New Tank Sensors!

Tanks Sensor Replacement

Failing Tank Sensors/Monitor on our 2008 Winnebago 39Z

Our tank sensors have gone from occasional faulty readings to hard failures about 80% of the time.  We first had problems not long after purchasing Lola from La Mesa RV in Davis, California.  But the problem was intermittent and Le Mesa said it was tank sludge build-up on the sides.  In the past couple of years the failure changed to ALL the tank lights (water, black and the two grey tanks) being half-bright; all at the same time.  We tried various tank cleaners with no help.  Now, this seems to us that all lights being half-lit regardless of the content level to be strange behavior – not what we would expect if the tank sludge was building up.  We last took Lola into La Mesa last fall, and the half-lit lights were displaying so we could show the service advisor.

La Mesa – Big FAIL

I couldn’t believe when he said it was probably sludge build-up inside the tanks.  But, how could that effect ALL tank sensors at exactly the same time?  Consistently?  It seems to me it’s probably the wiring or more likely the display unit.  When we picked Lola up after being with La Mesa for a MONTH, the service advisor said it was probably sludge in the tanks and the service technician put some ‘stuff’ in the tanks to help clean them out, and the extended warranty would not cover an intermittent problem (even though we showed it not working when we came in).  This is not the first time that Davis La Mesa has not put forth the effort to correctly troubleshoot problems for us.

This last winter we lived in and out of Lola while remodeling a house and did not have the opportunity to fully check out our sensors until going to Lake Mindon in May.  Once we started using the tanks what happened?   You guessed it, ALL sensor lights are half lit again.  Once in a while the sensors will show the correct levels.  If you are attached to full hookups all the time, then not having sensors on the tanks is not a real big issue since you are connected.  But, when you are dry camping or boondocking it is more important to keep track of your fresh and waste levels.  And here at Thousand Trails Lake Minden we have no sewer hookups.

Sensor Replacement

We have been looking at Garnet Industries SeeLevel systems for quite some time.  They are a nice upgrade to the standard 1/3, 2/3, FULL in our Lola by giving percentage increments at more frequent intervals.  They have also received good reviews from many sources.   Depending on the tank size and number/length of sensors installed the percentage increments could be 5% or 8% more or less.  We looked at getting new sensors at the FMCA rally we attended in 2016, but the problem was intermittent and the pricing was fairly expensive for our budget since we had other upgrades we were doing at the time.   Since we are doing more dry camping and boondocking now we decided to upgrade the sensors at the next opportunity.

Many RVers live with bad tank sensors.  For weekenders or vacationers it is probably a minor inconvenience.  For full-timers and those who really rely on knowing their tank levels it is more important.  Also for those folks like us who like things to work correctly it’s more than a minor irritance.  We like things to work!

Garnet Industries at the FMCA Rally

Yellowstone was our number one objective this summer, and it so happens that the FMCA Rally is in Gillette, Wyoming – just across the state from Yellowstone.  Not only that, but Garnet Industries is at the Rally.   After a call to Garnet we contacted the installer and scheduled an installation for the Monday before the Rally (first events are Wednesday).   We also signed up for a tank clean-out on Tuesday just to cover all the bases.  We registered early for the Rally to get full hookups in case it is warm and we need to use the A/C for the dogs while we are out.  That worked well with the tank clean-out because he needs sewer hookup for the flushing process.

Our Capacities

An interesting side-note is that our spec sheet gave us capacities for the Fresh and Black tanks, and only one capacity for the Grey tank – but we have two grey tanks; a galley tank and a shower tank (that the washer also drains into).  So I called Winnebago to find out the capacity of the two grey tanks.  I was told that the galley tank was 20 gallons, and the big grey tank is 52 gallons – that matches the 72 gallon grey capacity in the owner manual.  However, the black tank is 48 gallons – not the 62 gallons listed in the owners manual because of a mid-year production change.
[When I actually drained the galley tank after installing the sensors I took out 27 gallons of grey water (just reached the 100% sensor indicator!]

2008 Winnebago 39Z Specifications Vs. Corrected
Tank
Manual
Corrected
Actual
Fresh
92 92
Black
62 48
Main Grey
Unknown 52
Galley
Unknown 20 27+

Sensor Installation Planning

We arrived in Gillette on Sunday and after a bit of confusion got parked in our full hook-up section.  Gene Riffel of Ruffnit RV stopped by as scheduled at 9.  After explaining the process he went through and checked out the configuration of our tanks and the sensor display.  We originally wanted to install the bluetooth version thinking that the installation would be easier (cheaper) plus would give us the capability to monitor the tank levels outside while filling the fresh water or dumping.  However the bluetooth model does not support 4 tanks at this time, so we went with 2 monitor installations – one inside and one outside in the water/sewer bay.  We also elected to keep the old sensor display for the LP meter and place the new SeeLevel monitor to the side of the existing control panels.

Our tanks were partially full and we did not dump on purpose so the new sensors could be tested with tanks that have content.

Locate The Tanks

Fresh Water Tank

Our fresh water tank is enclosed in a steel shell.  Towards the front where the overflow exits the tank there is an access panel.  Once the panel is removed easy access to the tank allows Gene to install the new sensors.

Fresh Water Tank
Fresh Water Tank Under Floor

Main Grey Tank and Black Tank

To access the main grey tank and the black tank the access panel above the tank gates in the water/sewer bay needs to be removed.  Once that is put aside, there is very tight access to the sides of the grey tank (on the left) and black tank (center).  Here, another decision point came into play.  Neither of these tanks are square!  They have a drop-down section that Gene estimated to be around 3 or 4 gallons; plus there is a seam.  Option 1 is to put 2 sensor strips in.  One above the seam and one below.  The second option would be to leave the lower drop-down section without a sensor.  We decided to leave the lower portion of the tank without a sensor and cover the upper section.  The savings of not getting another package of sensors covers a portion of the cost of the second monitor.

