain lion or a bear, move slowly to the side.   Do not turn your back on them.  You need to keep an eye on what they're doing.  Never, ever get between an animal and its young or approach the young!   Even normally shy creatures like deer can get aggressive if they think you are a threat to their young.  Often it is helpful to make yourself appear as big and scary as possible to discourage predators.  Just don't do anything that would seem like you're threatening them -- or their young.

Camping risks.   Most of the risks you face camping are under your control.  Campers have accidents chopping wood, building fires, cooking, hiking, and setting up their tents.   Most of these accidents can be avoided using proper safety procedures.  Make sure your axe or hatchet is in good condition.  Hold it by the head and swing it 360 to make sure there are no people or obstacles that my interfere with your swing before chopping wood.  Use a stick to hold piece of wood you want to split instead of chopping near your fingers!  Build your campfire correctly.   Clear away an combustible materials for at least 5' around the fire.  Avoid the use of gasoline or other accelerants to start your fire. If you must use accelerants, do so with caution.  Don't build too big a fire.  Watch for and control blowing sparks.   Don't build a fire under low-hanging branches.   Use proper implements and heavy gloves or "hot pads" when cooking on the campfire.  Know and use proper procedures when using a camp stove.  Be aware of your surroundings when hiking.  Wear appropriate footwear.   Watch where you're walking.   Stay back from the edge of cliffs or embankments.  Even if they look safe, they might collapse and send tumbling into a ravine or river.   Use proper procedures setting up your tent. Be careful not to poke someone in the eye with the end of a tent pole.  Wear heavy leather gloves and be careful when driving stakes.  Many a hand has been smashed trying to drive tent stakes.  Hold the stake low while getting it started to keep your hand as far away as possible from where the hammer will strike.   Tap gently to get the stake started in to the soil.  Once it will stand up by itself you can remove your holding hand and strike harder to set the stake.   Animals pose a threat to campers in some areas.  The most common are bears that have become semi-dependent on campers for food and hang around campgrounds like Yogi Bear, looking for an unattended picnic basket.   Put your food in bear-proof containers to lock in in your vehicle or hang it high in a tree to discourage would-be furry free loaders.  Check with the local rangers about potential animal threats.  Mountain lions are known to frequent some locations.   In the wild, most animals well steer clear of humans, but in many popular campgrounds they have become all to familiar and comfortable with human visitors.  Never get between a mother animal and her offspring!  Even Bambi's mom can deliver a fatal attack via a head butt or sharp hooves.   Fire will help keep most animals way at night.  Loud noise may scare them off.  In most cases, running is not recommended.  When you run you seem like prey and the animal's instinct is to chase you.  It is unlikely you'll be able to outrun a bear or mountain lion. Poisonous snakes and insects are also a potential danger to campers.  If you're allergic to bees, carry an epi-pen in case you get stung.   Avoid reaching into places (hollow logs, under rocks, logs, or tree roots, or "snake holes") where poisonous creatures might lurk.

If, for any reason, you feel the need for personal protection while camping, make sure you check out the local laws and campground regulations about carrying weapons.   Laws and regulations vary considerably from location to location and could change at any time.  If you -- or anyone on your staff -- do opt to carry any kind of weapons, be sure they are properly trained and have the proper licenses and/or permits.  Adequate training goes beyond simply learning how to operate a device.  You may have seen the movie "The Mask of Zorro" in which the young, soon to be Zorro is asked if he knows how to use a sword, to which he replies "The pointy end goes in the other man".  While he understood the basic functionality, at that point he lacked the necessary skills to handle the weapon properly and achieve satisfactory results.  You need to know when and how to use it safely and prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to react appropriately if you are threatened.   If you choose to carry a weapon, you must be prepared to use it.  Hesitation can allow your assailant to turn your weapon against you or give them time to use theirs.   In an emergency, a can of wasp spray can be nearly as effective in thwarting an attack as tactical chemical sprays -- and no license or permit is needed to carry a can of wasp spray in your RV or other vehicle.  With a range of 15-20 feet, they can even keep potential threats further away than pepper spray or mace, which typically has a range of about 5'.  If you think you need a firearm, consider ALL of the ramifications of owning and using one.  Learn how to use it and how to care for it and how to store it safely.  Educate yourself about legal ways you can use it.  Prepare yourself mentally for potential encounters.   Practice, practice, practice!  Remember that under the stress of a live situation the accuracy of even the best marksmen is about half as good as target practice.

