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.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How Often Do You/Should You Go Camping?

The simple answer to how often should you go camping is:  as often as you can!  How often you go camping will affect a lot of aspects of your camping life.  Things such as how and where you store your RV or camping gear, how much preparation it will require for each trip, how and what you do for post-trip clean-up and storage may influence how often you can go -- or how often you want to go may dictate how and where things are stored.  When you go camping will usually be determined by  the availability of discretionary time, e.g., not in school and/or not working. Where you go and what you do will determine travel time and equipment/preparation needed.  Where and how you store your equipment may affect how often you go camping and vice versa so it is a two-way street.   If everything is convenient and ready to go you may be able to take frequent spontaneous trips but if you have get your stuff out of storage across town each time, it may inhibit your urges and require a lot advance planning.   If you have no other choice but some remote location, you'll need to plan ahead.

When you go camping usually requires setting aside time and putting it on your schedule.   That is absolutely essential if you have a job or in school or have any other regular obligations.  However, even if you are retired you may need to put it on  your calendar so you don't let other distractions get in the way.  There always seems to be something that tries to demand your attention and take you away from fun activities.  It is important to realize that having fun IS an important activity itself!  We need balance in our activities to maintain health lives and it is way to easy to get caught up in routine demands that preclude our letting ourselves have fun.

The more often you go camping, the better you will do each time.   You may "get rusty" during any extended layoff.  Frequent outings will help you maintain your skills -- and have more fun!  Regular use of well maintained vehicles and equipment will usually extend their useful lifetimes.

How and where to store your RV or camping gear.  If you go camping frequently, say at least one a month, you'll want to have your RV and/or camping gear close by where you can keep it ready to go and have access to it for spontaneous trips.  If, on the other hand, you only get out a few times a year, it may be OK to store your RV in a storage yard and you might even put your camping gear in a self-storage locker if you don't have room for it at home.  Where your store your RV and camping gear may affect how often you go camping.  Sometimes zoning laws or the size of your property will force you to seek off site storage for RVs, boats, etc. If you must store things remotely, you're less likely to take spontaneous trips.  Remote storage also restricts how useful your camping gear might be in an emergency.  If you're storing your tent camping gear at home and using it frequently you'll want to have it easily accessible.  When you don't expect to be using it for several months, a less convenient or more remote location would be acceptable.   Having your RV or tent camping gear at home will make it more usable in a disaster situation.   If it is in some storage lot or private storage facility some distance away it will be of little use.

How much preparation will it require for each trip?  If you store your RV and/or camping gear at home you can more easily keep everything ready for when you want to go on an outing.  Having to make a trip to a storage yard or retrieve your stuff from a locker is going to inhibit how often and how much time you spend making sure it is ready.  When it comes time for your next outing you may need to allocate an extra day or so to retrieve and prepare your gear.  Even stuff stored in an indoor storage facility may need some extra cleaning before you can use it again.  And some equipment can deteriorate over time.   The leather gaskets in gas stoves and lanterns dry out and sometimes need to be oiled or replaced before they'll work again.   Residual fuel sometimes clogs orifices or spiders build webs in propane appliances.  Given the amount of maintenance and repairs idle equipment might need to be put back into service, give yourself plenty of time.   Don't just figure you can pick it up on the way out of town and have everything working right, even if it was the last time you used it, especially if it s been a while since its been used.

How and what you do for post-trip clean-up and storage?  If you're stuff is going to be idle for more than a month, make sure everything is properly cleaned and packed for storage.  Exposed metal parts should be lightly coated with oil or some other rust/corrosion preventative solution.  Water should be emptied from all containers.   Perishable foods and medicines should be removed.  Clothing and kitchen items should be stored in sealed plastic containers to prevent contamination from dust, insects, or vermin.  You have more latitude if you're going to be using your stuff again soon, but you should still make sure it is clean and dry before putting it into storage.   Spilled foodstuffs in RVs and on other camping equipment attract all kinds of bugs and vermin in storage.  If you're lucky, you only have extra cleaning to do, but if you're not so lucky you may suffer permanent damage to your stuff.

For many years our primary camping has centered around dirt biking.  We got out about once a month in our motorhome, so we didn't do much tent camping.   When we did decide to go tent camping, it was often quite an ordeal finding, cleaning, inspecting, and fixing everything we needed. We set up both tents in the back yard to make sure everything was there and that we still remembered how to put them together.  Good thing we did.  One of the tents was missing all its pegs and had a broken metal loop on one of the main poles.   Both were easily solved before the trip but heading out without taking care of these issues would have made for some very unpleasant problems when we got to camp.  Even kitchen items stored in plastic tubs were dusty and needed to be washed.  Since our tent camping gear hadn't been used in quite a while, it took several hours of going through where it was all stored to locate all the things we wanted to bring along.   It had been put into "long term storage" when we unpacked from our last move and we hadn't had a chance to organize it for convenient access.  Over the years we've accumulated various camping equipment, not all of which is needed for any particular type of outing.  Finding exactly what we needed for this particular trip among the mountain of stuff was tedious and challenging.  We are now in the process of reorganizing the storage so it is more logical and we'll be able to get basic components more easily.

Keep it handy!

Monday, September 24, 2012

RV, OHV, and CampingTools

The right tools make any job easier, almost fun, while not having the right tools can make even the simplest jobs frustrating, tedious, time consuming, and even dangerous. A real pain in the neck, or about 2' lower!  Guys like me love tools. My wife insists I already have way too many, but that doesn't stop me from wanting more.   Since she doesn't use them as often as I do she doesn't understand the subtle differences between different kinds of tools etc.  There is always some new tool that looks cool and makes some task easier.  Most people would expect that a simple wrench set would be sufficient for most tasks and in many cases they'd be rigth.  But specialty sets, like "stubby" or long handles wrenches each have their uses.  Stubby wrenches allow you to get into small places standard wrenches won't fit and long handled wrenches not only extend your reach, but give you extra leverage that can be helpful when removing stuck or rusted fasteners.  To a tool novice they may not seem much different, but to a true user the differences are significant.  Likewise, there are several types of pliers, each suited to different uses.  True, you can often get by with just some basic wrenches and pliers, but, as I said at the beginning, having the right tool for the job is important!

RV mechanical tools are needed to perform routine maintenance and emergency repairs on your RV while in camp or on the road. What tools do you need? That will depend partially on what kind of RV you have and how much skill and experience you have. I strongly recommend all RVers and campers to carry a basic tool kit and acquire fundamental mechanical training. RVs and tow vehicles may require SAE and/or metric hand tools so check to see which you have and make sure you're carrying the right tools to fit your vehicle. Some even have both kinds of fasteners.  A lot of the screws used in RVs may be torx head (star) or clutch head (square) instead of standard flat or Philips heads.  You will want to see what your RV has and make sure you have appropriate drivers to keep all the screws tight.  A couple of flat and Philips screw  drivers may be woefully inadquate!

OHVs often require some specialized tools in addition to a set of the right kind (SAE or metric) hand tools. Most dirt bikes and ATVs require metric tools. Check your owner's manual to see what you need. You don't need all the expensive specialty tools recommended in the shop manual for mechanics but if, for example, it takes a special tool to change a spark plug like does on our Honda dirt bikes, you should have one of those on hand.  It is virtually impossible without one.   I also like to have a pair of wire twisting pliers for installing wire to secure hand grips on my dirt bikes.  I've seen guys do it -- or try to do it -- with ordinary pliers, but the results were less than perfect.  In fact, they were less than satisfactory.

Here are my recommendations for a basic tool box. Make sure you include both SAE and metric tools depending on the fasteners on your RV and/or OHVs. Metrinch brand tools are designed to fit both SAE and Metric fasteners using a minimum number of tools. They may seem a little pricey until you compare buying both SAE and Metric sets in place of them. Good quality tools, like Craftsman, will provide many years of service and are not likely to fail. If your budget is limited, watch for Craftsman sales at Sears and K-mart or look for other quality brands like Husky at auto supply stores, hardware stores, and home centers. Harbor Freight has reasonable prices on hand tools and they offer a lifetime guarantee, so if you do break one they will replace it at no charge. I have had a few occasions to exercise their lifetime warranty, and they made good, with no hassle whatsoever. Remember, your wrenches and sockets may need to be SAE, metric, or both.

    * Combination wrench set
    * Socket set (1/2", 3/8", and 1/4 " drive)
    * Pliers (various styles)
    * Screwdrivers
    * Adjustable ("Crescent") wrenches
    * Hammer
    * Electrician's terminal pliers

Combination wrenches have an open end at one end and a six or twelve point box at the other. The box usually has 12 point configuration to fit hex nuts and allow many ways it can be positioned. Six point versions are less versatile, but may hold better. Other types of wrenches may be open end on both ends or boxes on both ends. Combination wrenches are usually more versatile and adequate for most emergency RV and OHV repairs. Some specialized versions include offset box wrenches, "stubby" wrench sets (handy for getting into tight spaces), and extra-long wrenches, which give you more torque with less effort.   Some variations to consider include "Gearwinder" style wrenches whose box end ratchets and "Crossforce" wrenches, whose handles are twisted 90° from the ends so you have a flat surface instead of a narrow one on which to put the force.  Both of these variations can make a task faster and easier than standard wrenches.

Socket sets are typically found in 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" drives. The larger 3/4" drive sets are usually only needed on heavy equipment and would be very heavy to carry around in your RV. Smaller sizes (1/4" and 3/8" drive) are used on small fasteners and in tight spaces. Larger size (usually 1/2" drive) are needed for large nuts and bolts that may be tight or rusted. Standard depth sockets work on bolts and on nuts where the bolt doesn't extend past the nut more than about the thickness of the nut. Deep sockets are needed to handle nuts on bolts that stick out way past the nut when it is tight. You may or may not need deep sockets in your RV/camp tool kit. You may have to figure out if you do on an as needed basis. To save weight and space, don't bother with deep sockets to start with. You can always add them later if you need them. To have a fairly complete tool set that can handle most situations, include deep sockets -- if you're not tight on space or weight capacity.  When you purchase sockets you may have a choice of six or twelve point sockets. Six point sockets are less likely to strip since they have large areas to contact the fastener but twelve point sockets (and wrenches) allow greater flexibility in positioning the tool. In many cases it won't matter which type you use. Only experience will tell you whether you need six or twelve point tools for a particular application. Here again, if space and weight aren't a major concern, having both gives you the most flexibility.  Another type of socket that sometimes comes in handy are u-joint or flexible sockets that allow you to access fasteners from an angle.  You can also get "wobble" extensions that give you some flexibility.  You will probably want to have short, medium and long extensions for all three socket sizes.  A breaker bar for each size may also be useful.  It allows you to get more leverage on rusted or extra tight fasteners than you can usually get with a ratchet.

