Technical Tips from the RV Expert
Inconvenient Satellite TV
Q: We purchased a 34-foot Cougar fifth wheel and were told by the dealer that we couldn’t hook our satellite TV dish to the exterior hookup on the side of the trailer and have it work on the TV in the living area. It only works on the TV in the bedroom. If a person wanted it to work on the set in the living area, they’d have to run a cable down on the floor across the trailer. Then, anytime you wanted to change channels, you would have to go up to the bedroom to do it because that’s where your cable box had to be. That’s ridiculous!
Consequently, I’ve had to drill a hole through the floor of the trailer and run the cable directly to the TV set in the living area. Our trailer is made by Keystone, but lately I have heard that other trailer manufacturers construct their trailers in a similar manner. Why? I previously have owned four other fifth-wheel trailers and have had no trouble hooking up the satellite cable to watch programming on the TV in the living area.
A: Many RVs are wired for one satellite receiver with all the TVs routed through a distribution (switching) box. Rigs without the switching box usually have a single feed to the TV in the living area. Realistically, most owners don’t want to use two receivers in their rigs because of the additional cost for the service. While you can certainly rewire so that the receiver can be repositioned as needed, there are ways you can make one receiver work.
First of all, it’s more convenient if all the TVs are routed through a distribution box. That way, you can choose whether to watch in the living room or bedroom, both places or any other location, like an exterior entertainment center, without stretching cable inside your rig.
An easy way to set this up is to use an RF adapter, which allows you to use the remote control in any location, regardless of walls. This device is relatively inexpensive and fits most newer receivers, other than the very basic models. The antenna plugs into the back of the satellite receiver, and the signal is delivered via radio frequency, so the remote control no longer has to point directly at the receiver. That’s the system I use in my rig, and it works perfectly.
The other choice is to use an IF repeater. To make this work, a sending unit is placed in front of the IF eye in front of the satellite receiver, and it sends a signal to wireless remote stations placed strategically throughout the rig. To change channels, the remote is pointed at one of these stations, and it sends the signal to the base unit in front of the satellite receiver. I bought one of these units online for less than $40. The IF repeater requires 120-volt AC power.
I’m sure there are other creative ways to make this work. Let me know if any of you have one, and I’ll pass along the information.
Q: I own a 38-foot fifth wheel and do all the maintenance. I keep the trailer and tires covered (camping cover). Should the tires be changed out every four years, regardless of the condition? They are 10 ply and in good shape with no cracks and a lot of tread left. What’s the replacement cycle, if there is one?
Santa Maria, California
A: Unless the tread depth is below safe limits or the sidewalls are cracked seriously or damaged, it isn’t necessary to change tires at four years. The generally accepted rule is that trailer tires time out at seven years. If you keep your tires protected from the elements (with covers or a good petroleum-distillate-free chemical treatment, or both), they should be OK for the seven years.
Inspect the tires regularly for tread depth, adverse wear patterns and sidewall damage, including cracks. Of course, make sure the tires are always inflated properly.
Q: Upon retirement, my wife and I purchased a new 24-foot Weekend Warrior toy hauler. We’ve taken it cross-country and on a few shorter trips over the past eight years. In that time, we’ve gone through about eight sets of tires. Our Weekend Warrior is a super-light front sleeper, and it came equipped with dual axles with ST205/75R15 tires inflated to 55 psi. We change our tires every four years, regardless of mileage. When we travel, we bring along a larger motorcycle and a small boat and motor (placed as near center as possible to distribute the weight across all four wheels) and we figure we’re towing about 10,200 pounds loaded. We like our toys.
Nothing makes a trailer trip more memorable (in a bad way) than blowing tires and trying to change them by the side of the road with semi trucks and cars whizzing by at 80 mph only inches away.
Is there a better tire choice (size/make/bigger wheels and tires) for helping improve our ability to get down the road with fewer flats? In almost all cases, when a tire goes, it just explodes, shredding the tire and surrounding bodywork. These tire issues have taken a lot of the fun out of our trailer trips, and I’m willing to change tires and wheels if something can be done to help. All exploding tires appear to have lots of tread and are in such bad shape at post failure it’s hard to tell what caused the failure.
Home town to come – email@example.com
A: Steve, you’re not alone in the tire dilemma. Based on the numbers above, you might be overloading the tires. Not knowing the exact tires you’re running, I can speculate that they are load range C and capable of handling 1,820 pounds (at 50 psi). That being the case, combined, the tires on both axles can carry up to 7,280 pounds. Depending on loading, balance and the weight rating of your towing hardware, you may have between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds on the hitch. In this scenario, the tires are likely overloaded.
I suggest you load the trailer for a typical trip and weigh the axles individually. From here you can divide that number by two and get an estimate of how much each tire is carrying. It’s even better to get individual wheel weights.
