Thursday, June 8, 2017

Facebook tips for members of Groups

If you belong to a Facebook group, there are some basic things that you should know how to do.  Here are a few tips to help you navigate in your Group.

Search for your answer (before posting your question!) 


Before you post a question (i.e. "What RV toilet paper should I use?"), take advantage of the Group Search feature.

1.  Find any place on the screen with the name of the group and click on it.  You can also go to your Shortcuts on the left side of your screen, find the group you want, and click its name.  In either case,  you'll be taken to the top of the group and will see the group photo.

2.  Find the box on the left-hand side of the page that has the words "Search this group" in it.  Type in the keywords for your search, like "toilet paper".


3.  You'll see all posts that have words matching your search terms - and will likely be surprised at how many people have previously answered the question.

Follow a post


Interested in a particular post and want to get a notification when people respond?  You don't have to type "following" (which isn't really a response to the original poster).  Instead:

1.  Click on the caret (the "down arrow") in the top right corner of the original post.



2.  Select "Turn on notifications for this post"

Don't let people continue responding to your post


If you've posted a question and responses are getting out of hand or are moving away from your original topic, you may disable people's ability to comment.

1.  On your own original post, click on the caret (the "down arrow") in the top right corner of the post (see above).

2.  If you don't see an option to "Turn off commenting", then there's nothing you can do except contact an administrator and ask them to turn off comments for the post (see below).

3.  If you see the option, you may want  to make a final reply before you select the option to turn off commenting.  Perhaps something like "Thanks for all of your help everyone.  I have my answer and will go ahead and use 10-ply Charmin".  THEN go back and turn off commenting.

Reporting a Post (abuse, something "bad" or not appropriate for the Group)


1.  Click on the caret (the "down arrow") in the top right corner of the original post (see above)

2.  Select "Report Post"

3.  A screen will appear giving you some options.  Choose one and then select "Continue".


4.  On the next screen, you'll be presented with several other options to help deal with the problem.  Choose an item for more help or to take an action.


Find out who the Group Administrators are

1.  Go to the top of the page for your group by selecting the group's name anywhere you see it.
2.  In a column to the right of the messages, find the section that says "Add members"

3.  Select the link that shows the number of members.  It'll take you to a list of the members.


4.  At the top of the member list, it shows the total number of members and the total number of admins.  Select the number beside "Admins".



5.  You'll see the list of Group Administrators.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Electric slide out motor mounts: check the bolts!

I've said before that IRV2.com is probably the best site on the Internet for detailed RV information.  In a post to their Newmar Owner's Group on June 12, 2016, Ken "Stealth01" posted about a potentially disastrous situation related to loose bolts in slide out motor mounts. I don't usually re-hash articles in IRV2, but I feel like this is important enough to warrant more attention.

To paraphrase, Ken said that he heard a loud noise and his kitchen slide out stopped retracting. When he checked it out, he discovered that the four mounting bolts of the kitchen slide-out motor had broken out of the housing.  In short, further investigation and some discussions with some RV technicians led him to conclude that the bolts became loose and the high motor torque cased the casing to crack  - resulting in the other motor mounts breaking.  He checked all of his other slide out motors and found that they were all loose.

I didn't see Ken's post until about a week ago.  I read the replies to his post and just about everyone who checked their own rig found loose bolts. Even though Ken was posting about a Newmar coach, some responders said that other manufacturer's rigs also had the problem (Monaco and Entegra were specifically mentioned). Needless to say, I grabbed my ratchet set and headed out to investigate.


What I found surprised me.  While I didn't have any loose bolts, every one of the 16 bolts in my 4 electric slide out motor mounts needed tightening.  I don't own a torque wrench, so I just "hand" tightened them without over-tightening.


The last thing you want with your slide outs is a problem like Ken experienced, so it's important that you periodically check to ensure that your motor mount bolts aren't loose.  Some people suggested various methods to prevent it using things like Loctite.  For me, for now, I'm just adding a periodic check to my calendar.










The motors are usually accessed by opening a bay door under your slide and looking up to see a long rod with a motor on it (see photos above).   I have a 2015 Dutch Star.  The kitchen slide out has one motor, the bedroom has one, and the 27' full-wall slide has two. Each of the motors has four mounting bolts.