Various style of pliers will come in handy.  As a minimum you'll want a good pair of 6" standard pliers.  I also like to carry a pair of 8" plies for bigger jobs.  Slip joint pliers like Channelocks are always handy for many tasks, even is lid lifters for  your Dutch oven.  Their adjustable jaw width makes them very versatile.

Power tools, like air or electric impact wrenches are a good addition to your garage at home but are probably overkill for taking on the road.  I have found that some jobs, like repairing the clutch on a dirt bike, are almost impossible with an impact wrench, but for the most part they're too big, heavy, and expensive for the average camper.  I was really pleased when I was able to pick up a cordless impact wrench on a coupon sale at Harbor Freight for my dirt bike trailer.  Another cordless tool you might find worth investing in is a drill/driver, along with a variety of screw driver and nut driver bits.

A single tool kit can satisfy both your RV and OHV mechanical needs if you make sure you have the right format (SAE and/or metric). I like to have separate tool kits in my motorhome and in my motorcycle trailer. That way, if I tow the trailer with another vehicle I have all the tools I need for my dirt bikes without having to transfer anything -- and everything is organized for convenient use. I do carry deep sockets in my motorcycle trailer, but my choices tend to lean somewhat on the overkill end of the scale.  I have found that "T" handle sockets and allen wrenches are really handy for working on my dirt bikes.  

The above basic tool recommendations can also serve as a guideline for your vehicle tool kit when tent camping since you could find yourself in a remote location and need to make emergency repairs to your car or truck to get home.

Camping tools you need are pretty much the same whether you're tent or RV camping. Here is a list of basic camping tools I suggest you consider:

    * Axe or hatchet
    * Splitting wedge
    * Pliers or multi-tool
    * Bow saw
    * Shovel
    * Knife
    * Hammer or mallet
    * Bucket or collapsible water carrier
    * Lighters
    * Gas or battery lanterns

Some really popular optional items I recommend that will improve convenience and enjoyment of your outings but might be considered equipment or gear rather than tools include:

    * Camp chairs
    * Dining fly or canopy
    * Folding camp table
    * Portable sink
    * Flashlights for each camper
    * A collapsible spring rake for clearing debris under your tent or awning mat

Over time you will identify additional tools you may want to add to your basic tool kit. If your RV uses square drive screws, carry square driver tools. If it has torx head clutch head or allen head fasteners, include the matching tools. Allen head fasteners are frequently used on OHVs so you may need a set of allen wrenches. I like the T-handle style. They're easier to use and you can get a stronger twist on stubborn bolts. If you have a lot of hex head screws, a set of nut drivers might make keeping them tight easier.  I've found that a set of -handle sockets make dirt bike repairs faster and easier. I also discovered that a pair of "fencing pliers" is helpful when camping. They double as hammer and nail/staple puller, pliers, and wire cutters. Another, rather unique tool I've found useful is something called "Meyer's Pliers". This is essentially a pair of Vice Grips married to a "C" clamp. You can attach the clamp to just about anything and use the Vice Grips to hold whatever you're working on. Always be on the look out for multiple-purpose tools. I have a pair of pliers that has a Phillips screw driver tip on the end of one handle, a flat screw driver tip on the end of the other handle, and a small hammer head welded to the outside of one of the jaws. It takes up little room in a tool box or pack and provides many useful functions. Another tool I've found useful for loosening stubborn fasteners without damaging them is a hand impact tool. These have square-drives to fit 3/8 or 1/2 inch sockets. You bang the end of the handle with a hammer to provide the "impact". A screw mechanism inside the tool transforms the impact into torque to loosen the fastener.

Multi-tools like the ubiquitous "Leatherman" are handy to have and often touted by campers and survivalists. Les Stroud, TV's "Survivorman", always carries a multi-tool on his adventures. They fit easily in a pack or pocket or can be carried in a belt pouch. The main tools include pliers and a knife, and usually have at least 1 flat and 1 phillips screwdriver blade. Other handy options may include a saw and a punch and sometimes a file.  Some even have scissors.

Knives are a staple of camping tools. An old adage says "A knifeless man is a lifeless man". Even a small pocket knife will be better than nothing, but having the right knife will make camping and survival tasks much easier. But what kind of knife is best? That is largely based on personal preference but the prevailing theme I've seen among survival experts favors a moderate sized (3 1/2 - 4") fixed blade knife like a hunting knife. No doubt you've seen the much advertised "Rambo" knives -- huge knives with a survival kit inside the handle. While they certainly have a certain level of macho appeal, most camping and survival tasks involve carving rather than heavy hacking.  You're usually better off with a smaller knife that gives you more finesse and better control.  A Swiss Army knife has lots of uses. Exercise caution when using any knife with a folding blade, even if it has a locking blade. Always keep your knives and other cutting tools sharp. Sharp tools are safer, more efficient, and easier to use than dull ones.  You're far more likely to injure yourself with a dull knife or axe than a sharp one and the wound will probably be more ragged, making it painful and slower to heal.

Regularly clean and inspect your tools. Repair or replace any that are damaged. Dirty or damaged tools can be dangerous to use and may ruin the parts you use them on. Checking them regularly also allows you to take inventory and put things back where they belong so you can find them when you need them and locate or replace anything that has been lost.

Make your tools are convenient to use. Store them in appropriate tool boxes or plastic tubs that are easy to access. I keep a small tool box with frequently used hand tools under one of the chairs in my RV. Larger, less often used tools, are relegated to a tool box in an outside compartment. When I can, I store outside tools like axes and shovels on the outside of my vehicle where they're easy to get to when it comes time to build the evening campfire or if I need them to dig a vehicle out of snow or sand.  No doubt you've seen Jeeps and other off road vehicles with axes and shovels fastened on the body.

Kitchen tools are more appropriately addressed in discussions of organizing and stocking your galley, but you will want to apply many of the same principles of selection, organization, inspection, and maintenance to ensure you have what you need, it is in good repair, and you can find it when you need it.  Consider what you normally use in the kitchen at home.   Chances are you'll find them  useful in your RV or your camp cook kit too.  Because of space and weight consideration you might want to try to get by with smaller versions of some items, giving you more room for the ones you really do use most often.  For example, I found wheel style pizza cutter for our motorhome that is about 3/4" the size of the one we normally use at home. 

Tool up!

Camping Ovens

If you have a self-contained motorhome or travel trailer chances are it has an oven.   Many RVs these days include a microwave or microwave/convection combo oven and many have a range with a gas oven.   If you're tent camping, or your RV doesn't have an oven (some RVs have only "cook tops" with 2 - 4 burners and no oven), you may have to seek other options.  Tear drop trailers usually have just a one-burner portable butane or propane stove to be used in the rear "kitchen" or you just use your own Coleman stove.  The gas oven in an RV will function pretty much like the one at home, but it's smaller size may limit how much food you can prepare at one time.  For example, you may have to bake each layer of a cake by itself, instead of doing 2 or more at a time like you might do at home.

Microwave ovens are wonderful conveniences in RVs or even tent camping if you have power. You'll need shore power from a campground pedestal or an on board or portable generator or an inverter and strong battery bank.  Microwave ovens in RVs are often installed at eye level.  Be careful removing food from the microwave.   It can be VERY hot -- hot enough to create 2nd degree burns if it spills on your skin!   That is one reason microwave instructions on many foods say to let it set for 2 minutes before serving.  The other reason is to let the food continue to cook, so don't be in too big a hurry to pull it out of the oven!  Having a convection microwave may eliminate the need for a conventional gas oven.

But what do you do when your only option is cooking on a Coleman stove or a campfire?  Coleman stoves typically have 2 or 3 burners but no oven.  Campfires are just a big batch of flames or, if you are patient enough, coals.

The Coleman Camp Oven has been a traditional camping oven solution for camp stove users for years.  It is light weight, folds to 12"x12"x2" for storage and transport, and expands to 12"x12"x12" for use on a 2 or 3 burner gas stove or an RV cook top.  You might even be able to use it on a campfire if you have a grill or grid to set it on.   It is an easy way to bake biscuits, rolls, entrees, and pizza in camp.  You might even be able to do bread, brownies, and cakes once you've gotten the hang of using it. Since it sits on top of your gas stove, it is somewhat affected by wind if you're using it outside.  Using a wind guard around the stove will improve performance on windy days.   Expect to pay $25-50 for a brand new oven or watch garage sales, thrift stores, ebay, etc to get a bargain on a used one.  Unless they have been badly bent or otherwise abused, there isn't much that can go wrong with them.   You might have to give it a good cleaning.

For a more home-like solution, Camp Chef and Coleman both sell a portable outdoor range and oven for about $200 -$300.  I've seen used ones offered on the 'Net for around $160.   This is scaled down version of your kitchen stove at home, with 2 gas burners on top and an oven with 2 racks.   It even looks like a miniature stainless steel kitchen stand alone range.  Here is a link to the Camp Chef Portable Oven.  so you can get an idea of what they are like.  Pretty luxurious.  It comes equipped to run on a standard 1 lb propane bottle but can be adapted to use larger propane cylinders.   This also makes an excellent survival stove for emergencies.   Since the oven is not dependent on an outside heat source, it isn't affected by wind but you may still need a wind guard on the top burners when the breeze picks up.   If it you have the budget for it, this is an excellent way to bring along complete cooking facilities for tent camping or for use in any RV that doesn't have a functional range and oven and as a home emergency stove. You might even find it less expensive and more convenient than replacing an RV range and oven if yours has failed.  Just be sure to provide adequate ventilation anytime you use it in an enclosed space.