Main Grey And Black Tank Locations
Main Grey and Black Tank Locations

Galley Tank

Access to the galley tank is through the main power bay (where the power cord and inverter etc. is).  The tank is installed at a slight incline, so the sensor can’t be placed where it will be 100% accurate.  Again, we tried to get the top portion of the tank metered.  [We checked this out while dry camping the next month and found that when the first indication above 0% (which is 8%) first lit up we drained an 11 gallons.  This gave us a gauge covering gallons 12-27 which is the most important range for us, but were surprised it did not cover more.]

Verify Electrical

Especially because we are having problems with our existing sensors, Gene verified the wiring – especially the ground.  Wiring and ground check out good for each of the lines!   It’s always good to not uncover additional issues to solve, which seems to be our ‘luck’ often enough.

Verify Sensor capability

One issue Gene has seen with Winnebago RVs is that some tanks can be thicker than used with other RVs.  Winnebago builds their own tanks.  He tested the sensor’s sensitivity by using a test unit on the tanks, and a test meter inside.  This double checked the wiring and checked that the sensors should work… before doing all the work of installing sensors then finding out that they won’t work.  According to Gene, Garnet uses some of the most sensitive sensors on the market so he rarely finds a problem.  Once attached, the sensor worked fine and indicated the level in the tank.  Being a sensitive type of guy, this was important to me too!

2018-07-16-1031-32-SeeLevel II Sensor Install
Test Sensor

 

Sensor Installation

Once the tank locations are found, access panels opened and sensor locations & options are identified Gene went back to his shop for a break and to gather additional parts (i.e. the second meter package that included more sensors and the meter for the outside bay).  When he got back he installed the sensors – verifying each installation with his test monitor in the coach.

Meters Installation

Inside Meter

Once the sensors were installed work went back to the inside to wire and place the SeeLevel meter.  Again, since we are keeping the existing tank monitors for LP the SeeLevel meter was placed to the side of the Winnebago control station. Gene confirmed with Christine exactly the height of the SeeLevel meter.  Good thinking!  Always check with the boss for the important items ;-).  A new hole is cut beside the panel in the wall and the SeeLevel set in place.  No issues getting the inside meter running and installed.

Outside Meter

For Jeff, the outside meter is the most important.  Fresh water tank filling is a slow process when using the pressure regulator, and it’s nice to have a meter outside.  It is also convenient when manually dumping the grey water into a bucket when dry camping [a lot of campgrounds offer grey water dumps], or just checking how far along you are when at a dump station.  Like the inside meter, hooking up the meter went fine.  After checking that the outside meter worked, Gene disconnected the meter for the access panel replacement.

Sensor Wrap UP

Now that all the sensors are installed and the meters are working it’s time to close everything up.  The fresh water access panel is screwed back into place.  The challenge is getting the access panel in the water/sewer bay put back.  Besides working by feel only getting the short screws lined up with the spring/gromet screw holders was a real pain in the bazooka.  It took a lot of patience and time to get the panel installed correctly.  It might have been easier to reverse the screw and go from the other side but Gene didn’t want a screw point showing through the panel.  He wanted it done right!   With the panel in place, the outsider meter is permanently attached.

One last check, and we were presented with the bill.

We were quoted $225 for 4 tanks and 1 sensor plus installation at $85/hr.  Garnet has not changed their hourly installation rate in several years, so this is a good price.

 

Tanks Wash-Out

In our phone conversations with Gene for the sensor installation he let us know that some Winnebagos that have thicker wall tank construction could show issues when sludge build-up occured.  To be on the safe side, we elected to have our tanks washed out – pretty sure it’s the first time Lola was given an enema.  Plus we wanted to see if La Mesa was correct about sludge build-up.

John Michel from All Pro Water Flow is an approved vendor through FMCA at the Gillette Rally.  All Pro Water Flow has independent service professionals all over the U.S. (and Canada?)  URL.  John arrived exactly on time on Tuesday afternoon to power wash Lola’s tanks.  John had warned us when we scheduled a month earlier that timing was dependent on weather.  He did not work outside during lighting storms.

With thunder storms approaching and lighting on the horizon John started work.  Power washing took just over 90 minutes.  John did get some sediment, mostly on the bottom of the black tank and some more on the bottom of the galley tank.  A good wash getting some sludge, but probably not enough to effect the sensors.  After giving us a recipie to help keep the sediment from collecting in the tanks and rolling up his hoses he was off to home just as the thunder started booming over us and big raindrops started dropping.

The cost?  $220.00.  Not cheap, but another of those maintenance items.  For stationary RVs John recommends an annual flush, however if your are traveling on the road a flush every couple of years is sufficient.

Here’s John’s recipe for keeping sludge build-up to a minimum:

“Recipe” for the All Pro Water Flow Tank Solution

Mix up a gallon of this solution to use in both your black and gray tanks while you are RVing. It will keep the internal surfaces of your RV’s holding tanks slippery (reduces build-up), sanitizes the tanks, and has a nice, fresh smell.

  1. Start with an empty gallon jug
  2. Pour 1/4 cup (4 ounces) of Calgon Bath Beads (or liquid) into the gallon jug
  3. Fill the jug 1/2 full with water. Shake well.
  4. Slowly pour 40 ounces of Pine-Sol into the jug. Shake well.
  5. Top off the gallon jug with water. Shake well.

Use 8 ounces (one cup) in your black tank(s) and 4 ounces (1/2 cup) in your gray tank(s) each time, after emptying and backflushing.

Bottom Line

La Mesa – Davis

Most likely our tank display was faulty.  It is clear that La Mesa did very little troubleshooting on the issue.  If we had a spare meter we could have done the diagnosis for La Mesa, however since we wanted (needed) an upgrade over the stock Winnebago gauges I wont’ go down that hole.  La Mesa had our RV for a month and did not fix our washer (washer and dryer did not work – hard failure) nor our tank issue (another problem that was showing failure at the time we brought it in).  They did fix our chassis A/C issue – but that failed again the next time we used the chassis A/C (this is the second time La Mesa ‘fixed’ our chassis A/C).  This is the last time we will bring in our RV to La Mesa in Davis.

