Roadtrek

Roadtrek

Saturday, February 29, 2020

JUST WHEN YOU THINK EVERYTHING IS GREAT- IT'S NOT!

I have been holding off writing this article since the end of October 2019.  My last post of August 2019 - ended on a happy note. My new batteries were in, The battery separator was replaced and when driving the batteries were charging. It seemed like all was great. Well... no it was not.

Why have I waited to write this? I wanted to make sure that now things really were OK. And I just wanted to not tempt fate - once again.  At this point as you read this, hopefully, all is well, but for a long time it was not.  Now I have pages of documentation and voltage checks that I made shortly after the last article was published, but I, promise, I will not include all of that in this article. I don't even want to look at all of that again. I will give you some details to explain what took place.

The last article came out on this site on August 30, 2019. On  September 6th, I went out to check the voltage of the batteries and they read 12.56 volts. That is a lot for brand new batteries to drop. Three days later - September 9th - I went to the Roadtrek again and checked the voltage of the batteries and the battery voltage was -----   10.1 volts!   Essentially the new batteries drained to dead. This part is important to understand - there was NOTHING ON INSIDE THE ROADTREK TO DRAIN THE BATTERIES LIKE THIS. 

I downloaded the technical manual for LifeLine AGM batteries to find out what to do?  The manual is 40 pages long!  In the manual there is a section called "Deep Discharge Recovery". What I had was a "deep discharge"!  The second paragraph in this section says, "WARNING: This procedure should only be done by a trained technician." That warning was followed by another "WARNING" and also a  "CAUTION". All of which I was in no position qualified or capable of doing." What I did instead was plug the Roadtrek in for 72 hours plus to try to bring the batteries back to charge. After it charged - and the batteries did charge  - I turned off the TrippLite 750 inverter/converter/charger on the  unit slide switch on the front right of the TrippLite. To do this you slide it to the middle position DC OFF. This cuts its connection with the batteries - whether the battery switch is on or off.  In this position the TrippLite has ZERO drain on the batteries. It is the same as if you disconnected the battery cable from the TrippLite.

Hoping that all now was OK - we decided to take a trip and we drove on a one day and back trip 400 miles. - Another point of interest - when you drive the Roadtrek the batteries charge when the engine is running. The battery switch can be ON or OFF. AND MORE IMPORTANT TO KNOW - the TrippLite has NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS PROCESS OF CHARGING. It is strictly the connection between the battery separator (or in older RTs the battery isolator) and the Roadtrek batteries with the Engine battery - and the engine alternator which is doing the charging.  -  So, we drove 400 miles after charging the batteries at home plugged in using the TrippLite set to "Charge Only" and that battery voltage went to 12.8 which is very good. 12.8 v DC is a fully charged battery or battery bank.  Sounds good, right? Wishful thinking. In four days (which included two hours of exercising the generator under half load - which also charges the batteries through the TrippLite set to "Charge Only" - the batteries dropped - with the TrippLite set to "DC OFF" to 12.1 volts.  Again, I plugged in to charge.

During all of this I went out and bought a fairly good - recommended - multi-meter so that I would be sure I was getting accurate readings. I was - as I checked this to my 12 volt plug in digital meter. I stopped in at the mechanic who works on our car and the Roadtrek and asked him if he would test the Roadtrek to determine if there was any drain on the batteries. He took the RT into his shop and the results - there was ZERO drain on the batteries from the Roadtrek or the van.  Something was very wrong.

I contacted the shop in New Jersey that I bought the batteries from and that installed the new AGM batteries. What I got in response was that I could bring the RT back to them and that they would need it "for awhile" and they had to determine what was wrong with the Roadtrek before they would test the batteries and put in a claim for replacement under the batteries one year full replacement warranty. What troubled me by what they said was the "for awhile" part. They charge by the hour - a lot by the hour - and I could see this becoming even more expensive than dumping these batteries and starting all over again taking the loss of the money. They would not give me a clear answer about when and how long they would be charging for labor. I made an appointment to bring it in to them - in New Jersey and leave the Roadtrek. But in the meantime until the appointment I started doing what I should have done before I even bought the batteries from them. I looked up customer complaints and reviews about this shop. What I found was greatly disturbing. Not one but the same comments over and over - they take an RV in for service - keep it an extended period of time - little is done - nothing really is resolved - and they charge for all of that - and more. Oh boy! I try not to stress over the Roadtrek but this was really getting me down. I was not sure what to do. I did not trust this shop at all any longer.

