Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Is WInterizing Necessary?

This may seem like a strange topic for an article after I have posted various articles over time about winterizing and how to do it, but recently I have been reading a number of posts from RVers (not necessarily Roadtrek RVers) on various groups who are asking "Do I need to winterize?" or "I didn't winterize and suddenly there was a sudden freeze last night and no water is running? What do I do?" My first thought when I read these is why didn't you think about this in the Fall or, at least, before you heard the temperature was going to drop? I try to be polite and understanding as the therapist side of me comes out and try to give advice on what to do now that it is too late.

I understand that some areas of the country that never got really cold in the past have been getting cold - but with last year's winter when there were ice storms in the South and sudden deep freezes where there had not been for many years before, wouldn't one take precautions this year. It seems not. I also understand that some live in their RVs full time and while many head to where it will stay warm during the winter, some have job commitments in one place and can't just pick up and go to Florida. Florida, by the way is one of the hardest places to get a vacant campsite during the winter - or so I am told - and if one is thinking of heading to the warm Florida sun from December to February or March, make a reservation well in advance.

Some RVs have heated water tanks and are able to stay out in the freezing temperatures without having to be concerned, but I recently read a cry of help from someone who "went away for the weekend" (obviously, not with their RV that has tank and plumbing heaters when plugged in 24/7, but evidently they forgot to leave them running) and when they returned found the entire water system had frozen. And what could they do? Not much but try to thaw it out, if the outside temperature was not going to cooperate. And this, thankfully, so far, has been a mild winter - at least in some parts of the Country that are usually colder.Tank and plumbing heated RVs need an ongoing power source to keep those running and without failure. 

My Roadtrek does not have any tank or plumbing heaters. It does have an interior water tank that holds less than half the water capacity of the exterior water tank it also has. There is a way to isolate that tank from the outside tank and only have water running from the interior tank. (Summer Mode/Winter Mode) This is supposed to be a way to travel in freezing weather with water. The problem is that this only works if the interior of the coach is heated 24/7 which means plugged in, run on the generator, or be able to recharge the coach batteries which will eventually run down that are needed to ignite the propane furnace and run the furnace fan that will move the hot air around inside the Roadtrek. And even this is only good to a certain exterior outside temperature. Then there are the outside waste tanks. If you run water from this interior fresh water tank, where does that water go when it runs through the sink or toilet. It goes right down the drains into the grey tank or the black tank that are both outside hanging under the van close to the ground where it stays the coldest. Will these freeze? Oh yeah! Will the pipes coming and going from these freeze with water in them. Yup, that too. There are new Roadtreks that have a different type of hot water heating system that is supposed to dump its contents outside automatically if the temperature gets toward freezing. That is good for the hot tank, but what about the waste tanks and the fresh tanks? I have not heard anything about what happens to those.

So Roadtrek or not, what do you do? (And this is all my own opinion - but formed after hearing about all of not what may happen but what does happen.) Well, the obvious is winterize and travel or stay in your RV without water through the months that will potentially freeze. What else could be done? If one's RV is not winterized and you do not have heating systems to keep all of the water system from freezing, it is extremely important to pay attention to the future weather forecasts. Yes, the weatherman is often not right. I know one nationally popular weather forecasting network that likes to make disasters out of everything and will emphasize the negative and rarely reports any weather in a positive way. I am sure that one beautiful sunny normal day they are going to report that dangerous sun rays will bring imminent disaster to anyone who goes outside. But there are several weather services including the National Weather Service that when the reports of each are taken together and compared, the chances of a more accurate forecast are greatly increased. If with this approach there is agreements that the temperatures in the coming week are going to go below freezing and there will be no daytime warm up well into the 40s, it is essential to winterize or move quick to where it will be much warmer. Winterizing is not hard - if you read my step by step guide to winterizing and you install a winterizing valve on your water pump - or get one of the hand RV antifreeze pumps that I also talk about in my step by step guide to winterizing - you can winterize in less than a half hour. It is not hard to do and the longest time required is waiting for tanks to drain on their own. RV antifreeze at Walmart is less than $3 a gallon and with a Roadtrek all you need is two and a half gallons. With another RV with more plumbing you may need more - but not much more. What do you do for water - you can do what we have done when winter traveling while winterized  and some modify this by still flushing the toilet with RV antifreeze instead of water - either pouring it in from the bottle or filling the fresh water tank with RV antifreeze to do this. Is this all inconvenient if you live full time in your RV? Of course, it is, but paying to fix burst water pipes or broken valves due to having frozen is a lot more inconvenient. Think it all through. Be prepared. Know what is ahead at all times. And keep a few gallons of RV antifreeze on hand, if you don't winterize, because once the winter starts, like winter clothes that are gone from the shelves when the coldest weather is about to hit, the RV antifreeze sells out in November and they just don't restock it.

And if you have an RV with heated plumbing and tanks, and you decide to go away for a winter weekend without the RV - leave all those heaters plugged in and running... (I have to smile every time I think of that one...)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Taking the Roadtrek for a Drive...

