Archive for Maintaining

Updates, photo galleries, resources …

At Portofinos in Reno, here’s the door prize for the SNU gathering.

See the photo gallery: SNU Portofino’s December 2018

Then there’s the SNU Lunch at the Carson City Plaza November 2018.

See the photo gallery!.

Then there’s some updates and upgrades on the website

A couple of businesses noted our website and requested link updates or citations

50 Best Travel Tips from 10 Years of Travel —  This is an entry on the Your RV Lifestyle blog. definitely some interesting ideas

Jason Noel thinks Big Daddy RV’s in London, Kentucky is similar to another dealer link. Their RV Parts Country makes big claims that might be worth checking  out in trying to find what you need on your next repair and refurb job.

Open Culture notes a copyright expire date in 11,000 Digitized Books From 1923 Are Now Available Online at the Internet Archive. You can not only find free books but also courses and language lessons and movies and other media for your library.




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History of highway and railroad across Wyoming plus early Airstream history

100 Years on the Lincoln Highway, a Wyoming PBS video on YouTube (57 Minutes) — see what was and how it was built and how it grew: good scenery and a lot of insight into transcontinental automobile travel. It is about the roots of the RV experience.

Published on Jun 1, 2017: Before the Interstate Highway System, before famed Route 66, before highways were even numbered, there was one road that started it all, one road that changed America forever: The Lincoln Highway. “100 Years on the Lincoln Highway” is the story of the first coast to coast automobile road in the United States and its impact on Wyoming.

The focus is on Wyoming, of course. A sister video is End of Track (1 hour) and is about the “Transcontinental Railroad’s construction march across southern Wyoming and the growing pains of a state in its infancy.” The railroad preceded highways by 50 years and built many towns across the great plains.

Another bit of history is about the Airstream Clipper article and the 1930’s RV experience.

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Tire theory summarized talking about Nitrogen Snake Oil

The AutoExpertTV dude John Cadogan uses some rather ‘colorful’ expressions as is his wont but the YouTube lecture on the Top 10 reasons not to put nitrogen in your tyres (yeah, he’s an Aussie so he can’t spell tires right) has some good stuff about tires. It is interesting that he gathered nearly 10% dislikes but then there are a lot of folks out there that are addicted to their particular snake oil ranging from Agent Orange to the Vegetarian Free Range Natural Chickens. 

Cadogan gets into the actual measure and is good for several examples of the ideal gas law as well as the relevance of precision in tire matters.

Note that here in the U.S. Costco usually fills tires with Nitrogen. The saving grace is that they don’t charge extra for it and their tires and installation services are usually at good prices. Costco also has a note on their warranty information and window sticker to check lug nut torque after 40 miles or so. That is good advice.

I got into some of these issues recently contesting the idea that 20% of trailer owners found that Goodyear Marathons suffered defects and failed. This was while standing next to a trailer whose owner hadn’t checked his tire pressure before heading out and had three at 2/3 proper pressure and one at half that. As Cadogan notes, most blowouts are due to low pressure and high speeds which heat the tire. That is why all cars since about 2008 are required to have tire pressure monitoring as the government gave up on driver responsibility in tire pressure checking. has a lot of articles about tires including one on the use of Nitrogen. They say the same thing Cadogan does (but with a bit less color).

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Spring breakout rally: Lahontan 23-26 March

It’s time to get that rig road ready! 

No doubt about it, it’s going to be a great weekend for the first SNU rally of 2017. Looks like the weather is going to be typical for March in Northern Nevada. Dealing with a little rain, a little sun, a little wind or whatever won’t inhibit us from enjoying our rally. Weatherwise, be prepared for anything and everything, Plan to join us at the campground at Beach 7 at Lahontan. If you can’t come for the whole rally, come for a day or come for a visit, whatever fits your schedule. 

