Wednesday, August 31, 2016

An Onan Tale... In Two Part Harmony - Part 2

PART 2  - Part 1 two weeks ago in our last article...

We return to our tale where we left off - right after the oil in the generator was changed in June 2016 and the first run of the generator at home after that. (If you have not read Part 1 yet, please go to the article just preceding this one and read that first.)

So - we had a trip planned leading up to July Fourth. And during that trip we had a need to run the generator. We were at a large farmer's market and it was hot - July hot - outside and there were heavy storm warnings. We decided to buy sandwiches at a stand and go back to the RV to eat them, start the generator to run the A/C and cool off - and wait to see what was going to happen with the storm - which was coming very shortly. We were parked on grass between two gravel aisles and were on a slight incline - front of the van lower than the back. At this same farmer's market we have been parked in the RV in this very spot in the past as this is where one can find space to park an RV even as small as a Roadtrek on a crowded market day. We got into the van and I started the engine to give the RV batteries a little boost to provide the electricity needed to start the generator and then went right to the generator switch. I pushed the switch and it started - and a a minute or two later it stopped. Tried again - it cranked but did not start. I waited a few minutes and tried again. It cranked, then started - and then stopped. It had not done this since a year before when there was too much oil in the generator. I tried again - it cranked but would not start. Now the storm was coming up - not bad - but beginning. I wondered if the incline we were on was not helping getting the generator started. Looking down the field there were RVs parked on a much flatter area. I moved the RV to that area - but away from the other RVs. I tried to start the generator again - this time it cranked and started. I waited five minutes with it running and then started the A/C. While we ate the rain came down hard and wind gusted around us. At least the generator was running, it was cool inside with the air conditioner going, and we were dry. Not long after we finished the sandwiches - which were good, by the way - the storm passed. I shut down the air conditioner. Allowed the generator to keep running for several minutes to cool down - and we went out back to the market. A little unneeded excitement for what was otherwise a pleasant day.

We skip now to the last day of the trip - and another farmer's market. There we were parked on a very steep angle, this time with the back way down.  I just had a feeling that we should just not try to run the generator again - leaving well enough alone having finally gotten it to run several days before. Well, it was time for lunch - and it was again hot outside on July 5th - and Meryl suggested that we get sandwiches and go back to the RV to eat with the air conditioner running. I was not going to say anything - and we bought the sandwiches and went back to the RV. Same process to get the generator started - I pushed the start button and with relief the generator started right up. I let it run for five minutes and turned on the air conditioner switch. As soon as I pushed that switch the generator shut down. And this time, it was not starting again. It cranked and would not start. All my prior unspoken  feelings about not starting the generator again came to the surface with a few harsh words of frustration and anger - mostly at the generator. We took the sandwiches and found a picnic table under a net which did not give any real shade from the sun and ate - me, mostly silent. This was our last day of the trip and we would be heading home that night. I tried not to let this ruin the last day, but it was not easy.

Once home, I could not get the generator started. I went over to the service station with my friendly mechanics and told them what happened with the generator. The first reaction was why would you go there again to have the oil changed. I explained the rest of what I went to have done on the generator there and that I felt it was too much to ask them to do. They told me to bring it over the next week and he would check the oil level and the spark plug and see if he could see why it was not starting.  We made an appointment to bring it to him.

That weekend I decided to put some SeaFoam in the gasoline. SeaFoam is used to clean up deposits in engines - large and small, clear out the effects that ethanol in the gasoline have on the engine, and help carburetors run better. It is sold in a 16 ounce can and one ounce per gallon of gasoline is needed. There were about 26 gallons of gas in the van gas tank left and I bought two cans, a measuring cup and a funnel. Not cheap. This stuff is about $9 a can - at Walmart. It would be well worth the cost if it got the generator running - if I could get the generator running. I put it in. Drove the van up and down the driveway to mix it into the gasoline in the tank and then tried to start the generator. It started - I don't think because of the gas additive - not that fast - and I let it run on the driveway - with no load on it for two hours getting the additive into the generator's parts to do its thing.

The day before I was to bring the RV to the mechanic to check out the generator, the generator, once again, would not start. So much for the SeaFoam. I drove the RV to the service station that night so that he could have it to work on at the start of the day. When he had the generator the year before he had asked me for service manuals. I actually found them all on the Internet for free and printed them out - and it is a LOT of pages. I had all of that - plus several troubleshooting guides and the manual for the generator - for him to have when he worked on it.