The kitchen and full-wall slides had easily accessible motors.  The bedroom slide motor had to be accessed by raising the bed, removing a single screw from the rear (nearest the headboard) carpeted "flooring" under the bed, and contorting a bit to reach it.

Thanks to Ken for posting his article, and to everyone who responded with great photos and tips.  I highly recommend you read his IRV2 post titled "Own A Newmar With Electric Slide Outs... Read This!"

Pick up your tools and go find your motors!  They're easy to tighten - and you may end up saving yourself a lot of time, aggravation, and money.


[Update!  It's mid-June 2017 and I'm at NIRVC in Lawrenceville, GA.  When I arrived for other service, the service advisor told me that Newmar has a recall for these.  They have replaced the standard nuts with Loctite's on all of my slide motor mounts.]

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Choosing a Ladder for the RV

I've been searching on and off for several months looking for a ladder that we can carry along on our travels.  In the process, I have come to understand that there are two basic types that are most useful for people who feel like they need them:  telescoping and a-frame.

Telescoping ladders are great for RVers because they collapse into a small space, typically requiring less than three feet of storage.  A-frames may take up to six feet of storage, but they're safer because of their better stability.

If you have a larger motorhome, your roof is probably anywhere from 12 to 13.5 feet high.  Getting an A-Frame that will allow you to safely get on and off (and stay under six feet in storage) is not easy.  Telescoping ladders are therefore a better choice for roof access because you can get them in longer lengths - and they'll still collapse for storage.  Since you need to stand the ladder away from the RV a bit to climb it, you'd probably be most comfortable with a 15-foot telescoping ladder for hopping on and off the roof.



In the early days of my research, I had decided on a telescoping ladder similar to the Xtend and Climb 785P on Amazon.  It collapses and requires three feet of storage, yet extends to a more comfortable 15.5-foot length.

But that was before my wife expressed concern that my feeble old bones might break if I tried to get on and off the roof; if that happened it would "ruin" the trips we had planned (forget my injuries, the trip would be ruined!).  Back to the drawing board.

I made a promise that I wouldn't climb on the roof.  But I still need to get up high to clean roof drains, gutters (along the sides), and the tops of awnings and windows.  Sometimes, light bulbs may need to be replaced and tree branches moved out of the way.  I needed something that was tall enough to get the job done, but that was sturdy and stable enough to be comfortable using.

So here are the new requirements I drafted for my ladder:

  • A-Frame with foot stabilizers (legs wider at the bottom for stability)
  • Able to support up to 300 pounds
  • High enough that I could stand on the highest safe step and reach around the top of the coach
  • Storage length no more than six feet
  • Weight that I can handle (Note: almost every ladder I looked at, telescoping and a-frame, weighed about 35 pounds - so this is a "wash")
In the end, I found one that met every requirement and ordered it.


This is the Little Giant Ladder Systems Model 15109-001 ladder available from Amazon.  As you see it here, the top of the ladder (the thicker orange platform) is about 5'9" from the ground.  The "comfort step" is the highest safe place to stand, and it's a wide platform.  The comfort step is two rungs below the top orange piece.  When the ladder in its shortest position, the comfort step is 3'10" off the ground.  But when you extend the ladder, you are standing 7'8" above the ground.  I'm 5'10", and I can easily reach around the top of my rig, which is a little over 12'7" when not aired up.  Here are some photos of my ladder so you can get an idea of its size, both in its shortest position and fully extended:


I'm really happy with the new ladder, but am still trying to decide where to keep it.  There's room in the basement, but it might be better to keep it in the bed of our pickup truck. 

Until next time...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Camping vs. Glamping

What's the difference between Camping and Glamping?  Wikipedia actually has an entire article devoted to the question, but I'd like to address it here because of reactions we often get from our non-RV friends.

When you camp in a motorhome, especially a larger one, you'll often hear "THAT'S not camping!".  When hearing friends or acquaintances say this, I've learned to resist the urge to argue and simply agree with them.  "You're right.  It's not camping."  When people think of camping, they think of tents, campfires, mosquitoes, bears, a rushing stream, and sleeping bags.  To a large extent, I agree.  That's camping.   To me, camping is also spending the night away from the city.  Surrounded by trees and nature.  Sitting outside reading and enjoying the smells of the forest, the sounds of the insects in the trees, and the peace and quiet.