A Month Later…

Update after using the new sensors for a month.  Wow!  For us this is a great improvement.  We have had no issues with faulty readings.  It has been a good choice to have the ‘top’ of the tanks covered and the bottom notch-out not for the main grey and black tanks.  We have done 3 weeks of camping without sewer hookups – 2 with grey water disposal locations close enough we could empty our dish water into a bucket from our outside bay.  That is the tank that fills up fastest.   It was here that we found out that our grey water tank holds at least 27 gallons.  We emptied the tank when it first showed 100% and it had a little more room at the top.  Gee, I wonder how much the main grey tank holds?  I’m not manually emptying that tank just to find out!  If someone else has a 2008 Winnebago 39Z and manually checks the tank capacity, let us know.

Hope you have found this (long, technical) blog interesting, let us know that too!

Happy Trails and See You On The Road

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Jeff and Christine

Antenna Upgrade Part 3: WiFi Ranger and WeBoost Inside Install

Antenna Upgrade Part 3 – Inside Equipment Installation

This is the third part of our antenna upgrade.  In part 1 we removed the old King Dome satellite dish.  In part 2 we installed the new WiFi Ranger and WeBoost antennas using the same access hole that the satellite used.  In this video, we are finishing the installation by finding power for the WiFi Ranger and the WeBoost Antenna then getting everything hooked up.

Old Setup Inside Cabinet – We found power!

Our Satellite controller is in the front cabinet above the co-pilot.  4 screws hold the access panel in the cabinet.   Fortunately there is both 110 volt and 12 volt power available.  For 110 volt there is a junction box, and for 12 volt one of the cables for the King Dome went into the 12 volt circuit.  The WiFi ranger works  with either 110 volts or 12 volts; we elected to wire it to 110 volts, and the WeBoost needs 12 volts.

Here’s the updated video of the inside equipment installation:

This video was updated to include notes from the WiFi Ranger folks:

  1. The WiFi Ranger comes with a 12 volt harness, so it CAN be connected to the 12 volt system.
  2. I corrected the RJ-45 plug-in process
  3. Many MiFi devices can be managed by the WiFi Ranger.  At this time our device cannot be managed – but we are testing beta firmware that may allow it to be managed.  Check the WiFi Ranger website for details or contact their support team for you specific device.

I’ll follow this up with a video on using the WiFi Ranger interface once we get to a park with WiFi.

Note:  We are not professional RV repair technicians!  The information provided here is how we upgraded our antenna system and your installation will be different.  If you are uncomfortable working on rooftops or with electrical wiring please consult a certified technician.

Happy Trails from the Trippin’ Engles

Antenna Upgrade Part 2: WiFi Ranger and WeBoost Antenna Install

Antenna Installation Part 2

WiFi Ranger and WeBoost Antenna Rooftop Install

This is Part 2 of a 3 part set describing our antenna upgrades.  Part 1 is here.  Part 3 is here.

The WiFi Ranger typical installation is to tie-wrap or clamp the antenna onto the crank-up TV mast.  However, we have upgraded our old TV antenna with a King Jack Antenna.

WiFi Ranger Temporary Installation

This photograph on the right shows the King Jack Antenna – the point of the TV antenna keeps the WiFi Ranger antenna from being placed up above the TV antenna.  For our installation, we made a small stand-off using a piece of plastic rain gutter so the WiFi Ranger antenna is beyond the point of the King Jack Antenna.  Below you can see the final installation with the stand-off in place.  You can also see the WeBoost antenna on the Cake/Pie pan that is a ground plane.

WiFi Ranger with Stand Off

Here’s the video of our antenna installation:

Note:  We are not professional RV repair technicians!  The information provided here is how we upgraded our antenna system and your installation will be different.  If you are uncomfortable working on rooftops or with electrical wiring please consult a certified technician.

Happy Trails!
Trippin’ Engles

 

Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – King Dome Satellite Removal

Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – Satellite Removal

Why Remove the King Dome Satellite

Our vintage 2008 King Dome Satellite needs a major upgrade for it to work.  Our King Dome 9704-LP requires a circuit board replacement and a firmware upgrade.  Even with that, it does not recognize newer satellites.  We have other entertainment options such as:

  • Streaming content if we have a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection
  • Downloading content and watching later
  • Using Blu-Ray or DVDs
  • Renting from RedBox
  • Watching the dozens of DVDs copied to hard drive

Having a satellite dish on the roof is also a handicap since you need to park the RV in a spot with good reception – something we don’t always have control over.  If we are going to use a satellite service, we will go with a more portable solution such as the Dish Tailgater or similar setup.

King Dome 9704-LP
Our Vintage King Dome Antenna

For the past few months on the road, we use the WiFi Ranger for WiFi access.  This antenna is often attached to the crank-up TV antenna on the RV roof.  We also use the Wilson Electronics WeBoost 4G cellular signal booster for our phone and MiFi use.  We have been manually zip tying the WiFi Ranger to the TV mast and putting the WeBoost on a metal pie/cake pan on the roof each time we stop at an RV park.

With the removal of the Satellite dish, we can use the access panel in the roof to route the WiFi Ranger and WeBoost cables through the same access hole.  I don’t like walking on the roof so much – especially as the weather gets rainy.

WiFi Ranger

The WiFi Ranger Go 2 not only gives our WiFi connectivity greater range, but also links all of our gadgets using a single connection when we buy WiFi access at RV Parks.  Some campground WiFi providers limit the number of devices that can connect.  We have seen services that only allow 1 connection at a time, and others allow different #’s of devices depending on how long of a contract you select.  With the WiFi Ranger there is only a single connection to the WiFi service for all the gadgets.

WeBoost Cellular Booster

The WeBoost Drive 4G is a cellular signal booster that is for RV’s and trucks.  It has a little rubber duck antenna with a magnetic mount that gives us an extra bar or two.  It cannot boost signals that are not there or are too weak, however it can often make a significant improvement when signal strength is marginal.  We even use it at our cabin with a larger truck antenna mounted on a flag pole!

Part 1:  Remove the Satellite Dish

This is Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – Satellite Removal.  We first need to remove the King Dome satellite and the cables.  In Part 2 we install the new antennas and route the cables, and in Part 3 we install the inside equipment.

