Pocket Flashlight Review – Lumintop EDC25 & Lumintop SD26 Flashlights

In our mobile lifestyle in our RV we often find ourselves in the dark. I’ve written in the past about how Mark is a flashlight junkie, and I’m so glad he is, because no matter where we go or what we do he always has one in his pocket!

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight review Lumintop SD26 flashlight review 1000 lumen pocket flashlights

Two nifty pocket flashlights that are lighting up the dark for us!

A few months ago I reviewed the truly incredible Lumintop SD75 4,000 lumen flashlight, which is the brightest flashlight either of us has ever seen, by a long shot. It is truly like carrying around a car headlight.

When we started planning our trip to Thailand and Cambodia, Mark decided to upgrade his pocket flashlight to the Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight to take with him on the trip. I secretly wondered where he thought we would be going in the dark once we got to Thailand, but he felt this flashlight was a very important piece of gear that he just had to take with him.

Sure enough, we visited quite a few caves in Thailand, we snuck into the darkest corners of many jaw-dropping ancient Khmer ruins in Angkor, Cambodia, and we took several nighttime boating excursions on Cheow Lan Lake.

Oh my. He was a man in love…with his flashlight! Sigh.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight with shipping containers

The big Lumintop SD75 searchlight with its suitcase and the two Lumintop pocket flashlights: SD26 (left) and EDC25 (right).

When we returned home, he absolutely had to replace yet another of his small pocket flashlights with the Lumintop SD26 flashlight, another 1,000 lumen total “must have” for a true flashlight junkie!

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight with belt holsters

Lumintop SD26 (left) and Lumintop EDC25 (right): 1000 lumen pocket flashlights with belt holsters.

I wondered why a man would ever need TWO pocket flashlights, but of course he has had a flashlight in almost every drawer and cabinet and pocket since I’ve known him, so I’ve learned not to ask. But when the Amazon boxes arrived, I couldn’t help myself from asking him a little bit more.

What makes these flashlights so special?

First, they are extremely bright for their size. Both the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and the Lumintop SD26 flashlight use the latest Cree LED technology, and the beam they cast is astonishing.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight, with its Cree XPL-V5 LED technology, has a narrower beam than the Lumintop SD26 flashlight, which has Cree XP-L HD LED technology, and that is why Mark just had to have BOTH flashlights. Each has its purpose.

He uses the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight to peer into dark corners around the rig. From searching for that small bag of almonds he knows is at the back of the snack cabinet, to crawling under the trailer and looking at the backside of our trailer’s leaf springs where a locking nut recently decided to unscrew itself, to searching the back of the Man Cave (our fifth wheel basement) for his plumber’s wrench or PVC cutters, which he rarely needs so they’re stashed in the depths somewhere, this little narrow-beam flashlight is ideal.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight has a slightly wider beam and is best for short trips in the dark around the rig where he doesn’t want to carry the whopping Lumintop SD75 flashlight” . He keeps it in a cupboard near the door to shine outside when he hears a strange noise, and it’s the one he grabs for quickie nighttime jaunts in the dark where he doesn’t need to light up the whole world.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumen

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight (left) and Lumintop SD26 flashlight (right)

We took both of these pocket flashlights and the big Lumintop SD75 searchlight out with us on our nighttime hike in New Mexico’s Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness recently so we could see the difference in the light cast by each one.

Setting ourselves up near a short cliff, we shined each flashlight directly at the cliff at max power.

The characteristics of each flashlight were very clear to see:

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam_

Narrower and more focused beam of the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight (1000 lumens).

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam_

Slightly broader beam of the Lumintop SD26 flashlight (1000 lumens).

Lumintop SD75 flashlight 4,000 lumen beam_

The “car headlight” effect of the Lumintop SD75 searchlight (4000 lumens).

Changing our angle slightly, we repeated the test with the flashlights shining at the cliff from off to the right. The same characteristics of each flashlight were very clear to see.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight beam 1,000 lumens

Narrower and more focused beam of the Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight beam 1,000 lumens

Slightly broader beam of the Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight beam 4,000 lumens

Huge light from the Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen searchlight.

 

LUMINTOP EDC25 1000 LUMEN FLASHLIGHT DETAILS

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight — the smaller one with the narrower beam — is a true pocket flashlight, complete with a spring clip to clip onto a shirt pocket or the back pocket of a pair of pants.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam in shirt pocket

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight has a spring clip for pockets.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam in jeans pocket

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The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight comes with a belt holster which is a more secure alternative if going on a longer hike with it.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight in a belt holster

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight also has a belt holster.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is powered by a 3,400 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery (the battery is supplied with the flashlight). Simply unscrew the back end of the flashlight and slip the battery into it.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight and 3400 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is powered by a 3,400 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

To charge the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight, just unscrew it in the middle.

Unscrew the Lumintop EDC25 to access the charging port

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The battery is charged by connecting to a laptop or other USB connector. The flashlight’s charging port for the cable is located in the threads of the male half (the back half) of the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight charging port

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight charging port is located in the threads of the back half of the flashlight.

Plug the charging cable into the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight unscrews for charging

Ready for charging.

Then plug the USB end of the charging cable into the laptop. Initially, the flashlight will light up green.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight turns green when charging

Initially, the charging light turns green, but the battery is not charging yet.

In order to initiate the charging process, press the on/off button on the back end of the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight back end button to start charging

Press the button on the end of the flashlight to initiate battery charging.

Then the flashlight will light up red to indicate that it is charging. Once the battery is fully charged, the flashlight will turn green again.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight turns red when it is charging

The battery is charging while the light is red.
Once it turns green again, the battery is fully charged.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight has six modes. It can be set to five different light intensities and it also has a strobe mode where it flashes on and off very quickly.

 

LUMINTOP SD26 1000 LUMEN FLASHLIGHT DETAILS

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is also 1000 lumens but it is a little thicker and slightly shorter and casts a wider beam.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumen beam in hand

Lumintop SD26 flashlight, 1000 lumens.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight doesn’t have a spring clip on it but it comes with a belt holster to make it easy to take on hikes.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight in a belt holster

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight does not have a spring clip but it does have a belt holster for easy carrying.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is powered by a 5,000 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery (supplied with the flashlight). This slightly beefier battery allows the Lumintop SD26 flashlight to run for slightly longer than that The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight before needing to be recharged.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight and 5000 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is powered by a 5,000 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is also charged with a USB cable. The charging port is hidden beneath a rubber cover.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight charging port

The charging port is located under a rubber cover.

Simply plug the charging cable into the charging port on the flashlight.

And then plug the USB connector into your laptop.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumens before charging

The battery charging process begins as soon as the flashlight is plugged into the laptop (or other) USB port.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight battery will begin charging immediately, and you’ll see a green light flashing on and off to indicate that the battery is charging. Once the battery is fully charged, the light will stop flashing and will stay green.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumens charging from laptop

The battery is charging as long as the light flashes green.
Once it stays lit solid green, the battery is fully charged.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight has seven modes. It can be set to five different light intensities and it also has a strobe mode where it flashes on and off very quickly. In addition, it has an SOS mode where it flashes Morse code for the letters “SOS.”

 

POCKET FLASHLIGHT SUMMARY

Both the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and the Lumintop SD26 flashlight are 1,000 lumen pocket flashlights that are o-ring sealed and water resistent and built with aerospace grade aluminum construction.

The thinner Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is 137 mm long, has a spring clip and bulges a little less in a back pocket, but its 3,400 mAh battery doesn’t last as long. It’s beam is narrower and more focused.

The thicker (and slightly shorter at 123 mm long) Lumintop SD26 flashlight does not need to be unscrewed into two pieces in order to be charged and has a longer lasting battery. It’s beam is slightly broader. It also has a cool “SOS” Morse code mode just in case you need to flash a call for help!

If you are a flashlight junkie like Mark — and I was really surprised after writing our Lumintop SD75 review that there are so many like-minded flashlight junkies out there! — then one of these two pocket flashlights might be something to consider for your life in the dark around your RV.

You can buy the flashlights at these links:

Our review of the Lumintop SD75 flashlight is at this link.

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RV Plumbing Tips – Cleaning RV Faucets, Sink Drains & Shower Wands

The effects of hard water on RV sinks, faucets and drains can be an ongoing problem for RVers. This page describes a few tips for how we remove these pesky mineral deposit buildups from our bathroom and kitchen sinks in our fifth wheel trailer and keep the water flowing smoothly in our shower wand and RV toilet rinse sprayer.

RV plumbing tips for cleaning RV faucets and drains and removing mineral deposits

RV plumbing tips for removing mineral deposits and cleaning RV faucets and drains.

We like the water to flow freely in our RV vanity sink faucet, kitchen sink faucet and in the shower and RV toilet sprayer wands, however, periodically these faucets begin to spray water in weird directions because their inner workings have gotten clogged up by mineral deposits from the hard water.

In our bathroom vanity, our first step is to remove and clean the screen filter in the faucet. Sometimes the faucet tip can be unscrewed by hand, but if we’ve let it go too long, we have to use a pair of pliers to break the faucet tip free due to corrosion that makes it impossible to unscrew.

Remove RV faucet screen with pliers

Remove the RV faucet screen (with pliers if it’s stuck!)

Then we unscrew the entire screen assembly from the faucet.

Disassemble RV faucet

The faucet tip unscrews from the faucet.

Dirty RV faucet screen

Ugh… the screen is pretty dirty. No wonder the water comes out funny!

This time the screen was very corroded. We remove the corrosion and mineral buildup by putting all the pieces in a bath of white vinegar for 20-30 minutes or so.

Prior to putting the pieces in the white vinegar bath, it is a good idea to make note of the order that these parts go into the faucet assembly!

Soak RV faucet parts in white vinegar

After noting how the pieces go together, soak them in white vinegar.

After the bath, the bits of corrosion can be seen in the white vinegar!

RV faucet parts get cleaned with white vinegar

Here are all the pieces. You can see the dirt that came off in the vinegar bath!

Using an old toothbrush, we scrub each piece until it is clean.

Use toothbrush to clean RV faucet screen

Use a toothbrush to get the screen totally clean.

RV faucet cleaning with toothbrush and white vinegar

Scrub all the parts with the toothbrush.

Then we reassemble the pieces in the correct order and orientation.

Reassemble RV faucet after cleaning 2

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Reassemble RV faucet after cleaning 1

Reassemble the pieces.

Put RV faucet together after cleaning it 2

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Put RV faucet together after cleaning it

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To make it easier to remove the faucet tip the next time we do this job, it helps to grease the threads with a marine PTEF lubricant prior to screwing the assembly back onto the faucet.

Lubricate RV faucet with PTEF lubricant grease

Lubricating the threads makes it easier to unscrew next time!

Lubricate RV faucet after cleaning

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Reassemble RV faucet

Screw it back into the faucet.

RV faucet cleaned and lubricated

Ta da! Now the flow will be smooth and full.

Our trailer has white plastic sinks in the bathroom and kitchen, and these sinks often develop a skanky brown ring around the sink drain. For years, we relied on Comet to clean these sinks. We sprinkled it on the entire sink, let it sit for a bit, and then scrubbed.

We recently discovered that Baking Soda is just as effective!! The fantastic thing about Baking Soda is that it is non-toxic. This is wonderful not only for our gray water holding tanks but also for the RV dump stations as well as the septic fields and municipal waste water treatment systems that are downstream from them.

It’s also really cheap!

Tips for cleaning an RV sink drain

White plastic RV sinks are prone to getting ugly stains.

Dirty RV sink drain

Yuck!

We simply sprinkle it on the sink and then scrub the sink with a damp Scotch-Brite scrubbing pad.

RV sink drain cleaning with baking soda

Sprinkle the baking soda in the sink and scrub the stains with a damp scrubby pad.

What a great result — a wonderfully squeaky clean sink!

RV sink drain is sparkling clean

Sparkling!

The drain plug also gets gummy, and we use an old toothbrush to scrub it clean with either baking soda and/or Murphy’s Oil Soap (a handy all around biodegradable cleanser).

In an RV that is used for dry camping a lot, like ours, the bathroom vanity sink drain can get really gross really quickly because in an effort to conserve fresh water not much clean water gets flushed down the drain.

This can result in foul odors in the sink drain, and it’s pretty unsightly too.

So, we do two things.

First, we scrub the inside of the bathroom sink drain with an old toothbrush. To get a longer reach down the drain, we taped our toothbrush to an old tent stake we had lying around. Anything long and narrow will work.

Toothbrush and extension rod to clean RV sink drain

Tape an old toothbrush to a long stick to reach deep down the RV sink drain.

Cleaning an RV sink drain

Scrub inside the sink drain.

We also scrub the sink drain plug.

Second, to keep the RV bathroom sink drain fresh smelling, we use Happy Camper Holding Tank Treatment which we’ve found is a particularly good deodorizer. We put scoop of powder in an old water bottle, fill it up with water and shake it well (the bottle gets warm as the enzymes get activated!), and then pour it down the drain.

Most of it goes into the gray water tank, but a small amount stays in the bathroom sink drain p-trap and does its magic there, killing off the offensive odors.

Use toothbrush to scrub RV sink drain plut

Scrub the sink drain plug with a toothbrush.

To keep our RV shower in tip-top shape, we clean the drain there as well. The biggest problem in our RV shower drain isn’t foul odors, because the shower drain gets flushed with lots of water everyday. Instead, the challenge with the RV shower drain is accumulated hair.

In a house, it’s easy enough to use a powerful cleanser like Drano to clean out any clogs caused by hair, but we don’t want strong chemicals like that sitting in our gray wastewater holding tank. Afterall, we want the enzymes and bacteria in the Happy Camper and Unique RV Digest-It holding tank treatment products we use to thrive and go to work breaking things down!

So, we use a long spring hook (and flashlight) to pull the hair out. It just takes a few minutes and then the drain is clear.

Some RV shower stalls may have drain components that can be removed for cleaning. Ours doesn’t.

Cleaning hair from an RV shower drain

Use a spring hook to pull hair out of the RV shower drain.

Periodically, the RV shower wand gets crudded up with mineral deposits just like our RV sink faucets do. Again, we rely on white vinegar to clean up the deposits clogging the spray holes in the shower nozzle.

First, we pour the white vinegar through the shower wand to let it soak from the inside.

Tips for cleaning an RV shower wand

The RV shower wand can be cleaned with white vinegar.

Then we soak the shower wand’s face in a bath of white vinegar.

Tips for cleaning an RV shower wand

Put the RV shower wand face down in a white vinegar bath to clean all the little holes.

If we’ve let a little too much time pass, we’ll also use a toothpick to clean out each hole in the shower head. We use bamboo toothpicks because they hold up well in water. Ordinary wooden toothpicks tend to disintegrate when they get wet. A scribe also works well.

The before-and-after difference in the flow of water through the shower wand is startling. When half of the little holes are blocked from mineral deposits and the other half have an impeded flow, the water can feel like needles on your skin. After cleaning the wand, it is more like a waterfall.

