Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How-to #17: Properly Leveling Your Towable RV

One of the first things we do as RVers after we arrive at the campground is to level our RVs. Most RV campsites do have perfectly level pads, but sometimes you do not have this luxury and therefore you need to level your RV yourself. Some RVs come with self-leveling systems and feet, which extend down and self level the vehicle. Unfortunately, not all RV's have such exotic features.

This how-to focuses on the steps necessary to properly level a towable RV, such as a fifth wheel or travel trailer.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How-to #16: Warming Up Your Diesel Truck Fast

As winter approaches, the mornings get colder and our vehicles require more time to warm up. Diesels don't warm up very quickly at normal idle speed. One way to speed up the process is by idling the engine at a higher RPM.

If you have a 2005-2007 Ford Super Duty truck with the Powerstroke diesel engine and upfitter switches, you can perform a simple modification that will allow you to increase the idle speed at the flip of a switch, dramatically shortening warm-up time, and quickly providing a comfortably heated cabin your passengers will thank you for.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How-to #15: Surviving a Fender Bender

No matter if you are towing your RV or driving your towed vehicle, accidents happen. It doesn't matter how watchful of a driver you are. Getting in a minor fender-bender might leave you upset and frustrated, but there's some important information you need nevertheless.

If you have just been in an accident and no one is seriously hurt, take a moment to catch your breath and calm your nerves, then take the following steps to help get through this trying ordeal.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How-to #14: Finding and Reserving the Perfect Campsite Online

Finding the best campsite possible is an essential part of the camping experience. It is not the time to be impatient, tired, or hurried. A poor campsite can cause undue stress and problems during the trip.

But with a little planning, patience, preparation, and a web browser, your perfect campsite can be waiting at a campground near you.

How-to #13: Emptying your RV Holding Tanks

We all remember the scene in the movie RV where Robin Williams is trying to empty the RV's holdings tanks while the whole campground is watching. The ensuing comedy was a bit exaggerated but nevertheless embarrassing.

Don't let this be you. By following a few simple steps, emptying your holding tanks will be boringly uneventful. And you will be the letdown of the campground.

Friday, October 19, 2007

How-to #12: Safety Checking Your RV Before Hitting the Road

RV travel is a great way to get out with family and friends to see new sights, visit new places, and meet new people. In all the excitement though, it's easy to overlook some important safety-related items with your RV.

By following these simple steps, you can help ensure the safety of you and your family before hitting the open road.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How-to #11: Making Campfire Sausage and Beans

No matter how wonderful the scenery, meals around the campfire are often the highlight of the camper's day. Modern camp stoves and specialized cookware make the cook's job easier, but nothing beats the taste and appeal of a meal cooked over the campfire.

Try this easy-to-cook sausage and beans recipe you and your family can enjoy around the campfire.

How-to #10: Installing a Power Tongue Jack for Your RV

All travel trailers have some type of tongue jack to crank the trailer up and down for attaching to the tow vehicle, and also for leveling the trailer. Commonly, this is simply a manual jack that must be hand-cranked. You can upgrade your RV by replacing the manual jack with an electric one. This can help tremendously when connecting up your weight distributing hitch or when leveling your RV, taking out the physical exertion required.

Here are the steps for this simple upgrade.

How-to #9: Choosing a Portable Generator for Your RV

Whether you own an RV, or intend to buy one soon, you will need a reliable source of power for your travels. Portable generators provide an economical and effective solution to your electric power needs, on the road or at the campsite.

For many people though, purchasing a power generator can be an intimidating and confusing process. Here's how to choose the right one for your power needs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How-to #8: Choosing the Right Vehicle for Towing Your RV

Selecting the right tow vehicle to tow your RV, especially one that is that is agreeable as a daily driver, can be a very difficult decision. And even if you begged, most dealers would not allow you to actually hook up your RV and test the combination out. Much of what you have to go by has to depend on the vehicle's specifications, its towing capacity, and your driving impressions. Whether you have your heart set on a particular vehicle or not, there are still many choices to be made about the engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, comfort and luxury features, and whether you want two or four-wheel drive.

Here are some important steps you should take when considering buying a vehicle to tow your RV.

Monday, October 15, 2007

How-to #7: Keeping Your RV Awning From Flapping in the Breeze

Don't let this be your awning!Let's face it, most RVers prefer fair weather camping. The occasional breeze that wafts the smell of the pines through the campground is very welcome but as the winds pick up, RV awnings are the first to become a problem.

Wind is an awning's worst enemy. While awnings can easily handle a mild breeze, they cannot withstand strong winds. Here's how to ensure that your awning can stand a chance in mild to moderate winds.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

How-to #6: Installing an Inverter in Your RV

On our last outing, we had to run the generator constantly so the kids could watch DVDs (the weather was foggy and cold). While the generator was quiet, I would rather not have to run it for hours on end just to watch TV. I'm sure my campsite neighbors would prefer I didn't run it either. So I decided to install an inverter. The inverter produces AC voltage from DC battery power. Now we can watch TV, brew coffee, etc., without running the generator.