When a person decides that they want to travel around the country, they may choose to stay in hotels or stay in a motorhome.  When I stay in a KOA near Disney World, I'm there to see the sights and have the benefit of sleeping in my own traveling house every night.  It's not camping in the traditional sense, it's simply "seeing the country and staying in a motorhome".

Since we choose to take our home with us as we travel, we'd like to take along many of the conveniences we enjoyed in our regular "sticks and bricks" house:  a microwave, a dishwasher, air conditioning, a washer and dryer, and even satellite TV.  We had these at home, why not come "home" to them every night as we travel?  After all, you'd have these amenities at a hotel, wouldn't you?

So we travel and see a lot of things AND we stay in our home on wheels every night, enjoying all of the things we'd have in a stationary home.  You may be in your house enjoying the same things as we are one mile away from you at a KOA.  The only difference is that tomorrow we can go somewhere else.

On our travels, we may stay in a National, State, County or City park.  We're close to "real" campers who are without all of the amenities, like those with tents.  We are all enjoying the same woods, the same crickets, the same mosquitoes, the same stars in the sky and the same smells of steak on the grill and damp wood in the forest.  But at the end of the day, the campers go into their tent and "rough it" while we disappear into our home on wheels.  They may read a book by the light of a lantern; I will look at the Internet, watch a football game, and do whatever I would do at my S&B home.

So yes, I glamp.  I am able to travel the country and go home every night to a place that has all of the things that I had in my previous house.  I'm comfortable and have many experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise.

Glamping isn't a dirty word.  It's a lifestyle, and glampers are no more "spoiled" than most people living in a typical house in a typical city.  Except our house is constant while the city may change.

Gotta' love it.


Tips for diesel fueling at Truck Stops


A lot of folks who are new to RVing with a motorhome, especially large diesel pushers (DPs), have questions about where and how to get fuel.  Most DP owners I have met have said that they prefer to stop at mainstream places like Pilot/Flying J's, Loves, or a TA Travel Center.

If you have a large DP or are planning to get one, the first thing you need to realize is that you are now as large as many semi trucks on the road.  In fact, if you're towing you may be longer than a lot of them.  It's clearly unreasonable that you should have to thread your way around the outside lanes of a BP or Shell station that happens to sell diesel in an outside lane.  When you're towing, you can't back up - which makes it all that more complicated.

The best solution is to simply go where the truckers go.  Don't worry about whether or not you're "allowed" to do it or if truckers may not like it.  You have every bit as much right to stop there and fill up as anyone else.

Finding a Place to get Diesel


Many apps (like Allstays) and GPS units (like Garmin and Rand McNally RV devices) can display icons for upcoming fuel stops.  The most popular places for RVers, like Pilot/Flying J and Loves, are easy to see when you use them.  Other apps, like Trucker Path, can show you many more places to stop.  The main problem with just telling your RV GPS unit to look for the next fuel stop is that it will most likely point you to a regular gasoline station; none of the popular apps or GPS's have a filter to display only places that have diesel fuel.

Of course, there are signs along the roadway.  These are usually quite sufficient if your low fuel light isn't on.  Most diesel RVers I've talked to say that they start looking for a fill-up when they have between 1/4 and 1/2 of a full tank.  In my case, I start looking when I'm about 50% full.

Pulling up to the pump


Just follow the signs that truckers might follow; easy because they usually have only two things on them:  "Trucks" and an arrow pointing the way.  Look for an open lane like you'd do at any gas station, but know that you may have to find a lane and wait behind someone.  If you do have to wait, it might quite a bit longer than would with a car because it simply takes longer to fuel a large truck; sometimes, a driver even takes time to go into the cashier and/or wash their windshield.

Some places, like Flying J's, may have big signs telling RVers to pull into lanes specifically for them.  Don't do it.  Remember that a lot of RVs are smaller than yours.  Even though it's a special RV lane that you may be able to get into, you might find it somewhat difficult to get out.

Once you have pulled in and are sure that your fill is close to the pump, turn off your engine.

A common question asked on Facebook forums is whether or not to turn off LP gas when refueling.  I'm not advocating what's right or wrong, but will tell you that an overwhelming number of people will respond with NO; they don't turn off the gas when refueling.