Dutch ovens are always a good option when camping.  A Dutch oven is simply a cast iron (or sometimes heavy aluminum) pot with a sturdy lid.   They can be used on your gas stove or in the campfire or heated with charcoal briquettes.  You can cook just about anything in a Dutch oven but you will usually want to seek out special Dutch oven recipes for best results.  They are very adaptable and can cook almost anything from soups and stews, to one-pot main dishes, to breads and desserts.  It is common to combine meat, potatoes, and other veggies together and let them simmer for a few hours for a really easy, tender, tasty, meal.   I think of it as a pioneer crock pot.   A favorite Dutch oven dessert is a kind of "dump cake". Check the Internet for specific recipes but the general idea is to dump a can of your favorite fruit or pie filling into the bottom of the pan, dump a box of cake mix on top of it, and bake. Always line your Dutch ovens with aluminum foil to make cleanup easier, especially when cooking sticky desserts.  Dutch ovens are perfect for cooking foods that benefit from long simmering, like chili, stew, chicken, and pot roast.  Think of them as kind of a pioneer crock pot.  Set up your Dutch oven before you begin your recreational activities for the day and by dinner time you'll have a hot and tasty meal waiting to be ladled up.  You typically need charcoal underneath and on the lid.  Figure on putting one briquette on top for each inch of diameter of the Dutch oven.  A lid lifter is a handy accessory or use a pair of Channel-lok style slip-joint pliers.  The cast in loop on the lid gets very hot.

Not exactly an oven but kind of related are camp toasters.  Typically they consist of steel disk with a wire frame on top that holds 4 slices of bread for toasting.  They are inexpensive (usually under $5) and fold flat for easy transport and storage.  You need to keep a close eye on your toast to make sure it doesn't burn and you'll need to turn the toast to cook both sides, but it makes really good toast on a Coleman stove, an RV range or even a campfire.

An alternate way, with a pioneer flair, to cook breads etc is to make the dough thick and wrap it on a stick and cook it over an open flame (campfire or camp stove).  A forked stick works best.   Or heat some non-porous flat rocks in your fire until water sizzles when dropped on them and drop the dough right on the rocks.  You might even try making a stone oven of flat rocks and put your dough in there for baking.  Ash cakes can be cooked by dropping dough directly on hot coals.  It is surprising how little the coals stick to the bread but be sure to brush the ashes off the bottom before you eat them!

Solar ovens are a nice eco-friendly way to go.  And using them is easy on your pocketbook although ready-made solar ovens can be a little pricey. However, you can find numerous plans for building your own solar oven on the Internet.   Usually all you need is some cardboard and some aluminum foil.  Your only fuel is sunlight.  Not going to do much baking on rainy days, but solar ovens are an interesting and economical option for fair weather, and, after all, don't we all try to do most of our camping in fair weather?

If you are always camping with full hookups or have a generator, you could consider bringing along microwave or toaster ovens to make meals in camp more convenient even when tent camping. With today's quiet, light weight generators, they're even feasible for tent camping.   Many RVs have built in microwaves.  If yours does not, you can probably add one or just bring along a small model that can sit on the counter (see my post on Replacing or Installing a Microwave Oven for additional details).

Military field cookers might be an option for car camping, but from what I've learned about them, they're large and heavy to haul around and use a LOT of propane -- IF you can find the right regulators to make them work properly and that seems to be a common problem.  I've heard they often have regulators and orifices that aren't compatible with civilian propane systems.  Keep in mind they're literally designed to feed an army.  Individual military equipment is worth looking into for camping, but unit level stuff is mostly designed to be transported in 2 1/2 to 5 ton trucks and feed hundreds of soldiers. Probably too big, too heavy, and too expensive for most of us and way overkill unless you have a really big family or plan to frequently feed the whole campground on a regular basis.

Bake up!

Camp Stoves

 There are many  different kinds of camp stoves, ranging from tiny little fold-up, solid fuel stoves for back packing to large propane fired models capable of supporting meal preparation for dozens of people.

When most people think of a camp stove, the image of a traditional Coleman stove comes to mind.  The most popular model is a 2-burner version that is compact and yet provides a lot of capability and versatility for campers. The larger, 3-burner model gives even more capacity, but is a little heavier and takes up a little more room in your camp kit.  Coleman style stoves usually run on Coleman Fuel, also known as "white gas".  That is gasoline without any of the additives normally contained in motor vehicle fuel.  A nice option is a "dual fuel"stove that can run on white gas or ordinary regular gasoline.  Regular gasoline is less expensive, more abundant, and in an emergency you could even draw some out of your motor vehicles to run the stove.

You can buy single burner liquid fuel stoves too.  They would be good if you are short of space to carry or store them and don't need to cook in more than one pan at a time.

Single burner butane-powered camp stoves are also available.  They are somewhat smaller and lighter than the Coleman style stoves, usually a little smaller than a brief case.  The butane canister is about the size of a can of spray paint and there is usually room to carry one right inside the stove so it is pretty compact and self-contained.

Camp Chef produces a line of larger, stand-alone propane stoves for supporting meals for larger groups.  They are typically configured to run off a 5 gallon propane tank like you use for your BBQ.   These are larger stoves that come with their own legs and can easily handle very large cooking pots  They also have a variety of options available such as grill/griddles and BBQ boxes.

Both Coleman and Camp Chef offer portable stainless steel ranges that look like a smaller version of your home stove, complete with oven.  There are two top burners above the oven and the whole thing runs on propane, which can come from a small screw-on canister or a standard 5 gallon propane tank.  Stoves like this can give tent campers about the same cooking facilities as an RV range and oven but they are somewhat bulky and are not cheap, around $250-300 new, making them quite a bit more expensive than a standard Coleman camp stove.

While all of these are great options for RVers and car campers, they are all too large and too heavy for hikers and back packers.  Smaller propane stoves, sometimes nicknamed "grasshoppers" are single burner stoves that mount to a small fuel cylinder that also becomes a major part of the support for the stove.  Back packers often opt for even smaller butane powered stoves that run on a fuel canister about the size of a can of spray paint.  If that is still too big or heavy to cart around there are tiny little fold-up stoves powered by solid fuel pellets.  These are often small enough to fit in your pocket and the solid fuel pellets are safe and easy to carry.

Some folks use sterno stoves like those used by caterers to heat the large serving pans,  They also make sterno stoves especially for camping.  These are all small, inexpensive, and easy to carry, but for me the cost of sterno fuel makes them less appealing than other options. A 7oz can of sterno will last about 2 hours and cost about $7!  Sterno stoves can be used indoors, but as with any flame driven device, make sure you have adequate ventilation to avoid suffocation.

There are many types of camping stoves available so you should be able to find one (or more) to meet your camping needs.  I always try to have at least one butane single burner and one Coleman 2 burner stove in my inventory to address various situations.  I also have a large, 30,000 BTU Camp Chef 2-burner stove with grill/griddle and BBQ box I can haul around in my motorcycle trailer to support large groups.

Camp stoves cook!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tent Camping Gear Storage

You will probably store your tent camping gear in your garage, basement, or a shed.  If you live in apartment you may have to stuff it in a closet or under a bed.  Wherever you choose to store it, the area should be clean, well organized, easily accessible, and secure.   If possible, keep all your camping gear in one secure location.  You may need to store your stove, lantern and fuel separately in a well-ventilated outside shed for safety reasons.  Never store anything with fuel in it in or adjacent to a living space.  That includes gas cans, propane cylinders, and lanterns and stoves with residual fuel.

Organize your camping gear in plastic tubs to protect it from dust, pests, and weather and to make it easy to find, transport, and use.  I like to use translucent tubs so I can see a little of what is inside.  I also find it useful to label each tub with its contents using a Magic Marker or adhesive labels.  Most storage tubs have recessed lids so they stack nicely on top of each other without sliding around a lot. How you organize your stuff is up to you.  Make it easy on yourself.  Sometimes soft-sided suitcases or duffle bags may fit more easily in limited spaces.  Here are some general suggestions if you don't know where to start:

Put all your galley/kitchen stuff together in one or two tubs or bags.  I use one for big stuff like pots and pans and a second one for smaller stuff like plates, utensils, pot holders, measuring cups, spices, lighters, etc.  You will want to put foodstuffs in a separate tub also.  Put all your cleaning supplies in a separate tub.  That way, if any bottle leaks, it won't spoil anything but other cleaning stuff and won't contaminate your cookware or pollute your food.  Be aware that some cleaning solutions may interact with each other so take care not to store potentially reactive items together.  Ammonia and bleach come immediately to mind as when combined they will toxic fumes, mostly chlorine gas.  Choline gas can cause severe problems but usually isn't fatal if treated.

Sleeping bags should NOT be stored all tightly rolled up.   It compresses the filling and makes them rather useless.   I learned that the hard way.  I had left my cold weather bag tightly rolled after a back packing trip and the next time I tried to use it I about froze!   When I felt it and held it up to the light, I could barely find anything left of the filling.  I it was like having just two very thin sheets of nylon to protect me!  If you have someplace you can hang them, that is one of the best ways to store them.  If not, fold them loosely and store them in plastic tubs to keep them safe from moisture, dust, and pests or stuff them in a "stuff sack".  Even though packing them into a stuff sack compresses the filling somewhat, the random way it is packed and looser environment is less damaging than when it is tightly rolled.   If possible, it is a good idea to hang sleeping bags so they can air out and the fill can expand.  At least do this for a day or so before you store them if you don't have a safe place to hang them between trips.  Putting them through a warm cycle in a clothes dryer with a few tennis balls can also help restore loft as well as removing any residual moisture.

