Water Heater Maintenance Part 1

RV water heaters fall into several groupings.  There are propane only units, propane/electric units and diesel/electric units.  The diesel/electric units today are mainly from a company called Aquahot.  The other water heaters are sub-divided into tank-less and tank water heaters.  Tank-less water heaters are fairly new to the RV world and are made primarily by Girard and Precision Temp.  The most common water heater in recreational vehicles are the tank water heaters and come in 6 or 10 gal capacity.  Lower end units will be propane heat only and then the most common today is the propane/electric water heaters.

When it come to maintenance these articles will deal with what I call the user maintenance. That is maintenance that does not require special tools or equipment to perform and is listed as user maintenance in the manuals that come from the manufacturers.  This set of articles will be broken down based on the types of water heaters (Tank, Tank-less and AquaHot).  As with any maintenance, please review the requirements in the owners manual or contact the manufacturer.

Since the most common water heater used on RVs is the tank type, that will be the first one we will tackle.  First thing first is safety.  Prior to performing any maintenance of the water heater, turn it off and let the water cool before starting.  A good time to perform this maintenance is prior to the first trip of the year or when you de-winterize the unit.  To perform the maintenance you will need a vacuum cleaner, hand tools, water hose with a sprayer attachment that will fit into the water tank.  If your water heater is a Suburban model you may also need an Anode Rod, Atwood water heaters do not need the Anode Rod.

For the maintenance, start by vacuuming out the bugs and dirt.  Using the vacuum nozzle, clean out the burn tube.  Look for any areas of soot and clean them up as well.  Soot is an indication of incomplete burning normally caused by bugs in the burn tube.  Once the cleaning is done, put away the vacuum cleaner.  Examine the bug screen on the water heater door.  If you don’t have one, get one from the RV center near you.  You will need to know the type and model which should be on a sticker in the water heater area.  Now for the fun stuff.  Near the top of the water heater is a relief valve.  Open the valve!  It will release the pressure built up in the water heater and make the next step easier.  This also test the relief valve to make sure it opens.  Water may come out of the valve if the tank is over full, which is why you want the water cool before performing this task.

Now to clean out the water tank.  For this you will be removing either the Anode Rod or a plug at the bottom of the water heater.  Guess I should tell you that there is water behind this rod or plug and when it comes out so will the water.  So make sure nothing electrical is in the way and stand to the side if you didn’t wait for the water to cool so you don’t get burned.  Once the water has drained out, you will need to flush the tank.  Using the water hose and a wand nozzle rinse the tank as best you can.

With the Anode Rod out, inspect it to determine if it should be replaced.  Anode Rods are sacrificial, the steel tanks in the Suburban units have a tendency to rust due to corrosive chemicals in the water.  The Anode rod attracts those chemicals and sacrifices itself instead of the water tank.  You should replace the rod when it is half gone (compare it to a new rod).  You do not want to wait for the rod to dissolve completely before replacing it.  You could be damaging the tank in the mean time.  Atwood heaters are made of aluminum and do not suffer the same fate.

Once the tank is flushed, replace the rod or plug, leave the relief valve open and turn on the cold water.  Close the relief valve when water comes out as the tank fills.  Test the heater.  Turn on the propane tank, set the heater to propane mode and make sure the heater works.  Once that is done you can set the heater to your normal operating mode.

Next week I will talk about the tank-less water heater maintenance.

RV Holding Tank Maintenance

This is a subject that seems to baffle a lot of people.  There are hundreds of products and methods on the market to help take you money because no one ever taught us how to use the holding tanks in our RVs.  So with a little time and effort I hope to shine some light on this problem and the solution.

The tanks in your RV is a holding tank not a septic system.  It is a plastic bucket with three holes in it.  One to allow stuff into the tank, one for a vent that goes to the roof of the RV and another that leads to a valve for draining.  Kind of simple.  There are various methods of providing a indication as to the level of fluids in the tank.  None of them are very reliable, mainly because we don’t do our part to maintain the cleanliness of the tank.

