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RV Tech Q&A: December 2015

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Fifth-Wheel Towing with Gas

Q: I have been towing my 2011 Pacific Coachworks Tango 256 RKS trailer with my 2003 Chevy 2500 HD with a 6-liter V-8 gas engine. I have had no problems pulling the trailer, which lists at 5,500 pounds dry weight and 7,400 pounds gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). I am looking at buying a fifth-wheel shorter than 30 feet. Friends tell me that you should not pull a fifth-wheel with anything less than a diesel truck. My Chevy is in good shape, is well maintained and has less than 100,000 miles on it. What is your opinion on this — gas or diesel?

John Giller, Quincy, California

A: According to the 2003 Trailer Life Guide to Towing, your truck, depending on its axle ratio, body style and so on (you didn’t supply these details, so we can’t pin this down any closer), can tow in the 10,300-pound neighborhood when fitted with a 4.10:1 axle. I’m not sure why your friends would suggest you need a diesel to tow a fifth-wheel (they may be talking about the extra-large and extra-heavy models), but for your needs, the 6-liter gas engine will do the job, as long as you don’t overload the truck.

When looking at your next trailer, don’t choose it based on its dry weight, because that number may not be accurate, depending on how the trailer is equipped, and you don’t tow the trailer dry and empty, except home from the dealer. A stop at a public scale, after loading for a typical trip, is the only way to know for sure what a trailer weighs. If this isn’t an option, make sure the truck is rated to tow the trailer’s GVWR. — Jeff Johnston

Stabilizing Jack Leveling

Q: I was told by my dealer never to level the trailer with the scissor jacks but to use them only as stabilizers, which is what I’ve done. While sitting at campgrounds and watching others level their trailers, a lot of them use the scissors to level and are actually pulling tires off the ground with the scissors. Would this be better to keep the trailer from having a slight floating feeling as someone walks across the floor? I use 4×4 boards to put under the scissors and just snug them up after I level with boards.

Carl Ingram, Minnesota City, Minnesota

A: Most trailer stabilizing jacks are not designed for leveling a trailer, and this warning is usually clearly stated in the owner’s manual or paperwork. You may see some RVers using them for leveling, but it’s not safe, and the jacks are not designed to support that kind of dead weight. Your procedure of snugging them up after leveling the trailer is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do. — J.J.

Refrigerator Efficiency

Q: In the October 2014 issue, Trailer Life ran a Hands On article, “Blue Light Special,” about using an internal fan from Smart RV Products to circulate air inside the refrigerator. I immediately bought one and installed it with good results. But there was still the problem of not being able to use the cupboards above and beside the refrigerator, due to excessive and unsafe heat. The internal temps were not where I needed them to be, even with the fan setting on its coldest point.

So I was highly interested in RV Clinic’s two July letters, “Refrigerator Fans Revisited,” regarding refrigerator efficiency and the attendant manufacturers’ screwups. Don Frank’s and Michael Gleason’s letters really got me motivated. I had the same issues and resolved them with great success.

I discovered the internal paneling blockage issue that Don Frank described on my 2012 Redwood 36R. It took me all of five minutes to put my stepladder in place and remove the paneling piece with a linoleum knife. I discovered two auxiliary fans beneath the paneling. I also installed the external shade that Michael Gleason asked about. It is now 102 degrees outside with the sun shining brightly on the wall behind my refrigerator. My ice cream is solid, the refrigerator is at 37 degrees, and the thermostat is no longer at the coldest setting. As a bonus, I now have two usable storage cupboards at the top and side of the refrigerator. We all win (except for the factories that keep chasing away buyers with poor workmanship and “don’t care” attitudes).

Jim Stoll, Searchlight, Nevada

A: We’re happy that you’ve been able to work out a series of upgrades for your trailer’s refrigerator, Jim, and that it’s working to your satisfaction. Congratulations on your success in that regard, and thank you for detailing the steps that other readers may find helpful. — J.J.

Gearbox Batteries Failing

Q: We have a 2006 Fleetwood Gearbox 385FS2G fifth-wheel. The issue I am having is with the 12-volt DC lights while dry camping. The four lights on the battery indicator will show full charge, but in a very short time — half an hour — will be down to the last light, and the interior lights are dim.

Thinking the batteries are just about drained, I start the generator, which turns over like the batteries are fully charged. Once the generator starts, the lights go bright. The cables for the generator are a straight shot from the batteries. Is there something, perhaps a regulator or distribution panel between the batteries and the interior lights, that would cause this?

Bob Schneider, Anderson, California

A: If the batteries are the same ones that came with the trailer, Bob, they’re nine years old, and that would indicate they’re about worn out. But the fact that the lights go dim and the generator still turns over and starts with enthusiasm is puzzling. You said “batteries,” so it seems there are two or more. If you bought one new battery and connected it to a much older one, the older one may not be holding a charge and will be a parasitic drain on the newer one. All connected battery sets should be replaced as a group.

