Tag Archives: refrigerator

Troubles on the Road

There’s no perpetual motion machine, no unbreakable machine, no way to escape certain things like maintenance and repairs. We may try to avoid working on things that are still “sort of working”, but we’ll eventually get our hands dirty. Many of us are, consciously or unconsciously, aware of deferred maintenance, known more familiarly as procrastination.

Debbie and I try to keep up with all the required and advisable maintenance on our truck and Airstream trailer. In ten years, we’ve had very few problems, maybe not ten in all until our travels this summer. This story is one of my longer ones — Sometimes, like everyone else, we learn we missed something important. In this case, more than several things:

(1) Two months ago we learned our trailer brakes were broken. Fortunately we discovered the damage in Airstream’s excellent service facility in Jackson Center OH. The great folks in the service shop were going to do a quick brake adjustment. But it turned out to be more — much more.

Short story, Airstream replaced the electric brake magnets on all four wheels, turned all four drums, and put our brakes back together again for us. Ouch! We didn’t even know they were coming apart. Airstream Service DOES IT RIGHT! We’re good now, thanks to them.

(2) Both the charge converter and the solar charger quit charging the batteries on our way to the Region 2 Rally in early June. We need these to keep the trailer’s batteries up to keep our lighting, music, fans, and water pump working.

We were using the lights and fans, so we seemed to have battery power. But the battery monitor, a really cool Trimetric 2025, showed the batteries were discharging and not getting any juice from the chargers. Strange.

Finally I turned off the charge converter on the 120vac breaker panel in the trailer. The trailer’s lights and fan died immediately. I pulled the 12 volt system main (30a) fuses. They looked okay and I put them back in place. Everything turned back on and the batteries were getting a charge from the charge converter. The contacts for the two small 30 amp fuses for the 12 volt system weren’t letting juice get through the contacts until I removed and reinserted them. Okay — fixed.

(3) Next, our solar charge controller had stopped noticing sunlight. Instead of the soft amber light signaling everything is copacetic, we now had a bright red indicator light. No more charging from our solar panels, no matter how great the sunlight. We’d replaced our solar charge controller before, but only after it had a stunning smelly electrical circuit board failure.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I pulled the fuses on all the power connections to solar power system, took the solar charge controller out, and took it apart. Apparently all the smoke was still inside. This time there were no smelly surprises, no charred diodes. I carefully cleaned the contacts, board and components, reassembled the solar charge controller, and put power back to it. It works perfectly. Yep! I probably only needed to do a power reset on it in the first place. We’ll call the extra work preventive maintenance.

(4) A few days later at a rally with the Airstream club’s Region 2 folks near Penn State, we had another surprise. Thanks to John Hussar for doing a propane safety check on our trailer (and even our gas grill!) One of the hoses showed a slight leak on a crimped fitting, according to John’s very sensitive meter. During our stay in Albuquerque NM we had Randy at R and L Propane Service make us a new set of hoses to connect the propane tanks to the gas regulator.

(5) Next, our shower head stopped working. Nothing but a dribble out of it. While we were at the Airstream Service facility I felt courageous enough to tear into the shower plumbing. I’d tried cleaning the shower head but didn’t find anything in it. I wondered about the long flexible hose. Killing two birds with one stone, I replaced the kitchen faucet with the shower hose. Great flow! Years ago a friend told me he’d removed his shower’s vacuum breaker. It’s at the bottom of the hose, where the water comes through the shower wall in a nice chrome elbow. These come in all shapes, ours looked like this:

FullSizeRender-7

Okay, not the cut-off valve, not the hose, not the shower head. I took off the vacuum breaker, reconnected the shower hose and the most amazing thing happened. We have incredibly great flow and pressure, like never before. Why didn’t I do this ten years ago? Good grief!

(6) Shortly after, Debbie’s vanity lights went dim. These are pretty high tech LED super-bright (205 lumens) lights (similar to these.) They seem 1.5X brighter than 12 diode pucks, even though they’re only 3 LEDs. Expensive too, at $19 each through Camping World (you can find them cheaper but might not receive warranty replacement at on-line stores.) Fortunately there’s a Camping World next door to Randy’s Propane Service place and they stock these. Okay, another problem fixed on this trip.