Operations of the these holding tanks is also pretty simple.  You dump stuff into the tanks and when full dump them.  Now for the had part.  There are methods all over the place and advice that will differ from just about everybody.   But the simple truth is these are HOLDING tanks.  That mean they are designed to hold the stuff we put in them until dumped.  What I mean is KEEP THE VALVES CLOSED!  Notice I have not talked about grey or black tanks.  This is for a reason.  The processes and procedures are the same.  Keep the valves closes.  You would be surprised at the amount of food, hair, and other stuff that collects in the bottom of the grey holding tank because people think it all flows out the drain.  IT DOESN’T, it sits in the tank and collects and over time starts to rot and smell.  Since there is no method of flushing it out with a wand for example, it stays there, forever!

When do you flush the tanks?  This is an excellent question.  The answer is so simple, when they are full.  You will quickly learn when the tanks are full.  They have a habit of filling up when you take a shower and the water backs up, when you are washing dishes and the shower starts to back up, when you use the toilet and the water burbs at you and the room starts to smell.  Then it is time to dump the tanks.  But what do you do if at the end of a camping trip your tanks need to be dumped and they are not full?  Fill them!  Flush water down the toilet until it is full, dump water down the sinks until it is full.  Just consider this as one of the tasks of breaking camp.

Before we get into the procedures I want to talk about another tip.  Get a clear plastic sewer hose attachment for connecting two hoses together.  Place it somewhere in the sewer line that is easy to watch.  This way you can see when the tank has emptied completely.  It will also aid in letting you know when you rinse the tank if it is clean or not.

DSC_0086

Now to dump the tanks.  Start with opening the black tank valve first.  Let it dump completely.  You will see when it is done in the clear section of the sewer hose.  If you have a black tank flush system, now is the time to use it.  Follow the manufactures recommendations.  Most of the ones I have seen say that the tank valve must be open when using.  This just prevents Mr Murphy from helping you create a Robin Williams RV moment (If you haven’t watched the movie RV, do so).  When the water runs clean, turn off the black tank flush.  If you do not have a black tank flush, use your toilet.  Fill the bowl and dump it until the water runs clean.  This could take a while when you first start as there could be all kinds of crap in the tank that has to be flushed out.

Once you have dumped and cleaned the black holding tank, close the valve and put a few gallons of water into the tank.  Fill and flush the toilet about 4 times.  This will put enough water in the tank to help keep things from getting hard as the RV sits until the next trip.

Now open the valve(s) to the grey holding tanks.  Wait for the tank(s) to drain.  Unlike the black tanks there isn’t an easy way to flush the tanks.  There are some attachments you can use, that connect to the dump station that allow you to close off the sewer line, connect water hose to the connector and back flush the tanks.  I have used one called King Flush that I like, but there are others out there.  The point is, you want the water coming out of the tank running clear.  Close the valve and again put a couple of gallons of water into the grey tank to keep things from getting hard while it sits.

One more tip, if you are one that wants or has to have the grey tank open when you are camping, make sure you put a dip in the sewer hose.  This will act as a p-trap and keep the sewer gases out of your RV.

p-trap

It works by keeping a little water in the lower part of the hose so gases and bugs can’t come up from the campground sewer system.

Hope you have had a great Memorial Day Weekend.  Say a prayer for our fallen Heros.

 

Making Life Easier

One of the great debates for folks that RV is Tow Bar vs Tow Dolly.  I am not going to go there.  But there is a point to be made that tow bars are easier to connect and don’t have the weight issues that a tow dolly does.  We have a tow dolly mainly because of the cost to convert and the age of our car.  With the wife and I working at it we are usually connected in under 10 minutes.  We each have our own tasks to perform and it works well for us.  One of the biggest issue we have come across over the last year of full timing is the weight and moving the dolly around.  It weighs around 450-550 lbs and I think a good bit of that is on the tongue.  So dragging it around and hooking up can be quite tiring for the older folks.