Here’s the video with the details:

To remove the old satellite dish, Dicor and adhesives from the rooftop we use:

  • Screwdriver & socket wrench
  • Mineral Spirits to remove the Dicor & old adhesive
  • Magic Eraser to get some of the hard to remove dirt off
  • New Dicor Lap Sealant to seal the holes
  • Eternabond tape for extra protection

Note:  We are not professional RV repair technicians!  The information provided here is how we upgraded our antenna system and your installation will be different.  If you are uncomfortable working on rooftops or with electrical wiring please consult a certified technician.

 

Thanks for reading and watching,

Happy Trails!

Trippin’ Engles

 

Repairs start for Lola

Repairs start for Lola at BGM RV Repair

On July 27th we drove up to BGM RV Repair in Chesterville Ontario Canada after receiving word from FedEx Freight that the last set of parts are delivered.  Christine worked with Tyler at Winnebago Parts to find out why we were having delays getting the last items shipped to BGM RV Repair so we can get back on the road.  Finally the parts were shipped out last Thursday and arrived at BGM Tuesday the 26th.  Interesting to note that Winnebago Parts is independent from Winnebago Industries – and is Winnebago Industries distributor for parts.

We were unable to contact the BGM RV Repair office in Chesterville.  Their phone and internet connections were out after a massive thunder-storm rolled through southern Canada last week.  We drove up to their office to talk with Brian about the schedule to get Lola repaired.

After stopping at Tim Horton’s for coffee and breakfast in Cornwall we were on our way through Upper Canada to Chesterville.  I was always confused about what was “upper” in Upper Canada.  Wikepedia cleared that up as Upper Canada refers to the portion of Canada that borders the upstream part of the St. Lawrence River, whereas Lower Canada is the downstream part of the St. Lawrence river in Canada.  This area was primarily settled by Loyalists after the American Revolution.

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Once at BGM, we checked out the parts we had been waiting for.  The big holdup was the trim strip that borders the lower edge of the slide out.  He had one RV that was just getting finished up, and promised we would be in the garage in a couple of hours.  So we decided to do a walking tour of Chesterville in North Dundas Ontario.

 

We had lunch at Louis’ Restaurant in Chesterville.  Before we were done we saw Brian and he told us that Lola was in the garage getting worked on!

Back to BGM where Skyler and Andrew were busy working on Lola checking the fit of the doors and panels that had to be replaced.

 

 

If everything goes as planned (fingers crossed) we should have Lola back on Friday and we can make it to the FMCA Reunion that starts next Wednesday in West Springfield Massachusetts.  If there are any glitches however, Monday is a holiday in Canada, so even with a one day delay we won’t get Lola until the end of the day on Tuesday – so we would miss the first part of the get-together.

 

Lola’s in the shop – Watch your rear!

Oh No!  Lola’s in the shop

A reminder to Watch Your Rear!

When we left Hershey, Pennsylvania in our race to the north  I brushed up against a power pole.  Yes, I’ve watched the great tutorial from The RVGeeks on watching the rear overhang when turning.  It’s a great video showing how easy it is to clip something on your rear quarter when making turns.  With our 40′ RV are especially mindful about this.

What Happened?

I was pulling out from a small 2 lane road onto a busy rural highway.  The morning traffic was busy in both directions and I was so focused on the traffic that I missed one important point… the power pole that was very close to the corner of the intersection.   As I pulled out I misjudged the amount of ‘off-tracking’ of the rear wheels compared to the front.  I was almost into oncoming traffic when I cut the wheels to move into my lane.  However, when I glanced into my rear view mirror I missed the fact that a power pole was on the corner and as I came around I felt a bump and stopped.  I had brushed up against the power pole.

Well, just wonderful.  I had driven nearly 4,000 miles from Sacramento to Florida then up to Pennsylvania, and another 2,000 miles before starting our journey in Lola without issue.

After Christine let me know that the power pole was OK, I backed up a tad.  The person in the oncoming traffic lane spotted my predicament and stopped.  This gives me room to pull out into the oncoming traffic lane and swing past the pole correctly.  We pulled into a truck stop down the road and checked out the damage.  The rear 2 basement compartment doors have damage, and we had a scratch along the trim of the passenger slider and the awning.

Our plan was to take 2 days to drive from Hershey to the St. Lawrence river in northern New York.  However, I was not certain that the slider was OK and didn’t want to take a chance that we would get the slider stuck at our planned stop north of Syracuse.  Since we are traveling to our cabin it is a lot more convenient to manage the repair there.  So, we decided to push on and drive the 400 miles in one shot.

In Northern New York… now what?

We arrived in Louisville in the early evening and did a closer inspection of the damage.  In some respects, it didn’t seem as bad as I initially feared.

Now we needed to figure out how to get Lola repaired… hopefully before the renter arrived to the cabin in early July.

The closest Winnebago authorized repair shop was in Syracuse, but that’s about 3 hours away.  That would be a challenge to check in on the progress or if questions came up where we need physically inspect work.  There are larger towns on the Canadian side of the border in this area, so I broadened the search to Cornwall and added RV collision repair since RV Repair by itself brought up A/C repair, engine repair etc.

First Steps

We contacted BGM RV Repair in Chesterville, Ontario and talked with the owner Brian.  He requested pictures and we detailed what we saw in an email and took more pictures showing the door damage from the front as well as viewed along the side so he could see how much the doors are pushed in and that the brackets are damaged.

We then contacted our insurance company – GEICO – and they scheduled a claims adjuster to visit us the following week.  That gave BGM RV Repair a chance to put together an estimate in time for the adjuster to have some more information to work with.

Next is to unpack Lola.  The basement area will be open and worked on, and the slider may get some work done, so these will need to be empty at a minimum.

We received the first estimate from BGM RV repair early the next week before Glenn from GEICO arrived.  It included the labor costs expected and a listing of parts – but no part prices yet.

Once GEICO reviewed the damage and let us know that having Lola repaired in Canada is okay, we met with Brian in Chesterville before taking Lola there.

They have a nice repair facility set up specifically for RVs.  They handle a bit of work from some of the dealers in the greater Ottawa area, and Brian felt that the work will be completed in the time frame we required (if all the stars aligned).  So, we drove home discussed weighed taking Lola to Camping World in Syracuse or BGM RV Repair in Chesterville.  BGM is closer, is a good facility and meets our schedule.  That afternoon we were back in Canada with Lola traveling to BGM RV repair.

