Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Inverter

This is the final article in the series on the Roadtrek electric system. The inverter is the fourth out of four power sources in the Roadtrek - at least in Roadtreks that are not the new ETrek which brings in solar and other electric sources as standard and options.

I have kept the inverter for last because it is the most technical and complex system to understand. The best part is that you do not need to understand it to use it. It's use is simple. You simply turn on the Battery switch and then turn on the Inverter switch which is located on one of the walls in your Roadtrek - mine is next to the side entrance door and you immediately have 110/120 volt power in several of the outlets of your Roadtrek.That is providing you have charge in your batteries. Because the inverter takes the DC (direct current) 12 volt power in your coach battery or batteries and changes it to 110/120 volt AC (alternating current) power.

I will briefly talk about some of the technical things about the Inverter later but for the moment, here is what you need to look for to get your inverter started.

The Battery Switch is on the right. When you press it it will turn on and the LED to the left of the switch will  light.

There is the INVERTER Switch on the top. It is a simple toggle switch. Push the top and it is ON. Push the bottom of the switch and it is OFF. 
(By the way - the switch below is the outside porch light.)


Some Roadtreks depending on Model and Year will have these switches in different locations!

It does not get any simpler than this - but what have you got. You are going to say, "Hey! This outlet does not work!" Well, not all of the outlets will work when you are using the inverter. Roadtrek has only connected a few outlets in your Roadtrek to the inverter. The inverter draws a lot of power from the batteries or battery and you will find yourself in the dark quickly if you were to try to run everything electric in the Roadtrek all at once and also the inverter only supplies 750 watts of power - we will get into this more later - and that is not enough to run the air conditioner, the microwave, or something like a hair drier (the typical hair dryer needs 1500 watts). It is plenty to run the TV, the home entertainment unit with DVD, a laptop computer, charge a cell phone or two, and any small electric like an electric razor. It should be enough to run a small coffee maker. The more you use, the faster the batteries will run down. So if you want to go along for awhile you need to be conservative in what you plug in.

So where are those outlets that will work. They seem, from what I am told, to vary from model to model and year to year. There will be about three of four outlets total that will have power. The TV outlet will have power and this outlet powers the home entertainment center also. I also have an outlet in the front of my Roadtrek behind the driver's seat that is powered and also the outlet on the wall above the kitchen counter to the left of the sink. One thing that we noticed (actually, Meryl noticed) is that all of the outlets that we have that work on the inverter have a sign next to them.

The Sign! This is the outlet behind the driver's seat.

The TV/Home Entertainment Center outlet located in the cabinet on the passenger side over the bed. I added that switch and three way adapter cube - you will not have one. See the sign again behind.

The same outlet behind the driver's seat. Roadtreks offer a coffee maker as an option, and I believe this is where it would plug in as when we saw one it was located in this area.

The outlet over the kitchen counter top and sink.  There is the sign again!

As I said, there are not more outlets because your 750 watts is very limited - plus at the same time you are using your batteries (or battery - I have two coach batteries standard - some Roadtreks only have one) you are powering your 12 volt lights, your water pump, your hot water heater, your overhead fan, and maybe your furnace.

I have not put my inverter to an endurance test but we have gone for three hours on the inverter watching TV, using the laptop, and charging cell phones with the 12 volt system also working and have not put any real drain on the batteries. I am sure we could go longer. Eventually though you will have to recharge your batteries - either by driving, running the generator, or plugging in. 

Now, let's get a little more technical. The inverter in the newer Roadtreks (not the ETrek) since about 2005 have a Tripp-Lite 3-way Inverter/Converter/Charger. I am not an engineer. What I know about this I have read from others who purport to know far more than I about these things. This unit does three things. It inverts 12 volt power to 110/120 volt power - this is what is enabling you to watch TV and run your laptop when the inverter is "on". It charges your coach batteries when you are driving and it charges your coach batteries and engine battery when you are plugged into shore power or are running your generator. The converter part gets most confusing and basically what it does is change 110/120 volt power - like shore power - into 12 volt DC power - as in what runs the lights, water pump, hot water heater, etc. I am not going to go any further into the converter part because frankly, I don't understand it beyond what I have explained. If you read the "NOTES" that are attached to the Roadtrek Electric Simulator it was revised again in December 2012 and goes into explanations of the Converter on the Tripp-Lite.

The actual inverter unit is inside your Roadtrek and its location varies. There are various settings on the inverter unit. I have never touched the settings on mine. It was set to "AUTO/REMOTE" at the factory and that is how I have left it. There is also a DC OFF setting and  a CHARGE only setting. The AUTO/REMOTE Setting lets the unit do everything that you need it to do and operate when you want the inverter to make 110/120 volt power from the batteries when you push the switch (the remote part) in the coach. 

There are also LED indicator lights on the inverter unit that will give you information about what the inverter is doing and various conditions that it may be in. 

