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
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Friday, April 28, 2017

Trailer Mechanical Maintenance

The living quarters of travel trailers required basically the same kind of routine maintenance as any other RV:  regular cleaning, checking for and sealing leaks, servicing appliances, dumping and flushing holding tanks, winterizing (if you don't live in the Sun Belt), and sanitizing the fresh water system.

Unlike motorized RVs, travel trailers have only a few mechanical components you'll need to take care of.  Motorized RVs have literally ALL the mechanical systems (and potential problems) as any other motor vehicle:  engine, cooling system, transmission, drive line, suspension, tires, and brakes.  Travel trailers don't have engines or power trains so they require a lot less mechanical maintenance but there are things you need to watch for and tasks you need to do on a regular basis.

Tires and wheels.  One of the most visible and most obvious mechanical parts of a travel trailer are the tires and wheels.  While some ordinary car or truck tires may fit your trailer wheels, you should use trailer rated tires.  They are designed specifically for the kind of use (or non use) they get on trailers, including long periods in storage.  Check your tire pressure frequently and always maintain the proper pressure.  Your trailer should have a tire pressure label or you can get it from the owner's manual or the manufacturer.  Lacking any specific recommendations, inflate the tires to the maximum pressure indicated on the side wall.  If your trailer is light, using the maximum side wall pressure may over inflate the tires.  When that happens you will see excess wear in the center of the tread and the trailer may feel "squirrelly" in the wind or when buffeted by passing trucks.   Over inflated tires also create a harsher ride that might you might notice as vibrations or bumping transmitted through the hitch to your tow vehicle.   If your tires are under inflated you will see excess wear on both edges of the tread and the tires may run hot, which reduces their life expectancy and, if the get hot enough, can cause blowouts.  Excess wear on only on one edge means the axle is out of alignment, caused the tries to be dragged a little sideways.  Mushy tires will increase rolling resistance, making your tow vehicle work harder to pull the trailer and lowering fuel economy.  One way to ensure proper inflation is to have your trailer weighed and inflate the tires using a weight/inflation chart.

In addition to proper inflation, regularly inspect your tires for wear and side wall cracking.  Most RVs, including travel trailers, get limited use and tread life usually exceeds the expected life time of the tire.  Side wall cracking is an indication that the tires have "timed out" and are becoming susceptible to blowouts.  Wear patterns can be an indication of other problems so monitor them closely.  As mentioned above, excessive wear in the center of the tread indicates over inflation; excessive wear on both edges indicates under inflation; wear on only one edge is probably due to misalignment;  more wear on one tire than the others on a trailer may indicate a brake is dragging on that wheel or that the wheel bearings are going bad and have extra resistance.  Brake or wheel bearing problems will also result in the affected tire(s) getting hotter than the others.

Lug nuts are one of the most often neglected components of trailers.  Sometimes they are hidden under hub caps but even when they are exposed, most people tend to ignore them.  If they are in good condition and have been properly torqued they usually won't have any problems.  However, the constant vibration can loosen lug nuts.  One indication is a shiny ring behind the nut(s) where the wheel has been wobbling.  It is a good idea to check your lug nuts regularly, at least before each trip.  You might do it using a proper lug wrench and making sure they feel tight but the best way is to check them with a torque wrench to be sure they are correct.  When you tighten lug nuts or other fasteners the bolt inside is slightly stretched as the they are tightened.  A torque wrench measures just how tight the fasteners are.  Torque specs are provided by manufacturers indicating the proper tension needed for them to operate at design capacity.  Under torqued fasteners may come loose; over torqued fasteners may stress the bolts and nuts and cause them to fail prematurely.   Extreme over torquing can even strip the bolts and nuts.  When checking the lug nuts also inspect the wheel for signs of damage:  dents in the rim or any cracking.  Have someone stand behind the trailer and watch as you pull it forward a few feet to see if the wheels wobble.   Wobbling wheels may be bent, loose, or may have bad wheel bearings.

Hubs and wheel bearings are another part of the system that is "out of sight, out of mind" for many people.  That can be a dangerous mistake!  Properly lubricated wheel bearings will last for many years and many thousands of miles if not abused.  Abuse comes when the the axle is overloaded or the lubricant is compromised by water, dirt, or solvents or simply get used up.   Check your owners manual or with your dealer to determine the recommended schedule for servicing your wheel bearings.  Lacking any other guidelines, service them at least once a year, more often if they get submerged (e.g., a boat trailer, fording streams, or caught in a flood).  Servicing them consists of removing the bearing from the hub, cleaning an inspecting the bearings and the hubs for wear, re-packing the wheel bearings with appropriate grease, reinstalling the wheel bearings and torquing the axle nut to the proper specification.  Most axle nuts have a slotted cover that has a cotter pin that goes through the slots and through a hole in the end of the axle to keep the nut underneath from spinning as the wheel turns.  Always use a new cotter pin.  The old one  will have been weakened by bending and unbending as it is installed and removed and could break.  If the axle nut is too loose, the wheel will wobble, stressing the hub, bearing, wheel and tire.  If the axle nut is too tight,  it will put extra pressure on the wheel bearings, causing them to overheat and wear faster.  When you remove and inspect the bearings some of the things to look out for are contaminates in the grease (dirt, water, metal shavings), burned grease (may be black and dusty instead of greasy or may only smell burned), any loose or missing balls in the bearing, any signs of wear on the bearing race inside the hub.  Damaged races can sometimes be pressed out and replaced but very often by the time the race is damaged the hub also needs to be replaced.   Packing the wheel bearings with grease before reinstalling them is a crucial step.  You want to make sure the grease fills the bearing.  There are tools that clamp around bearings and have a grease fitting that allow you to use a grease gun to pack the bearings but the most common way of packing bearings is to place a dollop of grease in one hand  (your left hand if you're right handed or your right hand if you're left  handed), then hold the bearing firmly by one edge in your dominate hand with the wide side of the bearing down.  Press  the edge of the  bearing opposite your hand down into the grease in the other hand until new grease squeezes out the top side of the bearing.  Then rotate the bearing slightly to the next position and repeat until you have packed grease all the way around the bearing.   Different applications may require different types of grease.  Ordinary wheel bearing grease is the most common, but boat trailers should use a special waterproof grease.  General purpose grease is usually OK for most trailer wheel bearings but for best results use Disc/Drum Brake Wheel Bearing Grease.