Clean each hole in an RV shower wand with a toothpick or scribe

Use a toothpick or scribe to clean each hole in the shower wand.

Lots of RVers love the Oxygenics RV shower head. We don’t use it because it doesn’t work well with the low water pressure we use to conserve water since we dry camp every night, but for RVers who get water hookups a lot, these shower heads are extremely popular. Of course, in hard water areas, these shower heads will need periodic cleaning as well.

The RV toilet bowl rinsing wand is also subject to corrosion from mineral deposits, and after a while when we go to rinse the toilet bowl we find the water flow from the sprayer is restricted and funky.

RV toilet sprayer wand cleaning

The RV toilet sprayer wand gets clogged with minerals too.

Again, it’s easy to unscrew the end of the toilet spay wand, put it in a white vinegar for 20-30 minutes, scrub it a bit with a toothbrush, and then put it back on the wand.

RV toilet rinse wand cleaning

Unscrew the tip of the toilet rinsing wand and soak it in white vinegar to clean the holes.

As an aside, if you have energy leftover after cleaning all your RV sinks, faucets, drains and spray nozzles, a spray bottle filled with a water and white vinegar mixture is super for washing the windows. As I wrote this, some flies got in our trailer and Mark started spraying them when they landed on the window next to him using a spray bottle filled with water and white vinegar. Besides slowing them down and killing them, he was really impressed with how clean the window was when he finished!

So, these are a few of the things we do to keep our sinks and drains flowing smoothly in our life on the road in our RV.

We hope they help you too!

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B&W Companion Hitch Performance in a Fifth Wheel Trailer Rollover Accident

The April 2017 issue of Trailer Life magazine featured our article on the new Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches. Ironically, just as that issue came out, a reader emailed us the harrowing tale of his recent fifth wheel trailer rollover accident.

Trailer Life Magazine Latch and Release B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch article

Trailer Life Magazine, April 2017.
Text and photos by Emily Fagan.
Installation by Mark Fagan and Mark Graika.

Like most RVers, we installed our hitch without giving much thought to rollover accidents, and we have been very happy with it.

The B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch is special because it is designed to fit into the new puck sytems that the diesel truck manufacturers are now making available in the beds of their pickup trucks.

This makes it easy to install the hitch in the truck without having to take the truck to a shop.

Mark was able to install it in our truck with a friend’s help in about an hour, using minimal tools, and that included opening the boxes and reading the instructions. A step-by-step guide for how to install the B&W Companion OEM hitch are at this link:

B&W Companion OEM Hitch Installation Guide

The other fabulous thing about the B&W Companion OEM hitch is that not only is it easy to install but it is easy to remove from the truck.

Anytime you want to use the bed of your truck to haul something big like lumber, fire wood or furniture, it is a very straight forward process to take the hitch out of the truck.

The best part is that there are no hitch rails in the bed of the truck, so once the hitch is removed, the bed of the truck is totally flat.

These features are not part of the design of conventional fifth wheel hitches, like the conventional rails-based B&W Companion hitch (not an “OEM” model), so it’s a worthwhile to consider buying a truck with the optional puck system on it if you are considering buying a late model diesel truck.

When buying a truck/trailer combination, not only are the quality of the truck and trailer important, but the hitch is really important too, and not just for its ability to tow a heavy load…

We were shocked when full-time RVers Mark and Doran Gipson sent us photos of their terrifying rollover accident with their fifth wheel. They were towing their home, a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America fifth wheel, with a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500, and they were hitched together with B&W Companion hitch.

While driving at 60 mph on I-10 outside in El Paso in February, two very inconsiderate drivers suddenly cut them off in a series of swerves right in front of them.

Here is Mark’s description of what happened:

“We were going 60 mph and were cut off by two vehicles who decided to not exit on loop 375. They dove back into our lane within 2 car lengths. With no time to brake, I swerved to the inside lane only to have the second vehicle also move into that lane as well. I lost the trailer when I swerved back to miss the concrete median.”

The result was that the trailer went over on the driver’s side at 60 mph, slid 150 feet and hit its roof on the concrete median.

Hitchhiker trailer wheel trailer RV rollover accident

The Hitchhiker fifth wheel hit the pavement at 60 mph and slid 150 feet.
Most trailers would have splintered on impact.

Fortunately, as the trailer went over on its side, the B&W hitch — which comes in two pieces: a base on the bottom and a coupler on the top — separated in two. The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin as the trailer toppled over while the base stayed in the bed of the truck, allowing the truck to remain upright.

Hitchhiker fifith wheel trailer rollover accident with B&W fifth wheel hitch coupler still attached

The upper half of the fifth wheel hitch — the coupler — remained attached to the trailer
as it rolled over on the driver’s side.

So, while Mark and Doran came to a skidding stop in their truck, sitting upright in their seats, the trailer rolled over, detached and slid to a stop on its side.

Truck damage from fifth wheel trailer rollover accident

As the trailer went over, the fifth wheel overhang crushed the driver’s side of the truck bed.

If the truck had rolled over too, Mark and Doran could have easily been very badly injured or even killed. However, because the truck stayed upright, they walked away unscathed. Thank heavens!!

With the truck badly damaged and the trailer on its side on I-10, Mark called for help and a wrecking crew arrived. As he wrote to me:

“The wrecker driver came with two trucks and a trailer because he had not gotten to a 5th wheel rollover without the truck also on its side and the trailer in pieces. He said that it would collapse when he tried to pick it up. But he put it on its wheels and towed it to his shop and still can’t believe how well built it was.

“Things were tumbled around inside but we virtually lost none of our possessions.”

Fifth wheel trailer damage from RV rollover accident with Hitchhiker 5th wheel trailer

The wrecking crew righted the trailer and were amazed that it stood up just fine on its own wheels.
The damage to the trailer was cosmetic except for a roof rafter.

“We tested the slides and everything worked. The major damage was cosmetic on the side that slid and possibly a broken roof rafter where the AC unit came against the concrete barrier. Though everything was scrambled inside, nothing was broken. We lost almost nothing of our possessions including TV and computers.”

My husband Mark and I saw a trailer accident on the highway once, and the entire trailer was in splinters. That is what usually happens in trailer accidents and that’s why the wrecker driver arrived at the accident scene prepared to pick up a million pieces off the highway.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer sustained little damage in 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

The wrecking crew expected the trailer to fall apart when it was righted, but it stood right up.
They towed it away on its own wheels just fine.

It is quite a testament to the way the Hitchhiker Discover America trailers were built that one could fall over on its side at 60 mph and still be intact with the slide-out mechanisms still functioning and only cosmetic damage on the side that skidded on the asphalt.

Unfortunately, Hitchhiker (NuWa Industries) stopped building fifth wheel trailers in 2013, but used models of all ages can still be found. Our blog posts from our visits to NuWa in Chanute, Kansas, can be found at the following links:

B&W Trailer Hitches is located just a few miles away from the NuWa plant (NuWa is now called Kansas RV Center) in Humboldt, Kansas, and we enjoyed a wonderful factory tour and a unique American heartland small town celebration that was sponsored in part by B&W Trailer Hitches two years ago (blog post here).

For Mark and Doran, the key to their truck staying upright during their rollover accident was the way the pivot arm on the base of the B&W Companion hitch bent sideways and let the coupler break free as the trailer toppled over.

Bent pivot arm on B&W fifth wheel hitch after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Looking forward towards the cab of the truck, the pivot arm on the driver’s side bent outwards allowing the coupler to break free (with some small broken parts inside) while the entire hitch base stayed planted in the bed of the truck. This kept the truck upright.

B&W fifth wheel hitch bent pivot arm after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Bent pivot arm on the fifth wheel hitch base.

It is impressive that the B&W hitch allowed for the hitch coupler and hitch base to separate completely once one of the pivot arms on the hitch base began to bend as the trailer went over. As the wrecker driver noted, usually both the truck and the trailer roll over together because once the trailer starts to go over the hitch forces the truck over too.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch coupler after trailer rollover accident

The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin.
In this photo it has been removed from the king pin and laid in the bed of the truck for inspection.

B&W Companion hitch coupler after rollover accident broken pieces inside

The coupler is flipped upside down here to reveal the broken pieces inside.

Broken pieces inside the B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch after a rollover accident

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In the end, Mark and Doran decided to replace both their truck (a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500) and their trailer (a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America) as well as their slightly damaged B&W Companion hitch with a new set: a 2012 3500 Ram dually truck, 2012 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America and a new B&W Companion hitch!

We feel very blessed to have towed our fifth wheel trailer so many tens of thousands of miles and seen so many beautiful places in nearly 10 years of full-time travel. We’ve had our share of near misses, especially in our trip back east two years ago where traffic is blindingly fast on very crowded and confusing highways, and we’ve seen our share of accidents too.

One RV upgrade we did that has made a massive difference for us in dealing with sudden stops at high speed while towing our 36′ 14k lb. fifth wheel trailer was a trailer disc brake conversion where we upgraded from standard trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. This is a pricey upgrade, but one we highly recommend doing.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel RV with B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch under sunny skies

RVing in a fifth wheel trailer is so much fun, especially in gorgeous places far from the open road.
But accidents do happen and good equipment — from truck to trailer, hitch and brakes — can make a huge difference in the outcome when things go wrong.

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Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall

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What’s A Girl To Do at the RV Dump Station?

Dumping the RV holding tanks is a nasty little job, but it’s part of the fun of traveling around in an RV, and we’ve all gotta do it. It’s really not all that bad when it’s a shared job, but of course that’s easy for us gals to say, because it’s usually our male partners-in-love-and-life who get to do the bulk of the dirty work.

RV dump station tips for women RVers-2

Despite lots of progress over the years for the types of work women can do, emptying an RV’s waste water holding tanks is a job many women are just as happy to leave to their better half.

Sometimes, when we go to an RV dump station, I am amazed to see a woman remain in the passenger’s seat of her truck or motorhome for the whole duration of the job. I’m not sure how these women have negotiated that arrangement with their significant other, but I figure they must be incredibly good cooks to be able to chat with a friend on the phone or check the latest on Facebook while their hubby is grinding it out with the sewer hose, the splashing water, and all that muck and mire.

RV dump station tips for RVing women

Mark looks like he’s having so much fun. Can I get away with doing nothing?

I wish my skills were so awesome in the kitchen that I could be exempt from doing anything at the RV dump station. But alas, in our marriage, I need to be a participant in this dirtiest of deeds to win brownie points for other aspects of our life together. Nonetheless, it took me a few years to find things to do while we were at the RV dump station that were truly useful and helpful.

We have a full set of “blue” RV dump station procedural tips below — but they don’t say much about the “pink” side of the job:

Dirty Little Secrets from the RV dump station

Too often at the beginning of our RVing lives I found my best efforts to help with setting up the RV sewer hose or screwing in the water hose ended up with me underfoot and in the way of the general flow of things. Mark had his methods, and I couldn’t read his mind as to what came next.

Few people are in truly sunny and radiant moods when they don their rubber gloves at the RV dump, and too often I found that my most valiant attempts to be helpful resulted in tensions rising between us.

RV dump station tips for women RVers

I think he’s trying to tell me something.

Then one day I discovered a way that I can be of significant help and get some important jobs done at the same time.

GIVE THE BLACK TANK A BOOST FLUSH

For starters, I fill two 5-gallon water buckets with water and carry them into the rig to dump them down the toilet after the black tank has been emptied. Even if an RV has a black water flush system like ours does, it is still surprising just how many little bits of gunk and human waste solids get flushed out when two 5-gallon buckets of water are poured down the toilet.

I fill the buckets while Mark gets the sewer hose out and attaches the clear elbow so he can see when the holding tanks are fully drained. Then I can scoot out of the way and carry the buckets around to our RV’s door before he begins attaching the black water flush hose between the rig and the water spigot. This way we don’t end up stepping on each when we first start working at the RV dump station.

RV dump station tips flushing black tank with buckets of water in toilet

We have two buckets and I fill each one with water to give the toilet and sewer pipes an extra flush.

The buckets are heavy to carry around to our trailer’s front door, but I don’t mind a little bit of a shoulder and arm workout, and I take them one at a time. Maneuvering a heavy bucket of water up stairs is excellent exercise for both balance and strength.

I grab the inside of the doorway with my left hand for extra balance, tighten my abs so I don’t throw my back out with the uneven weight distribution of carrying a heavy bucket, and I leverage myself up and set the pails down inside in the kitchen.

RV dump station tip flush black tank with buckets of water in toilet

The buckets are heavy, but I take my time and grab the door frame to keep my balance as I go up the stairs.

For those who can’t carry the buckets, your partner will likely be happy to carry them for you since this really helps ensure the black tank and toilet get a complete flush. Also, filling the buckets only half way or three quarters of the way can help not only lighten the load but keep the water from splashing all over the place and all over you.

CLEAN THE BATHROOM

The other task I tackle is cleaning the toilet room from top to bottom and cleaning the bathroom vanity and kitchen sink. I figure that if my sweet hubby is dealing with the darker side of RVing outside at the RV dump station, I can deal with the same stuff on the inside..

This insures the bathroom gets cleaned on a regular basis and also means that when we arrive at our next campsite not only are the holding tanks empty but our bathroom is sparkling clean and smells fresh.

So, once I get the water buckets inside the rig, I begin assembling the things I will need to clean the toilet and the bathroom. When I hear Mark’s knock on the wall, I know he has finished emptying the black tank and it is time to dump the buckets of water down the toilet.

RV dump station tips flush black tank

I pour one bucket at a time and Mark watches the flow in the sewer hose to make sure the water eventually runs clear.

Since the buckets are just inside the RV door, it takes me a minute to grab one and empty it. Then it takes a few minutes more to go grab the other one and empty it too. Having a few minutes between flushes is helpful because then Mark can monitor whether the water from the second bucket is running clear or is still flushing solids out. If there are still chunks coming out, then, depending on whether anyone is waiting to use the RV dump after us, I’ll fill another bucket or two with water and dump them down the toilet.

Sometimes I have the water pump turned on as I dump the buckets of water down the toilet and sometimes it’s turned off. Having it turned on means even more water flushes down, which is great, but it also uses up water from the fresh water tank. So, whether or not I have the water pump turned on depends on whether there are people waiting behind us at the dump station, as it will take a little longer for us to fill the fresh water tank if we flush a few extra gallons down the toilet as part of the dumping process.

Now that the black tank is completely flushed, Mark begins emptying our kitchen gray tank. We have two gray tanks, one for the kitchen and one for the shower. We empty the kitchen tank first because it is dirtier and has more things in it (like broccoli bits) than the shower gray tank which is just sudsy water.

While he works on emptying the two gray tanks, I get to work cleaning the toilet.

RV dump station tip woman cleans toilet and bathroom

If Mark is mucking around in gross stuff outside, the least I can do is muck around in gross stuff inside. This also gives us a clean bathroom when we set up camp.