I have often thought that a wheeled jack on the tongue would make the job easier.  Well this week while we are at Gettysburg Farm in Pennsylvania, we saw someone that had done just that.  He added a swing down jack to his Master Tow car dolly.  I sat and talked to him and after a few minutes, decided that we should do the same thing.  I found the parts at a local RV Store but Camping World had them as well.  The swing down jack cost me about $40 and handles 1000 lbs.  The tongue on the dolly was about 3 inches maybe a little more and the jack would work on 3 to 5 inch tongues.  It took maybe 30 minutes to connect it and tighten down the bolts.  MAN what a difference it makes moving the dolly around.  Now what use to take both the wife and I to do, I can easily do it my self.  Instead of being bent over trying to hold up a couple hundred pounds and move it around, I just wheel it around with ease.  Here are a few pictures of the finished project.

Swing Down Jack 1

Swing Down Jack 2

Swing Down Jack 3

Run Flat Tire Inserts

I was sitting here trying to decide what the topic for this week would be and surfing the web, when I found  a video about an RV that had a blow out while traveling at highway speeds.  Everyone was fine, but the rig and toad were destroyed.

In the military our Hummers had these things called “Run Flat” inserts.  The idea was that a metal band inside the tire would prevent it from going flat due to sudden lost of air pressure.  Our 2007 Safari Simba has them installed as well.  I found this out when we had to have a valve stem replaced.  The tech did nothing but complain about them as it added time and work to his already busy day.

Run Flat Image for website article.

The way these work is as long as there is air pressure in the tires the thread is kept off the insert.  As the pressure decreases the tire collapses onto the insert but does not collapse all the way.  Preventing loss of control until you can pull over safely.  Now there is a problem here.  Because there is no loss of control, the driver may not realize the issue and continue driving.  This leads to excess friction and damage to the tire until it either comes apart or begins to burn.  Both of which can cause damage to the RV.

The solution is to add a tire pressure and temperature monitoring system to the RV as well.  But that is another article.  Finding these might be  a problem.  However, the cost I think is well worth the peace of mind.  My search of the web shows that the cost should be around $300 for two tire inserts.

 

Braking Distances

I am sitting here drinking my morning coffee and thinking about what the subject should be for this weeks article.  As you know I have posted a lot of things on here about inspecting and lately about the maintenance.  But today a post on the web got me thinking that most of us have no idea how to safely drive our rigs.  Face it, we spend most of our time in a car or light truck and then when we want to go camping, we just behind the wheel and off we go.  We have gone from a 4 wheel 2000 lbs vehicle to as many wheels as an 18 wheeler with weights approaching 40,000 and maybe more.  Some of these are air brake equipped just like the big rigs.  Then we hit the road and maintain speed with everyone else and the following distances just like a car.

So I started to do some research on braking distance in an RV.  First some perspective.  A car traveling at 60 MPH takes about 200 ft to stop.  That is according to a couple of posts  I found the average big rig takes about 40 percent longer to stop than a car.  So the Class A’s should take about 280 feet to stop.  This does not include the reaction time which is another 1 to 1.5 secs.  At 60 MPH that is up to another 135 feet or more than a football field.  All totaled the car will stop in about the football field from the time the driver see the problem until the vehicle is stopped where as the RV will take almost 1.4 football fields to stop.

So basically, you need to slow down and increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front.  If someone pulls in front of you, remember that you still need over a football field to stop and it will take 135 feet before your foot is even on the brake to think about stopping.

Camping is not about the race to get there, it is about relaxing and enjoying life.  Start the camping trip when you leave home and relax and enjoy the trip.

Is It the Perfect RV?

My first book in the series “Is It the Perfect RV?”, titled “Finding the Perfect RV” is now available on RV Inspection Service website.

For  a limited time I am giving away the book for reviews and to help spread the word.  Use the promo code “rvinspectionservice” at check out and you will be able to download the book for free.

What is covered in this book?

