Tag Archives: Rv repair

Keeping the Cat In and the Bugs Out ~ Those Really Stupid RV Doors. (Updated)

It seems that all travel trailers, fifth wheelers and many other recreational vehicles are equipped with these really poorly designed latches. I have yet to meet anyone who likes these stupid doors. Approached from the outside, the latches have a handle you need to pull down and then you need to pull the door out without putting any pressure on the latch. From the inside you need to recognize the long white thing has a square you push to one side and then you push the latch down. You have to push the door outward without exerting any strain on the latch. If you put strain on the pushing out or pulling in, either the latch itself will break or the black plastic face plate on the latch will crack and fall apart. Try explaining that to an exuberant grandchild. The only people who seem to benefit from this really poor design are the owners of RV shops where the replacement parts are sold for anywhere from $9 to $30 dollars depending on how much of a local monopoly the place has and how far from a big city they are.

And then there is my cat. It took him about a week to figure out how to work that sliding white latch cover to let himself out. He doesn’t worry about the latch, slide that cover over and you have a lovely cat sized door. He watched us intently every time we went in or out and then he just started playing with the door. I don’t think he’s all that clever, it’s just that being a cat, well what else has he got to do all day between cat naps? That sliding white latch cover when left open by departing cats and grandchildren also provides the perfect opening to let mosquitos, no-see-ums, wasps and other pests fly in. And so with some ingenuity, and a few kludges we have fixed it.

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To prevent breakage of the cover on the black latch, my husband took a bit of leftover steel sheet metal and some heavy duty metal scissors and reinforced the latch cover. (He called that latch plate cover the Rudlatch since the first adult to break our door was none other than the late scientist naturalist and writer Anne Rudloe.) He added a small kitchen cupboard handle to grab and pull on which prevents the latch from being broken. It is situated exactly where the hand of grandchildren naturally grabs and pulls so the latch itself does not get broken off. To keep the cat in and grandchildren from leaving the white slide open so it lets in bugs, we use a small bungie cord. These small bungie cords are hard to find so stock up when you see them. Hubby dearest drilled a tiny hole to keep the bungie cord in place on the outer side after the cat figured out how to send the bungie cord flying before making a break for it. With the bungie cord in place, the inside latch cover can be slid over to reach the latch and exit but it automatically pops back into place without a reminder to grandchildren that will just be ignored anyway.

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The bungie cord defeated the cat for a couple of years but he did eventually figure out how to open the door by throwing his weight against the bottom corner. The door is flexible enough it would pop open. The dogs soon figured out his trick would work for them too. After a few wild chases through the poison ivy, we developed the fourth modification. This was the installation of a wing nut on a bolt that can be turned to secure the door. It is placed in a spot where it is easy to reach in and spin it from the outside. The cat is getting old, and took him a couple more years to figure that one out. Once he learned how to spin the wing nut we added a second bungee cord. He seems to be able to either spin the wing nut or dislodge the second bungee cord but not both before we notice and chase him off.

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And then there was the puppy. Our two older dogs crossed the bridge and we got a puppy. Misty is now nine months old and 70 pounds, she wasn’t about to let something as trivial as a wing nut or a bungee cord get between her and whatever she was excited about. If the door wouldn’t open, well who needs a screen anyway? So what if we were left with lots of no-see-ums and a puppy off chasing the neighbour’s chihuahua. I’m pretty sure the cat played a part in that plot but I haven’t figured out what except that he always bolted out after Misty. And so we had the next modification. We now have a new puppy proof lower grill on our travel trailer door. Misty shredded the old screen so we replaced it with a new one before mounting the grill. We used a metal grill designed for barbecues, pets cages and home security with two strips of trim and some bolts. Thanks Ace Hardware for helping us figure out how to do it.

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The cat sign was a gift from our friends Joan and the late Ed Carriere and has some very fond memories.

ATTENTION RV DESIGNERS! PLEASE STEAL THESE IDEAS AND MAKE THEM A STANDARD PART OF DOORS! I AM BEGGING YOU PLEASE!!!!

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Near Disaster Averted – Another Travel Repair Emergency

We were having some trouble with one tire. It was low when we left Manitoba and twice I had to stop and add air. We pulled into a gas station to fill up. The gas station was very busy but the shop was quiet. The mechanic came over to admire our canoe and ask about Manitoba. I soon found myself chatting with about the problem of the tire. He looked at the tire and immediately spotted a potentially much more serious problem. One of our shackle bolts were in a grave state and need replacing. The shackle bolt holds two parts of the suspension together. A careful inspection of the tire showed it had a nail in it and worse, some very serious wear patterns.