I had not heard from him the next morning and went over there that afternoon. The generator was running. He told me it started right up. He said the spark plug was OK and the oil level was where it should be - BUT - he saw a drip of oil around the drain plug that was followed by several more. He told me he went under the van to see if the generator drain plug had not been screwed at the oil change securely - and then he said - "It just spins in the hole when I turned it with my fingers. It does not tighten. Either the plug or the threads in the hole are stripped." OH BOY! I looked under the van below the generator and could see the oil collecting under the generator on the cardboard that he had put down under it. It was running and he said that the oil level was fine for it to run - but there was an oil leak from the drain plug that needed to be fixed - and this was not something that he could do.

I really had no choice now. I had to call one of the two authorized Onan service centers here and have them fix this. I looked at the websites of both and the one that was closest had photos of a large service building with large RVs inside having their generators worked on. The other service center had no such photos and just mentioned that they work on RV generators. I choose the closest one - the one that I had called a year before that wanted $400 to diagnose the generator. I called for an appointment and explained the problem about the stripped drain plug or hole and that I needed that repaired. I was told it would cost $135 an hour plus parts. What was I going to do? I made the appointment.

When things are going wrong they always seem to double. We saw a sign while driving down the four lane avenue that we live on that Roadwork would be starting the week before we had our appointment for the generator. The large light up sign on a trailer said to "Expect Delays". Well, I now had something else to "expect". A few days later we received a notice in our mailbox from the County telling us personally that there would be road work in a few days - nice of them to give some notice - and to expect delays on the road, that the road would have lanes alternatively closed, BUT don't be concerned you will still be able to get out of your house and into the street - though you may have to ask one of the workmen to stop work to do this - and that it may take up to five minutes for that to happen. Wonderful!

I have written in articles before about what it takes to back the Roadtrek out of our driveway and into the avenue with traffic - which never seems to stop and around here, the speed limit is just a suggestion that no one seems to pay any attention to. The speed limit is 40 mph - the cars and trucks whiz by our house at 60, 90 (truly a blur as they zoom by). Try backing up a four ton van that is 22 feet long into that - with no clear vision to your rear side or behind you. We do this with Meryl in the street with a walkie talkie - telling me to "GO NOW! - NO! WAIT! A car is coming around the blind curve. STOP!" And we are going to do this now with road work and lanes closed. Less you think that the roadwork will slow the cars down - no, it has not.

So the work started a week before our appointment. We presume that the intent is to repave the road. But all they were doing is digging  two foot wide trenches through the asphalt for twenty feet with a crew following behind with hot asphalt filling the trenches back in and a steam roller (do they still call these "steam rollers" - well, that is what I was told they were when I was a kid) flattening it back out. They did nothing in the trenches that were dug. They did this up and down the road. Break, dig, and refill. Then they started breaking up curbs along various parts of the road - to just rebuild them with cement. By the end of the first week they had dug and refilled trenches and broke curbs - not replacing them. By the end of the second week - our appointment was not until the Monday of the third week which I had a fantasy in my head that it all would be finished by then - they continued as before - trenches, curbs - an then started breaking around all of the manhole covers to the sewer in the road and refilling around those - seemingly adding a ring to make the manhole cover higher. And they paved around those. Work would start on the road at 9 am and was to end each day at 5 pm - though every day they would be gone by 3:30 pm - not just stopping then to get the road ready to leave it for the night - but GONE. Our appointment was for 9 am. We would leave at least 45 minutes early for a trip that without traffic should take twenty minutes.

Meryl had the idea that we pull the Roadtrek out of the driveway at night - late at night when the traffic has mostly stopped - and turn it around, backing it into the driveway so that we could drive straight out into the street - at least not having to back out into traffic. Great idea!  We would do this the night before. Of course, that night there were "severe storms" coming. Of course, there were. I have not heard a weather report in the last two months when there would not just be rain or showers - but always "Severe Storms!" ("Expect damaging wind, possible hale, downed trees and power lines." - Oh yes - "Flood warnings".) The hourly weather report said the storm would arrive in our area after Midnight. I kept looking out the window at the cars going by and said to Meryl that we had to do this by 11 pm - before the "severe storm". I now had two concerns. Meryl in the street with the walkie talkie in the drenching rain and that when we backed the Roadtrek up the driveway we would now have the rear air conditioning vent pointing down - and if any rain when in, it could then find its way into the van - which I have been told will happen. I say this so often - with the RV there is never a dull moment! We went out - there seemed to be no cars. It had not started raining. I got into the RV and Meryl went out to the street. She was to direct me out and then in turning the back of the van toward the driveway, and then back in without hitting the curb with the back of the van. I slowly started to back down trying very hard not to hit our fence post which was just too close at the angle I was on. She kept telling me to move the back of the van to the passenger side and if I did that I would move right into the fence post. I got into a better position and started again down. She tells me that it is clear - go now. I do. And I get into the street and am not anywhere near where I need to be to get the back of the van lined up with the driveway. And then I see the cars coming. I got over to the side fast - and past our house. I will not go into the harrowing details of my fifteen minute drive to be able to get back to the house and to a position where I could get backed into the driveway - with cars that just did not stop - some of which would not move around me as I was stopped on the side of the street. I got it in. When we walked back into the house, the rain started.