Since we have a hatch in the toilet room that we leave open a lot, the toilet lid and the floor often get dusty in just a few days. So I remove everything from the toilet room and clean everything, including the floor.

Over the years we’ve found that the toilet bowl — more so than the black tank itself — can be a big source of foul odors. Unlike household toilets, RV toilet bowls are basically dry except during flushing, so urine can end up drying in the bowl and producing an odor.

Also, the flow of the flushing water doesn’t necessarily rinse every inch of the bowl, so some areas simply don’t get rinsed all that well, even when using the toilet’s spray nozzle. So, I go to town on the inside of the bowl as well as everything else.

We use two enzyme/bacteria based RV holding tank treatment products: Happy Campers RV holding tank treatment has worked best for us in extreme temperatures (very cold and very hot) and for controlling tank odors. RV Digest-It holding tank treatment has worked best for us in moderate temperatures to break down the solids in the tank.

Because these are both basically solutions of living critters, the toilet cleaning products we use can’t be too toxic or the colonies of feces-eating bacteria can’t get established and become self-perpetuating. I’ve been using Murphy’s Oil Soap for the last few years with good results.

This is the soap that is recommended for cleaning the rubber roofs on the tops of RV’s, which is why we had it on hand to try on the toilet a few years ago. In addition to being biodegradable, what we like about it for cleaning the toilet is that it assists in keeping both the seals in the toilet bowl and on the black holding tank valve lubricated. I used white vinegar for cleaning the toilet for a while, and after a few months the black tank valve got really sticky. Since switching to Murphy’s Oil Soap a few years ago, that valve hasn’t gotten gummed up.

Periodically, we’ve found the seals in the toilet bowl have stopped holding water which meant the bowl drained completely dry between flushes. This allowed foul odors to come up from the black water tank. This problem is usually due to mineral and gunk build-ups on the seal.

So, I give that seal a really good cleaning too. The critical areas are on both the top and bottom surfaces of the rubber seal, that is, between the seal and the toilet bowl (the top side) and underneath the seal where the dome flapper (the “waste ball”) closes up against it.

RV toilet assembly and flapper valve installation

A disassembled RV toilet shows what the rubber toilet seal looks like without the toilet bowl sitting on it. To prevent it from leaking and draining the toilet between flushes, I scrub both top and bottom of the rubber seal.

I make sure the water pump is off at this point and hold the toilet flush lever down so I can get at the underside of the seal.

Often, the build-up is due to having hard water in the fresh water tanks which is very common in Arizona and other western states where the fresh water comes from deep, mineral rich aquifers.

RV toilet flapper cleaning tips

The seal needs to be completely free of mineral deposits on both the top and bottom, so I clean the area between the seal and the bowl on the top (red arrow) and below the seal on the bottom (the backside of the seal in this view).

At this point, depending on what Mark is up to outside, I’ll move on to other cleaning projects. If we have nearly emptied our fresh water tanks prior to coming to the RV dump station, it may take 10 minutes to refill them. Also, sometimes the potable water spigot is a little ways beyond the waste water dump area, requiring Mark to move the whole rig a few feet forward.

So, if there is time, I will clean the bathroom vanity sink and then move on to the kitchen sink. Depending on our plans for the next few days and depending on how much time I have at the RV dump, I may also add the holding tank treatment to the black tank, via the toilet, and add it to the gray tanks via the bathroom sink, shower and kitchen sink.

Sometimes, however, I prefer to wait two or three days until those tanks have some liquids in them before adding the holding tank treatment. And sometimes I add just a half tank’s worth of holding tank treatment at the RV dump station and then add the other half a few days later once the holding tanks have become partially full.

Of course, we add a capful of bleach to our fresh water tanks every few months, and that totally obliterates any colonies of anything that have started to grow in any of the holding tanks (including the fresh water tank) as the bleach water works its way through our plumbing system from the fresh water tank to the gray and black waste water tanks.

So, for us, creating fully self-sustaining communities of healthy organisms in any waste water tank is not 100% doable. But by using non-toxic cleansers we can help them along in between bleach blasts.

So, all in all, there is a LOT a girl can do at the RV dump station. We find we are both much happier about the whole process when we each have a set of tasks to do when we get there that are not only similarly grungy but are equally important and that take place in different parts of the RV.

The best part is that when we leave the RV dump station to go set up camp in a new, beautiful location, not only do we have empty waste water tanks but our bathroom is clean and fresh too.

Happy cleaning!!

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Hitch Tighteners – Anti-Rattle Hitch Clamps Stop the Creaks & Wiggles!

We carry our bicycles on the back of our 36′ fifth wheel trailer with a Kuat NV bike rack inserted into the trailer’s hitch receiver (we reviewed the Kuat bike rack here). We installed this bike rack in 2012 and it has been great for the past five years of our full-time RV travels.

Kuat NV Bike Rack on back of fifth wheel trailer RV

We carry our mountain bikes on the back of our 5th wheel with a Kuat NV Bike Rack

To keep the bike rack from dragging on the ground in crazy places like steep gas station ramps or deep gulleys on small roads, we had a “Z” shaped “hi-low” hitch riser made. This raises the rack up quite high, so now the first thing to hit the ground is the hitch receiver itself rather than the bike rack.

Hitch extension with Kuat NV bike rack

A “Z” shaped “hi-low” hitch riser raised the bike rack so it can’t drag on the ground in a gully or dip.

As is often the case with hitch receivers, the bike rack isn’t a perfectly tight fit in the hitch receiver riser, and the bottom of the riser isn’t a perfect fit in the trailer’s hitch receiver either. So, the whole bike rack tends to wiggle.

We’ve used various shims to make it all tight, but too often they would wiggle loose over time, and eventually the bikes would be jiggling all over the place on the rack again.

Using a shim in a bumper hitch

We wedged shims in to tighten things up, but it wasn’t an ideal solution

Last fall we stopped in at JM Custom Welding in Blanding, Utah, to talk with Jack, the man who had made our “Z” hitch riser (more info about it here). We wondered if he had any tricks up his sleeve for making our bike rack arrangement less wobbly.

JM Custom Welding Blanding Utah

Mark and Jack of JM Custom Welding in Blanding, Utah

It turns out that he had solved this very problem for other customers by making a hitch tightener. This is essentially a hitch clamp that fits over the end of the hitch receiver and snugs up whatever is inserted into the receiver with some lock washers and nuts.

Bumper hitch tightener for car or RV hitch

Jack put this nifty hitch tightener on our hitch receiver.

Bumper hitch tightener for bike rack

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So, we got two of them, one for the top and one for the bottom of our “Z” shaped hi-low hitch riser extension.

Hitch tightener on RV for bike rack

He put a second hitch tightener on the trailer’s receiver as well.

The difference in the amount of movement of the bikes was absolutely astonishing. They were rock solid now!

Hitch tightener for bike rack mounted in bumper hitch

Looking down at both hitch tighteners on our hitch extension.

After installing the hitch tighteners, which was just a matter of tightening the nuts, Mark drove the rig around the JM Custom Welding dirt lot while I walked behind and watched the bikes, and they were steady as could be.

Hitch tighteners on bumper hitch mounted bike rack

Hitch tighteners at the top and bottom of the hi-low hitch riser extension.

Hitch tightener for bike rack mounted in bumper hitch

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But unlike the shim solution we’d used before, these hitch tighteners have stayed tight without needing any adjusting or fuss for several months and several thousand miles of driving on all kinds of roads.

Kuat NV BIke rack and bike rack extension and hitch tightener

The whole system is completely rigid now and has not needed any adjustments in six months of use.

The hitch tighteners do make for some extra steps if we want to move the bike rack from the hitch receiver on the trailer to the hitch receiver on our truck. However, we’ve started hauling our bikes in our truck in a different way using a furniture blanket, so there’s no need to take the bike rack off the trailer any more.

Mountain bikes on truck rather than a bike rack

An easy way to get the bikes from the trailer to the trail head!

Jack makes these hitch tighteners in batches, so if you are passing through Blanding, Utah, perhaps on your way to or from the beautiful Natural Bridges National Monument, just a mile or so south of Blanding you can stop by JM Custom Welding and pick one up! In 2016 the were $38 apiece.

We discovered later that hitch tighteners of various kinds are also commercially available. So, if Blanding, Utah, isn’t in your sights, you can choose from many different kinds of hitch clamps online.

However, a visit to Jack’s welding shop is very worthwhile, especially if you need any kind of custom metal fabrication done on your RV. He is very creative and does excellent work.

While we were in Jack’s office, we noticed a display of his for a folding storage solution for the beds of pickup trucks he’s created that fits right behind the truck cab. He calls it the “Jack Pack” and it is essentially a framed canvas storage bag the width of the truck bed that is easily opened to throw your bags of groceries into and then easily folded away when you need to haul lumber or fill the truck bed with something else.

If we didn’t have that part of our truck filled up with extra water jugs, we would have snagged one of those from him at the same time!

We’ve got a few more links below.

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Info on hitch tighteners and hitch clamps:

There are many brands of hitch tighteners on the market. These are a few:

There’s also a “Z” shaped hi-low hitch riser available:

If you need custom metal fabrication work done:

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Photography – Cameras, Gear, Tips and Resources

Since we began our full-time RV travels in 2007, photography has become a huge part of our lives. Photography is an ideal hobby for travelers, and it isn’t hard to learn. Our learning curve has played out on the pages of this website, and it is satisfying to see our improvement over the years. When we first started traveling, we each shot about 6,000 photos per year. Now we each shoot over 35,000 photos per year (a little under 100 per day).

Camera on a tripod - photography

Photography is a lot of fun, and it’s not hard to learn.

People have asked us what cameras and equipment we use, and how we improved our skills. This page presents all of our gear choices, from our camera bodies to our favorite lenses to our filters and tripods to the goodies we use to take our cameras out for a hike to the software we rely on for post-processing.

It also explains how we organize all our photos and lists all the books, eBooks and online tutorials we have studied to learn to take better photos. We are entirely self-taught, and the inspiring resources we reference here lay it all out in plain language.

We’ve invested in our camera equipment because photography is our passion and we do it all day long. What you’ll see here is good solid “value” gear that is above “entry level” but not “strictly for the pros” either.

For easy navigation, use these links:

The best time to buy camera gear is between Thanksgiving and Christmas during Black Friday week or when a manufacturer discontinues a camera model. An inexpensive but good quality DSLR that you can get for a steal is the Nikon D3300, discontinued in June 2016. In October 2016, a smoking deal includes the Nikon D3300, two lenses and a camera bag. Other Nikon D3300 kits are available too. This camera was replaced with the Nikon D3400 which is Nikon’s current (and terrific) entry level DSLR model

CAMERAS and LENSES

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Our Current Cameras and Lenses

As of 2016, we both shoot with Nikon D810 cameras. This is a professional level, truly awesome, full-frame 36 megapixel camera.

For three years prior to that, we both used Nikon D610 cameras. This is a full-frame, 24 megapixel camera. It is considered a “pro-sumer” camera, not quite professional quality but at the high end of the hobbyist ranks.

Although we have a big collection of lenses, we typically take no more than two apiece with us when we are out and about on foot. It’s just too much stuff to lug around!

I have a Nikon 28-300 mm lens on my camera which I use almost exclusively, simply because I love the flexibility of having both wide angle and zoom options with the twist of my wrist without having to change lenses.

Photographer with camera tripod in the water

When we got into photography, we jumped in with both feet.

Mark likes to pick a lens for the day and work within its limits. His favorites are prime (non-zooming) lenses, and he uses the Nikon 50 mm and Nikon 85mm lenses a lot. These are a lot less expensive than zoom lenses, and they are much faster lenses too (meaning they can be used in lower light). However, they do not have vibration resistance (also known as “image stabilization”), a technology that reduces the inherent wiggle caused by hand-holding a lens.

He also uses the Nikon 24-120 and the Sigma 24-105. These are very similar lenses, and we would have just one of them, but I used to use the Nikon 24-120 all the time before I got the Nikon 28-300, so he got the Sigma 24-105 to have one with a similar range. They’re both terrific lenses, so we can’t decide which one to keep and which one to sell!

We have a Nikon 70-200, which is a truly beautiful lens. For a long time neither of us used it much, but after I commented to that effect when I first published this post, Mark put it into his regular arsenal and uses it frequently now. It is a fabulous lens with excellent color rendition. Another advantage is that the zoom feature doesn’t lengthen or shorten the lens — it is always one length and all the zooming is physically done inside the lens. This means that dust doesn’t sneak into the lens when it is zoomed in and out the way it does with other lenses (like the 28-300, 24-120 and 24-105 mentioned above).

For wide angles, we have a Nikon 16-35 and a Nikon Nikon 18-35 so we can each shoot very wide angles simultaneously. Mark LOVES wide angle photography, and he uses these all the time. The 16-35 is more expensive, and was purchased as an upgrade from the 18-35, but he can’t seem to part with the 18-35 now, so I inherited it.

For super wide angles like at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona or for shooting stars at night (like the final image in this post or the first image in this post), we turn to the Rokinon 14 mm lens (with the Nikon focusing chip) or our very cool fisheye lens, the Rokinon 12 mm lens.

We have a Tamron 150-600 mm lens for shooting birds (like wild peach faced lovebirds here) and for wildlife — or even for stationary cacti at a faraway distance as in this image here. An alternative to this lens that is priced similarly is the Sigma 150-600 contemporary series lens. If it had been available, we probably would have purchased the Sigma 150-600 instead of the Tamron 150-600, but it wasn’t in production at the time. Another awesome option that has become available since our purchase is the Nikon 200-500 mm lens. That lens is on our wish list right now so we can each have a powerful zoom in situations where we want one.

What about those third party lenses?? Some are better than others, although Sigma’s Art Series lenses are really great these days (and expensive). When I was casting about for a “do it all” lens, we initially bought a Tamron 28-300 mm lens. It had terrible color rendition and didn’t focus for beans, so we returned it to buy the Nikon 28-300, which I totally love. I will be curious to see how the Tamron 150-600 stacks up against the Nikon 200-500 when we eventually buy it.

Our Past Cameras and Lenses

Do you need all this crazy stuff when you first get started? No!

When we began traveling, we purchased two Nikon D40 cameras, which were 6 megapixel crop-sensor cameras. Each came with a Nikon 18-55 mm lens, and we got a Nikon 55-200 mm lens for distance. This was a great camera model to learn on, and we published five magazine cover photos taken with it.

Coast to Coast Cover Spring 2012

Do you need to spend a bundle on a camera? No!
I took this photo with a Nikon D40 that you can buy today (used) for $100.

The Nikon D40 (and its modern day equivalent Nikon D3300) are “crop sensor” cameras (or “DX” in Nikon lingo). This means the sensor is smaller than on a “full frame” camera (like our current Nikon D610 cameras which are “FX” in Nikon lingo). This, in turn, means the image quality is slightly lower and if you blew up the image to poster size it won’t look quite as good up close.

