Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Almost every great picture of families gathered around a campfire show a wood fire pit with everyone roasting marshmallows. But when you actually start traveling around the country, it's quite surprising how many campgrounds don't allow wood fires. Of those that do allow them, there are some that won't allow you to pick up dead or fallen wood on the ground; you must buy the firewood.
As we have traveled, it seems that most campgrounds prohibit wood fires or simply don't support them because they haven't installed fire rings. We wanted a solution that would allow us to have a campfire almost everywhere we go, and that solution was to buy a propane gas fire bowl.
While wood campfires crackle, pop, and can smell good, they are actually a bit of a pain to use. You have to buy the wood, get it to your campsite, open it, stack it, get stuff to light it, stoke it, add more wood, and finally douse it with water to put it out. Fire pit cleanup can be a real pain for campground owners, and (technically) it actually may be illegal to carry firewood into some states from other states.
A propane gas fire bowl eliminates a lot of the hassle. The flames look great, they are quiet, provide really good heat, have adjustable flames, and are clean, clean, clean. Setting one up is a breeze: get it out of your rig, remove the cover, connect it to an LP source, and turn it on. When you're finished, turn it off, let it cool down, disconnect and put it away.
Although we've found that many campgrounds we have visited in the past year don't allow wood fires, every campground we've been in has had no problem whatsoever with a gas fire bowl - except Fort Wilderness at Disney World. One of the big arguments against wood fires are the embers it creates and potentially spreads to nearby leaves and trees. For the past few years, fires have raged across the country, and government and private campgrounds have greatly curtailed wood fires in campgrounds. Gas fire bowls don't create embers and are much safer. Fort Wilderness has an extra requirement: you may use a fire pit or bowl as long as it is completely enclosed and has a top on it (the idea being that embers can't escape). However, they have made no exception for open-topped gas fire bowls. Here are the detailed rules at Fort Wilderness:
I asked around on Facebook and then searched the Internet for a fire bowl that could easily be used at the campsite, would be easy to carry, and could be used repeatedly without any issues. A lot of campers told me to look at one of the fire bowls made by Outland. The one we chose, pictured at the top of this article, is Outland's Firebowl Premium Portable Propane Fire Pit. It sells on Amazon for around $150. When you consider that you can have a camp fire quickly and just about anywhere, with little mess and no expense other than the initial cost and the gas, it really is a good deal.
The "size" of the flame can be adjusted with a knob on the side. We have found that the lowest setting is all we need for a great camp fire. The bowl comes with an attached 10-foot rubber (plastic?) gas tube with a regulator on the end for a quick connection to a propane source. I went to Walmart and bought a 20-pound propane tank that can be refilled at many RV parks. Although I haven't really made an accurate measurement, I'll guess that we can get 12 hours or so of fire from a full tank.
You can get a nice carrying case to keep the fire bowl covered while traveling. The basic unit comes with a metal cover over the fake (but real-looking and reusable) rocks. The unit comes with extra rocks.
When you unpack the Outland Firebowl, you simply open the rock bags and put them in the container (they tell you which ones go on bottom, middle and top). Then you screw the regulator onto your propane source, turn on the gas at the source, then slowly turn the knob on the bowl clockwise. As you do this, the gas enters the bowl and as you keep turning the igniter clicks and lights the flame. Once the fire is going, you can turn the flame up by continuing to move the knob clockwise. When you're finished, turn off the gas at the source, wait a little bit for the gas to leave the hose through the fire bowl (the flame will go out) and then turn the knob all the way counter-clockwise to be ready for the next use. It usually takes mine about an hour to cool down enough for me to feel comfortable enough to put it back into my coach.
If you're interested here are the direct links to Amazon where you can check out the Firebowl and it's optional cover. If you get one, leave some feedback here or recommend it on Facebook (and maybe post a link to this article!). And remember, I don't get anything from Outland or Amazon or anyone else - so I have no reason to push anyone into a sale.
Amazon link 1: Outland Firebowl Premium Portable Propane Fire Pit
Amazon link 2: Outland Firebowl Carry Bag
Take care...and safe travels!
If you're always concerned about safety in your RV, and I'm a bit obsessed with it, you probably pay a lot of attention to your tires. It's important to check your tire pressures, have a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), keep an eye on the age of your tires, and maybe even take steps to cover them when you're parked for a while to protect them from the sun.