Some trailer axles have a grease fitting in the end of the axle so you can lubricate the bearings without having to remove and repack them.  Even with these you will want to remove the hubs and inspect and repack the bearings every year or two.  With other types of axles, even if they have an added on bearing protection system like a Bearing Buddy that lets you use a grease gun to push grease into the outer bearing, the hubs should be removed and the bearings inspected and repacked at least once a  year.  The after market bearing protection systems do not adequately lubricate the inner bearings.

Trailer suspension.  Most travel trailers I've seen have leaf springs that connect the axles to the frame and absorb some if not most of the bounce when the wheels encounter an obstacle or rough surface.   A few also  have shock absorbers.  Sometimes shock absorbers can be added to minimize bouncing of the trailer.  Since you're not riding in it, minimizing bouncing mainly helps avoid unwanted rearranging of the contents and reducing stress on coach components but if you can feel excessive bouncing of the trailer through the hitch into the tow vehicle, you might want to explore the possibility of adding shock absorbers.  Springs generally don't require a lot of maintenance.  For the most part you just need to make sure all the fasteners are tight and not damaged.   Spring shackles should be greased periodically.   Lacking any specific recommendations from the manufacturer, they should be lubricated at least once year.  When you inspect your springs, the leaves should all be neatly stacked on top of each other, not twisted or skewed and there should be no signs of cracked or broken leaves. Usually the springs are slung  under the axles and held on by massive U-bolts.   Sometimes, if the ride height is too low, you can do what they call "flipping the axle".  That generally means moving the springs so they rest on top of the axle instead of being slung underneath it and raising the height of the body several inches.  If you have a drop axle and need even more height, it might be possible to literally flip the axle over.  Normally drop axles drop down between the wheels to  lower the trailer body. Flipping it over or replacing it with a straight axle will then raise the trailer body.  Exercise caution and check with a qualified technician before "flipping" an axle.  Doing so may have unexpected consequences.  For example, some axles are designed so the wheels tilt slightly.  Flipping them over will reverse the angle of the wheels, which will affect handling and tire wear as well as clearance inside the wheel wells.

More on trailer springs.  Most trailers have leaf springs that require little maintenance but over time, the vibration and flexing may cause one or more leaves to break.  If you have to replace the springs, be sure to measure them so you get the right length and get the right style shackles.  Always replace springs in pairs.  Doing just one side will likely result the new side being higher than the old one and will stress both the axle and the body of the trailer.  Sometimes you can increase ride height and weight capacity by using heavier springs.  Sometimes you can also adjust ride height by changing the spring shackles.  But be aware that using longer shackles may put extra stress on the shackles and their mounting points because of additional leverage so consult a suspension expert first.  In addition to replacing springs,  a good spring shop can re-arc and rebuild existing springs.  Re-arcing restores the shape and function of the original springs.  Rebuilding replaces damage leaves and/or adds leaves for extra capacity. 

Trailer axles.   Trailer axles are usually pretty sturdy and don't require any maintenance.  They may be solid or tubular, round or square, straight or drop style.  You should visually inspect your axle(s) from time to time to ensure they are securely attached, properly aligned, and have not been damaged.  Bent axles will affect handling and cause excessive tire wear.  Cracked axles are rare but are in danger of breaking and dropping your whole trailer onto the pavement!  If you have a bent or damaged axle you might be inclined to try to repair it rather than replace it.  Not a good idea!  Damaged axles should be replaced.   You will want to find a matching axles (length, diameter of the tubing, straight or drop style) unless you have a need to change the ride height. 

Trailer hitch.  One more critical mechanical component is the trailer hitch.  Hitches take a lot of stress and, over time, may develop problems, such as cracking in various places or stretching where they fit around the ball (bumper pull trailers).  The pin on 5th wheel hitches may get worn or bent or become loose.  Worn or damaged components should be replaced as soon as possible as a failure is likely to have catastrophic consequences for the trailer, the tow vehicle, and any other nearby objects or person.  The hitches on some trailers are welded to the tongue; some are bolted on.  If you're is bolted on, you can probably replace it yourself.  For best results use new bolts and nuts when  you replace the hitch.  If the hitch is welded on, it will have to be cut or ground off and a new one welded on.   Many trailer owners overlook the need to grease the ball when hooking up their trailers.  Often the ball on the receiver on the two vehicle is a nice, shiny chrome and greasing it makes it look ugly and you get dirty grease all over your pants whenever you happen to brush up against it.  However, greasing the ball will reduce wear so the ball and hitch last longer and it minimizes binding between the ball and the hitch when turning.  Sometimes an ungreased hitch will create an annoying squeak when pulling the trailer.  That squeak is a sign of excessive wear happening every time the ball moves inside the hitch.

About the only other mechanical parts on travel trailers are tongue jacks and stabilizing jacks.  Tongue jacks may be manually or electrically operated and usually need little maintenance other than cleaning and lubrication.  Be sure to periodically check the electrical connections on electric jacks.  A common problem is a loose or corroded ground wire.  Manual jacks usually are operated by  a crank and the handle on the crank may need cleaning and lubricating.  The gears inside the jack should be packed in grease.  Sometimes you can service these gears, sometimes you can't.  If the jack gets difficult to turn when there is no weight on it, try cleaning and lubricating the gears if you can get to them.   If you can't service them, about your only option is to replace the jack.  Not all trailers have stabilizing jacks but if yours doesn't, you may want to add them.  The most common stabilizer jacks I've seen on travel trailers are scissor jacks.  They are welded or bolted to frame.  You may only have two at the back (and use the tongue jack to level the front) or you may have them at all 4 corners.  They usually require little maintenance, other than cleaning and light lubrication on the moving parts (the screw itself and the hinge points for the scissors).  Some light weight tent trailers have simple stabilizers that drop down and lock into place.  They don't provide any lift for leveling, but will keep the trailer from tilting or bouncing.  If any tongue or stabilize jacks are bent they should be replaced.  Sometimes you can straighten bent parts to get by for a while, but having been bent and straightened they will have been weakened and are likely to bend again -- and again -- until they cannot be corrected or fail completely, usually causing additional and expensive damage to the trailer.

