One part of living in an RV, or even camping in one for that matter, is the constant need for maintenance. Much of the time it’s small things: I have a jar full of screws that have been found on the floor after a bumpy stretch of road and I’m clueless where they came from. But there are also the “big ticket items”, those things that either take more than just a screwdriver, more than just a few minutes of labor, or more than just a few bucks at the cash register in the local Tru-Value. It helps to have a great selection of tools on hand when these pop up, because inevitably they are the types of repairs that aren’t right out in the open. They frequently require lying on my back and looking up, getting under the rig on cold and/or wet gravel, and often reaching into dark and inaccessible spots behind a cabinet or fixture.
The biggest “big ticket” item we’ve been confronted with was actually the easiest to deal with. When we bought the rig, which was about 5 years old, there were plenty of cosmetic fixes to make but one we couldn’t ignore was the fact that the stove was shot. It functioned, but was pretty ugly, had rust spots, and rattled when you walked through the kitchen. First problem, where can we get a new one without busting the bank? Why, CampingWorld of course! Although their price was great (less than $500 for a top of the line replacement), the shipping was going to eat up the savings. However, my new BFF Victor at Ideal RV and Trailer in Redwood City, pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Victor’s store has never failed to cough up any single obscure part I’ve needed, seriously. But when it came to finding a stove to exactly replace ours I had started to have my doubts. I pulled the old one out (a simple job, undo the gas line, remove four screws and pull) and took it down to him (he’s conveniently located just 1 mile from where the rig was in temporary storage). He disappears for a few minutes and happily returns with the exact same stove, brand new and still in a crate. It was buried under a zillion other appliances in a dark corner of his storeroom. It was even the right color, black! And it made my day when he agreed to a discount that brought it down to the CampingWorld price! The whole job, from removal, to purchase, to re-installation took less than one hour. Pricey, but easy, and we’ll get years of great use out of it.
There have been other repairs, a new bathroom sink (thanks again to Victor! we got the last one he had), a new faucet for the bathroom sink, extending the bed platform to accommodate a new queen sized mattress, and most recently fixing the shower door so that Wendy didn’t get trapped inside every time she used it. That was actually one of those “small cost, lots of labor” repairs. She had the genius thought that since it was rubbing and catching on the bottom of the door frame why didn’t we just figure out how to raise it up a bit? We were able to buy a small nylon spacer for the bottom hinge (20 cents) but it took a complete disassembly and reassembly of the door to install it. The result, however, is extremely gratifying. It works like a charm.
What doesn’t work like a charm is the forced air propane furnace. Sometimes it works (usually when you don’t really need it) and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a complicated thing, of course installed deep into the bowels of the rig, and my initial research into troubleshooting the problem yielded at least a dozen things that could be wrong. Most of them had “low gas pressure” as one of the causes, so my first step was to figure out if the propane gas regulator was working correctly or not. Of course, you can’t tell by just looking at it or giving it a sniff or anything. Also, to my eye, it looked way way too much like plumbing, my least favorite type of repair. So, I turned to Al Gore’s Internet. There is plenty of advice on how to determine if the regulator is delivering the right amount of gas pressure online, and virtually every commentator recommended using a manometer, a device to determine how much pressure is in a gas line. If you want to buy one, the best place is at the factory where they make the furnaces, and you better bring your checkbook. However, while researching the what’s and where’s of manometers, I came across an article on how they are calibrated for accuracy. Even the furnace manufacturer, Atwood, mentions in the Furnace Troubleshooting Guide (found online, thanks again Al Gore!) to “make sure to calibrate your Gauge Manometer with a U-Tube Manometer to ensure accuracy of the measurements”. It turns out that it costs less than $5 to actually make a U-Tube manometer, and only about another $1.50 to buy the fittings to connect it to your gas piping. So why not just use the calibrator directly to measure the pressure? Here’s what the “extremely accurate” calibration device ends up looking like ($6.50 to buy the parts, less than an hour to construct it):
It takes about 5 minutes to hook it up to the piping by disconnecting the stove (something I’m already very familiar with, right?), turn the gas back on, measure the “static” gas pressure, then to measure and chart the “operating” gas pressure as the heater cycles on and off. Pretty cool! And the best part, it eliminates about 10 of the 12 potential problems. Here are some pix of the hookup, and the manometer in use.
Now, the heater isn’t fixed yet. That will, thanks to our diagnosis, require disassembly of the major components to remove and replace both the burner and the heat sensor, about $75 in parts and probably a few hours of labor. But at least we know the parts store down the street (Sonny’s RV in Chimacum, a place that nearly rivals Victor’s store in Redwood City) has those in stock. By this time a few days from now we will hopefully be prepared for the “blast of cold arctic air” that’s headed our way again before the New Year.