The D40 was discontinued long ago, but can be found on Craigslist and eBay for $100 to $150 with two lenses. One that has been lightly used will work just as well now as it did years back.

How do you tell how “used” a used camera is??

If you have a Mac, an easy way to find out how many shutter clicks a camera has is to take a photo, download it to your computer, export it or locate it in the Finder, and open it in Preview by double clicking on it. Then click on Tools > Show Inspector, click the “i” button and then the “Exif” button. The Image Number is the number of shutter clicks the camera has on it. This works only for cameras that have a mechanical shutter, not for pocket cameras with an electronic shutter.

My only frustration with the Nikon D40 was that there was no built-in cleaning system for the camera sensor, so every time we changed lenses the sensor was vulnerable to picking up dust — and it did! We used the Nikon D40 cameras fro 2007 until 2011.

Today’s “equivalent” entry level DSLR is the Nikon D3300. It is a 24 megapixel camera that is far more sophisticated than the D40 and not “equivalent” in any way except the price point. If you want to get it in a kit with multiple lenses, filters, camera bag, tripod, etc., you can pick up a really nice the Nikon D3300 kits right here.

The Tamron 150-600 lens can be hand held

The Nikon D610 and Tamron 150-600 mm lens.
I’m in camo to keep from scaring the birds away.
Think it will work when I point this huge scary lens at them? Not!!

In 2011, we upgraded to the Nikon D5100, a 16 megapixel crop-sensor camera. Like the Nikon D40, this camera was also a “crop sensor” or “DX” camera.It came with a Nikon 18-55 mm lens. We got a Nikon 55-300 lens, and I ran all over Mexico with both of those lenses, switching back and forth all day long.

In hindsight, I should have gotten the Nikon 18-300 lens and spared myself the hassle of carrying a second lens and switching lenses all the time (I missed so many great shots because I was fumbling with the camera!). But I had read some iffy reviews of the first edition of that lens and decided against it (the current model is its 3rd generation and I’ve met people who LOVE this lens. Oh well!).

The best thing about that camera was the built-in sensor cleaner. Living in the salty and dusty environment of coastal Mexico, this was huge. The other fun thing about that camera was the flip-out display on the back. You could put the camera in Live View, then set it on the ground or hold it overhead and still see your composition on the back of the camera.

We used the Nikon D5100 cameras from 2011 to 2013. The Nikon D5100 has been discontinued. Today’s “equivalent” level DSLR is the Nikon D5300. It is a 24 megapixel camera that, again, is far more sophisticated than the predecessor that we had. This is an outstanding “intermediate” camera and can be purchased in a Nikon D5300 camera and lens bundle.

If you have a few more dollars to spend, the Nikon D7200 is even better. It is still a crop sensor camera, but it is very sophisticated. Like the others, if you are starting out, getting a Nikon D7200 Camera and Lens Kit is very cost effective.

Pocket Cameras

Sometimes carrying a big DSLR camera is inconvenient. We both like having a pocket camera for times when a DSLR is too big.

I use an Olympus Tough TG-4 camera when I ride my mountain bike. I used its predecessor when I snorkeled in Mexico too.

This camera is very rugged. The bruises it has given me on my backside are proof that it holds up a lot better than I do when I fall off my bike and land on it. I like it because the lens doesn’t move in and out when it zooms, and you can drop it and not worry about breaking it. Here are a bunch of photos it took: Bell Rock Pathway in Sedona Arizona.

Mark has a Nikon Coolpix A that he is nuts about because it is just like a mini DSLR. He doesn’t do crazy things like take photos while riding his bike one handed the way I do (and he’s less prone to falling off), so he doesn’t mind having a more delicate camera in his pocket. It is a 16 megapixel camera that has most of the features of a the Nikon D610, except it is a crop-sensor camera that has a fixed 28 mm lens that can’t be changed. It has been discontinued.

Prior to that, he had a Nikon Coolpix P330 (also discontinued). It could shoot in raw format, which was the reason he chose it, but it didn’t produce nearly the quality images of the Coolpix A.

Lots of folks use a smartphone for all their photo ops or as an alternative to their DSLR. We don’t have a smartphone, but we have used a lot of them at scenic overlooks when groups of people pass their cameras around to get pics of themselves. One thing we’ve noticed is that there is a big difference in dynamic range (the rendering of bright spots and shadows) between Androids and iPhones, with iPhones being much better. This is probably common knowledge and not news to you at all, and it may be partly due to which generation of smartphone a person hands us to get their portrait taken.

 

ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT and ACCESSORIES

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Batteries – We have two batteries for each of our Nikon D610’s, so we each always have a fully charged battery on hand besides the one in the camera. We’ve found the Watson batteries are a good alternative to the more expensive Nikon batteries. My Watson battery died shortly after the manufacturer’s warranty expired, and I was impressed that they honored it anyway and replaced it for me.

Memory Cards – We also have two memory cards in each camera (the Nikon D610 has two card slots in it). We use the SanDisk 95 MB/second SD cards. We like these fast SD cards because when we start shooting in a burst (holding the shutter down and letting the camera take pics as fast as it can — for instance, when a bison jumps over a fence in front of us), the faster the card can be written to, the faster the camera’s internal memory buffer will empty, and the longer the camera can keep shooting at top speed. Faster SD cards also download photos to the computer faster.

Every evening we download all our photos onto our laptops and reformat the memory cards in the camera. We’ve heard that this reduces the chance of the card failing and losing all our photos (which happened to me once long ago with a Kingston card – ugh!).

The Hoodman Loupe – A Game Changer! The Hoodman Loupe revolutionized our photography because we were suddenly able to see our photos clearly on the back of our cameras and then retake the photo if necessary. The loupe fits over the LCD screen, blocking the glare and magnifying the image. The lens is adjustable, so no matter how good or bad your eyes are, you can adjust it until you can see the image perfectly clearly. We have the original hard sided loupe. A new model collapses down so it can be stored more compactly. In a lot of the photos of me on this website, you can see my Hoodman loupe hanging around my neck!

Hoodman Loupe on a Nikon D610 Camera

The Hoodman Loupe lets you see the image on the back of the camera clearly, adjusted for your eyes, and without glare.

Battery Grip – Mark occasionally uses a Vello Battery Grip on his camera. This grip can hold extra batteries and also makes it possible to take portrait oriented shots (vertical images) while holding the camera as if it were upright rather than twisting your right arm over your head. Mark absolutely loves his. I use mine only occasionally because I can’t use it with my tripod L-bracket (see below).

Camera Straps – We replaced the standard Nikon camera straps with the Optech Pro Strap. This strap is thick and cushy and is slightly curved to fit the curve of your shoulder. It also has quick release clasps so you can easily unclip it from the camera when you’re using a tripod.

 

LENS FILTERS

For a long time we preferred the B+W brand for all our filters, although we’ve used a lot of Hoya filters over the years too. We’ve also tried Tiffen filters, but find they are hit-and-miss. Often, if a “lens deal” includes a filter with the lens, it’s not a great one. Most recently, we have begun buying Nikon filters which seem to be the best quality all around. Just be sure you get the right size for your lens (52 mm or 77 mm, etc.).

Camera UV Filter, Polarizing Filter and Neutral Density Filter

UV filter (top), Polarizing filter (left) & neutral density filter (right)

UV Filters – We have UV filters for all our lenses to provide protection for them.

Polarizing Filters – We also have polarizing filters for all our lenses. A polarizer makes it possible to enhance the colors or reduce the glare in certain lighting situations. It is best around midday and has less effect at dawn and dusk. It is wonderful around bodies of water and for removing the dashboard glare on the windshield when taking photos from inside a car. A polarizer adds a lot of contrast to an image, however, so while it can enhance a landscape beautifully, I’ve found it makes street photography of people too contrasty.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters – We occasionally use a graduated neutral density filter when the sky is very pale and the scene we are shooting is dark. This kind of filter is half colored and half clear. By twisting it so the colored part lines up with the sky and the clear part lines up with the darker landscape, the sky and landscape come out more evenly exposed. They are also very helpful for sunrises and sunsets.

Neutral Density Filters – When shooting moving water, a neutral density filter darkens what the camera sees enough so the shutter speed can be increased to show silky movement in the water without it being blown out and all white. These filters are also helpful if you want to use a very big aperture (small “F number”) to blur out a background and the camera’s top shutter speed isn’t fast enough to get proper exposure. These filters come in different degrees of darkness. A 10-stop filter is good for shooting a waterfall in broad daylight while a 4-stop filter is good for the same scene at dawn or dusk. We had fun with moving water photography at Watkins Glen in Upstate New York, the Blue Ridge Parkway in N. Carolina, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in N. Carolina.

 

TRIPODS

It is really hard to invest in a tripod after blowing the bank account on a nice camera, a few lenses, spare batteries, memory cards and filters. And you can have loads of fun with photography without getting a tripod. But if you want to play with shooting (and showing) motion (i.e., a car going by, clouds streaking across the sky or water flowing) or you want to have perfect exposure in very low light (like a sunset) without a flash, or you want to do some timelapse videos (very cool at sunrise in a big canyon) then a tripod is a must.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Sunwayfoto XB52-DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and
Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Most people end up upgrading their tripod several times because they just can’t believe, at first, that they have to spend good hard earned money on a tripod, and they go through a bunch of cheap ones before they bite the bullet and get a decent one! We did that, and lots of our friends did too.

The biggest difference between tripods is how much weight they can hold solidly, how easy they are to set up and adjust, and whether things drift or droop a little after you tighten the buttons. I have a Benro carbon fiber tripod that I absolutely love. The legs slide in and out really smoothly, and the adjustments are easy.

Mark has Sunwayfoto tripod legs and ballhead that he loves. We reviewed them in depth at this link:

Choosing a Tripod – Sunwayfoto Tripod and Ballhead Review

We both have the SunWay Foto L-Bracket that attaches to the camera body and lets us set the camera in the tripod in either Landscape or Portrait orientation very easily. I keep my L-bracket on the camera all the time for simplicity in case I want to grab my tripod quickly, but it means I can’t use my Vello Battery Grip. Mark loves his battery grip, so he has to switch back and forth between the regular tripod bracket that fits on the camera along with the battery grip and the L-bracket that doesn’t.

 

FLASHLIGHT

We love doing night photography, photographing the milky way and the stars, and doing light painting on old buildings for ghostly effects. At Waterton Lakes National Park we did a timelapse video of the Milky Way.

When we are hiking on a remote trail in the middle of the night, or light painting a building to make it appear visible in a nighttime photo, we find that a good flashlight is essential.

We use the fabulous, super high powered LED flashlight from Lumintop, the Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen flashlight. It is like having a car’s headlight in your hand!

Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen tactical flashlight

Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen tactical flashlight next to a pocket Mag Light

Built with heavy duty aerospace aluminum, it has a military grade hard-anodized aluminum finish and is water resistant to 2 meters. Offering 3 power levels plus a strobe, there’s also an LED tail light that can be used as a night light when we’re setting up our camera gear in the dark. It also has threads on the bottom for mounting on a tripod.

The flashlight batteries are rechargeable and there is a battery level indicator. The flashlight ships with a wall charger and 12 volt car charging cords, and it comes in a suitcase! The batteries are so strong, it can be used to recharge other smaller devices like cell phones via 2 USB ports.

This is not a pocket flashlight, but it has slots in the end for a strap that makes it very easy to carry.

We love this flashlight and just wish we had had it when we cruised Mexico on our sailboat, as it is far more powerful than the emergency floodlight we had for rescuing a man overboard!

 

HAULING, STORING & MAINTAINING OUR CAMERA GEAR

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With all this camera stuff, it can be a challenge to figure out how to carry it to scenic spots and where to store it in the RV and truck when we’re not using it. Also, our camera gear takes a lot of abuse from dusty air out west, salty air on the coast, and sunscreen from our faces and hands. So it needs to be cleaned periodically. Here’s where we’re at with all this right now:

Hiking With Camera Equipment

When we go on a hike of a few miles, it is likely to take us four hours or more because we stop to take so many photos. So, we want to have water, snacks, our camera gear, tripods, and possibly a jacket with us. There are a lot of camera-specific backpacks and sling style camera bags on the market, but none we’ve seen is really designed for hiking.

After a lot of searching, we finally decided to use big Camelback hydration packs instead of bona-fide camera bags when we hike with all our photography stuff, and we’ve been really happy with this choice.

I have a Camelback H.A.W.G. and Mark has a Camelback Fourteener. Both can carry 100 ounces of water, and each has enough capacity for the Tamron 150-600 lens along with everything else if need be. (We never take more than two lenses with us — one on the camera and one in the pack).

Camelback H.A.W.G. camera bag

The Camelback H.A.W.G. can hold a big camera.

We generally hike with our cameras slung around our necks so we can take photos with them as we walk. I put the Camelback on first and then put the camera on afterwards so the camera straps aren’t trapped under the shoulder straps of the Camelback. There’s nothing like getting caught in the Tourist Tangle!

My main criteria for choosing a Camelback was that I wanted to be able to put my camera (with the 28-300 mm lens attached) inside the Camelback and then close that compartment so I could scramble over something gnarly that required two hands and not worry about the camera slipping out of the pack. And it had to do that with 100 ounces of water in the hydration pack.

My other criteria was that I wanted to be able to hang my tripod on one of the Camelback straps and hike without carrying it in my hand.

The straps on the sides of the H.A.W.G. aren’t designed to carry a tripod, and they may fatigue over time, but I’ve been really happy with how this Camelback has held up on the many hikes I’ve taken with it so far in two years of owning it.

The straps on the sides of the Fourteener are designed to hold ice picks and things like that, so they are probably a little more rugged. If I had known about the Fourteener before I bought my H.A.W.G., I probably would have bought that model instead. Mark has had it almost as long as I’ve had my H.A.W.G., and he is very happy with it as well.

Camelback H.A.W.G. with camera tripod

The tripod fits neatly on the side of the H.A.W.G., and the camera straps aren’t trapped under the Camelback straps.

One really nice feature of both of these Camelback models is that they have a waterproof rain sack that can be pulled out of a hidden pocket and slipped over the whole Camelback, keeping the contents dry if you’re caught in a downpour. This came in super handy at the Duggers Creek Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway!

One of the tricks with backpacks in general is that, if they have a waist belt, you can loosen the belt a little, slip your arms out of the arm straps and then swing the pack around so it is in front of you. This way you can get something out of it without taking it off and putting it on the ground. This is fantastic when you want to swap filters, grab a snack, or change batteries without taking the whole darn thing off.

Once we get to an area where we’re going to take a lot of photos, we take the tripods off the Camelbacks and we carry them around in our hands until we’re ready to hike out again.

We carry a plastic bag (a shopping bag is fine) in our packs in case it sprinkles and we want to cover our cameras for a short time. We also carry rain ponchos so we can cover ourselves and our Camelbacks in the event of unexpected rain.