A non-lethal alternative to carrying a handguns is a device called a bean bag gun.   Bean bag ammunition fired from a 12 gauge shotgun has been used by law enforcement as a non-lethal alternative for more than 50 years.  A device known as the ARMA-100 is now available to the general public.  It is powered by nitrogen or CO2 cartridges and can be legally carried in all 50 states.  It is designed to disable an attacker up to 20 feet away and give you time to escape.  You can check it out and even order one at www.armausa.com.  Please enter LS2015 in the coupon code if you make a purchase.

Your best defense against the risks of RVing, OHVing, and camping is common sense. Unfortunately, often there is nothing so rare as common sense.  Think things through and consider possible undesirable consequences and what you can do to mitigate them.  Avoid dangerous or suspicious situations.  Always use appropriate safety equipment and exercise correct procedures for any and all activities you engage in.

And remember, YOU are personally responsible for YOUR safety!

Be safe!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

When to call an RV technician

Throughout the articles in this blog we have often advised calling a qualified RV technician. Realizing that can be an inconvenient and sometimes expensive proposition, here are some guidelines about what you can do BEFORE resorting to seeking professional assistance.  While these recommendations are aimed primarily at RV owners, tent campers may find some tips applicable to dealing with their equipment too.  I strongly encourage everyone to do whatever they can to diagnose and correct their own problems before calling a repairman.  If you know what the problem is you will be in a better position to determine if it is something you can fix or if you need to call a professional. Is is pretty sad and embarrassing -- expensive -- when you pay for a service call only to discover you forgot to turn on the main propane valve or plug in your generator!  Many times you can solve your own problems and save the cost and embarrassment of a service call.   However, ignoring problems that do require an RV tech or trying to solve them yourself can be even more costly and embarrassing in the long run.  Any time you encounter a situation you AREN'T SURE you are qualified to handle, call for professional help or seek advice from more experienced fellow campers.  Having it done right is often much less expensive than dealing with collateral damage from foiled repairs.

Choosing an RV technician.   Try to find a technician or company that is licensed and bonded.  That may not always be possible in remote locations or when resorting to mobile technicians who can come to your site.   Avoid having any major repairs done by an unlicensed technician. For mechanical repairs on a motorhome, seek a repair shop that is qualified to work on the chassis for your unit. GM/Chevrolet dealers and repair shops are appropriate for Workhorse and P-30 chassis.  Ford dealers and mechanics are your best bet for Ford chassis.  Dodge chassis were popular foundations for motorhomes for many years.  Some big diesel motorhomes have custom-built chassis so you may need to focus on the major components that need service.  Cummins and Caterpillar diesel engines are fairly common as are Allison transmissions and there are repair shops that specialize in these brands.   However, while chassis dealers can usually deal effecetively with mechanical problems, you will probably need a qualified RV technician to handle issues with other RV systems.

General guidelines.   First of all, always check for the obvious and simple problems before resorting to calling for help.   If you don't have any water at your faucets or to flush the toilet, make sure there is water in the tank and the pump is working or you are connected to city water, the faucet is turned on, and the hose isn't kinked.  Also make sure you haven't parked on your water hose.  I've seen folks do that and then complain to the campground manager about not getting any water.  Check the water pump switch, fuse, and connections.  Also make sure your batteries aren't dead.  If your power goes out, check to make sure you are still plugged in and then check the circuit breakers . You'd be surprised how many times the shore power cord wiggles loose or gets tripped over and disconnected.  For electrical problems in general, always check connections and make sure switches are turned on, then check fuses and circuit breakers.   Lighting problems are most often just a burned out bulb or a loose connection, both things you can easily resolve yourself.

Fresh water problems are often quite simple to diagnose and fix.  If you're connected to city water, make sure the faucet is turned on and that water is available at the faucet.  Then look for and correct any kinks or other blockage in your fresh water hose.  If water is available at some fixtures but not others, the screen in the faucet itself may be clogged.  The screen/diffusers on most faucets have tiny holes that can be fairly easily clogged by debris in water or hard water deposits.   Just cleaning the screen/diffuser may solve water delivery problems.  Simply unscrew the retainer where the water comes out of the faucet and clean the screen inside.  You can usually remove debris by brushing or back-flushing the screen/diffuser.  Hard water deposits may require soaking the component in something like Lime-away, CLR or vinegar, then cleaning the holes with a pin.  If you're dry camping and depending on your water pump and fresh water tank, the first thing to check is whether the pump is turned on.  Also check the pump fuse and both hot and ground connections to the pump.  If the pump runs but you don't get any water, your fresh water tank is probably depleted.  If you're out of water your only solution is to get more.  Avoid running out of water by monitoring and limiting usage when dry camping -- and by bringing along reserves in portable containers.  If your pump continues to run after you have shut off all fixtures or cycles when you're not using any water you probably have a leak somewhere.  Listen for a hissing sound and watch for wet spots.   If you discover a loose connection you may be able to tighten it to solve your problem.  If the leak is due to a damaged line or a connection that can't be tightened, you will need to replace the affected section of the plumbing that might be a job for a qualified RV technician.  Sometimes you might experience leaks when connected to city water but not when using your on-board fresh water tank and pump.  This is usually due to high water pressure at the city water source.  It is always a good idea to use a pressure regulator.   These are inexpensive and portable.   They fit in line with your fresh water hose and simply screw onto the faucet. I suggest installing it at the faucet so your fresh water hose is also protected and so the regulator isn't sticking out from the side of your RV. If you find you have a high pressure problem and don't have a pressure regulator, you might get by temporarily by partially closing the faucet to restrict the flow and reduce the pressure.  Getting only a trickle of water in the shower may be inconvenient but it beats the frustration and damage that can result from an uncontrolled leak.