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Lola’s in the shop.

Preparing to Repair

Brian immediately ordered the parts required to repair Lola.  Since he has dealt with insurance companies, he understood that it would take a while before he saw a check – especially since GEICO didn’t have Canadian offices.  That was good, because it took a few weeks for GEICO to assign an International Adjuster to review the case, and for Winnebago to build the replacement doors.

While waiting for the replacement doors, BGM prepped the damaged area.  Of course most RV’s today have complicated paint schemes.  Lola has 4 different colors in her swirls!  This is where the art of blending in the colors comes in.

Delays…

If you have ever had work done on your RV you know that delays are more typical than everything getting done on time as expected.  Delays are the norm.  When you think about it, RVs are really custom vehicles.  Product units are in the hundreds or maybe a few thousand.  Cars on the other hand are produced in the hundreds of thousands are parts are plentiful in most cases.  For automobiles that are built in the past 10 years or so you can often go down to an auto dismantler and get a used door.  Not so for RVs.

Winnebago boasts having the plans and molds for RVs for many years and models.  Even with that said, that does not mean the parts are on the shelf!  It takes time to schedule the build and get them shipped out.  In our case the doors arrived in the nick of time to meet our schedule, but they forgot to include the brackets, hinges and a few other parts.  Everything needs to be in place for BGM RV repair to do the paint job.

Our renter arrived and we got a motel room for her and her pooch for a few days, but when it became obvious that the delay was going take longer we have too look at alternative lodging.  A few weeks ago our good friends Pat and Martha graciously made us the offer to stay with them if needed.

Current Status – Lola’s in the Shop (Still)

Right now, BGM RV Repair is expecting 3 missing parts possibly today (July 8th) or Monday.  Then it will take 3 days to finish the prep and paint the side.  We could have Lola as early as next Thursday… then a day of packing and we might be on the way to Maine on Friday!  We are lucky to have a cabin to use for the first 6 weeks of this repair process, and friends to take us in after that.  Without that we would have had to explore other options such as living in Lola in the repair yard or finding a place to rent.

What else did we do while in Northern New York?

For the most part we had lots of repairs and improvement to do in the cabin.  Since it looks out over the St. Lawrence Seaway, we see lots of local and Great Lakes ship traffic.  We also installed over 300′ of fencing in the back yard and visited Ottawa.   Here’s a summary we put together for our grandkids.

 

Happy Trails…

Soon to Maine!

Trippin Engles

Yosemite Lakes and Engine Braking

Driving to Yosemite Lakes – learning about Engine Braking

April 30, 2015

Driving to Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes was an adventure even before we left Sacramento.  We pulled the Journey out and checked the tires.  The inside left rear tire was flat and off the rim.

Once we got the tire inflated by North State Tire, we took the RV home and got it loaded up.   Fortunately it’s only a 2 1/2 hour drive to Yosemite Lakes, so we were not worried about taking a little longer to get started.  It was great being back in the RV.  For both Christine and I, once we get on the road it’s like a joint big sigh and we’re On The Road Again!

Jeff learns about Engine Braking

We drove through some dry range land then got into the foothills that have more Live Oak.  Garmin took us north of Tulloch Lake on our way to Yosemite.

Jeff's cool now that he's past Tulloch Lake's Curves
Jeff’s cool now that he’s past Tulloch Lake’s Curves

Many years ago we camped on the southern side of Tulloch Lake in our Volkswagen Vanagon and enjoyed seeing all the Tarantulas heading down to the lake in the evening.  Going up the grade along the cliff with curves so sharp I swore I could see my tail end ahead of me like a cartoon RV was an experience.  After nudging the low curb between the road and the 50′ drop-off a couple of times, I managed to get the hang of going out far enough so the rear wheels cleared the curb and the front was not into the oncoming lane.  With the uphill grade we managed between 20 and 25 MPH most of the time.  I think there are still finger nail creases in the arms of the co-pilot chair where Christine sat.

Then I learned about using Engine Compression to brake.  Coming down into Groveland I was able to practice downshifting the Allison transmission, watching the RPM and touching the Engine Brake button to slow the rig down.  After a bit, I was even able to watch the road while I was doing it.

We had a few more curves past Groveland along with more braking but as they say, it was old hat by then.  We arrived at Yosemite Lakes in the early afternoon.  Then we took the dogs for a walk and set up camp ready for the kids and grand-kids to arrive on Friday.

J and B arrived on Friday along with the Grandchildren Big B and Little B.  J, B and Big B went to Yosemite, while Christine and I stayed and little B took care of us:

Grandma enjoying some time with Little B
Grandma enjoying some time with Little B

The trip back home on Monday was uneventful – our tire pressure staying right were it should.  The following weekend we took the tire down to Les Schwab and told them of all the problems we’ve had with the inner left dual tire going flat.  I asked them to replace the entire valve for that wheel.  They took the tire off and put it in the water tester and no bubbles.  I put a known good Tire Pressure Monitor on, and we could see bubbles, but not by the monitor, but at the base of the valve stem.  After replacing the stem there were no bubbles; and no leaking when we checked it a few weeks later in storage!  Whoopee!  We may have our tire leak fixed.  It appears to have been both a bad monitor (replaced quickly by TireMinder) and a bad valve.  Probably one in a hundred thousand issue for both.

 

Christine’s off to New York to fix up our summer cabin, then we’re up to Oregon to visit my dad and brother – so next camping will be sometime in July.

See ya then!

Battery Woes

The Journey has Battery Woes

What have we been doing?  How about learning about BATTERIES?  A couple of weeks after our last outing in the Journey we got it out of storage to work on a few things and run the generator etc.  After starting up the engine the Lightbar Control Unit in the dash (LBCU) reported “Auto Idle” Sys Voltage 12.5V Threshold 13.4 V.

Battery Voltage LBCU
Battery Voltage LBCU

Also, the chassis battery was down to 11V.

After reading the Freightliner operator manual, the Auto Idle message was a ‘no issue’ message.  It comes up when the transmission is in park or neutral and/or the parking brake is set.  Step on the brakes and the message goes away.