Right after buying our coach in the fall of 2015, we met another camper who suggested that we take a look at Tyron Bands (See the article titled Upcoming plans: a new rim, a tow bar, the Tampa Show, and a bit of Fort Wilderness). He told us that the military used them in some of their tires and that they helped prevent tire shredding in the event of a blowout. They also provide something of a "run flat" capability when your tire blows.
I was intrigued by the concept because of the stories I had read on Facebook and some videos on YouTube about front tire blowouts on motorhomes. When a tire blows, the rims shred the tire. This results in increased loss of control and can potentially cause sparking which can start a fire. These things have happened quite a few times. When I'm driving my very heavy coach around turns on an Interstate while going 63 miles per hour, I'm always aware that a blowout can happen unexpectedly. It's important to know what to do if that happens. Here's a great video from Michelin about handling the RV if you have a blowout.
It seemed to me that instead of riding a shredded tire in a blowout incident, I'd rather have more control and possibly be able to drive slowly to the next exit and pull off. So we had our dealer install Tyron Bands on our front tires. It wasn't cheap: about $1100 per tire. But I just had to treat it as another kind of insurance policy, and this one would give me a lot of peace of mind while driving.
This video is from Tyron's web site about front tire blowouts and their product:
A lot of tire installers are either not familiar with the bands or are not experienced in installing them. Getting the bands on when you need to change rims can be a bit of a challenge (or so we've been told) for the uninitiated. Tyron also has a tool kit (with instructions) that you can carry with you so that installers will have what they need to make changes. We made sure that we got one of those, too.
Since we've had them on our front tires for two years, we're thankful that we've never had to experience their benefits. But I've kept my eyes on social media for discussions about them. When the subject comes up, many simply don't think they'd make much difference. Others don't want to spend the money. I can understand the reluctance, but I want every edge I can get.
On Facebook, I found that people that bought them generally did so for the same reasons I did. And there were also a few testimonials from people (none listed here are affiliated in any way with Tyron) who had heard firsthand the experiences of others or unfortunately had to put them to the test:
- "I have a set on mine! Last summer while traveling through Knoxville Tn in the middle lane of traffic, I had a front right blow out. Because of the bands, I was able to negotiate across 2 lanes of traffic to the shoulder safely. No damage to my rim or rig. Considering a replacement rim can easily go for $1000 I think it's money well spent." -- Bob Hemphill
- "We have them on our front tires. Had our first blowout, after RVing for 30 years, and feel that our Tyron saved us from losing control, and only damage was to our generator tailpipe.
- "Today at 12:45 on I 75 sixty miles north of Atlanta. Blow out on our front right tire. Sounded like a bomb. My hubbie handled the wheel well. Thank God for the Tyron band. All is well. Good Sam took care of roadside assistance."
- "Had them put on my steer tires. I've talk with several people who have had blowouts with them on. All have been able to maintain control. I figured it was good insurance to get them. Hopefully I never need them" -- JoAnn Smith
- "I have them on our Monaco Dynasty. I have talked to people who have had front blowouts and it can get hairy real quick. Tyron bands keep the tire on the rim, allowing you to maintain steering control. The likelihood of rolling is minimized if you have a front blowout."
- "We bought our Class C from Lazy Days in Tampa back in August 2016 and purchased these bands. At the end of last month we headed out on a trip to Pittsburgh and ended up having a blow out on both front tires within 24 hours of each other. The tires did not shred and stayed on and we were able to drive safely to the side of the road. They worked great and did what they were designed to do. With that being said, Good luck finding someone who knows how to use the tool and replace the tire. When I did find someone the toolkit they provided didn't work with my rim. They had to take the tire/rim back to the tire shop to replace." -- Jennie Walker
Sunday, August 27, 2017
After many years of reading posts from more than 20 different RV Facebook groups, reading and contributing to IRV2, attending 12+ RV super shows and talking to hundreds of experienced and inexperienced Rvers, I'd like to offer this list of tips. In my opinion, these are the most popular answers to questions on Facebook.
1. What type of toilet paper should we use? Septic safe is good, the fewer ply the better.
2. Should I get a surge protector and, if so, which one? Hands down, yes. Get a Progressive Industries EMS. Not cheap, but the best protection and a lifetime warranty. By far the most recommended.
3. Should I get a tire pressure monitoring system and, if so, which one? Responses are slightly in favor of "Yes", with motorhome owners answering Yes more often. EEZTire and Tireminder are the most often recommended.
