True Tales of Wasted Money: 4 RV Accessories That Just Weren’t Worth It, and 1 Happy Turn-Around

Raise your hand if you’ve never bought an RV or camping product that didn’t work out.

No hands up?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s happened to us too.

We’ve all made regrettable impulse buys online or in camping and sporting goods stores. Sometimes even items we’ve carefully researched and budgeted for before purchasing just don’t perform as expected, or live up to the hype, or simply don’t come in handy after all.

I asked a few Heartland RV owners for true tales about “accessory fails” that they couldn’t wait to warn others about, and also included one of my own.

Vent covers

John Daniels, really liked the MaxxAir II vent covers he’d installed on his Trail Runner, but when he bought a new Prowler and tried to move the vent covers to it, he found that they didn’t fit.

“MaxxAir doesn’t intend to make brackets to fit the new E-Z Lift vent covers — the ones with the handle instead of the twist knob,” he said.

“I wound up buying three of their plain-Jane bottom line vent covers (author’s clarification: MaxxAir Standard covers), as they bolted right up. However, they don’t create the same air flow as the MaxxAir II’s.”

Close-up of standard MaxxAir vent
(photo courtesy J. Daniels)

Standard MaxxAir vents installed on a Prowler
(photo courtesy J. Daniels)

Head sets

Kelly and Michael Barnett, of RV There Yet Chronicles, and owners of a 2011 Landmark Key Largo, revealed that when they picked up their coach from the dealer, they also purchased two headsets for the purpose of communicating easily while hitching up and unhitching.

“The idea was that we wouldn’t be yelling back and forth, and would be able to speak calmly to each other while performing this task,” Kelly said.

“It’s a great idea, and we used them maybe half a dozen times, but they just weren’t us. I guess we prefer the old tried and true method of yelling at each other to get the job done.”

Sewer Flushing Attachment

Lisa and Dan Brown, of Always on Liberty, and owners of a 2016 Landmark Ashland, bought a Hydro Flush 45 by Valterra, and wish they hadn’t.

“There’s this clear elbow fitting that attaches to the sewer hose and the sewage line, that has a place to hook up a water hose for flushing,” Lisa explained.

“What a waste of money. After 5 minutes of initial use, leaking water and crap, Dan threw that thang….Oh wait, he ‘donated’ it to Mr. Dumpster, with words from a sailor.”

(source: Camping World)

Solar Powered Garden Lights

This one’s mine. We made an impulse buy at a big box store, thinking a cheerfully lit pathway would add some pizazz and safety to nighttime walks back to The Toad.

The fact that the things were on clearance should have been a big clue. Outdoor light fixtures that retail for less than $2.00 each were undoubtedly not built to last, and these didn’t. One never even lit up properly, and the other three gradually fell apart after only about 6 months of use.

(source: Harbor Freight)

Propane Tank Monitoring System

Finally, to leave things on a more cheerful note, here’s the story of an item that was at first thought to be a waste of money, but thanks to intervention from the manufacturer, turned out to be worth it after all.

Erika and Tony Dorsey, of Our Mammoth Travels, and owners of a 2016 Big Country, saw a magazine advertisement for a product that uses ultrasound to measure the level of fuel left in a propane tank, and sends a signal via Bluetooth to a smart phone to let users see that amount.

“Once it was available to the public, in February of 2016, I immediately bought it,” said Erika, about the Mopeka TankCheck monitoring system.

After a few struggles getting the sensors in place and syncing phones to the device, things went even more wrong. “The reading seemed good at first, but within a few hours, it stopped receiving the Bluetooth signal and read 0%. We tried multiple times to re-sync the sensors, and it would work for about a day, and then not,” Erika said.

“Propane season” ended, and the Dorseys forgot about the system, until fall rolled around and they were again wanting to know their tank levels. “We replaced the batteries in the sensors thinking maybe that was an issue, but nope, same result. Even with different tanks, repositioning the sensors, new phones, etc.,” Erika said.

She saw another advertisement touting the product’s 3-year warranty, so she contacted the company. “Surprisingly, it didn’t take much to convince them I needed two new sensors. They shipped them and did not require the old ones back.”

And now? “The new sensors work perfectly as intended, and we love the product! So much so that I asked if they would send us a couple to raffle off at the West Texas Chapter Rally. The company is based in TX, and the owner was happy to oblige!” Erika reported.

(source: Mopeka)

Buyers Beware

Here’s hoping that maybe — just maybe — these stories will help you keep some money in your wallet, or at least put it toward a product that adds value to your RV lifestyle.