As always, Meryl had the solution. She said - call the Roadtrek dealer/service - which I did.  I both called and emailed all of the details - all of the documentation about what was happening and all of the voltage readings - and what we knew - which basically was that zero drain was found on the batteries from the Roadtrek.  Initially they were going to take it in for one day. Even I felt that it really needed to be there for more than a day - just to monitor what was happening with the batteries and to  really go fully over the electrical system in the Roadtrek and make sure that there was nothing not functioning as it should that was causing the batteries to drop. I spoke with the customer service rep that we have been working with since we got the Roadtrek in 2011 from this dealer new - and spent a lot of time with getting things put in correct order after it came out of the factory with a lot of problems. We are on a first name basis - and have had many pleasant conversations with over the years. She told me that they thought I was in a hurry and it would be better if they kept it. We set a day to bring the Roadtrek and leave it with them. At the same time we learned that they have moved their service facility off the property where the sales room is and they were now down the road some. We got detailed directions. To bring the Roadtrek there to leave it we had to also bring our car to get home. That meant one follows the other.  The next day I cancelled the appointment at the shop we bought the batteries at.

I put together a very extensive package of materials about the batteries and my log of what was going on since we got the new batteries. At this point I was not sure if the Roadtrek shop - from which I did not buy the batteries from - would be able to get replacements under the batteries' warranty. I just wanted things fixed - and for me to tell any shop what I told the Roadtrek shop under any other circumstances would be just craze - but I wanted this fixed and done with - I said, "if the batteries are bad and you can't get them replaced under warranty I will take the loss - take them out, throw them away - and get me two good AGMs that you would use to replace the Roadtrek originals". Yep, I was pretty much at the end of my tolerance in dealing with getting working batteries in the Roadtrek. As it was the entire summer when we should have been traveling in the Roadtrek we were getting the batteries replaced -and then dealing with bad batteries. The only trip we took the entire summer in the Roadtrek was four days the week of July Fourth  - plus the one day and back the same day trip of 400 miles (which was rather pleasant).  We usually go away for a few days at the end of October and I was planning on that trip as the last trip of 2019.

The trip down to Pennsylvania to drop off the Roadtrek we set off with Meryl driving the Roadtrek and me driving our passenger van.  (Ah yes! With all the excitement going on with the Roadtrek just before this trip down, our car started making noises when shifting down. I asked our mechanic if I could drive it to PA and he said - "I wouldn't" - so I didn't. My passenger van is a 1996 and I have only driven it locally for a long number of years.  So I asked the same mechanic - who knows it well - if it would make ti to PA and back and he said sure. Just in case I took it out on a highway at night for an hour to make sure it would.  It did that fine - and that is what I was going to drive to PA - a trip this van has not taken in maybe over 10 years or longer.) SO - We have Midland Walkie Talkies with a 28 mile range (clear open field outside) and we each took one - and they kept us in contact the entire trip. The only time we lost contact was when the Roadtrek got ahead of me and went around a long curve- but as soon as we both were on straight highway again the radios connected.  Meryl rarely gets to drive the Roadtrek and had not driven it that far since she drove it home from Pennsylvania with me following. We got to the service center  in its new location. Had a nice chat with our friend - talked about Roadtrek and the new owners - and we left it in good hands. They were planning on our having it back in about 12 days. And they were not charging me for labor unless they were actually working on it. They have been very good with us since we first met this dealer in 2009 when we started looking at Roadtreks - and met them at an RV show in New York.

Getting home was a lot more exciting. We stuck around the area for a couple of hours - had lunch and stopped at a store that was not far for a couple of pies - not just any pies - and not chocolate shoofly but a cake in a pie called Funny Cake which is mostly only found in this area of Pennsylvania.  We were this close - we had to go and pick up a couple. Well. We finally almost got to the PA Turnpike - coming from a direction we have not come from before and had to head east from and we made a wrong turn that took almost a half hour to correct - and we got back to the PA Turnpike rush hour had started. Six hours later - we got home. Thank goodness we were together in the van because had this happened on the way down in two vehicles it would have been even more of a mess. We made a mental note - when coming back to pick up the Roadtrek - get there early and come straight back home!