The following is a technical description of how the installation went:

Step 1. Selecting the components for the inverter system

An inverter can be a wonderful convenience, but care has to be taken when considering the load it can place on the batteries. Choosing an inverter that both powers every AC appliance you want and does not drain the RV batteries too quickly is a tough balancing act.

My system will power a 27" TV and DVD/Surround system with powered subwoofer, a second 20" TV with DVD player, and a coffee pot. The following are the power consumption ratings for each appliance:

27" TV - 150 Watts
20" TV - 90 Watts
DVD/Surround System - 70 Watts
Powered Subwoofer - 100 Watts
Bedroom DVD - 30 Watts
Coffee Pot - 900 Watts

Adding all of these values up is more than what the inverter I chose can handle at once but I won't be using all of the appliances at the same time. I did it this way to both save the expense of a large inverter and keep the same battery bank I have for now (2 Deka Group 27 86 ampere hour) until the batteries require replacement. If I have to run the microwave, I'll just turn on the generator.

I also wanted an extra outlet in the kitchen area powered by the inverter for things like cell phone charging, walkie talkie charging, etc. so I installed a GFCI outlet which doubled as a power distribution point for the front and rear entertainment systems.

Here is the parts list with links to where I purchased them from:

Xantrex XPower Plus 1200 Inverter - $153.99
Xantrex XPower Remote Inverter Switch - $15.39
Iota 30 Amp Transfer Relay - $59
2 Inverter to Battery Cables - 3' of 2/0 AWG - $49
1 Class T 200 Amp Catastrophic Inverter Fuse - $49.95
1 GFCI Wall Outlet - $12.59
Miscellaneous hardware - ROMEX wiring, screws, electrical connectors, etc.

Step 2. Installing the Inverter and Remote Switch

For proper operation, the inverter must be mounted in a dry area with adequate ventilation, and as close to the batteries as possible to minimize the voltage drop from the batteries to the inverter. The inverter I chose can draw as much as 100 amps so keeping the battery cable length as short as possible is desired.

A word of caution though: never mount the inverter in the same compartment as the batteries unless you are using sealed AGM or Gel batteries. Flooded cell lead acid batteries can produce very flammable hydrogen gas when being charged and just switching on the inverter can cause a spark and possibly a subsequent explosion.

Before mounting the inverter, I had to mount the remote switch. I chose a location right next to the control panel for the LP level gauge, generator on/off switch, and holding tank level gauges (see Figure 1). Fishing the wiring down through the wall and under the bathroom tub was a little tricky but by doing so, I was able to drill a small hole through the floor right next to the compartment where the inverter was to be mounted. I routed the wiring into the compartment and connected to the inverter. This is necessary to do first as the connection is on the underside of the inverter and would not be possible to connect once the inverter was mounted.

Figure 1. XPower Remote Inverter Switch

Now on to the inverter. I chose a compartment just to the rear of the battery tray on the driver's side of the motorhome. I mounted the inverter, and Class T fuse to the left compartment wall with the AC outlets facing to the outside (see Figure 2). I then cut a 1 1/2" hole in the side panel of the compartment and inserted a PVC electrical conduit flange into the hole. This was to prevent the battery cables, which pass through this hole to the batteries, from rubbing on the metal panel.

Figure 2. XPower 1200 Watt Inverter

Next, I wired, using very heavy 2/0 AWG welding cable, the positive connection from the inverter to the Class T fuse, then to the positive post on one of the batteries. Then I wired the negative connection from the inverter directly to the negative post of one of the batteries. Finally, I wired, using 6 AWG, the ground for the inverter to the chassis ground.

At this point, I did a quick test to see if the inverter was working correctly before proceding with the transfer relay and GFCI outlet wiring. I plugged in the 900 watt coffee pot directly into one of the inverter AC outlets, switched on the inverter, and then the coffee pot. Voila! The inverter bar meter read about 800 watts of power delivery and the coffee pot worked just fine.

Step 3. Wiring the Transfer Switch and GFCI Outlet

I wanted the ability to power the aforementioned applicances from shore/generator power when it is present instead of always from the inverter, saving battery power. In order to do this, a transfer switch is necessary to switch between the two sources of AC power. When the switch senses power from shore/generator power, it automatically switches the load from the inverter to the new power source.

One note: there are inverters that have built in transfer switches and are generally quite costly, but offer a convenient packaged solution. An example is the Prosine series of inverters from Xantrex. They also have a built in battery charger and are very good quality. I chose separates because I already have a high performance charger (Intellipower Progessive Dynamics PD9160 with Charge Wizard), and, well, I guess I'm cheap!

I decided to mount the transfer switch as close to power distrubution center (PDC) as possible so as to make wiring the easiest. Unfortunatley, there was not alot of space in the cabinet where the PDC was mounted, so wiring, while convenient, took some manuevering. I had about a 12" x 12" hole, after removing the PDC, to work within (see Figure 3)!

Figure 3. New GFCI Outlet

In the PDC, there were two 15 amp breakers, one for the front entertainment and one for the rear, that were consolidated into one 15 amp breaker, powering both entertainment systems and the new GFCI outlet. The other breaker was dedicated to the battery charger which had been wired into the rear circuit from the factory.