There is also a RESET on the unit that you need to be aware of. Here is what the manual says - 

Resetting Your Inverter/Charger to Restore AC Power

Your Inverter/Charger may cease supplying AC power or DC charging power in order to protect itself from overload or to protect your electrical system. To restore normal functioning:
Overload Reset: Switch operating mode switch to “OFF” and remove some of the connected electrical load (ie: turn off some of the AC devices drawing power which may have caused the overload of the unit). Wait one minute, then switch operating mode switch back to either

By the way, here is a link to the manual.

The other thing you need to be aware of about the Tripp-Lite is that if you replace your coach batteries to a different type of battery - wet cell, gel, AGM - you need to change the setting on the Tripp-Lite unit by moving dip switches. There is a chart in the manual about how to do this and it is easy to do. You only need to do this if you install a different type of battery. If you replace X with X you do not need to do this. 

There are other dip switches for other settings. I would not attempt to change anything here unless you seriously understand what it is all about. I strongly believe - learned the hard way - to leave well enough alone.

The manual has a troubleshooting guide in the back. 

Now, one more thing to know about the Inverter. It has a fan and that fan sometimes makes noise. It is a low hum that is barely noticeable but if you notice it you will wonder what the heck is making that noise. The fan does not only come on when using the Inverter to get power in the outlets but also if the Roadtrek is plugged into shore power or running the generator (and the unit is charging the batteries). When I heard this noise I asked the service center on my next visit and they assured me that it is perfectly normal - and to ignore it. So I ignore it. It has never bothered us or kept us awake at night. It is barely audible. The other part is that it does not always run - which is also normal. If you don't hear it - that is fine. If you do - that is fine, too!

Added April 2013:
Lastly, the Tripp Lite inverter/charger that Roadtrek installs has two other functions. It has a surge protector rated at 450 joules and also a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) function. These are engaged when you turn the Inverter Wall Switch ON - and if you turn the Inverter Wall Switch ON when plugged into 110v shore power - an outside 110 volt power outlet that you plug the Roadtrek's power cord into, you will have 450 joules of surge protection for your electronics and also if there is a power drop in voltage outside coming in, the inverter unit will continue to power, for example, your television through inverted battery power until the outside power stabilizes.  So this happens when you are both plugged in and put the Inverter Wall Switch ON at the same time. <><><> Will this take the place of a Surge Guard surge/power protection unit? Roadtrek says yes. I use the Surge Guard (or Progressive Industries surge/power unit if that is what you have) in addition. For one thing, 450 joules is a low rating for surge protection. My other thought is this. If a surge protector is tripped due to a lightening strike, etc. generally, the surge protection unit is no longer usable. It must be replaced completely or have its circuit replaced on units where that is even possible (Progressive Industries's units can have their circuit replaced if it blows due to a power surge). Tripp Lite does not state what happens to the inverter/charger unit if it has a power surge go through it. I would not want to be in a position after a strike to have to replace or repair the Tripp Lite inverter/charger. I would rather replace the portable Surge Guard which in a strike would not let the surge enter the electric power cord of the Roadtrek. The choice is yours. If I am in error, I am erroring on the side of safety.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lubricating the Crank Up Roadtrek TV Antenna

My 2011 Roadtrek has a television antenna on the roof that cranks up and also turns to tune in digital television signals from different directions. Recently, Roadtrek stopped using this type of antenna and replaced it with a mulch-directional, fixed antenna. Much older Roadtreks had a fixed antenna embedded inside the roof (which since the national switch from analog to all digital tv broadcasts does not work very well any longer). If your Roadtrek has the crank up antenna like mine, you will see inside on the crank and turn control a sign that says "Lubricate Antenna Twice A Year". When I saw this, it baffled me. Where do you apply lubricant and what type of lubricant do you apply?

I started by asking the service center at our dealer. I felt that if this was something that I could do rather than have them do it for a fee, I certainly would do it myself. They told me to use white lithium grease as a lubricant and that there were gears on the antenna unit on the roof to apply this to. I did a little more digging and found a manual for the antenna online. Here is a link to that manual and you want to look at "Page 5" for what you need to know and see about lubricating the antenna. This summer I did the job myself and I will tell you about it and the step by step on how it is done.

 First, the manual says to use silicone spray - and NOT white lithium grease. The two may work just as equally well, but I decided to go with what the antenna company (Winegard) recommends. I found silicone spray lubricant in a hardware store. I just found it at Lowes and it is now made by the WD-40 company.  The advantage of their can is that it has the red detail spray straw as a permanent part of the nozzle. You will need the spray straw to do this job! (And those buggers when you get them just taped to the can get lost very easily and they are not available on their own for sale anywhere!)  So get yourself a can of Silicone Spray Lubricant - with the spray straw to do this job. DO NOT USE REGULAR WD-40 - IT WILL DAMAGE THE RUBBER PARTS!