I could stop here and make a Part 3 but I am just going to keep going. Stay with me, the best is yet to come. So, it is the next morning - the sun is shining and we head out. Pulling out forward into the street is not so bad. We took the Roadtrek and our car - I drove the car and Meryl drove the Roadtrek as she rarely gets the opportunity when we are traveling. We both had the directions to the service center - which we had driven to a week before to be sure we would know where to go. We also had a walkie talkie to communicate between vehicles if we had to. I got to the place first and as I was pulling in a big Class A RV (bus type) was pulling out. The service garage was not what I had expected. It was a large warehouse and they worked in the middle of the warehouse floor. There was a business RV inside being worked  on - a traveling dog groomer. Meryl arrived and waited in the RV outside in their lot. I went inside the warehouse and was directed to the office. It was about five to nine. I was told in the office that when they were ready for us they would call us in. OK. We waited outside.

Not long after the same Class A came back. A man got out - there was a boy in the front inside - and the man went in, talked to someone and came out waiting near us. The RV had California plates. At about 9:30 am - now I was supposed to be in there at 9:00 - and now he was here looking as if he was to go in also - he came over to me and asked when my appointment is. I told him. He told me that HIS was at 8:30 am and he had left because they told him that it would be awhile for him to get in because of the dog groomer - and he had left to get his kids breakfast. There was a family inside - two girls, the boy I saw (all with California blond hair) and his wife. His Class A was new. They were on a cross country trip and he had already been at this service center for his generator that past Wednesday - for six hours! He was not happy. We commiserated about the quality of RVs and both waited to be called. The dog groomer was finished and left - and he was called in. They told us to pull in right behind him. Yes, the shop was that big - much bigger as there were several trucks inside plus a lot of large generators scattered about. I went over to the service tech who would work on our generator and told him what the problem was with the drain plug. I also told him about all of the problems we had starting it. He told me he would check it all out. He was not happy that the generator is under the van requiring being on the floor to work on it. He told me to wait and he would first take a look at the oil drain - before he did anything else - "because if it has to come down off the van, I am going to work  on all of it standing over the work bench and not under the van."  He came and found me outside about twenty minutes later. "It has to come down. I have to order the parts for it - maybe we have them, I have to check." He told me that the oil drain hole is stripped and that a new oil pan with a new drain hole was needed along with a few other parts that went along with that. OK - dollar signs flashed in my head! It was an hour's labor to take it down off the van ($135) and another hour to put it back when it is finished ((+$135) plus the parts- plus whatever else he found that was preventing it from starting. He told me to leave, and when he had it down they would call me. We went home. Roadwork had begun - they were digging and refilling more trenches and the lane in front of our house was closed.

About an hour later we got a call to come back - we were to leave the generator and take the RV home. When I got there the service tech was on his computer looking up the parts. He said that they had no room there to keep the RV and when it was finished - in a couple of days - we would get a call to come back. I asked that while he had it to put a fuel filter in - the one the Roadtrek dealer/service could not put in. I told him that - he said, "Cowards!" and smiled. He said he would replace that and also the spark plug and that just looking he could see that the carburetor was way out of adjustment. Fine. We took the Roadtrek without the generator prepared to leave - hoping that he capped off the gas line really well. Inside the Roadtrek we found that to get to some connection he had to take apart one of the cabinets and the top of  the cabinet and the screws were on the floor. He had told us that he had not put somethings back together as he would need to get back into them when he put the generator back up. Left like this, they would fly around the inside as the RV was driven home. We picked everything up and put it all in the car. Meryl drove the RT home and I followed in the car. The road crew had closed two of the lanes in front of our house and we had to get into the driveway across the closed lanes. The worst part of returning home with the Roadtrek without having the job finished was having to get it out of the driveway again to bring it back to have the generator put back in.

The next day in the late afternoon we got a phone call. The generator was fixed and we needed to make an appointment to have it put back under the van. I took the soonest appointment which was Thursday (this was Tuesday) in the afternoon. Wednesday night we went outside at 1:00 am to back the Roadtrek out into the street, turn it around and back it into the driveway so that we could pull it out the next day in the early afternoon while the road construction was going on (which still had not progressed much). It was easier this time so late as the passing cars were fewer and more spread out - but there are always cars and trucks no matter time of the day or night.