Tents often come with their own storage bags and those should be sufficient for most storage needs.  Sometimes it is hard to get a tent back into its original bag.  In that case you might pick up a larger duffle bag from a sporting goods store, military surplus store, or even a thrift store.   Keep all the parts together -- tent, poles, pegs, ropes, rain fly.  Also keep any tools you need to erect the tent with the tent.  I usually keep a hammer or mallet and a pry bar with mine.  The hammer is, obviously, needed to drive the pegs and the pry bar makes it a lot easier getting them out when the time comes. Another trick for pulling tent pegs is to grab the tent and the loop so you can get a good grip.  Then pull the peg straight out of the ground.   If is was driven at an angle, pull it out at the same angle.   Exercise caution when doing this or you are likely to tear the loops or the tent.  A tent peg removal tool can also be useful.  It has a hook on one end to lock onto the peg and a handle on the other, allowing you to stand up and use the strength of your legs to pull the pegs out of the ground.  I have some other tools and accessories I keep with my tent: a small broom or whisk broom (for sweeping out the tent daily), a battery powered lantern, and a small rug or welcome mat.   Since these are all part of my tent set up, I like to keep them all with the tent.  If you use a tent heater, store it with your tent too, if you can.  It doesn't have to be in the same duffle bag, but putting next to it on the shelf will keep it handy.   Keep in mind the heater may contain residual fuel or fumes and for safety reasons, should be stored in a well-ventilated area separate from any structure connected to your living area.

Camping tools should all be kept together in a convenient tool box, duffle bag, plastic tub or crate.   If you have a lot of stuff, you may need to break it down into to multiple containers to make it easier to handle.   Better to have two smaller tool boxes than one big one that is too heavy to move. Always clean and inspect your tools before putting them into storage.  Not only will this help prevent rust and corrosion, it will help you check for damage and provide an inventory control to ensure everything is ready for your next trip.  Unfortunately, things sometimes tend to disappear on camping trips and its always better to discover it sooner rather than later so you can replace missing items before you need them.

Camp clothing will probably need to be laundered before it goes back into storage.  Anything that doesn't normally live in your regular closet or dresser, should be neatly folded and stored in well-marked plastic tubs.   An exception might be rain coats or other long coats that you might want to hang up in plastic zipper bags.

Camp stoves and heaters are mostly self-contained or come in their own cases.  Traditional Coleman style gas stoves are self-storing within the main structure of the stove.  If you have an oven or toaster you use with your camp stove, store it with the stove.  You might find a small briefcase, duffle bag, or suitcase that will fit your collapsed oven and toaster, making it easy to keep everything together and easy to store and transport.   Because your gas stove probably contains unused fuel or fumes, store your stoves only in a well-ventilated area outside of your living space.  Propane stoves are pretty safe to store anywhere once the propane cylinder is removed and properly stored.

Camp lanterns, with their glass globes and silk-ash mantles, can be quite fragile.  There are special carrying cases made for many of the Colman gas lanterns and you'll find them well worth the investment.   Lacking one, wrap your lantern in an old towel and put it in a plastic tub that is just big enough to hold it and any related items, like spare mantles, spare generators, lighters, etc.   Make sure it is ventilated so any fumes that may leak from the lantern don't accumulate in the container.  Store your gas lanterns only in a well-ventilated area away from your living space.  Like propane stoves, propane lanterns can be stored inside once the propane cylinder is removed and safely stored.  Most currently available lantern cases are plastic clamshells that surround the lantern.  I kind of like the older steel cases because they are more square and fit in storage areas better.  Not all lanterns are the same size and shape.  Make sure any case you buy will fit your lantern.  Speaking of lantern storage, I found the "accessory safe" that clamps to the base of Coleman lanterns a good place to store spare mantles, generators, and the wrench that came with my lanterns so they're always handy.

Camping fuels need to be stored safely in a well ventilated area.  They should only be stored in approved containers.  Never put fuel into an any old plastic jug!  Many plastics will be eaten up by the fuel.   Don't believe it?   Pour a few ounces of gasoline in a styrofoam cup for an accelerated demonstration.  Be sure the cup is sitting in a leak-proof metal pan because within seconds, the cup will have dissolved and the gasoline will be going everywhere!  Plastic gasoline containers are made of special materials that are impervious to gasoline and are safe for transporting and storing gasoline, but old milk jugs, water bottles, and bleach containers are not safe. They won't melt immediately like styrofoam, but they will deteriorate over a fairly short time, allowing fuel to leak out.  If, in an emergency, you must transport gasoline in an unapproved container, use an old oil bottle or jug. Those have at least some resistance to petroleum products.   Don't store fuel inside your home, not even in your basement or garage.  Any leak that might develop from improper storage, abuse, or accident, and release fumes that could be explosive.  Storing fuel in an attached garage isn't a good idea.  Better to keep it an an outside storage building away from your residence.   Storing it in a detached garage reduces the risk to your home, but may place vehicles and other contents of the garage at risk.   Water heaters are often located in garages and basements and can be a source of ignition for any fumes that escape from improperly stored fuel.  Water heaters installed in garages are placed on elevated platforms to keep the igniters above the level where leaking gas normally accumulates.  Fumes are VERY dangerous.  If you fill an open 1 gallon can to the top with gasoline and drop a match into, the match will go out.  But if you put about an inch of gas in the bottom of the can, then drop in the match, the fumes on top will explode violently!  I read about a guy who left an acetylene tank for his welder in the trunk of his Mercedes.  Apparently the valve wasn't tightly closed.  About 3:00 am the electric clock way up in the dashboard created enough of a spark to ignite errant fumes that had accumulated in the trunk and seeped into the passenger compartment and the resulting explosion destroyed his garage and knocked out windows for a 3 block radius!  On another occasion a flight line worker at an air base spilled jet fuel on his coveralls.  He wisely went to the line shack to change but once inside  got distracted watching some other works on break playing cards.  The fumes from his wet coveralls filled the room until they reached the flash point and were ignited by the heater, blowing the entire shack and everyone in it to smitherines.  If you fill a #10 can to the top with gasoline and toss in a match, the match will go out.  If you put a little gasoline in the bottom of the can and toss in a match, the fumes will ignite with explosive force!  The flash point is different for each kind of fuel and sometimes low enough that you can't smell the fumes before they reach the ignition point.

Many storage areas, such as sheds, garages, and basements, may subject your gear to an accumulation of dust over time.  If this is the case where you are storing your equipment, cover it with a tarp or put individual items or containers in plastic trash bags to protect them from the dust. When it comes time to use your equipment again, it will be a lot easier to remove the dusty tarps or bags than to clean the equipment or their individual containers.  The dusty bags may be cleaned and reused or discarded and new ones used when equipment is put back in storage.   Either way, dealing with the dusty plastic bags will be easier and faster than letting your gear become contaminated in storage and having to clean it before you can use it again. Y ou might even want to put covers over your plastic bins so you don't have to spend time cleaning them before a trip.

Organization is a key to having things ready to use when you need them -- for your next camping trip or as emergency supplies.  A good suggestion to follow is to keep related things together.  Store sleeping bags, blankets, cots, and sleeping pads near each other.  Put all your tents and canopies in one place.  Put lanterns and flashlights in close proximity to each other.   Store all your kitchen and cleaning supplies together.   First aid kits and other medical supplies should be together.  Wood cutting tools, like axes, saws, and wedges should be grouped .  Coats, jackets, and other camp clothing should be grouped in plastic bins or stored hanging in plastic protectors.  The flimsy little plastic covers you get back with dry cleaning are better than nothing, but I prefer to use suit bags or heavy contractor rated garbage bags for optimum protection.

If you don't have good space in your garage or basement consider purchasing a small enclosed trailer for your camping gear.  The trailer can be used both to transport your gear to camp and to store it at home.  We snagged an old stripped down Apache tent trailer to tote our camping gear.  It has a clam-shell roof that provides excellent protection from weather and rather good security. We have found it a good place to keep our camping gear year round, freeing up space in the garage for other things and being ready at a moment's notice for spontaneous outings.

Long term storage.  When putting your stuff in storage for winter you'll want to make some special preparations to ensure it will be in good condition when you take it out again next season.   Make sure your tent is clean and dry.   Unpack sleeping bags and hang them out or fold them loosely to avoid over-compressing the loft and destroying the insulation.  Empty fuel from stoves and lanterns. Remove any provisions that might freeze or leak.  Place all dry ingredients in pest-proof/leak-proof plastic containers.  Make sure all your gear clean and in good repair.   Discard any outdated provisions and medications.Sharpen axes and knives and rub a light coat of oil on them and other metal parts to inhibit rust and corrosion.  Rub a little linseed oil on wooden handles to help preserve them as well.

OHV Storage

Most OHVs are seasonal.  That being the case, you'll end up storing them for at least part of the year.   Snowmobiles aren't much good when the snow melts.   Jet skis aren't much fun when the lake is frozen.  Dirt bikes and ATVs don't get much use in the winter.  4WD ATVs fare better in 4-season use, but most of us still park them during the cold winter months except when we use them to plow snow from our driveways.

Before putting a vehicle into storage, thoroughly wash and dry your toy, drain the fuel from the tank, then run the engine until the fuel in the fuel system is exhausted.  This will prevent fuel residue from clogging the jets in the carburetor or injectors.  Change the oil and filter.   If the engine is liquid cooled, make sure the coolant is freeze protected with the correct antifreeze mix.  Antifreeze also protects against corrosion so it is important even in mild climates.  For wheeled vehicles, check the tire pressure.  Put wooden blocks or pads under tires to eliminate contact with dirt and minimize deterioration.   Remove batteries and store them in a heated storage area so they won't freeze.  Apply a light coating of oil such as WD40 to exposed metal surfaces (like drive chains) to reduce rust and corrosion during storage.   Don't over do it.  You don't want to accumulate lots of dust either.  Store your toys in a protected area -- inside a garage or shed if possible.   If they must be stored outside, cover them with a cover designed for the purpose.  Proper covers are designed to fit the machine and are made of materials that breathe and won't damage the finish.  As a last resort you can cover them with a tarp.  However, tarps won't breath so condensation may build up underneath the tarp.  They also tend to have a rather abrasive surface that can damage paint and plastic parts if the wind rubs it on them.   You might be able to protect the finish on your toy by covering it with an old blanket underneath the tarp, but the blanket might soak up condensation dripping from the tarp.  Make sure any cover is securely anchored so it doesn't blow off.  If your toys are stored outside you may want to secure them with cables or chains and locks to prevent theft.   If they are stored in a garage or shed you may want to cover them so they aren't easily seen by passers-by through the windows or when the doors are open and to protect them from accumulating dust.  "Security by obscurity" is a valid means of protecting your property.