The rally will be a good, low risk, test of all systems so you can gain confidence that your rig is ready for any trips you plan for this year and that you have it stocked with what you need to be able to enjoy the experience. Sanitize, flush, then fill the water system. Check the tire pressures and the TPMS sensors. Check the supplies inventory. Inspect for winter damage and make sure all the wear parts are wearing properly have the proper preventive maintenance.Keep in mind batteries and tires are good for 5 to 7 years but only if properly maintained. If they are getting up in age pay particular attention in looking for potential problems. Are your propane tanks filled? Is everything outside, like the awning, well secured for road travel? 

Some links: USGS water level reportsstate park Facebook page – Wikipedia on the dam and the reservoirNSP Lahontan home pageDepartment of WildlifeSierra Nevada Airstreams Lahontan page

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Portable heater fuel consumption and issues

With 2 disposable propane bottles of 22 kBTU (thousand BTU also sometimes MBU) each, an 18 kBTU/hour heater should run for 2.4 hours. Still going strong after 3 hours made for a puzzle. For the first clue there was the manual noting that the high heat setting with the 18 kBTU/hour rating required 2 bottles. A second clue is seen in taking a look at the propane bottles. (see Amazon for these heaters and accessories)

note the frost on the bottle! The bottle gets cold enough for that frost because the liquid propane evaporates to provide the vapor for the heater and evaporation needs heat. That much frost indicates that the rate of evaporation was quite high for the size of the bottle. That implies that the heater was running a bit starved so its propane use was a bit less than its full specification. That is why it ran for longer than a simple calculation of fuel stored versus fuel use rate would indicate.

One way around this would be to use a larger propane tank like the one on your RV. That has a lot larger surface area for the liquid propane which means a higher evaporation rate and larger vapor flow possible out of the tank. For that, the issue is pipe size and fittings. The Engineering Toolbox has a page on propane gas pipe sizing that can provide a starting point. Note that 3/8 copper tubing is common in RV’s for appliances. The water heater may run at 15 kBTU/hr, a stovetop burner at 5 kBTU/hr, and a furnace at up to 30 kBTU/hr. The propane in your system is low pressure at 11 inches water column or about 0.4 PSI above ambient (i.e. gauge pressure). The heater in the picture has a quick connect fitting for attachment to low pressure propane sources on the other side. 

Mr. Heater advertises a kit for connecting the heater to a low pressure RV system. It has a 3/8 flare one end, a 12′ length of 1/4 inch flexible hose, and a quick connect to attach to the heater (their two larger models have a connector for this this built in) on the other end. The 3/8 is the common fitting on RV systems. The 1/4 hose should be able to deliver sufficient gas for the high heat setting but the quick connect fitting says its rating is 16 kBTU/hr – a bit short. Note also that there are a variety of quick connect fittings for propane and you need to be very careful to use the right ones for a proper gas tight fit. The Mr. Heater fittings have automatic shutoff on disconnect for both ends and not all such fittings do.

You can also get fittings to connect a propane tank to the high pressure fitting on the heater where the bottles usually go. The problem to watch out for when using this method is the aromatic oil they put in propane so you can smell leaks, even small ones. Mr. Heater has a filter to use to keep this from gumming up the heater. 

It is also interesting that the Mr. Heater auxiliary tank kits have warnings that they are for outdoor use only even though the RV kit is advertised for inside the RV heater connections. There are also California Cancer warnings. And there are propane warnings. And there are combustion inside warnings. So many warnings tends to flood the zone and hide what is really important. If you use one of these heaters you need to make sure that there are no leaks. Mr. Heater suggests the soapy solution bubble method on all fittings. Your RV should also have functioning RV rated detectors for combustible gas and carbon monoxide. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of these gases and know what to do if you have any suspicion that you’ve got them or if any detector sounds an alarm. Take care. Stay warm safe.

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Lehto on What You Need to Know Before You Buy an RV

A 19 minute video on YouTube: What You Need to Know Before You Buy an RV – Lehto’s Law Ep. 3.19. Steve Lehto is an attorney in Michigan who has practiced in the fields of Lemon Law and Consumer Protection for 24 years.

I have warned of the problems that come with RV ownership but I know many people are intent on buying them anyway. In that case, here is what you need to know and what you can do BEFORE you buy an RV to protect yourself.”