Next, you need to get to the roof of your Roadtrek and I used a six foot aluminum ladder to do this. It was barely just tall enough to get me to where the antenna is and be able to work. This is a bit precarious and have someone hold the ladder when you do. If you have a ladder that leans against what you are climbing up, cover your Roadtrek with a thick blanket between the Roadtrek and the ladder. It is just too easy to do damage to your Roadtrek with the ladder scraping along the side.  I am not found of ladders or heights and the Roadtrek roof at 8 foot 9 inches tall is a bit more than I was prepared for. Once you get up there, get comfortable because you need two hands to do this job.

When you are up at the roof you are going to be applying the silicone spray to two different places. The manual says to do this first step three to four times a year. For the time being I think I will stick with two times a year which is required for both steps.

Lubrication Point 1 - The Lift Gear

When you get up to the roof and look down into the antenna unit you will see the teeth of a gear. Here is a photo.

You see the gear right there in the middle. With the spray straw on your silicone lubricant nozzle, spray a liberal amount of silicone spray onto the teeth of the gear. Do this with the lift in the DOWN position. Get into the parts of the gear that you can't see with the straw.

Close Up of the Lift Gear

Once you have applied the spray, climb down from the ladder. Go inside your Roadtrek and crank the antenna up and then down again a couple of times. This will distribute the lube all over the gear.  Leave the antenna now in the UP position so that you are ready for the next lube location.

Lubrication Point 2 - The Rotation Gear

Climb back up the ladder and get yourself into position again. You are going to need to get to the far side of the antenna base. You are now looking for a plug that you are going to have to pull out - AND NOT LOSE! The plug is black rubber.

Lower right black dot is the PLUG - antenna is down in photo

Close Up of the PLUG
 Remember that you must do this with the antenna UP. Remove the plug by getting under the edge and gently lifting up, and put the silicone spray can straw into the hole that you have opened when you removed the plug. Spay down into the hole and around the EDGES of the gear housing (inside the hole). When you have sprayed the lubricant, climb down the ladder and go inside your Roadtrek and now turn the outer direction ring all around and back again and around again to rotate the antenna and spread the lubricant all around the gears. If it is stiff to turn, go back up and spray some more lubricant into the hole. When you are satisfied, climb back up and replace the plug.


The manual goes on to another lubrication point - the worm gear rubber ring. I was not about to disassemble anything and it appears that the rubber ring they are talking about is inside the lift mechanism below the lift gear that you have just lubricated. I put so much lube down onto that gear that some of it had to have gone down into this assembly. I may be wrong, but I am hoping that I lubed this rubber ring in the process. **


One thing to be very aware of is that silicone spray has an ODOR and after I finished lubing the antenna I could smell the spray inside the Roadtrek. Do not do this job if you are about to go out in your Roadtrek on a trip (or even a drive). The smell does go away in a few days.

That was all that was involved in lubricating the antenna. I did see a big difference after this in how much more easily the antenna rotated, so the lube does help. For me the hardest part was getting up on the ladder. If you are comfortable on ladders this job is a cinch! I will do it twice a year. I am not sure really when to space it out. After we de-winterize I will do it again and then, I think, I will do it in the Fall.

(The photos used in this article were taken with the inspection camera that I wrote about a few weeks ago. In daylight, the quality was a little better, but getting the extension arm of the camera to where it needed to be to take these photos was ridiculous. It wound up taking both of us. Me to maneuver the lens to almost where it needed to be - while up on a tall step ladder and Meryl to hold the monitor and take the picture. The camera has been returned.)


When this article appeared a reader asked about the third lubrication point that I talk about above as not accessing. This "rubber quad ring" is what keeps rain and water from coming down through the mechanism into the inside of your RV. By lubricating this ring, Winegard says it will keep the rubber from drying out and cracking. This sent me to do some research on how to lubricate the rubber quad ring as recommended by Winegard. I was able to find out how to do it but also found a warning from an RVer about doing it. Take a look at the first photograph above in this article. At the back of the gear housing you see a black hexagonal shape. It is made of plastic. This is suppose to unscrew to access the shaft and the worm gear that raises and lowers the antenna. According to Winegard, unscrew this nut (cap) and very carefully take it off (without moving the shaft that it attaches to). Take the straw on the silicone lube can and spray silicone lube down that hole and you should be able to reach the rubber quad ring that needs to be lubricated by the lube that will drip down. Carefully return the hex nut and tighten it back on.  Now, here is the warning that I found. One RVer who seemed to know what he was talking about advised not to open this as you run a risk of moving the shaft out of position and then the antenna lift will not work properly if it is out of alignment. Good warning to heed. I am not recommending doing this process. Do it at your own risk. Others comment about this quad ring as I had above - soak the gear enough and you will get plenty of lube on all of the parts including this one. Decide for yourself and if you do this, do it cautiously.


The following is from a Winegard company service technician who trains dealers on Winegard Tech:

"My personal recommendation is that you NOT remove this plug as you can get the exact same result buy spraying some dry silicone spray into the opening while stowed (you can see the gear and the worm drive), spray a bit more while it's up and the spray a bit more while someone is cranking it up and or down.
Do this twice per year and you should never have any issues." 