4. Should I get a RV GPS and, if so, which one? By a wide margin, yes. Most people say Garmin (the 760 or the newer 770). In second place is the Rand McNally. For apps, most recommend CoPilot.
5. What apps can I use to find campgrounds? Allstays is the most popular answer.
6. What can I use to plan a trip? A slight majority say google maps and a (paper) road atlas. RVTripWizard is the most mentioned online option.
7. Should we turn off our propane when refueling? Most folks say "no", it's unnecessary.
8. What are the best RV manufacturers? In the $150K-$400K range, Newmar and Tiffin motorhomes are most frequently recommended. After that, Winnebago and Fleetwood. For fifth wheels there are many, although Grand Design and DRV are often favorably mentioned.
9. What should I avoid? Service at Camping World or anything Thor.
10. What do we do about loud neighbors, barking dogs or people cutting through our campsite? Talk to management. If they don't do anything, leave.
11. What are recommended campgrounds in SomeCity USA? Go look at http://www.rvparkreviews.com/.
12. "This questions may have already been asked, but….". Search for an answer on Google, or search in your favorite Facebook group (see http://slowlanerv.blogspot.com/2017/06/facebook-tips-for-members-of-groups.html for some extra tips).
13. For a motorhome, should I get gas or diesel? By overwhelming majority (and if you can afford it), diesel.
14. Where can I get RV insurance? Most frequent answers are Good Sam's, Progressive and AAA.
15. What RV air compressor do you recommend? Most popular brand mentioned is Viair.
Friday, August 25, 2017
It's important to note that a lot of insurance companies and extended warranty policies offer roadside assistance. If you're shopping, be sure to check to see if you're covered elsewhere.
After reading various the various comments and experiences of other RVers, I decided to do a little bit of research and compare the four services that are most commonly mentioned: FMCA Roadside Assistance, AAA Plus RV, Good Sam Auto+RV Standard, and the Coach-Net Motorized RV Plan.
Here's what I did:
1. Created a spreadsheet listing features/benefits in column A and the four company's most popular plans across the top.
2. For each feature/benefit, I filled in the corresponding cell for each company's plan based on the information presented on their web sites. If a benefit wasn't mentioned on a company's site, I left that cell blank and highlighted it yellow.
3. After all cells were completed (or incomplete and marked yellow), I called each company and asked for the missing details.
Disclaimer: Calling FMCA resulted in getting asked to leave a message on a voice mail system. So, missing data for FMCA wasn't recorded. I'm not going to do business with any Roadside Assistance customer service operation that doesn't answer the phone at mid-day on a Friday. Regardless, most other available FMCA data was considered.
Benefit-by-benefit comparison (just the major stuff)
Cost was evaluated considering first year cost and the year-to-year cost after the first year. FMCA was the least expensive at $109 per year [Update: on 11/4/2017 I read that FMCA had decreased their rates to $69/year]. AAA was the most expensive, as it was $101 to join + $80 for my motorhome + $24 for my wife + $39 for each additional person (I would have added my daughter). That's $244/year, and it doesn't change. Good Sam's was only $69 for the first year, but it goes up to $118 per year after that. Coach-Net is $249 the first year (they do have discounts), but it drops to $149/year after that. So, in order from least to most expensive: FMCA, Good Sam's, Coach-Net and then AAA.
Coverage for other people in your family
Good Sam and Coach-Net cover your spouse and dependent children under 25 without additional cost. AAA will cover anyone in your family, regardless of age, as long as you pay them (see above). FMCA did not provide data.
Other vehicles you may own
Good Sam's covers cars, boat trailers and motorcycles. Coach-Net and AAA basically cover whatever you're driving, although AAA mentions that motorcycle coverage is available separately. FMCA did not provide data [Update 11/18/17: FMCA's new web site states they also cover family members and their vehicles. This includes spouse and children under 25 who live with you or are away attending school].
Good Sam's and Coach-Net will tow your vehicle (RV or cars) to the nearest professional or qualified repair center. Both offer unlimited towing miles and no charges. AAA will only tow up to 100 miles (although there is an upgraded package that will take this to 200 miles for additional cost.). FMCA says only that they will tow to the nearest qualified repair center (no clarification on distance or cost).
All of the services will get you in your locked vehicle. Keys and the cost for making them are extra charges.