Back home and life goes on. I was getting email updates from Roadtrek dealer/service. During this time Meryl's 90 year old mom needed some help getting to routine medical appointments and we were taking her.   We got a call from Roadtrek and they said it would be ready in two days.

Findings from Roadtrek dealer service - Roadtrek electrical systems and charging - ALL GOOD! New batteries - one bad, one good. The bad one was bringing the whole thing down. A new replacement added to the good battery would make all GOOD. AND THEY HAD A DISTRIBUTOR WHO WOULD TAKE THE BAD BATTERY AND REPLACE IT WITH THE SAME UNDER WARRANTY.

SO as far as the Roadtrek was concerned all was going to be good. The minor problem at home was we were scheduled to take Meryl's mom to the doctor when we should have gone back for the Roadtrek.  I let the shop know this and they said no problem - call us next week and we will set a day to expect you.  That would have been good if the weather had not changed - and it got suddenly very cold and a bit snowy -  not at home but in PA. Just before I was going to call the next week, I got a call that morning from the Roadtrek shop - the weather forecast is predicting well below 28 degrees in the next few nights and your Roadtrek is not winterized. May we winterize it if you can't come right now to get it?  Well, I had heard this same thing about the weather and it was there and here - and even if I could have gone right then to get it - I would have it home in the same cold. I told them absolutely yes - as I had thought to ask them to do this anyway when I called later that day. So they would winterize the Roadtrek.  Of course, those who have read my articles on winterizing the Roadtrek I have little things that I do that the shops often don't do - and I had to make sure they knew not to use compressed air in the lines - as this is a never do according to Roadtrek (at least the "old Roadtrek").  I went through my please don't and please make sure to do this and that - which I would have done if I was doing it myself.  She said, of course. And for the first time since they did the winterizing that first year we owned the Roadtrek - and took their one to one winterizing class - which is the basis for my steps on winterizing - plus my additions - I was not winterizing the Roadtrek. And like a parent with his child away for the first time when something they do together is not done - I worried if they were really going to do it all the way I do. (And they did!)

 We finally got to get to PA and pick up the Roadtrek - and as we were sure to do after our first experience getting home in rush hour PA, NJ, and NY style - we picked it up around 11 am. Stopped for twenty minutes to have lunch. Got on the southbound road to the PA Turnpike - did not make the same mistaken turn as we did the last time - now following each other - and got home in the expected three hours - and only got into traffic in New York - Walkie Talkies with voice activated transmission making sure that each was finding the correct turns.

I will not say what I was charged except that everything to do with the batteries and checking out the Roadtrek's systems to make sure they were good was reasonable.  The winterizing surprised me as to what it now costs which is a lot more than it was 8 years before - but checking around I was charged ballpark for what winterizing costs to do today. It is a good thing to do it yourself- as you save a LOT!

I learned a very important lesson in all of this. The lesson is don't try to go cheap! I got a quote from the Roadtrek dealer/service on the batteries and installation before I decided to go to the place in New Jersey to buy the batteries.  The quote was higher on the batteries but lower on the installation (and I was charged in addition by the shop in NJ for shipping the batteries from LifeLine to them - and they were supposed to be a LifeLine distributor. plus parts that were not needed.to do the install).  Had I gone to the Roadtrek dealer/service from the start the total price - as there was no shipping involved - they were going to the same distributor that did the warranty exchange a few miles away from them - and there were no added, unnecessary parts - would have been less than what it cost me in New Jersey plus they would have fully checked out the batteries at the time of install - and I would have had the Roadtrek for travel - no need to make two trips down and back with multiple vehicles which involved tolls and gas - and not had to pay for getting everything checked out. All in all - I should have listened to Meryl when she told me to go to the Roadtrek dealer/service from the start  - why? Because Meryl is always right. I don't say that mockingly. She will tell you, herself, that she is always right - and you know - honestly - she is.