Short Walks With Photography Gear

If we are going to spend the day roaming around but not hiking, or if we’re taking photos a short distance from the truck, we don’t take the big Camelbacks. I use a small fanny pack to carry a spare battery and possibly a second lens. Mark likes to wear a photographer’s vest that has lots of pockets for all his goodies. He likes the one he has, but has his eye on the Phototools Photovest 14!

Storing All This Stuff

In the trailer we have Ruggard camera cases and Ruggard backpacks to hold the cameras and lenses. We also have camera cases in the truck. We’ve found good homes for the tripods in the truck too, and they generally stay there so they are with us if we arrive somewhere and suddenly wish we had them with us.

Cleaning

A great way to get the dust off the camera and lenses is to blow it off with the Giotto Rocket Blaster (the largest size is best). The Nikon LensPen Lens Cleaner is good for brushing dust off too. For smudges and smears, we use the Eclipse Camera Cleaning Kit which comes with a cleanser and pads.

Giotto Rocket Blaster & Camera Cleaning Kit

Giotto Rocket Blaster & Camera Cleaning Kit

Sometimes the camera’s built-in sensor cleaning system doesn’t quite do the trick, and getting debris off the camera sensor can be really intimidating. Rather than paying for an expensive cleaning at a camera shop, we’ve discovered that the Sensor Gel Stick sold by Photography Life does a phenomenal job (don’t get the cheap Chinese imitation ones). Check out the video under the product description here to see how to do it. It’s easy and we have done it many times.

 

PHOTO ORGANIZATION and POST-PROCESSING TOOLS

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We each have a plain MacBook Pro (no retina display) with 16 GB RAM and a 1 TB internal drive and slots for CD, SD card, Thunderbolt, etc. (2012-style case). We also each have a 4 TB external hard drive with a Thunderbolt dock that allows multiple drives to be daisy-chained.

We use Adobe Lightroom for most of our post-processing. The easiest way to learn Lightroom is the Julianne Kost Lightroom Videos. Julianne is Adobe’s “Lightroom Evangelist” (what a great title and job!) and her presentations are clear and concise.

Organizing photos is never easy, and everyone has a different method. Lightroom lets only one person work on a catalog at a time, so we each have separate Lightroom catalogs. We make use of the Smart Previews in Lightroom to get access to each other’s photos without transferring all the original photo files between our laptops. All we have to transfer is the catalog, previews and smart previews. It’s clunky — I know they could do better — but it works.

We also have a separate Lightroom catalogs for each year. The older catalogs are stored on external hard drives and the current year catalogs are on our laptops. We try to make sure all our photos are in two places (laptop and external drive or on two external drives). Some of our older photos are in Apple’s Aperture and our oldest are in Apple’s iPhoto, the two post-processing programs we used prior to Lightroom.

I don’t want to have to plug in an external drive every time I go into Lightroom, which is why we keep our current year’s photos and catalogs local to our laptops. We have our previous year’s catalogs and smart previews on our laptops so we can see and work with our older photos. If we need the full image of an older photo, we plug in the appropriate external hard drive, and the catalog on the laptop reconnects with the original images.

We don’t store anything in the cloud.

We organize our photos by location but like to have an overall sense of the chronological order in which we visited places, since that is the way we remember our travels. So, we label our folders with 2 digits followed by the state to bring up the states in the order in which we visited them.

Inside of each state folder, we name every download with a 4-digit date (month/day) followed by the specific location. For photos that aren’t location specific (like photos of our trailer disc brake conversion or fifth wheel suspension failure, we move them after downloading to a MISC folder and name a subfolder within it more appropriately or add them to an existing folder.

Lightroom Folder Organization

2 digits to order the states chronologically, then 4-digit dates on subfolders with the specific location.

Photomatix Pro is an excellent program for creating HDR (high dynamic range) effects from several identical photos taken at different exposures, and Topaz Adjust and Topaz Detail in the Topaz Suite of software are great for getting a little wild with crazy effects at the click of a button.

For panoramas, we use Panorama Maker to stitch together a series of photos.

We use the X-Rite Color Checker Passport to create custom color profiles calibrated to specific camera and lens combinations. It also comes with a gray card that we sometimes use to set a custom white balance for particular light conditions.

 

RESOURCES FOR LEARNING PHOTOGRAPHY

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Photography is something you can spend the rest of your life learning. We’ve been reading and studying photography books and blogs for a few years now, and we have found the following printed books and ebooks and online resources to be really helpful in conquering both the technical aspects of understanding what all those buttons on our cameras do and the artistic aspects of how to capture the essence of what we’re seeing.

Photography Books

Some of our Favorite Photography Books

BOOKS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

 

eBOOKS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

 

ONLINE TUTORIALS

The website that has taught us the most is Photography Life written by Nasim Mansurov and his very talented team. He has super detailed gear reviews and his site is read by many of the top professionals in the photography world. His tutorials are excellent, and he has two pages with links to them all:

We were very fortunate to meet Nasim at his 2012 fall foliage photography workshop in Ridgway Colorado. Those extraordinary three days were a real turning point for our photography.

 

BLOGS, TIPS and GEAR REVIEWS

The photography blogs we read regularly are these:

  • Nikon Rumors – The latest info about everything related to Nikon cameras: future products, recalls, Nikon deals and specials
  • Photography Life – The most comprehensive camera/lens reviews anywhere and a top team of writers producing tutorials
  • Ken Rockwell – The first online photography resources we found. We’ve been following ever since
  • Ming Thein – Excellent and detailed camera reviews and truly inspiring photographs
  • DigitalRev TV – Hilarious (and very informative) videos on all kinds of photography topics.
  • Thom Hogan – Interesting photography-related essays as well as gear reviews
  • Dreamscapes – Phenomenal, jaw-dropping photography that makes us want to keep learning, plus tutorials & eBooks
  • Michael Frye Photography – Creative tips and ideas for taking beautiful landscape photos
  • DxO Mark – A laboratory that uses industrial testing equipment to do comparative camera, sensor and lens ratings

 

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Kuat NV Bike Rack Review

Roads Less Traveled

This page is a review of the Küwat NV Bike Rack, a high quality and easy-to-use bike rack that mounts in a hitch receiver.

Nifty new Küwat NV Bike Rack.

This page is a review of the Kuat NV bike rack

The bike rack folds flat against the back of the truck.

A nifty new bike rack from Kuat is easy to use.

The bike rack is folded down and ready for bikes to be mounted.

Kuat

A strap is cinched over the rear

wheel to hold the bike in place on

the rack.

Strap cinching system for Kuat bike rack Kuat rack strap system

A lever arm folds up and down to hold each bike in place.

Lever arm hold bikes in place on Kuat bike rack

The lever arm can extend and

retract with the press of a button.

The lever arm holds the bike in

place on the rack.

Mounted and ready to go.

There is a built-in, retractable bike lock.

The two ends pull out and can be

snaked through the bike(s) to lock them

to the rack.

This image shows the locked lock without a bike.

The Kuat NV bike rack features a built-in bike lock.

One end of the lock inserts into the other.

Bike is mounted and locked to the rack.

The bikes are mounted and run no risk of dragging on the ground if the trailer bottoms out.

Two bikes mounted and locked.

An clever feature is the bike stand.

Insert the stand into this quick release

fitting...

A terrific feature of the Kuat NV bike rack is the built-in bike stand.

The bike rack is folded flush to the back

ot he truck/trailer, the bike stand is

inserted into it and clamped down with a

quick release.

A bike is mounted on the Kuat NV bike stand, ready for bike mechanic work.

Magic!!  A bike stand!!  The bike's wheels and

pedals are free to spin and you can do

whatever bike mechanic work you need to do.

We highly recommend the Kuat bike rack

Two bottoming-out episodes and the round

knob was beginning to look square.

The Kuat NV bike rack is awesome

Jack of JM Welding comes to our rescue.

We get a custom-designed hitch extension made to raise the bikes another 8

He draws the design on the floor using parts he had

available that day.

Designing an extension for the Kuat rack

The pieces are laid out.

We fabricated an extension for our Kuat rack

The hitch extension is welded

and has gussets for added

strength.

Jack powder coats the whole thing.

"I think it's gonna work!"

Awesome hitch extension for the Kuat bike rack

Perfect - the bike rack is raised 8" or so off the

ground.

We lock the bike rack to the hitch

extension.  An internal bolt/nut

attaches the hitch extension to

the hitch receiver and would be

very difficult to undo.

With hitch extension on Kuat NV bike rack bike is well of the ground

Ahhh… the bike is well off the ground.

The bikes are up well off the ground and we are ready to roll!!

Two bikes mounted and ready for their next adventure.

Kuat 2 Bike NV Rack

This is a review of the Kuat NV Bike Rack, a high quality, extremely

easy-to-use bike rack that mounts on a trailer hitch.

For several years we lugged our bikes around on the back of our

trailer using a cheap Swagman bike rack that held 3 bikes.  It held the

bikes by gripping the top tubes in metal jaws.  To mount a bike on the

rack or to dismount it you had to screw or unscrew two long screws

that cinched the rack's jaws closed around the top tube.  There were

several frustrating problems with this rack:

• It was time consuming to mount and dismount the bikes

• The rack's gripping jaws gouged the bikes' top tubes and

chipped off the paint

• The whole rack jiggled wildly in the hitch receiver as we drove,

especially on rough roads

• If the trailer bottomed out in a ditch, the bikes' tires dragged on the ground

• There was no way to lock the bikes onto the rack

• We had to use bungee cords to keep the wheels from spinning as we drove

At the 2011 Interbike bicycle trade show in Las Vegas Mark checked out every bike rack manufacturer for a better solution.  He

finally settled on one made by Küwat, a small company out of Missouri.  This is a slick bike rack.  It is simple, easy to use and

solves almost all the problems we had with the Swagman (see note below).

RACK IS HELD TIGHT IN THE HITCH RECEIVER

The rack cinches into the trailer hitch using a clever expansion

mechanism you control with a round plastic knob at the back of the

rack.  Set the rack into the hitch receiver, tighten the knob until very

tight (or use an allen wrench to get it super tight), and the inner

expansion mechanism holds the rack rock solid in the hitch receiver.

The rack doesn't move at all.

The rack can be folded flush against the back of the trailer (or car/

truck) when not in use.

Then fold it down when you are ready to load some bikes onto it.

EASY MOUNT / DISMOUNT

The rack holds two bikes that face in opposite

directions.  Each bike's wheels rest on a tray.  The front

wheel goes into a rounded tray that keeps it from

rolling.  An adjustable strap loops over the rear wheel to

hold it in place.  Then an adjustable lever-arm is

tightened onto the front wheel next to the fork to keep

the whole bike in place.

So to mount a bike there are three quick steps:

1.  Place the bike's wheels on the rack's tray

2.  Tighten the rear strap around the rear wheel.

3.  Move the lever arm into place on the front tire in front

of the fork and apply pressure to cinch it down.

The bike(s) can be locked using

retractable built-in plastic shielded

cable wires.  One wire comes out of

each end of the rack.  Snake the two

wires through the wheels and frame(s)

of the bike(s), and insert one

connector into the other to lock the

bikes to the rack.  Easy!

To dismount the bikes simply release the rear wheel strap,

press the thumb button on the front wheel lever arm to extend

it and lower it, and lift the bike off the rack.

KUAT NV BIKE RACK BECOMES A BIKE STAND!

As a bonus, the rack includes a built-in bike stand for working

on your bikes.

Simply fold the bike rack up so it is flush with the trailer (or

back of your car/truck).  Insert the bike stand unit using a

quick release lever.

Mount the bike into the stand by its top tube using the quick

release clamps.

Now the pedals and wheels can spin freely and you can do

whatever maintenance your bike needs, from lubing the

chain to replacing the bottom bracket.

ONE PROBLEM - AND A GREAT FIX

Side note: Kuwat does not recommend putting their bike

racks on the backs of trailers due to the long distance

between the rack and the rear wheels of the trailer.  That long

distance puts extra force on the bike rack as the trailer goes

over bumps in the road and makes it possible for the rack to

hit the ground when the trailer bottoms out going through dips

in the road.

The only problem we had with this rack -- one that was

easily remedied -- is that the rack sat quite low to the

ground because the hitch receiver on the back of our

fifth wheel is fairly low, and the rack sticks out quick far

from the back of the trailer.  When the trailer bottomed

our (for instance, entering/exiting some gas stations),

the outer end of the rack dragged on the ground.  We

had two episodes like this, one going in and out of a gas

station and the other doing a u-turn at a National Park

parking lot.  These mishaps scraped the rubber right off

the rack's expansion knob in two places.

While driving through Blanding, Utah, we asked at the

Visitors Center if there was a good welder/fabricator in

town.  We were sent to see Jack Montella of JM

Welding, and in a few hours he created the

perfect solution.

He built an S (or Z) shaped hitch extension that

fits into our trailer hitch receiver and provides a

new higher receiver for the bike rack.

Things like this are available commercially, but when we

priced it out, the cost would have been similar and would

have required waiting for the part to be shipped.  So Jack

made a custom one for us on the spot.

After drawing a picture of the hitch extension on the floor, he quickly cut the

pieces and welded it together.  He put two gussets in the corners to provide

extra strength and powder coated it.  Our only concern with the design was

that this new extension wouldn't fit tightly in the trailer's hitch receiver,

making both the rack and bikes jiggle as we drove.

Jack had a perfect

solution.  He welded a

nut into the inside of the

new hitch extension

where the hitch pin goes through the hitch receiver and the

hitch extension.  Then he fabricated a long bolt that would go

through both the trailer's hitch receiver and the hitch

extension.  As the bolt was screwed into the nut on the inside

of the hitch extension, the hitch extension was cinched up

tightly against the inside of the trailer's hitch receiver.  This

made a rock solid connection.

At the other end of the hitch extension, our bike rack fits into the hitch

extension receiver just as it did into the original trailer hitch receiver,

using Küwat's expansion mechanism inside its tubes.

This has raised the bike rack 8" further off the ground.  Now when we

go through a deep dip in the road, the hitch cable rings (a part of the

hitch receive we don't use or care about) drag on the ground rather

than the bottom of the bike rack.

After we installed the bike rack on the new hitch extension I walked behind the trailer

as Mark drove it over a very rough dirt road.  The rack and the bikes followed the motion of the trailer and nothing more

-- no jiggling whatsoever.

You can purchase the Kuat NV Bike Rack here.

If you have more than two bikes and are mounting the rack on a car or truck (not recommended for an RV),

you can purchase the Kuat NV bike rack extension here.

After a few years wiggles crept in and we started using Hitch Tighteners to make the rack even more stable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kuat NV Bike Rack is available at Amazon (left ad), and if you are putting this rack on a car (not an RV), you can add the extension (right ad).

We receive a 4-6% commission from Amazon (at no cost to you) if you use one of our links to get to Amazon, no matter what you buy or when you finalize the sale. This helps us cover our out-of-pocket costs for this site, but doesn’t pay us for our time writing reviews like this.

If you make an Amazon purchase here, please drop us a line to let us know so we can say thank you!