Trailers also need maintenance similar to your house.   The plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and electrical systems will experience the same kinds of wear and tear and need the same kind of preventitive and restorative maintenance as the corresponding residential systems.  You will also need to pay attention to exterior finishes and weatherstripping.

Trailer on!

Motorhhome Mechanical Maintenance

Motorhomes have at least all of the mechanical components and systems of other motor vehicles, like your car or truck.  That being said, you will have to perform the same regular maintenance (oil changes, chassis, lube, brake service, etc) as are needed on you daily driver.   However, because motorhomes don't get as much use as our daily drivers, the maintenance intervals may be more likely to be determine by the calendar instead of the odometer.  Sitting idle can be one of the most detrimental things for a motor vehicle as lubricants and "soft"parts deteriorate over time.

Be sure to follow the maintenance schedule in  your vehicle owners manual.  Unless you are taking a long trip, you'll  probably need to schedule oil chances and chassis lubes based on time rather than mileage.  At the very least you should change the oil and lube the chassis at the beginning of each season.  It is also a very good idea to change the oil at the end of the season before you put it into storage for the winter.    That means you could sometimes log zero miles between the pre-storage oil change and the start of season oil change.  Why would  you need to do that?  Well, you should be running the engine at least a few minutes each month while it is in storage but even without that,  the oil in the crankcase will absorb some contaminates left behind from before the oil was changed and moisture can accumulate during storage and affect the oil.  Always install a new oil filter when  you change the oil.  If you do the oil change yourself, examine the old oil for possible problems:  metal shavings, moisture, antifreeze, or a burned smell.  Metal shavings sometimes show up in new vehicles as a result of left overs from the manufacturing process but in older engines they are a sign of internal problems and excessive wear.  Moisture may just be from condensation during storage but antifreeze indicates a coolant leak into the engine.  The most common problem is leaking head gasket but it could also come from cracks in the head or the block.  A burned smell indicates the engine has been overheating.  An engine can overheat from internal resistance enough to scorch the oil without ever raising the coolant temperature enough to be reflected on the temperature gauge or to activate the "idiot light".  If you find and evidence of problems you should seek to have them diagnosed and corrected before they can cause further damage.  Chassis lube should be performed together with each oil change.  Be sure you can identify and access all the lubrication points if you are doing this yourself or take it to a qualified specialist.

Air filters should be checked whenever you change the oil or more frequently if the vehicle is being operated in dusty conditions.  Dirty, clogged filters should be replaced.  Clogged filters negatively affect performance and fuel economy.  Replacement paper filters are inexpensive and are easy to change.  An alternative for increase performance is to install a K&N reusable air filter.  These are oil-charged and can be cleaned and reused over and over.  They also are less restrictive than ordinary paper filters, increasing the flow of air into the engine.

Fuel filters should be inspected and replaced per the vehicle maintenance schedule.  A clogged fuel filter may cause fuel starvation, decreasing both performance and fuel economy.  Many large vehicles have more than one fuel filter, so be sure to locate and replace all the filters.  There may be a small filter in line near the engine and another one back near the fuel tank.  Some filters are internal to the fuel tank and therefore are impossible to inspect and difficult and expensive to change.

Check the coolant in the radiator.  If it is low there may be a leak that needs correcting.  Typical places for leaks are radiator hoses, heater hoses, heater cores, and the radiator itself.   Correct any leaks and top off with the proper coolant.  If there is any sign of oil in the radiator there is internal engine damage, such as crack in the head or block, that is allowing oil to be forced into the cooling system.  Rusty coolant should be drained and the system flushed and refilled with new coolant. Some cooling system leaks can be temporarily cured by adding stop leak to the radiator.  However, anything that can plug leaks can also plug the radiator core so it is better to have the leaks properly repaired.

Motorhome transmissions undergo a lot more stress than the one in your family car.   The size and weight of the motorhome are the major factor but it may also be affected by towing a dinghy or a trailer.  You will want to keep a close eye on the transmission fluid.  Automatic transmission fluid should be a deep reddish color.  If it is brown or black or smells burned, the transmission  has been overheating and is in danger of failing.   Check the fluid level when the transmission is warm (vehicle has been driven at least a few miles), with the transmission in PARK and the engine idling.  If it is low, add fluid to bring it up between the marks on the dipstick.  Sometimes if I need to add fluid I will use Lucas transmission additive instead of plain transmission fluid.  The Lucas product contains additives to reduce friction and to treat seals and gaskets to keep them pliable and working well.  If you use additives, be sure to follow the manufacturer's guidelines for how much fluid to replace with their product.

Wheels and tires.   Check tire pressure before each trip and, preferably, every morning before hitting the road.  When you stop for gas, lightly touch each tire to see how hot they're getting.  All the tires can get pretty hot on a hot day, but if one tire is hotter than the others, it may be under inflated or there may be some abnormal resistance, such as a sticking break or a bad wheel bearing.   Inflate your tires according to the vehicle manufacturer's recommendations or the the maximum pressure on the sidewall.  For even better pressure settings, have each wheel weighed at a truck scale and use tire weight inflation chart to match the tire pressure to the actual load on each tire.  Over inflation will cause excessive wear in the center of the tread and usually the reduction in surface area in contact with the road will make the vehicle feel squirrelly and ride rougher than normal.  Under inflation will cause excessive wear on both outside edges and cause the tire to overheat and the vehicle to feel sluggish.  Turning the front wheels when stopped may be harder and you might hear tire squeal on turns.   Excessive wear on just one outside edge indicates an alignment problem.  Cupping of tires indicates an out-of-balance condition.  When inspecting your wheels and tires, be sure to check the lug nuts and look for any damage to the wheels.   Damage maybe in the form of dents that come from impact with obstacles or cracking from vibration.  Loose lug nuts might be indicated by a shiny ring behind the nut even if the nut feels tight.  At the very least check the tightness of all lug nuts periodically using your lug wrench.  For an even better check and added peace of mind, check the lug nuts using a torque wrench to be sure they are properly tightened.  Check with your local mechanic or tire shop if you can't find the torque specs in you owner's manual.