Those four battery-level indicator lights are not accurate as indicators of battery condition, but in this case, they seem to agree with the evidence of the dimming lights in the trailer. Is it possible your trailer has a separate battery for the generator and one or more for the other accessories and appliances, similar to how some motorhomes are set up? That would help explain the seemingly dead house battery that still starts the generator.

To troubleshoot this, you can start by going over all the basics, meaning the batteries are topped up with water, the connections are clean and tight, and they’re fully charged via an auxiliary battery charger. Check the voltage in each battery, after disconnecting one of the connection lines as needed, so you can isolate the batteries. It should be 12.6 volts DC or more. Now reconnect the batteries and check the voltage at one of the lights. It should be very close to that 12.6 volts DC you read at the battery.

If not, it’s time to start some circuit tracing to look for a corroded or damaged wiring connection or two. If all the lights go equally dim, check the light power connection at the fuse box, as well as the incoming 12-volt DC supply from the batteries and the ground connections. Given your rig’s age, corrosion could easily be a factor.

Your trailer has some circuit breakers in the battery lines. Be sure to check these, making sure one isn’t tripped, and verify that they provide a solid connection. Some of these can go bad with time, and it’s worth taking a close look.

The lights turn bright when the generator starts because it’s powering the converter, which supplies 12 volts DC for the trailer accessories. That detail alone would point to bad batteries or poor connections.

Have your batteries tested for condition, in addition to going over the procedures mentioned above, and replace them as needed. — J.J.


Water-Flow Conundrum

Q: There are a couple of problems with my 2013 Flagstaff 29RKSS by Forest River. We never go dry camping and are always connected to shorepower and city water. I always use an inline water-pressure regulator for protection. I do keep a few gallons of water in the fresh tank for use on the road. After about eight to 10 weekend trips, the fresh-water tank will fill to the point of running out the fill opening.

The other problem is low water pressure from the galley sink faucet for both cold and hot water, even both together. All the other faucets in the trailer have good pressure, including the shower, the bath sink, the outside sink and the outside shower.

Do you have any idea what could be causing these problems and could they be related?

Glenn E. Chance, Beaumont, Texas

A: Many RVs have some kind of selector valve to route the freshwater coming into the trailer. If there’s not a separate gravity fill for the fresh tank, you connect the city-water line and move the valve lever to Fresh Fill (or the equivalent) to fill the fresh tank or City Water to run the RV from the city-water connection. It’s possible the valve may be defective and is allowing some water to sneak into the fresh tank, or the valve may not be fully engaged in the City Water position. If you aren’t sure where this valve is, your dealer can help with it in no time at all.

Regarding the pressure loss, first check the filter screen in the faucet assembly. It’s really easy for a small quantity of debris to get in the lines during the manufacturing process —
or over time — and clog the screen. We’ve seen this happen more than once. This is an easy fix.

That rear kitchen in your trailer is a long way from the plumbing hardware near the bathroom at the forward part of the unit, so there are a lot of opportunities for the lines to become pinched, kinked or otherwise partially blocked. I’d inspect the lines from their source near the water pump and water heater all the way back to the kitchen to see if there’s some damage along the way. If the lines are OK, there may simply be too much flow restriction due to the length of the lines and all the corners and angles between the source and the faucets. There’s also a good chance that the pressure regulator is bad, which is what I would check first. — J.J.

Axle Flip

Q: I am thinking of flipping the axles on my 2002 Sunline Solaris for better ground clearance. Will this affect the way my trailer tows, and would you recommend any specific hardware?

Dani, Beach Lake, Pennsylvania

A: An axle “flip” or repositioning does not raise the trailer enough to have a significant effect on its handling. There are no kits to accomplish this job, although parts, such as new spring perches and new U-bolts, are available from aftermarket sources.

Unless you’re comfortable with chassis fabrication projects, you might want to leave this one to a qualified professional. Check with your local RV service center or a suspension/hitch shop to do this kind of work. — J.J.

Gooseneck-Hitch Conversion

Q: I have been towing a travel trailer for 15 years and am now thinking of getting a fifth-wheel. I bought a used 2013 Ford F-250 that has a B&W frame-mounted gooseneck hitch in the 8-foot bed. I would like to use it along with a fifth-wheel/gooseneck conversion kit but have heard conflicting stories regarding voiding the warranty, bent king pins, etc. My other thought is that this setup would be easier to install/remove than a standard fifth-wheel hitch.

Bill Wilson, Henderson, Nevada

A: Gooseneck hitch adapters are popular accessories for fifth-wheel owners with gooseneck-ball commercial or agricultural towing setups. There are a variety of these on the market, both permanently installed models that replace the hitch pin box and ones that clamp onto the existing fifth-wheel pin box.