Sewer system problems can range from bad odors to horrific spills and backups.  Bad odors can usually be avoided by proper dumping and maintenance of the holding tanks.  Make sure you have a water seal in the toilet -- keep the deep well of the toilet about half full -- and have water in the P-traps on sink and shower drains.  Dump about a cup of water down each drain if odors are emanating from the drain.   Drain odors are most common on the road or shortly after arriving in camp.  Movement can cause the water normally trapped in the drain to be lost, allowing odors back into the coach from the holding tank.   Back ups are another common problem.  They are usually due to owners not monitoring holding tank status and failing to dump the tanks before they get full.   Another common cause of sewer odors is a plugged vent.  Damage to sewer lines, holding tanks, and dump valves can seldom be repaired in the field.   Because of the difficulty of evacuating holding tanks if the valves or lines are damaged you will probably need the assistance of a qualified RV technician to deal with these situations.  If you have to handle it yourself, you'll need some kind of pan or container under the affected plumbing to catch the sewage for subsequent disposal.   Some cracked tanks and sewage lines can be repaired but often replacement is the best solution.  Leaking dump valves can sometimes be rebuilt by replacing the seals but broken valves will have to be replaced.  Since you have to completely remove the valve to replace the seals, it is often better to replace the valves.

Propane system problems can be difficult to diagnose without special tools but there are some common problems you should check before you call the repairman.   First, make sure your main supply valve is turned on and you have propane in your tank.   Check the burners on hot water heaters, refrigerators, furnaces, etc, to be sure they are clear of debris.  If you have plenty of propane, the main valve is turned on, and the burners are clear of debris and nothing works, you are probably going to need to replace the regulator or call a technician.  If all appliances are affected, it is probably a problem with the regulator.   If you are a moderately good handyman, you can probably replace the regulator if you can find one.   Another common problem, especially on older appliances, is a failed thermocouple.  I have done field replacements of thermocouples on older propane appliances.   It is a fairly easy task requiring only simple tools.  I usually carry one or two spares in my RV tool kit.  The thermocouple is a tube that extends into the flame of the burner and has a wire coming out the other end.  Heat on the thermocouple generates a small electric current that keeps the gas valve open.   If the flame goes out, the current stops and the gas is shut off.  A bad thermocouple will prevent the main gas valve from opening.  If you smell propane in or around your rig, avoid open flames and sparks and try to locate the source.  Sometimes in hot weather, expanding gas in the tanks or cylinder will be vented through a pressure relief valve.   This does not require any repairs but does demand caution until the gas dissipates to avoid an explosive situation.  This is usually the result of over-filling and shouldn't happen if the tanks are properly filled.  Unexplained odors may be coming from a leak in a gas line or appliance and can be very dangerous.  You can test visible lines and connections using a soapy water solution.  You might be able to tighten loose connections but a damaged line or fitting will have to be replaced.   The regulators on your permanently mounted tanks or the ones you connect to your portable tanks are also subject to failure.   If you can determine the regulator has failed you can probably replace it yourself, but a sure diagnosis may take specialized test equipment and techniques by a qualified technician.  Propane appliances need the correct pressure to operate correctly.  The only way to verify the gas pressure is using a manometer, which is a device something like a barometer that measures the gas pressure.  Too high or too low a pressure and your appliances won't work.  The pressure is controlled by the regulator, which reduces the high pressure of the propane tank to the lower pressure required by your appliances. A faulty regulator may fail to deliver any gas or may deliver too high a pressure.  Either condition must be corrected for appliances to function properly.  Regulators are not adjustable.  If the pressure isn't right, they have to be replaced.