That, friends, is the ultimate in advice. Do what the man says and don't unscrew the hex nut cap to lube the quad ring.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


This is the fourth article in our series on electricity in your Roadtrek and the third type of electric power that we will talk about that you have available. You are on "shore" power when your Roadtrek (or any RV) is plugged directly into a 110/120 volt outlet. This is the most unlimited source of electricity that you can have in your Roadtrek.When your Roadtrek is plugged into shore power all of your electric appliances and 110/120 volt outlets will work. When your Roadtrek is plugged into shore power, your vehicle's engine battery and your coach batteries are being charged.

The Roadtrek has a 30 amp electric circuit. Larger RVs may have a 50 amp electric circuits. The larger number of amps you have allows you to plug in and use more amp drawing appliances and electric devices. Without getting into a technical explanation, if you plugged more than 30 amps into the Roadtrek outlets you would trip the circuit breaker - either in the Roadtrek or at the external outlet - or both. When you look at the plug that your Roadtrek has connected to its power cord outside, you will see a large plug with three prongs - and those prongs are larger and look different from a usual house electric cord. (Just for your understanding, if you looked at a 50 amp plug you would see four prongs on a much larger plug.)

When you go to a campground and look in the electric box on the power pedestal at your campsite you will usually see three outlets. One will be a very large outlet with four holes. This is the 50 amp outlet. One will be large and have three holes. This is the 30 amp outlet. One will look exactly like the outlets that you have in your house. This is the 20 amp outlet. When you take your Roadtrek cord out of its storage cabinet outside the van and plug it in, you are going to use that mid-sized large outlet with the large three holes. Each of the outlets in the box will also have a circuit breaker above it or below it. At one campground we went to, instead of circuit breaker switches there were glass fuses. You may be at a campsite that has only 30 amp/20 amp service - in this case you will only see two outlets in the box, the 30 amp outlet and the 20 amp outlet and no four hole fifty amp outlet.

Before plugging your Roadtrek cord plug into the outlet make sure all of those circuit breakers in the campground electric box are OFF. Plug in your Roadtrek cord and THEN turn the circuit breaker for that outlet ON. Before you unplug, turn the breaker OFF and then pull the plug. The reason for this should be obvious. If the circuit breaker is OFF then there is no power and no danger of shock from that outlet when you plug in.

You are going to ignore the 50 amp outlet and the 20 amp outlet. You don't need those. There are some circumstances when you may need to use one of those but we will talk about that later. For now, not to complicate things - you need 30 amps so use the 30 amp outlet.

Before I plug into any campground outlet I do two tests of the campground outlet. I test the polarity of the outlet and the number of volts that the outlet is putting out. The reason that I do this is because sometimes a campground electric box is old, has been damaged, or has a wire come loose and the polarity (shows all wires have been connected where they should be) may be wrong. I also want to be sure that the outlet is not under voltage or over voltage - both of which can damage the electric system in your Roadtrek (or any RV) if you plug into it. To do these tests you need a polarity tester and a volt meter. Both are not hard to find - the polarity tester is the easiest to find. Any electric/lighting department in a home store or even Walmart will have a polarity tester for a few dollars. This looks just like a home plug with no wire but with three lights on top and a little chart right on the top of the plug. You plug this in and look at the lights that light. Match the lights to the pattern that shows "GOOD" on the chart and you are fine. A voltage meter is a little more difficult to find and are a bit more expensive. The easy find for this is a device called a "Kill-A-Watt" which is a multi-use tester also sold in home stores that will not only measure and tell you how many volts are on an outlet but also will measure the number of amps and watts used by an appliance plugged into this device and then this plugged into an outlet. For your RV you mainly want the volt meter function that this device has built in. You plug the meter into the outlet and push the proper button for a voltage reading and you will see the voltage that the outlet is putting out digitally on the screen.  The reading should be no lower than 110 and no higher than 132 - though you really do not want to be over 130. These two testers are made for 110/120 volt - 15/20 amp outlets and you want to test a 30 amp outlet. You simply buy a 30 amp plug to 15/20 amp outlet adapter. This is a thick wire - like your Roadtrek power cord with a household three prong socket on one end and a 30 amp large round plug just like your Roadtrek power cord has on the other end. With the campground power box circuit breaker off, tester into the socket end of the adapter and then plug the adapter plug into the 30 amp outlet in the power box. Now turn on the circuit breaker in the power box and take your reading. Turn off the circuit breaker, unplug the first tester and then plug in the second - turn on the circuit breaker and take your reading. Turn off the circuit breaker. Unplug the adapter from the power box and put your adapter and testers away.

What do you do if any of your readings on your tests are NO GOOD? The best thing to do is go to the campground office and let them know and request another site. If they do not have another site then be sure that they have a maintenance person come to your power box to fix the problem. 