Out Thursday for the ride back with the Roadtrek and the car following. The job would take at least an hour or more and we did not want to stand around waiting there in their shop. We arrived just before 1:30 - the time of the appointment and there was no one around in the shop. Obviously we arrived during lunch break. I could see our generator sitting on a work stand. About ten or fifteen minutes after one workers started to arrive. When the service tech arrived who was working on our generator I asked him if it was running good - and did it keep running when there was a load on it. Yes, he answered. He told me that it had been running all morning and did not shut down - and it ran with a load. Great! He told us to pull the Roadtrek into the shop but not straight in but in and around a corner to the side. This meant around all that was in there and it was close quarters. Meryl was behind the wheel and, with assurance that he would guide her in, she drove it in. She got out - and while I did not realize it, she handed me the keys and I put them in my pocket. We told the tech that we would go off in our car to have lunch and come back in about an hour. And we went off.

At the fast food restaurant I could not figure out why my pockets were so stuffed and I started emptying them onto the table - and then I saw that I had both sets of keys to the Roadtrek. If he needed to start it he was not going to be able to. We had an exchange about how did I end up with the keys and why they were not just left hanging in the ignition, resolved that - my absentminded fault - and Meryl volunteered to drive back to the place with the keys while I finished lunch. No, I told her that we will just finish and both go back together. We got back there. I pulled over and Meryl went in to hand the guy the keys. When she came back she said that the back of the Roadtrek was up in the air on the back of a forklift. I was not happy to hear that. We went off to waste some more time and came back about forty five minutes later.

When we got back the Roadtrek was up in the rear on jack stands. I watched from the garage door and did not go inside. I did not want to rush anyone. I wanted it all done right. I watched as the tech got into the fork lift and drove it behind the van, put the fork under the middle from the back and lifted it up off the jack stands. I really did not want to watch and walked away. There are somethings that you really don't want to see how they're done. When I went back to watch again, I could see the Roadtrek was off the stands and the tech was giving a check around the generator. He then went inside and I could hear it start. Brruummm. It was running! And then it stopped. It was started again and it ran! And then a few minutes later it stopped. I had it running longer at home before the work was done. He came out and got under the van. I could see him looking inside the generator access door, fiddling with something inside. He pushed the start switch on the unit and it started and died. He went back inside, started it, it started and shortly it died. I went out to talk to Meryl. I told her what was happening and that this was not good. We both decided that we should leave and not say anything. Let him work on it and let him fix it. We got in the car and drove off to the stores that were near by.

I had never asked when the generator shop closed for the day as I never figured we would be there that long into the day. It was almost 4:30 and we had not heard from anyone. Meryl called and spoke with the service manager who said that we could come back and get it but they had to speak with us. She did not ask why and we got back there quick. When we got there the Roadtrek was in the shop with the generator running. Good sign! We walked across the warehouse to the office door and went in to see the service manager. He told us what he needed to speak with us about. The reason that it was not starting earlier was that when the A/C was started the startup power for the A/C was too much and it overloaded the generator. The problem was the generator voltage regulator. The reason that it was running was that because they did not want to keep us without the RV any longer they put a new voltage regulator on the outside of the generator (it belongs inside) - as to install it where it belongs would require the generator to come back down off the van and then be put back up again - two hours were needed just for that plus the proper install of the voltage regulator. We could make an appointment to come back whenever to do this and use it as it was. No. That was not a good idea. With the construction going on and at some point it would get more complicated when they actually got around to putting asphalt down finally over the entire road, we needed to get this just finished and fixed and were not going to use the RV until it was fixed. We asked if they could just keep the Roadtrek in their shop overnight and do whatever was necessary to have it all correct and finished. They said yes and we went home without the Roadtrek in the car, hoping that the next day, Friday, it would be done and we would get a call to come and pick it up and be done with all of this.

It was around 2:30 the next day that we finally got the call. We had gone out with the car to do errands - all in the direction of the generator service shop. We finally were told that it was running and all was well. We got there in less than a half hour to find the Roadtrek in their lot running with the A/C going. We went inside and were handed the invoice. It was over $900. Thursday night I learned that a new generator - without installation - which is not much if it is replacing a current generator is only $2400. But the new model cannot just be put in the same place without some modifications as the old and new units are slightly different in shape and size. So while we could have just had a new Onan generator installed (they are the only company that makes these) it would have cost us considerably more. What is most important is that it is running. When we got home I started it and turned on the A/C. It sounds somewhat quieter now when it runs. The next day I did the same just to see that it still starts and runs and keeps running with the A/C on. It does.

Is there a moral to this drawn out tale? Not really. Just some of the frustrations of owning an RV - any RV. Some think that it is a dream come true. It is a dream with a price - sometimes a very steep price both out of pocket and in frustration and concern.  Is all well now? Well, I know that we need to replace the RV batteries very soon as they are five years old - and I am not so sure that all is well with the interconnection between the RV batteries and the engine batteries in the van. That may be another tale to be told.