We never did get to take that trip at the end of October. The weather was bad. Things were going on at home that could not be put aside. But the Roadtrek was fixed and fixed right.

Our Roadtrek dealer/service is Fretz RV in Souderton, PA. As I have said they have always been good to us! 

I have been checking voltage regularly ever since I got the Roadtrek back. It has gone on a day trip since then. The generator gets its monthly exercise. And until today - because I don't want o get into the habit of not plugging it in - even though it really does not need to be charged - I had only plugged it in once. As I write it is outside plugged in and charging. Other than when plugged in or running the generator when I put the TrippLite into Charge Only setting, I keep the TrippLite on the DC OFF setting - and there is still zero drain on the batteries.  The batteries stay at 12.9 volts - may go to 12.8X volts with x being a 100th of a volt . The lowest I have seen is 12.82 volts - all indicating that they are fully charged and holding that charge.  It has been four months now. The green light on the battery monitor inside the Roadtrek on the wall always shows C - top LED - for the momentary check of the batteries inside with the plug in 12 volt meter - and then the battery switch goes right off.

Would I still recommend LifeLine  AGM batteries to replace your Roadtrek AGMs?  I am not sure if I would. Maybe it is not unusual for one to get a bad battery. I don't know. I have never gotten a bad vehicle battery. These batteries are supposed to be hand assembled at the factory in California. They are supposed to be the best - and at a price for the best. When I read though the LifeLine technical manual they talk about all the things one is supposed to do annually to maintain these batteries. Well, the AGMs Roadtrek put in when they built my Roadtrek in 2011 lasted until - and maybe even would have lasted longer past - 2019. I decided to replace them because they were not charging when driving - and we found out after buying the new batteries that the problem with that was not the batteries at all but the battery separator going bad. So I might still have had the OEM batteries now if that had not happened.  And all I ever did to maintain those batteries was to plug in every month and charge them - once a month up to when they were four years old and then I started plugging in twice a month - to keep them charged. And with these new batteries- well that is my plan also -they will get plugged in once a month - which is also good for keeping the engine battery charged (depending on the year of your Roadtrek).  I can't be doing what they say to do and I have no idea how to do what they say to check and record, discharge, and ,,.  Well. they will get plugged in. You can download the manual on the LifeLine website and decide for yourself.

I will be writing some articles about what I have learned about the Roadtrek electrical system which goes beyond the basics I have written about in the past. There are things that work a lot differently than I had thought they did. i have mentioned some of them so far. But that is for another article.

Once again, thanks for coming along on this journey - one I rather I would have not had to take.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Sometimes one writes TOO SOON - An Unanticipated PART 2

When I finished the last article, all was happy and hopeful.  Had I only waited to write that article, as a few days later I went out to turn on the batteries, start the engine, and watch the voltage on my plug in voltage meter rise up to charging voltage (around 13.8 to 14.5 volt) showing that the new batteries charging. This, after all, was what pushed me to buy the new batteries - as the old batteries were not doing this.  Well... The voltage meter stayed at 12.6 volts - a decent charge on the new batteries but not right when the engine is running. We took it for a ride. We are getting too used to late night drives in the Roadtrek toward the end of Long Island. Long Island is 100 miles long and the only roads there that the Roadtrek is allowed to drive on due to its height. So we get on the Long Island Expressway (495) and to get to that we used the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway - yes, it is referred to as the S.O.B. or more kindly the 135.  Long Island is shaped like a fish and we drive out when we do this drive we head east and turn around in the town of Riverhead which is located where the fish's tail starts - this is an hour's drive (when there is no traffic) and about a 65 mile drive for us.  The best way to charge the batteries in the Roadtrek while driving is two drive for two hours at highway speeds without stops. And that is what we did. When we got to the hour point I pulled over into a parking lot with the engine running and plugged in and looked at the voltage meter for the Roadtrek batteries and it read 12.6 volts - no charging took place. We turned around and headed home - and back at home - the same 12.6 volts and no indicator to show it was charging. Oh BOY!

As it happened the day before I decided to purchase a spare Sure Power bidirectional battery separator - the same model that I had in the Roadtrek - just in case I should ever need it. This is not an easy part to find and has to be ordered - I ordered it from a battery supply house in Washington State.  It would take three business days for it to arrive.

