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RV Clinic September 2015

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Oil Change Intervals

Q: I own a 2003 Ford F-350 with a 6.0-liter diesel. I live in Southern California, and my truck is garaged. Normally, very few miles are driven per year. The manual says to change the oil every six months or 7,500 miles. How important is it to change the oil every six months if the truck has been driven only 2,000 to 3,000 miles?

Robert Wilson, San Diego, California

RV-Clinic_InfoA: Oil does deteriorate over time, but another consideration is that short trips build up sludge and acids in the engine more than extended highway driving. Allowing that contaminated oil to sit in the engine can do damage. That is why the factory recommends changing the oil every six months or 7,500 miles, whichever comes first. If you can change the oil just before letting it sit, that’s best. You could also have the oil analyzed and use the results to decide when to change oil. Truck stops often have collection kits, or you can find labs that do this by doing a Google search. — Ken Freund


More Power

Q: Do you know how to improve the pulling strength of a 1995 Ford F-350 with a 7.3-liter diesel engine? I tow a 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer. Can you suggest something to better the “pull” of the truck?

Tom Telles, Las Cruces, New Mexico

A: Better-flowing intakes, exhausts and turbos, along with the right gearing and transmission modifications, can work wonders. A number of aftermarket companies offer products that help improve performance on this early turbodiesel. Gale Banks Engineering (800-601-8072, www.bankspower.com) has a comprehensive lineup of kits, which not only boost power with the Big Hoss module and Quick Turbo, but also increase reliability with an intercooler, TransCommand, billet torque converter and several exhaust choices.

However, it is very likely that your 40-foot trailer exceeds the maximum tow rating of the truck, and perform-ance upgrades won’t increase its towing capacity. — K.F.


Going Full-Time

Q: We are going full-time RVing shortly and buying a fifth-wheel trailer weighing about 16,000 to 18,000 pounds. We need your help in choosing a tow vehicle and deciding on gas or diesel. We were looking at Ford 6.0-liter diesel pickups and were told that the 6.4-liter models had a lot of problems and to look at 2010 or newer-model Fords with a 6.7-liter diesel.

These are a little above our price point. Could you guide us on what you think would be best: gas models or Power Stroke, Cummins or Duramax diesels? Also, we are going with an automatic transmission. Any preference among the ones out there? We would appreciate any advice.

Donald Defehr, Citrus Heights, California

A: The way you are going about this is sort of like putting the cart before the horse. By insisting on a 16,000- to 18,000-pound trailer, you are limiting your choices to just a few of the most recent model years and heaviest-duty pickups with diesel engines. These, you say, are out of your price range. Trailer Life has towing guides on the website going back many years, so you can look up the ratings for each year.

If you really can’t afford a properly rated tow vehicle for your planned trailer, I suggest that you revise
your plans and downsize slightly. This will potentially save you money on the trailer and broaden your selection of appropriate tow vehicles. Even if you settle upon 14,000 pounds as a maximum loaded weight, you’ll find many more choices available.

I suggest that you look for the newest models of turbodiesels you can afford. The current crop of engines and transmissions are arguably the best ever from capacity and durability standpoints.

Some RVers like to repurpose medium-duty trucks to tow heavy trailers, and these can tow an incredible amount of weight and can often be found used for less than a heavy-duty pickup. — K.F.


Refrigerator Swap

Q: I am looking at replacing my old RV, and my concern with a newer one we’re looking at is that the refrigerator is strictly 120 volts AC. My old one is 120 volts AC, 12 volts DC and propane. They tell me the inverter will run the refrigerator for two days, and I should start the generator and recharge the batteries. Is this a good system?

I talked to an RV maintenance guy, and he said it would be a big job to replace the unit with one that can run on propane, run lines and cut vents. I would like to know more before I buy.

Guy Henderson, Reno, Nevada

A: Trying to run a 120-volt AC refrigerator for two days from an inverter connected to a typical pair of batteries would kill them well before that time. Such a setup for operating a residential-style refrigerator for long periods while dry-camped usually requires a large bank of batteries, typically four to six 12-volt deep-cycle batteries in parallel or a similar number of 6-volt batteries appropriately wired for 12 volts. Many users of such setups also install a healthy array of solar panels to help charge the batteries during the day, which further extends practical refrigerator operation.

A 120-volt AC refrigerator is fine if you travel short distances and then always have shorepower. Otherwise, plan on getting another refrigerator
or RV.
— K.F.


Cracked Black-Water Tank

Q: There is a crack in the neck of the black-water tank. I was wondering if there is a product that will seal this. Also, could it possibly be fused together with heat? The camper is old, and I would rather not replace the tank.

Tony Rentz, via email

A: It is a dirty, nasty job, but it can be done. Rubber gloves must be worn, and everything should be sanitized carefully. Sometimes the repairs hold up for a long time, sometimes they don’t. It depends on how well you do the repair and how much flexing stress is on the area. There are shops that do plastic thermal welding, and you could ask around at nearby RV centers.