Before we left the service shop I asked the service manager two questions? What would the price have been if it was just the oil pan that was stripped that needed to be repaired/replaced? About $500. And then I asked him what do they charge for an oil change of the one quart of oil in the generator as I don't really want to go back to Pennsylvania to have this done given the problems in the past two years. About $125 - and he can do it while we wait. That is a lot for an oil change, but considering the two bridge tolls, the two turnpike tolls and the gas - it is a plan for next year.

Thank you for going along on this journey and reading this Onan Tale!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

An Onan Tale... In Two Part Harmony - Part 1

This is the tale of my Onan generator - the generator built into my RV. Onan is the name of the company that makes it - known fully as Cummins Onan. I will tell you right now that this is a long and harrowing tale.

It is a small generator (2800 watts) but it has enough power to run just about all of the 110 volt needs inside the RV, including the air condition - which is the most important thing to run on some hot nights inside the RV. The generator is underneath the rear of the van - between the bottom of the chassis and the road and it hangs down there exposed which is fine and as it is supposed to be. I shall share its saga here that starts a little more than two years ago - well we have to go back longer than that.

The generator is an gasoline motor. It gets its gasoline from the gas tank of the van. It also has motor oil running through it as all gasoline motors do. There are a specific number of hours that the generator may be run before it needs to have its oil changed. If those hours are not reached within a year, then the oil should be changed anyway. This is what we do. The oil is changed every year. The generator also must be run regularly - and the minimum running is two hours continuously every month with what is called "half load" being run by the generator. In our RV that "half load" is the air conditioner. In the winter it is an electric heater. (I am telling you all this so that the Onan tale will make sense.) Changing the oil is just like oil is changed on a vehicle engine. There is a screw in plug at the bottom of the oil pan and when that is removed all the old oil pours out. Then the plug is secured back in place and the new oil is added - in the case of my year and model Onan generator that is just one quart of motor oil of a specific weight. Now, for reasons unnecessary to specify here, I cannot go under the van and do the oil change myself. Many do. And no it is not that I am too fat to fit under the van - I can fit under the van easily. That is not the reason. And while Meryl can fit under the van and has been willing to do the oil change, I don't want her to have to do it. So, who does the oil changes? Since the first oil change the year after we got the RV, we have been traveling to the dealer/service where we bought the RV to have them change the oil. In the beginning, there have been other things for them to do also so it was OK to make the 150 mile trip each way with two bridge tolls and turnpike tolls, two states away. And up through 2014 they have done a good job. Our tale now starts at that 2015 oil change.

I had wondered when we were at the service desk and paying the bill why I was being charged for two quarts of oil. As I say, this generator has a one quart capacity for oil. They have always been nice and have always been honest with me so I did not question it - and we paid the bill and took the RV and went off. When we got home and then on a few trips after that the generator started having trouble. It would not start or it would start and then shut down. Sometimes it would run for five minutes and then shut down. This was not good. This was a problem - and I did not want to make a trip back two states to have them look at it. I searched for the local authorized Onan repair shop and found two that service RV generators. The rest service boat generators - when you live on an island boats are common - RVs are not. I called one the one that was closest and they told me that to diagnose the problem it would cost $400! OK. No, not OK. Was I stuck or was there an alternative?

I was at the car mechanic that works on our cars and also has done oil changes and tire rotations on the RV for me - mostly as a favor since he does not work on RVs. I told him about the problems I was having and he told me that his partner - both are great mechanics - likes to work on small engines and he will take a look at it for me. Great. He spent most of an afternoon looking at it as much as he could from the bottom of the van - taking this off the van is a big deal - and part of the reason for the $400 that the service center wanted. He was not finding anything. I stopped over while he was working and asked if he checked the oil - maybe there was a problem there? The generator is designed to stop running if the oil is low to prevent damaging the generator. He opened the oil cap and pulled up the little dip stick. He asked me how much oil should be in there. I told him one quart and he told me that there was a LOT more than that in there. Too much oil can be just as bad as too little oil. He drained the oil out until he reached the proper fill line on the oil stick. We then pushed the generator start button and it started to run. I said, great but wait five minutes to see if it shuts down. It just kept running. I turned on the air conditioner and it still kept running! Perfect. I thanked the man and paid him for his trouble doing this for me - as he could easily have said no.

I had no more problems starting the generator from then until the end of June 2016. It would run rough sometimes. It might take a few tries to start it, but it ran - and the air conditioner ran and the electric space heater in the winter ran - while the generator kept running.

And then it was time for another oil change.

