Saturday, October 3, 2015

Taking Care of your RV’s Tires (Part 1)

I am sure most of you have read multiple articles about how important your RV’s tires are. I have read countless articles about this topic myself, and what I have found is that as time goes by, even I still need an occasional kick in the butt to remind me to follow the procedures that I proactively advocate. So learn what you can from this article, and ask yourself this, do you consistently do the things you need to do to ensure that your tires are in tip-top shape? 

Let’s face it, RV tires take more abuse than your standard car tires. Often they are running at maximum load, we drive on them for long distances on hot highways, and they can often sit for months at a time without moving. If tires could talk they would be asking you what in the heck you are doing to them and what did they do to you to deserve such abuse. So let’s all agree to pamper our tires and make sure that we have the safest ride possible.

RV Tire Guidelines

There are some simple guidelines that we all need to follow. These guidelines take a bit of effort, but not much; it is just a matter of making ourselves do it. Here they are:

1)      Inspect your tires
2)      Keep tires properly inflated
3)      Do not exceed your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
4)      Ensure even load distribution on all tires
5)      Regularly have a professional perform tire maintenance

Properly Inflate Your Tires
Let’s start with an easy one: keep your tires properly inflated. We have all heard this before and there are serious reasons for it. First, the obvious: if tires are not inflated properly, then they will wear irregularly, thus causing you to have to change tires more often, and these tires ain’t cheap. More importantly, there is the safety aspect. Overinflated tires can reduce your traction, affect proper braking, possible handling issues, and give you a very bumpy ride. Underinflated tires have a whole other set of issues including handling issues, a decrease in fuel economy, and can cause structural damage to the tire.

You should check your RV’s tire pressure often. We all bounce from park to park all over the United States and beyond, and before we leave each destination we should check the tire pressure, every time. It is 5 minutes of your day, and for those that have ruined tires because of improper inflation, they will tell you, just do it (I credit Nike for the “Just Do it” part). This also gives you an opportunity to inspect the tires, which we will talk more about in another article. Now, if you are staying somewhere for 2 weeks, there is no need to inspect the tires daily, but rather before you leave for the next destination. Also, if you are storing your vehicle for long periods of time, you want to make sure you periodically check the tires to make sure they are properly inflated.

Things to know when Checking Tire Pressure
  • Always check the pressure in your RV tires when they are cold. For those experienced RVers out there, you know that as you drive the psi goes up as the heat goes up. I have seen my psi rise as much as 10-15 points on a hot day. So if you check your tire pressure while the tires are hot, this will not be an accurate reading.
  • If you have dual tires, even though it can be a pain, be sure to check them as often as the other tires.
  • Always use a quality tire pressure gauge. I use and sell the Accutire Digital Tire Pressure Gauge
  • Be sure that you have proper sealing valve caps or high quality flow through caps.
How Much Air Pressure is Enough?

This is where the big debate begins, as there are a lot of opinions on this. Here is my opinion: first, you should note the information on your sidewalls of your tires. You will find the Max load capacity, and the psi for that load. These are the basics, but if your weight is lower than the max, then the recommended psi changes. The next obvious step is to have your RV weighed. It is a good exercise to get your rig weighed routinely. If you go to RV rallies then often times there will be a company that will do this for a small fee. I usually pull into a truck stop, and most of the bigger ones have a scale that you can use for about 10 bucks. It is best to get each tire weighed individually.

Now that you know your weight, your tire manufacturer will have a chart that shows the proper psi for the weight you are at. All tires on the same axle should be at the same psi, and this psi should be determined by the tire that is carrying the most weight. So a quick review:
1)     Weigh your RV
2)     Apply the RV weight to the tires inflation chart

Here is a sample load inflation chart:

The other variable on the amount of air pressure to run is that the air pressure fluctuates as you drive down the road. Here are some things to remember:
1)  When the outside temperature raises by 10 degrees, your tire psi will raise approximately 2%.
2)  When the outside temperature goes down by 10 degrees, your tire pressure will go down by approximately 2%.
3)  For every 1000 feet of altitude, your tire psi will go up by about .5 psi, and vice versa. 

So, as an example, if your tire inflation chart recommends 90 psi for the particular weight at which you are and you know you are going to be driving on a hot day, then maybe you want to put your cold air pressure at less than 90 psi to adjust for the gain you will get once the tires heat up.