Feel free to tell your own “True Tale of Fail” in the comments below, but do avoid manufacturer vendettas, please. Let’s keep things light, yet informative, as a way to save other RV owners a little money, time and frustration.

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and other contributors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Heartland RVs.)

What Rhymes with “Recreational Vehicle”?

 A dubiously poetic tribute to the RV, in honor of National Poetry Month, and with sincere apologies to the late Joyce Kilmer, author of the oft quoted poem, “Trees”

I think that I shall never see

A travel companion lovely as an RV.

An RV whose propane tanks run out

Between midnight and four, without a doubt;

An RV that serves as our home all day,

Yet rolls where needed for work or play;

An RV that may, after a driving goof,

Require new tires, or worse, a new roof;

Under whose awning guests have gathered,

Eating, laughing, all that mattered.

RVs are owned by fools like us,

But in the balance of life, they earn a plus.

Our RV, under a tree, in California
(summer 2016)

 

(Author’s note:  A version of this post was approved to appear — for reasons I cannot fathom — at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

9 Things We Learned When We Painted Our RV Interior

Wait. You did what? Why?

Well… we were tired of the gold wallpaper in our 2008 5th wheel, and we were stuck in a small Texas town waiting for a major repair to be completed on our truck, so we had plenty of time on our hands.

Also, we’d recently admired the interior paint job completed by new friends and fellow Heartland owners David & Cheryl of Landmark Adventures, so we knew it could be done by regular ol’ people like us.

Yes, yes, I remember that I once wrote this, all but swearing we’d never become those RV people. But then we decided we’d keep The Toad rather than upgrading to a newer model, and well, things started looking dated in here. Fast.

Dated, dated, dated.
Gold-tone wallpaper, decorative border halfway between floor and ceiling, and upholstered cornice boxes around the windows

So, like our two favorite major DIY projects of all time, this one also began in the bedroom. (Ahem. Sorry, sons!) But hey, we figured it was the best place to use our early painting mistakes as learning experiences, because not so many people see that part of the RV. By the time we worked our way out to the main living/visiting area, we’d be pros.

Or so we thought.

Here’s what we learned:

Lesson 1: Spending money on samples was worth it

We ended up buying eight color sample cups at about $4 each, which seems costly, but by the time we were ready to spend money on our full gallons of high end paint/primer combo at $44 each, we knew which colors and finishes looked best.

For that comparatively small investment, we were able to rule out three shades of green we thought we’d love, and we could also see that a satin finish looked rather flat in here, so we bumped up to a semi-gloss.

These two samples were no-go’s.
We ended up trying half a dozen more before getting things right.

Lesson 2: Prep time is, like, forever

We washed all the walls with a 50/50 vinegar-water mix, removed every fixture we possibly could, and rearranged items multiple times as we shifted operations from one area to another.

We pulled off the wallpaper border and unscrewed the window cornice boxes and said buh-bye to them for good.

We taped, and taped, and taped, using 3 full 60-yard rolls of 1” blue tape and several yards of a fourth.

Buh-bye border.
Peeled that shit right off!

#chaos #letspaintthervshesaid #ownlessdomore

A post shared by OwnLessDoMore (@ownlessdomore.us) on

Lesson 3: We should have checked the color of that first gallon against our sample

It would have saved us a full day’s work.

We put the entire gallon on our walls, then went back to the store for more to finish up the second coat (the label boasts one-coat coverage — don’t fall for it). We painted two walls before noticing the difference: they’d given us the wrong color in the first gallon. Argh!

It was Parchment Paper, not Parchment, and the difference in tone and warmth was important enough to us that we spent a full day repainting all the walls with our preferred color.

We feel like British royalty, as we are now riding around in Parchment and Royal Orchard Green

Lesson 4: It didn’t cost a lot of money

We made 6 20-mile round trips to Home Depot for a total of about $220 in paint and supplies, after deducting our 10% military discount.

Specific items we purchased:

  • 3 gallons of Behr Marquee Paint/Primer — 2 in our main wall color, 1 in our accent color
  • 1.5” and 2” high quality cutting brushes
  • 6-pack of 6” rough surface rollers
  • Roller handle
  • 4 rolls painter’s tape
  • 1 rolling pan
  • 2 paint cups with handles
  • Spackling compound
  • Plastic sheeting to protect furniture
  • 8 color samples as mentioned in Lesson 1

Other supplies we used included a drill, putty knife, sandpaper, utility blade, stepstool and ladder, all of which we already had on hand.