Filling Up


If you don't have a credit card that is specific to the place you're fueling (like a Pilot/Flying J credit card), you'll probably have to go inside before you pump to get your card pre-approved.  Be sure to know your pump number before you go inside.  Have a rough estimate of how much you'll need to charge so that they can pre-authorized that amount.  If I think I may need between $150 and $200 of fuel, I'll hand them my credit card and tell them "$200 on pump 26".  If I also want to get DEF (see below), I'll say "$200 on pump 26 for fuel and DEF".  They'll run the card and hand it back to me.

Next, walk back to the pump and fill your diesel fuel like you do at any gas station.  Note that it comes out a lot faster than a typical car pump.  Even though they usually have auto-stops, they fill so fast that they ALWAYS stop and spill over to the outside of my coach, coating my paint beneath the fill.  If you hear it getting near full, you can manually stop it or at least set the auto-stop to a slower setting.

If you need more fuel than the amount you authorized, the pump will stop at the authorized amount and you'll have to go back in for another authorization if you want more.  More typical is that you'll use less.  They will only charge you for what you use.

Next, if you need DEF, get it.

DEF:  Diesel Exhaust Fluid


Quite a few of the truck stops also offer DEF at the pump.  If you haven't bought your diesel pusher yet, DEF is another fluid that all diesel RVs since about 2012 are required to use.  There's a separate tank in your rig that holds the def and it also has a separate fill port (or two).  You might use about 1 gallon of DEF for every 50 gallons of fuel.  For a large motorhome, your DEF tank may hold about 10 to 14 gallons of DEF.

Large motorhomes usually have the diesel fill on the driver's side.  Some have dual fills, with one on each side of the coach.  For DEF, it's convenient if the fill is on the driver side - but it's often located near the engine on the passenger side of the rig.  Since DEF and diesel fuel are offered from the same pumping stand, it would be great if the DEF fill was beside the diesel fill.  But life isn't that simple, is it?

The DEF pump is usually a blue-handled pump TO THE SIDE of the diesel pump.  It's behind a black plastic door that you have to raise to see the handle of the hose.  After putting in your diesel fuel, return the diesel hose to its holder, press the "DEF" button, lift the handle, take out the DEF hose  and start dispensing.

For those of you who, like me, have DEF fills far away from the diesel fill, here's a suggestion:   carry a couple of DEF containers that you can fill at the pump and take to your next campground.  Then fill the DEF at the campground.  This way, you won't feel the need to do all kinds of odd things (while truckers are waiting and watching) at the pump.

Finishing up


Beside all of the room you have to maneuver, using the truck lanes is great because their window cleaning poles are long; it's easy to reach top of your windshield to clean it.

After you're done with everything, get in your coach, start it and move it forward away from the pump so the trucker behind you can fill up.

If you want a receipt, get back out and go back into the store to get it.  If not, drive away.  If we want to get a drink or some food, we'll usually fill and then pull around to one of the large trucker parking spaces.  That way, we can take our time inside.

Safe travels!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Buying, Carrying and Using a Cricket Golf Cart

Back in September 2015, I published a blog article titled "Should we take our own golf cart?".  At that time, I knew that I wanted a cart small enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck and still be able to put up the tailgate.  We ended up with two possibilities: a Kangacruz or a Cricket.

Both the Kangacruz and the Cricket are lengthwise collapsible, so they will (barely) fit in the back of a pickup truck with a raised gate.  They both have published carrying capacities of around 600 pounds, travel at about the same speeds and have about the same battery life.

The Kangacruz Aspire SS


Kangacruz Aspire SS (from their web site)
Of the two, I became convinced that I wanted the upcoming Kangacruz Aspire SS.  The SS was to have a longer battery life and, more important to me, an increased carrying capacity of about 650 pounds.  It also had a few more bells and whistles than the Cricket; things like turn signals, a better suspension, and bigger wheels.

The problem with the Kangacruz was their ongoing promises that the SS model was "coming soon".  Initially, it was to be available in early and we were told that it would be ready on time.  Then they said it was delayed to the summer because some parts were on backorder.  That changed to late fall, and so on.  I corresponded with them by e-mail and they were very nice, but had nothing that they could sell me.

