Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An RV-Specific GPS For $10

If the title got your attention it was meant to. Am I joking? Is there an RV-specific GPS that can be had for $10? Well, if you have a smartphone or tablet - either Android, Iphone, or Windows, yes there is. It is called Copilot and it offers a lot of things that other GPS navigation apps don't offer. I am sure someone reading this will say, "But I can do this for free with my smartphone using free apps such as Google Maps or Nav!" and that is true BUT Copilot offers what these don't.

The main two features that I will highlight most here are two abilities not found on other apps (at least apps near this price):

1) The Copilot app has an RV Mode profile. Set Copilot to RV Mode and the profile will let you pick an RV height of either 12 feet 6 inches or 13 feet. (The 12 feet 6 inches height is fine for any Roadtrek.) and it will ask if you want to route around tunnels that prohibit propane.

2) The Copilot app installs maps - either the entire North America set of maps, all of the United States, all of Canada, or just the sections of the US that you want - on your smartphone's internal memory or SD card memory. With Copilot YOU NEED NO DATA CONNECTION to follow a complete route or change route mid-trip. Download and install maps on wifi to save data usage. If you purchase Copilot USA you do not get Canada but can purchase the Canada maps in addition. I do not see a Copilot Canada only version when I look at Google Play Store. It may be available but I cannot confirm if it is.

I have been testing the Copilot app for a few weeks. The results so far surpass the Rand McNally RV GPS that sells for $399 list price, and are as good as the Garmin RV GPS that also sells for $399 list. Copilot RV mode goes one better than the Garmin as the Garmin does not have an "avoid propane restrictions" setting. A year ago I purchased the Rand McNally RV GPS and returned it after one day's use. I had it route me locally with the height restriction set first to no roads with clearances less than ten feet and then no roads with clearances less than 12 feet. It routed me directly onto a road with a seven foot ten inch height limit - no vehicles over 7'10" as posted on the entrance ramps. I know that on this road there are overpasses that are even lower than 7'. I contacted Rand McNally and they told me that they were not aware of these roads. The GPS was returned for refund. I have tried the Garmin truck/RV GPS in a store and set in the same destination for the same area - height limit set as with the Rand McNally - and it avoided those roads completely and took me on a height safe route. I then had it route me to Washington, D.C. which is normally routed on a  GPS through the tunnels of Baltimore, MD. and the Garmin - with no propane setting routed through the tunnels. The Copilot so far has routed around all roads that have less than a 12' 6" height allowance and routed completely around the city of Baltimore avoiding the tunnels that prohibit propane.

In addition to an RV profile Copilot has a car profile, a walking profile, and a city transportation profile for routing. Each has options for selecting the roads and conditions that you want or want to avoid.

What else will the Copilot App do? It has turn by turn voice directions including voices that speak street names as long as you device is text to speech capable (most are). It creates alternate routes to select from when starting a route. You are able to review each route and select the one that you like best. Of course, if there is no alternate, there will be none calculated. It has lane guidance to show you which lane to be in when an exit is approaching. The display zooms to show the turn approaching. The map display on the premium ($10) version has 3D or 2D view. There are speed alerts (visual and audio that can be turned on or off) to tell you if you are over the posted speed limit. If you go off route the app automatically calculates your new route to the original destination. You can create a route with multiple stops. You can create and save a route. It has Points of Interests and these can be easily added to from POI sites like It shows direction, speed, and estimated arrival time. It also displays either the street that you are on OR the street of the next turn on the bottom of the screen. I have not found it lacking any feature that I have had on any of the stand alone GPS units that I have had from Tom Tom and Garmin. Maps are from Navtec, one of the leading GPS map providers, and ARE FREE - including updates when available. If there is an update Copilot will alert you to download the update when you want to - and you can set the app to only download when on wifi to prevent a large data download. If you get a call coming in while Copilot is running, the call screen will take precedence and come up on your phone for you to answer the call. There will be a small Copilot icon on the top of the screen and all you need to do to come back to Copilot is touch that icon. If you stop the app and do not delete the route when you start the app again, it will resume the route from the location you are at.