You can do it yourself with chemical products that are readily available. One of these is Plasti-Mend (800-821-1835, www.plasti-mend.com). The website has information on verifying what type of plastic you have (it’s likely to be ABS), and you can order the product as well. — K.F.


Decimated Decals

Q: We are having issues with our Jayco fifth-wheel trailer. The decals on the door side of the unit look as if they have chicken pox (35 bubbles). We are the second owners of this unit. We contacted the dealer, and they said we would have to get the manufacturer to give them permission to repair the trailer. We contacted Jayco and were told that the warranty has expired and was not transferable to the second owner by their records. The trailer is a 2011 and is well maintained. How should we fix the decals?

Woody and Jan White, Salem, Oregon

A: Unfortunately, decals deteriorate when exposed to the elements, so you’re probably on your own when it comes to getting them repaired, because manufacturers don’t consider this a major malfunction or defect. Therefore, it is very unlikely that you can get any warranty extension, free repair or reimbursement.

Original decals usually can be ordered from the RV manufacturer, but they are expensive and frequently become discontinued. Sign shops can either make custom decals, or airbrush graphics onto the RV. In some cases the old decals can be saved, if they are not too deformed or damaged. A heat gun or hair dryer can soften them and a plastic squeegee may be used to press them out. Glue can be used to reattach them.

As a general rule, any traditional car wax can be used on RV decals and graphics to protect them. For durability, I recommend a good quality liquid polymer sealant such as Meguiar’s M2 Mirror Glaze, which will outlast traditional carnauba paste wax. If you have any form of textured RV decal, use any of the new non-staining spray waxes such as Meguiar’s Ultimate Quik Wax spray, not traditional waxes. — K.F.


Power-Jack Clearance

Q: We bought a 2015 Forest River Salem 272QBXL trailer and are towing it with a 2013 Ford Expedition. We immediately encountered a problem with the trailer’s electric A-frame jack. We cannot open the Expedition’s rear cargo door while the trailer is hitched up, as the jack motor is in the way. This is a big problem, since our dogs ride in crates in the back, and we need immediate access to them in case of an accident. And we are both too old to be crawling through the car from the passenger doors to reach cargo in the back. Has anyone else encountered this problem, and if so, what has been the solution?

Lesley Brabyn, Bodega, California

A: Modifying the jack motor seems out of the question, Lesley, and so does cutting a notch in the tailgate. The easiest solution to the problem is offered by a company called Jack-E-Up (541-376-8107, www.jack-e-up.com), with a product of the same name, which allows you to completely remove the A-frame jack with a simple twist. The company offers the product for manual or electric jacks. Visit the website for more information, applications and videos.

Another option is to move the trailer back away from the Expedition enough to clear the tailgate, so a ball mount with a shank that’s a bit longer will do the trick. Since the tailgate contacts the jack motor, that means the trailer doesn’t have far to go to provide clearance, perhaps as little as a couple of inches. Some hitch manufacturers sell ball mounts with shanks that are a bit longer for this reason, and an Internet search may turn up what you need. — Jeff Johnston


Solar Install and Warranty

Q: Like many other RVers, we are thinking about adding a couple of solar panels to our 32-foot Wildwood trailer. When we purchased the trailer new at Camping World in Valencia, California, 18 months ago, we bought the 72-month extended warranty. My question is, will adding solar panels, a charge controller and an inverter to the system void the extended warranty?

Jim McMullen, Camarillo, California

A: Warranty matters are generally considered on a cause-and-effect basis, Jim. Installing a solar panel charging system won’t void any warranty unless something goes wrong elsewhere in the system and that problem can be directly traced to the solar install. If there’s a roof leak where the installer ran the wire into the trailer and that leak caused damage inside, for example, that repair would not be covered because it was the result of an aftermarket product installation that was not part of the original warranty agreement. Likewise, if the warranty covers the battery, and the solar charge controller was defective and overcharged the battery and damaged it, that would void the battery warranty.

As long as everything solar-related keeps working, you’re good to go. Solar charger systems are very reliable and trouble-free, so the install, by a qualified service center, is a safe bet. — J.J.


Greasable Hubs

Q: My last two fifth-wheels have had external axle grease fittings, but no one can tell me how many miles before the bearings need greasing or how many pumps from a hand-held grease gun should be applied. I drove to Alaska in 2013 and received advice from shop mechanics ranging from every 1,000 to 6,000 miles of travel. Again, no one could say how many pumps.

I applied grease every 1,000 miles with about three pumps. On the way home, I had no trailer brakes. Once home, I took the trailer to my RV shop and had to have the magnets and brake shoes replaced, as the entire inside of the drum was coated with grease to the tune of $884. So now, before my next trip, I am having the bearings packed for $200.