We have been having some odd things happen in the Roadtrek going back to our trip this past August. When I wrote about that trip I talked about the coach batteries not starting to drive when we started the engine to leave for the trip. It took about twenty minutes of driving when we stopped to check to see that the charge LED had come on the battery monitor. This has been happening since then. The engine is started and the charge LED does not come on to show the coach batteries are charging when the "test" button is pressed. After awhile it does come on, but this is not how this was before and this is not right.

I have been doing some research and asking some friends on the Roadtrek Owners Facebook Group and have learned some things about the relationship between the engine battery and the coach batteries and the Separator unit that is installed between them. It seems that the Separator connects the systems when one or the other voltage is 12.8 volts. So if the engine battery is below 12.8 volts it is not going to be connected to the coach system to charge the coach batteries  until the engine battery comes up in charge. And conversely - I am told - if the coach batteries are below 12.8 volts the engine battery will not be charged until the coach batteries come up in charge. I am not an engineer and I really do not understand all of this but others who are knowledgeable about these things have it explained it this way to me.

While the battery is a 12 volt battery, apparently that does not mean that at 12 volts it is OK. I am told that it should be up around 12.9 or higher to be charged and that at 12.1 it is at half charge. This holds for the Roadtrek's coach battery system as well - 12.1 is half charge and with the Roadtrek batteries (likely all batteries) you never want the charge to go to half as it shortens the charging life of the battery - or so I am told.

Had the Roadtrek been just a regular van without the Roadtrek conversion, I would not think anything at all about the engine battery at this point.  Turn the key and the van starts right up with no hesitation. In a car or just a van, that is all I would care about. In the Roadtrek, the inter-relationship of the van's electrical system with the Roadtrek electrical system was what was giving me concern and alerting me to give this attention. The system with the Separator and the Roadtrek's inverter/converter/charger - in my Roadtrek the Tripp-Lite 750 - is designed to charge all batteries when driving, running the generator, or plugged into shore power. This system if not functioning as it had always functioned before.

A few days before Christmas I decided to take an opportunity of good weather and unseasonably warm temperatures and plug in the Roadtrek to shore power at the house to charge all of the batteries - coach and engine. Before starting I checked the charge with the digital meter and the engine was around 12.3 volts. I plugged in to shore power and the digital meter in the 12 volt vehicle socket in the dash did not indicate that the engine battery was charging. I checked four hours later and it was with a reading of 14.5. So I left the Roadtrek plugged into shore power for almost 24 hours. The coach batteries charged fine. The engine battery about a half hour after pulling the shore power cord was reading only 12.1 volts! Not good. I had two thoughts - the engine battery was going bad - it is just going on five years old - or the separator is going bad which I have read they do and that when there are odd things happening in the electric system it may be an indication that the separator has gone bad. I did not know which. I went back to the Facebook group with that question and what I got back was that five years is long for the engine battery. What I did was start the engine and let it run at idle on the drive way for one hour and it did charge the engine battery up to 12.65 volts. The vehicle alternator was charging the battery. A day latter it had dropped and it dropped more after a few more days. The engine battery seemed to be on its way out.

I had been talking with Meryl before this all took place that we should change the plug in schedule for the Roadtrek from charging once a month to perhaps charging two or three times a month in addition to the generator exercise of 2 hours a month - which, if all are working correctly, will also charge all of the batteries. I also said to her that we really should take the Roadtrek out for a drive every so often. The only reason that we don't do this is the difficulty getting it off the driveway and into the four lane avenue in front of our house. That road is full of traffic day and night. It can take as much as 45 minutes when backing out of the driveway to wait for a clear and safe spot to back  the Roadtrek into the street and then get to the curb so that Meryl can get in. She has been out in the street during this maneuver with a walkie-talkie telling me when it is clear to back out into the road. We knew this before we started out with the Roadtrek and it is a pain but the price to pay to be able to have the Roadtrek so we put up with it.

I had been thinking that on Sundays during the day the traffic is less than it is at other times and that was an idea for taking the Roadtrek out for a drive. We did not do this the Sunday after Christmas. I did decided to try on New Years Day when there were very few cars (or trucks) passing by the house. I wanted to drive for at least two hours on a highway with the Roadtrek which should when all is well charge all of the batteries to full. So for New Year's Day 2016 we took the Roadtrek for a ride!

Even with the little traffic going past it took ten minutes for a clear spot to back out and be on our way. I had to get to the North Shore of Long Island to get to the Long Island Expressway and if I wanted to drive a hour each way out and back I had to head east toward the end of the Island. To get to the LIE I had to head north and I wanted to not take streets to do that I headed to the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway that the Roadtrek is permitted to drive on due to height restrictions on other highways (parkways). This is Route 135 - an expressway built to cross the Island around mid-way that was intended to join a bridge that was never built that would cross the Long Island Sound to Connecticut. That idea ended a long time ago along with the expressway ending abruptly into a field. You see on Long Island we have something called NIMBY - "Not in my backyard!" and some decided they did not want a bridge in their backyard - so we don't have one. Anyway, we drove by streets to the 135, headed north and joined the 495 - the Long Island Expressway eastbound toward the end of Long Island that is shaped like a fishes tail into the Atlantic Ocean.