When it came time for the Tampa RV Show in early 2017, they told me that they planned to actually have one at the show.  I noted that their booth at the show seemed to be inside of an expo hall and asked them if we'd be able to drive it.  Their answer was "no", it would not be available to test drive; just available to look at.

On the 18th of January, the opening day of the Show, we went to the Kangacruz booth early and looked at the prototype of the new SS.  And even though we were one of the first ones to visit them, we were told that we would have to pay them over $4000 now and that shipment "might be in March or April".  Not only were they kicking the can again, they had reduced the recommended weight back to 600 pounds from their earlier online listing of specifications.

At that point, we decided that we didn't want to put our faith in Kangacruz because 1) they had been promising shipments for about 18 months and still wouldn't provide a firm delivery date, 2) the weight limit matched the more popular Crickets, and 3) they are located in Canada, which worried us in case it might ever need service.

The Cricket SX-3


The Cricket SX-3 cart weighs about 305 pounds, collapses to about 58" in length, and seems to be the most popular collapsible golf cart we could find anywhere.  In the months leading up to the 2017 Tampa RV Show,  we were told by a local Florida Cricket dealer that they would not be shown at the show as they had in some previous years.

To our surprise, we saw the outdoor Cricket display at the Show shortly after we had walked away from the Kangacruz booth.  The sales people willingly handed us a key to one and told us to take it for a spin, on our own, away from their area.  We did and were impressed that such a small cart did such a great job.

The seats on the Cricket are just wide enough to fit two adults.  It's tight, but not uncomfortable.  The back seat folds down to make a bed that can be used to haul anything from groceries to camping chairs. It's top speed is about 8-10 miles per hour.

One of the things I never liked about the Crickets was that the steering wheel was in the center of the  cart.  With the new 2017 version, that has been changed and the wheel is thankfully more towards the left-hand side.  Their later models also feature LED headlights, which is either good or bad depending on your opinion of extremely bright lights on such a small cart.

Options included a top frame that has a vinyl cover at the top that is tied to the frame, a long rear-view mirror, and a plexiglass windshield.  There's also a cart cover (only used if top frame isn't in place) and a rainproof slip-cover that fits over the entire cart (top frame included, with windows on the front and side).

Our Cricket, bought at the 2017 Tampa RV Show

We liked it a lot, and decided to buy it with the standard (no-top) cover, top frame, mirror and windshield.  We also got a pair of aluminum ramps so we could load it into our pickup truck.  The ramps were about $200.  The total price, which had to be paid using cash or check, was in the neighborhood of $4300.  We got to pick our color (candy apple red) on the spot and after about a half hour of some top assembly and instructions, were able to drive it away into the fairgrounds and use it during the Show.

The Cricket sales people were very nice at the Tampa Show.  They apparently were getting about 10 of them every day of the show and were selling them all.  If you think you may want to get one at the show, I recommend that you get there on Wednesday (opening day) so that you can pick your colors and options  - and drive it home.  You'll also be able to use in inside of the show each day - a real bonus.

Cricket post-buy review


Now that we've had it a while, we still love our Cricket.  However, there are some things that are definitely worth noting:


  • They told us at the show that it should carry more than 600 pounds.  We were concerned because you sometimes may want to take four "larger" adults.  We tried it out and it seems capable, but it can "bend up" (picture an upside down "V") with all of the weight.  It does a lot better if you put the two heaviest people in the front seat.
  • One of the biggest reasons we wanted a Cricket was because it could collapse to fit in the bed of our truck.  However - and this is important - you can't collapse it unless you remove the frame for the top; the top won't collapse.  So, if you want to collapse it, you have to remove the  entire top and store it (it's pretty large), or break the top frame down into pieces by removing 8 bolts, 8 nuts, and 16 washers.  Not good at all if you plan to take your cart in and out of your truck/SUV a lot.   In the long run, I decided to remove my truck topper so that we could fit the un-collapsed cart in our truck while traveling.  We will have to remove the vinyl top, windshield and rear footrest each time, but that's a lot better than removing or dismantling the entire frame.
  • The charging cord isn't long. To charge it at night without an extension cord, I had to park it about two feet from my coach and use a plug in the basement area.  One morning, I went out, turned the key and drove off - cutting the still-plugged-in charging cord.  I quickly replaced it with a cord bought at Home Depot, and bought a magnetic reminder strip to put on the steering wheel whenever it's plugged in.
  • Those LED lights are bright.  Man are they bright.  Especially at night.  
We have driven the Cricket in loose sand, through bumpy grass fields, on concrete, asphalt, and over tree stumps in the campground and have never had a problem.