Generator problems could be in the engine that powers the generator or in the generator itself. However, a very common problem that does NOT require a technician, is failure to connect the RV 120-volt system to the generator.  Some RVs have auto transfer switches that switch between shore and generator power automatically.  In those that do not, the shore power cord must be plugged in to the generator receptacle.  It is surprising how often folks fail to perform this simple step.  If the generator engine stops unexpectedly, it may be out of fuel or low on oil.  Most have low-oil shut-off switch that shuts down the engine if the oil gets low.  Always check the oil and fuel levels before calling a repairman . Also check the fuel filters. A dirty fuel filter can block fuel to the engine.  The fuel pickup on motorhomes is placed so the generator will run out of fuel when the tank is still about 1/4 full, so you don't get stranded by running the generator.  So the generator may run out long before the gauge says "Empty".   If the motor runs but you get no power first make sure the power cord is properly connect to the generator either via an auto transfer switch or by plugging the shore power into the generator receptacle.  Then check the circuit breakers on the generator itself and the circuit breakers in the panel in your RV.   A temporary overload may have caused a breaker to trip.  To reset most breakers you merely turn them to the OFF position, then back to ON.  If breakers keep popping you'll need to isolate the load that is overloading the circuit.  This is usually due to using too many appliances on the same circuit at the same time but could be due to a wiring problem, like a chafed wire or one that has been inadvertently penetrated by a screw or nail.  Loose connections can sometimes cause overloads too.

Entertainment systems in RVs are often very similar to the ones at home.   Check for loose connections on power cords and between components.  Balance problems on stereo equipment is sometimes due to bad speakers.  You can test this by swapping the connections.  If the problem moves to the other side, it is internal to the system.  If the problem stays on the same side, it is likely a problem with the speakers or wiring on that side.   Faulty power can wreck havoc with electronic equipment.  Low voltage is an all too common problem in some older campgrounds and a poorly adjusted or malfunction generator may not deliver proper power.   Frequency meters are more expensive than simple volt meters but they let you know if your AC power is correct.  Standard AC power should be at a frequency of 60 cycles per second.   That means it switches directions 60 times a second.   If you don't have a frequency meter you can get an idea of whether your power is operating at the right frequency using an electric clock.  Compare the time on the electric clock with your watch or cell phone.  If the clock runs faster, the frequency is too high.  If it runs slower, the frequency is too low.  There isn't much you can do about poor power (bad frequency or low or high voltage) at a campground except report it to the manager and disconnect your vehicle.  If your generator isn't working properly, you'll need to have it adjusted by a competent technician who has the proper equipment and can adjust the motor to create the proper frequency.

Can't get your vehicle started?  If your starting battery is low but you can run your generator you may be able to connect a battery charger to charge your starting battery.  Some motorhomes have special switches to jumper the coach and starting batteries for a built in jump-start.  If yours does not have one, you might be able to have one added by a knowledgeable mechanic or RV technician.   In an emergency in a remote location you might be able to swap batteries from your coach or trailer into your vehicle.   I assisted a fellow camper in swapping batteries in his truck/camper combination when he inadvertently ran his starting battery down.  Surprisingly, he had no idea the camper battery could be used to start his truck.  Of course, in order to swap batteries, they must be of compatible voltage. You can temporarily use a 12-volt deep cycle battery as a starting battery, but if you have a pair of 6-volt golf cart batteries for your coach, you'd need to use both in series to create 12 volts so you may need to use your jumper cables to tie your coach batteries to your starting battery to get you going Unless your alternator is bad, once you get your vehicle engine started, it should charge your starting battery -- unless the battery is beyond help.  Always check your fuel level.  If you are out of fuel you might have to call your Emergency Road Service for a fuel delivery to get you going.  If you have extra fuel with you for motorized toys, you might be able to use that to get you to a gas station.  In a pinch I've burned 2-stroke pre-mix fuel in my truck.  It smoked a little from the oil mixed in the gas, but it got us to town to buy fuel.  NEVER mix gasoline and diesel!   Although both are derived from petroleum, they are NOT compatible.  If you aren't certain about your options, consult your fellow campers.  Chances are someone will have the necessary experience and skills or may have had a similar problem and be able to assist you.