Now, I am sure you are saying - but what about traffic? Yes, there is traffic reporting and re-routing bu this is the only catch about Copilot. Traffic requires a data connection. For a phone this is not a problem - the data usage is not high - but you need a data connection. If you have a wifi device only - such as a tablet - you can use every feature of Copilot except traffic if you have no wifi connection to stay connected to. The other catch about traffic is that after the first year it is not free. A traffic subscription costs $10 a year BUT you get the first year free with the $10 purchase of Copilot. One other thing about traffic - if you install the FREE version of the Copilot app first and you decide to get the "Premium" version which costs $10 you must NOT upgrade from within the app to the paid version IF YOU WANT THE FREE YEAR OF TRAFFIC. The developers make no secret about this. If you want the free year of traffic then purchase at the Google Play Store or ITunes the Premium Copilot app and download this app onto your phone - uninstall the free version first - and buy the app and install it. This is the only way that you get the free year of traffic service. If you update from within the app you get all of the features of Premium BUT NO FREE TRAFFIC. Traffic service will then cost you an additional $10 for the first year. This all seems odd but this is how they do it. Traffic works well - if there is traffic to be routed around, a screen comes up and asks - will show you the new route if you want - and lets you decide if you want to remain on the route into the traffic or take the traffic avoidance route - it will tell you how much time you will save on the new route.

I just talked about a FREE version of Copilot - so why not just get and use the free version. You can - and you will get some of the features that I have been describing. The free version is referred to as Copilot Standard. When you first download this free app you are given a 14 day trial of all Premium features but in 14 days those stop. Again, let me say that the free version for the first 14 days gives you EVERYTHING free - and then if you do not update it, the free version will lose some of the features. Maps are still free and installed in memory - no data required. Interestingly, it appears that on the free version you can download Canada and the US and Europe, etc. for free. RV mode and all of the modes are there. What is not there is automatic rerouting. If you go off route on the free version (after the 14 day trial period ends) there will be a button on the top center of the map display that will say "RECALCULATE". You must click this button manually to recalculate the route. There is no traffic option on the free version - after the 14 day trial. There is no voice text to speech for turn by turn with street names directions. There is voice for turn by turn directions that do not speak street names. The free version only has a 2D display. There are other features from the premium version also missing.  It is usable but compromised and for $10 for the full featured version, it is worthwhile to try the free version and then purchase the Premium version from the App Store - not from the upgrade built into the app.

Once you purchase the app it is yours and the only purchase then is traffic for $10 per year after the first year (if you follow my instructions above). The app can be moved from device to device but may be installed on only one device at a time - and another BUT, I have learned that there is an undisclosed limit to how many times you may do that. I suppose the reason why makes sense. I had planned to purchase the app and have it on my phone (with data for traffic) and then if I wanted a larger screen on a trip uninstall it from the phone and install it on my small tablet that is wifi only. I can do that but if I do it too often I will exceed the limit and the app will lock out future installations and pretty much you have lost the app unless you purchase it again. If you do this only when you get a new phone there will be no problem. The limit is not just a few times but enough to allow you keep the app on your newest device. The lock out is to stop pirating and is automatically triggered according to Copilot. Copilot recommends that if you want to purchase this app several times for other devices you must create a new User ID when you register the app upon installation on each device.  The app developers are very responsive and have techs available to help on their website's support forum and there are forums for each version and each OS. The app is also updated when new features are added or problems found are fixed.

One word of advice. When using the app on a trip, plug your phone or tablet into the 12 volt power on the dash. On a trip of several hours or all day this will drain your phone's battery. It will not do that any more or faster than watching a movie or playing a game but any app that uses the display full time (there is a battery saver mode to shut off the screen) will use up the phone's battery. And it is important to save your battery in the event you need to make an emergency call. 

Here are some photos of the app in use -

Routing Screen showing calculated route

Right Turn Ahead on Spencer Avenue
Portrait or Landscape Orientation

I have my phone in a phone cradle with a flex mount that is set on a special cup holder accessory for any GPS that locks into a cup holder and provides a surface for the suction cup to strongly stick to. You can find these as separate pieces or you can find a phone cradle with a flex arm and its own cup holder attachment. Anything that you have - works. You just want to be sure your phone is easily visible without distracting your driving. A weighted dash mat works also.