Wheel bearings.  The rear wheel bearings on most vehicles are lubricated by oil from the differential.    Front wheel bearings require grease and should be checked and service at least once a year.  You have to remove the hub to get to the wheel bearings.  Once you have the bearing out, inspect it for wear, contamination, and loose or missing balls.  If there are loose or missing balls, replace the bearing.  Inspect the race (the part the bearing rides on in the hub).  If it is rough or shows other signs of wear, it may also need to be replaced.  Usually you can press or drive the old race out and press in a new one.  If that doesn't work,  you will have to replace the hub.  If the old bearing is serviceable, clean it with solvent and dry it thoroughly.  Then pack it with wheel bearing grease.  You can buy a tool to pack bearings.  It consists of pair of shallow cones that clamp on the sides of the bearing and has a grease fitting through which you force grease with a grease gun.  The old mechanics standby method of packing wheel bearings doesn't required any tools, just your bare hands.  Put a dollop of grease on your non-dominant hand.  Hold one edge of the bearing with the wide side down in your dominant hand.  Press the bearing down into the grease until it squeezes out the top side of the bearing.  Then rotate the bearing to put grease into the next segment.  Continue until the entire bearing has been filled with grease.  When reinstalling the hub, tighten the axle nut to the torque specified for your vehicle.  It it is too tight it will put extra  pressure on the bearing and cause excessive wear and over heating.  If it is too loose the bearing will rattle and wear unevenly and the wheel may wobble.  The axle nut has a slotted cover through which a cotter pin is inserted through a hole in the end of the axle to prevent the nut from spinning as the wheel turns.  Always use a new cotter pin.  The old one will have been weakened by bending and unbending during installation and removal and might fail.

Air conditioners.   Many motorhomes are equipped with automotive dash air conditioners.  There is little owner maintenance associated with these systems other than to make sure the condenser (looks like a small radiator in front of the radiator) is clean, that the fan belt is in good condition and properly adjusted, and that the clutch on the compressor goes on and off as you turn the A/C on and off.  Testing and refilling the coolant in the system requires special equipment and training.

Belts and hoses.  Belts and hoses are made of rubber and are subject to deterioration over time as well as wear and tear from use.  Inspect the fan belts to be sure they aren't frayed or show signs of slipping (a slick, high gloss on the side of the belt that contacts the pulleys).  Check to see if they are properly adjusted.  You can usually adjust a belt by loosening one of the accessories it drives, like the alternator, power steering pump, or air conditioning compressor, pushing the accessory to tighten the belt (you might need some leverage such a a large screw driver or small crow bar to do this), and then re-tightening the mounting bolts for the accessory.  Any frayed, cracked or badly stretched fan built should be replaced.  There may be multiple fan belts.  Sometimes they are simply redundant or added safety but usually there are different belts for different accessories.  Be sure to inspect and adjust all the belts.  Many newer engines have a serpentine belt instead of fan belts.  Serpentine belts are wider and flatter than regular fan belts and the inside of the belt has rubber teeth that fit into corresponding teeth on the pulleys or sprockets.  Serpentine belts weave around wrapping around several pulleys on the front of the engine.   If your vehicle has a serpentine belt instead of fan belts and it is damaged, it will have to be replaced.  There will be a tensioner that holds the belt tight.  It usually has notch  or square slot to fit a 1/2" ratchet to move the tensioner so the belt can be removed.  It also has to be moved to install the new belt.  Unless the tensioner is damaged, it should automatically maintain the proper tension on the serpentine belt.  Check all the clamps on radiator and heater hoses.  These are common points where leakage occurs and can usually be corrected by tightening the clamp (if it is a screw type clamp that can be tightened).  Crimp clamps may have to be replaced.  Make sure the leak is from the end of the hose and not around the clamp where over tightening may have weakened or cut into the hose.  Heater hoses often leak at the connections and often there is enough slack to cut off the damaged end and reinstall it without having to replace the entire hose.   If the hose is hard and brittle it will have to be replaced.  After checking the clamps on the radiator hoses, squeeze them where you can reach them to see if you can feel any weak spots.  Those with  internal wire reinforcing will be difficult to test this way, but plain rubber hoses often have soft spots you can feel.   When you find one with soft spots, replace it before it ruptures and allows the coolant to escape and cause the engine to overheat.

The engines for on board generators required the same kind of regular service as the vehicle engine:  change oil and filter, check and, if necessary, replace air and fuel filters.  The schedule for the generator motor is normally done according to hours on the meter but it is always a good idea to service it at least once a year regardless of low use.  Check spark plugs.  If burned or crusted, clean or replace, being sure to set the gap to the proper measurement.  Most RV generators are air cooled.  But, if yours is liquid cooled, inspect the coolant, hoses, and radiator as you would the vehicle cooling system.

Some motorhomes are equipped with hydraulic or electric leveling jacks.  The jacks themselves need to be inspected, cleaned, and lubricated.  The hydraulic fluid level needs to be checked and proper hydraulic fluid added if it is found to be low.  DO NOT use regular motor oil!  Check all the electrical connections and clean an tighten as necessary.  Inspect all the hydraulic lines and fittings.  Loose fittings should be carefully tightened, damage or leaking lines should be replaced.

Motorhomes also need maintenance similar to your house.   The plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and electrical systems will experience the same kinds of wear and tear and need the same kind of preventitive and restorative maintenance as the corresponding residential systems.  You will also need to pay attention to exterior finishes and weatherstripping.

Motor  on!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Camping Stores

In a previous post we addressed "Camp Stores".  They are the little stores in a campground that usually offer some staples and camping supplies as opposed to larger camping stores, that focus on selling camping supplies and equipment.  In this article we will focus on "camping stores":  stores or stores with departments that primarily sell camping equipment and supplies.

Camping stores might be appropriately applied to any store that regularly sells camping supplies and equipment.  We usually think of places like Camping World, L.L. Bean, and REI primarily as camping stores.  Department stores such as Walmart, Kmart, Target, and Sears usually have large camping sections which qualifies them as camping stores. Sporting goods stores like Big 5, Dicks, Cabela's, and Sportsmans Warehouse are, of course, also good place to find camping supplies and equipment.  Many RV retailers have in house stores that sell mostly RV oriented supplies and accessories, but because camping and RVing are so closely aligned, you often find a variety of general camping supplies there too.  You may also find camping supplies at your local grocery store and large pharmacy chains like Rite Aid and Walgreens.  Some auto parts stores stock a limited amount of RV supplies too and sometimes that includes camping items.  You might even find camping supplies in truck stops and travel centers along major highways.

