Technically Speaking

Decals Look Terrible

Removing Decals
I have a 2010 Hitchhiker made by NuWa and my wife is complaining about how terrible the vinyl stripes and graphics that cover a large portion of our fifth wheel look. I’ve been able to keep the sidewalls in good shape over the years, however, no matter what I did, I was not able to keep the vinyl from cracking and looking absolutely terrible. I tried scraping off a couple of the pieces, which is incredibly difficult and then very hard to get the glue off of the siding. I told my wife that we would need to take it to a professional because I cannot handle the job. Any suggestions?
— Rob McCluskey

Rob, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. Most RV decals start deteriorating within 4-5 years and only get worse from there as the sun’s UV rays have their way with the vinyl material. At this point, 3M, a major manufacturer of vinyl graphics, states that it does not have anything to put on the vinyl pieces to protect against UV rays. You can try Aerospace 303 Protectant, but don’t expect miracles. I’ve had my 2010 Carriage Cameo restriped professionally and it looks nice after the new graphics were applied. The problem is finding a shop in your area that can handle the job, and the process can get expensive because it’s labor-intensive.

If you do find somebody who will do the job, make sure that you look at his/her work before signing up. If it’s not done correctly, there can be a lot of bubbles, which may or may not go away over a period of time. Another option is to strip all of the vinyl graphics and paint the sections where the vinyl was removed; you could even change the patterns if they cover up the spots where the original vinyl graphics were located. Full body paint is going to be much more expensive but if you’re going to keep your fifth wheel for 10 or 15 years it may be worth expense of not having to go through this process again in 5 to 7 years. For another option, read “Looking Like New” in this issue.

Too Cold for Refrigerator to Run

Bill, we have been stuck in bitter cold weather for a couple of months. I noticed that the refrigerator was not functioning correctly; it is a Dometic model 2852. I’ve had a technician look at it and he said that everything is fine — but it stops functioning overnight. I suppose if it was cold enough inside it wouldn’t matter, but we keep the interior heated in this freezing weather. I’m running out of options.
— Ruben Arndent

Reuben, you did not mention the ambient temperature you were experiencing during the night, but I suspect it’s below freezing. I would bet that the water is starting to freeze inside the cooling unit. If the temperature drops precipitously and the electric and/or gas burner is not running, the water in the hydrogen/ammonia/water solution will start to freeze and will affect the way the ammonia solution is pumped up through the boiler tube. You need to get some sort of heat behind the refrigerator in sustained temperatures below 20 degrees F. I’ve always used a small 200-watt ceramic heater behind the refrigerator, but space in many rigs may be too tight to do so. You can also use a mechanic’s drop light with a 75-watt incandescent bulb; just make sure the light has a protective cage and keep it on 24/7. By the way: I also purchased another little 200-watt ceramic heater from Amazon and leave it in fifth wheel’s forward compartment where there are a lot of water lines. I don’t want water lines to freeze while parking in cold country.

Air-Conditioner Efficiency Over Time

Bill, we have been experiencing some very hot weather here in California lately and, of course, we’ve been having to run our air-conditioner a lot in our 2015 Grand Design fifth wheel. At this point it seems to be functioning fairly well and I can’t really tell if there’s any decrease in efficiency. One of the neighbors I was speaking to said that I need to service and clean the parts inside the air-conditioners. I’m not sure exactly what he means. Is there some sort of annual maintenance that should be performed on RV air-conditioners?
— Gene Robinson

Great question. Your air-conditioner could certainly be losing efficiency without you knowing it. Over the years, the evaporator and condenser can develop a build-up of dirt, lint or other debris — especially on the exterior condenser that’s exposed to the elements. And yes, you should perform an annual check-up at the very least, which, of course, is dependent on how many hours you run the air-conditioner.

Start by removing the interior return air filter and cleaning it thoroughly; you should service the filter at least once a week with heavy use. With the filter down, use a bright flashlight to look up inside the return-air cavity to inspect every square inch of the evaporator — especially the bottom section, which has a propensity to catch most of the oily by-products that attract dirt and debris and stick like glue. Most likely after this many years it will need to be cleaned with a mild detergent/water and a soft brush; be persistent, the dirt will come off.

Next, remove the shroud from the top of the air-conditioner and you will see the condenser at the rear. Using about 90 PSI compressed air, blow out everywhere you see dirt. Pay close attention to the condenser; you will need to blow through it to dislodge all of the dirt. It’s not uncommon to find a bunch of bent fins in the rear of the condenser, which will make the air-conditioner less efficient. Although straightening each fin is tedious work, there are tools to make the job a little less annoying.