You could just plug your Roadtrek power cord plug into the box, but it is a good idea to have something in your electric line that will protect your RV just in case. What you need is an RV power protection device. There are two popular makes - Surge Guard and Progressive. Both do the same job. Some prefer one over the other. There are models that can be wired permanently into your RV electric system and there are portable models that simply plug into the campground outlet and you plug your power cord into the protector outlet. These are not cheap and they are much, much more than a surge protector like what you plug your computer into at home. You can purchase these directly from the companies that make them or you can find them at RV supply stores. We chose the Surge Guard but only for convenience in ordering as it is the one that is sold at Camping World.

Above you see the Surge Guard plugged into the power outlet of the campground and the power cord of my Roadtrek. You also see that the electric box has your space number on it. You cannot mistake which box is the one you are supposed to plug into. At some campgrounds your box will be next to the box for the next space. Here there is only one box.

 The power protector unit is going to monitor the voltage coming out of the box. Believe it or not, just because it tested correctly when you checked with your volt meter does not mean that conditions do not change in the voltage at the campground over time and the voltage go too low or too high. Also it will protect from spikes and surges due to lighting strikes. This is a must have. Repairing your RVs electric system and replacing your TV and electronics is far more expensive than the $300 plus that one of these sells for. You can buy a lock box that will prevent the theft of your portable power unit. Watch this video about the Surge Guard Power Protector.

Now before you plug your surge/power protector in or your Roadtrek power cord in, go inside your Roadtrek and turn on your battery switch. There is a large sticker on the wall of my Roadtrek that tells me to do this - and that is why I do.

Switch on the left

 Now - plug in your Roadtrek power plug into the surge/power protector and then plug the surge/power protector into the campground pedestal. Turn on the campground power outlet's circuit breaker and you are almost good to go. The surge/power protector has a delay of about three minutes. You will see the power light come on but you will not have power inside your Roadtrek until you hear a click and an LED comes on to say all circuits are good and power is now flowing. Sometimes these will seem like very long three minutes.

When you go inside your Roadtrek you now have 110/120 volt power in all of the electric outlets. You will see the display panel on your microwave has come on. Your air conditioner can now be turned on. You can watch TV. You can plug whatever you like into the outlets. You can even turn on the microwave while the air conditioner is running. You have plenty of power.

Worth repeating - While you are plugged into shore power your coach batteries and your van battery is being charged. This is a secondary benefit to shore power.

I had talked above about the other two outlets in the campground power box. If you found that the 30 amp outlet had a problem - and you cannot be moved to another space or no one is coming to fix it, with a 50 amp to 30 amp adapter - another plug adapter - you could plug your 30 amp Roadtrek into the 50 amp outlet - and because of how the adapter is made, you will only be taking 30 amps from that outlet. If you were to do this - test the 50 amp outlet using both adapters to plug your testers in. The using the 50 amp adapter you can plug in your Roadtrek or you can plug in your 30 amp surge/power protector into the 50 amp outlet (again with the adapter) and then plug your Roadtrek into that. Again, with the adapter you are only taking 30 amps into your Roadtrek.

That 15/20 amp house-type outlet in the power box can be used if you want to plug a regular household cord connected to lights, radio, or whatever while you are outside. This is just like your outlets at home.

With everything that I have told you here, you are ready to plug your Roadtrek into a campground electric outlet, but what if you are at home and want to plug your Roadtrek in? No problem. I do this all of the time.

Rarely will you have a 30 amp outlet at home, but you have outdoor outlets that are either 15 amps or 20 amps. You can plug your Roadtrek into one of these - as long as you understand certain things and also have a special adapter and a special extension cord (if your Roadtrek cord does not reach on its own). Let's talk about plugging in first.

At home you don't need to do all of the tests. It is your home outlet and hopefully it is wired correctly. If in doubt - do the tests. I also always use the surge/power protector even at home.  You do need another type of 15 amp to 30 amp adapter. This is very much like the other adapter described above except that it has a 15 amp plug and a 30 amp socket. (All of these adapters can be purchased at an RV store and also at Walmart in the RV section of the auto department.) So you plug your adapter into your outside house outlet and plug your Roadtrek power cord into that - following the exact same steps as above - battery switch on, etc. Don't worry here about the circuit breaker being on - this is just like plugging anything else in at home. If your power cord for your Roadtrek does not reach you should not use a household extension cord - even a heavy-duty one. These are too low a gauge of wire and will get hot and can catch fire. You want an RV 30 amp extension cord. The thickness of the wire of this cord will match your Roadtrek power cord and it will have a 30 amp plug and socket. These cost about $50 at Walmart - again in the RV section, and this is worth the price of not setting your house, etc. on fire.