The 495 is not a very scenic drive. Mostly what you see are barricades along both sides of the Expressway that block the road noise from the backyards of houses, industrial parks, and shopping centers that line the road. Of course, those barricades have to be there or the NIMBYs would rise up and demand that there be no main highway that almost runs the length of the Island. So we talked and drove and I wondered if things related to the batteries were actually working. Around the village of Shirley we got off at an exit and looked for a place to stop to check to see if the coach batteries were charging.

We seemed to pick the one southbound road that had no place to easily stop. We drove for 15 minutes south before a shopping center came up to our right and we pulled in. Yes, the coach batteries were charging. The Chevy has a volt meter on the dash and all along I could see that this was up above the middle (14 volts) mark indicating that the engine battery was charging. I left the engine running while we were stopped. Pulling out every exit was going the wrong way. The road from the parking lot that led to the road we had come in on was no left turn onto that road. We went straight and crossed that road and had to drive to a parking lot to the left down the road to be able to pull in there and eventually get out by the single exit that allowed a right turn and then back up to the main road to make a right to head north back to the Expressway. Isn't Long Island wonderful?

So a half hour lost on this stop but a half hour added to our trip as I was determined to do an entire two hours at highway speed so we while we were more than an hour driving, I wanted to drive for two full hours at highway speed - just to give the van and the battery charge a workout.  It had been almost two months since we had driven the Roadtrek before this. I got back on the 495 and kept heading east. I glanced at the clock which in my Roadtrek is on the GPS screen and it said that it was after five. I could not believe that we had been driving that long - and it was not getting dark out. Meryl scrambled around to reach her cell phone to check the time and it was only just after four. I then realized that the last time we were in the Roadtrek was before the change to Standard Time and the clock had never been turned back. Well, this was a good time to gain that extra hour...

It has been awhile since I have driven this far out east and I did not remember that the LIE actually ends when it comes to the split of the two east end forks - one to Montauk Point on the south and the other to Orient Point on the north. The town where the forks meet is Riverhead. Signs came up that the Expressway was ending. It ended and I headed to the North Fork and and shortly we had come to  the hour of highway driving that I was looking to do. So did we stop and look around? Nope! I found a shopping center and turned around. When we got into that parking lot, Meryl announced that this must be the new Walmart that was a big controversy in the local newspaper. It was to be the first Super Walmart 24 hour store on Long Island. Why is that a big deal? NIMBY - a few didn't want a 24 hour Walmart near them. Well, here it was, but its not a 24 hour Walmart - it closes at Midnight though that is better than the rest here that close at 10 pm, but that does not do much for us as it is an hour away. We pulled out and now headed west toward home.

The Roadtrek was back now on the 495 heading west. An interesting thing about US 495 is that the number does not fit with the standards for federal route numbering. As 495 it should connect someplace with US 95, and it doesn't. The intent may have been that a bridge would be built to connect it to 95 in Connecticut but, of course, that bridge never happened. As we drove home I realized that I was getting close to half a tank of gas and with the need to run the generator to exercise it for the next several months, it would be a good idea to stop for gas. In Huntington I pulled off to head for a BJ's Wholesale Club with a gas station that we know. Gas was $2.03 with no extra to charge it - the lowest gas is here and the lowest that the Roadtrek has gotten gas at home in NY. Of course, out of NY we have found gas lower and that has made a difference in the cost of travel this past year with the Roadtrek. I am still waiting to see gas fall below $2.00 here. It would be a pleasant surprise but the last time gas was approaching that here, it went right back up again. After filling the tank, it was back to the 495 West to connect shortly to the 135 South and home.

When the trip was over I waited three hours to check the charge on the engine battery. It read 12.65 volts. The next day it was 12.47 volts. Two days later it was 12.2. It was time to speak to the mechanic who has taken care of my Roadtrek's vehicle side since we got it. He wants me to bring it to him to check the battery and I will do that in the next two days - if I can back it out into weekday traffic and get there.

I will let you know what happens...


My mechanic load tested the engine battery with a load of 300 amps and the result was 9.5. He told me that this number should be higher than 9.6 and that this indicated that the Chevy Roadtrek battery was low. He replaced the battery with an equivalent and it only cost me $155 including labor.

When I got home I left the engine running and I checked to see if when I put the battery switch on, the LED would go to C (Charge) when I pushed the test button. The coach batteries read 12.4 volts. I had expected to see that top green C LED light. I am guessing that this coming season I am going to need to replace the two AGM coach batteries as well - or have my Roadtrek dealer service check out the Separator.  When plugged in the C LED immediately comes on so I do not thing there is any problem with the Tripp-Lite 750 inverter/converter/charger.

While I was with the mechanic we were talking about the engine charging the coach bateries while driving and it is his opinion that the alternator in the Chevy will only put a surface charge on the coach batteries and would not charge them from low to full. He does not know anything about the Tripp-Lite which has the function to charge the coach batteries when the engine is running. He said that when there were generators in old cars' engines instead of alternators they would be able to charge the batteries from low to full as they put out much more power - but they no longer exist in cars or vans.