Ideally, if you have an induction amp meter, you can check current draw. This is done while the air-conditioner has been running for a half an hour or more under a full load. You can compare your numbers to the value listed on the plate underneath the top shroud. If you are drawing much more then listed rating, the air-conditioner is losing efficiency. If the amperage is low, the air-conditioner is likely low on refrigerant. One thing to keep in mind: if you’re hooked up to inadequate power, the compressor will draw more amperage then normal.

Holding Tanks: Open or Close?

My friend and I are having a debate whether I should leave my black water and gray tank valves open the entire time. He’s says it can create a real problem although I haven’t had an issue since we purchased the trailer four years ago. In fact, he says it’s not even a good idea to leave the gray water tank valve open. Perhaps you could put an end to our debate.
— Don Richardson

Don, I think this debate has gone on ever since they first invented holding tanks. After 48 years in the RV industry and being a full-time RVer for 11 years, I have it down to a science. First, do not leave the black water tank valve open. There’s usually not enough slope toward the valve opening and if the valve is left open, the toilet paper and solids can have a propensity to stay were they land while the water just drains around the pile. After a while the solid waste will build the infamous “pyramid” and create a clog, which is a real mess. Once the clog gets to a certain point, even putting a flush wand or a hose down the toilet will not break up the mass.

Leave the valve closed and use plenty of water when flushing the toilet; most RV toilets do not use that much water during a quick flush. Plan on dumping the holding tank once it reaches a point where it’s three-quarters full. I suggest you rinse the black tank every time you dump; it’s amazing how much sediment stays in the tank and after several years the contents/calcium can build up on the sides and the bottom of the tank and cause the tank probes to fail — which is typically the case in most RVs.

As far as the gray tank is concerned, that’s a long-standing debate around RV circles. It’s not a real problem leaving the gray tank open all the time; if you do, close it periodically and flush the tank thoroughly. If your gray tank is big enough and can get you through several days, leave the valve closed so you can get plenty of water running through to keep sediment from building up in the bottom of the tank. Dumping a full grey tank after the black tank is beneficial because it will wash down the pipes and dump hose.

Solar for Light Loads

Solar Panels
We love camping off the grid in our small trailer. We don’t use a lot of power, but once in a while we would like to watch TV and run the DVD on a rainy night or not have to also worry about using the pump and overhead lights at the same time. During our last trip we noticed that the neighbors had a really nice solar system. They told us about their system, but it seemed a little bit confusing to me. The thought of covering the entire roof with solar panels and buying a lot of expensive batteries was not appealing to us. We are open to suggestions.
— Susan Dickinson

Susan, I’m excited that you’re thinking about going solar. After 11 years of full-timing I certainly wouldn’t want to live without my solar system, as I spend a lot of time off the grid. Fortunately, solar components have become less expensive and more efficient over the last few years. There are several efficient solar panels on the market right now and the monocrystalline panels seem to be the most efficient. One of the secrets to success is to use a quality charge controller that will actually boost the output of the solar panels; this technology is called maximum power point tracking (MPPT).

You did not mention the number of batteries in your bank, but 200 watts of solar panels should get the job done for your needs, which are rather light. If you spend time camping in winter, you should think about using tilt brackets to take full advantage of a lower sun. Make sure to use at least a 10-gauge wiring to minimize voltage loss from the solar panel to the charge controller to the batteries.

Lithium batteries are your best bet and they are much less expensive these days, especially if you amortize them over the expected 10-year lifespan. Just make sure the converter/charger or inverter/charger is also rated for use with lithium batteries.

Are you stymied by a technical problem with your RV? Write to RV Enthusiast Technical Director Bill Gehr at [email protected]. Bill will answer inquiries as space permits.

Bill Gehr
Bill Gehr
Bill started his 50-year career in the RV industry when he went to work for an Airstream dealership. After the gas shortages in the 1970s, Bill decided to start his own business and opened up Bill’s RV Service in Ventura, California. After several years in business, he met Bob Livingston, and together they worked on hundreds of technical editorial projects at his shop while becoming great friends. Bill eventually joined Bob on the TV show “RVtoday,” filming a number of hands-on projects. After retiring, Bill headed out full-time in his fifth wheel and toured 39 states while writing technical articles for Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines. He now is Technical Director for RV Enthusiast.