I decided to have not only the oil changed but also the air filter which was not due for enough more hours of run time that it could have waited until next year - and also the fuel filter which is not to be changed for a good amount of time to come but since there had been some rough starts, I felt that this would be best changed now. There is no oil filter. Of course, I did not even think about going anywhere else to have this done - I went back to the RV dealer/service. In advance of my going - when I made the appointment I gave them a list of what I wanted done - and said very directly that the year before too much oil was put in and that it caused problems and to make a note that ONLY ONE QUART IS TO BE USED.

Now, just an aside before we move on with this tale. Why would they put in too much oil? I know why. My Onan is a Microlite 2800 KV - KV being the specific model Microlite that it is. It was manufactured and then installed in my RV in 2011. In 2012, Onan came out with a new version of the Microlite 2800 - no longer KV. This new model takes over 20 ounces of oil. Whoever put the oil in my generator did not look to see what model it is - they should know - and put oil in for the new model. This is no excuse. And no one has offered me this explanation for why too much oil was put in - but I can see why it could have happened. It could have cost me $400 to find out about their mistake.  By the kindness of my mechanic, it cost a lot less. Now back to our tale...

We got down to the RV dealer/service for our appointment and the lady that we have come to know well who runs the service desk was off for the day. Everyone is nice there so it did not matter. They knew we were coming and they had the parts for the job I had asked them in advance to do. I said again - and told the whole story why - that the generator ONLY TAKES ONE QUART OF OIL. We went off and wasted several hours walking to a nearby supermarket and Home Depot shopping center - as we generally do when we go down there - while they worked on the RV. When we went back to pick it up, we learned that they did not do the fuel filter change saying that it is in the back of the generator and can not be reached without taking the generator down off the van - and they did not do that. Had they asked if I wanted them to I would have likely said yes. BUT - in the back of my head I was sure that the generator manual said that this routine maintenance item was right in front of the generator right at the access door to the inside of the case. It was too late then to say - do it - and we took the RV with a generator with an oil change and a new air filter - and no new fuel filter. They did make an emphatic point to let me know that they only put ONE quart of oil in.

When we were home I checked the manual for where the fuel filter is - and yes, it is right in front. I even crawled under the van to look to see it - much to my regret going under the van which I should not do - and there it was just like in the picture in the manual. I sent an email to the woman that we know in service asking why they did not do the fuel filter as it is NOT in the back of the generator and that the manual says it is a simple replacement right in the front. The answer I got back was that they were concerned that they would not properly reach the connecting clamp at the bottom and that if they tried and did the replacement it might dangerously leak gasoline inside. OK - but this could have been said while I was there.  She suggested that I take it to an authorized Onan service center to have it changed.

When we were home it was time to do the monthly running of the generator for June. I went out and started the generator, waited the several minutes for it to warm up and then went to turn on the air conditioner. Nothing. The generator kept running. It was then that I noticed that the display panel on the microwave was not lit - this lights up when there is 110 volts running inside the RV. It was dark. I went in the house and came out with an outlet tester, plugged it in and there was no power in the electric outlets. This should not be - the generator was running!

A lot of panicked and fast research both on the internet and in the Onan manual and I discovered that inside the generator there is a circuit breaker that controls if the electric current that it puts out. If the circuit breaker is off there will be no power in the outlets from the generator. This time I asked Meryl to go under the van, reach in and feel - you can't see it lying under the van - to find out if the circuit breaker as off.  I showed her a picture - thanks to one of the good people on one of the groups I am on - of exactly where the circuit breaker is. The generator had been shut down, of course. She went under, and could not reach with her hand to get to the circuit breaker. OK - I got down on the ground, crawled under, reached in and it was off. I managed to get my finger under the switch and clicked it on. Again, to my shortly after regret of having gone down to do this. My Adrenalin was pumping and that was keeping me going. I went into the RV and turned on the generator. Immediately the microwave panel lit up. There was power coming through! The A/C started when I turned it on. It ran for two hours as it should before I turned it off. For the moment I was relieved. BUT how did the circuit breaker get put off to begin with. The circuit breaker is on the side of the section that the air filter goes into and right behind the fuel filter that did not get changed. Ah ha! Someone in there had to hit it while moving around and clicked it off. Certainly, it did not trip. There was nothing to trip it. And it was not tripping now - it was running.

The tale has only begun. There is a lot more and we will take up right here in Part 2 which will be right here - same time, same place in two weeks...