His basic advice is to make sure to get a prospective purchase inspected whether new or used. If you are not RV familiar, rent one to camp out in an RV park where you can talk to others and find out if an RV is really going to be your thing. He also suggests buying a used RV direct from the owner so you can also get a feel for the character of the person who is selling and find out why it is being sold.

A lot of good advice in the video. Caveat Emptor [wikipedia]

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Winter tires and waterless hygiene and winter

Two items on the blogs – separate but both relate to colder temperatures and being prepared. One is about tire pressure and the other about how to keep clean when water isn’t plentiful.

On Autoblog they advise that When seasons change, check your tire pressure.

If your car has tire pressure light, you may notice that it comes on more often in colder months. You check the air, adjust accordingly and continue on. The following week, the light comes on again. Is it a fluke? Most likely not. As the weather gets cooler and temperatures continue to drop, so does the air pressure in your tires. Generally, for every 10 degree change in air temperature (either hot or cold), the tire pressure will change about 2%, which means that standard-pressure tires may change about 1 psi. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider the drastic temperature change between sweltering summer and frigid winter days, you may see a 4 to 5 psi loss. The more psi you lose, the more likely you are to face some challenges on the road. Here are some reasons as to why you don’t want to skip out on checking your tire pressure this fall and winter

Of course, the best thing you can do for your tires is to get out on the road. That’s also good for your RV as well. On the other hand, winter roads can be hazardous and cold weather can be challenge on many fronts. If you do need to leave the RV unused, look around on the I’net as there are a lot of ideas about how to best prepare your RV for a lack of exercise. On the other hand, if you do have the opportunity for some cold weather camping, here’s one issue for you.

Another one is from the prepper’s about Waterless Hygiene and How to Keep Yourself Clean. If you can’t run the RV water system because the weather is too cold or if you are extreme dry camping and really have to conserve water, you still need to pay attention to keeping clean.

there are actually products on the market that provide you with quite a good cleansing using no water at all [see link in original article]. A bottle or two in every bug out bag would be a wise investment.

Also check out the Living section on the website. One section has articles about dealing with condensation and staying warm and some of the other winter camping issues. 

Think Spring!

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Winter is ahead – be prepared!

It’s home from the last scheduled rally of 2016 and time to start acting on buttoning up for the winter. This year, we’ve already had one winter storm and there is another parade of such storms going through NW NV this weekend. Normally, concern about freezing isn’t a big deal until Thanksgiving and the kind of freeze that gets into the RV systems isn’t really that big a risk until after Christmas. This weekend’s storm might actually get some snow on the ski resorts well before Thanksgiving which should be an unusual gift for them. So precautions need to be taken.

At this time of year, I usually just depend upon an 800 watt electric heater on a very low thermostat setting or a Thermo-Cube (Amazon link) as many heater thermostats don’t work so well in the 40 degree range needed for freeze protection. The heater needs to be one with a fan and it should be placed to help circulate air in the RV as even a little bit of circulation will avoid cold spots and reduce condensation issues. You might also open up any cabinets or drawers that hide plumbing so they aren’t hidden from inside air.

The first thing to do in getting ready for winter is to open all the drains. Dump the waste tanks, drain the fresh water tank, open the drains for the water heater and the hot and cold pressure lines. Keep in mind that RV holding tanks are vented so they are bacterial colonies. Even the disinfectant used in potable water supplies fades so that storing fresh water in the RV is not really a good idea for more than a week or two.

Some winterize by using air pressure to ‘blow out’ the water in the lines. This is not a good idea. There is a risk of over pressure in the system and residual moisture in the nooks and crannies – especially in mixing faucet valves and low spots. You also need to be careful not to use an oil compressor as you need clean and dry air. The best bet is that potable pink RV antifreeze.

