RV Tips - How to Prepare Your RV for Summer
March 20, 2006
It’s almost that time again to pull the family RV out of moth balls and go have some fun!
As April approaches, the calls to me begin stacking up from concerned RVers. I’m a mobile RV Tech and every spring I encounter the same question from RVers across the country – “What can I do to get my unit ready for camping season?” So I want to pass on some RV information, advice and a few simple tips to, hopefully, save you some time and money and help you get your rig ready to roll!
On a sunny day, extend your awning to air it out. Trapped moisture may have caused mildew which will damage and stain the fabric, so use a hose to rinse it off. You can scrub down a vinyl fabric with mild dish detergent; for canvas or cloth, your favorite RV Dealer can supply you with an appropriate cleaner. Allow it to dry thoroughly before retracting.
Run the awning in and out a few times to ensure smooth operation. Check that the travel locks work and that all hardware is secure.
This is a good time to fill your bottles or tanks and check for leaks. Spray a leak detector (available at hardware stores) or soapy water around the connections and regulator. If you see bubbles (or smell propane at anytime), you should have the system tested. Don’t take chances with your propane system - it’s not worth it!
Never overfill your propane tanks. Propane expands and contracts drastically with temperature changes. Any vessel holding propane should not be filled more than 80% to allow for expansion.
A major problem arising from overfilled tanks is this: all appliances on RVs use the propane vapor (not the liquid) from the tank and propane contains a certain amount of oil. If a tank is over filled, the liquid (and oil) can get into the system and do some real nasty things. I often see the oil ruining regulators and any oil getting past the regulator can clog the lines on the coach. If you ever see a ‘pulsing’ flame on your stove top, or if your furnace works great on a warm night but not on a cold one, you may have oil in the lines!
Batteries are finicky things. Some last for years and others crater soon after being installed. After charging the batteries, I use a hydrometer to check the specific gravity. Any auto parts store sells easy-to-use hydrometers. Follow the instructions and test your batteries. Remember: a 25 point differential between cells means you have a bad cell and the battery is “kaput”! If the batteries check out OK, clean the connections, make sure they’re snug and apply an anti-corrosion spray.
DC Electrical System
After the batteries are hooked up, check your DC accessories and lights. If not working, check the fuses and connections. If you find a blown fuse, you need to investigate. Mice, squirrels and other critters can build nests, chew wires and cause all kinds of problems that you’ll need to correct. Never increase the value of the fuse; you could turn a small problem into a big one!
If all appears well, ensure the converter is working properly. Do this by using a voltmeter to check the battery voltage. When a battery is fully charged it should read about 12.6 volts. When you plug in to shore power and the converter starts working, you should see 1 to 1.5 volt increase and if the lights in the coach get a little brighter, you should be good to go.
A/C Electrical System
With the coach plugged into shore power you can check the electrical outlets with a hair dryer which puts a good testing load on the system. Check the GFCI, (Ground fault circuit interrupter). It’s that little button you play with (usually while sitting down) in the bathroom. Push the test button and the reset button should pop out. If it does, push the reset button back in until it clicks. If it doesn’t, you have a problem and need to have it repaired. Don’t run with a defective GFCI. These little gizmos save a lot of lives every year. They’re there to protect you and your family.
These are one of the most over looked items on an RV. Before you run any water into the tanks, check to make sure the valves all move freely. Anything other than medium pressure to operate them might suggest it’s time for new ones. A broken black tank sewer valve is an RV Tech’s nightmare and a big expense for the customer. These valves are under 10 dollars and are usually quite easy to replace.
If your unit was winterized with good quality antifreeze, your water lines might be sufficiently sanitized, but filling the holding tank and using bleach tablets or other sanitizing product is a good idea. I flush mine every year. It’s good practice, especially if you use a variety of watering stations throughout the season.
Another thing often overlooked while de-winterizing is changing the position of the water heater by-pass valve. There are a few different types of bypass valves so get to know how yours works. Valves in the wrong position will cause a lot of grief and may give you the impression the water heater isn’t working properly.
The water pump is one of the best tools to alert you to a leak in your water system. Pressure up the system and listen for a few minutes. If the pump remains quiet and doesn’t kick in and out, quite likely the system is ok. If it runs on and off, get your flashlight and check the lines and water accessories for leaks. The only two things I know of that will make the pump burp on and off is a water leak or a defective switch on the pump.