As for warranty problems, any potential damage to a trailer would need to be traced directly to the gooseneck adapter in a cause-and-effect situation. It’s best to check with the manufacturer of the fifth-wheel to make sure the frame/structure is capable of handing the additional leverage presented by the gooseneck. — J.J.


Plug In or Not?

Q: We have a 2013 3260RS Heartland Bighorn fifth-wheel. When it is parked beside our house, should the power cord be plugged in? I was told that leaving it plugged in would ruin the converter. I check the battery fluid at the first of each month. I’m also wondering if I should disconnect the batteries? Our trailer sits beside the house for two or three months at a time.

Roy Johnson, via email

A: Some newer RVs have converters with smart chargers, which have multistage charging for storage. If yours has this, you can leave it connected. Of course, the longer you leave an appliance on, the greater the chance of it failing. If your RV does not have a smart-charging feature, unplug it and keep the batteries on a maintenance charger. — Ken Freund

Dodge Diesel Gear Hunting

Q: I have a 1993 Dodge D350 club cab pickup with a Cummins 5.9-liter diesel and A518 automatic four-speed transmission. It has 151,000 miles, half of which is highway mileage. It is in very good condition overall. I tow a 30-foot trailer and always lock out overdrive when towing.

When the truck is operating solo, it hunts between third and fourth gears between 40 and 50 mph. At least five or six throttle-position switches have been replaced. Recently the switches have been only a few months old when the problem starts again. The last shop, a diesel specialist, found that most of the settings on the linkages were not correctly done. A new factory TPS (throttle-position sensor) was installed, along with all the settings being redone, and the truck behaved perfectly for about 10 weeks. Now the problem is back again.

It tends to happen on any kind of road, some days more than others. Sometimes it’s almost continuous until I lock overdrive out to stop it. The truck had an aftermarket low-stall converter installed when it was a year old. It also has an oversize transmission pan with a temperature gauge and has had regular maintenance done on it.

Larry Coulter, Tucson, Arizona

A: Initially, I was thinking there may have been a bad batch of TPS units, but a call to my friends at Turbo Diesel Register (www.turbodieselregister.com) indicated that faulty new replacement switches were not a known problem, although there have been plenty of problems with old switches. Coulter and I wound up discussing the situation, and after more diagnosis and hair pulling, the problem was finally found. The plug that connects the TPS wires to the harness was loose in the sockets. There are three wires, and after these were fixed, the “hunting” problem went away. — K.F.


Adding a Window

Q: We have a 2006 Keystone Zeppelin Z191 travel trailer. This trailer has no front window. I’d like to buy a front window with a stone guard. The size is about 48×20 inches. I would like to install the window myself, but I can’t find a window with a guard on the Internet. I tried several dealers, but no luck. Can you help me find where I can buy one new or used?

Peter Kutschker, Escondido, California

A: The problem you are up against is that the front panel of your trailer is curved. If it were flat, it would be easy to adapt a window assembly from another trailer that has a flat front. If you really want one, you may be able to find a company that makes custom Plexiglas windows, as these can be curved quite easily. They may be able to fabricate a guard, but since the window won’t be glass, it won’t be as prone to breakage. An alternative would be to find another model trailer that has a similar curved front panel and order a replacement window for it.

Window installation is critical, especially on the front, since driving into rainsqualls can result in interior and wall damage, if the windows aren’t sealed properly. Check with Motion Windows (360-944-4446, www.rvwindows.com) for RV windows built to customer’s specs. — K.F.


Inverter Use

Q: We are new to RVing and have a question. Is it best to leave the inverter turned on constantly, or is it best to turn it on only when its use is needed?

Thad Thomas, Scranton, Pennsylvania

A: Inverters draw some current whenever they are on, and this draws down the batteries. Therefore, I suggest that you switch it off when not needed. — K.F.


Sanitizing the Water System

Q: I believe the water system on my travel trailer has become contaminated from using dirty hoses when filling the 50-gallon tank or from an RV-park hookup. It seems to me I have read that adding a gallon of chlorine bleach in the freshwater holding tank, pumping it through the water lines and leaving it to sit for 24 hours will do the trick.

Selma Roth, Houston, Texas

A: You have the right idea, but that amount of bleach is overkill. The general recommendation is ¼ cup per 15 gallons (based on tank size). However, if you want to “shock” the system, you might double up on that. Afterward, drain it and refill with fresh water. If it still smells strongly of chlorine, flush it again and add some baking soda to freshen it up, which is what RVers normally do after a bleach water-system treatment. — K.F.

Trailer Life 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 December 2015 Trailer Life



Jeff JohnstonKen FreundRV ClinicRV Questions and AnswersRV TechTrailer Life RV Clinic

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