Lesson 5: It did cost a lot of time

Seven days scrolled by, from “let’s buy samples” to “let’s take the ‘after’ photos,” with four of them qualifying as intense, all-day efforts. Without the color mess-up, it would have been closer to three days.

Now 3-4 days doesn’t sound like a lot of time to spend on a complete interior paint job, but there were two of us working. And our total square footage is 355 feet, not much of which is actual wall. So yeah, it’s a complicated endeavor.

Lesson 6: Things were a hot mess until they weren’t

We chose to paint over our vinyl wallpaper rather than strip it, hence the high-end paint/primer combo. Vinyl wallpaper does not like being painted, so we needed a product that would grip, not drip.

We read a lot of tips, we consulted with others, and yet… it just didn’t go well in some spots, and we had to smooth out a lot of drippy-globby areas as we went along — with a brush or roller if we found them quickly enough, or by sanding and touching up later if we didn’t.

It was a lot like trying to become “experts” by reading about parenting before we had our own children: first thing we learned was that the babies don’t read the books! Well, the wallpaper didn’t read the tips, and it fought us at every turn.

In fact, when it came time to remove all the painter’s tape, we had to use a blade to help the process along, otherwise the paint pulled right off with it. Talk about time consuming!

Scoring with a blade helped the paint stick to the walls and ceilings, not the tape.
Damn vinyl wallpaper.

Lesson 7: It’s possible, and rewarding, to correct mistakes with kindness

After we’d finished painting, we decided to go back to Home Depot with our empty paint cans and our story of Parchment Paper vs. Parchment.

We were polite, we showed a before & after photo, and we asked for nothing in return but a listening ear. Yet to our surprise, the paint department manager made up for our troubles by giving us a $30 voucher toward that day’s purchases. Turns out we were the first folks (fools?) he’d met who’d tried to paint the inside of an RV!

This is the photo that helped win the day.

Lesson 8: It’s not for everyone

We were conscientious and careful, and we used high-end materials, but we can see flaws and oopsies everywhere — and some of them were caused by issues we couldn’t control, like buckled wallpaper in difficult-to-reach areas. If you can’t handle tons of work for results that might not leave you overjoyed, don’t do this yourself.

Overall, we’re happy with the transformation we’ve pulled off in here, but if a professional painter had left things like this? We would have withheld pay and filed a formal licensing complaint.

Here’s the deal: You think you know how many tight spaces your RV has, but you don’t — not until you try to paint them all. If you can’t handle spending hours in contorted positions, painting with your non-dominant hand around blind corners, and then living with the less-than-perfect results of that? Don’t do this yourself.

You have to hate the wall coverings you’ve got hard enough to commit fully to changing them. Otherwise? Don’t do this yourself.

Lesson 9: It will lead to more projects

Now that we’ve removed the window cornice boxes, we’ve got naked blinds, so we need curtains.

And our walls look really bare without the textured wallpaper and decorative border to break up the space, so we need artwork. (Good news: we know where to find tips for hanging it!)

And our furniture, in addition to already looking shabby, also no longer coordinates with our wall colors, so we need a new sofa, recliner, and set of dining chairs.

Carpet’s pretty worn out too…

Project creep: the struggle is as real in an RV as it is in a house!

For now, enjoy our befores & afters. I know we are.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 1st quarter(-ish) 2017

Here’s a summary of our first quarter travels for 2017, mapped with a little help from Google. RV miles traveled: about 3200.

Pahrump, NV, Jan. 1-19: We welcomed the new year with our friends, Dan & Lisa of Always On Liberty, met up for some hiking with a pal I hadn’t seen since high school, and then I joined my FriendFest girls in Vegas for our 22nd (almost) annual gathering. No boys allowed, unless they are bringing us drinks with umbrellas in them.

Quartzsite, AZ, Jan. 19-30: More fun with Always On Liberty at the Xscapers convergence, where we successfully and happily survived 12 days of RV living without benefit of hookups, and made our first YouTube appearances in videos produced by Spot the Scotts and RV Love.

Yuma, AZ, Jan. 30 – Feb. 1: A two-night rest on the border, in a casino parking lot. Lots of RV’ers love Yuma. To us? Meh.

Fort Huachuca, AZ, Feb. 1-4: Checked out the wide open spaces of this Army base for a few days en route to San Antonio. Nice little fam camp, great area and cooperative weather for my fitness walks.