Before you get into the anti-freeze routine, you need to first install a water heater bypass kit (see Amazon link search results) and a diverter kit (Amazon Camco) so you can feed your water pump and pre-filter from a bottle of antifreeze rather than from the fresh water tank. You will also need to bypass or remove any water filtering and conditioning equipment you have including faucet mounted filters. If you’ve got that done, you should be able to get pink flowing in all the faucets (both hot and cold) needing only a gallon or two of antifreeze. The flow to get antifreeze in all the valves should provide enough pink into the drain so the traps are protected, too.

For the water heater, the easiest way to drain it is to pull the drain plug and flip the safety release valve to let air in. Cameco has an anode rod with a valve on it (Amazon link) for aluminum tanks for about $17 that handles both water heater needs – the anode rod to reduce corrosion and the drain valve to make it easier to drain the water heater tank.

Keep in mind that a critical part of the antifreeze routine is the spring flush. When it’s time to get ready for the next active season, make flushing the antifreeze a part of the sanitizing maintenance. Use a quarter cup of bleach to fifteen gallons of water in the fresh water tank, set the feed diverter back to the tank, and then fire up the pump to pressurize the system. At each faucet, let the water flow until the pink is gone and you can smell the bleach. Again, make sure both cold and hot get flushed. After you get the bleach smell at each faucet, let it sit for a few minutes while you drain the tank. Then put some fresh water in the tank and flush that through the system to remove any smells of bleach or antifreeze. Sometimes is takes a few drain and flush routines to clear any hint of a smell. Usually a disinfectant flush and a plain water flush gets things usable and an outing or two will finish the job.

The Amazon links provided here are affiliate links – you support this website by using them to investigate products. Another resource is Walmart online. They have most of the Camco RV line for online purchase, too.

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What can I tow?

G.R. White thinks tow ratings are overrated. This is despite efforts like the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J2807 tow-rating standard.

Alongside power, economy and payload, trailering ratings are the Holy Grail of light truck marketing. However, despite recently adopted Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards that put everyone on the same footing, the value of tow ratings is almost irrelevant in the real world.

There’s only one way to know what your pickup can tow, and it involves a trip to the scales, knowledge of what Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), GVWR and Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) are and how to calculate it all. Sure, the salesman is correct when they say your truck could pull this or that, but will they be in court or the service drive with you if something goes wrong?

The problem is that measures like in the J2807 standard have carefully specified conditions and assumptions and the actual usage may or may not reflect those conditions and assumptions. White also runs afoul of the measurement problem in his suggested solution as well. J2807 is an attempt at a s usability measure determined by actual performance evaluation. Weight ratings are engineering specifications that are estimated from design and materials considerations. A key item that should raise a red flag is when White refers to the legal system as the only time that argument has any merit is in cases of gross negligence.

Of course, you do not want to abuse the engineering specifications for your rig but you do need to be aware of their source. GAWR and wheel and tire ratings, for example, are close to individual component specific and that means they need careful attention. GVWR is more vague as it is about the vehicle as a system of parts. GCWR is even less precise as it depends upon assumptions about frontal wind area and other factors that depend upon specific circumstances. It also pays to keep in mind that, as engineering specifications, these ratings have a safety margin built in and there are also usually conditions and assumptions considered that can be manipulated for special circumstances. Speed and temperature are two of those conditions and assumptions that can be manipulated to adjust ratings, for instance. Sometimes, like for tires, these conditions are actually specified.

If you remember a family RV experience as a kid back in the 50’s or 60’s, you will recall a family sedan or station wagon with a 100-200 hp engine and a three speed transmission towing a trailer weighing maybe a ton or so. Downshifting on nearly any grade was to be expected and their wasn’t much in the way of creature comforts such as air conditioning or even bucket seats. These days, the tow vehicle is an SUV or pickup truck with nearly double the power of that old sedan and a transmission with double the gears, too. The trailer likely ways four tons or more. People seem to get irritated if their automatic transmission downshifts out of overdrive going up freeway grades and turning off the AC as suggested on I15 going East of Baker is not a consideration.

Yes, it’s prudent to make sure your rig is competent and capable before you buy but people also learn from experience. You find a tow vehicle and a trailer that fits your needs and is comfortable for your RV experience. The choice isn’t a permanent one as your needs, interests, and preferences will change over time. Equipment also keeps getting better, too.