When I'm in the market for camping supplies and equipment, whether for tent camping or RVing, the first place I usually look is ebay.com.  That is, if I can afford to wait a few days for the items to be delivered.  For more immediate needs, I'll head to a local store like Big 5 or Walmart.  I've kept track of my ebay purchases over several years and have found that by judicious choice of purchases I've saved an average of over 50% over retail, even when I include shipping.  But whenever you use an Internet auction site, be sure you know what things will cost through regular local or online retail outlets so you don't over bid.  Remember, to some extent, to win an auction on ebay you must be willing to pay more than anyone else in the world!  Don't let yourself get drawn into a bidding war over something you can get elsewhere.  I've seen bids for items on ebay climb way above the regular retail price at the local Walmart.  For example, I saw someone pay over $17 plus shipping for an outdoor 12-volt RV receptacle that sells every day at Walmart for under $10!  You also need to be aware of shipping and handling costs, which sometime exceed the value of the product.  I guess it might be worth it if you don't have a Walmart near you, but you should be able to order it online at a reasonable price and have it delivered anyway without overpaying for it in an auction.

Thrift stores are not normally thought of as camping stores, but they can often be an excellent source of inexpensive equipment for camping.  People often donate camping equipment they no longer use to the charitable organizations that run thrift stores.  Often the equipment has only been slightly used because it seems we never get to go camping enough.  Sometimes it is even brand new! People tend to accumulate duplicate items over time or receive them as gifts.  You won't always find equipment like tents, lanterns, stoves, or sleeping bags, but they are pretty common and when you do you find them you will probably be able to get them for a fraction of their original retail cost and very often they will be gently used and still in good condition.  Some thrift stores even recondition items for sale.  You can almost always count on finding plenty of kitchen items -- pots, pans, utensils, dinnerware etc.  You can stock your galley or chuck box without breaking your budget.  They usually have a large selection of clothing from which you can build up your camp wardrobe.  Good winter jackets, like ski parkas, can be VERY expensive when new but you can often find excellent used ones at thrift stores that are more than suitable for camping at a tiny fraction of their original cost.  Thrift stores are also a good place to find good used jeans and other comfortable pants for camping.  You may even find some good hiking or snow boots!  (I like to keep a pair of snow boots in my RV.  I call them my "desert bedroom slippers".  They are really comfortable and keep my feet warm and comfortable around the campfire after a day of having my feet confined in stiff motorcycle riding boots. Thrift stores are also a good place to pick up extra linens for camping.  Bedding and towels can take a beating in camp so having inexpensive and expendable ones is always a good idea.  Other good sources for used items include garage sales and local classified ads.  Also be sure to check your your local version of craigslist.

My advice to you is to look for camping and RV supplies and accessories where ever  you go.  Even hardware stores and home centers sometimes have items you may find useful, even if they aren't specifically designed for camping.  I once picked up a 7' umbrella tent for $10 at a side walk sale at a home improvement store!   Our local home center recently had a special price promotion on telescoping walking sticks.  I would have never thought to look for them there.  I've even found unique camping related items at truck stops and travel centers during road trips.  While you might need to be careful about making unplanned expenditures while traveling, you will often discover that you will never have another opportunity to purchase certain unique items.  In general my suggestion is when in doubt, buy it!  I can't think of a single time I've regretted making such a purchase but there have been many times I've lost out by not buying something when I could.

A couple of tips for keeping cost down:  1) check to see if you already have some excess or duplicate items you can re-purpose for camping before you spend good money on new ones and 2) keep your eyes open for sales -- watch for clearance and manger special signs whenever you go shopping.  Look over the stuff in your kitchen, attic, basement, and garage to see what you might have stored that you can now use.  One other thought:  stock up on bargains when  you have a chance.  That applies mostly to durable goods and supplies.  Buying large quantities of perishable items only makes sense when you have an immediate need and will use them up before they go bad, such as for a large family or group outing -- or if you have a way to preserve them for future use, such as freezing them.  I had to pay $1.50 for two of the little spring type sleeping bag cord locks when I needed them NOW for a trip.  A few days later I bought about 50 of them in one bag on ebay for about what I spent at my local sporting goods store for two!  It took a couple of weeks for them to arrive but next time I need them I'll be all set.

Dollar Tree isn't really a camping store or even have a camping department per se, but you can often purchase many items you might need for camping there.  Check out my post on Camping Supplies from Dollar Tree.  You won't find tents or sleeping bags but you will find lots of cleaning and medical supplies, kitchen items, flashlights, batteries, and I've even found small solar camping lanterns there!

Some items you might find it useful to watch for and stock up on might include spare parts for stoves and lanterns (generators, mantles, pump repair kits etc), tent pegs, personal grooming items (such a camping mirrors, biodegradable soap, pocket first aid kits, etc), LED flashlights and batteries, fire starters, parts for back packs (those darned little clevis pins have a habit of getting lost on the trail!), sunglasses, and bandages and other durable medical supplies.  RVers or tent campers with a porta-potti will want to stock up on toilet/holding tank chemicals.  If you use a gasoline camp stove or lantern, a couple extra cans of camping fuel would be handy.  If your have propane stove or lantern, you can save money by buying multi-packs of propane canisters when they're on sale.

Camping stores are an excellent source of new gear.  However, you can often find gently used or even unused camping equipment at garage sales and via classified ads like ebay and cragislist.  Some of my favorite pieces of equipment have come from these places.  Sometimes used items might need a good cleaning but often you'll find things in ready to go condition.  People sometimes end up with duplicates or they upgrade their gear and the excess ends up in garage sales and thrift stores.   It has always surprised and pleased me to find out how frequently I see brand new items at bargain prices.  If you have a strong preference for buying new products, keep an eye out for coupons, clearances, manager's specials, and end of season sales.  To keep your cost down look for year end sales and manager specials to get bargain prices.

Sometimes you might be searching for a vintage item that is not longer available through normal retail channels.  You may still be able to find what you want on ebay or craigslist.  I did that to get an "accessory safe" for my vintage Coleman lantern.  Why some fairly popular items like that disappear from the market is a mystery to me.  I can only assume they didn't live up to the manufacturer's or retailer's profit expectations or the cost of manufacturing them got too high.  Often, the difficulty in finding them may drive up the price, so do shop around a bit before jumping on a "find" but don't wait too long or the price may go up even more or the item you want may be sold!