**An air compressor is a handy thing to have for the next few tips …
Water Heater (Pilot Model)
On a pilot light model (one that is lit manually), blow any debris out of the chimney (the opening where the fire is lit) and out of the burner assembly. Even a spider web in the burner assembly can shut down your water heater, so make sure it’s clean! Wear safety glasses and stand aside while doing so.
Next, make sure the water heater is full and light the pilot light. If it lights quickly and stays lit after the button is released, great! However, if the flame is small, the orifice might need cleaning. If the flame is good but it won’t stay lit, unfortunately you may need an RV Tech to install a new thermocouple or gas valve. If all is well, turn the gas valve to “ON”. With all propane appliances we are looking for a nice, blue flame. Allow the water heater to get to temperature and run some hot water until the heater re-lights. If it does, you’re set to go!
Water Heater (Auto Light or DSI Direct Spark Ignition)
As with pilot models, clean thoroughly with air. Make sure there is water in the tank and the switch is in the “OFF” position.
The only real owner-serviceable part on this water heater is the electrode - the gismo that sparks when lighting. Check the gap between the electrode and ground (most units require the gap to be 3/16 ths of an inch). If the gap needs adjusting, you may want to replace it. You can adjust it yourself, but use caution not to break the porcelain around the electrode. If you do, you’ll definitely need a new one. Turn the heater “ON”. When it reaches temperature and shuts off, run some hot water. If the heater re-lights, the flame is a nice blue, the water is reheated and it shuts off again, you’re good to go.
If you turn the water heater on and it struggles to light or lights and quickly goes out again, you’ll probably need to contact a technician.
There are really no owner-serviceable parts on today’s furnaces. One thing I suggest is to fire it up and cycle it a few times to see if it lights and shuts down on demand. At the first of the season, I run mine for about 10 minutes with the door and windows open. This gives the furnace a bit of a workout and airs out the vents in case little critters are raising a family in there!
Again not many owner-serviceable parts but there are some things we can do to ensure it’s working properly. When fridges operate on propane, the chimney becomes coated with a brown, flakey soot that, if not removed, can fall onto the burner assembly and shut down the fridge.
You’ll need to remove the lower outside cover to get to the burner assembly. With the fridge “OFF”, use your air compressor to blow upwards into the chimney to remove any soot. Then thoroughly blow out the burner assembly. While you’re there, look up inside the fridge compartment for any blockages. During long periods of disuse, squirrels, birds and other critters can make nests up there and block the airway. It’s critical to keep this area clear - if the fridge can’t breathe, it won’t work properly.
On the roof, visually inspect the condition of the cover and the fins on the back side of the Air Conditioner. If the cover is cracked or broken, change it right away. If it breaks apart while you’re driving, it can cause severe damage to the internal working parts of the A/C (not to mention the problems created when it lands!) Weather often damages the radiator on the back of the A/C unit. Like fridges, these units need to breathe, so if the aluminum fins are flattened or pushed in they need to be straightened. There are inexpensive kits you can buy to do this; it just requires a nice day and a bit of patience. If you have a good power supply going to your RV, turn on the air conditioner and run it for 10 or 15 minutes to ensure that it is cooling.
Wheels and Brakes
Every year someone unnecessarily burns a wheel bearing off of their unit and it’s very expensive to fix! The standard I preach with great conviction is this: “Have your bearings and brakes serviced every 2 years or 10,000 miles.” If you follow that rule you will, in most situations, be safe from harm.
Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Well, there you have it – a few easy-to-do tasks and some RV advice that may well save you big bucks at the repair shop. So, strike out for the RV vacation you’ve always dreamed of and – HAVE FUN OUT THERE!
About the Author Tim Collard is an expert in the field of RV Repair and Maintenance, being a self-employed RV Tech for over 11 years and automotive electrical specialist for over 20. Tim is producer and host of the "RV Walk-Thru", a highly informative and humorous video dedicated to helping RVers - veteran and novice alike - learn and understand how things work on their RVs and what to do if they don't! For more info on Tim and his video, we invite you to visit http://www.rvwalkthru.com
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|