You need to understand that you only have up to half of the amps that your Roadtrek is designed for. This is only a problem if you turn on electrical devices in your Roadtrek that exceed a total of what you have at the outlet - either 15 amps or 20 amps. I have 20 amps at my outside outlet and nothing else is connected to the circuit that this outlet is on. That means that I have 20 amps to use in my Roadtrek. With that I can run the air conditioner, the TV, a laptop, the lights, but not much more. There is no way that I could turn on the microwave with the air conditioner running. If I did I would trip the circuit breaker for that outlet inside my house. I would have overloaded the circuit - which can be dangerous if the circuit breaker did not do its job and shut off power instantly on the overload. Not all outside outlets are on a circuit in your home circuit breaker panel by themselves. Some share other circuits in your house. If it does, then you must subtract those amps on that other outlet(s) from what you have available to your Roadtrek. This means you can turn on or plug in even less inside your Roadtrek. Just be aware. If you visit friends and are going to plug into their outside outlet while you stay on their driveway, you may be tripping their circuit breaker if you are not aware of how many amps you have to use. How do you decide this? Ask what else in the house is on that circuit breaker and if there is another room or whatever, then figure that you have little to use in the Roadtrek. You may be able to use everything but the microwave or the air conditioner (never both). Be conservative in what you turn on or plug in. 

I often plug in at home when I want to charge my coach batteries. Just about any outlet from your house will handle this without a problem.

I have tried to keep this simple and how to. Everything electric uses amps. The total amps you can use is limited to either your 30 amp limit in the Roadtrek or the amp limit of your power source - which is up to and no more than 30 amps but with a household outlet may be much less than 30.

When plugged into a 30 amp shore power outlet at a campground you have the full capacity of the electric system in your Roadtrek.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Roadtrek Generator

This is the third article in our series of Electricity in the Roadtrek and the second electrical system we are going to talk about. An electric generator is an option when ordering a Roadtrek. If you have a gasoline engine Roadtrek - the Chevy based Roadtreks - you will get a generator that runs on gasoline. If you have a diesel fuel engine Roadtrek - the Sprinter based Roadtreks (with the exception of the new ETrek) - you get a generator that runs on propane.

The generators that Roadtrek uses are made by Cummins/Onan and the gas generator model that is installed will generate 2800 watts* of 110/120 volt AC power. This is enough power to run just about everything electric in your Roadtrek at the same time - with the possible exception of running the air conditioner AND the microwave at the same time*. The generator in my Roadtrek 190 Popular is located under the chassis on the passenger side rear of the van. It is secured to the bottom of the chassis and has an exhaust pipe that runs to the rear driver's side corner of the fan just below the bumper and exhausts to the side. The gasoline generator gets its fuel from the van's gas tank and is connected to it's own gas line. The line* is positioned in the gas tank so that it prevent the generator from operating if your gas tank goes to 1/4 tank of less so that you cannot get stuck and not be able to drive away if you continue to run your generator to the point that there is no gas - you are prevented from doing this.

The generator is connected to the 110/120 volt* electric circuits in the Roadtrek and while the generator is running you can operate the 12 volt lights, all of the 110/120 volt outlets, all appliances, and also charge the coach and the engine batteries. While the 12 volt electrics will be drawing from the batterie(s), the batteries are being recharged at the same time. Be aware that not only is running the generator noisy, but the exhaust is deadly and the exhaust pipe must not be obstructed outside. It is extremely important that you know your Carbon Monoxide detector - located on the ceiling of your Roadtrek over the bed area - is working properly. This will save your life should exhaust somehow come inside the Roadtrek. Do not open the rear windows over the generator exhaust when running your generator.

Many campgrounds have rules about when you can run your generator because of the noise. If you are camping in a parking lot or field where there are other RVs be aware that your generator may disturb those around you. There are certain camping courtesies about this to be aware of.

Anyway - let's get you started using your generator. It is simple IF you follow these steps -

1) Turn on your Battery Switch. You need the battery power to start the generator.

2. Start your van engine. This will give the power to start your generator a little extra boost that will prove to work every time when you are having a hard time starting your generator. Just start your engine and let it run while you go to the next step.

3. Push the generator switch on the wall of your Roadtrek. Push the switch at the top.
Switch on the left - Meter on the right is how many hours your generator has run since installation.
 Hold the switch in until the generator motor kicks over and starts and keeps running. If you let go of the switch and the generator stops, push and hold the switch again. You may hear the sound of the motor pulse or rumble. It will catch and run steady.

4. Let the generator run for a couple of minutes before turning any appliance on. You will hear the sound change to a more steady run - and then you are ready to use your generator's power. If you try to start a large appliance like your air conditioner before the generator is ready, the air conditioner will not have enough power for the compressor to start properly. Just avoid this and give the generator a chance to come up to full power.

5. Once the generator is going - TURN OFF THE VAN ENGINE. Why waste gas?

Your generator is now running and you have full use of 110/120 volt generated power in your van. Simple. You use about 1/3 a gallon of gas in an hour. I am not sure how much propane the propane models use but I have heard that the propane generators are not as efficient as the gasoline generators are - and this seems to hold for generators in general (not specific to the Onan).