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Plugging into an Outlet that is Not 30 Amps

We have been contacted a number of times and also have answered this question on several forums and this article will put it all out as to what and how when you need to plug your 30 amp RV - Roadtrek or any other - into an 110/120 volt electric outlet that is not 30 amps. This might be at home - the most common application of this - when needing to plug in and all that is at your house is an outdoor 15 or 20 amp outlet. Then there is also situations at campgrounds where you find yourself faced with plugging your 30 amp RV into a 50 amp outlet. When you plug in your RV into an outlet whether at home or in a campground no matter how many amps the outlet in the world of RVing you are plugging into "SHORE POWER".

Let's start with the more common - plugging into a 15 or 20 amp outlet. Before we go into details of how you do it, there are a few things to understand and one of what seems to be the most confusing concept involves the limits of a 15 or 20 amp outlet for a 30 amp RV. To start off I would like you to watch this short video clip from a classic television show that has nothing to do with RVs but everything to do with the situation we have here. Watch and laugh - and then we will continue explaining why you watched it. (The video quality is not great - it is not my video but I did not think you wanted to watch the entire episode (which is better quality) for this one scene.)

OK- I find this scene the easiest and funniest way to understand what happens when you plug a 30 amp capacity RV into an outlet that is only 15 or 20 amps. In the scene the magic number is "7". With your 30 amp RV the magic number is "15" or "20" depending on how many amps the outlet is. Home outlets may be 15 or 20 amps. (More on this will come.) In the show if Lisa plugged in a "5" and a "3" the generator would blow - in this show that generator would literally blow (for the sake of comedy) when this would happen. If you plug your 30 amp RV into a 15 amp outlet you can plug in an appliance that uses 6 amps and an appliance that uses 9 amps and (basically - again more on this coming) all will be fine, but plug in a 6 and a 10 and as Lisa would say, "Blooey!" - you will trip the circuit breaker or blow the fuse that is connected to that outlet in your house!  Why? You only have an outlet with the capacity of 15 amps (in this example) and if you start appliances inside your RV that use more than 15 amps - either singly or together - you overload the circuit and as a safety precaution the circuit breaker trips or the fuse blows out. This is better than the alternative of an overloaded circuit where it bursts into flames and burns down the house.

Another extremely important thing to know when plugging into a house outlet is if there are any other outlets inside or outside the house that are on the same circuit breaker or fuse in the house circuit breaker or fuse box. The fast way to find out is shut off the circuit breaker or take out the fuse on the outlet you are going to plug into and then check to see if any other outlets no longer work (or lights or whatever electric in the house no longer work). IF there is another outlet or circuit on that house breaker, you are SHARING the total amps of that outlet - either 15 or 20 (you will know this by looking at the circuit breaker itself - it will be marked 15 or 20 - or on the glass fuse which will also be marked with its amps). If you are sharing the amps with other outlets, if those outlets are in use you must subtract how many amps are plugged into those outlets (or on that circuit in the case of hardwired lights or appliances in the house) from what you have available in the RV. So simple example. Lets say that you have two outlets on a 20 amp circuit and one of those outlets already has 10 amps plugged into it and in use. The outlet you are about to plug your RV into only has 10 amps for you to use. Plug in 11 amps and "Blooey!".

If you have all of this well understood - and not only by you but also anyone who is going to be in the RV with you - kids especially - you will have no problems plugging your 30 amp RV into a 15 or 20 amp outlet at your (or anyone's) house.  SO - just to ask you a question to make sure you understand. You are plugged into a 15 amp outlet. Can you turn your Air Conditioner (high amp appliance) and your Microwave (high amp appliance) on at the same time? If you answered "NO!" you will be fine.  If you answered "Yes" then go back and watch the video and read this all again. I would also not try this on a 20 amp outlet.

Now, that all out of the way - here is how you do it. I plug my Roadtrek into the house twice a month every month to charge the batteries. It works with no problems. You will need a couple of things. Your 30 amp RV has a 30 amp plug on its power cord. A 30 amp plug does not fit in a 15/20 amp outlet. It is too big and the position, size, of the three prongs will not fit. You are going to need a 30 amp female to 15/20 amp male adapter. They are not hard to find and you can find one at many Walmart stores in the RV section of the auto department. They may have two types. Do not buy the one that is a single unit with a plug on one side and the 30 amp socket on the other side of one rubber cylinder. These will work but can be hard to pull apart from your power cord. Buy what is called a "dog bone" adapter. This has a whole 30 amp socket on one end of a thick wire - the same size as your RV's power cord - and on the other end of that wire a whole male 15 amp three prong plug. These are less than ten dollars. They usually have a pull handle on the 30 amp socket (not as pictured here).

 IF your RV power cord will not reach the outlet you want to plug into you also need a 30 amp RV extension cord. Never use a household extension cord - even if it is labeled heavy duty - even if it is 10 gauge wire. Compare that to your RV power cord and you will see that the wire is much thinner. You want to get every amp you can and you do not want an extension cord that could overheat - or worse cause a fire while connected to your RV. Spend the money for an RV 30 amp extension cord. They cost more but will keep your house, your RV, and you safe. The wire on the extension cord should be as thick as the power cord on your RV.