Mechanical problems will often require the services of a competent mechanic.   Knowing when to call one can be tricky.   Major problems like engine knocking or grinding noises in the drive train will probably send you to the nearest mechanic without hesitation.  Some simple repairs may be within the skills of any good do-it-yourself home mechanic, but there is also the possibility of creating additional damage if you attempt repairs you are not qualified to handle.   If possible, develop a relationship with a mechanic you can trust who can give you good advice about things you might be able to solve yourself.  If he tells you to call a professional, do it.  Attempting repairs you don't have the right tools or experience to handle can cost you a lot more in the long run than having it done right in the first place.   I once opted to rebuild the engine in one of our small dirt bikes rather than pay the motorcycle shop about $400 to do it.   The parts I needed were less than $200. Having rebuilt several dirt bikes engines previously, I felt comfortable attempting it myself.  Turns out for this engine there was a special jig needed to separate and reassemble the cases and I ended up having to take the machine to the dealer to get the job finished.  By the time I was done I spent over $500 on repairs that could have been done in half the time for $400 if I'd taken it to the shop in the first place. Some simple problems most do-it-yourselfers CAN handle are repairing or replacing leaky radiator or heater hoses -- assuming your have replacement hoses, proper tools (usually just a screwdriver or two), and some knowledge and skill.  You may also be able to replace dirty fuel filters.   I once had a motorhome that had been in storage for several years and the fuel tank was badly corroded.   I had to replace the fuel filter multiple times in a 2-day trip from Eugene, Oregon to Los Angeles, California.

Help yourself!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Emergency Road Service

If you do any traveling, especially with an RV, you will appreciate the benefits of Emergency Road Service.   Sometimes it is an option on your vehicle insurance policy or you can buy it from an auto club or RV club.  We've used both AAA and Good Sam Emergency Road service programs over the years and found both to be excellent.

Benefits of Emergency Road Service include changing a flat tire, dealing with a dead battery, out of fuel, and towing for disabled vehicles.  The service you purchase for your car will probably not cover your RV (motorhome or trailer) unless you get an upgrade for RV coverage.   Good Sam Emergency Road Service covers your RVs and all your other vehicles.  Be sure to read the covered services so you don't get surprised by exclusions or additional charges.  Most emergency road service plans cover tire changing, jump starts, and delivery of up to 5 gallons of fuel but other repair services or extra fuel are usually not covered.  Towing of disabled vehicles may be have specific limits.  Sometimes there may be a mileage limit, sometimes they must be towed to the nearest repair facility.  For the best protection, look for a plan with unlimited towing to the facility of your choice.   Emergency Road Service is particularly helpful for large RVs. I  can change a tire on my car or my truck/camper myself if I have to, but I don't have the equipment or the strength to handle the tires on my 40' Class A motorhome.  I've even seen the time when a tow truck operator with special tools couldn't loosen the lug nuts on my motorhome without getting it back the shop where he had a 3/4" drive air impact wrench.  Big motorhomes require something like a 10 ton jack to lift a wheel high enough to be changed.  And big RV tires weigh about 100 lbs or so each so they're not easy to move.  You should be able to call your service using an 800 number and they'll send out a contracted service provider to take care of you.  If they don't have any contractors in your area, they may locate a non-contracted provider.   If that happens, you will probably have to pay for service at the time rendered and submit a claim for for reimbursement.

Costs of Emergency Road Service vary from provider to provider so it may pay to shop around. Introductory rates of around $79.95 are often available but normal annual fees are typically around $120.   That is pretty reasonable. I've seen the cost of having a tire changed in a remote recreational area run $350 because of travel time and distance so ERS is very cost effective.