Stow it!

RV Storage

Unless you are living in your RV full time, you're going to need a place to store it when it is not in use.   And even if you are living it, there are it is good to protect it against the elements.  Storing it at your home is the usually the most convenient and secure place for it but even if you have room for it some communities have restrictions on parking your RV on the street and some even restrict parking it on your own property.  You can usually park your RV in front of your house or in your driveway for a day or two at a time to prepare for or clean up after a trip.  The CC&Rs for your property may also include restrictions so be sure to check into that before spending a pile of cash to build RV access or storage.  I've seen CC&Rs that even prohibit storing a recreational vehicle, like a van camper, tent trailer or even a boat in your garage!   The justification?  To maintain property values.   Yeah, like having a $100,000 RV beside your garage is going to bring down the neighborhood!

If live where you get freezing winter weather, you will still need to winterize it to prevent freeze damage  -- unless you store it in a heated garage. If your RV is equipped for winter use and you have access to shore power where it is stored, you may be able to get by without winterizing your water systems.  Be sure everything is properly insulated and heated to prevent any freeze damage and monitor the status.   If power is lost or a bulb you are using to heat an external compartment burns out, serious damage may occur if you don't catch and correct it quickly.  Better safe than sorry, so if you live where it freezes, winterize your fresh water system and holding tanks to prevent damage.

Commercial storage facilities are available in most communities where you can store an RV for a monthly fee.  A properly operated facility will include some kind of security but they will still not assume any liability for your vehicle and miscreants may still jump the fence and wreak havoc.  Make sure your own insurance will cover any theft or damage that might occur while it is in storage. The standard 12-volt converter on most RVs does not work well as a battery charger.  More expensive converters or inverters, with multi-stage chargers WILL keep your batteries charged.  If you don't have a built-in multi-stage charger, invest in a maintenance chargers like a Battery Tender.   A simple trickle charger may help, but won't sense and condition batteries like a multi-stage charger will.   Most storage yards will not have electrical service for you to plug your RV into.  You may need to stop by and run the engine or generator or take it for a drive once a month or so.  Driving it once a month is also beneficial to tires and keeping seals and other parts lubricated.

If you have the option to store your RV on your property, you can save the cost of renting storage elsewhere and your vehicle will be convenient for maintenance, trip preparation and cleanup and upgrades.   You can plug it in a day or so before each trip to cool the fridge and take your time loading provisions.  You can install maintenance battery chargers and leave it plugged in all the time to keep the batteries charged while in storage.   You will have it handy if you need it for an emergency shelter or as a spare room for visitors.

Whenever you put your RV into storage, make sure the holding tanks are empty and the batteries are fully charged.  If you store it at home you may be able to connect to shore power and install maintenance chargers to keep your batteries in peak condition.  If you don't have maintenance chargers or don't have access to shore power, disconnect the batteries so there is no extra drain on them during storage.  Many modern appliances have components that draw a small amount of electric current even when not in use.  Disconnecting the batteries, either by installing a battery disconnect or removing one of the cables, prevents these parasitic draws from running down your batteries.  Even without anything connected, 12-volt batteries will loose about 1.5% of their charge each month.   In cold weather remove the batteries and store them indoors if you can.  Turn of the propane at the main valve on the tank(s) and make sure all appliances are shut off.  Empty the fridge and clean it thoroughly.   I like to use a window cleaner with ammonia to sanitize the inside of the fridge.  Then leave the refrigerator door(s) slightly open.   This will help avoid the growth of mold and mildew in the fridge.  You don't want to open up your RV for your next trip and find the "Thing From The Swamp" oozing out of your fridge!   Give your whole unit a good cleaning, inside and out.   Any leftover food scraps inside may attract bugs and varmints.   Remove all perishable foodstuffs and any medicines and other provisions that might be adversely affected by temperature swings while the unit is in storage.   If you are storing it for the winter in a cold climate, winterize the water system to prevent freezing of pipes, holding tanks, and fixtures.   If you are storing it in a mild climate for a short time until your next trip, empty and flush the holding tanks and add chemicals as necessary.   Fill your fresh water tank.  It is a good idea to drain and flush the hot water heater periodically too.  I don't do mine after every trip, but if you have been on an extended trip, say a week or more, or have accumulated 7-10 days camping since the last time you drained and flushed it, it wouldn't hurt to flush it before putting the unit into storage.   Be sure to refill the hot water heater when you fill you fresh water tank -- unless you are winterizing the vehicle.  Then you'll want to leave it empty. Otherwise you'll have to wait while you pump 6-10 gallons of precious fresh water into the empty water heater.  I like to top off my fuel (engine fuel and propane) after each trip so my RV is ready to roll for spontaneous outings or if called into service as a Disaster Recovery Vehicle.  Full tanks also reduce condensation and moisture from contaminated fuels.

Close all the windows and doors and vents.  You don't want dust or snow blowing in.   Don't forget the roof vents.  Make sure all locks are secure.   For extra security on sliding windows you can put a dowel in the lower track to keep the window from being opened or you can buy little clamps that screw onto the lower track to lock the window.  These measures won't stop a determined thief, who
will just break the window, but they can deter some "crimes of opportunity".   You may not have to make your RV 100% secure to avoid getting robbed.  All you may have to do is make it harder to get into than the one next to it so yours is a less attractive target for would be thieves!

Protecting your RV from the elements as well as you can is always a good idea.  The ideal situation is to store your RV in its own garage or shed so it is completely out of the elements.  This option is often cost prohibitive.  As a minimum you should invest in tire covers to reduce weather checking.  With the relatively limited use most RVs get, most RV tires age out long before they wear out. It is a painful and expensive process to throw away tires with plenty of tread and spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for new ones because they've gotten too old and started to weather check.  I've seen RV tires where the cracks in the sidewalls were wider and deeper than the grooves in the tread, definitely an unsafe condition!  Badly cracked tires are likely to blow out, perhaps causing damage to the surround fender well and any nearby cabinets or even causing the driver to loose control and get in an accident.  Tire covers or even storing your RV in a garage won't totally eliminate aging and weather checking, but it will slow it down.   Tire covers aren't terribly expensive nor difficult to install.  Most are made of vinyl and have elastic built in to the circumference to snug them around the tire when installed.  Some require ties or anchors to ensure they don't blow off in windy conditions.   It is always a good idea to secure your tire covers even if they have strong elastic borders.  I've seen owners cut shields from styrofoam insulation panels or plywood to tuck into the wheel wells to shade their tires.  This is certainly better than nothing and protects the tires from their worst enemy:  direct sunlight.  But it doesn't protect them against ozone in the air, which also accelerates deterioration. Ozone may be higher than normal if your RV is stored under or near high voltage power lines.

Standard sized full RV covers can be obtained off the shelf to fit most RVs for a few hundred dollars.   For a little more you can have a custom cover made to your exact specifications.   Custom covers usually include zipper doors to allow you to get to the RV doors conveniently without having to remove or crawl under the cover.  Over time you will recoup the cost of your RV cover in reduced fading of paint, decals, and upholstery and reduced tire damage.   Not to mention the time saved in cleaning and detailing your rig when you take it out of storage.  RV covers protect more than your tires.  They shield the paint, decals, and interior from sunlight.  The cover should be 'breathable' to allow humidity that condenses inside to evaporate.   It should also be soft inside so it doesn't mar the RV surface.  That is why just covering your RV with a farm tarp isn't such a good idea.  If that is your only choice, try buffering the tarp so it stays away from the surface of the RV. Use up-side-down plastic totes on the roof to lift it up.  Plastic pillows or rubber balls can be used to space it away from the corners and side walls.  You can also tie the bott om of the tarp down a few feet away from the RV perimeter to help keep it away from the side walls. Tent pegs can be driven into the ground to anchor the tarp.  If you are parking on a paved surface, you might fill empty bleach or milk jugs with water and tie them to the tarp grommets to help hold it down.  If you are in a climate with freezing temperatures, fill the jugs with an appropriate antifreeze solution or they will freeze and split.  Then, they'll leak on the first warm day and your anchors will be useless and your cover will blow away. Make sure your awnings are clean and dry before you store your RV.  Moisture trapped inside may foster mold and mildew that will turn them into rather nasty science experiments before your next trip.  This applies to bag awnings as well as permanently mounted models.   If your RV is going to stored for any extended period of time, say more than month, try to take the load off the tires -- put it on blocks.  If you don't put it up on blocks and it is parked on pavement, place wooden pads under the tires.  Pieces of exterior plywood work well as do scraps of 2x6 or 2x8 lumber.   You'll need a piece of 2x6 or 2x8 about 1' long for each tire.  Never park just one of dual tires on a block.  Make sure both tires are on the same level.  Bevel one end of the block so it is easier to drive up onto the blocks without scooting them out of the way.

Moisture in the air can cause problems in the interior.   If you have shore power, hooking up a 60-100 watt incandescent light bulb inside might help reduce condensation.   Condensation can cause odors and foster mold or mildew.  Another easy solution is to leave one or more moisture absorbing devices inside.   These are usually plastic jars containing material that readily absorbs moisture. You'll need to check them periodically and replace them when they fill with water.  I was pleasantly surprised when I found some of these at my local dollar store (Dollar Tree).   Unfortunately, they don't carry them all year long, so if you see them grab them when you can.  Fortunately, they usually do show up in the early fall, in time for winter storage.  They should keep for several months if the seal isn't broken.  Once you break the seal they go to work, absorbing moisture from the air.  They are usually with the closet accessories.  Even though I've mostly lived in desert areas with low humidity, I have been surprised by how much liquid accumulates in these devices over a couple of months.  There are also electric or electronic dehumidifiers, but they are a little pricey and you have to have -- and pay -- for power to run them so I like the chemical canisters, especially when I can get them for just a buck each!

Store it!

Window Insulation for Campers

Those big picture windows in our RVs let us enjoy the great outdoors from the comfort of our coaches, but they also allow heat transfer that makes our units hotter in summer and colder in winter. But there is a cure.  Actually there are several to choose from.