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Choosing and Installing Satellite TV

The two main satellite TV options for RVers are Directv and Dish Network.  Both offer tons of programming and are easily comparable to cable TV in a S&B (sticks & bricks) home.  They offer a variety of programming packages, digital video recorders (DVRs), and on-demand movies.

I could take a day to create charts showing the differences between the two, but they are minimal.  If you look up comparison charts with Google, don't pay much attention to the ones on the sites for Directv or Dish.  They are biased and actually distort their competitor's features by saying that something isn't offered when it IS offered, but may not be included in the most basic package(s).

When I started looking at the possibility of installing satellite TV in my motorhome, I was overwhelmed by all of the information available on web sites, Facebook, magazine articles and in books.  Even talking to RVers about their own satellite systems, I learned a lot about things to look for when it came time to buy my own. In this article, I'm going to discuss things, obviously from my point of view, "in a nutshell".  Condensing a lot of research into a small space is a good thing.

The number of channels and availability of packages, like the one for NFL games, is the biggest "plus" for Directv.  For Dish Network, it's their pricing - including a "pay as you go" plan for RVers.

Both DTV and DN want to cater to RVers, but they've got quite a way to go.  The links in the first sentence of this post will take you to their sites for "travelers".   They are minimal sites, and will give you minimal information.

Directv


Directv sells a system called a Genie, which is a fancy satellite receiver and a DVR combined in a unit like the one you get from a cable TV company. You can put a Genie in your house then get one or more "mini -Genie's" to put in different rooms of your house, again just like you would put different cable TV boxes in different rooms.

However, for reasons that must be locked up in the basement of the Pentagon, Directv doesn't want to install Genie's or mini-Genie's in RVs.  Instead, they want you to buy other "mobile" receivers from several third-party companies like Winegard and KVH Industries.  They provide links to the company's sites on their "traveler's" site.  The issue with some of the receivers not only is that the number of tuners is more limited (number of different shows you can watch or record at the same time), but that you may have to attach a separate hard disk drive so that you can record TV shows.

For antennas (satellite dishes), Directv offers several.  Many of the ones they have for travelers are called  "carryouts" or "tracvisions".  They also offer the typical antenna that sits on a tripod, but the  most talked about ones are the carryouts. [Although there are several different types of portable antennas, I'll refer to them all as carryouts for brevity.]

The great thing about the carryouts is that they're very easy to use:   you just connect one to a receiver and it automatically searches for and finds the necessary satellite(s).  You don't have to do anything other than ensure that there is unobstructed sky in the right place.  The downside is that most of them can only provide one receiver with HD programming (the rest get standard definition).  Still, if you don't want the hassle of setting up your own tripod antenna (ensuring that it's level, setting the  azimuth, setting the elevation and then fine-tuning it), the carryouts are a great option.

Dish Network


Dish Network is similar to Directv in the way they want to distribute receivers.  Their best receiver is called a Hopper, and the smaller ones that go in secondary rooms of your house are called Joeys.  Like Directv's mini-Genie, a Joey can be wireless and "talks" to the Hopper, so that all of the main functions like recording and tuning are handled by the Hopper.   Both the Genie and the Hopper, with their mini-Genie's and Joeys, allow you to watch recorded shows in any room or to start watching something in one room, pause it, and continue watching in another room.

Just like DTV, Dish Network doesn't want to sell you a Hopper for your RV (same secret, same room in the Pentagon).  Instead, they have other receivers like their 211Z or "Wally's" that they'd like you to put in your coach.

Dish Network has several antennas to choose from, including the standard tripod mounted dish and the portable automatic dishes that you just put on the ground and let them do the work.  For Dish Network, these automatic dishes are usually called "Tailgaters", "Pathways", "Roadtrips", or "Playmakers".   With these portable dishes, you can get more HD than you can from Directv, but they only work with certain receivers.