The house batteries were another matter though.  I took all 5 batteries out of the battery bay.  Our Journey has 2 12 volt chassis batteries and 3 12 volt deep cycle marine batteries.  All old style wet cell batteries.  I cleaned off the batteries and tested them with a hydrometer. Here’s a good resource for battery information at batterystuff.com.
 The hydrometer is a nifty tool that measures the specific gravity of the battery acid.  In a nutshell, it allows you to test each cell of the battery and the meter measures the value.  You need to compare the values of the different cells, and if they are too far apart then more than likely the battery is bad.  Also if any cell tests in the red, the battery is probably bad.  I ended up having several cells show red on the 3 house batteries.  However upon further reading, it’s important to test the batteries when fully charged to get a correct reading from the hydrometer.  By the time I finished cleaning the batteries, putting a few drops of distilled water in a couple of the cells and recording the hydrometer readings it was time to put everything back.  Charging these batteries can take up to 12 hours, and if they are too depleted I may need to use my car battery to boost the charge at the beginning.  I crossed my fingers, my arms and everything else hoping that a charge would refresh my old batteries.

Because of other commitments (such as renewing our wedding vows in Hawaii – evidently I was a required participant), it was a few weeks before I was able to take the Journey out again.  Now the house batteries were down to 7.4 volts according to the Onan Generator, and the Generator didn’t like that at all.  Since 11.4V indicates a battery at 10%, we were DEAD!  The battery gauge in the Journey did showed 11.17V so maybe there is hope.

Time to get charged!


Using the Schumacher SE-5212A 2/10/50 Amp Automatic Handheld Battery Charger I attempted to charge the batteries – just to make sure. They are deep cycle and only 3 years old. But, after 11 hours the charger reported ‘BAD BATT’.  I read this is common for motorhomes that are allowed to discharge too far too many times.  This is common when rigs are in RV lots waiting to be sold.  The Winnebago manual recommends a monthly charge when in storage.  This is done by plugging the motorhome into shore power or using a charger directly on the batteries.  Make sure you read the instructions that come with your vehicle!  You don’t want to fry your electronics.

The 2 Chassis batteries were a little low, so I topped them off (charged them with a small Schumacher charger) and re-tested them for specific gravity.  One battery tested all cells in the 1265 range, and the other battery was 1250 for all cells.  The good news was that there was hardly any difference in the individual cells for each battery.  The bad news is that 1250 is at the bottom of green, and 1265 is the next notch up.

Off to Costco to get some low-cost marine deep cycle batteries (42 month no pro-rate warranty according to the friendly salesperson – even though the label has 12 months written on it).  We are planning on upgrading to Lithium-Ion batteries in a year or so, so upgrading to gel or other sealed battery solution is not practical in our situation.  However that would be a better than standard wet batteries.  See Technomadia’s experiences being on the bleeding edge for lithium technology.

Next a stop at NAPA auto parts to have them test the chassis battery just to make sure we are okay.  It really is a hassle to take the batteries out and put them back in, and I don’t want to go through this again in a few months to swap out the chassis batteries.  Sure enough, the 1250 battery failed the test (not surprising).  Fortunately they had good Chassis batteries on sale, so 5 new batteries for the Journey!

Now that I’ve taken the batteries in and out of the battery box on the Journey a few times it’s not so daunting.  A bit of a tight space and many cables and wires.

Battery Diagram
Battery Diagram

It’s a MUST to draw a diagram of all the wires and cables, then tape labels on each cable.  I used A, B, C etc for the chassis batteries and 1, 2, 3 on the coach batteries.

We had the Journey left outside when we took it back to storage and came back the next weekend to test everything out since it was time to put it through its paces.  All batteries were good!

A great resource on changing batteries can be seen and read at thervgeeks.com website.  I won’t try to duplicate their great video and posting.

We are ready to CAMP!

Camping Trip #2 – Fantabulous or Disaster?

Our second camping trip… Finally!

After we bought our Journey in August, we’ve had one opportunity to take our coach out for a camping trip, until this past weekend.  We had thought there would be plenty of opportunities to camp this fall, however it spent almost 3 weeks at the dealer getting the initial ‘prep’ done before we took it out the first time.  Then Christine was off to New York and when we were all set to take the Winnebago out the 2nd time on November 14th an air leak forced us to take it in to Freightliner.  We decide not to take the RV up to Oregon for our family Thanksgiving dinner.

December 12th – All set to go to Lake Minden – Nicolaus, California

On Friday, December 12th I picked up the RV from storage and we got loaded up.  We stopped by Sacramento Valley Truck center, filled up with Diesel and weighed the RV.  The last time I took the RV to La Mesa they put more air in the outside dual tires, and according to the information I had from Toyo and the RV recommended weight, it was too high.  Both of the dual tires need the same pressure.  When I weighed the Winnebago the first time back in August I had too much weight in back.  If you are at 90% capacity in your coach overall, then the weight at each axle should be at 90% of capacity.  When loading up the RV today, I moved more items towards the front and now I want to check the tire pressure for our new weight.

At only 33 miles away and on the flat-lands this trip should pose no issues.

WRONG!

Friday, December 12th – Lake Minden

The weather for the weekend was perfect for December.  The forecast is for showers Friday afternoon, then a mixture of cloudy and sunny weather for the rest of the weekend.  No more rain until Monday.

We had remembered all of our kitchen gadgets – Vitamix for breakfast, rice cooker/steamer to make some soup and the Cuisinart to shred carrots for the dogs (something we add to their dog food).

About 5 miles from Thousand Trails Lake Minden the Tire Pressure Monitoring System’s beeper went off with a high pressure condition for one of the dual tires.  The pressure was still well within limits for the tire at warm running temperatures – reporting 116 lbs pressure.  To be safe, I pulled off at Riego Road.  I realized I had put the sensors on the opposite side of the coach than what the monitor was displaying.  Other than that everything looks OK, so we drove on to our camping spot.
[ready_google_map id=’2′]

I was planning to finish the videos on the Hughes Autoformer and the RV Quick Shades, but the rain started so we decided to crank up the TV antenna, kick back and veg out.  TV reception was great, but Christmas music on Sirius was better – that along with listening to the rain come down.