It is a bit of a moving target, and it is difficult to reach an exact equation when all the numbers keep moving around because of the tires heating up and down. This is the basics of what you need to do, and there is no need to stress about being a few psi off due to the variables.  There is one device that can give you a big advantage though.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System

A tire pressure monitoring system will give you psi data and tire heat data as you drive down the road. I believe all RVers should have one of these units. By being able to monitor your psi as you drive, it will give you a much better idea of how your psi goes up and down based on the heat; otherwise you are just guessing. In addition, the system will warn you if your psi drops below a safe point. So if you develop a slow leak, this unit will notify you of it. If you have a rapid pressure loss, then you will be notified of it. There are a lot of different brands, and the one we use and sell is the Tire Traker system. These units are easy to set up and give you the peace of mind knowing what is going on with your tires. Here is the link to this product and if you scroll to the bottom of the product page you can sign up for a buyer’s guide to get more information.

That is it for tires for now; in a future post I will discuss properly inspecting your tires and gross vehicle weight ratings. 

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Getting the Most out of a Campground's WiFi

Connecting to your RV park's WiFi is a good way to help reduce the data load on your cell phone / MiFi card plan. These plans can be very expensive and any way to reduce the usage of the cellular plan can save you money. Connecting to the RV parks WiFi signal can be a real issue at times.  However, it is not magic. If the park's WiFi has low bandwidth, it doesn't matter how much you boost it, your data rate will still be very slow. You just want to give yourself the best opportunity to take advantage of the parks WiFi, and having a WiFi booster will give you that opportunity.

WiFi is basically like a two-way radio.  Instead of speaking English, your computer speaks a language called 802.11; this has a few variations, but you get the point.  The radio waves use a frequency band called the 2.4GHz ISM band which is also used by microwave ovens and some cordless telephones.  This means that WiFi can sometimes suffer interference from these devices.

It’s important to remember two things about WiFi. First, it is mostly line-of-sight. Radio waves of this frequency do not pass very well through objects, especially ones made of metal and objects with a high water content.  For that reason, fog, rain, wet leaves and our own bodies can also impede the WiFi signal. Secondly, remember that I said that WiFi is two-way. You have to be able to “hear” the signal, but they also have to be able to “hear” you.

This is the root cause of many of the challenges in trying to connect to a RV park’s WiFi. The power output of a typical laptop WiFi is about 80mW (milli-watts or about 0.08W) and the power output from your smartphone or tablet is typically much less. They are designed to communicate to a home or office router that is at the most 15-20 feet away, not 100 - 200 feet away. And remember the square law: the strength of a signal reduces as a square of the distance, meaning that if you double the distance from the source, the signal strength reduces by 4x. So what typically happens is that your laptop can “hear” the WiFi signal(because most parks have large more powerful antennas), but your little old laptop can’t send its signal back which is why you can’t connect or have connection timeout failures.  WiFi Boosters can be a great assistance in receiving the WiFi signal from the RV park.  Again, the receiver in your devices just are not made for large distances.  

Understanding how WiFi works can help you in realizing what the solution is to your RV park WiFi frustrations. Check out the TechnoRV WiFi boosters. These units are our top selling products because they help solve a problem we all have with when in travel: getting the most out of WIFi from parks that offer it.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

How Does the RV Electrical System Work?

I get asked a lot of questions about electricity in RVs, and while my background is not as an electrician, I have gained knowledge of the RV systems through trial and error (Luckily not too much error). Electricity and RV’s are a bit complicated. The main reason it can be a bit difficult to follow is because unlike a regular house that only has AC power, the RV runs AC and DC components. Just to confirm the terms here, AC means alternating current (2 way current) and DC means direct current (One Way Current). AC comes from the power lines and DC comes from batteries. So just look over this diagram and it will all come clear:

Kidding of course, but what in the world is going on in this diagram? I see power coming in, and then I see batteries providing power. Then I see all of these funny little convertor and invertor boxes. Understand this, different components in a RV are designed to run on different types of power, either 120 volts AC or 12 volts DC. Since the origin of the power is AC, assuming you are plugged into shore power, then you need to convert that 120 volts of AC power to 12 volts of DC in order for those DC components to work.