Service limits may apply.  Many tow services will not service off-road locations or may charge extra if they leave the pavement.   If you're going to be camping in remote areas, make sure your Emergency Road Service policy covers the locations you'll be going to.  Some limit towing distance and will only cover towing to the nearest authorized repair facility.  Some have flat mileage limits and will charge extra if you exceed the limits.   But there are policies that offer unlimited towing, which is nice if you break down 200 miles from home and want your vehicle towed to your favorite, trusted mechanic.   On-the-road repairs can be expensive and you might not trust unknown technicians.  I have to say that I did have a VERY pleasant experience in Midland, Texas a few years ago.  The transmission went out in my 23' Class C motorhome and we were about 1200 miles from home.  We were put in touch with an older gentleman who said he could get us back on the road the next day.  I was somewhat skeptical when the tow truck brought us down a dusty dirt road to an ordinary garage next to a residence but my fears were definitely unfounded.  This gentlemen his two friends pulled out our damaged transmission, rebuilt it, and had it ready to roll again in about 3 hours! He stuck to his original cost estimate even when he discovered there were "hard parts" inside the transmission that had to be replaced -- and even apologized for using used parts instead of new ones (which would have been very expensive).  He had some old transmissions around from which he was able to scavenge the necessary parts.  We never had any problems with that transmission after that. On the other hand, there is enough evidence of unscrupulous repair facilities that you do need to be leery.  Readers Digest once sent a mature couple on a drive from New York to Florida in a brand new car with the goal of testing how well travelers were treated by local service facilities.   They were told to accept any reasonable seeming repair "suggestions" along the way.  As a result, they had the tires, shock absorbers, and radiator hoses replaced multiple times -- all on a brand new car!  They found mechanics who sprayed oil on shocks to make them seem like they were leaking and one guy who had a ring with a spike on it that he used to puncture good radiator hoses when he "tested" them.  So there are scams and shysters out there.  If you have to get repairs on the road seek recommendations from locals you can trust.   And look for recognized certifications to be sure their technicians are qualified to work on your vehicle.  If you don't know anyone in the area, try checking with gas station attendants or local law enforcement for suggestions.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is more than just an old saw.   Even with Emergency Road Service your trip timing will be altered because it will take time to contact them, for them to send out a technician, and for the technician to get you back on the road.  To avoid the inconvenience and delays, keep your vehicle in good condition.   Perform required maintenance religiously and check your tires, belts, and hoses before every trip.  Keep an eye on your fuel consumption to avoid running out of gas and watch your 12-volt power usage to avoid running your batteries down.   With nominal attention to these details you can avoid many of the situations that might otherwise result in an ERS call.   Your ERS provider may limit the number of calls in a policy period.  Poor maintenance can result in frequent outages and you may find your service suspended if it appears that you are abusing it.  Or, more likely, they may refuse to offer renewals if you make too many calls in one policy year.  After all, you purchase a full year of service with your initial premium so they're obligated to take care of you but there is no promise of renewal.  You may want to use your ERS only as a last resort, for things you can't take care of yourself, so you'll always have them when you really need them.

Renewals are usually more or less automatic, but be sure to watch for and pay the renewal notice on time.   You may even need to follow up to make sure the payment was received.   If you don't receive a new card within a few weeks, look into it.   I had AAA coverage for decades, then one year, my online banking screwed up my payment and AAA never received it.   I didn't realize my coverage had lapsed until my wife needed road service and was denied.   By then I found the reinstatement costs were excessive and I switched to Good Sam Emergency Road Service, taking advantage of an "introductory price".

Keep on truckin'!

Getting Started Camping or RVing

Knowing where to start is the first step toward becoming a camper or an RVer.  Of course, the very first choice is whether you want to try camping in some form at all.  Then you'll need to decide whether to begin tent camping or look for an RV right away.   No one can tell you which way to go. That decision depends on your personal preferences and your current circumstances.  Budget is often a significant factor for new comers.  With that in mind, tent camping is usually the least expensive way to start.   And much of the equipment you acquire for tent camping can be used later on if/when you graduate to some kind of RV.  However, any physical or medical constraints might limit your tent camping options.  Some ailments do not respond well to setting up tents and sleeping on the ground.   Careful shopping for a used RV can get you a real bargain.  Truck campers, camping trailers, and tent trailers can often be obtained for a few hundred dollars to get you started.  RVs of all kinds are available as rentals so you should be able to easily find one to try out for a weekend or two before spending money on your own unit.  Car camping is a good way to get started.   If you have a pickup or SUV you can probably get a tent that fits your vehicle -- or just sleep in the back of your truck or SUV.  If you think you might like RVing, consider renting or borrowing an RV of the type you are interesting in and trying it out before you dump a pile of money into an RV of your own. You can rent just about any type of RV, from tent trailers to luxury motorhomes.   Try out a few options to help you decide which is right for you.  Observe other campers each time you go out and see what they're using and what works for them.   If you find yourself envying what someone else is using, rent a similar rig for your next outing and see if its as much fun as it seems to be.   Sometimes you'll discover hidden support or maintenance tasks that out weigh the apparent benefits of expensive equipment.  Setting up and taking down that really roomy tent someone is using may be more trouble than its worth.

Camping basics.  Keep in mind pioneers, mountain men, and cowboys got by with far less than we often consider the bare minimum for today's camping adventures.   A cowboy carried everything he needed in his bedroll and saddlebags. Y ou might consider that as a starting point, but for convenience and for health and food safety, there are some other things you might put on your initial equipment list.   Here is what I would suggest as fundamental equipment for today's campers:

    Tent or other shelter (RV?)
    Sleeping bags, bedroll,or RV bedding
    Ice chest or RV refrigerator
   Camp stove or portable BBQ
    First aid kit
    Axe or hatchet

To this you will probably want to add some cleaning supplies for washing you and your dishes and some toilet paper.  Paper towels are another fundamental asset.   Later on you may want to add camp chairs and other conveniences, like an umbrella or dining fly for shade.  Much of what you will find desirable will become obvious as you get some outings under your belt -- and see what makes things nicer for other campers.