When you are ready to shut off the generator, first turn off all appliances using generator power - A/C, microwave, TV, etc. and then JUST PUSH THE BOTTOM OF THE GENERATOR SWITCH. The generator will come to a rumbling stop. If you don't need battery power for any reason, turn off the battery switch.

Simple, but the story does not end here, unfortunately. Having a generator means devoting time to it on a regular basis to keep it properly maintained and working so that it is always ready and working when you want it to be.

The generator must be "exercised" under load for two hours* every month. What this means is that you need to go out to your Roadtrek and start your generator and then put a load on it - half load is recommended which is either the air conditioner or the heat pump or a plug in electric heater - and leave it running for two hours. And you must do this every month. If you look in the Roadtrek manual it will talk about doing this for a half hour every month - BUT - the Onan manual says two hours and my dealer service told me that if there is a problem that requires warranty repair they have to tell Onan how many hours are on the meter - and if those hours don't at least show the exercise time for the age of the generator, they do not have to cover repairs under the warranty. But there is good reason to do this other than to make Onan happy. The generator really does need to be run this way. Some owners use the generator more exercising it this way than they do actually using it- me included.

The oil must be changed on the generator after the first 20 hours of use. After that the oil is changed after every 150 hours or at least once each year. See the manual for the type of oil to use. This varies by the outside temperature the generator is operated in. The most usual temperature range 10dF to 100dF should use 15W-40. Many change the oil themselves - it takes just one quart of oil. I have our dealer/service center change the oil. It is necessary to crawl under the Roadtrek to access the generator to do anything to it. This includes checking the oil and changing the oil and filter which should also be changed every 150 hours, There is a maintenance schedule in the manual. Here is a link if you don't have a manual.

You are supposed to check the oil every eight hours of use. This means crawl under, open the hatch on the generator and unscrew the oil cap and check the level. The van must be on level ground  (lots of luck). Unscrew the oil cap and pull out - the dipstick is attached. Wipe it off and then reinsert WITHOUT SCREWING IT IN. Pull out and read the level. If you need to add oil you must try to pour it in to that hole with a funnel or some other device. I found a pump that fits on the oil bottle and pumps the oil up into the hole through a hose. (I have not yet had to use it.)  IF THE OIL GOES BELOW HALF the generator will not operate. If you have a problem getting your generator to run or it just suddenly stops - CHECK THE OIL LEVEL.  You can find 15w-40 oil in Walmart or an auto store.

There is an adjustment to be made on the generator for high/low pressure changes - like going up into high mountains. See the manual about this. So far we have not been anywhere that would need this adjustment. 

Something else that is very important to know about your gasoline generator is that it cannot use Flex Fuel* so even though our Roadtrek can use Flex Fuel, we cannot put it in the tank because it would ruin the generator. The generator is fine with E10 ethanol. Some find it beneficial once a year to put a gasoline additive that will remove the clogging effects of ethanol on small engines into the van gas tank and run that treated gasoline through the generator. There are various gasoline additives that are available that will clean your engine and generator motor of ethanol deposits. There has been a discussion lately as to what is best and one product that several have used is under debate as to whether it does this properly or not. What you want to get is a gasoline additive specifically for ethanol treatment.  IF YOUR ROADTREK HAS A PROPANE GENERATOR YOU DO NOT DO THIS.

When you need the generator, all of this is well worth the effort - even though it often feels like a pain for the few time the generator is used. But when we needed the Roadtrek powered in a Blackout - the generator came to our aid! If considering buying a Roadtrek  - or any RV - you really do want a generator. The new ETrek Roadtrek has a completely different generator that runs off the van engine and will charge the batteries in a half hour. There are innovations coming!

 Here is a link to an excellent set of photos of the internals of the Onan Generator that is in our Roadtreks - Generator Photos 
Thanks to the site - Red Rover the Roadtrek.


Jim Hammill, President of Roadtrek, after reading this article suggested I add the following. Also, please note that my articles are not "Roadtrek Factory Authorized". They are based solely on my experience, observation, and learning from other Roadtrek and RV owners. 

1.Propane generator in Sprinter is a 2500 KW not 2800 KW. Gas Generator is 2800 KW. 
2.In many situations, the generator will run the microwave and the AC, and in many situations it will not. It depends on how hot it is outside, causing the AC compr
essor to draw more power, and how many other items are on in the van. 

3.The generator is not connected to the vans gas line. There is a special gas pickup tube installed on the GM gas tank, so the generator has its own fuel line.

4.We at Roadtrek guide consumers to run the generator under a small load for 45 minutes a month when using infrequently. 2 hours would be used when you don't do it every month. 2 hours is extreme and in our opinion, far more than needed for routine maintenance.**

5.Another option is to just run the generator out of fuel before you store it, by installing a fuel shutoff switch on the generator fuel line. of course, remember to turn it back on in the spring. 

6.There is no cut off switch that stops the generator from working when the tank reaches 1/4 full. The gas tank pick up tube is mounted higher than the vehicle pickup tube to ensure the generator runs out of gas first.