Saturday, December 15th – Lake Minden

After feeding the dogs, having breakfast and then taking the dogs for a walk I was ready for some fun.

2014-12-13-094705 LakeMinden
Jeff, Kadie & Danny

 

Lake Minden has a lot of cropland and walnut orchards around.  A bit soggy but the dogs loved it!

2014-12-13-095754 LakeMinden
Around the swampy creeks

 

Nice evening reflections…

2014-12-13-165835 LakeMinden
Sunset @ Lake Minden

 

Lake Minden
Lake Minden – From the farmer’s perspective

I am looking forward to learning more about the RV, and the first thing I wanted to check out was the weight of the RV and calculate the correct tire pressure; then make sure all the tires are inflated properly.  At 9,320 lbs on the front axle and 16,960 on the rear axle we were at 90% for both axles.  Looking at the Toyo chart, that puts me at 93 lbs. all the way around – that makes it simple!   Tire pressure management is done when the tires are cold.   Even sunlight shining on the side of the tire can make a difference in tire pressure.

The Journey has an air compressor used for the suspension, and there is a fitting by the generator that can be used to fill up tires etc.  However, to use the air compressor the engine has to run to maintain the compression.   Since I am not the fastest at this stuff – and I am being careful taking off the TPMS sensors so they don’t fall between the dual wheels (they are unscrewed and taken off to use the air gauge and to inflate/deflate the tires).  I do the front tires first since the sensors are easy to access.  Then do the co-pilot rear dual tires.  The outer dual valve stems are reversed, so the opening faces the inside.  This is a bit more of a challenge and I have to take of both sets of sensors off because they are on the wrong sides of the coach.  I could re-program the monitor, but since I’m taking all the sensors off anyways I’ll just swap them.

When I move over to the driver’s side rear dual wheels, the inside  tire shows no pressure. The sensor, manual and digital air gauges all read ZERO.  This was the tire that had shown over pressure on the way up.  It will not build up any pressure at all.  I shut down the RV – by this time I am really tired of hearing the engine idle while I air up the tires.

One of the great things about RVing is the people you meet.  Kelly, one of our neighbors a few RVs down stopped by after seeing me out with all my air hoses and still struggling with my chores.  Kelly and his wife have been RVing for about 4 years now after retiring from Exxon.  He thought that my built-in air compressor did not have enough oomph to fill up an empty tire.  He had purchased a passive in-line pump from Les Schwab that increases the output of the Journey’s air compressor.  This didn’t help, and we realized that we could actually feel the tire wiggle on the wheels. Yikes, it was off the rim!

Kelly also mentions that there is no way 93 lbs is enough pressure for an RV of our size.  We need to follow the chassis label (110 lbs @ max load) and it should be much closer to that pressure.  Great… did I under-inflate my tires?  Uncertainty leads to worry.  What if I ruined my tire and possibly put the coach and family in danger because I mis-understood what tire pressure to keep in the tires?  I feel like a dunce.

Warranty?  What Warranty?

We have an extended warranty on our tires, however after calling USA Travel Care’s tire warranty service the the tires themselves are covered and up to $50 for towing.  Roadside repair is not covered.  My USA Travel coach extended warranty covers up to $300 for towing when I have a flat, and my RV insurance has unlimited towing.  Seems like a simple solution, eh?  Get towed and have the flat fixed.  That way the warranty covers the cost.  I have no idea how much a tow will cost us.  After a call to Geico they decide it’s covered but it’s getting late so we decide to call back on Sunday to get towed and get the tire fixed.  I called Les Schwab and they don’t tow RVs (remember this for later in the story).

Sunday, December 16th – Lake Minden

After having breakfast and taking the dogs for a walk I’m back on the phone with Geico. They call around, and after over 4 hours off and on the phone with them (partially because of he poor cell coverage for AT&T at our location – we keep getting dropped) they finally locate a service that will come out.  They will be there in 2 hours.

Great!  We start packing up, get unhooked from water and stow our things.  I lower the antenna and put my tools away.  Then I stand back and check the RV.  The antenna is still up.  Well, crap.  I go in, and try to lower the antenna… it’s lowered all the way according to the crank.   I wind it up, then lower it down again.  When I go outside, it’s still up – proud and dandy.  I go back inside and the handle for the antenna comes off in my hand, and it’s jammed tight now.

This is not good.  We don’t want the antenna to get ripped off and damage the roof.

Okay, I have not been up on the roof yet, and that is one of the things I wanted to do so I can check the seals around the vents.  I am a little apprehensive about getting up on the roof.  As I have “matured”, my balance is not the greatest, so I have to be careful going up on the bricks & sticks house roof to clean the gutters etc.  Here’s a pretty smooth, curved surface with no gutter.  I get the A-Frame ladder out and check out the side.  There is no way I can reach anything from the side on the A-Frame ladder.  So on to the back of the coach and up the rear ladder.  The roof is in good shape… and not slippery at all.  I make my way along the center line of the coach roof to the antenna.  I don’t see anything on the antenna to ‘fix’.  There is a geared sprocket like thing but it won’t move. Fortunately there are two pins with a slip washer on them. I take them out and the antenna comes down, then I put the pins back in holding the antenna in place.

As I scrabble back to the rear ladder I inspect the seals and overall condition of the roof. Everything looks good.  I think it should be easy to replace both of the fans in the kitchen and the bathroom.  Both are noisy, have to be closed when it rains and the rear fan’s gasket is loose.

Down the ladder and back on safe ground!  Whew.  I’m feeling good.  Two major achievements this weekend so far.  We tested out our heating systems – the furnace worked both on propane as well as electric, and our new Dyson fan worked great to maintain the temperature.  And I inspected our roof. We also managed to record some power usage using our Kill-a-Watt meter.

Things are really going good.  Another neighbor stops by, and they have just retired 3 weeks ago and are gradually making their way down the west coast starting from Seattle.  They have been getting rain all the way down.  Their older Bounder has had NO PROBLEMS at all.   Hmmmm.  Well, we’ll get the bugs worked out of our Journey.