It’s also important to check axle alignment and spindle integrity. Measure the distance from the center of the hub to the center of the A-frame coupler on each side of each axle to check for axle alignment. Make sure the spindle isn’t bent.
Collateral damage, as you figured out, is no fun and results in big expenditures to make the repairs. You should load within the axle/tire ratings of your trailer or change to ST225/75R15 LRC tires, if your wheels and axles are rated accordingly. The larger tires will give you an additional 1,320 pounds of load capacity, providing the chassis and axles are rated to handle the extra weight. This may help with your weight situation. If not, put your trailer on a diet.
Q: My wife, Renee, and I have a 2009 Fleetwood Expedition that is equipped with a dash-mounted Denso heating and air-conditioning system. When we engage the AC and the electric cooling fan kicks on, it makes a high-pitched noise. This radiator/cooling fan is located between the frame rails right below and slightly to the rear of the driver and passenger seats. The noise is so loud you can’t hear yourself talk. I think a bearing in the fan is going bad, but the dealer tells me it is normal. Please help!
A: It’s not normal for the fan to make that much noise. Your hunch is probably correct. The bearing in the condenser fan is likely history. The fix is to replace the motor for the air-conditioner condenser fan.
Hott Rod Sans Anode
Q: The Hott Rod water heater I used last summer worked beautifully. The heating element, however, replaces the anode rod in my Suburban water heater. Without the protection from the anode rod, is the integrity of my heater tank compromised?
A: The company provides a 3/4-inch anode reducer for the Suburban hot-water tank (part number SBA34) that accommodates the heating element rod that comes with the kit. Once the material is consumed, the reducer can be replaced, which is similar to the process for replacing a regular anode rod that is no longer usable. If you do not use an anode reducer with the Hott Rod conversion, your tank will certainly be compromised over time.
Q: I have been a member of Good Sam for more than 23 years, and this is the first time I’ve needed to ask for help. I’ve been towing a Saturn 2000SL automatic since it was new. It’s the fourth toad I’ve used and by far the best. It has more than 95,000 miles on the ground towing, plus 133,000 miles on the drive train, city driving, for a total of 223,000 miles of trouble-free ownership.
Since GM saw fit to discontinue the best car it ever built (my opinion), can you make some suggestions for a vehicle to replace the Saturn? It is such a joy to be able to hook up, put her in neutral, check the lights and take off. Most times it’s only a 10- to 15-minute job. Looking forward to a good answer.
A: Herb, that’s a hard question to answer. Indeed, the Saturn was a good car that served motor home owners very well. If you want to stick with an automatic transmission, then consider the Chevy Malibu, Ford Focus and Fiesta, and the Honda Fit. If you can handle the weight, the Ford Fusion and Taurus are good choices.
The field gets much wider if a sport utility or crossover will work for your lifestyle. Almost all the automakers have automatic-equipped SUV models that are towable without drivetrain modifications. Popular choices are the Honda CR-V, Jeep Wrangler/Liberty, and a number of the SUVs and crossovers from GM.
Thanks for being such a loyal member for so many years.
Q: I own a 2009 Class A Holiday Rambler, Model 33 SFS Admiral. Both the gray and black valves are controlled by a cable. The tee handle for both cables is located within the compartment directly behind the rear wheel on the driver’s side. The cables appear to be routed to the passenger side. Is there a panel or access point to get to the valves? If not, how do I locate and access the valves?
As I am not happy with the cable-controlled valves, I would like to remove the valves and place direct-access valves in the driver’s side compartment. Any assistance is appreciated.
San Antonio, Texas
A: Normally there is a panel that can be removed to provide access to the dump valves. Sometimes there’s no access, and you have to find the general location of the dump valves and cut from there. Finding the exact location can be difficult. Try contacting your dealer. My guess is that the techs have done this job before and can direct you to the access point. Also, the cables provided by the valve manufacturer are usually about 3 feet long. Chances are, they’re cut to length by the RV builder, but that at least gives you the maximum distance from the outside handles to the valves.
I’m not a big fan of cables. They tend to degrade quickly, become sticky and fail to operate the valve properly. When that happens, the owners usually have a few choice words when it comes time to empty the holding tanks.
Depending on where the valves are located, you may not be able to get direct access to the tee handles. At best, you’ll be doing some gymnastics to open and close the valves during the dumping process—if you choose to go that route.
I suggest that you chuck the existing valves and cables and install Drain Master electric dump valves (drainmaster.com), which are available in 3 1/2-inch configurations. These electric valves are well built and can be operated from any location using an on/off rocker switch. Obviously, they’re more expensive, but they’ll lower your blood pressure—and eliminate unpleasant surprises—during the dumping process.
If you have a question about tire pressure, tow vehicles, fluctuating temperatures or anything else to do with your RV, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include your name and contact information. Whether or not your letter appears in Highways, you’ll receive an answer.