Kerrville, TX, Feb. 6-9: We love the peace and quiet of Kerrville-Schreiner Park, and the fact that close friends live there in their RV. They are also handy and helpful: Jay spent many hours working with Tim to install disc brakes on The Toad.

San Antonio, TX, Feb. 9 – March 10: Back to our home base for biannual family visits and medical appointments, plus rodeo and National Margarita Day fun with Always On Liberty (again!). And from there we flew to Mexico for a most relaxing 10-day visit with Tim’s folks in Los Cabos.

Grandview, TX, March 10-25: Not a planned stop, but we were there for two weeks after the BFT’s fuel pump shit the bed on I-35. One entirely new fuel system and a freshly painted RV interior later (because we had that kind of time), we got back on the road to…

Elkhart, IN, March 26 – April 1: Because we were in fact on the way there to have the RV repaired, when the truck died. Irony for the win! Got some welding reinforced on both The Toad and on Mary Jo, our mascot metal chicken. Those guys at Heartland RVs really went the extra mile for us!

Photo credit: Hearland RVs service department

Fort Knox, KY, April 1-2: We needed a place to sit between IN and a scheduled visit in VA, and KY looked good. But there was no cell service and barely useable wifi at the fam camp, so we rolled away after only one night. With both a new truck purchase and our income taxes in the works, we really couldn’t go without connectivity.

You know you’re washing your vehicle on an Army base when…

Shelbyville, KY, April 2-10: Here we sit for a few more days at a humble little municipal park, enjoying the beauty of springtime in the south. Well, except for that day there were hail storms and tornadoes. And except for the past two mornings when we’ve awakened to temps in the 30’s. But hey, the grass is really green!

Coming up next: a week or so in WV before meeting our older son and his girlfriend for a few days of reminiscing in Norfolk, VA, one of our old hometowns. Can’t wait to get my arms around those kids!


Ready to continue to our 2nd quarter adventures? Click.

More Power! Tim’s bonus battery bonanza, Part III

~ A special, highly technical, data-driven guest series written by Tim ~

Tim the Tool Man’s “More power” grunt is repeated often around here.
(source: Giphy)

Readers of my electrical system articles likely fall into two groups: those in suspense since February, and those scratching their heads trying to remember what the previous two installments were about.

If you’re in the latter group, Part I of the series covered the planning and design, while Part II discussed research, costs and equipment selections. For Part III, roll up your sleeves!

“I hit my head. It is what I do.”

Installation took longer than expected. No surprise. It also caused me to grimace and repeatedly mutter the above statement. Working extended periods in the belly of The Toad involved contortionism and a couple of bandaids, but the results have been worth it.

The oriented strand board (OSB) used in the RV’s front compartment wall complicated installation of the inverter, as the material does not hold screws well compared to plywood. To address this, I built a back panel from plywood covered by thin metal plates to deflect heat generated by the inverter.

Four t-bolts were used to hang the 40 pound inverter (see Figure 1), while screws were driven in from the basement side (thus gripping into the plywood) to hold the combined weight.

Figure 1

Rough Wiring the Service Feed

Two 240V/50A lines were run from near the circuit panel to the front compartment to complete the new service feed. The Electrical Management System (EMS) (Figure 2) was attached to the floor behind the basement wall after connecting the output side to one of the feed lines. Both cable runs were attached to the basement ceiling using strap hangers.

Lesson learned: pick screws just large enough to hold the cables while still short enough to not poke through the floor. Ouch!

Figure 2

Other Puzzle Pieces

Heavy duty (4/0, “four aught”) cabling connects the batteries and smaller components with the inverter. I made custom-length cables, saving money and weight. To determine the correct lengths, I placed the battery cutout switch, the shunt, and the battery fuse where I wanted them on the RV’s front compartment wall, and then built each cable to fit between them.

Newer Heartland RVs have battery cut-out switches to isolate the batteries from the RV’s electrical system for safety and maintenance. Our 2008 Bighorn lacked this feature, so I added a Blue Sea Systems m-Series switch.

Lesson learned: The m-Series is rated for high-amp circuits, but required modification to fit the large cable; the e-Series switch would have been a better choice.

The fuse block (lower left corner of Figure 3’s right panel) is used to protect the system, while the shunt provides the means to measure performance using the Pentametric monitoring system. One wire from each side of the shunt is connected to the input unit. Additional small gauge wires provide power and temperature readings. The battery interconnects provide a series-parallel configuration. I found Spax screws provide better holding power for components mounted on the OSB.