Shop 'til you drop!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Take a Hike

Take a hike is a term often used to express disdain for someone or their suggestions.  But it can also be good advice.  Hiking is a pretty safe and healthy form of recreation and it fits well with the RVing and camping lifestyle.

In most places we go camping there are many hiking trails readily available, ranging from simple, almost flat paved trails in urban areas to extremely steep, rocky, difficult trails for the more adventurous.  There are trails in or around many Forest Service campgrounds.  Some are interpretive nature trails with either self guided or ranger led tours.  Some trails are available for multiple uses:  hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, even OHV riding.  When  using a multi-use trail, give appropriate consideration to other users and recognize they have as much right to be there as you do, even if they choose a different mode of movement.  Be prepared to yield the right of way according to appropriate needs.  Sudden movements and loud noises may spook horses so exercise extra care when you encounter equestrian groups on  your favorite trails.  Although you may disapprove of mechanical devices (mountain bikes, dirt bikes, ATVs, etc) there are times hikers should yield.  In many places it is a lot easier and safer to step aside than to maneuver a machine out of the way and back onto the trail -- and it is less likely to do any environmental damage.  Do some research about any trail you choose before you begin.  Know the difficulty and any special risks (weather, animals, water crossings, avalanche, fire danger, etc).  Be sure to check in with the local ranger station and let them know when you are starting out on the trail and when you expect to return so they will know where and when to begin search and rescue operations if  you fail to return at the expected time.  Check the weather report so you can avoid going places that are likely to flood during rain or face avalanche danger if it snows. 

Be sure to bring plenty of water.  Even moderate hiking is fairly strenuous exercise and even on cool days you can work up quite a sweat.  You'll need to replenish your water and your electrolytes to maintain strength and alertness needed for your excursion.  Some trails have natural sources of water available along the way.  Even very clear, clean, pure-looking water can be contaminated so be careful.  Check with the local ranger to find out which water sources are safe.  In most cases the most common affect of bad water is simply a case of diarrhea, which can quickly seriously dampen your spirits  (and other things) but water around old mining or manufacturing sites may be contaminated with dangerous chemicals, such the deadly cyanide used in gold refining.  Even when taking water from "approved" sources, be sure to check up stream for contamination from animal carcasses and feces.  Look as far up stream as you  see and if the view is blocked, it is well worth taking a few minutes to move far enough to be sure the water doesn't contain anything unhealthy before you drink or fill your canteen.  Even washing  your hands and face in contaminated water can expose you to biological and chemical agents that could make you sick.

Like any other outdoor activity, you need to be properly prepared.  First, make sure you have no health problems or  physical limitations that will be a problem during your hike.  Pre-hydrate your body by drinking plenty of water and/or sports drinks starting the day before your hike.  Choose proper clothing according to weather conditions.  Even on warm days it is a good idea to tuck in a light weight nylon jacket or a plastic poncho in case of rain.  Even if rain isn't the the regional forecast, many mountain areas create their own local weather.  And it could get cold at night if for any reason on don't get back on time.  Be sure you are wearing proper footwear.  Comfortable running shoes are favorite among many hikers for easy trails but for more difficult terrain and for added safety anytime, wear good hiking boots.  They will protect you from stubbing your toes on rocks and logs and will help guard against sprained ankles and provide extra protection against snake and insect bites.  Always take time to break in new shoes or boots before you go hiking in them.  Choose a good sock system to ensure your feet are properly cushioned and protected from blisters.  Yes, I said "sock system".   Proper socks for hiking and some other intensive physical activities often require multiple layers to meet all the needs for proper protection and comfort.  Socks should be heavy enough to cushion your feet without overheating and should be made of a fabric that will  wick away perspiration.  Many times it is useful to wear a thin pair of socks under your heavier hiking socks to help prevent blisters.  Usually the thin socks will stick to your feet and slide against the thicker socks instead of having socks rub directly on your skin. If you do get blisters, a product called "moleskin" is a good first aid treatment to cover and protect blisters.  If you are prone to blister and know where, you might apply some moleskin to the affected areas before you start out to prevent blisters.  Many hikers like to use a hiking stick.  It is a good way to help stabilize yourself on the the trail and often eases the burden on your legs, feet and back, making it more comfortable.  I have a collapsible aluminum Coleman hiking stick that takes up little room or weight in my pack when not in use and yet provides a lot of comfort on the trail.  In a pinch it could be used to help splint a broken arm or leg.  In the unlikely event that you are attacked by a wild animal, it might even serve as a defensive weapon.

First aid, having a proper first aid kit and knowing how to use it, can mean the difference between a minor injury causing a little discomfort and a more serious situation that ruins your hike.   Blisters, insect bites, and small scrapes and scratches are likely to happen along the way.  Each person should carry at least a small pocket first aid kit with bandaids, moleskin, and antiseptic cream.  For larger groups, someone should bring along a more comprehensive first aid kit with sterile dressings, gauze, adhesive tape, and some pain medication.  Everyone should have basic first aid training and advanced first aid skills are strongly recommended for at least one person in larger groups and when hiking difficult or dangerous trails.

There was a time when navigation depended on topographical maps and a good compass.  While these are still effective, inexpensive, and even fun to use, modern GPS devices provide easier and more accurate ways to know keep track of where you are and where you're going.  You can also get "beacons" that transmit your location and status to be delivered to one or more designated recipients when the panic button is placed.  Some are even capable of detecting unusual conditions, such as a fall or prolonged inactivity resulting from an injury or illness.  Some can be programmed to deliver regular status reports to chosen locations to friend and family at home know where you are and that you are OK.  In that case, a missed report might signal a problem that would trigger a search and rescue operation to assist you.