(7) Then, our kitchen cabinet door just barely worked. I’d tightened the Grass hinge screws but the screws wouldn’t stay tight. The door became really sloppy. I’d tighten the two hinges and the door worked perfectly. For a few days, then loose again. I finally took the hinges off, inserted big round toothpicks in the woodwork’s screw holes, and reattached the hinges. A month later and still okay.

1-nexis

(8) On our I-40 voyage into New Mexico I was blowing my horns to say HI in morse code (dit dit dit dit dah dah) to W5AOX Jim while talking on the ham radio with him as we crossed paths East and West. When I keyed the microphone, the horns died, the ham radio quit, and the GPS went blank. No power to any of these accessory loads. I’d overloaded the circuit because the new air horn compressor is a power hog and so is the ham radio when I’m talking full power. Short fix, replaced the 25 amp blade fuse for the accessory circuit and good to go. Project for later – add a dedicated fused line from the battery to the air compressor.

(9) During our stay in New Mexico, the truck’s air horn system completely died. The dash switch had power and I detected power to the relay. Oddly, the primary line only had 11.5 volts compared to the truck’s 12.5+ volts. Instead, I waited until I could get into the project mentioned at the bottom of number (8) above.

If I’d remembered how the line was connected I might sooner have figured out the problem and easily made a temporary repair (just as well I didn’t.) Here’s what I used when I had spliced the air compressor’s line power:

Solderless Wire Quick Splice Connector

Solderless Wire Quick Splice Connector

As soon as I removed the tape from the joint and saw this connector I knew why voltage was low and no current could get to the load — the inexpensive splice connector didn’t hold up. I removed the splice and installed a new (fused) wire straight to the battery. Everything is good. Many of you are probably saying, “He should have run a line direct from the battery in the first place.” You’re right. That’s what I did for the ham radio because we always do that for ham radios.

(10) On our way back from NM, I reached up to turn one of the reading lamps above our bed. It fell loose into my hand, tethered only by the 12vdc wires. Granted, the shelf it’s screwed into is a thin material but heck, I was just re-aiming it! For a long time I’ve wondered if I could, some day, get the squeak out of the ball joint that allows aiming these neat little lights.

FullSizeRender-6

I squirted a tiny spray of Boeshield T-9 onto the ball joint and the swivel. Wowzers, I should’ve done this years ago! The light head swivels and aims silently and smoothly. Just one more case where deferring maintenance probably hastened the attachment failure. Oh yeah, and I reattached the lamp to the shelf in new holes.

(11) On the way home from New Mexico two weeks ago we drove eastward through two days of hard rain on I-40. On the second day we realized neither the fridge nor the water heater would light on propane. The water heater’s never given us a minute of trouble and the control board is potted in some kind of epoxy so looks really waterproof. The fridge, on the other hand, has been troublesome off and on for all ten years of travels.

Good news, the fridge still worked on electric (110vac) and our inverter and batteries can handle the load. The drain on the batteries wouldn’t be a big issue for short drives but we were driving Farmington NM to Charlotte NC in four days, averaging 450 miles daily.

Dinosaur P-711 board

Dinosaur P-711 board

Also good news, we have Dinosaur Electronic’s P-711 control board for Dometic fridges and Dinosaur has GREAT customer and tech phone support. I talked with Chris at Dinosaur who determined the board was functioning but perhaps it’s the thermocouple?

fridge thermocouple

fridge thermocouple

On the way to Camping World the next day, the water heater and fridge both fired up perfectly. We’ve been asked a few times what spare parts we carry for our RV. Just added a (spare) thermocouple for the fridge — Chris at Dinosaur may have been right and we’ll be ready.

We had more maintenance issues in June and July this year than in the ten previous years. We should be good now, everything’s been fixed. Now, everything works perfectly and we don’t have to do any maintenance until the next thing happens — or maybe we should? I think yes we should.

Next post may be about spare parts — what else do we carry?

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

dreamstreamr odyssey™
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©2007-2015 Jim @ Dreamstreamr.com

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The best and worst of full-time RVing?

Mary wrote us to ask, “. . .what are the ins and outs of full-timing, the best and worst, how you actually do it?” She pointed out we have hundreds of posts but how can she get a feel for “how it works?”