The size and style of tent will depend on how many people you need to shelter and what kind of activities you will be engaged in.  A one-man backpacking tent is good for hiking and backpacking but you'll need a much larger family tent if there will be more than just one of you.  Truck and SUV tents that attach to your vehicle are often very stable and very convenient.

Sleeping bags or bedrolls are essential items for tent camping.  Proper linens and bedding or sleeping bags are needed for your RV beds.  After all, we spend at least 1/3 of our lives sleeping and a comfortable bed is essential to getting adequate rest to sustain us in our daytime activities.   Sleeping bags are more convenient and usually warmer than carrying a bunch of blankets, but a cowboy style bedroll will do the job.  You'll need a tarp at least 3' longer than you are tall and about 9' wide. Lay out your blankets so they cover the middle 1/3 of the tarp. Fold each side over to provide a waterproof top 2 layers thick.  A little of the extra length should be tucked under the foot of the bedroll.   The rest can be set up as a little canopy over your head.  With a cowboy bedroll, you don't need a tent for sleeping, but it is nice to have one for dressing and other activities.  If you have an adequate tent, just wrapping yourself up in quilts and blankets may be sufficient but eventually you'll want to get sleeping bags for added comfort and convenience.

Ice chests are needed if you carry any perishable foods.   The refrigerator in an RV is even better.   If you're backpacking and relying on dehydrated foods, you can skip the ice chest.  But for car camping, a good ice chest is needed for things like eggs, milk, meat, cheese, etc.  They can also be used to keep drinks cold to enhance their appeal on hot summer days.   An ice chest or refrigerator may be crucial if anyone in your group takes medication that has to be refrigerated.  You might need an ice chest even if you have an RV with a refrigerator.  It is a good place to store cold drinks and avoid having to open the refrigerator too often.

Camp stove or portable BBQ gives you more convenience in cooking your meals but unless you run into fire restrictions you can get by cooking on a campfire.  Of course, if you have an RV, it will probably have a propane range, but you may still want a camp store and/or BBQ for cooking outside. Cooking directly on your campfire is always an option, but you have more control over temperatures and cooking time with a stove.  Camp stoves basically come in two forms: gasoline and propane.   The gasoline models usually use white gas or Coleman camping fuel.   Using ordinary gas in a regular camp stove will destroy the generator that vaporizes the fuel.  There are dual-fuel models that will run on ordinary gasoline.  They are usually more expensive than the white gas models but the convenience and lower cost of using ordinary gasoline may make them worth the extra bucks. Gasoline powered stoves have to be pumped up to create pressure to deliver the fuel to the burners. Propane models are functionally the same but use bottled propane instead of gasoline so there isn't the spill hazard you have with liquid fuel.  Because the propane cylinders are already pressurized, propane models don't have to be pumped.

Lanterns or flashlights are necessary to see what you're doing after dark.  The long-time camping standard is the Coleman gas lantern.   Like camp stoves, they come in both gasoline and propane versions with the same advantages and disadvantages as their matching stove counterparts.  There are also many battery powered lanterns to choose from.  For longest bulb and battery life, choose one with LED bulbs.   Ordinary incandescent bulbs use a lot of battery power and burn hot.   You can probably get by with an ordinary flashlight but lanterns are more convenient for wide-area illumination for games, after dark maintenance tasks, and preparing, serving, and eating meals. Flashlights can be purchased cheaply.  Ordinary incandescent flashlights can be found at "dollar" stores.  They aren't very heavy duty but I like to have several on hand for convenience and to lend to the grandkids or other folks who might not give proper respect and care to my good Maglites.  My teenage son once "borrowed" a brand new Maglite to explore some caves and it came back looking like it had been in a rock tumbler for about an hour.  Sure is cheaper to replace dollar store flashlights than $30 aircraft aluminum models.

First aid kits are fundamental for most camping trips.  By its very nature, camping puts you in unfamiliar circumstances where you or your companions may be injured.  Tailor your first aid kit to the type of activities you will be involved in.  Always carry basic items like Bandaids and antiseptics. I also recommend stocking common OTC pain relievers and other medications that will aid your comfort away from home such as antacids, and anti-diahreal medications.   Also make sure your first aid training is up to date.  The most complete first aid kit will be of little value if you don't know what to do with it.  After bite remedies will greatly reduce the discomfort of insect bites and reduce the chance of infection.  The main ingredient in these is ammonia.  Ordinary household ammonia can be applied to insect bites to stop the sting and itch.  You can pick up pocket sized first aid kits for a dollar or two.   A good family-sized kit will probably run you about $25 or so. I often stock up on pocket sized kits when I find them at my local dollars store.  Then I have them for the kids and grandkids or for guests to put in their fanny packs or pockets at each outing -- and to replace the ones that inevitably and inexplicably disappear.  Often is is cheaper to replace a pocket fist aid kit than it is to restock it after its been used.