Getting help


Confused yet?  I am.  It's a mess to figure out.

The best way to navigate the satellite dish options for you is to call a local satellite installation store.  Ask if they've done installations in RVs before.  If they haven't, hang up and call another one.  The bigger the city, the better chance you have of finding someone who can  help you.

Directv or Dish Network?


In my case, I chose Dish Network.  I did this because I didn't feel the need for the NFL package and I liked their pricing structure.  Although they have a pay-as-you-go plan (you can turn off the service for full-month periods if you want), I plan to use mine year 'round and liked their Top 200 package.

Another reason for choosing Dish Network was that I repeatedly saw on Facebook posts that Dish  users had an easier time than Directv users when they called their provider to change their local stations.   You'll hear about this a lot.  When you establish service, you will be assigned your local stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, etc.) based on your service zip code.  If you take your RV out of that area, whether it's another county or across the country, you'll still get those "local" channels.  If you travel from your home zip code in Florida to Beverly Hills, California and want to see their local stations (for news, weather, or just network shows in that time zone), you need to call your provider (Directv or Dish) and tell them that you're in zip code 90210 instead of 32812.  From everything I've read but not personally experienced yet, Dish Network is much faster and easier to call and get this done. [Update:  Dish Network is easy to call and set up local channels wherever we go.  I call them all the time - even for a one-night stop.  It takes about 5-10 minutes (tops) and isn't hard to do.  You can also go to mydish.com/chat and do it with your computer.]

I also didn't want the typical receivers that they push for RVs.  I wanted the Hopper and a couple of Joeys.  Since I intend to use the entire setup in my house when we're not in the RV, I plan to move the receivers from the RV to the house (and vice versa) whenever we want.  I like the Hopper because it can "hop" over commercials, has three tuners, and includes a feature called Primetime America that automatically records all prime-time network shows every night of the week and lets you go back and view them within eight days.


RV satellite antennas


RV satellite antennas are usually located on the roof of the RV.  For Directv, the best option is a Traveler antenna called the SWM-3.  For Dish Network, it's the Traveler SK-1000.  Inside your coach is a little controller box that you simply turn on and let the antenna do the work:  it raises up and automatically finds and locks onto the correct satellites.  When you are about to leave your campsite, you press the button again and it lowers.

The problem with rooftop antennas is that you may sometimes park under trees.  Trees are the worst enemy of the satellite dish:  no clear view of the sky = no signal = no football game.  For this reason, it's best to have some sort of external antenna as a backup.  If you have enough cable, you can often put the antenna somewhere on your campsite that's away from the rig - but that still has a clear view in the direction of the satellites.  You can choose to get one of the carryouts/tailgaters, with their limitations but ease of setup, or get a "real" satellite dish mounted on a tripod that has few limitations but is more difficult to setup and align.

In my case, our coach originally had a Directv SWM-3 on the roof from the factory.  I wanted Dish Network, so I had to have a conversion kit installed to essentially convert it to a SK-1000.  I also wanted to be able to receive HD on all receivers in the coach, so I needed to get a tripod-mounted  dish instead of a tailgater.   Another bump in the road happened when I was told that the external dishes won't work with the newest version of the Hopper, the Hopper 3.  Instead, it works with the previous version, the Hopper Sling. So that's what I got.  The Hopper Sling is a well-proven receiver, so I'm not bothered by this in the least bit.

Setting up and aligning an external tripod-mounted antenna


When my installer was out and saw I wanted the external dish on a tripod, he told me that it wasn't worth it and that I would likely have to call a professional installer to set it up and aim it for me whenever I needed it.  I told him that I have spoken with many RVers who do it all the time and they tell me that, with practice, it only takes them about five minutes to do it.  He shook his head and said "Did they have a Hopper?  Hopper's are very sensitive.".    I ignored what he said and asked him to walk me through it when we set up the tripod and antenna.

The first thing you have to do is make sure that you have clear sky to the satellite.  Dish Network uses satellites at 110, 119 and (I think, will verify later)  129 degrees.   I downloaded an app called Satellite Finder Pro on my phone.  You hold the phone up to the sky and look at the sky through the camera.  When you do, it overlays a green arc on the screen and shows the location of the satellites by position (110, 119, etc).  If you see those numbers on the screen with clear sky behind them, you've got a place to aim.

