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RV Tech Q&A: June 2020

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

New Trailer Battery

Our 2016 CrossRoads Sunset Trail 290QB trailer needs a new battery, but we are not sure what type to get. We do not dry camp. The battery’s primary function is to open and close the slide and operate the electric jack when not plugged into shorepower. When not in use, the trailer is parked outside our garage with shorepower connected. We are also thinking about adding a disconnect switch between the battery and converter, hoping to protect the battery from overcharging.
David and Teresa Brown | Rome, Georgia

Since you don’t put a lot of strain on your Sunset Trail’s 12-volt battery, you can get by with one Group 24 deep-cycle battery. You still need the amperage to perform the slideout and A-frame jack duties, and a fully charged Group 24 will do the job. Just be sure you stick with a trusted name-brand battery and don’t go cheap with a discount-store alternative.

Unless you have a converter with a multistage charging circuit, you would be better off unplugging the trailer from shorepower and using a small battery maintainer/trickle-charger like the Battery Buddy. These little guys are inexpensive, $50 or so, and they trickle-charge the battery, then level off at a modest maintenance-charge rate that keeps the battery fully charged without overcharging. Plug the battery maintainer into your shorepower, hook it to the battery, and you’re good. It will also draw less current than the converter, which may save you a few dollars on your electric bill.

Decal Aging

I have a 2009 Keystone Laredo fifth-wheel that has been our pride and joy here in Colorado. Unfortunately, 10 years of high altitude and 1-inch hailstones from a storm last summer have done a number on the decals, especially on the side that caught the hail’s wrath. I would like to replace the damaged decals but have had no luck finding replacements. Since the outlines of the decals are still there, I have even thought of matching the existing color with an automotive- type lacquer and painting them on. What are your thoughts or suggestions for replacement?
Dave Bassett | Arvada, Colorado

It’s a pretty rare chance that Keystone will have any kind of in-stock decals remaining for an RV that old, Dave. Most manufacturers don’t stock replacement vinyl beyond a couple of model years. To replace the decals outright, you’d need to visit a vinyl-graphics shop that can handle custom-cut orders and give it all the specs for the decals you need to replace. You could probably use the old decal outline as a pattern to make a paper template to give to the shop.

Another option would be to have a shop add a full-body-wrap type of covering used for vehicle signs and advertising. In the May 2020 RV Clinic, Randy Ryman reported great luck with one such shop that covered the end cap on his RV, and you could have them design the graphics as part of the covering package.

RV Stripes, Graphics and More by VIP Enterprises may be worth looking into. The process is on the pricey side, but the Southern California company specializes in RV-graphic replacement. See “Changing an RV’s Stripes” on Trailer Life’s website for an article on VIP decal replacement.

Replacing the decals with paint is a good option, but it’s likely to be more expensive, the tradeoff being that, with proper care, the paint may last longer than the decals. While you’re considering this option, take a close look at the finish on your Laredo’s end cap(s). We’ve had numerous reader complaints about premature fading and chalking of Keystone RV end caps, so if that’s the case, you may also want to consider repainting the entire end cap before replacing the graphics.

Covering Your RV

What are the pros and cons of covering your RV? I have heard it holds moisture and causes mold, and if the cover moves it can wear down the caulking on the roof.
Larry Brown | Temperance, Missouri

The shortcomings you mentioned are exactly why you should never buy a cheap blue plastic tarp from a home-improvement or hardware store and use it as a seasonal RV cover. They flap in the wind, shift around and damage the paint and sealants, and they aren’t permeable, so they trap moisture next to the RV. When you buy a good-quality RV cover designed for the task, the chances of experiencing these problems are significantly lessened.

See Related Story:
RV Clinic FAQ:
Top 20 Tech Questions

The better-quality covers are form-fitting and include a variety of straps and fasteners designed to cinch the cover down tight and avoid wind-related flapping damage. These covers are also made from fabric that’s padded or soft enough that they don’t abrade the paint, and they can provide some protection from moderate-size hail. The fabric is breathable, so it sheds rain on the outside while allowing moisture trapped inside to escape.

So, yes, by all means, cover your RV, but use the right product. Be sure to protect the cover from sharp edges. Ozite matting, foam-sheet packaging, pool noodles and even heavy-duty cardboard work well for this purpose.

Low Campground Voltage

I am wondering what the problem is regarding voltage boosters that you referred to in “Low Campground Voltage and CPAP Use” in the February 2020 RV Clinic. I currently have a Hughes Autoformers voltage booster that I use as needed and have never been questioned about its use.
Don Schoof | via email

I have a voltage meter inside my rig that tells me what the voltage is at all times. We have been in many campgrounds where the voltage starts out at 120 or slightly above, but as more units show up and turn on their A/C, the voltage starts dropping.

I have always been told, “When the voltage drops to 108 volts, you better start turning things off before it burns something up.” I follow that rule religiously but find I have to shut things down in more campgrounds than I think I should. One hot summer morning in Wyoming, I asked the fellow in the nice fifth-wheel next to me if he had a problem running his A/C the night before. He told me he had to turn on his generator to run the A/C.

Am I the only one who worries about this problem with low voltage? In one campground in South Dakota, the motorhome owner next to us was complaining that his A/C was running slow or dragging. I checked the electrical box that he was plugged into with my voltmeter, and it was getting only 105 volts. (I had already turned my A/C off for that reason.) We both complained to the owner, but his answer was, “No one else seems to have a problem.”
Roy Diers | Hastings, Nebraska

You are absolutely right, Roy. Low 120-volt AC voltage can damage equipment not protected from low voltage reaching a certain level. There’s not much you can do about it, other than choosing a different campground, except monitor the situation and act accordingly, as you explained. There’s also a piece of equipment, the Hughes Autoformers voltage booster, that does a good job of boosting the voltage when it drops to an unsafe level, but there’s one caveat to using it.

Don, the Hughes Autoformers product has been on the market a long time and works as advertised. If there’s any cautionary note about its use, it relates to a rare situation, which, to this point, is in theory only, as we haven’t heard any end-user reports from the field on this. Extra voltage isn’t free. The Autoformers is a step-up transformer that boosts the campground power to a safe level for your equipment.

That voltage boost comes at the cost of extra amperage draw at the shorepower connection. In theory, if several RVers had the Autoformers in use at the same time, the extra power drain could suck power away from other campground occupants and overload the campground power supply and wiring. As we said, we have not heard from anyone experiencing this theoretical too-many-users situation, so, Don, use your Autoformers in good health and, Roy, it’s something you might consider, as well.

Note from Technical Editor Chris Dougherty: The 2020 National Electrical Code (NEC) NFPA 70, Code 551 Part II, section 551.20(E), states that “auto-transformers shall not be used.” Hughes Autoformers disputes the NFPA 70 rule (www.hughesautoformers.com/run-your-autoformer-with-confidence-a-note-regarding-nfpa70), claiming its technology differs from the “autotransformers” mentioned in the NEC, and that NFPA 70 “is not law, it is not a regulation, it has no legal authority.” However, most municipalities adopt the NEC code as a minimum standard, making it law, thus the user and park owner could be civilly and criminally liable for damages caused by the violation.

Have a Tech Question?

Email [email protected] and include your full name and hometown. Selected letters will be answered in the monthly RV Clinic column, but time does not permit individual replies.

Jeff Johnston 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. In his monthly RV Clinic column, Jeff replies to Trailer Life readers’ technical questions about RVs and tow vehicles. He also serves as associate producer of Rollin’ On TV, a nationally syndicated television program for RV enthusiasts.

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