I stopped at the mechanic the next day and told him that I needed him to check out the engine battery, the alternator and to please test the battery separator which is not something he would usually do but he could do it.  He could take it the Tuesday of the next week. That weekend I printed out everything I have about the battery separator - and I also contacted an email Roadtrek friend who I met as a reader of this site. His name is Bruce.  The details about how the battery separator works is rather confusing as the wording seems to contradict how we know it works by experience. In fact, it turns out I was not the only one confused by this. 

Did you ever have what seems to be an unsolvable puzzle and become obsessed with solving it? Well that was me! I went back and forth with Bruce about how we each were interpreting Sure Power's description of how the separator worked. He had some good ideas about this but suggested I contact someone he has contacted before about his Roadtrek - Norm - who writes a blog site similar to ours but with its focus on the Roadtrek 210, which is a bigger version of our 190.  Bruce also sent a link to an article that Norm wrote on his site about the Sure Power Battery Separator. I read his article and he also seemed to find contradiction on how we know it works and how it is described as working.  I emailed Norm the details of what was going on and if he has any insights beyond his article. (Norm's site is linked to our LINKS section on the right column of the page - and has been for sometime - Roadtrek 210.) While waiting for Norm's response I sat down with Meryl who often looks at things purely logical - much more so than I do, explained the battery separator and gave her all of the documents I have about to read and come to her own opinion on how it works - and that did seem the most likely and logical. (This was no surprise to me - I knew she would see it differently than I was seeing it.) Norm did respond and we went back and forth with a few emails discussing what it might be - what it should be - etc.  We knew how it should work from shared experience in how it works - and that is what I needed to go by - despite the paperwork.

The new battery separator was delivered to the post office on Saturday and I had it in my hands on Monday. If it was needed, I had it ready.

We got the Roadtrek to the mechanic the night before.  And the next morning I eagerly awaited a phone call which by after 1:00 pm had not come. We were heading out of the house and I said to Meryl that we would stop there on the way.  She suggested that I bring the new battery separator and I put it in the car. When we got there, it seemed to be ready. The engine battery was bad - and not holding a charge. (I had thought that might be the problem.) He had tested the battery separator and it was connecting. He talked about the other things he did and handed me the keys.  I asked him if the RV batteries were charging when the engine was running. He said he was not sure how to turn on the battery switch inside and did not want not to push any buttons he was uncertain of. Understandable - he is not an RV mechanic.  We started the engine first, turned on the battery switch for the Roadtrek batteries, I put the meter in the socket and the batteries were not charging. He then decided that perhaps the alternator was not putting out enough current and went back into the shop to check on alternators.  He said we did not want a cheap import alternator and he only wants to put a good one in. He was finding the alternator he wanted to use but they were not available. We talked about the alternator some and then ... I just had a feeling that I needed to ask him if he did one more thing - when the engine was running - and the alternator showed 14 volts on the dash - did the Roadtrek side of the battery separator also show 14 volts. He told me he had not checked that and we all went back outside to the Roadtrek. He brought his meter - and he tested this. There was no current coming into the Roadtrek battery side of the separator.  He said we don't need an alternator. I told him that I had a new battery separator in the car and he might want to check that out.  He installed the new one in a few minutes - it is just three connections - a cable from each battery system - engine and Roadtrek - and a common ground - all there on the old separator. As soon as he had the new one in, the Roadtrek battery started to charge with the engine running, While the separator was connecting before the voltage was not going through it.  The new battery separator is what was needed all along. We were going to need the new batteries in the Roadtrek - both  RV and engine anyway - so while that might have been put off for a time - I was still playing Russian Roulette with RV batteries that were past due. 

As we were leaving he told me to drive the Roadtrek to charge both sets of batteries- the new engine battery and the Roadtrek batteries - or I could plug in the Roadtrek to charge both.  Since there were "strong storms" predicted that afternoon we decided not to plug in at the house and wait until that night for one of our late night Roadtrek excursions.  We did that and all was well. And since I have been checking and double checking and it is working.

My special thanks to Bruce and Norman! You both helped a great deal!!!