Chapter One – Full time, Seasonal, Weekender
Finances
Insurance

Chapter Two – What type of RV is best for you?
Types of RVs
Do you have a tow vehicle?
What kind of Hitch?
Towing Hitches
Sway Bars
Fifth Wheel and Goose-neck Hitches
Pro/Con of the different types
Selecting the best for you

Chapter Three – Floor Plan
Beds
Bathroom
Storage
Slides
Layout

Chapter Four – Amenities
Refrigerator
Microwave/Convection
Stove/Oven
Water Heaters
Outside Kitchen
Deck
Dishwasher
Washer/Dryer
Fireplace

Chapter Five – New or Used

Chapter Six – Price

Chapter Seven – Finding the Perfect RV
Finding the Perfect New RV
Finding the Perfect Used RV

Chapter Eight – Checklist for the Perfect RV
How to use this checklist
Checklist
Master Bedroom
Kitchen
Bathroom
Living Room
Appliances
Entertainment
Windows
Air Conditioning
Furnace
Water Heaters
Exit Stairs
Jacks and Levelers
Generator
Exterior
Power
Awnings
Bug Protection
Slide Outs
Drivers Area
Miscellaneous

Get your copy today at http://rv-inspection-service.com/book-store.  Remember the promo code is rvinspectionservice while the free downloads last.

 

Annual Safety Briefing

It is that time of year again when we will be pulling out the RV and hitting the road.  So it is time for your annual safety briefing as well.  I want to bring up a subject that I feel is so important.  Your RV Weight.  These homes on wheels have a limited amount of weight that the RV can safely handle.  It is called the  Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR.  This is the maximum you can safely put on the wheels and tongue of the RV.  It is also the maximum LEGAL weight you can have.  If you exceed this weight and you have an accident, you can be held accountable for the accident, even though you were not at fault, because your vehicle had exceeded its weight limit.  So how do you determine your weight?  Go to a truck stop that has a CAT scale, spend $11 or $12 dollars and have the RV weighed.  Compare the value you will be given to the RV sticker that shows the GVWR.  If you are overweight, you need to remove stuff from the rig until you are back under the GVWR.

Overweight is the leading cause for RV accidents.  When you are overweight you stress the tires and they blow out.  In addition, tires pressure needs to be increased as the weight increases.  Failure to have the proper pressure for the weight they are carrying will cause the sidewalls to bulge and also leads to premature failure of the tires (blow out) which causes loss of control, damage to the RV and possible loss of life.

When you have your rig weighed you will be given a sheet of paper that shows the weight on each wheel.  This is very important information as it determines the pressure for that tire.

Let me show you an example.  I have Good Year tires on our Class A.  According to the weigh ticket my front axle weighs 8960 lbs.  Divide that by two and each tire is carrying about 4,500 lbs.  I rounded up for safety.  At that weight the tire pressure according to Good Year should be 90 PSI.  My rear wheels are dual tires.  My rear axle weight is 16,180.  Divided by 4 is 4,050.  Again according to Good Year, my tire pressure for the rear wheels should be 85 PSI.  So you can see that the tire pressures are different for the front and back.  Since these tires can be pressurized to 120 PSI, I keep the all at 95-100 PSI most of the time.

How often should you weigh the RV?  If you are pretty constant with how you travel, once should be enough I would guess.  But if your load changes, or you start carrying water or propane when you didn’t use to then weigh your rig again.  If in doubt, weigh it again.  It is better safe than sorry.  Remember SAFETY IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

 

Slide Out Maintenance

Today most RV have one or more slide outs.  These can be manual, electric or hydraulic.  On pop ups and some old smaller trailers they will probably be manual.  You pull the slide out by hand from the outside of the rig until it click or locks in place.  The rest of the RV will be of a mechanical nature with either electric motors or hydraulics.

All slide outs need to have some maintenance performed at least once a year.  The maintenance includes cleaning of the drive arms and some lubrication.  Any good dry lube will work.  You want to use a dry lube rather than wet to prevent the slide out mechanics from holding onto road dirt.  Wet lubes over time will wear away the metal due to the abrasive nature of the road grime it picks up and holds.

Most slides will have the drive mechanism exposed under the slide or inside the RV, usually under the bed.  In some cases you may need to search for them.  Regardless of your situation, you want to find the access area to the slide drive mechanism and clean and lubricate as best you can.

Make sure to read the instructions for the lubrication that you are using.

Spring is a great time to perform this annual maintenance tasks.

Home inspections for the RV

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