It seems to me that with external grease fittings, I could avoid both of these expenses if someone would tell me how to grease the bearings.

Gerald Everts, Lincoln, California

A: Whoa, there, Gerald. Adding grease every 1,000 miles, and three pumps, is way, way over-greasing the hubs. It’s no wonder your trailer brakes were lost due to the grease intrusion inside the drum. In fact, there is no manufacturer recommendation for adding grease to those hubs between regular maintenance intervals. As long as you follow the standard 12-month or 12,000-mile recommended bearing inspection and repacking schedule, you do not need to add grease to those hubs.

This question comes up a lot concerning RV trailer hubs with built-in grease fittings, such as Dexter E-Z Lube hubs. According to a Dexter spokesman, those hubs were designed for the marine industry for use on boat trailers that are regularly immersed in water. The Zerk fitting allows the bearing maintenance technician, following the regular 12-month or 12,000-mile bearing inspection and repack, to pump in enough grease to fill the entire void inside the hub with grease. That helps keep water out during immersion. This feature is, of course, not needed for RV trailers, unless you frequently drive through deep water. — J.J.


Fifth-Wheel Hitch Selection

Q: Perhaps you’ve covered this question already, but being a new subscriber, I haven’t seen it yet. We’ve been campground hosts for several years, currently with a 27-foot SunnyBrook Remington travel trailer. We would like to move to a midsize fifth-wheel and are looking at a unit that has a gross weight of 10,500 pounds. We have recently upgraded our tow vehicle to a 2015 GMC Sierra 2500 with a 6½-foot bed and 6.0-liter gas engine. However, the abundance and variety of fifth-wheel hitch configurations in the 16k arena is a bit unsettling.

Would you care to comment regarding the relative reliability, effectiveness, foolproof design, weight and cost of the following: conventional slider, Reese Sidewinder and PullRite SuperGlide? I’m sure there are other unique designs that could be mentioned. Please know any information or a sense of direction would be greatly appreciated.

Monroe Roberts, New Holland, Pennsylvania

A: Giving you a complete detailed rundown on all those hitches, covering all the details you asked for, is more information that we have space for in the RV Clinic column. In general, as long as you stick with a well-known name brand, there’s no need to worry.

The Sidewinder, by the way, is a kingpin device that changes the pivot point, not a fifth-wheel hitch.

As for specifications like weight, pricing and so on, all of those companies have websites that spell out the details about their products. Your local dealers can fill you in on retail pricing that’s going to vary depending on your location, the type of RV accessory dealer, etc. Keep the hitch lubricated as per the manufacturer’s recommendation and follow any other suggested maintenance procedures, and the hitch will likely outlast your truck. — J.J.


Spongy Floor

Q: The floor on our 2002 Terry Dakota trailer is getting spongy. It started about five years ago in the kitchen area. At that time, I peeled back the linoleum to see if there was moisture evident; there was none. Since then, this floor’s deterioration is progressing a little every season. Inquiries on the Internet and at dealers have not resulted in answers. What can be done to fix this, short of laying another floor over the top?

Ron Jansen, Prince George, British Columbia

A: Adding a new layer to the top of the floor would make things a bit more solid, but it wouldn’t solve the problem. A floorboard typically gets spongy because it gets wet, which can break down the adhesives in the plywood, OSB or particle board, and that deterioration doesn’t go away when the floor dries out. It could be from water splashed up when driving, if there’s inadequate underside waterproofing.

You need to find the source of possible water intrusion and solve that first. It could also be that some wooden frame cross members have gone bad, which would cause the floor to feel spongy due to the reduced support.

Repairing a rotting floor is a major job that’s best left to a professional shop, unless you’re really good with tools and have a lot of time. Much interior disassembly is required, and that’s complicated at best. — J.J.


Grade Overheating

Q: This is in regard to the letter “Truck Heats Up on Grades” in the March 2015 RV Clinic, and “Truck Heats Up II” in the June 2015 column. As for “prevention” or keeping bugs from clogging the radiator, I have tied a piece of metal, not fabric, window screen in front of the radiator on the air-conditioner condenser for more than 40 years. It hoses off very easily, and if worst comes to worst, I just replace it.

L.C. Kirkley, Temple, Texas

A: Thank you, L.C., for reminding us about this age-old solution. — J.J.


The Tech Team

KEN FREUND: Ken is a former ASE Certified Master Technician, service manager and shop owner who has authored numerous books on automotive repair.

JEFF JOHNSTON: Jeff served as technical director of Trailer Life for 20 years and has been an RV enthusiast, mechanic and writer since he could hold a wrench.


RV Clinic from September 2015 Trailer Life

Jeff JohnstonKen FreundRV ClinicRV Q&ARV Questions and AnswersTrailer Life RV Clinic

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