Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cruise Control on RVs and Tow Vehicles

Cruise control is a useful tool for drivers of both motorhomes and tow vehicles as well as the family car.  The primary purpose of cruise control is to maintain a preselected speed and relieve the driver from having to constantly maintain pressure on the gas pedal.  On long drives that pressure often results in leg cramping and stiffness which can not only show up in the leg on the accelerator pedal, but is also often transmitted up into the buttocks and lower back.  Using cruise control can allow the driver to be a little more relaxed.  To the extent that relieves stress, its a good thing, but you certainly don't want to become so relaxed that you get apathetic or drowsy!  Avoiding leg cramps is definitely a good thing.  Using cruise control is said to improve gas mileage too.  Generally it does since most people can't or don't maintain steady pressure on the accelerator and the cruise control does.

Cruise control can usually help get better fuel economy.  Each time you press down on the acclerator pedal the fuel system dumps gas into the engine.  You might be surprised how often you press down on the accelerator, even when you are trying to simply maintain a steady speed.  Cruise control minimizes these surges and allows the engine to operate more efficiently.  However, cruise control can be problematic when towing a heavy trailer or negotiating hills.  Many drivers of heavy vehicles like to "get a run" at steep or long hills and cruise control cannot anticipate upcoming hills.  It can only react when the hill has already slowed you down.  Drivers who routinely maintain a steady foot on the accelerator won't see as much mileage improvement as those who tend to surge and back off frequently.  I once had a construction supervisor whose inconsistency on the gas pedal was enough to make his passengers car sick.  It was enough to cause his passengers to rock forward and back rather strongly.  Fortunately I wasn't susceptible to motion sickness but other employees were. Riding with him was not comfortable.  He would have seen significantly better mileage by using cruise control (and probably avoided passengers vomiting in his truck!).

Why does cruise control improve gas mileage?  For one thing, each time you press down on the accelerator it dumps extra gas into the engine.  Avoiding frequent and often unnecessary movement avoids this extra fuel usage.  Some years ago I recall seeing something called an "Econometer" that supposedly helped drivers improve gas mileage.  It was a dial with green, yellow, and red segments and the goal was to keep the needle in the green as much as possible to get the best possible gas mileage.  How did this work?  Well, what it really was, was a vacuum gauge.  Low vacuum occurs when the engine is under load, so maintaining a steady throttle (high vacuum) and avoiding putting load on the engine improves gas mileage.  Most drivers will get better mileage using cruise control but there are a few professional drivers who have actually been able to get better mileage without it.  So, you may hear stories about cruise control not delivering as advertised but you will want to test your own vehicle and your own skills before you make up your mind for your situation.

Cruise control should NOT be used on wet, snowy, or icy roads.  It should be apparent that you shouldn't use it on snowy or icy roads but some people have tried to use it in the rain, usually much to their dismay!  Ithas been demonstrated that cruise control, attempting to maintain speed on slick or even just roads, can sometimes cause you to loose control  of your vehicle.  Even a little rain can be enough to cause problems.  The coefficient of friction between your tires and wet road is about half of that on dry roads.  In addition, vehicles tend to hydroplane on wet roads.  When that happens you aren't driving on the pavement, you are driving on top of the water on the pavement and you have very little traction and even less control.  Because of lack of traction, the speed doesn't increase as it normally does when the cruise control opens the throttle, so it opens it more and more and when it eventually does get traction, the reaction is sudden and much more than needed, sending the vehicle out of control.  The classic debunking website snopes.com lists this as TRUE. So, if it starts to rain or snow, or even if the roads are just wet, shut off cruise control!

It is not usually a good idea to use cruise control when driving in hilly country.  The cruise control cannot anticipate upcoming grades the way a human driver can and will NOT downshift to help maintain a safe speed when descending hills.  The cruise control is likely to be constantly having to adjust when operated going up and down hills, completely negating any mpg savings, causing unusual wear and tear on the components, and possibly causing unwanted changes in speed.  I once had a cruise control cause an unwanted downshift that jerked a trailer so hard it snapped the hitch pin!  Fortunately the safety chains kept the trailer from getting away and we were able to stop safely and get a new hitch pin.  I now avoid using cruise control when pulling a trailer!  Many vehicle manufacturers discourage using cruise control when towing, except on flat stretches of road.