Take care. Drive safe.


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Caveat Emptor: Les Schwab Tire Store

The saga started with the TPMS going to alarm about 5 miles out from the rally site. The flat tire suffered from old age and that meant replacement was needed. The Les Schwab Tire store 954 in Fallon was among the closest I could find that had the tires I needed in stock and was able to replace them on a Friday afternoon. Having a friend who knew people who worked there and a store with a big regional brand added confidence that the store could take care of my tire problem.

Strike one was the error rate. Tires were not inflated to either tire or vehicle manufacturer’s specifications. This is a safety issue. The valve stems billed on the invoice were not on the tires. This is a proper service issue and a reason to suspect consumer fraud. The odometer was misread. This is a potential warranty problem. The tire DOT date indicated that the tires had spent 10% of their expected lifetime on the shelf. That reduces the value of the product purchased.

Strike two was response to notification of these errors. I sent a letter to the store manager describing the issues and suggesting that procedures and policies might be changed to reduce the odds of them happening again. The manager called in response to my letter and asserted that the errors were insignificant or just matters of judgment. The ‘computer did it’ was the reason why billing for product not delivered shouldn’t be considered fraud. My concerns were shrugged off.

Strike three was the response to suggestion for improving the store’s quality of service. The idea of fixing the invoicing system was met with laughter. The idea that things might be done differently to reduce errors was dismissed. There seemed to be no interest in quality of service improvements.

Caveat Emptor! (wikipedia) You are not likely to be at the top of your game when out on the road and you don’t need added burdens. Yes, you should always carefully check what you purchase but you are on their home turf, not yours. You need commercial partners you can trust to help you get things right. You don’t need to work with vendors who add to your concerns or issues that might need to be addressed later. 

The issues raised about tire inflation, tire age, and RV issues are worth a review. Posts on these topics to follow!

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The English isn’t all that polished but the message about how to get best lead acid battery life is good. See Maintenance-free lead batteries Panasonic will surprise by their lifetime at the Electronics Lab Blog. It does appear to be a Panasonic battery press release but that only means you need to be careful about what is hype and what isn’t.

“However those are things, which can be easily checked up from available internet source or even better from satisfied users. Instead of it, we better bring you a few advices for usage of VRLA/ SLA batteries to serve you as long as possible”

This list is similar to what you’ll find posted in the archives here: “number of cycles (thus a battery lifetime) is very strongly dependent on a level of discharge before consequent recharging.” … “real capacity of a battery (amount of energy, which we´ll get out of it) is strongly dependent on a discharge current.” … “real capacity of a battery also depends on temperature.” Also note the comments about number of cycles.

Hype? Perhaps the best example is the claim that “top quality AGM VRLA batteries last you up to 15 years.” Maybe. The issue is that lead acid batteries gradually lose capacity as they age. If you use and maintain batteries properly, this will be a gradual degradation. The end of life decision then becomes a matter of when deciding the reduction in capacity is sufficient to warrant replacement.

Lead acid batteries are so common for RV and automotive use because they are inexpensive, do the job, and reasonably tolerant of abuse. As a contrast, lithium ion rechargeable batteries have ten times the energy capacity by weight, cost ten times as much for energy storage, and are very intolerant of abuse – so intolerant that Li0ion battery cells often have their own integrated electronics to make sure they are not overcharged, discharged too far, and protected from excess current. Now, if you want life, the NiFe battery might be for you (see NiFe FAQ or Wikippedia) but the trade-off for lifespan is weight.

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Spring cleaning: 25 tips

Paul Michael has 25 Essential Tricks for Quick and Easy Cleaning over at WiseBread. These are mostly about uses of vinegar and baking soda and similar well tried recipes with a few techniques and hints. Examples:

“Use a tube sock on your hand, soaked in warm water, to wash your blinds. You can do both sides at once and balance the blind.”

“Simple dryer sheets, like Bounce, rubbed onto your baseboards will clean them up a treat. And as a bonus side effect, they coat them in a way that repels dust and pet hair.”