 

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How To Change The Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

One of the first questions we had when we began considering buying a new pickup truck to tow our fifth wheel trailer was: How do you change the inside rear tire on a dually truck? Well, a few days ago we found out!

How to change an inside rear tire on a dually truck

We got a flat on our dually’s inside rear tire (passenger side) while towing our trailer — Oof!!

Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually has been a fabulous truck for us since we bought it six months ago, and we’ve now got 9,100 miles on it now, 4,633 miles towing and 4,467 miles driving around without our fifth wheel trailer attached.

A few days ago, we stopped at the Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana to get a photo. As I walked around the back of the truck, I heard a weird hissing noise. I stuck my head into the wheel well, and my heart sank when I saw a huge bolt head on the rear inside tire. I put my finger on it, and the hissing stopped. I lifted my finger and the hissing started again. Oh, no!

I almost didn’t have the heart to tell Mark, but after we’d gotten our photos of the dam, I told him the bad news.

We were in a pretty remote spot, completely out of cell phone and internet range. We hit the nifty “Assist” button on the rear view mirror of the truck to give Dodge a call and ask some questions about changing rear tires, but the call wasn’t able to go through.

Assist button rear view mirror Dodge Ram 3500 truck

Ram trucks have a cool “Assist” button that connects you straight to Dodge…if you’re not in the boonies!

The closest town was Libby, Montana. It boasts a population of 2,700 people, but it was 17 miles down the road.

So much for getting any kind of roadside assistance!

The timing for this little inconvenience wasn’t great. We’d been on the road, towing, for 100 miles, and Mark had just been telling me he was ready to call it quits and take a nap. Oh well. No napping just yet!

Luckily, unlike the last time we’d been stranded on the side of the road — when one of our trailer tires blew out four months ago, shortly after our trailer suspension repair — rather than being on the traffic side of an interstate with cars whizzing by at 75 mph, we were working curbside in a nice big pullout next to an extremely quiet country road where a car would leisurely pass by us every five minutes or so.

We unhitched the truck from the trailer to make it a little easier to get at the rear wheels. Mark got our bottle jack out from its storage spot under the driver’s side rear seat of the truck, and he began setting it up. I grabbed a stool from our fifth wheel basement and laid out some mats on the ground to create a work space for him.

From a lifetime of mechanical work, he learned long ago to protect his hands, so he pulled on a pair of leather work gloves that he keeps in the truck.

The first step for changing the tire was to remove the hubcap.

Remove hub cap on Ram 3500 truck rear wheel

Start by removing the hubcap to reveal the lug nuts.

Then, using a breaker bar, he loosened all of the lug nuts. Doing this with the wheel still on the ground is easier than after it’s lifted, because the wheel can’t spin.

Breaker bar to remove rear wheel on dually truck

Use a breaker bar to loosen the lug nuts while the wheels are still on the ground.

We used to carry a 4-way lug wrench for swapping out flat tires, but one time one of the arms twisted like a strand of licorice as Mark tried to unscrew a stubborn lug nut that wouldn’t budge. It was probably a cheap 4-way lug wrench. Most likely, a better quality 4-way lug wrench wouldn’t have done that, but Mark swore off of those things right then and there, and we’ve been carrying a breaker bar ever since.

The lug nuts on our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 required a 15/16″ socket. The ones on our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 require a 7/8″ socket.

Our bottle jack is rated for 12 tons, enough to hold up the axles of either our trailer or truck easily. More important, it’s also tall enough for the axles on our trailer which we raised a few inches higher from the factory standard during our trailer suspension overhaul to help keep our rear end from dragging on steep ramps at gas stations and on uneven dirt roads.

He unscrewed the top of the bottle jack to raise it up.

Bottle jack for fixing a flat tire

Unscrew the top of the bottle jack by hand to raise it.

He placed it under a flat metal piece that was welded onto the axle.

Bottle jack under the rear axle of a dually truck

Place the bottle jack under a solid flat spot on the axle.

The bottle jack comes with a two-part handle. After removing the two plastic end caps, one tube can be fitted into the other to make a long handle and give you some leverage while pumping up the jack.

Bottle jack handle for fixing a flat tire

Remove the plastic endcaps and fit the tubes together to form a long handle.

He pumped the handle up and down to raise the top of the bottle jack and lift the axle slightly so the wheels no longer touched the ground.

Raise the jack under Ram 3500 dually truck rear axle-2

Raise the rear axle of the truck by pumping the bottle jack handle.

With the lug nuts slightly loosened, he now used a Rigid cordless impact driver to remove them completely.

Impact driver to remove lug nuts fix rear flat tire Ram 3500 dually truck

A Rigid 18 volt cordless impact driver makes it a breeze to remove the lug nuts.

We got the impact driver, a cordless drill and a portable radio as part of a terrific kit that included two lithium-ion battery packs. We use the drill every time we raise and lower our fifth wheel’s stabilizer jacks, and we listen to the portable radio all the time!

He collected the lug nuts in the hub cap.

Fixing rear flat on Ram 3500 dually pickup

Collect the lug nuts in the hubcap so they don’t roll away.

Then he pulled off the outer wheel.

How to change a flat tire on a dually pickup truck

Pull the wheel off.

How to change a flat tire on a dually pickup truck

The outer wheel is off, now for the inner wheel…

The wheel studs on a dually are extra long to hold both wheels onto the truck. So, once the outer wheel was removed, he could pull off the inner wheel.

Remove the inner rear tire of a dually truck

Slide the inner wheel off.

And there was the culprit — a big fat self-tapping bolt!

Flat tire on a dually pickup

And there it is — a nasty self-tapping bolt. Arghh!!

Our 2016 Ram 3500 came with a toolkit for raising and lowering the spare tire. It is located behind a plastic trim piece under the passenger’s seat.

Spare tire toolkit in Ram 3500 truck stored under passenger seat

The toolkit for lowering the spare tire is under the passenger’s seat.

He pulled off the plastic trim piece to get the toolkit out.

Spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 pickup truck

Here is the toolkit for lowering and raising the spare tire from its spot under the truck chassis.

Then he pulled the toolkit out from under the passenger’s seat. It is held in place with two knobs, one of which is tightened with a wingnut. When he put the toolkit back in place later, he had to align it before sliding it in, and then tighten the wingnut.

Mounting brackets spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 truck

The toolkit is held in place by these knobs (the left one is a wing nut).

The toolkit has several handle extensions and other goodies in it.

Spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 truck

The toolkit has all kinds of goodies in it, including a lug wrench that Mark opted not to use since it is probably even more flimsy than a 4-way.

One of the goodies is an L-shaped handle, and there are several extensions that interconnect to lengthen the handle as well.

Spare tire toolkip Ram 3500 pickup truck

Two of these tubes fit together to form a long handle that attach to the L-shaped handle.

He assembled two handle extensions to make a long rod and attached the L-shaped handle to the end. Then he inserted this handle into a hole above the license plate bracket. There is a square fitting inside the hole. The end of the handle slipped over the square fitting.

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 dually truck

The L-shaped handle and extension tubes fit onto the square fitting in the hole next to the license plate bracket.

Then, he rotated the handle slowly.

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 dually truck

Twist the handle to lower (or raise) the spare tire.

This gradually lowered the spare tire from its storage spot under the chassis of the truck onto the ground

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 pickup truck

The spare tire is held to the truck chassis by a brace that compresses a spring.

The spare tire is held tight to the underside of the truck with a spring fitting that can be snugged nice and tight.

Spare tire mounting system Ram 3500 pickup truck

Bracket and spring under the spare tire.

Then he mounted the spare tire on the truck to replace the flat tire.

Mounting the spare tire on rear of Ram 3500 dually truck

The spare tire is mounted on the truck.

Next, he slid the outer wheel in place. Using his cordless impact driver, he replaced the lug nuts, tightening them in increments. Starting at the valve stem, he tightened the closest lug nut a bit and then tightened the one that was opposite, then tightened the next one, and then the one opposite that one, etc., working his way around the rim and tightening the wheel equally all the way around. Then he gave each lug nut a final tightening using the breaker bar.

Then he put the hubcap back on. It didn’t pop on really easily using his palm, so he used the top of a rubber mallet to tap it in place.

Replace hub cap on dually truck rear wheel

The hubcap didn’t snap in place using palms only, but the butt end of a soft rubber mallet did the trick.

Interestingly, we could now see exactly how much rubber we had worn off our rear tires in 9,100 miles, because the wheels didn’t hang down evenly.

Spare tire and used tire height difference on Ram 3500 dually truck

The brand new spare and 9,000 mile used tire are different heights.

Using a pocket knife, he got a rough estimate of just how much rubber had been worn off — maybe 1/8″ or so.

Rear tIre wear dually truck 9000 miles

About 1/8″ of rubber has come off of the tire in 9,000 miles of driving.

He raised the flat tire up into the storage spot under the truck chassis where the spare tire had been, and lowered the bottle jack under the axle so the truck was sitting on all four rear wheels again. We hitched the trailer back up and started to drive.

This little hiccup in our RVing lifestyle had taken about 30 minutes.

Our fancy new truck has a cool display (the DID, or Driver Information Display) that shows the air pressure in each of the six tires on the truck (this is the TPMS, or Tire Pressure Monitor System). We were both really alarmed when the spare tire reported that it had 17 lbs. of pressure while the other three rear tires all had 63 to 65 lbs. What the heck??

Tire pressure dashboard readout Ram 3500 truck

The tire pressure for the spare is 17 lbs. Yikes!! (huh????)

The dealership where we bought the truck had told us they’d aired up the spare when we bought the truck new six months earlier. Even though Mark usually uses a tire gauge to measure the air in the spare, he hadn’t this time because it was a brand new tire that seemed perfectly good, had the right sound when he thumped it, and bounced nicely on the ground.

But we grew ever more alarmed as the dashboard display showed 15 lbs., then 13 lbs., and then went to dashes. The road was super quiet, so while driving the 17 miles to get to the Les Schwab tire place in Libby, we pulled over several times to check that the tire wasn’t heating up… It wasn’t.

Tire pressure dashboard readout Ram 3500 truck

Now the tire pressure is dashes. What does THAT mean??

We made it to Les Schwab, and they put a terrific new kind of patch on the tire that mounts from the inside. It has a big round rubber flange that mounts inside the tire with a plug that fills the hole.

The spare turned out to have 65 lbs. of air pressure, just the way it should have. So, we all scratched our heads for a while about the weird air pressure numbers we’d seen on the dashboard.

Then our service guy suddenly brightened up. “I know what it was!” he said. “The spare tire doesn’t have a sensor in it to report its tire pressure to the truck, but the original tire did!”

So, as the original tire was being carried under the chassis of the truck, where the spare usually sits, it was transmitting its decreasing tire pressure to the console on the dashboard, and the dashboard was dutifully displaying the numbers as coming from the right inside rear tire even though the tire was no longer in that position. Eventually the tire pressure got so low it was below the minimum, so the display showed dashes.

It turns out that that option for the spare tire to have a sensor on the valve stem is only available on Premium models of Ram trucks. We never saw that option in any dealer option lists.

I just showed this post to Mark to see what he thought, and he looked at me in astonishment and said, “When did you take all these photos? This is great!”

“When you were changing the tire!” I explained. “I’m sneaky!” (And I’d MUCH rather write about changing a tire than do it myself!)

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5th Wheel Trailer Suspension Failure – Replaced with our RV Warranty!

You never know what might break on an RV, and during our 2015 RV travels from Arizona to Nova Scotia and back, we faced four major repairs on our 8 year old fifth wheel trailer in four short months. Ouch.

The last breakdown — the failure of our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension — ended up being the most expensive repair of them all, because the entire trailer suspension had to be replaced. We were so miserable about the whole situation as it unfolded last fall in Phoenix, Arizona, that the last thing I wanted to do was to write about it on this blog.

So, the story has waited five months until now when our spirits are high and we’re camped near a stunning lake in the Canadian Rockies!

Bow Lake Jasper Ice Fields Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Repairs aside, this is why we RV!

2015 was a phenomenal year of travel for us, but it could have been a financial disaster.

$7,420

That was the scary total cost of all our RV repairs in 2015. Yikes!!

Fortunately, our out of pocket cost was just $1,045, because we had an extended RV warranty for our trailer.

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,420
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,045
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,375

Our trailer warranty has more than paid for itself, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

As reflected on our RV budget and expenses analysis page, our combined maintenance and repair costs on our truck and trailer averaged $106 per month for our full-time travels between May, 2007, and August, 2015.

Life was good back then. Maintenance was easy and the unexpected repairs were small and manageable. Anything that went wrong was something Mark could fix (he’s an extremely gifted mechanic).

But 2015 unfolded very differently than prior years. This was mostly due to our trailer now being eight years old and also because we spent a month spent driving the rough back roads of Nova Scotia.

What is an RV Warranty and should you have one?

We weren’t sure at first, but after 4 expensive repairs in 4 months in 2015, we now know the answer is YES!!!

So, how did this all transpire?

When we were in Nova Scotia, we bent a spindle on the rear axle of our trailer. We limped to Bangor, Maine, and got a new axle installed.

Old trailer axle new fifth wheel RV axle

We had to replace a trailer axle after driving the rough back roads in Nova Scotia

Besides damaging a trailer axle while we were in Nova Scotia, we also sprang leaks in both our fresh water tank and in our big rear window. The underbelly compartment of our trailer was filling with water whenever we filled our fresh water tank, and our rear window was leaking water all over our living room carpet whenever it rained (and it rains a lot in the northeast). Ugh!

Sadly, large fresh water tanks are not a commodity item, because they come in all shapes and sizes.

So, rather than waiting for two months for a new fresh water tank to come to the repair shop in Maine, we decided to do both of these water-related repairs (as well as a bunch of other smaller repairs) in Chanute, Kansas, at NuWa Industries, the factory repair facility where our trailer was originally manufactured.

NuWa claimed to have a fresh water tank for our trailer model in stock (this proved not to be the case, but that is another story), and they had an appointment available in two months (and no sooner!).

We could live with the leaks and other small problems, so this gave us two months to get from Maine to Kansas. We moseyed west and enjoyed a fabulous stay in Maysville, Kentucky.

Unfortunately, within 24 hours of leaving there, our RV refrigerator died. Good grief — While en route from a trailer axle repair in Maine to a bunch of plumbing related repairs in Kansas, we had to get a new RV fridge somewhere near western Kentucky. Not many places stock 8 cubic foot Dometic RV refrigerators! We scrambled and got our RV refrigerator replaced outside Indianapolis.

RV Refrigerator replacement under warranty

We had to replace our RV refrigerator after 8 years (the typical lifespan for a fridge, we found out!)

Luckily, the refrigerator replacement at Camping World went really well.

Once we got to Chanute, Kansas for our new fresh water tank, window repair, toilet repair, faucet replacement and a few other things, our buggy had to stay in the shop for three days!!