Modern electronic communication devices give us lots of ways to call or help or just keep in touch when on the trail.  It is sometimes surprising to find cell phone coverage in some relatively remote areas.  If  you have the budget for it, a satellite phone will work almost anywhere, but beware, they are VERY expensive!  CB and Ham radios generally required line-of-sight between stations but even that might be sufficient in some situations.  Citizen Band walkie talkies are a good way to maintain communications between members of a common organized expedition.  You can even get hands free,  helmet mounted versions for use on OHVs, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Never hike alone is a good rule to follow.  Even a simple injury like a twisted ankle may require some assistance and having help in more serious situations could literally mean the difference between life and death.  In 2003, experienced solo mountaineer Aaron Raltson was trapped for days in a remote slot canyon in southern Utah when an 800 lb boulder came loose and trapped his arm against the canyon wall.  After several days and having long since exhausted the two burritos and a quart of water in his backpack, in desperation he broke the bone in his own arm, then cut through dead flesh with dull multi tool to free himself from his predicament. You can read details of his story here.  Aaron was a very experienced mountaineer, having scaled 59 Colorado peaks over 14,000, 45 of them solo.  If YOU choose to do some solo hiking, be careful and be sure to leave details of your planned trip with family, local rangers, or law enforcement so they can send help if something happens and you can't get back.  A simple hike on a popular, familiar, and frequently used hiking trail probably will probably be pretty safe for just about anyone.  However, as Aaron's story illustrates, even the best qualified hikers can get in serious trouble in difficult and/or remote locations.

One of the good things about hiking is you can choose the level of difficulty and effort.  That means you can start out easy and work your way up to more challenging routes and you can tailor each hike to your  current physical, mental, and emotional condition.  You can also customize hikes to accommodate the skills and strength of any other hikers in your group.

Take a hike!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Getting the Most Out of Your RV

RVs often represent a significant investment.  Even a small tent trailer can run you around $5000 or so new.   Unfortunately, many people only use them for occasional camping trips (average about 12 trips a year according to some reports) so they spend a lot of time sitting unused.  That makes pre-owned (used) RVs especially good values for subsequent purchasers, but wouldn't it make sense to get as much  use out of your investment as possible?  With a little creativity you may find many ways to use your RV.

Our primary use for our motorhomes has been to support our dirt bike outings.  With a family of 6 kids (4 boys and 2 girls with a 14 year difference in age between the oldest and youngest) it served as our base camp for our OHV rides.  We spent just about every 3-day holiday weekend on one of these trips when the kids were growing up.  These days I'm afraid our motorhome doesn't get nearly the use we would like to it.  At one time making a living got in the way of living.  Now that we are retired and on a fixed income, NOT making a living gets in the way of living.  Can't seem to win either way!

A second major use was summer vacations to visit the kids' grandparents in another state.  Even though motorhomes don't get great mileage, the savings in motel and restaurant costs plus the added convenience during travel and at our destination, more than offsets the fuel costs.  When you measure the fuel in "passenger miles per gallon" like is often used for mass transit, transporting a family of 8 in a motorhome delivers a respectable 56 passenger miles per gallon!  That sounds a whole lot better than the raw fuel economy of 7 miles per gallon.  Even with just two people, that's 14 passenger miles per gallon.  When you factor in the savings for meals and motels, motorhome travel really comes out ahead!

With six active children, we often had several soccer games to attend each weekend.  We soon discovered our motorhome was perfect for transporting our small army and all their gear and provided us with a  shelter and other useful facilities for resting, eating, and cleaning up between games.  Our on board first aid kit let us lend help dealing with many small injuries among their teammates as well as our own kids.  Some of the soccer fields were located at schools that were locked on weekends so having our own sanitary facilities was also a boon.

On one occasion the limousine our kids ordered for a school dance failed to show up and we transported about half dozen kids to the dance in our motorhome.  It was definitely an unusual mode of transportation for such an event, but it provided at least as much room for the kids as the limo would have and even better facilities for the more than 1 hour drive downtown to the venue for their dance.  It also created some one-of-a-kind memories for everyone involved and we still get comments from our kids friends decades later.

Disaster Recovery Vehicle (DRV).  I have touted the value in using your RV as a DRV in several places in this blog.   We have used our DRV on more than one occasion.n  Having a well-stocked RV available during any kind of interruption of normal household services makes dealing with them a lot more convenient and can even literally be life-saving.  Your RV can give a you a safe and comfortable place to stay should your home be damaged or if you should experience an extended power outage.  If properly setup you are prepared to weather just about anything.  That means having sufficient fuel in the tanks, proper clothing, food, and medical supplies.  Your RV will provide shelter plus cooking and sanitation facilities and can serve as a temporary ER for you and your family and friends when access to normal medical services are restricted or non-existent.

A motorhome or other RV makes an excellent guest house for visitors.  You can keep your visiting relatives close by but still give them a lot of privacy by setting them up in your RV.

Another popular use for motorhomes is tailgate parties at sporting events.  Be sure to check with the venue to make sure they will admit rigs the size of yours before you show up and get turned away.  RVs provide perfect facilities for your pre-game festivities.

Shopping trips?  You probably wouldn't think of taking your motorhome on a shopping trip.  Too many issues with traffic snarls and limited parking.  But sometimes it might be just right.  Not only does it have lots of space to put your purchases, it can provide you a comfortable place to recuperate between stores -- get a snack, catch a few Z's, freshen up.  It may be especially well-suited for trip so remote factory outlet centers.  Sometimes they cater to RVers, setting aside special parking for large rigs.  It is always a good idea to scout out the destinations beforehand to make sure there will be appropriate space for  your rig.

New Years Eve celebrations.   I read of an enterprising owner who used  his motorhome to transport his wife and some friends to New Years Eve outing at a nightclub about 90 minutes from their home.  Knowing it would be a late night and drinking would be involved, he obtained permission to park on a vacant lot near the club so they had a safe and comfortable place within walking distance when the night's festivities ended and they were sometimes in no condition to drive home.

Taking a group out.  Whenever you have more people than will fit in your family car or minivan, you might consider using your RV.  However, not all the seating in an RV is rated for occupancy on the highway.  Any approved seating should be equipped with seat belts.   Passengers in other locations might present a safety hazard and, in case of an accident, you may face liability issues.  You may also be subject to getting a citation and paying a fine if a law enforcement officer happens to notice your excess passengers for any reason.

A night out at home?   Why not?  You can eat dinner and spend the night in your RV right in your own driveway or backyard.  Makes a kind of unique date night and if you still have kids at home may provide you more privacy than you usually get in the house.  We once celebrated our wedding anniversary in our cab-over camper -- picked up a wonderful steak dinner at our favorite restaurant and enjoyed a delightfully intimate candle light  dinner and pleasant evening in the camper.