Delivery of fuel and other fluids
Good Sam and AAA don't mention this in their information, although I know that AAA will deliver fuel. FMCA will bring gas, oil or coolant. Coach-Net will bring gas, oil, water, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid.
They'll all send someone to replace a tire if you have the spare. If you don't have a tire, the policies are different. Good Sam's and Coach-Net will try to find you a tire and bring it out, paying only for delivery (Coach-Net has a separate policy that totally covers tire expense and replacement if the tire is damaged by road hazards). AAA won't find a tire for you - at least they don't say they will. FMCA will dispatch a "mobile tire service", but it will be towed if a mobile tire service isn't available. And they specifically state that "mobile tire service is not available in all areas".
Good Sam's and Coach-Net offer a service where a qualified RV Tech will talk to you and answer questions on the phone. Neither AAA or FMCA offer this service. [Update 11/18/17: FMCA offers technical assistance on the telephone.]
Battery Boosts (Jumping)
They'll all do this.
Services per year
No information from Good Sam's or FMCA [Update 11/18/17: FMCA's new web site says that use is "unlimited", but that "if it becomes apparent you are not maintaining your vehicles you could be subject to a rate increase"] AAA says that they'll do four service calls per year, and then charge extra after that. Coach-Net says that their service calls are "unlimited".
Dispatches a mechanic
All but AAA will do this, although FMCA will only do it if you're more than 50 miles from home. You'll have to pay for the mechanic, but they'll find one and dispatch one.
Good Sam's doesn't offer this. Coach-Net will bring winch you out if you're within 100 feet of a roadway. AAA says they'll do it if you're in a ditch or snow and if they can do it safely. They'll also bring in a second unit to help, but will only pay for an hour of their time. FMCA will only winch you out if you're within 50 feet of a roadway and they'll only pay up to $500. FMCA also won't do it if it's the result of an accident or if it's down a hillside or an embankment.
If you're sidelined because your vehicle is damaged, they all will cover some of your expenses (like lodging, food, and car rental). Good Sam's will pay you $150 a day up to $1200. You must be more than 100 miles from home, and one per year is allowed. Coach-Net will reimburse up to $2000 and you must be more than 100 miles from your home. AAA will give you only one day of a car rental (if a non-collision tow is needed). AAA will pay up to $1000 if your travel (in your car, NOT your RV) is interrupted because of a breakdown. FMCA will pay $300 per day up to $1200 if you're more than 100 miles from home, and you're limited to one reimbursement in a 12-month period.
There are some benefits, like discounts and concierge services, that aren't shown here. Given all of this information I made the following conclusions. These are obviously my personal conclusions and preferences - you may feel entirely different.
1. FMCA's coverage lacks in several areas. And I got a voice mail when I called them. I'm sure the voice mail was a customer service line; probably not a line you'd call if you were on the side of the road and needed help. Still, I want better coverage.
Web site: https://www.fmca.com/benefits/fmca-roadassist.html
2. Good Sam's has good coverages and a decent price. But I've heard a lot of stories on Facebook about them raising prices unexpectedly during renewals (not verified). And I have other issues with the whole Good Sam/Camping World business in general. They also don't offer technical assistance and, based on my experience with the company in general and what other people have told me, are likely to be more difficult to reach and work with than other companies.
Web site: https://www.goodsamroadside.com/
3. AAA is simply too expensive. They also don't offer a couple of the services. Based on price alone, I have to rule them out.
Web site: https://autoclubsouth.aaa.com/membership/pluspremierrv.aspx
4. Coach-Net is the second most expensive, at $149 per year after the first year. However, their Facebook recommendations are numerous, their coverages are complete and, for the most part, unlimited, and they will cover just about anything you or your family are driving. Late note: Someone mentioned on Facebook that Coach-Net may not service all areas of the country, mentioning Maryland in particular. I would imagine that if they can't service that area, then other companies also have some restrictions. I couldn't call them today (they're closed), but will follow up and post here when I get an answer.
Web site: https://coach-net.com/Products/Compare-Motorized-RV-Roadside-Assistance-Products
The winner? Coach-Net. Great services and often mentioned and recommended by users.
I hope this helps you make your choice for Roadside Assistance. Safe travels!!
Thursday, June 8, 2017
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)
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
3. Select the link that shows the number of members. It'll take you to a list of the members.
Friday, June 2, 2017
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
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")