RV fresh water holding tank replacement

We had to replace our fresh water tank and do many other plumbing and leak-related repairs.

We were not allowed to stay in our rig while it was in the shop in Kansas. Fortunately, the trailer warranty reimbursement for those three days of repairs included our two nights at a motel. Thank goodness for that warranty once again!

Back on the road after our plumbing and water leak repairs were completed in Kanses, we ventured onward to Phoenix, Arizona.

Sadly, our saga of trailer repairs was not over yet.

TRAILER SUSPENSION FAILURE

Since we had left Maine (where we had gotten our new trailer axle installed), we had watched with alarm as the two wheels on our trailer’s tandem axles had gotten progressively closer and closer together. The frame of our trailer, built by Lippert Components, had always had very narrow spacing between the two wheels.

When we had upgraded from the factory installed E-rated (10 ply) tires to the higher profile G-rated (14 ply) tires a few years prior, I could squeeze two fingers between the tires. After our trailer axle replacement and new tire purchase in Maine, I verified that this was still the case.

5th wheel trailer suspension tire spacing is okay

Spacing between the wheels is two finger widths.

However, by the time we got to Phoenix, I could barely get the tip of my pinky finger between them and I could not slide my whole pinky in.

Fifth wheel trailer tires 1-4 inch apart

My pinky finger can squeeze only partway in between the tires!

The spacing was down to less than 1/4 inch.

Fifth wheel trailer tires 1-4 inch apart

Sagging suspension made our wheels dangerously close together.

Something was very wrong.

We took the trailer to Straight Line Suspension in Mesa, Arizona, a repair shop that had a newly outfitted facility that does a lot of contract suspension maintenance work on fleets of school buses and commercial trucks.

After careful inspection, their consensus was that we needed to revamp the trailer’s suspension completely. Something was failing, and whether the culprit was the leaf springs, or the equalizer between the springs or the axles themselves, no one could determine exactly.

Fifth wheel trailer RV at suspension shop for service

Our buggy goes into the repair shop for a new suspension.

And this is where we were glad not just to have any old extended warranty contract on our trailer but to have one purchased through Wholesale Warranties.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING AN ALLY

Unlike most RV warranty brokers, Wholesale Warranties is heavily invested in the relationship between their clients and the warranty providers they represent. They want to be sure that their customers’ claims are properly handled by the warranty companies. So, they are more than happy to get involved in their clients’ claims to facilitate and make sure there are no misunderstandings.

This level of commitment to their products and belief in them is truly astonishing. And it makes all the difference in the world.

When the service provider (Straight Line Suspension) first called our warranty provider (Portfolio Protection), the warranty company was understandably reluctant to cover the repair without knowing the root cause of the failure. They pressed the shop to determine which specific part had caused the failure. Was it the shocks? The leaf springs? The axles? They wanted to replace only the component(s) that failed and nothing more. That makes sense!

However, the suspension experts had no idea which part had failed, and they said there was no easy way to figure that out. So, we called Wholesale Warranties and had a long conversation with John Wise. We described to him the gradual failure we had witnessed and the difficulty of pin-pointing exactly which component(s) had failed and in what order the failure(s) had occurred.

I emailed him photos of our wheel spacing both before and after the failure. Thank goodness I take so many photos and had both “before” and “after” photos to send him!

He then called our warranty company, Portfolio Protection, and reviewed the photos with them. He explained that the suspension mechanics were not sure exactly what had caused the failure but that the suspension was not functioning properly and needed to be replaced.

In the end, Portfolio Protection agreed to replace the springs, equalizers and shocks and also to correct the insufficient spacing between the leaf spring hangers, placing them further apart so that even if some components failed or sagged in the future, there would no risk that the wheels would touch.

If it weren’t for Wholesale Warranties coming to our aid to act as a liaison and facilitator and to help explain our breakdown in a way that the warranty provider could understand, this vital repair would not have been covered.

Of course, the role of Wholesale Warranties is strictly as a facilitator. They can’t force the provider to reimburse a repair that is not covered by the contract. We have called Wholesale Warranties for liaison assistance several times now, and they have been very up front when our repair was outside the limits of our contract.

However, being able to call them and describe the problem and get their input is extremely helpful. This is particularly true in cases like our trailer axle repair where both our RV insurance plan AND our RV warranty contract could be used to pay for the repair, but one was financially preferable to the other due to differing deductibles and different kinds of coverage.

 

FIFTH WHEEL TRAILER SUSPENSION REPLACEMENT

The first step in our trailer suspension replacement was to jack up the trailer and remove the two axles. We had just done a fabulous trailer disc brake conversion eight months earlier, and this was the THIRD time the hydraulic lines had been tampered with due to removing the axles or the belly pan from the frame. How frustrating!

Fifth wheel trailer axles hangers ready to be removed

The trailer axles are removed from the trailer.

Once the axles were off the trailer, the next step was to remove the leaf spring hangers.

Fifth wheel trailer axle hangers

The hangers must be cut off the frame.

The sparks flew like mad as each of the six hangers was cut off the frame using a torch.

Sparks fly as fifth wheel trailer leaf spring hangers are cut off

Sparks fly as the old trailer leaf spring hangers are cut off

Cutting off trailer leaf spring hangers

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Straight Line Suspension wanted to ensure the new springs were strong enough, so they chose 8,000 lb. American made springs from Rockwell American, even though we had just 7,000 lb. axles and only 11,250 lbs. sitting on the pair of axles (as of our most recent RV weighing by the Escapees Smartweigh program).

New 8000 lb fifth wheel trailer leaf springs

New 8000 lb American made leaf springs from Rockwell American

They pointed out to us the difference between Chinese made springs and American made springs. Chinese steel is notorious for being inferior to American steel, and the overall fabrication quality of the springs, especially at the eye, was not as good.

American made leaf springs

The eye of the American made leaf springs looks clean and well made.

Chinese leaf springs

Not so much for the Chinese made leaf springs

Our trailer’s original Chinese springs had come with nylon bushings inside the eye, but they had been upgraded to brass bushings. When the old springs were removed from the trailer, we saw the brass bushings inside were worn out. The curvature of the spring from the eye was also flat, an indication that the spring itself was worn out.

Worn out bushings in trailer axle leaf spring

Worn out bushings and the spring is flat — no curvature left!
(compare to above pics!)

Straight Line Suspension fabricated a new leaf spring hanger system that had three hangers welded onto a bar. These hangers would space the axles further apart than they originally had been.

New custom trailer leaf spring hanger

New custom trailer leaf spring hangers

The bar was then welded onto the underside of the trailer frame.

New trailer tandem leaf spring hanger ready to be installed

The new trailer leaf spring hanger bar is positioned so it can be welded onto the frame.

After welding on the new hanger bar, new equalizers were bolted onto each center hangers.

New trailer tandem axle equalizer

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Then the leaf springs were bolted onto the outer hangers.

New fifth wheel trailer leaf spring hangers leaf springs and equalizer

Springs and equalizers in place — all set to reinstall the axles.

The axles were installed using new U-bolts. Straight Line Suspension also made a brace to span the width of the trailer between the two hanger bars to add some rigidity to the suspension system.

New support for trailer tandem axle suspension

A brace running across the width of the trailer makes the system stronger and more sturdy.

New trailer leaf spring and leaf spring hangers

.

Then they welded new shock mounts on the frame and installed new Monroe Gas-Magnum RV shock absorbers.

New shock absorbers on tandem trailer axle suspension

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The final result — our wheels were a fist’s width apart!!

Proper spacing tandem axle fifth wheel trailer RV

The trailer axles are spaced a lot better now.

SUSPENSION REPAIR COST BREAKDOWN

Here are the costs for the suspension replacement and our out of pocket costs as a result of our extended trailer warranty:

Parts: $1,119.83
Labor: $1,440.00
Tax: $90.15
Total: $2,649.98
Reimbursement: $2,549.98
Out of Pocket (deductible): $100.00

COMPLICATIONS

Unfortunately, in the world of repairs, sometimes fixing one thing breaks another.

After our trailer suspension replacement was completed, we towed our trailer out into the parking lot and went inside to get organized to leave for our next destination.

As always, we were not connected to electrical hookups, so we turned on our new Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter that we had installed as part of our overall RV electrical system overhaul so we could generate 120 volt AC power from our batteries and run our microwave and computers.

Instantly an alarm went off.

What???

We flew to turn off the inverter and then began troubleshooting segments of our AC wiring to try to figure out the problem.

Suddenly, we heard a huge loud POP. And that was the end of the inverter.

Good heavenly days.

Luckily, the inverter was still under its manufacturer’s warranty. Exeltech is phenomenal about caring for their equipment out in the field. They provide inverters to NASA and their equipment is on both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station. They take great pride in their equipment and have an excellent warranty repair process.

Mark undid the really nice inverter installation job he’d done for our Exeltech, boxed it up, and shipped it to Exeltech’s Ft. Worth, Texas, facility.

Exeltech 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter installed above Trojan Reliant AGM batteries in fifth wheel RV

Geez… Our beautiful inverter (the suspended black box) had been working flawlessly!
(To keep the inverter cool and well clear of the batteries, yet still close, it is securely suspended above)

In the meantime, we spent a day troubleshooting our wiring to try to understand what had gone wrong. It wasn’t clear to us how the trailer suspension replacement might have impacted our trailer wiring, and Straight Line Suspension was certain that the two were unrelated.

After many hours of crawling under the trailer, and removing the belly pan section by section, and running our fingers along the frame and shining a flashlight into the unreachable depths, we found a spot where the AC trunk line was resting on the frame.

Well, it wasn’t exactly resting any more. The heat from the cutting and welding torches had melted the cable’s insulation onto the frame!

Mark carefully incised the casing, separated the hot and neutral lines, re-wrapped them in new insulation and affixed the cable firmly to the underside of the plywood flooring well away from the frame.

How had this happened?

Sadly, Straight Line Suspension did not check the frame sufficiently in the areas where they would be welding before they started torching the hangers off of it and welding on the new hanger system. Of course, this is a difficult thing to do because a plastic corrugated sheeting covers the entire underbelly of the trailer, protecting the tanks and wiring from road grime.

In order to inspect the frame before taking a torch to it, this corrugated sheeting must be removed, and any wiring in the area where the welding will take place must be located to ensure that it is not touching the frame.

RV manufacturers should enclose all wiring in conduit, or at least tack it to the underside of the plywood flooring, rather running it along the I-beams. However, that was not the case in our trailer. The wiring was tacked up to the flooring in some places, but there were extensive gaps that sagged, and this one portion sagged enough to be touching the frame right where the cutting and welding took place.

We live off the grid in our RV on solar power, so our inverter is our sole source of AC power. Losing it was a huge inconvenience!

While we waited for ten days or so for our inverter to make it to Ft. Worth, undergo diagnosis and repair then be shipped back to Phoenix, Mark installed our old Exeltech XP 1100 inverter in its place. Thank goodness we hung onto it after our upgrade from the 1100 watt to the 2000 watt version of the inverter!!

Straight Line Suspension paid for the expedited shipping and insurance for our inverter, and eventually, the happy day came when our inverter arrived and Mark got it put back in place.

Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter living off the grid in an RV

The Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter has been repaired and is ready to be reinstalled.

Needless to say, this was an ordeal that was not fun to live through and one that I waited a long time to write about. However, it is an amazing illustration of just how valuable an RV warranty can be, especially if you get one from a broker that stands behind their customers during the claims process. It’s also an important reminder that if someone is going to take a torch to your RV frame, they should check the nearby wiring first!

We weren’t sure just how worthwhile an RV Warranty would be when we got ours, but 2015 would have been an extremely expensive year for us without it. It’s bad enough to be stuck on the side of the road. But having to pay through the nose for the nasty surprise of a major repair makes the ordeal even worse.

Trailer on side of interstate with bad wheel bearing

What’s worse than being dead on the side of the road? Knowing it’s gonna cost ya!

Wholesale Warranties loves our repair stories, and they have offered our readers a $50 discount on an RV warranty if you mention our website, Roads Less Traveled, when you set it up. The discount will come off the quoted price at the time of purchase (remind them before you sign if you don’t see it — it’s not automated!!). Here is the link to get a quote for a warranty on your particular RV:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Page

Or you can call them at (800) 939-2806 and ask for our contact, Staci Ritchie-Roman, or email her at staci@wholesalewarranties.com.

FURTHER READING:

Articles Related to Finances in the RV Lifestyle:

Our Personal Case History of RV Warranty Repairs:

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Dodge Ram 3500 Dually Truck – Best RV Fifth Wheel Trailer Towing

Choosing a truck to pull a trailer is a critical decision for RVers, because getting there, and particularly getting there safely, is the first and most important part of enjoying the RV lifestyle! Towing specs and towing guidelines always give the outer limits of what a truck can safely tow. Too often, in towing situations, the trailer is a little too big for the truck, or the truck is a little too small for the trailer, pushing the truck right to its outer safety limits or beyond.

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

The 2016 Ram 3500 Dually is an awesomely powerful truck for towing big and heavy trailers

The truck-trailer combo may be just a little out of spec on paper, so it may seem okay, like you can get away with it, but it is a really unwise decision. Not only is it absolutely no fun to drive a truck that is screaming its little heart out to tow the load its tied to, but if you have an accident and it is determined your truck was towing a load that is beyond its safety limits, you will be liable.

Heaven forbid that there is a fatality in the accident — either yours or someone else’s. There are lots of horror stories out there of people’s lives that were transformed because someone decided not to get a truck that could tow their trailer safely.

Of course, truck and trailer salesmen don’t help. We have heard time and again, “That truck is fine for this trailer,” or “This trailer will be no problem for that truck.” Don’t listen to them! Trust your instincts and your gut feelings. If you are studying the specs and are nervous that your truck *might* be too small because your trailer puts it on the hairy edge of its specs, then you need a bigger truck or a smaller trailer.

2016 Ram 3500 diesel pickup dually truck

We have been amazed at the huge difference between our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel and this new 2016 Ram 3500 dually

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Sizing a Truck and Trailer for Safe Towing

This article covers all the specifications we studied and were concerned about when we placed the order for our 2016 Ram 3500 truck to tow our 14,100 lb. 5th wheel trailer. You can navigate to the various sections with these links:

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The Trade-In – 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel Long Bed diesel truck with 6.7 liter Cummins engine

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When we bought our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel long bed diesel truck with the 6.7 liter Cummins engine, its purpose was to tow a 7,000 lb. (fully loaded) 2007 Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer. Our 2004 Toyota Tundra (4.7 liter engine) had been okay to tow that trailer on paper, but when we took it on its first mountain excursion up and over Tioga Pass on the eastern side of Yosemite in California, it could not go faster than 28 mph with the gas pedal all the way to the floor. What a scary, white knuckle drive that was. Who needs that?

2004 Toyota Tundra towing 2007 Fleetwood Lynx Travel Trailer 27'

Our ’04 Toyota Tundra half-ton pickup rests as it tries to tow our 27′ travel trailer over Tioga Pass… sigh.