I've seen drivers use the cruise control buttons like manual driving controls instead of using the gas pedal.  While I have no hard evidence that this isn't a good thing to do, common sense tells me it isn't.  There is usually some delay as the cruise control responds to input to accelerate or slow down, a delay the "real" driver doesn't normally introduce and I seriously doubt such use will provide the fuel economy benefits of setting the cruise control and leaving it alone.  If nothing else it puts extra wear and tear on all the components of the cruise control and could cause premature failure.  I do not recommend using cruise control in heavy traffic.  The speed changes too often and the potential for another vehicle suddenly cutting you off and forcing you to slow quickly is too great.  Cruise control cannot anticipate nor even react to such things.  Also using cruise control in this manner puts unusual loads on the switches and motors that make it work, possibly causing malfunctions and/or premature failure.   Cruise control is best used on the open road when traffic is light and/or flowing smoothly.

Cruise control is usually installed as a factory option.    There are companies who make aftermarket kits that are reported to be fairly easy to install and not too expensive.  Just replacing an existing cruise control switch will run around $150 in labor so that gives you some idea of the starting place for the cost or labor involved in installing a new kit.   If you are looking for the cruise control to improve gas mileage to save money, be sure to count all the cost of parts and labor to figure out how long it will take for it to pay for itself.  However, if you want it for convenience or to relief some of the muscle cramps of long road trips you don't have to worry about whether the mpg savings will be enough.  Just count any savings as a nice bonus!

There are many anecdotes about naive drivers treating cruise control like an "auto pilot".   Hopefully, none of them are true, but in the interest of a little humor I will retell the story of the RV driver who wrecked his brand new motorhome after he set the "auto pilot" and went back to make a sandwich or a cup of coffee! Other variations include the driver who got in the back seat of his sedan to take a nap and the woman who went back in her van to care for her crying baby after setting the cruise control. Not surprisingly, snopes.com lists these as LEGEND.   They are, however, useful to warn people about the using their cruise controls correctly.

There are devices sometimes dubbed "cruise control" for ATVs.   In reality they are just devices that lock the throttle in position.  As long as you ride on level ground you will maintain a relatively steady speed but it won't adjust like a real cruise control when you go up or down hills.  You will slow down going up hills and speed up going down.  ATVs with such a device should also be equipped with a "deadman" kill switch to shut the engine off if the rider falls off so the vehicle doesn't continue speeding away.  Some early automobiles, like the Model A Ford had throttle lever on the steering column that could be set to maintain a constant throttle but you won't see them on modern vehicles.

Cruise along!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Are You Ever Too Old for RVing, OHVing, or Camping?

Are you ever too old for RVing, OHVing, or camping?  I suppose there may come a time when physical or neurological limitations may interfere with camping and off road activities.  But unless your doctor has issued restrictions or you have severe disabilities that would make camping or riding unhealthy, uncomfortable, or dangerous to you or others, there is no reason you shouldn't keep on going out as long as you feel like doing it.  I have a friend in his late 70's who still organizes and leads two week-long dirt bike rides in Mexico every year.  To celebrate my own 70th birthday this year my wife and I spent several days camping and riding in the west desert of Utah around Chimney Rock Pass, logging more than 50 miles of trail riding on our dirt bikes.  That birthday celebration also gave me a chance to confirm that "A potato baked in the campfire for one hour makes and excellent side dish".  I have no plans to confirm the second part of that saying (i.e., that "A potato baked in the campfire for three hours makes an excellent hockey puck".)  I'll take that on faith!