“Repair Hardwood Floor Scratches – All you need is a walnut. By rubbing a walnut into the shallow scratches, their natural oils help hide the flaw. It’s an age-old carpenter’s trick.”

It’s always handy to keep a list like this easy to find – sometimes it might just make life a bit easier, a bit cleaner, and better smelling!

For books on the subject, see Household cleaning recipes on Amazon (affiliate link). Many have Kindle editions so you can take them along without cluttering your RV!

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Summer driving tips: tires

Consumer News has its Summer driving tips to help prevent a road trip catastrophe and it is worth a review.

Check tire inflation, don’t overload, visually inspect, check the spare … good stuff!

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Good tool to have handy on the road: an IR thermometer

Amazon has the SainSonic Non-Contact IR Infrared Thermometer Gun With Laser Targeting on sale for about $18. You need to keep this one handy in your rig so you can check tire and hub temperatures whenever you stop for a break.

If you find a tire running a lot hotter than the others (they should generally run at about 120F +/- 10F or so) you need to investigate. It might have a leak or, maybe, is just under-inflated.

If you have a hub running hot, it could be something as simple as a broken brake spring or as important as a bearing failure.

The IR thermometer can also be handy for cooking and other needs. Look around and you’ll find all sorts of ideas.

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LED Lighting

Those LED strips can be an interesting arts and crafts project. See LED lighting – DIY strip lights (below in the blog).
The 5 meter, 100 12v module, self stick circuit tape runs anywhere from
around $15 to $100 or more depending upon source and (somewhat) LED
type and waterproofing.

A PWM Dimming Controller For LED Lights or Ribbon, 12 Volt 8 Amp, 3301 allows trimming down light levels (and power draw) to just what
you need. It also provides some over-voltage protection. Use a
‘safety off’ with them, just in case. The dimmer board and pot can be pulled
from the supplied case and installed with stand-offs or double sided tape
in the fixture.

The LED strips work well for many of the lights in an older Airstream. The
originals are often 3 bulbs riveted to an aluminum flashing to serve as
a reflector for both heat and light. That reflector makes for a nice
mounting for the LED strips. The result replaced the 60 watt
incandescent with a 20 watt or less, as needed, dimmable LED.

For connections between strips there are some clips Available. Soldering some wire pulled from old CAT 5 ethernet patch cable or low
power speaker cable also works.

Watch out for sharp cut edges that can cause shorts. Lift the ends of the strips a tad off the flashing and put a dollop
of hot glue underneath. The  hot glue is also useful to help secure the

There are three color strips with the fancy remote controls and dimmer that can be used for mood lighting. The 16.4
Ft RGB Color Changing Kit with LED Flexible Strip, Controller + Remote
and 12 Volt 4 Amp Power Supply By Ledwholesalers, 2034rgb Kit
~ $35 makes for a good way to experiment with ‘mood’ lighting options.

A photo gallery is being prepared – more here when it gets posted!

There are other options. An E-Bay search might bring up some bulb replacements that are under $5. These are 36 LED arrays with a set of common bulb bases. The light strips might require a bit more ‘arts and crafts’ effort and skill but the do allow for more options and for spreading the light out.

more, later ….

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What’s the battery doing? Start with a DVM

Ever wonder about what’s left in the battery when off-grid? Worry about running the battery flat on a chilly night?

You’ve got two different measures to consider. One is the state of charge which is like a gas gauge in telling you how much of the battery you’ve used and how much you’ve got left. Another is the battery state of health which, when compared to the original battery specifications, tells you what you can expect from the battery. The state of health is good to know because a battery is like a fuel tank that shrinks as it ages.

Assessing state of charge used to be a matter of sampling battery electrolyte to determine specific gravity. That means lifting and moving a heavy battery to get at cell caps and then pulling a caustic acid sample from each cell for testing. This is serious hazmat territory and OSHA says several thousand people are injured in the U.S. every year from this sort of activity.