Mary, instead of looking at our posts you might peak at our website, http://dreamstreamr.com The FAQ and Home Improvements pages touch directly on practical aspects of living in our airstream. Too, we’ll touch on the answer as best as we can here.

First, the worst: The worst part of living full time in our RV might be dumping and filling tanks? There aren’t any bad parts, really. The advantage of having holding tanks is, we don’t pay sewer fees in a town or pay to have a septic tank pumped or repaired. Dumping and filling tanks lightens up in this comparison, we think.

No, I think this might be the worst of living full-time in an RV: thinking you’re in the path of a major tornado or hailstorm and can’t move the RV to safety. We’ve been fortunate so far on both accounts, but know it can happen sometime unless we avoid the zones.

The best part of full-time RVing for us? This is easy! Hitching up the trailer to the truck, starting down the road on a driving day. The tires singing and the engine humming, we’re on top of the world. We enjoy the diversity of sites we visit, the somewhat tempered weather we enjoy by avoiding deep snow, desert heat, and hurricane seasons, and the continuing education we receive as we study the places we visit.

We love the coziness of our airstream. Many people think it would be too confining, probably far too small for the things we need to have with us. None of our cabinets are overflowing with stuff. The refrigerator does sometimes eject a beer when we first open it after a driving day, just a matter of things rearranging themselves in the fridge. We have storage space to spare (although we lack extra weight capacity so plan not to fill those spaces.

Another thought about what bugs us on the road:
Sometimes we think the worst part is dealing with a resistant problem. This is something that just doesn’t want to be fixed and takes two or three or more attempts to get it right. The solution might be simple but we don’t know what it is. A few years ago our refrigerator only controlled properly on propane and it would relentlessly freeze on shore power. As problems go this is a pretty good one, at least the fridge wants to cool. But we’re tempering it manually, off a while and on a while, to keep things from freezing.

The service place said the control board checked out okay although we were 100% certain it was the problem. A month later another service place identified the same control board as the culprit and ordered a replacement. The replacement was incorrect, they located another and finally we fixed our fridge. You wonder why simple things, upon which we depend so much, should become difficult.

Almost three years later our refrigerator fell to relentless cooling on shore power and propane, either one. We didn’t ask a service garage to diagnose, we went straight to the Dinosaur Electronics folks via BestConverter.com. They promptly sent us a main control board which we installed. At first it didn’t seem to be working and we called the good folks at Dinosaur Electronics.

They worked through the issues with us, had great ideas, never rushed the calls, and sent us a warranty board yesterday. Plugged it in last evening and our refrigerator is automatically controlled again. The fix was easy, it just acted difficult. All we had to do was replace a part. Any service garage could have done it.

Our truck, on the first day out of Phoenix heading back to North Carolina, showed a check-engine light. We found it was intermittent and not fatal. We worried about it all the way across the country, hoping it was as benign as they declared.

After addressing it somewhat as we crossed the country we learned it probably was caused by operator error — when we cleaned and re-oiled our K&N air filter we almost assuredly over-oiled it and had some carryover onto the mass air flow sensor.

The MAF sensor doesn’t like this oil stuff and says, “check engine”. Recleaned, lightly oiled, and we are having no more such issues. For now. We’re 82,000 miles into this truck and, knock on wood, it has been brilliant. The same goes, really, for the trailer.

Living on the road, we hesitate to have work done by someone we might not see again. We don’t suspect they’ll do less than their best. Rather, we won’t be around to check back with them if we continue to have a problem. Which problems we sometimes have had, eh? We have tried to learn, over the past 5 years, everything we can about maintaining and fixing stuff ourselves. Generally works for us, so far.

The best is the freedom from household concerns like roofs, basements, gutters, lawns, bushes and neighborhood changes.

The worst is the potentially trip-crippling mechanical or electronic breakdowns of the truck or the trailer. We haven’t had any show-stoppers yet and hope we don’t.

Life on the road is good for us. We fly home to see our children, siblings, and parents at least once a year. We have fun, sightseeing and playing tennis in as many cities and communities as we can. We enjoy taking it as it comes, seeing the select cuts of North America.

North America, like all the continents, holds so many treasures for us to discover and explore. How else could we approach finding them if we weren’t at it full-time?

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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