7.The generator is not connected to ALL the electric circuits in the unit, as it goes to the inverter/converter/charger, which simply charges the batteries, and creates 12 volt power. The batteries power the 12 volt circuit.

8. As a comment, just run mid grade gas or higher in your Roadtrek to avoid the E85 issue. Modern cars and trucks have fuel injectors that handle it. Carburetors on generators have small ports that gum up. This is not a big deal at all, and consumers should just use 87 octane or better.

**Because of how strongly my Roadtrek service center emphasized Onan's insistence that the generator be "exercised" for two hours each month or Onan can refuse to honor the warranty for any repairs, I will continue to run the generator each month under load for the two hours. This is something where Cummins-Onan and Roadtrek differ in opinion on and while I am sure Roadtrek has reason to feel that 45 minutes a month is sufficient, Onan is the company that the service center will have to go to for approval of any warranty work. Since I use my generator rarely when traveling, exercising it is the most use it gets.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An Almost Good Idea...

Sometimes I have great ideas that work our really well - and sometimes they just don't work as expected. I have never seen underneath my Roadtrek. For a physical reason, I cannot lie on the ground or bend over without a problem. You may have noticed, if you are a regular reader, that Meryl is the one that does all of the tasks on the Roadtrek that involve bending down or getting under, etc. She is more than happy to do it - and I let her. But I have been very curious at times to see things for myself. I would like to also see into some of the lower cabinets that I have not been able to get down to see.

Several months back we were in Costco (the warehouse club store) and I saw something that I had heard about but never saw. It was an inspection camera. It is a camera used by mechanics and in construction to be able to see into remote and small places. The camera is on the end of a long tube, connected to a handle and that handle has a removable monitor that will show you what the camera sees. The monitor can be detached and work wirelessly also. Plus what you see can be captured in a still photo and on video saved on a micro SD card that can be moved to a computer and the images saved. This sounded really good to me. This little camera could go where I could not and with it I could see what I have not been able to see for myself. I was able to play with it for a few minutes in the store and it seemed to be able to do what I had in mind. I was particularly interested in seeing how it could "see" in the dark and saw that there are four little LED lights around the lens of the camera. This model included an additional six foot extension to reach even further. The black tank in the Roadtrek came to mind. A little yucky but maybe I could see if there really was anything hung up on the sensors to make them not read correctly. Another thought was that perhaps I could see into our Roadtrek air conditioner down the vent and perhaps see the fan and what is currently making a flapping noise when the air conditioner is run (...before going for service). The camera was $150. Christmas was coming soon and this would make a nice gift to me from Santa.

Christmas came and Santa read my letter and put the inspection camera under my Christmas tree (with a little help from me making the purchase before inventory ran out a couple of weeks before - plus an added rebate). I charged the monitor and added the four AA batteries into the handle that power the camera. On a clear day I went outside to explore the bottom of my Roadtrek. The result was less than I had hoped for.

One thing is that the lens and flexible arm are not designed to be oriented in any position - so unless you mark the barrel of the camera in some way to see what is the top, images that you see may be upside down or sideways. The other thing that I discovered is that without added light, the four LEDs are fine very close up but at any distance the images are extremely dark - and because they are that dark when put on a computer screen they are extremely grainy. As a semi-pro hobbyist photographer I know how to correct problem digital photos, but what were coming out were beyond that - and obviously this is designed for no more than a glimpse of what you are looking for or needing to see and not to produce photos of any quality.  Here are two shots of things I have been curious to see under my Roadtrek and these took quite a bit to get and make presentable enough to share with you.



Interesting, but not what I had hoped for. I went under the rear exploring and hoped to see the generator - which I have never seen for myself. Here is the result of that - and I apologize for the shakiness, lack of clarity, and a bit dizzying result (and this video was also processed to try to correct it as much as possible aside from the further loss that resulted in uploading it to this page).

Here is a similar video taken with a good digital camera -

I went inside the Roadtrek and tried to get the lens into the air conditioner through the left front vent which should be above the fan. The tube went in and I could see what appeared to be foam walls but it did not go all the way down - and I was not about to push my luck - and I stopped and took it out. So much for that idea. It does allow me to see into the lower cabinets but whether this is worth the cost of this gadget is to be decided. I could put lights under the Roadtrek and with the added light the quality of the photos and the video improves  - but still... Would I do just as well sending Meryl under with a video camera or still camera? Probably.

Oh well, it was a good idea. If you have a need for one of these, don't let my experience dissuade you. There are many mechanics and repair people who put these cameras to very good use. As to bringing you a still and video tour of the bottom of a Roadtrek, well, perhaps not with this camera. But I will work on a way to do that when it gets warm again. I am still deciding if I should bring this back for a refund - that is one of the great benefits of buying at Costco. You have 90 days to make up your mind with no hassle returns. It will let me see somethings that are hard to see in the Roadtrek - into the hot water tank, anything on the bottom if guided by Meryl while I hold the monitor, hmm - just don't know...