Luxury units sometimes have double-pane windows like newer homes to reduce heat transfer but many RVs, especially older or entry level models, will have only single pane windows.   Single pane glass is fairly good at conducting heat.  Just touch a single pane window on a cold day!   Double pane windows have two sheets of glass separated by a sealed section of inert gas, creating a "dead air space" inside.  They conduct far less heat, keeping your RV cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Upgrading your windows to dual-pane would be an expensive proposition -- IF you could even match up the size of your windows.  What can you do about that?  There are several feasible options you can explore.

The simplest and least expensive option is to make sure you take advantage of whatever window coverings you already have.  Keep drapes, curtains, shades or blinds closed to retain heat in winter and keep it outside in summer. I n summer take advantage of natural shade to keep your RV cooler.  In winter, park in full sun to absorb as much heat as possible, basking the the light of a hydrogen fusion furnace 93 million miles away (the Sun). Y ou might be surprised how much just using your curtains or shades will help maintain a comfortable temperature inside your RV.   If your window treatments are in need of repair, consider replacing them with versions with better insulating qualities, such as replacing thin curtains with heavy, insulated drapes or sturdy day-night shades.

A semi-permanent winter fix is to add a plastic "storm window" covering to the outside (or possibly inside) of your windows, partially simulating double pane windows.  The plastic won't be as thick as glass and and the "dead air space" between it and the window won't be as well sealed (there are "weep" holes in the bottom frame of most RV windows) or as effective as the inert gas chamber in a double pane window so it won't work quite as well, but it will help.  Dual pane windows are completely sealed and contain an inert gas to enhance their insulating qualities.   Plastic film storm window insulation kits can be purchased at hardware stores and home centers.  You cut the plastic film to fit your window, install the included sticky strips to hold it in place, stretch it over the outside frame, then warm it with a heat gun or hair dryer to shrink it so it fits tightly and securely.   I have not yet tried this option myself but I have heard is is quite effective and the science behind it is sound.  I have concerns about how fragile the tightly stretched plastic might be to flying debris and whether it would stand up to freeway speeds without coming off.   This is primarily an option for cold weather since it interferes with opening the windows for fresh air in warm weather.  I recently purchased several plastic storm window kits so I can try them out, but haven't gotten around to it yet, but, as I said before, the science is sound, so it is worth a try.

A simple and convenient solution to excessive summer heat is "solar" film.   It also adds a measure of privacy as long as it is brighter outside than inside.  Having it professionally installed can be quite expensive but you get crystal clear tinted windows.  You can install it yourself if you have the patience. tools, and skill.  You must clean the windows very thoroughly, including the tracks around them to avoid getting any dust or dirt under the film.   Cut the film slightly larger than the glass area of the window.  The film sticks to itself very well so you need take care to apply it directly to the glass  Start at the top and then slowly peel the backing away as you work your way to the bottom.  Spray the film with water and use a small squeegee to carefully smooth the film.  Work from the center toward the edges to avoid getting bubbles in the film.  If you end up with small bubbles you can't squeegee out, carefully prick each one with a pin to allow the air to escape as you squeegee them flat.  Then trim the edges with a razor knife or single edge razor blade.  Solar film, either reflective or "limo tint" will block a lot of the sunlight entering your vehicle, reducing heat and protecting interior surfaces from sun damage.   The film also functions as partial privacy panels as long as it is darker inside your RV than it is outside.  Some states have restrictions on how dark window tinting can be on front side windows and it should never be added to windshields, except perhaps a strip a few inches tall along the very top as a sun shade.

My personal favorite is another easy, inexpensive, easy, and effective solution:  double reflective bubble/foam insulation.  You can buy Reflectix and other brands at hardware stores and home centers in rolls from 10' to 100' and widths of 2' or 4'.  You can then cut panels to fit each window and insert them behind the existing window coverings.  A 48" x 10' roll is usually under $25. A 25' roll, if you can find them, is between $40 and $50.  Cut the panels just slightly larger than the opening so they will fit tightly.  This helps them stay in place and mostly seals the opening to limit the circulation of air from between the insulation and the glass.  In addition to controlling heat transfer they are also very effective at blocking unwanted light.  The reflective quality combined with the insulation value will help you maintain the desired temperature in your RV year round.  In the summer it will keep things cooler, reducing the load on your air conditioner and generator and making you more comfortable.  In winter, it will retain heat, conserving propane and keeping you cozy.  I have used this option in my RVs for many years with very satisfactory results.  In fact, when I get new RV, it is one of the very first additions I make.   I even use it in windows at home for room darkening and, in winter, to conserve heat.  At first I just used auto windshield covers in my RV but now I buy Reflectix in bulk rolls.  Auto windshield covers are good option, especially if can get them at good price.   I sometimes find them at my local dollar store!   Reflectix is heavier so it provides more insulation and being stiffer it stays in place better.   It can be easily cut to fit any window. It rolls up for easy storage or you can lay the panels flat on a bed or slide them down behind the sofa.  When I had a Class A with a pull-down bunk over the front seats, I found that was an excellent place to store the window panels during travel.   When putting Reflectix in windows, for maximum benefit, don't push it up tight against the glass. You want to leave a little air space between the insulation and the glass.  If the Reflectix is in contact with the glass heat could be conducted directly between the Reflectix and the glass.   The insulation itself has an R-value just slightly greater than R1.  Leaving some air space between the insulation and the glass can significantly boost the R-value.  For comparison, the R-value of the 3" fiberglass insulation in your residence is R-13.   Much of that insulating value comes from "dead air space" created by the insulation.  So why not just leave the walls empty?  Insulation almost eliminates convection that would draw heat from he inside of the walls as well as reducing heat transfer.  Foam panels help keep heat out in summer and in in winter -- and function as privacy panels.  I use foam inserts in all my windows year round, removing them only when I want to see out or open the window for ventilation.  The reflective quality reflects heat (from the outside in summer and back into the living space in winter) beyond the insulation value.  Reflectix can be used on RV windshields that are too big for auto sun shades or you can buy special RV windhshield sun screens that will cover that huge expanse.  Since windshields are single thickness glass, even in new luxury motorhomes, blocking sunlight beating down through that huge expanse will make an immediate and significant difference in solar heating of your motorhome.  You can often feel the difference as you put the shade in place.

Interior insulation panels.   A reader of this blog suggested window insulation panels from Advanced Energy Panels.  This is certainly an option worth looking into.   They are custom made panels that essentially are internal storm windows, turning ordinary windows into something close to dual pane windows.  Unlike Reflectix, they are clear so they don't block the view.  Since they don't block sunlight, the won't be as helpful at keeping the interior cool in summer as Reflectix and won't control light intrusion or add privacy but might do a better job of keeping the heat in when you want it and out when you don't.

Most RV window frames are pretty well sealed but over time they may begin to get loose and develop drafts.   Make sure all the mounting screws are tight and the butyl sealing tape around the frame is in good condition.   The best solution to damaged sealing tape is to remove the window and re-seal it with fresh butyl tape but in a pinch you can seal windows with DAP or even silicone.  Besides drafts, loose windows can allow rain or snow melt in too, so you want to always keep them tightly sealed.  If you look closely, you'll find "weep holes" in the lower channel of RV windows. These are designed to allow condensation that drips from the windows to escape to the outside instead of overflowing and running down the inside walls.  You might get a tiny draft through these openings, but well-placed Reflectix inserts will mitigate air flow.  Even though it may be tempting to seal those weep holes to prevent dust and drafts from entering your RV, it really isn't a good idea. Without them condensation will drip into the channels and overflow down inside walls if it doesn't have anyplace else to go.  Not only will this cause unsightly marks on the wall, it can create a damp environment that fosters dry rot, mold, and mildew.

OK, what about tent windows?   Not sure that tent windows lose any more heat than tent walls since both are pretty thin.  That being said, what can you do to reduce heat loss in your tent?  First, if it has rain fly, make sure it is in good condition and properly installed.  Some folks sew an additional "skirt" onto the rain fly so it comes almost all the way to the ground to help keep snow and cold air from blowing up under the fly in winter weather.  If it doesn't have a rain fly, covering it with a tarp may help.   Protecting the tent itself from direct exposure to the elements will minimize unwanted heat transfer.   You might use Reflectix or a similar foam/bubble foil insulation inside your tent or between the tent and the rain fly to keep you warmer in winter and cooler in summer.  It can be bulky to carry around so it isn't an option for back packing but you might find it useful when car camping. Using it under your sleeping bags can help keep you up off snow or frozen ground and having it all around you will reflect a lot of your body heat back instead of letting it leak out through the thin tent walls.   Even though it is only a fraction of an inch thick, it is still many times thicker and provides many times more insulation than even the heaviest tent fabric.   And, of course, make sure your windows and zippers are in good repair so they seal properly to keep out rain, snow, and drafts.

Stay comfortable!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Care and Repair of Interior RV Doors

Interior RV doors, on closets, cabinets, and bathrooms, may require maintenance or repairs from time to time.  For example, if you update the flooring in your RV or replace the carpet, bathroom and closet doors that cleared the original flooring might drag on the new material.  The carpet in our Class A motorhome had been replaced shortly before we bought it but the owner had failed to trim the bathroom door.  The door dragged on the carpet, leaving wear marks and making it somewhat harder than it should be to open and close the door.  If you encounter a similar problem, it is a simple fix. Remove the door by taking out the screws that fasten the hinges to the wall.   There will probably 2 or 3 hinges with a total of 4 to 6 screws.  The screw heads might be Phillips #2 or clutch head (square drive).  A proper tip in an electric drill/driver will make removal and re-installation much quicker and easier.   You might want to have someone hold the door while you remove the screws so it doesn't fall on you or something else in the RV.    If it comes loose unexpectedly it may split the frame where the remaining screws mount.  You don't want any collateral damage.  If the door isn't secured as you remove the screws it may twist the last hinge or rip the screws out of the wall.   Depending on how tightly the door drags -- or how much higher your new flooring is than the old, mark the bottom of the door for how much needs to be cut off.   If it is simply dragging on the carpet, 1/4 inch is probably about the right amount for your first cut.  If it still drags you can always cut off more but if you cut off too much, you can't put it back!  If you should cut off too much, it probably isn't a major catastrophe.  A little extra ventilation at the bottom of a bathroom door is not necessarily a bad thing. It will allow more fresh air into the bathroom to vent moisture and odors.  You may need some kind of shim or lever (or a helper) to hold the door in place while you reinstall the screws.  If you don't want to cut the door, you may be able to raise it up by simply re-screwing the hinges higher on the wall where it mounts if it isn't already too close to the ceiling and doesn't fit inside the door frame.   Many RV bathroom doors fit outside the door opening.   I considered rising the door when fixing the bathroom door in my motorhome but was concerned that adding more screw holes so close to the originals might cause the wood to split since they would be so close to the old holes.  Trimming the door is usually the best solution.