After he set up the antenna, I said that I had read that it's very important to ensure that the tripod is level because that can severely affect the elevation.  He said that this was true, but "all you really need to do is eyeball it" and make sure it looks level.  I just nodded because I wanted to see where this would lead.  I asked about using the new digital satellite signal finder I had bought on Amazon.  "Those things are worthless.  Don't bother." was his response.  Okay.  I'm just observing; let's see how it goes.

Inside, we called up the receiver's satellite finder screen by going to Settings->Diagnostics.  Using menus, he selected 119 because it's the satellite in the middle of the other two.

Next, he tells me to ALWAYS set the azimuth (left and right) to 135 degrees.  I asked if this was true even if I was in a different state.  He repeated "Always!".  He then took out his compass, pointed in the direction of 135 degrees, and rotated the dish to that position. [Note: I'm in Orlando, and since we  finished I went home and looked it up, I see that the azimuth should be at 244 degrees.  Not sure what's going on here, but I'll know more soon and will update this paragraph.] As he was doing this, he asked me how I would align the dish's azimuth to 135 degrees if he hadn't shown me.  I looked at the arm extending away from the dish told him that I would make sure that the arm (holding the LNB's on the  end) "pointed" towards 135 degrees.  He said "Nope.  The signal enters the dish at an angle, so you turn the dish so that the seam at the back of the dish [on the clamp that attaches the antenna to the tripod] aligns with 135 degrees."  Okay, never would have thought of that.

The next thing to do is to set the elevation (up and down).  For this,  you look up (use an app or the Internet) the proper elevation for your current zip code.  Behind the dish is a clamp with elevation markings.  He loosened a bolt and adjusted the elevation until it was at 38 degrees.  Once that was completed, we headed inside the coach.

At the main receiver, we went back to the satellite information display.  On the screen, there's a "meter" that shows signal strength. At the moment, it read zero.  Now it becomes a two-person job, so I get out the walkie-talkies and hand him one.  He said that he would go outside and move the dish a little bit left and right.  I would call him when I saw the signal strength change.  By making a few minor  adjustments, we had the signal strength up to 71 in about four minutes and we were done!

Given everything that we did, I think that it'll take me longer to set up the dish (assemble it to the tripod and connect cables)  than it will to align it with my wife's help on the radio.  It doesn't look bad at all.  Five minutes sounds about right. At least I hope so.

[Update:  I've set it up several times now and, believe me, practice makes perfect.  The easiest way to do it is to follow these steps:

1.  Find a place in the sky that has a clear view to the satellites (110, 119 and 129).  You can use the SatFinder app on your phone to do this.
2.  Set up your tripod and make sure it's level.  I got a compass from Amazon for $13 that has a bubble level in it.
3.  Go to dishpointer.com.  Enter your location and find "Dish 1000.2 (110, 119, 129) in the pull-down list.  
4.  All of your peak values (Azimuth, Elevation and Skew will come up for your current location)
5.  Set the dish (loosen some nuts and adjust - markings are on the dish and stand) for the correct Elevation and Skew.
6.  Using the compass, point the dish in the direction of the Azimuth.
7.  With someone inside looking at the setup/diagnostics screen on the TV, fine tune your Azimuth (left and right) on the dish until you get the best picture.
8.  Tighten the "azimuth" nuts on the dish.
9.  You're done.  Once you do this a few times, it should get easier and faster.]

Your Questions


I hope this has helped to answer some of the questions you might have about selecting a company and setting up your antennas.  Sorry there are no pictures.  I'll try to come back here and add some photos later.

If you have questions, check out the direct links above and some of these:

  • Technical information about Dish Network installations in RVs (unusual configurations).  See Tom's RVSeniorMoments blog.  Tom is very knowledgeable and has help a lot of RVers.
  • IRV2.com's Technology Forum.  Ask questions ye shall receive answers.
  • David Bott publishes lots of good videos for RVers (and has a good blog!).  Here's his video where he discusses "RV Satellite TV: Making a Choice".
  • Dishpointer.com is a great place to find out where you should be pointing your antenna.  Put in your location and it gives you everything you need.  Thanks to Charlie Martin for the reference.