The "consolidated" breaker circuit was connected to the "alternate" connection points on the transfer switch. The wiring from the AC outlet from the inverter was connected to the "inverter" connection points on the transfer switch. Finally, the "output" of the transfer switch was connected to the GFCI outlet. (see Figure 4. - coming soon!). The "load" connection points on the GFCI outlet power the two entertainment systems. This arrangement made it possible to not have to wire in a sub-panel with separate breakers, making a clean, easily wirable solution.

I had to move the charger over a few inches to the left to make room for the rather large (8" x 8") transfer switch box, which was mounted after all of the wiring was completed. I mounted the GFCI outlet to the left of the PDC in an access panel for the water heater. Looks like it came from the factory that way!

Step 4. Testing the System

Before putting everything back together, it was test time. I plugged into shore power and switched the inverter on. I measured the voltage at the outlet and it was 120 VAC. So far so good. I then flipped the 50 amp breaker on in the PDC and I heard the transfer switch click over to new power source. I now had a reading of 118 VAC. So far so good.

Next was to turn on both entertainment systems and crank up the surround system. The power draw on the inverter meter was showing around 300 watts while all this was running. That's a 25 amp draw on the battery. At that rate of draw, I should get about 3 hours of run time before having to recharge the batteries. Of course, this isn't a normal situation as I would probably only have the front entertainment system on and not the rear.

Conclusion and Improvements

Overall, I'm very satisfied with the system but it could use a few improvements. Increasing battery capacity would be first on my list. The whole idea of the inverter was to minimize generator usage. Having to recharge the batteries with the generator after one pot of coffee and a movie is not what I had in mind. I will either add a third 12-volt Group 27 battery or replace the batteries with 2 high capacity 6-volt golf cart batteries.

The second improvement will be to replace the 15 amp breaker with a 20 amp breaker. There are a total of 4 AC wall outlets on the new GFCI circuit (including the GFCI outlet). The load terminals on the GFCI outlet can accommodate up to 20 amps of load while the GFCI outlet is rated for 15 amps. It would be nice to run a 1500 watt heater, the coffee pot, and the TV at the same time from this circuit, of course from shore/generator power as the inverter cannot provide that kind of power.

Part Manufacturers Links

Xantrex Technology Inc.
Iota Engineering

Friday, October 12, 2007

How-to #5: Cold Weather Camping in Your RV

As the weather gets colder, campers start putting their RV's away for the winter. But not so fast. There is so much to see and do during the winter season and enjoying these activities from the comfort of your RV can be a refreshing experience.

Here's how to prepare your RV to ensure you have a pleasurable, safe, and protected cold-weather camping experience.

How-to #4: Building a Campfire for Cooking

While not strictly a how-to about doing some cool mod to your RV, you do need to cook sometime. Cooking with a campfire can be very enjoyable and provide great tasting food if done correctly.

But building a campfire to cook with can be tricky. Keeping the fire at a steady temperature can require constant attention. By following the steps in this article, you can learn to build the perfect fire that provides even heat with no flames reaching up to burn your food or blacken your cookware.

How-to #3: Setting up a Weight Distributing Hitch

When a trailer is hitched to a tow vehicle, the tongue weight typically causes the rear of the tow vehicle to lower and the front to raise. The purpose of a weight distributing hitch is to remove excessive weight from the tow vehicle’s rear axle and distribute it to the front wheels and the trailer wheels. This results in a well-balanced towing combination without the worry of the dreaded "white knuckle" experience that leaves you just plain tired by the time you get to the campground.

Here's how to set this type of system up properly to ensure a safe towing experience.

How-to #2: Weighing Your Motorhome

Many motorhomes end up overloaded simply because people put too many things into them. There is no quick and easy way to determine the weight of the items you have loaded, so there is a temptation to keep loading stuff until every available space is filled. People are loading by volume, but weight is far more important.

Unfortunately, you may have exceeded the load-carrying capacity of the tires and/or axles long before everything is stowed. The only way to tell if your motorhome is overloaded is to have it weighed. Follow the steps in this how-to article and you will be well on your way (no pun intended) to safe and worry-free RVing.

How-to #1: Making Your RV Water Pump Quiet

A noisy water pump is a very common complaint among RV owners. Some RV manufacturers use the cheapest pumps and suspect installation methods to reduce cost but this often results in water hammer, clanging pipes, and floor vibration.

To see just how to make your pump as quiet as mine is now, follow this link to read how I did this. Hope this helps you in your quest to quiet your nagging pump.

How to Do Just About Everything in an RV

Welcome to my new RV enthusiast how-to blog! This blog site will serve to help fellow RVers on how to do just about anything you can think of to, in, on, or with your RV. I hope to pass along my experiences with what I have done to improve my RVs during my 15 years of RVing. Look for informative how-to articles with instructions, pictures, commentary, and the best intended advice for fellow RVers.

I often post how-to articles on Some of those articles will appear here as a blog post. Rather than republish the entire how-to article here, I will simply provide a link in the blog how-to for you to follow and read the relevant article.

So visit often and feel free to comment!