You can get started camping using things you already have or can acquire cheaply.   If you don't have a tent, pick up a cheap tarp and some rope or heavy twine and create your own minimal shelter. Some warm blankets, a few kitchen items, and a flashlight will be enough for a trial run to see if you like camping at all.  You can observe fellow campers to help you decide what other items you might like to have to enhance or make your experience more comfortable and convenient. Y ou might try things our in your own backyard before adventuring into the wild.

Our first "RV" was an old Chevy Suburban.   It had no commercial conversion.   This was way before Suburbans were even classified as SUVs.  Mine was maintenance truck for a local school district in its first life.  When I bought it, it was completely empty in the back -- all it had was the front seat.  A little creative sewing and some simple curtain rods provided curtains for the all-around windows, giving some privacy and temperature control.   Bed was just a couple of air mattresses and sleeping bags.  The galley was a Coleman gasoline stove and a plastic dish pan and a 3-gallon water jug.   Food was stored in plastic ice chest.   It certainly wasn't fancy, but it beat the heck out of having to wrestle setting up a tent after dark or in the wind!  And it didn't leak when it rained or flap in the wind.  Today's vans offer an even greater potential for home-made campers.  Even without a raised roof you can at least stand up enough to get dressed inside.  A van or an SUV makes a good vehicle for "car camping" -- tent camping out of your car.  Vans and SUVs have enough room to transport large tents and other camping equipment to ensure a comfortable outing.  They also provide a safe place to store your food and equipment and a haven from severe weather.  A pickup truck with just a shell on it works well too.  For a while I had one with a "carpet kit" for my pickup shell that included a wall-to-wall 4" foam pad that made it a very comfortable place to sleep.  When folded up it made a sofa all the way across the bed against the cab.   And the fiberglass shell and waterproof seals between it and the truck ensured a weather safe environment inside.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to start camping.  Even if you decide you want some kind of RV, careful shopping can find some real bargains.  I bought an 11 1/2' self contained camper for $100!  It was 40 some years old but in good condition and everything worked.   Sometimes you can even find units offered for free.  They'll probably need more than a little TLC, but a little work might turn a freebie into a real find.   Older tent trailers and small camping trailers can also be found for a few hundred bucks or so if you shop around.   Don't settle for some smelly, rotted out piece of junk with non-working or missing appliances.   There are enough choices out there for you to land a clean, ready-to-go unit, especially in today's economy when people are getting rid of their "toys".  Of course, if you have the skills, patience, resources, and desire you may be able to snag a really good deal on a damaged or abused unit.   Just be sure you are aware of all the damage and are comfortable with what it will take (time, resources, skills, and/or money) to make the necessary repairs.   Cosmetic damage may be ugly, but as long as it doesn't affect safety or structural integrity, you can live with it for a while.  Major structural damage could be time consuming and expensive to repair, so make sure you know what you're getting in to.   Really bad odors in an RV usually indicate poor maintenance, bad plumbing, and possibly dry rot from water damage.   Besides that, they're not pleasant to be in.  I avoid bad smelling units.  Another sign of water damage is discolored or soft spots in the floor, walls, or ceiling.  The walls of tent trailers can be expensive to replace if they are badly damaged or worn out.  If you have upholstery or sewing skills you might be able to purchase replacement material and rebuild them yourself, but it is usually not a feasible task for most of us. Sewing the canvas usually requires a heavier duty sewing machine than most people have.  You may be able to buy ready made replacement canvas for some tent trailers so that might be something to look into if you find one you like that needs canvas.  Installation of pre-sewn replacement fabric should be within the capabilities of the average do-it-yourselfer.

If you aren't sure you want to be a camper, try renting or borrowing equipment so you can check it out and get an experienced friend or neighbor to guide you on your maiden voyage.  No sense investing a bunch of money in things you won't use.  Most of us have family members, friends, or neighbors who are campers.  You may be able to tag along with them on a weekend or two, or at least get some good tips in addition to borrowing some equipment to get you started.

One last important suggestion:   find someone with experience in the type of camping  you want to do to show you the ropes and  help you out until you get comfortable with doing it on your own.  Now only will you learn a lot of significant lessons, it will be fun!

Go for it!