A more modern means to determine state of charge is to use a digital voltmeter. Here’s one way to keep an eye on your battery voltage that only costs about $15:

Equus 3721 Battery and Charging System Monitor

One feature that makes this item attractive is that it is a three and a half digit voltmeter. That means it reads voltages out to two decimal places. That’s one digit more precision than you really need which means you can do your own rounding and can easier spot small changes in voltage response to loads and such things.

The Equus 3721 also includes a level graph and indicator lights to qualify the voltage reading. It has 2 modes for the indicators so that they indicate both battery and charging status. Switching to charging mode is not a simple voltage decision where higher voltages are considered charging. It appears that the Equus looks at the voltage it is measuring and switches to charging mode if it sees fluctuations that indicate a charging device is in the circuit. That sort of smarts adds value to the meter but it’s not perfect because a very smooth charge, such as from a good RV converter, will not trigger the mode change.

This DVM is intended for the automobile cigarette lighter socket. That is convenient but not always the best place for assessing RV battery status.

A bit more sophisticated is the BatteryMole Car Battery Warning System (12 Volt Automobile Battery Monitor with Battery Failure Prediction Logic). Made in USA for about twice the price. This one analyzes what engine starting does to battery voltage to infer a battery state of health. The description notes that battery voltage is best measured after 4 hours of no significant charging or discharging. Since it uses engine starting load for its measuring, it won’t help much in an RV situation.

One the high end are items such as Clipper BM-1CW Battery Monitor Compact White
or New Xantrex LinkPRO Battery Monitor and Xantrex LinkLITE Battery Monitor. These are integrating ammeters or ‘electron counters’. They not only watch voltage but also current. They use the data collected to try to figure out the actual state of charge.

“Defining the amount of energy available in a battery is a complex task since battery age, discharge current and temperature all influence the actual battery capacity. High performance measuring circuits, along with complex software algorithms, are used to exactly determine the remaining battery capacity.”

Numbers can be fun but tend to get old after a while. If you use that $15 DVM you can keep an eye on what your battery is doing so you can judge when it needs a recharge or you need to turn off the TV or when the battery just isn’t up to snuff anymore. The $250 class turns a lot of the judgment over to a robot whose conclusions should be properly qualified.

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LED lighting – DIY strip lights

LED lighting is an attractive option in RV’s. LED’s aren’t necessarily the most efficient in terms of battery draw for light output but they do allow for a more focused light that is tailored for what you want to do. Most LED’s run at about 50 lumens per watt:

LEDs are efficient for some applications – “Compare to 14-17.5 lumens per watt for standard “A19″ 120 volt 60 to 100 watt incandescents, and typically 16 to 21 for most halogen lamps rated to last 2,000 hours or more, typically 50-70 (at optimum temperature) for most compact fluorescents rated 13 to 26 watts, and 85-100 for 32 watt T8 fluorescents operated with electronic ballasts.”

You can get battery operated LED ‘puck’ lights, strip lights, lights on a gooseneck, and all sorts of other innovative lighting solutions. The FLEXIT light (says its at Home Depot stores) puts a bunch of LED’s on a flexible pad with a magnetic base that holds 3 AA batteries. That allows spreading the light out a bit as well as shaping the light source for a particular need. You can also see the variety when browsing through the big retail outlets.

One common issue with lighting is the color. Most of the ‘white’ LED lights are like miniature fluorescent light bulbs and have the same color options and concerns as standard fluorescent light bulbs. Jason suggests using a CD you might have handy to see the color spectrum of a light (How do LED lightbulbs compare to CFL and incandescent? |

You can get LED lights designed as replacements for the common light bulbs in your RV. There are even models designed to replace fluorescent tubes. These tend to be rather expensive. If you have a bit of a do-it-yourself bent and some creativity, you might be able to supplement your RV lighting with LED’s without too much effort. One way to do this is to get a 5 meter (16 foot) reel of LED lights and go to town. These LED strip lights are very common and provided in many varieties with costs running from a bit over $10 to more than $100.