Another option is to rent out your RV.   You might be able to do it yourself but many people use professional rental agencies to handle renting their RVs.  That is one way to help offset the cost of ownership.  One such operation is outdoorsy.com.  You can usually still reserve it for your own use whenever you want, but might actually turn it into a positive revenue stream when you are not using it.  Sure beats just having it sit there and depreciate!  There are, of course, some risks associated with renting it out and some inconveniences.  You won't want to keep your personal belongings in it when renting it out and renters might do some unexpected damage and you should count on additional wear and tear.  You will have to keep up with all scheduled maintenance and be prepared to make repairs as necessary to keep your RV in rentable and presentable condition.

Think outside the box.   You'll probably come up with even more fun, interesting, and innovative ways to use your RV.

Be creative!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Care and Repair of Overhead RV Cabinets

Most RVs have many overhead cabinets.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  Having plenty of storage is a wonderful thing.  However, I've seen overhead cabinets in several RVs pull loose due to age and/or overloading.  Sometimes water intrusion into the ceiling and/or wall will have promoted dry rot that weakens the mounting points, but often they were just weakly mounted in the first place.  Storing potato chips and napkins isn't likely to cause any problems, but avoid heavy items like canned goods, spare batteries and tools.  Even though individual items may not be especially heavy, the cumulative weight may exceed the intended design.  I've seen cabinets that looked like there were only screwed into the 3/16" plywood wall paneling with no attempt find studs in the wall for better support and additional strength.   Installations such as this are lucky if they are strong enough to support empty cabinets!

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Re-attaching loose cabinets is NOT an easy or fun job so you will want to avoid it if at all possible.  Begin by only putting light items in overhead cabinets.  Then monitor the cabinets so you can tell if they are starting to come loose so you can deal with it before they fall off.  Even light weight items will add up if there are a lot of them.  Keeping weight low will help maintain a stable center of gravity in  your RV too.

If you have an overhead cabinet that is coming loose, the first thing to do is to empty it out to minimize the damage and gain access to repair it.  Once is is empty you may be able to push it back into place and re-anchor it to the wall.  Sometimes the cabinets are secured via screws inside the lower shelf.  To get to them use a screw driver or putty knife to lift the edge of the paneling on the top of the bottom shelf until you can remove it completely.  That will expose the framework inside the shelf, including the back piece through the cabinet is screwed to the wall.  If the cabinet has pulled completely away from the wall and the screws have pulled through you'll need to back out the old screws to be able to get it back in place.  Screwing the old screws back into the stripped holes is probably a waste of time.  If they were originally screwed into studs you may be able to repair the hole by inserting wooden repair plugs before re-installing the screws.  If the screws only went into the plywood, you'll need to relocate the screws to a sturdier location.  Try to find studs to screw into.  If you can't find any studs you might get some additional strength by using moly bolts.  You'll need to drill a big enough hole in the wall for the moly bolt, but tight enough so it will hold the sleeve so you can tighten the bolt.  The face plate on the sleeve usually has little prongs that dig into the surface to help keep it from turning so the sleeves need to be tapped into the holes.  The sleeve on moly bolts spreads open as you tighten the bolt, gripping the back side of the plywood and spreading out the load a little bit so they don't pull out as easily as ordinary screws.  If you have enough depth in the wall you might try Wingit brand fasteners.  They perform the same function but use a different design that spreads out behind the wall board.  They are very strong:  rated to hold 300 lbs each.  However,  you have to drill a 3/4" hole in the wall to install them.  And the 300# rating only applies if the wall they are attached to can also support that much weight.  Moly  bolts usually only need about a 3/8" hole.  Wingits usually come with 3 1/2" or 4" bolts.  Sometimes those are too long and might begin to penetrate the outer skin.  If that is the case you can buy shorter bolts, but be sure they're long enough to engage the nut in the end of the part of the Wingit that goes in the wall after they go through the cabinet.  .  If there is any question about having room to install larger fasteners like Wingits, consider trying smaller ones first.  Then, if you do have to move to bigger ones, you can always drill bigger holes.  But if you drill the bigger holes first, you can't repair them without replacing the entire section of paneling. With either Wingits or moly bolts, the strength of the installation is still dependent on the strength of the wall board they're mounted in so it is still a good idea to try to find some structural member behind the wallboard into which you can drive good screws if possible.  I like Grabber screws and they come in a variety of sizes.  Choose a length that will extend into the wall about 1 1/2".  Another possible fix is to secure a sturdy screw strip to the wall so it will be next to the top of the bottom shelf.  Make sure to anchor it into structural members so it will hold strongly.  Then you can screw up through the bottom of the cabinet to hold the cabinet in place.  Doing this will sacrifice a little bit of shelf space in the cabinet, but is a pretty darn good way of making sure the cabinet says in place.  You could install the screw strip under the shelf which would be even safer, but then it is visible all the time, unless it is behind a valance over a window.  If the top of the front of the cabinet has pulled away from the ceiling, you may need to do the same thing to reattach the top of the cabinet securely.  Wingits are not recommended for installations in ceilings and moly bolts probably have the same limitations so you may have to install a strip you can screw the top of the cabinet to.  If you have to install screws through the front of the cabinet where they will be visible you may want to purchase plastic screw covers to disguise them.  These consist of two pieces of plastic:  the base, which is usually a translucent white and a  snap-on over, which should be a color that closely matches the color of the cabinets.  Put the screw through the base so the head of the screw holds the base tightly against the cabinet when the screw is tightened in place.  Then snap  the cover on the base.

For particularly heavy cabinets or if you plan to put a heavy load in an overhead cabinet, you may want to explore ways to support it from below.  If it is over a counter, you may be able to install decorative wooden spindles between the counter and the bottom of the cabinet for a sturdy support.  For cabinets over furniture, you may be able to add a support against the wall all the way to the floor.  Depending on the design and strength of the ends of the cabinet you may need to add shelf supports under the cabinet and anchored to the wall support.  If you have to resort to this solution you can mitigate the appearance of the supports by covering them in fabric or wall paper or painting them to match or complement the wall color.

Good luck!