Flex arm cradle
Cup holder mount

OK - so in addition to the $10 you are going to have to buy something to hold it all securely to your dash. If you buy the $400 RV GPS unit, you get that included... And you have to have the phone and I am not going to say that everyone does - but many do. Again, what sets this app apart from the other GPS apps is that you get RV Mode and you get the maps you want on your phone. Google maps now lets you save an area to your phone for navigation but that area is limited to no more than a ten mile radius. This is not much good for an RV trip! There is a heck of a lot here for ten bucks and believe me, I don't often purchase apps, so if I will spring for the ten dollars it must look good to me!  And of course, you don't need a Roadtrek for this app - it is for any RV or trailer or even your car!

There is a website - Don't just take what I have to say about this app. Go to the website and look for yourself - then install Copilot Standard, the free version and try it for 14 days and decide for yourself. If you like it, buy it from the app store - remember don't upgrade from within the app or you lose a free year of traffic service.  Also look for sales on this app through the Copilot website or the app stores. There was just a limited time sale for Memorial Day weekend reducing the Copilot Premium to $7.99! For Black Friday the app was $6.99 as was the traffic service renewal.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Adding a FIlter to the Toilet Water Line

Since our second season in the Roadtrek we have been experiencing an odd thing. When flushing the toilet - sometimes - chunks of a white and/or black chalk-like substance come through the water running into the toilet. These chunks look exactly like the mineral deposits that form in the hot water tank that are seen when the tank is flushed out. Where do these deposits form? No one really has had an answer to that. Since they look exactly like what is in the hot water tank one would wonder if these are those same minerals somehow finding their way from the hot water line to the cold water line but everyone says that this is impossible - and, yes, it does seem to be impossible. One thing that I do know is that they are not forming in the fresh water tanks and here is why I know that. The water comes from the fresh water tank(s) and first through a filter that you can see, open, and clean before the water passes through to the water pump. This protects the water pump from anything that might be in the water that would damage the inside of the pump. I have examined that filter many times and it has been perfectly clean. These chunks are originating after the water pump.  What is more interesting is that there are no such deposits coming through the sink faucet as the end of the faucet also has a small, mesh screen and that screen too has been clean.

This has caused all types of problems with water flow from the toilet. The water running through the toilet valve slows down and runs with little pressure. The valve that is part of the toilet that regulates the flow of water through the toilet when the flush pedal is pushed becomes clogged and on two occasions has broken - once requiring full replacement and once requiring a part to be replaced. Last summer during each trip there was a problem with the water flowing into the toilet - on our first trip the water ran slow. On the first night of our major trip of the summer the water in the toilet did not flow at all and we had to flush the toilet with a jug of water filled at the sink. Almost at the end of that trip we again saw the chunks come through into the toilet with the little water that has started flowing into the toilet and just before the end of that trip there was suddenly a rush of this debris out and the toilet water started flowing normally. The last trip of last season we had a water leak running from the bottom edge of the toilet where it meets the floor. This was the same leak that we had when the toilet valve broke the first time and it was the same thing again. Something had to be done about the water flowing into the toilet valve.

Some blame hard water for this. The thing is that we live in an area that is not known for hard water. Where in many parts of this country people regularly have water softening systems in their homes to treat their hard water, this is unknown in this area. Most of the water that goes into our fresh tanks is water from home. We always start each trip with full tanks and these last for all of our short trips and partway into our longer trips. Water from away from home has gone into the tanks but more water from home has gone into the fresh tanks than other water. I am not ruling out the idea of a hard water problem and have looked at portable water softening systems for RVs. 

All along I was thinking that there had to be a way to catch these chunks somewhere before the toilet valve. I thought that a filter just like the one before the water pump would do the job. This winter I started to put my idea into a plan and started researching. I would start with the company that makes the water filter that is used before the water pump in the Roadtrek and find out if that would work if placed on a water line somewhere along after the water pump. The company replied that it certainly could be used that way. I then started looking for that filter to purchase one and also what I would need to attach it to the Roadtrek water line leading into the toilet valve. The filter could be purchased at various websites but because of delivery problems at our house, we try to buy locally before having to order anything that needs to be shipped. I was able to find the exact same water filter that is on the Roadtrek at a boating store chain named West Marine. There was a store not far away and we went there to purchase it. Just an aside - marine stores have a lot of things that are also used on RVs and we had a great time looking through the entire store at things that could be used in our Roadtrek.