Running your RV Power System While on Shore Power
So when the 120 volt AC power comes in from the pedestal, it hits a transfer switch, and from here some of that power just flows right on through the circuit breaker and to the components in the RV that require 120 volts of AC power. This is why you have breakers and fuses in your RV, the breakers handle the AC and the fuses handle the DC. Generally the items that run on AC power are your luxury items like TV, air conditioner, microwave, and wall outlets. The items that run on DC power are things that do not typically draw too much power like lights, water pump, heater blower, refrigerator (not residential style, that would be AC power). So we powered the AC items with the 120 volt AC power coming in from the pedestal, and now we need to power our 12 volt DC items with that same 120 volt AC power. This is where you will need a convertor. Your RV has one of these and it is likely installed in one of your underneath bays. The 120 volt AC power goes through the transfer switch to the convertor and comes out as 12 volt DC power, we will just call it magic. From here the DC power heads to the batteries and keeps them charged. From the battery, that DC power goes through a fuse panel, and then to the DC components that need power. Here is another chart that is a bit easier to follow than the one above:

The batteries in your RV will stay nice and full because of the power coming from the AC convertor.  As you see in the diagram above, the batteries are also charged by the engines alternator while the engine is running.

Running your RV Electrical System Without Shore Power
Now you may find yourself using your RV without outside power, referred to as dry camping. Well this fouls everything up that I just wrote about how RV systems work. If you do not have 120 volts coming from an outside source, then what happens to the batteries and the AC dependent components in your RV? Well nothing changes with the DC components, those items still get their power from the batteries, but without the AC power coming in, the batteries are not getting charged.

So this leaves the AC items in your RV without power, because if batteries are now the only source of power, and we know that batteries only produce DC current, then the AC items will not run, right? Yes, that it correct, but luckily there is another magic box that turns DC power, back to AC power, and this is called an invertor. So to review, a convertor changes AC to DC, and an invertor changes DC to AC.  There are boxes that can do both functions of converting and inverting, and newer RVs may have these in them. Once the DC battery power is converted to 120 volt AC power then it goes through the AC breaker panel and then on to the AC dependent components. Inverting power from DC to AC takes a good amount of battery power to make this conversion, and therefore deep cycle batteries are recommended to withstand the punishment. Obviously without a source to continue to charge your batteries, your life cycle at your current location will not be long. If you are on battery power only, be sure to conserve energy in every way you can.

On a side note, a good way to conserve some energy is to convert your RV to LED lights. LED lights use much less power than standard bulbs and therefore your batteries will last longer.

Other Sources to charge your batteries
Because many RVers like to be “off the grid”, there must be creative ways to charges the batteries without shore power. There certainly is - solar panels are very popular for RVers. All you need is a nice sunny day and the solar panels will work to keep your batteries charged. Whether or not the solar panels can keep up with your power consumption is dependent on your level of power consumption versus the extent of your solar power system.

A lot of RVers use generators. Having a generator is the equivalent of being hooked up to shore power from the RV electrical stand point, but much noisier. This is a solution for a many RVers, but is not the cheapest option as you have to keep them filled with gas. If you get a big enough generator then you could run all of the AC and DC components of your RV.

You can also keep your batteries charged with wind power, but this is not very practical and not many RVers resort to this. As a last resort you can always start your RV and charge the batteries with the alternator from your engine, but I would not use this as a normal source of power as it will reduce the life of your alternator since you would likely only do this if the batteries are low. The alternator works harder and hotter to charge a low battery versus maintaining a full battery,

Protecting Your RV Electrical System
I tried to write this in a way I would understand it when I was starting off so I hope this is helpful to those that did not know this, and I hope it was not to boring for those electrical experts out there. I think it is good for everyone that RVs to have a base knowledge of their electrical system. What is most important is that you protect all of these vital components. 12 Volt DC components can be a bit finicky and ensuring that proper voltage is supplied to your RV is top priority. The simplest way to do this is to get an Electrical Management System. While this sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Technology has come a long way and these units are mostly plug and play. There are a lot of choices out there and we believe the best system is the Progressive electrical management system. These units will continuously monitor the power supply coming into your RV and if it detects a variance outside of the tolerances then it will shut the power down. If you do not have one of these devices in place then you are playing a risky game with your RV. Without the device, a power spike or even low voltage from old worn out park pedestals can do damage to your electrical system. I get emails all the time of RVers telling me how their Progressive systems saved their RV. Unfortunately I get emails of those not using these systems, and they are telling me about damage they took on as a result. Check out our full line of Progressive Electrical Management Systems and if you need any assistance picking one out then just email us at or call us at 866-324-7915.