Cabinet door problems.  The most common problem with cabinet doors is damaged catches so the door doesn't stay closed.  Try to replace the worn/broken catch with the same style.  On older RVs you may have trouble finding matching catches.  If that happens, get the closest thing you can find at your local RV or hardware store.   Any friction catch will probably do if it fits the door and cabinet.  I haven't had good luck with magnetic catches on RV cabinets.  They just don't provide a positive enough lock to keep doors from coming open on rough roads.  Some cabinets with top hinged doors have pneumatic struts that help hold them open and closed.   Sometimes the screws holding the struts will pull out.  You can usually fix this problem by pushing a piece of wooden stick match or toothpick into the hole and replacing the screw.   If that doesn't work, there are kits to repair holes for wood screws.  They consist of a hand auger that hollows out the hole to accept a wooden cone.  You glue the wooden cone in place and when the glue is dry, simply drill a pilot hole of the appropriate size in the cone and reinstall the screw.   Broken or missing struts can be easily and inexpensively replaced.  I think the last time I had to replace some, they came in a package of 2 for under $5.   It takes only a few minutes to replace a strut using only common hand tools.  If your RV doesn't have struts you might even want to add them if the cabinet doors are hinged at the top.  The struts will hold the door open while you access the cabinet.

Broken or damaged doors can be difficult to match if you have to replace them.  Depending on the location and type of damage, you may be able to clamp and glue the door back together.  You might need to add steel brackets to reinforce damaged seams or corners.  Put them on the inside, out of sight, if you can. If you have to replace a door and cannot find a matching replacement, go for something complementary or contrasting rather than a "close match".  Minor variations in style or color will stand out, making the repair unsightly and possibly reducing potential resale value.  If you can't match a door you are replacing, do something different with it.  Put a framed mirror on it or cover it with a wall covering or picture or paneling.  Or paint it a glossy solid color that complements your RV interior after it has been repaired.  If you already have black appliances, a black door may blend in well.  You might disguise small holes in doors using decorative covers or finding innovative ways to make use of the damage.  You can often use ordinary crayons to fill small holes.  I once installed a clock using an unwanted larger hole as the mounting hole for the center and the hands and adding plastic, stick-on numbers around the cabinet face.  You can buy an inexpensive clock kit at just about any craft and hobby store.   Sometimes, for cosmetic purposes, you might want to swap the broken door with another one of the same size and style in a less obvious location and put the unmatched replacement door in the less obtrusive spot.

Sticking or squeaking doors  can sometimes be fixed by oiling the hinges.  Using a dry lubricant or RV silicone lubricant will avoid messy drips and stains that might result from using regular oil.  If lubrication doesn't work, the door is probably binding or dragging somewhere.   If the door is binding somewhere you may have to adjust the hinges or catch to alleviate the problem.  Bent or loose hinges may be the problem.  If so, you might be able to remove the hinges and straighten them in a vice or on an anvil.   If you can't straighten them so they operate smoothly you'll have to replace them. You might be able to get matching hinges from an RV store or a junk yard.  If not, get the closest you can from your local hardware store or home center.   Pay careful attention to the offset if the old hinges have one to make sure the door fits correctly.  A correct offset is more important than cosmetic matching.  You may able to paint unmatching hardware to make it look better.  If a door is dragging on the carpet, remove the door and trim about 1/4" off the bottom or raise the door by unscrewing the hinges from the frame and re-installing them a bit higher.   If you can't match the hardware, one option is to replace all the hardware on all the doors so its all the same.

Automatic lighting is a nice feature in many RV closets and even some cabinets.   Over time, the wiring may become loose or the switches may wear out. Y u may be able to fix loose wiring connections by merely crimping the connectors gently with pliers and pushing them back on their proper terminals.  Worn out switches can be replaced.  Take care to match up functional part of the switches (e.g., how they mount, how they are operated by the door).  Once installed you will have to adjust the switches to achieve proper operation. Since you can't see inside the closet when it is closed, you might need to have a child hide in the closet and monitor the light for you.   If that isn't an option, try making it as dark as possible outside the closet (or check it at night) so you can look for light "leaking" around the edges of the door.  Closet lights that don't go off can drain your house batteries surprisingly quickly.   If your RV doesn't have automatic closet lighting you might be able to add it if you want.  You'll need an appropriate source of 12 volt power -- both hot and ground wires, a light fixture, and a switch.   The switch will be installed in the hot wire between the power source and the light.  The ground connects directly to the light fixture.  Use LED lights in closets whenever you can.  They draw significantly less current and will be less likely to run down your batteries if accidentally left on.

Divider doors.  Some RVs have divider doors to separate the bedroom from the rest of the coach. Sometimes these are "pocket doors" that slide into the wall.  Sometimes they are folding doors. Folding doors may get sticky over time and will need to be cleaned and lubricated.   I suggest a dry lubricant so you don't stain the door material or leave a residue that will collect dust.  The ceiling track on which the doors slide is often the culprit when the doors get sticky.   Clean the track thoroughly and apply a modest amount of dry lubricant.  Inspect the track for damage and loose screws.   Loose screws will interfere with the operation of the door and any bends or kinks or restrictions in the track will seriously inhibit movement.  You might be able to remove a damaged track and straighten and smooth it so it works better.   If that doesn't work, you may have to buy a new track.  You can sometimes find a suitable replacement at your local hardware or home center. Damaged pocket doors can be a real pain in the neck (or about 2' lower!).  If the door has come off its track and become jammed inside the wall, you will need to try to realign it enough to slide it open and attempt repairs . If the track inside the wall is loose or damaged, getting to it for repairs may be difficult or even impossible, depending on the design of surrounding walls.   With luck and patience -- and the right tools -- you might be able to make repairs through the opening for the door.  If that doesn't work you may have to open up the wall on at least one side of the door to fix it.   Take care not to damage the paneling so you can reinstall it after the door is fixed.  If your RV doesn't have divider doors and you need or want to separate spaces, you can probably add a folding door if there is sufficient support inside the walls and ceiling where you want to mount the door.  You might want extra dividers to separate front and rear sleeping areas or to just close off the bedroom for extra privacy and to retain heat in colder weather.  For a quick and easy alternative, install a curtain to provide additional privacy for the bedroom area.  I'd use a spring-loaded, expandable curtain rod long enough to reach across the hallway and hang full length drapes from ceiling to floor.  If you need to see out the rear window while driving, add one or more tie backs to hold the curtains open when they aren't needed.  I once replaced a damaged heavy accordion fold door on a bathroom with an ordinary curtain when the weight of the original door ripped the track out of the ceiling.

Some damage is the result of improper installation of hooks or other accessories on a door. Once this happens you need to remove the offending items and repair the door as best you can -- or replace it.  Then avoid a re-occurrence of the damage by avoiding improper installations.   Over-the-door hangers often allow way to much weight to be placed on the door, warping the door itself, bending hinges, or pulling out the screws.  These should be avoided.   If you need a place to hang coats etc, find a stud in the wall to attach a coat hook to.  If you attach hooks to the thin interior wallboard, remember that they will only be able to handle light loads and refrain from loading them down with heavy coats or using them as an anchor for a temporary closet rod.   Improperly installed towel racks, spice racks, or trash bag holders on the inside of a cabinet door are another fairly common problem.   Using screws that are too long can penetrate the outer surface of the door, creating an unsightly and potentially dangerous situation.  Measure the thickness BEFORE you install an such items and make sure your screws won't go all the way through.   Alignment of racks is also often misjudged.  A misaligned rack can 'tweak' the door, sometimes bending hinges or stripping screws, sometimes even cracking the door itself.   Make sure there is adequate clearance at the perimeters and inside the cabinet before installing any kind of racks on the inside or your doors.   Then don't pile stuff in the cabinet that will get in the way of the rack when the door closes and don't overload the rack with heavy or bulky items.

Many of these maintenance and repair tips apply just as well to exterior compartment doors.   In addition, you should check the weather seals regularly and replace any that are damaged.  Weatherstripping comes in many different sizes and patterns.  For best results try to match the original as closely as possible.  If you can't find a matching pattern, self-adhesive foam weatherstripping available at home centers and hardware stores can usually be easily cut to size and will, at the very least, be a great improvement over missing or damaged seals.

As always an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.   Routinely inspect all the cabinet, closet, bathroom, and divider doors in your RV.  Tighten any loose screws and replace worn or broken catches and hinges.   If the screws have stripped out the wood, insert a wooden matchstick or toothpicks to fill the hole.  Add a little wood glue to help keep them securely in place.  You can also buy repair kits that include wooden cones and an auger to clean out and repair damaged screw holes.  The hand held auger is used to ream out the hole, add a drop or two of glue, then tap a wooden cone in place.  Let the glue dry thoroughly before reinstalling the screw.  Lubricate hinges and door locks. Be gentle with your RV doors and teach your family and visitors to be gentle too.  RV doors are usually much more fragile than residential doors.  Travel inflicts a lot more vibration and torsion on cabinets and other doors than occurs in a fixed building, quickly aggravating and accelerating any damage that might be started by aggressive handling.  Wind is a common source of damage to exterior doors, so keep a good grip on the handle when opening them in windy conditions.