This led him to recommending replacing all the shackle bolts.  This was one of those times when I seriously wondered if he was trying to rip me off. Lord knows there is always someone ready to take your money. However there was no debating that the shackle bolt looked ‘off’ nor was there any questions the tire was a mess. So I agree to let him replace one set of shackle bolts and buy one new tire.

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As soon as he got the first shackle bolt off I could see we had a serious problem. The shackle bolt was very badly worn and mere millimetres from breaking. When I thought of a sudden break down on one of those mountain pass roads we had just traveled I felt ill. The mechanic strongly advised me to replace all four shackle bolt sets and upgrade into a much better quality type with a brass bushing that was one could add grease to. I really hate being in the position of simply having to trust someone without first being able to do my own on line research. However, there was no question those shackle bolts needed replacing. He was not busy and had everything on hand and he promised us we could be done and back on the road in an hour. I gritted my teeth and told him to go ahead.

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He was as good as his word about the shackle bolts. Unfortunately, as he inspected the tires we found two more tires with issues. One tire was unevenly worn on the inside and also had some flat pocked spots like the tire with the nail. The other tire had developed a nasty bump/bulge on one side. When I ran my fingers over it, it was clear the tire was in bad shape and ready to blow. So we replaced two more tires.

The bill was $735.12. Half of that was the tires. Most of the rest was shop time. One bolt was so bad it had to be cut off. The actual cost of the new shackle bolts was not that much. With three new tires and the price of parts plus the time taken it was not unreasonable. Given time to shop around I might have been able to get it done cheaper with my own mechanic back home 2200km away and maybe find a sale on those tires. Yet, under the circumstances it seemed reasonable to just pay up and get it done then and there. Still I couldn’t help but feel like I was been railroaded into a far more expensive repair than I really needed. Maybe it could have waited. Maybe he wasn’t just being nice about the canoe but had been inspecting my trailer looking for some way to get me into the shop. He was just too convincing and sincere, it was just all too convenient. If he was a con man, he was one of the slickest and best I had ever met. Even as I felt that, I also knew enough to know the three tires were in bad shape and needed replacing. There was also no arguing about the wear on the shackle bolts.

Three hours later and considerably poorer we pulled out. I could feel an immediate and remarkable improvement in the handling of the trailer. There was no question that it was riding much more smoothly. Later on, I read up on shackle bolts and RVs and everything I researched suggested that we had been guided to do the right thing by a competent mechanic. So, I have decided the mechanic was not ripping us off. He was our guardian angle, whose casual interest in our canoe made me ask about the tire with a slow leak. This led to him saving us from a major break down somewhere along the way.

The moral is that sometimes stuff breaks down and wear and tear happens and if you are lucky, it happens in a good place with a competent mechanic handy who has all the parts you need to fix the problem. We got lucky. I think.

Changing the hot water heater unit in our trailer.

While we were at a family camping trip last summer we discovered that our hot water (combination electric or propane) was leaking. In the leaking water was antifreeze. After a bit of investigating we determined the water was coming from somewhere on the underside of the hot water heater. We shut off the valve that is supposed to by pass the hot water heater but we still had a leak. For the balance of our camping trip we had to do without running water. This was very upsetting because we thought we had a bypass. I eventually determined that the check valve installed on the hot water intake was not working. This meant the bypass was failing.

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Check valve that represents one half of the hot water bypass. This check valve failed.

After we returned I started telephoning the nearby RV repair places to find out about getting it fixed. I was horrified to hear the replacement was going to cost somewhere in the range of $1600. That is a lot of money and I decided before shelling it out, I would try to fix it myself.

The first step was to learn how to get at the tank. Stuff in RVs is packed in tight spaces and is very intimidating. Fortunately, I found this you tube video that described how to get the unit out. Thank you thank you

I watched it several time with my husband and we set out to remove the unit. We worked about 4 hours to get it out. A careful inspection of the unit and we found a small crack on the bottom. It was a tiny little hole looking to be about 3mm long and a half a mm wide. Yet it was enough of a leak to soak the floor in ten minutes. We are fortunate to have a neighbour who does a lot of welding and he kindly stopped by to check. His diagnosis was not good news. After poking the hole and banging and inspecting he said the tank was corroded on the inside. Probably the antifreeze in the tank due to the failed check valve had been a contributing factor. Welding it would be difficult since it was aluminum and it probably would either not work or the corroded tank would just start leaking somewhere else. He recommended replacing the tank.