You are now all set!

1. Plug in the 30 amp socket on the adapter to the 30 amp plug of the extension cord.

2. Plug the RV power cord 30 amp plug into the 30 amp socket on the extension cord.

3. Go into the Roadtrek if your RV is a Roadtrek and TURN ON THE BATTERY SWITCH.
    (If you don't have a Roadtrek you may not have to do this - follow the procedure for plugging your RV into "shore power".)

4. Plug the 15 amp plug of the adapter into the 15/20 amp outlet on your house.

DONE.  You now have 110 volts available for use in your RV (with the restrictions we have discussed above). 

If you have a Electric Management System unit - a surge/voltage protector - you might want to plug that in within these connections to. We do - even at home. This is discussed in other articles on our site about hooking up your RV (Roadtrek).

That is all you need to plug in at home - or at someone's home. There are other situations where you might need different adapters and we will look at those now.

When I first arrive at a campground to "check in" and get my site, the first thing I do when I get to the site is test the 30 amp outlet in the power box.  I do this using a Polarity Tester (about $5 generally wherever electric components are sold including home stores and Walmart) and also a 110 volt (AC) volt meter. The meter I use is a device called a "Kill-A-Watt" that is used to test electric appliances for wattage but also will give you the number of volts in an AC outlet just by plugging it in. This also is sold at home stores. You could also buy an AC plug in volt meter on its own - but when I went shopping for one I was not finding any locally and what I saw at RV shops cost twice what the "Kill-A-Watt" costs. Both of these devices have a standard 15/20 amp house plug. To use these to test a 30 amp outlet I use a 15 amp female to 30 amp male adapter - the opposite of what is mentioned and shown above. This has a 30 amp plug and a 15 amp socket. Plug the device into the 15 amp socket and then plug the 30 amp plug into the campground 30 amp power outlet. These devices used this way will correctly read the polarity and the number of volts coming through the 30 amp outlet in the campground box. If they are not right, we go right back to the campground office and let them know that there is a problem. We first ask for another site. If one is not available we ask that they fix the problem immediately.

If the problem cannot be fixed - and there is no other site - the next thing we carry to take care of that situation is a 50 amp male to 30 amp female adapter.

As you can see in this photo, a 50 amp plug - the one on the right - is larger and very different from a 30 amp plug. The 50 amp plug has three blades and one ground. I am not going to confuse you by explaining how the 50 amp plug works, for your 30 amp RV that is not important. What is important is that when you are plugged into a 50 amp outlet using one of these adapters to plug your 30 amp RV into, you are only getting 30 amps coming into your RV. It is no different than having plugged into a 30 amp outlet. You can plug your 30 amp EMS unit (surge and voltage protector) into the line with no problem - it will work exactly as it does when you are plugged into a 30 amp outlet directly. All you are getting are 30 amps.

So plug your 30 amp RV power cord into the 30 amp socket on this adapter and then plug the 50 amp plug into the 50 amp outlet in the campground box. You are now in business - just as if you were plugged into a 30 amp outlet.

If you find yourself looking at a 30 amp outlet in a campground box that is loose or when you plug into it, it just does not seem right - and there is no other site to be moved to - use the 50 amp to 30 amp adapter shown and described above.

Now - one final word of advice -

When plugging in at a campground into a 30 amp outlet - or a 50 amp outlet - there is usually a circuit breaker in the box over the outlets for each outlet in the box. You will know which goes to which as the breaker will be labeled - 30 amp or 50 amp. BEFORE you plug anything in, switch that breaker to OFF. It is always best to do everything safely. Plug into an outlet that is OFF and you will not get shocked. Check the circuit breaker first - unfortunately, not everyone does what is safe and they often disconnect with the breaker on - which YOU should NOT DO, and you will find the circuit breaker was left on. Shut it OFF. Plug the plug in, and then click the circuit breaker to ON. Done! Safe!

We have been to two campgrounds where there was no circuit breaker in the box for the outlets. I was not thrilled plugging in that way, but there was no choice - just use extra caution.

At home you would have to go inside the house to the circuit breaker box to turn off the breaker and then go back in to turn it on. Since we plug appliances into 15 or 20 amp outlets in our homes every day with the circuit breaker on, it is really no big deal to plug the adapter and power cord of the RV into a live 15 or 20 amp outlet. The more amps the more dangerous. It is the same 110 volts but it is the amps that can kill ya! Heard that in some show or movie about a prison electric chair...

"Shocking, simply shocking."