Keep 'em swinging!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Repairing/Maintaining Vintage RVs

If you own an older "vintage" or orphaned RV, you may have found it difficult to get some parts for it.  The good news is that many of the components and appliances in vintage RVs are commonly used in many makes, models, and years.   If you need parts for your furnace, water heater, or range, check the make and model of the appliance.  You can often still get parts for many older appliances through the manufacturer.   Likewise for mechanical problems with the drive train or chassis.   Some RVs have custom built chassis but most are built on a commercial chassis.   Chevrolet P-30 chassis are fairly common on older Class A motorhomes.  So are Dodge and Ford chassis. Bigger luxury motorhomes may be built on heavy duty truck or bus chassis like Freightliner, White, or Gillig.   Drive train components (engine, transmission, differential, brakes) are usually "off-the-shelf" brands like Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Cummins, and Caterpillar (for engines and sometimes the entire drive train).  Allison transmissions are used in many brands of motorhomes and matched to many different engines.   Be sure to check with the appropriate service centers for your chassis and engine/transmission.

You may find it financially attractive to purchase an older RV that needs work, especially if you have the skills and tools to fix it.  Because there are so many late-model RVs at bargain prices, some older or damaged units may have to be really marked down in order to sell.  Renovating an older RV can be a challenging but rewarding experience.  There was an article in Motorhome magazine about a couple who restored a one-of-a-kind 1951 Prevost "Land Yacht".  It took a lot of time, money (about 9 times its original cost), effort, and patience.  As they said they "went through hell restoring it but the results are heavenly".   Know what you're getting into and be certain you have the resources (time, tools, training, and/or money and qualified technicians) to do the necessary work.  You don't want to dump a lot of time, effort, and money into something only to find out you can't finish it.  They spent nearly10 times the Prevost's original cost rebuilding it.

Appliances and mechanical parts are often standard across many brands and often across several years.   With that in mind you may be able find used parts from "donor" vehicles of about the same age as the one you're working on.  Because of the light use many RVs get, used appliances and running gear components may actually have gotten little use and yield many more years of good service if you have to replace yours.  You may find donor vehicles in junkyards or you may be able to buy one from a private party or as salvage from an insurance company.  If you are seeking to restore rather than repair or recondition your vehicle, seek one as close to the year, make, and model as you can find.  If you want to repair, recondition, renovate, or update your vehicle you might look for a newer model that may have upgraded appliances and features you can adapt.

Cosmetic parts for older machines are usually going to be harder to find than appliances or mechanical parts.  If you're really lucky you may find a seller who has some NOS (New Old Stock) parts.   Some distributors specialize in buying up and reselling obsolete inventory.  If you can't find the NOS items you need, you may have to settle for good used parts. Google "vintage RV parts" to find possible sources for both NOS and used RV parts.  There are several web sites and dealers who specialize in vintage trailer and RV parts.  Of course you can always try ebay and craigslist as well as search your local classified ads and local junk yards.  There are junk yards that specialize in RVs but you might find a few RVs in your regular junk yard.  I like to browse through the "pull it yourself" junk yards and see what they have.  I seldom find a particular RV part I need when I go looking for one, but I often find other items of interest to add to my own personal inventory for future projects.  I once picked up a furnace from a camper in a "Pick A Part" yard for $25!   It was perfect for my 1972 Journeyman Smuggler toyhauler.

Finding major body parts for older RVs could be a problem.  Manufacturers generally don't have parts for models more than 10 years old and finding usable parts in a junk yard may be difficult.  Fortunately, a lot of cosmetic damage can usually be repaired by a competent body shop.  Should you shatter the fiberglass "front cap" of an older motorhome, it may be impossible to repair or replace.  That's when having full insurance coverage could come in handy.  If it can't be repaired or the cost of repairs exceeds the "blue book" value, it would be declared a total loss and you'd be paid the book value so you could try to find a replacement.  Of course the book value doesn't take into consideration things like the thousands of dollars you may have invested, in, for example, a replacement engine or other upgrades.  And, if your vehicle is unique or somewhat rare, finding a replacement may be impossible.

Replacing or upgrading some components may be an option if you can't find matching parts. Appliances, plumbing fixtures, and holding tanks are the most common candidates for replacement. Getting an exact replacement may not be possible.  Designs and sizes change over the years.  Try to match the size and configuration as closely as possible.  Consider any gas, electrical, or plumbing connections or fresh air vents and try to get a new unit that can be easily adapted to the configuration of your RV.  In some cases you may have to modify cabinets, wiring, or plumbing in your RV to accommodate the new unit.  If your goal is an accurate restoration you will need to match original equipment and fixtures as closely as possible.  If you merely want to make the unit usable you can go with modern replacements that may be more efficient or more powerful that their original counterparts.

Exterior components on vintage RVs can be difficult to find replacements for.  Some units made use of lights, bumpers, grills, etc. from the chassis manufacturer and that helps.  But if you need to replace outdated exterior paneling, you'll be at the mercy of the NOS and used market.  Or you may have to resort to a bigger renovation than you had planned.  Sometimes it is possible to achieve satisfactory results by replacing and entire panel instead of patching it.  That may lead to replacing all the panels to get truly appealing results, so be cautious when using this approach.   I've seen several acceptable repairs done by installing a common household furnace vent over the damaged area and painted to match the RV to disguise the unsightly tear in a damaged exterior panel.

Custom manufacturing of replacement parts will probably be cost-prohibitive for most people but is sometimes a possibility.  Sometimes damaged fiberglass parts, like front or rear end caps, shower pans, and bath tubs, can be custom made when OEM replacements are not available.   Unless the supplier already has jigs or molds for your particular make and model, expect to pay the cost of building them in addition to the cost of making your parts.  That is one reason custom made replacements are so expensive.   Metal parts can sometimes be recreated by your local machine shop. Here again, expect to pay premium prices for custom work.  Although custom made replacements can be expensive, they might allow you to salvage a vintage RV that otherwise you'd have to scrap. Consider the over all repair costs versus writing off the RV and buying another one.   If you particularly like your vintage RV or it has some valuable history, it may be worth investing in custom made replacement parts.   There are companies that can fabricate entire front and rear fiberglass caps.  If you don't find it feasible or attractive to make the repairs, consider selling it as a donor vehicle to someone else with a similar unit who may be able to salvage some parts of your rig.

Decals, emblems and stripes are often the first things to deteriorate on older RVs and finding OEM replacements may be difficult if not impossible.  Straight stripes can often be rejuvenated using vinyl striping tape available in a wide variety of widths and colors.   Graphic images will be tougher to find but you might be able to have them custom made at a sign shop if you can come up with a digital photo of what it should look like.  I've heard of people who cast their own aluminum letters to replace missing parts of the name plate on a classic RV but that is beyond the scope of what most of us can do without professional help.   Standard striping tape is fairly inexpensive.   Custom made decals are going to cost a bit more and getting custom made graphics to replace the giant swirls on some RVs is going to be quite expensive.  An alternative is to hand paint the damage stripes and graphics -- if you have the talent for that.    If you are going for a restoration you'll want to match everything as close as possible but for repairs or just a renovation to improve looks you can choose paint and/or graphics to meet your personal taste.  When I needed some striping tape for a restoration project I was able to find an exact match in color and width readily available from a graphic/sign company at a reasonable price.  A proprietary brand decal was badly faded on one side of the RV but the one on the other side was in pretty good shape.  I was able to take a digital photo of good one and have a sign shop create a new one to replace the damaged one on the other side.  You might be able to find a rig similar to yours from which you could get photos of hard to find decals and have them custom made.  When the lettering for the brand name was badly cracked and faded on an older motorhome my wife hand painted it to restore its original appearance.   We bought a can of spray paint in a color as close to the original as possible.   Then she sprayed a little paint into the cap and used water color brushes to paint over the cracked and faded letters.

Tin Can Tourists is a nationwide organization of vintage RV fans.  If you have a vintage RV or an interest in vintage RVs, they are a good place to find people with like interests and get advice on the care and feeding of your vintage RV.  Their web site includes photo galleries, classified ads, and forums where you can post questions or share information.  Restoration implies using OEM or equivalent parts and making your rig as close to its original factory condition as possible.   Repair means fixing things so your vehicle is usable and attractive and exact matches are not as important as they are in restoration.  Why would you want to invest in restoration instead of simple repair?  Well, if you have a unique vehicle, restoration will help maintain resale value if you are decide to sell it.   If you plan to keep the vehicle and use it and your goal is usability, simple, attractive repairs or replacements are acceptable -- and often less expensive.  For example, replacing OEM tail lights and clearance markers can be difficult or even impossible to find for some older units but you can obtain current lights at reasonable prices.  If the new fixtures are smaller than the originals you may need to buff out or repaint the area around the fixture to eliminate the "shadow" of the original fixture for a good looking installation.  If you have to replace fixtures, try to match the original size and shape as closely as possible.  You won't have to worry too much about the "shadow" if you're planning to repaint the unit.

If you have a particularly unique RV, you may want to keep an eye out for backup vehicles to serve as spare parts donors for yours.   If you're lucky, you may find candidates that are being retired but still have usable parts on them.   One such motorhome that comes to mind is the Corvair Ultravan.  These are unique Corvair powered motorhomes.  Only a limited number of them were made (about 400) and often anyone who has one (it is estimated about 100 of them are still on the road) intends to restore it so you might have trouble talking the owner out of one.  Airstream trailers have been popular forever and there is a large following of vintage Airstream owners.   Sometimes you can hook up with an RV club for your brand.  These clubs are often a good source for parts and technical tips.  If you're in the market for a donor vehicle, make sure you research availability.  You may need to be prepared to act quickly and decisively if/when a candidate comes on the market.  If you can't find a matching vehicle, you may be able to locate vehicles from the same era that have compatible appliances and other useable components.   It may not be possible to find an exact match to use for a donor vehicle but you can often salvage appliances and some other vintage parts from just about any RV from the same period.  Appliances within a year or two either way are usually pretty good matches.

Routine maintenance is particularly important on older vehicles.   You want to catch any needed repairs as quickly as possible to minimize the extent of the damage and the difficulty and expense of fixing them.  Do lube and oil changes religiously.  You might want to consider using one of the special engine oils designed for older vehicles.  Check frequently for any signs of water intrusion and re-seal the offending opening as quickly as possible.   Keep appliances clean and properly adjusted. The sooner you can find and fix any problems, the less likely they are to get worse and more costly.

Fix it up!