He spoke about CoachNet and heard good things about them, and I can see the advantage of working with a company that understands RVs – especially newbies like Christine and I.

Geico calls back… the towing company can’t tow us.  So they are back calling around to find someone to give us a tow.  Finally after a few more dropped calls and exchanges they contact a company that can tow us – but not until Monday.  I was instructed to call back at 8 a.m. Monday.

We continue to pack up and I notice there is a bunch of soot by the water heater vent.  We heard the water heater go on, but didn’t have any hot water.  However we have an electric water pot and that served us OK.  Now I know the reason we didn’t get hot water – something’s wrong with it.  Another thing to add to the list to get fixed.

In the meantime, Christine needs to be able to go back to work on Monday, so we contact River City Indoor RV storage where I dropped off the Honda Pilot and asked them to pull it out; then contacted our daughter and asked her to pick me up and take me home to get the keys before picking up the Pilot so I could take Christine and the dogs home.  I go back to Lake Minden just as it is getting dark after Christine fixes a great dinner.  Danny, our Golden Retriever and I spend the night so we can deal with Monday’s adventures.

 Monday December 17th – Lake Minden

Right at 8 o’clock I call Geico and they call the tow company dispatcher.  The tow company reports that a diesel can’t be towed, and Geico calls around for a company that can bring or repair the tire on-site.  While I’m waiting for Geico I call CoachNet.  I want to know if I sign up for service, how long before I can get covered.  They report that coverage starts the next day, even for a ‘pre-existing’ condition ;-).  I get signed up for their premium service that includes the tow vehicle.  Just in case…

Geico calls back, and report that the only place that can provide service is Les Schwab.  Since they don’t have an agreement with Geico, I would have to contact them myself, pay for it then get reimbursed.   Ha!  Didn’t I call Les Schwab early on?  But I asked the WRONG question.  I asked if they TOWED RVs, not did they provide on-site service.  I called Les Schwab and talked with Danny.  He was out in an hour.

 Rescue at Lake Minden

All set for the dramatic ending for the Rescue at Lake Minden?  With Jeff and his side-kick Danny the Retriever and Danny from Les Schwab as they are the key characters.  What’s the plot though?

Danny from Les Schwab got all set up and was going to take off the outer dual wheel, but couldn’t find his air wrench.  Evidently his pickup was taken in to replace the catalytic converter and someone had taken out the wrench and not put it back.  No worries though.  Danny crawled under the coach and using a thing-a-ma-jig that looked like an over-sized leaf blower he popped the tire back to the wheel, then aired it up.  And I do mean POPPED! When he put the TPMS sensor back on the wheel he could hear the air leaking.  Well that answers that question!  To be safe, he follows me back to Sacramento so he can check the tire & wheel at the shop.

Les Schwab – Sacramento

Back at Les Schwab Danny removes the wheels and check out the tire & wheel.  All looks good.

2014-12-15-112545 LakeMinden

2014-12-15-113326 LakeMinden

 

So I ask him about my tire pressure.  I show him the weight report and he types in some numbers from the side of the tire and comes up with…. (Drum roll)… 93 lbs – front and back.

What a relief!  At least I was right in my research on tire pressure.

What a great Les Schwab story. :) and actually what a great weekend camping.  Not only did we get a chance to get the RV out, we learned lots.

Took the Journey back to storage and the rest is for another day.

Postscript

Over the next few weeks I have done some testing on the TPMS sensor, and now I’m not certain whether it’s the sensor that’s bad or the valve/valve stem.  More research on our next camping trip!

RV Repairs Complete – Time for Camping?

Repairs Complete – Camping Trip #2 coming up

My gosh, after purchasing the RV in August I thought we would have been out camping at least once  month.  Here in November we are almost ready for camping trip #2 now that we have completed our RV Repairs.

Sacramento Truck Center

Freightliner Oasis service center in Sacramento (Sacramento Truck Center) did a great job.  Lawrence kept us informed of the progress and it was ready to pick up on Tuesday – although we had to wait until Wednesday to pick it up because of work commitments.

It’s funny that because of a newbie mistake on my part we identified a relatively minor issue – the air line leak in the dash that lead up to identifying a second potentially more serious issue with our front right brake having had a hub seal leak so the brake and seal were replaced.  First – the start-up procedures I understood was that I should turn the ignition on and all the lights should go off then I start.  Actually what I’m looking for is the ‘Wait to start’ indicator (a coil on our dash) to turn off, NOT all the lights.  Because I was still not confident about the start-up process and the display lights I paid more attention to what was going on and noticed the air leak at the dash.

When we took the Journey into Freightliner I decided to have them do an external inspection and they found the brake issue.  This leads up to a couple of things we (re)-learned.

The books and blogs we read indicated that a 3rd party inspection is important before purchasing a used RV.  This confirmed that!  A dealer “certified” RV is not worth the paper it’s written on, though I must say that  the dealer we purchased our RV from gave us 15 days to drive (and have the RV inspected).  We decided not to have a separate inspection and purchased an extended warranty instead (which we would have done anyways).  We did take the RV out and provided the dealer with a ‘laundry list’ of things to fix which they did.  However we are not experts especially when it comes to the chassis and diesel engine.

Have an inspection before you buy a used RV

The bottom line here is that if you are purchasing a used RV you should always get a third-party inspection unless of course you have the qualifications  to inspect the RV  yourself.  Secondly an extended warranty can pay for itself. We have had about $2000.00 of warranty payments so far on our RV – half the cost of what the 3 year extended warranty cost.

Start-up Checklists

Now I am going through the Freightliner chassis checklists and trying to figure out how to complete these.  The Journey is our first diesel vehicle and much of the vocabulary is new to us.  After spending some time looking though the chassis manual, the Cummins engine manual and blogs I think I’l invest in a DVD instruction set to help us understand this .  I figure the $100 for 6 hours of DVD instruction on basic RV maintenance from Home on the Road will be beneficial.  First I can decide what maintenance I can do myself since I’m fairly handy.  Secondly I’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on when I talk to a professional.  Look for a full review on the DVD set once I order and watch it.

Sounds like a good article for other new folks.  It’s probably simple stuff once you’ve done it once.

Happy Trails!