Figure 3

Custom Cables

Making custom-length cables is as easy as measuring, cutting, stripping and crimping, right? Close. The process is simple, although three special tools and a couple of tricks are helpful.

Because of the 4/0s thickness, bends take extra room and cables should be laid out before cutting; high quality welding cable is a better choice than battery-grade cable because it uses numerous flexible small strands instead of fewer larger conduits.

Before cutting (measure twice!) consider how much cable will go into the end of the lug or other terminals being used (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Lesson learned: I used the saw method of cutting the cable, but then had to use scissors to taper the cable ends to fit into the lugs. Buy cutters suitable for 4/0 cable; they will make the work easier, and keep you from being asked, “What the heck happened to my scissors?”

After cutting,  I used a simple utility knife to strip back the rubber sheath (and then scissored the strands to death). Apply antioxidant to the exposed strands and inside the lug before crimping. I used a regular hammer to strike the crimper (see Figure 5), but a 2 lb mallet makes for easier work.

Figure 5
(source: eBay)

Some Assembly Required

Once the 12V cable runs were completed between the inverter and through the fuse block, shunt, and switch, I connected the two pairs of 240V/50A legs (not live yet) to the inverter. Completing this before installing the battery box gave me more room to work in the front compartment as I worked on my back looking up.

Yes, I hit my head. It is what I do.

The battery box I wanted, which was the one recommended specifically for the quantity and size of batteries I have, would have taken a few days to ship. My goal was to complete the project before we headed to Quartzsite, AZ, for boondocking, so I fashioned one from locally-available options (Full disclosure: I actually fashioned two, the first prototype being an epic failure).

A Durabilt Storage Tote (Figure 6) is large enough to fit the four 6V deep cycle batteries, and has the added benefit of being considerably cheaper than the aforementioned special-purpose box. To keep it sealed and safe (charging flooded batteries releases gasses that must be vented to the outside), I added weather stripping to the top edge of the box, and a vent line to the outside.

Figure 6

Inexpensive straps were fastened to the RV’s steel compartment floor to hold the box firmly in place. Look closely at the picture of the box and you’ll also see a hole, near the bottom, that allows fresh air to be drawn into the box, ensuring proper venting.

Installing the battery box and finalizing the cables up to the inverter was pretty straightforward. Don’t forget to run properly gauged wires from new battery bank to the existing bussbar providing 12V to the RV’s fuse panel.

Lesson learned: Connect these to the output sides of the switch and shunt vice the battery bank terminals to include the draw in system monitoring and safety cut-outs.

Instrumentation lines were run, based on the component instructions, back to the cabinet inside the coach near the existing instrument panel. The cabinet contains all of the monitoring boxes with incorporated displays (Figure 7). Later, I added the Pentametric computer interface module by my desk, using a separate instrumentation line tapped off behind the basement wall.

Figure 7

At this stage it was time to pause and double check all the wiring and installations because the next step involves removing the RV from all shore and 12V power sources, and rewiring the circuit panel (Figure 8) and EMS. ***MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NO ELECTRICAL POWER IN THE RV.***

Figure 8

My wiring from the shore power connection was long enough that I could run it to the EMS after disconnecting from the circuit panel. The wiring I ran from the inverter’s output was then connected to the circuit panel.

Testing

Without any fanfare, after days of work, I reconnected shore power and flipped the switch.

The 120V light in the RV was dimmer than a sleazy bar. I was crushed, and I had no idea what was wrong, but I clearly wasn’t getting adequate voltage. I quickly realized the problem could be with the inverter or the EMS, but I didn’t know how to test either one.

In desperation, I killed shore power, followed the reset procedures for the inverter, and tried again. Presto! To this day, I don’t know why the first test failed, and I have only had one incident requiring an inverter reset since then.

The next day we got underway for Quartzsite, AZ, where we parked alongside friends and fellow RVers for 12 days of boondocking. The system worked great as I continued to make tweaks and learn the intricacies of using an inverter to provide 120V power from batteries.

One lesson involved just how many amps were used in charging the battery bank; I am not able to run the generator in econo-mode until the bulk charging stage is complete.

There were other lessons too, but I’ve maxed my word count, and probably your attention span too. Feel free to comment below or contact us via our Facebook Page if you have any specific questions.

Disclaimer: Electricity and electrical systems can be dangerous to living things and electrical equipment if not handled properly. What I write will convey my own experiences. If you or anyone else should choose to use any of the information in this post, you do so at your own risk. If you’re not comfortable handling electrical circuits or equipment, find someone who is knowledgeable about such things to help you.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)