As you mature you may modify your riding style or even switch from dirt bikes to ATVs or side-by-sides, but in general there is no good reason to abandon your sport entirely just because the calendar says you're getting older.  How you are old is more important than how old you are!  I believe you don't stop riding (or camping) because you get old; you get old because you stop riding (or camping).  I  admit I have been forced to acknowledge that my body doesn't heal as readily as it once did so I try harder to avoid crashing.  That means I'm a little less adventurous than I once was, a little more cautious.  I have even found that the ground comes up a lot faster and harder when I jump down from my pickup truck than it used to.  One of my riding buddies was once asked why he didn't take up golf.  His reply:  "Because I can still get my leg over my motorcycle!"  I must admit I came back to camp from one particularly tiring technical ride in the Mojave Desert several years ago and announced that "I think I need some new shocks -- and my bike could probably use some new ones too!"

"You don't stop riding because you get old.  You get old because you stop riding."  is one of my favorite quotes and one I firmly believe in.  Of course you could substitute "RVing" or"camping" or any number of pleasant and popular activities for "riding", but any way you cut it, giving up on the things you like to do will age you much faster than the mere passage of time.  My grandfather was fond of saying "A man will rust out quicker than he'll wear out" and I've seen plenty of folks "retire" to a life of leisure as couch potatoes who didn't last very long.  I know one gentleman who, upon retiring, parked himself in front of the TV and refused to do anything more physical than lifting the remote control and within just a few months had to trade his favorite easy chair for a wheel chair which was, in turn, was all too soon exchanged for a coffin.  One evening when visiting my Dad in Oregon I helped him haul 30 bales of hay on his little Datsun pickup and stack them for the calf they were raising.   We felt pretty proud of our accomplishment.  The next day we drove to Idaho to visit my Grandfather who, at 88, we discovered, had spent the morning hauling 80 bales of hay and storing them in the loft of his neighbor's barn -- by himself!  Dad and I just shared a knowing look and said nothing about our puny efforts the night before.  BTW, Grandpa was not a big husky fellow, but he was strong and in incredibly good shape for his age.  He was only 4'11" tall.  I like to tell people I come from a long line of short people (my Dad was 5'3").  I'm a more average 5'8" or at least I was well into my 70's.

As we age we do need to consider the physical changes our bodies are going through.   Our bones are more brittle and it takes longer to heal from sprains and road rash.  Our muscles may not be quite as strong or as resilient.  So it is only prudent to exercise a little more caution in our outdoor activities.  But that doesn't mean we have to curtail them entirely.  As a dirt bike rider I find I  have lost interest in doing the huge jumps that were, at one time, appealing, but I still thoroughly enjoy trail riding and flying through the whoops!  Of course I am almost obsessive about wearing all my body armor!  And, when it comes to camping and RVing, there are few, if any restrictions imposed by age, unless your doctor shuts you down.  You may need to limit activity when  you are recovering from illnesses or surgeries that are more common as we grow older, but often our health benefits by maintaining regular participation in the things we like to do.  Be wise.   Let your body, not the calendar, tell you what you can and can't do.  Of course, if the DMV pulls your driver's license, you may have to let someone else drive your RV or chauffer you to camp.

My wife and I are in our 70s now and are grateful to still be in good health and able to participate in our favorite outdoor activities.  I must say the concept restricting activities because of "getting old" has been more and more on our minds.   However, we still believe you don't stop riding/camping/sailing because you get old, you get old because you stop riding/camping/sailing.  We do make adjustments to our routines to minimize the risks that could be associated with the physical and mental limitations that can develop as we age, but we aren't ready to sell all our toys and covert to couch potatoes.  But everyone is different.  We have  a friend who is just a few years older whose family just put him in assisted living last week.  He had been fairly active until just a few months ago and has gone down hill surprisingly fast.  For us it is simply a reminder that you never know what the future will bring and perhaps a prompting to be more aware of changes as they occur

Don't let the calendar -- or anyone else except maybe your doctor or the DMV -- tell you when to stop enjoying your favorite outdoor activities.   You (or your doctor) should be the only ones to set limits.  And even if your doctor wants to limit your activities, make sure you understand and agree with his reasoning.  Some physicians tend to be over cautious and may not understand the value of your chosen ways of keeping active.  I could count on understanding from my chiropractor in California.  He was a fellow dirt rider and sometimes raced vintage dirt bikes, but not all doctors have an appreciation for the OHV lifestyle.

Keep on keeping on!