The LED strip lights are long flexible circuit boards with an adhesive strip on the back. They are usually configured as 100 separate 12v LED light circuits. You can cut the strip between the light circuits to configure how you want to make your light source – from 100 small lights to one long light source. The typical 3258 SMD (surface mount device) strip circuit used in these has three white LED’s that drop the voltage about 3.4 volts and a 150 ohm limiting resistor. At Amazon – HitLights LED Flexible Lighting Strip Cool White or Bright White, 5 Meter or 16 Ft, 3528 Type, 300 SMD, 24 Watt (sponsored link – new idea here being tried out!) is a $14 item that has a clip for a coaxial power connector.

A strip of LED’s like this has a total light output just about on par with that of the typical 2 bulb T-8 18 inch fluorescent fixture used in many RV’s.

For household use, you need a 12v power supply. One $38 offering that includes both the power supply and a dimmer is 5 Meter Reel Warm White 3100k Flexible LED Ribbon 300 Leds 16 Ft with Free Dimmer and Free Transformer By Ledwholesalers, 2026ww-31k. You can use the dimmer in your RV 12v system.

The simple LED light control for ~$7 is PWM Dimming Controller For LED Lights or Ribbon, 12 Volt 8 Amp, 3301. The whizbang version with a remote control $11 – PWM Dimmer for LED Lighting with 12 button Wireless Remote 12 to 24 Volt 6 amp, 3317-DM. These dimmers use PWM or pulse width modulation just like a lot of solar charge controllers.

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Several tests have been run with inexpensive LED strip lights – pictures to show color differences and how a camera adjusts for light output will be provided soon.

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RB energy supply considerations: Sean replaces his batteries and considers the issues

Sean has a bank of eight 8D sized batteries that he is replacing. That’s 22 kilowatt hours of total energy storage weighing more than 1300 pounds. His blog post takes a look at costs and options.

When all is said and done, there is not a single one-size-fits-all answer for the right balance among batteries, inverters, generators, solar, and power-pole usage for all RVers. Our set of choices is almost the right balance for us. If I were in the market for a generator today, I would buy a 6.5 kW as opposed to the 15+ kW unit we have now (and which came with the bus). But I would definitely not trade in my large battery bank, and the flexibility it buys us, even though it costs us about a grand a year.

His post takes a look at cycle life considerations, charge cost effectiveness, use profile variations and its implications, and what it really costs. It provides a good basis for looking at your options for meeting your RV household energy needs.

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Keep your wheels on – torque the bolts

If your rotating fasteners are too loose, there is the risk they’ll fall off. If they’re too tight you might cause damage. Popular Mechanics tells you what you need to know in Torque Wrench 101: How to Get Just the Right Amount of Force

Car manufacturers specify a ­proper tightening level, a torque ­value expressed in foot-pounds, for every fastener on your car. Torque is a rotational force applied around a point or, in this case, a nut. Put a 1-foot-long wrench on a nut and apply 10 pounds of force to the opposite end. You’re now twisting that nut with 10 ft-lb (distance times force, or 1 foot times 10 pounds).

So, when you do your bearing repack this spring, make sure that your trailer wheels are set with the proper specified torque on the lug nuts. Check again after a half hour or so on the road as trailer wheels sometimes settle a bit.

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Nitrogen for the tires?

Costco does it. Airplane tires require it. What does pure nitrogen in tires do that simple compressed air doesn’t?

Charles Day says it all boils down to moisture. Nitrogen in your car tires at Physics Today tells some of the story.

Pure nitrogen has other advantages over air besides its dryness. When tires get very hot, oxygen, the second most abundant component of air, can react with volatile chemicals in the rubber and cause an explosion. Even at lower, everyday temperatures, oxygen reacts with rubber, weakening it.

So will I refill my tires with nitrogen? Not if it costs more than a few dollars. Having owned the same car for 18 years, I know that worn treads will prompt me to replace the tires long before oxidation sets in.

The question then is how much filling an RV tire with nitrogen might expand its life beyond the 5 to 7 year timeline. That looks to be one of those questions where the data is weak or nonexistent that make for good myth-mongering in order to sell tires…

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