The filter - note the name and parts number

Now I needed to attach this into the water line going into the toilet valve. The plumbing in the Roadtrek is 1/2" pex pipe and fittings. This filter has 1/2" fittings. The water in the filter must flow in one direction only and that is marked on the side of the filter. You can just about make out the arrow right in the middle of the black base of the filter in the photo above. It flows from the male end into the female end. The connection coming from the water line is male. The connection on  the toilet valve is male. I did not want to cut into any pipes. I wanted to be able to put this in so that if for some reason it had to come out, it could come out easily. I found the following fittings -

The fittings were not easy to find. Home Depot and Lowes did not have the 1/2" fittings as shown in the first photo above. I found them at Ace Hardware. Their larger stores seem to carry a bigger assortment of plumbing fittings than the big box stores. The water line is used for a sink and is common but only Lowes had this flexible PVC reinforced water line. The ones at Home Depot were all flex metal construction. This is the shortest available with 1/2 inch connectors and it is 12 inches long.

I proceeded to assemble what I wanted to install into the Roadtrek.

There it is all together. It is all hand tightened and not wrench tightened. Recently I have found that using pipe seal paste is better than Teflon tape on plumbing thread connections. It is easier to apply than wrapping the Teflon tape around the threads and from my research is better at preventing leaks. Its only drawback is that is never dries and always stays a paste so the joints are messy to touch. Usually you are not touching the joints once they are together so that is not a problem. It is drinking water safe and can be used for both cold and hot water pipes. It can be found anywhere that plumbing supplies are sold.

So, it was all together. It next had to be installed in the Roadtrek. Meryl and I went out to install it before we winterized and while the temperature outside was still reasonable. I looked again at the connections and it would fit perfectly. The only problem was that when I tried to open the connection at the toilet I could not get my hand on the connection to get it open.  The connection goes into the top of the toilet valve which is located behind the toilet on the left side as you face the toilet. To get to the connection without removing the toilet completely one most reach down blindly behind the toilet and find the connection. It is also close to the back wall.  I decided before I even put pressure on the connection that I would wait and pay our Roadtrek service center to install this for me. We put the assembled filter away until Spring.

With Spring we dewinterized and called for an appointment at dealer service for a variety of things the most important of which was the water leak that we found during October's trip - the leak that occurred before I decided on making this filter. We brought the filter and when we got there for our service visit I showed it to the Roadtrek service tech, explained what it was and why I wanted this installed - asked them to install it in such a way that the filter dome would be easy to see and to get to to take off and clean the filter, and also to make sure nothing would leak once it was installed. I also offered for them to install it any way that they wanted to if there was a better way than my assembly.

They installed the filter and used the assembly as I gave it to them. They tested for leaks and it held dry. Great! Here is the filter now installed -

In the photo above you can see the connection into the top of the toilet valve at the arrow.

I recently read in a forum that another Roadtrek owner was having this same problem. He also has chunks of minerals flowing into the toilet bowl from the water supply. I was glad to find out that I am not the only one. I don't know how many this is a problem for. It has certainly been a big problem for us and I am hoping that this will do it. So far the water runs through the filter with no lack of pressure and comes through into the toilet as it is supposed to. Only time will tell if the same problem comes back even with the filter in place. I am hoping that those minerals will get caught in the filter and from the size of them they certainly should. Beyond this the only other fix I can think of is the water softening system. These systems use salt to "recharge" the chemical reaction that removes the "hard" from the water to make it soft and Meryl is concerned about that salt in the drinking water. I am not so sure that is any problem at all. But hopefully, this has fixed the problem and we will flush with a smile from now on.

This will work for any RV or trailer that is experiencing the same problem - not just Roadtreks. Just check the size fittings your pipes use - but more than likely they are the same 1/2 inch.

May you all always flush with a smile!

ADDENDUM - After a full season of use we had no problems with the toilet valve.