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I did a bunch of research on line and compared the price of the entire unit versus just the tank. As is often the case, the additional cost for the whole unit was not that much more than the cost of just the tank. The seven year old unit was having some issues with a constantly leaking pressure valve and the ignition system, while working, was also corroding. We decided to just pay the extra to get a new unit.

We immediately came up against the Canadian problem. The new unit ordered from the RV dealers in the area was going to $850 to $1200. Ordered directly from a Canadian dealer it would be $850. If I ordered it from the USA I would have to worry about taxes, duties and brokers fees. If I could order it from the US, and have it delivered to the US, I could get it for $452 Canadian. I am not sure why Canadians have to pay double plus for RV parts but we do. We opted to replace the unit after arriving in the USA. Due to our very cold fall weather, even if the water was working properly, we would have the trailer winterized with antifreeze and unusable anyway.  I called the Laramie KOA we were planning on staying at for a full week while my husband attended a conference. They cheerfully agreed to accept the part there and hold it until we arrived. Meantime, I put the old unit back in without connecting the plumbing in order to fill the hole and make it proper as far as customs was concerned. I could legitimately tell them I had replaced a broken hot water heater unit with the same model while were in the USA. No duty, taxes or import issues that way. On arrival at Laramie our new hot water heater unit was waiting.

It took very little effort to remove the old one and set it beside the new one. Everything was a perfect match. I just pulled out the screws, cut the wiring and pulled the unit out.

The new unit looked so sharp and clean in it’s nice insulation box. It came with some extra corner braces and new hinge thingies for the door. It did not come with the door but that was okay because we had the old door.

I nearly made one potentially disastrous mistake. While I was proudly photographing the old and new tanks I heard a meow and turned around and spotted my cat checking out the new cat door. After chasing him back inside I propped the old outside door inside in order to keep the cat in.

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First step was to match up the wires. I decided not to touch the old connectors and risk mixing up the previous wiring job. I just connected to old wires at the point I had cut them. That way was really easy because it was all colour coded. I used regular twist electrical connectors. The new wiring had to be carefully tucked back in on the top right but it went in. It took a bit of fiddling and wiggling. The trickiest part of the slide in process was to get the propane connection into the hole. I did that by tucking the propane connection to one side until the unit was almost in and then I went inside and there was just enough room to nudge it into the general vicinity of the hole. I had to go back out and fish around to find it and then carefully finish the process of nudging the unit in. It was too bad hubby dearest was off at his conference because I had to take multiple trips in and out in order to get the unit finally seated properly. I was assisted by Misty decided to jump on me and give me many puppy kisses each time I was working from the inside. This slowed me down some, but did cheer me up.

Once the unit was in place I was able to reconnect the propane and I used the nice shiny new corner braces with the old screws. The flange arrived sticking out and had to be bent back but it went easily. There was more than enough putty left to easily seal the new flanges.

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And it is done! At least on the outside. Now that I no longer needed the door to prevent the cat from escaping I put it on over the nice new shiny unit.

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Once the unit was in place outside, it was time to go to the back and connect the wiring and plumbing inside. I decided this time I was putting in a valve that manually opened and closed instead of a check valve. That way, if this ever happens again I can actually block off the hot water heater from the rest of the system and not be stuck with no water at all. Of course now that I have planned on it, it will never actually happen. I ended up making a couple of trips to the hardware store to get the correct new manual valve and some new connectors. Here you can see just before I started connecting the plumbing and electrical. I used lots of teflon tape on metal parts and I tightened as much as I could. It was a bear of a job because it was in such a small space but my vise grip sure came in handy.

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And finally I needed to reconnect three wires from the trailer electrical supply from the unit. It’s now in and reconnected.

We are in an area where the forecast says it is still too cold to risk adding water to test the new unit. I expect to see lots of leaks at various points in the plumbing connections that will need more tightening. I am not that strong and it will have to be something hubby dearest does. I am assuming, of course, that the new unit is not defective. I suppose we could fill and test in a few weeks and discover something wrong and have to take it all out, send it back and start all over again. The company I dealt with is not one where I have ever had any issues so I am not expecting any. I am counting it done.

So we saved will over $1000 by doing this fix by ourselves and arranging a delivery of the new unit in the USA. It was not a hard fix. It was a multicuss job with lots of fussing but it was not hard. Even taking into account some six hours of work figuring things out and removing the unit the first time and four hours of putting the new unit back in, I figure my effort was worth about $100/hour. And that is a good thing.

Update Nov 22: We finally got far enough south to be able to use our water system again. As I expected I had two joints that needed tightening to stop leaks. One connecting elbow broke instead of tightening more. (ARRGG!!) I had to make another trip to the hardware store to replace that. The unit itself is now working perfectly!