We replaced the Toyota Tundra with a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 which was rated to tow much bigger trailers than the little Lynx travel trailer, so all was good with that small travel trailer. However, within a year, we upgraded our trailer from the lightweight Fleetwood Lynx to a full-time quality, four season, 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker LS II fifth wheel trailer that the scales told us was 14,100 lbs. fully loaded. Suddenly, our big beefy diesel truck was at its outer limits!

Dodge Ram 3500 towing a fifth wheel trailer boondocking

Our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 tows our 36′ 14k lb. fifth wheel trailer

We drove our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 and 36′ fifth wheel combo for seven years without a mishap, but it was not an ideal situation. The truck would strain in the mountains and would wander in strong cross winds on the highway. We installed a K&N Cold Air Intake Filter and an Edge Evolution Diesel tuner which helped the engine breathe better and increased its power (see our Edge Evolution Tuner Review), and we installed a Timbren Suspension Enhancement System to keep the truck from sagging when hitched to the trailer. But the frame of the truck and the transmission were still stressed by the heavy load on steep inclines.

We wanted a truck that was well within its towing limits and that could tow our trailer effortlessly.

TRUCK and TRAILER WEIGHT RATINGS

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The weight ratings for trucks and trailers are an alphabet soup of confusion that takes a little imagination to grasp. Here’s a synopsis:

UVW Unloaded Vehicle Weight The weight of the vehicle without fuel, people and stuff
GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating The heaviest weight the vehicle can safely be when it is loaded up with fuel, people and stuff
GCWR Gross Combined Weight Rating The most a truck-and-trailer combo can safely weigh when hitched together and loaded up with people, fuel, food, etc
Payload The GVWR less the UVW The amount of weight the truck can safely carry. Compare to the trailer’s Pin Weight
PW Pin Weight The actual weight on the truck’s rear axle when a trailer is hitched up. Compare to the Payload

The Pin Weight is most easily visualized by first imagining yourself standing on a bathroom scale and making a note of your weight. Then your teenage kid walks up and puts his arms around your neck and hangs on your shoulder. The weight on the scale goes up a little bit, but not a huge amount, because your kid is still standing on the floor on his own two feet. The more he leans on you, the more weight the scale shows.

The difference between the weight the scale shows when your kid is hanging on your shoulder and the weight it shows when you’re by yourself is the “pin weight.” In the case of you and your kid, the “pin weight” might be 30 lbs.

5th wheel trailer and Ram 3500 dually truck hitched up towing

The Pin Weight is the weight of the trailer at the hitch pin, a value that has to be calculated.

The following chart shows the factory safety weight ratings given by Chrysler and NuWa and the actual weights for our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 truck and ’07 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker 5th Wheel trailer. We had our rig weighed by the Escapees Smart Weigh program at their North Ranch RV Park in Wickenburg, Arizona. This is a detailed, wheel by wheel, RV specific method of weighing.

Our truck, when loaded, carries fuel, 24 gallons of water, a generator and BBQ, the fifth wheel hitch, several leveling boards, two huge bins of “stuff” and ourselves, as well as the pin weight of the trailer. So, even though the pin weight itself was within tolerance on our ’07 Dodge 3500, all that other stuff made the truck way overweight. Moving those things to the trailer would clog our fifth wheel basement and would just make the trailer way overweight instead.

2007 Dodge Ram 3500 SRW (Single Rear Wheel) Truck

UVW GVWR GCWR Payload/Pin Weight
Rating 7,147 10,100 21,000 2,953
Actual 8,025* 10,850 22,125 2,850

* LOADED with passengers, fuel and cargo but not towing

2007 NuWa Hitchhiker 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer

UVW GVWR
Rating 10,556 13,995
Actual 14,100
2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck payload is 6,000 lbs

Besides the pin weight, our truck carries spare water, a heavy hitch, leveling boards, and generator.
And there’s more stuff plus ourselves in the cab!

We improved our trailer’s cargo carrying capacity by upgrading from E rated tires to G rated tires and by revamping the suspension completely (I have not yet written about that project). So, even though some elements of the trailer frame are still at the spec limit, we have some leeway with our trailer in those places where the rubber meets the road.

The truck, however, was over its limit for both GVWR and GCWR, and it was pushed nearly to its max when towing.

The 2007 Ram 3500 towing guide is here: 2007 Dodge Ram Trucks Towing Guide. Our truck is on p. 20, on the 2nd to last line. Search for this text: “D1 8H42 (SRW)” (you can copy and paste it from here).

 

DIESEL TRUCKS ON THE MARKET

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There are three brands of big diesel pickup trucks on the market: Chevy/GMC, Ford and Dodge. People have lots of brand loyalty when it comes to diesel trucks, and the bottom line is it’s pointless to get into a religious war over truck manufacturers. That said, the following are our personal opinions and there is no offense intended to anyone who loves a particular brand.

GMC makes the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra which both have the Chevy Duramax 6.6 liter engine and the Allison transmission. The Allison transmission is widely used throughout the commercial trucking industry and is considered to be the best.

FORD makes the Super Duty series of trucks which have Ford built engines and transmissions. Ford has modified its Power Stroke engine several times since the early 2000’s. The current engine is a 6.7 liter engine and it has performed well. Earlier models, the 6.0 liter engine and 6.4 liter engine, both had significant problems and were less reliable.

CHRYSLER makes the Ram series of trucks which have the Cummins 6.7 liter engine and Aisin transmission. The Cummins engine is widely used throughout the commercial trucking industry and is considered to be the best.

With the late model Ram trucks there are two models of 6 speed automatic transmissions to choose from. The 68RFE transmission was the only one available for our ’07 Dodge, and we found it developed problems over time (before our installation of the K&N Cold Air Intake and Edge tuner). It stuttered on climbs and didn’t always shift smoothly. The new (in 2013) Aisin AS69RC transmission is much more rugged and reliable and is now available as an option in the Ram Trucks lineup.

Dodge Ram 3500 diesel dually truck

All three big diesel truck brands are good. After much research and many test drives, we chose the Ram 3500.

PICKUP TRUCK SIZES

All trucks are categorized into eight weight classes, from Class 1 (lightest) to Class 8 (heaviest) according to their GVWR. Pickup trucks fall into the smallest (lowest) three classes:

Class GVWR
Class 1 0 – 6,000 lbs
Class 2 6,001 – 10,000 lbs
Class 3 10,001 – 14,000 lbs

All three classes of pickups are referred to as “light duty” trucks, as compared to dump trucks and semi tractor-trailers in the higher “medium duty” and “heavy duty” classes. Within the pickup truck market, however, they are referred to as “Pickups” (Class 1), “Full Size Pickups” (Class 2) and “Heavy Duty Pickups” (Class 3). So, even though a large diesel pickup is marketed as “heavy duty,” it is not technically a heavy duty truck. It’s just a heavy duty pickup. This may be obvious to many, but sure had me confused at first glance.

When we were first time truck buyers shopping for a truck to pull our popup tent trailer, the advertising made the ’04 Toyota Tundra look like it was a heavy duty towing monster that could pull a mountain right across a valley. But it is not so! Pickups come in all sizes.

Dodge Ram truck grill and Toyota Tundra truck grill

Toyota Tundra and Ram 3500 — Which one is the towing monster?

Pickup truck sizes are referred to as “half-ton” “three-quarter ton” and “one ton,” and they are numbered accordingly:

Size Ford Chevy/Dodge
Half-ton 150 1500
Three-quarter ton 250 2500
One ton 350 3500

Ford also mass markets 450, 550 and larger pickups. Some people make custom Chevy and Dodge trucks in those sizes too, but they don’t come from the factories that way.

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck with fifth wheel trailer at campground

Ensuring the tow ratings of the truck are well beyond the actual weight of the trailer is essential.

For reference, a ton is 2,000 lbs. The truck naming convention comes from the original payloads these trucks could carry when they were first introduced decades ago. Back in those days, a half-ton truck could carry 1,000 lbs. (half a ton) in the bed of the truck. A three-quarter ton could carry 1,500 lbs and a big one ton truck could carry 2,000 lbs.

In 1918 Chevy had a very cute half-ton pickup that was basically a car with sturdy rear springs. By the mid-1930’s pickups came with factory installed box style beds, and a 1937 Chevy half-ton truck went on a 10,245 mile drive around the US with a 1,060 lb. load in the bed. It got 20.74 miles to the gallon!

As the payload capacities increased, the manufacturers assigned model numbers that corresponded to the weights the trucks could carry. But technology advances never quit!

2016 Ram 3500 dually and 36' fifth wheel trailer RV

Our 2016 Ram 3500 dually can tow this trailer with one hand tied behind its back.

Since those early times, truck and engine designs have improved dramatically, and the payloads modern trucks can carry now is significantly higher. For instance, the payload of a 2016 Toyota Tundra, a half-ton truck, is 1,430 to 2,060 lbs., depending on the options, making it essentially a “one ton” truck. The payload of a 2016 Dodge Ram diesel can be as high as 6,170 lbs. (and even higher for the gas HEMI version), making the 3500 model more of a “three ton” truck than a one ton.

In the modern trucks, the major difference between a three quarter ton 250/2500 truck and a one ton 350/3500 truck is the beefiness in the rear end suspension for supporting a heavy payload, that is, the number of leaf springs on the rear axle. In our opinion, if you are going to spend the money to buy a three quarter ton truck for towing purposes, you might as well spend the tiny incremental extra few bucks to buy a one ton.

LONG BED vs. SHORT BED PICKUPS

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Pickups come with more than one bed size. A “short bed” truck has a box that is a little over 6′ long and a “long bed” truck has a box that is around 8′ long. When a fifth wheel hitch is installed in the bed of a pickup, it is placed so the king pin of the fifth wheel will be over the rear axle. In a short bed truck this leaves less distance between the hitch and the back of the pickup cab than in a long bed truck.

The advantage of a short bed truck is that the two axles are closer together, so the truck can make tighter turns. This is really handy in parking lots and when making u-turns. The truck also takes up less space when it’s parked, again, a big advantage in parking lots.

2016 Ram 3500 diesel truck dually

A long bed truck is less maneuverable when it’s not towing but is preferable for towing a fifth wheel trailer

However, when towing a fifth wheel trailer, there is a risk that the front of the fifth wheel cap will hit the back of the pickup cab when making a tight turn. For this reason, there are special sliding fifth wheel hitches, and some 5th wheel manufacturers make the fifth wheel cap very pointy and even concave on the sides so there’s room enough to ensure the pickup cab doesn’t touch the fifth wheel cap on tight turns.

The advantage of a long bed truck is that not only can it carry more and bigger things in the bed of the truck, but when it is hitched to a fifth wheel trailer, doing a tight turn will not risk the front of the fifth wheel hitting the back of the truck cab.

Also, you can open and close the tailgate when the fifth wheel trailer is hitched up. We can actually walk from one side of our trailer to the other through the gap that’s between the open tailgate and the front of the trailer, even when the truck is cocked in a tight turn.

A long bed truck allows the tailgate to be open when hitched to a fifth wheel trailer

With a long bed, the truck can be at a sharp angle to the trailer and still have the tailgate open.

For folks that use their pickup primarily in non-towing situations and take their fiver out for just a few weekends a year (and stay close to home), a short bed truck is fine. However, in our opinion, if you are going to tow a large fifth wheel frequently, and especially if you are a seasonal or full-time RVer traveling longer distances, a long bed truck is the way to go.

We bought a long bed as our first diesel truck for our little travel trailer, knowing we might eventually get a fifth wheel, even though it takes much more real estate to back a travel trailer into a parking spot with a long bed truck that it does with a short bed truck (because the pivot point on a travel trailer is behind the bumper rather than over the truck axle, forcing the front end to swing exceedingly wide to make a turn).

When we use our truck as a daily driver, even though we always have to park away from the crowd and walk a little further, and we sometimes struggle making u-turns and maneuvering in tight spaces (it takes nearly four lanes to do a U-turn in a long bed pickup without the trailer attached), we have never once regretted having a long bed truck.

SINGLE REAR WHEEL vs. DUAL REAR WHEEL (DUALLY)

In the one ton class of trucks (Ford 350, Chevy/Dodge 3500), there is an additional consideration: single wheels on the rear axle of the truck (“single rear wheel”) or two pairs (“dual rear wheel” or “dually”).

The advantages of a single rear wheel truck are:

  • Only 4 tires to maintain instead of 6
  • Changing a flat will never involve accessing an inner tire under the truck
  • No wide rear fender to worry about at toll booths and drive-through bank windows and fast food windows
  • Easy to jump in and out of the bed of the truck from the side using the rear wheel as a foothold
  • Can handle rough two track roads better because the rear wheels fit neatly into the ruts
  • Gets traction on slick ice, snow and muddy roads better than a dually

The advantages of a dual rear wheel truck (“dually”) are:

  • Wider stance supporting the weight of the king pin (or bumper hitch)
  • Can carry a heavier payload — heavier trailer pin weight and/or bigger slide-in truck camper
  • Much safer if there’s a blowout on one of the rear wheels, and you can still drive (for a while)
2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel and 14K lb. fifth wheel trailer

A dually has a wider stance, providing more stability, and it can handle much more weight in the bed of the truck.

Why do you need to get in and out of the truck bed from the side? Climbing in on the tailgate is great, and there is a very handy foothold at the license plate mount on the 2016 model that is low enough for a short person to reach easily. However, when the truck is hitched to the fifth wheel, it’s not possible to climb in from the tailgate, and sometimes we need to get into the bed of the truck when the fiver is attached!

For instance, we keep 22 gallons of spare water in the bed of the truck in 5.5-gallon jerry jugs. I’m the one who holds the hose in the jugs while Mark goes to the other end of the hose and turns the water on or off at the spigot. We could switch roles, but I like that job!

When we’re hitched up, I have to get into the bed of the truck from the side to get to the water jugs. I plant one foot on the rear tire, and I hoist myself up and over the side. Getting over that fat fender is not so easy with the dually!

When hitching/unhitching, Mark also reaches over the side of the truck to loop the emergency break-away brake cable from the trailer onto the hitch in the truck bed. That way, if the trailer comes unhitched as we’re driving, the quick yank on the small cable (as the trailer breaks free) will engage the trailer’s own brakes as we wave it goodbye behind us.

Obviously, for both of these maneuvers, the width of the dually fender makes reaching into the bed of the truck a whole lot harder. Doing these things on a single rear wheel truck is trifling by comparison!

RESEARCHING SINGLE REAR WHEEL vs DUALLY TRUCKS

Our biggest debate was whether or not we should simply buy a new single rear wheel truck that had the latest engine and drive-train and chassis improvements or if we should take the plunge and get a dually. We do occasional research online, but our preferred method of learning about things in the RV world is to talk to experienced people in person, especially since we are out and about all day long and we enjoy meeting new people.

So, we interviewed every single dually truck owner that we ever saw. For two years! Whenever we saw a dually parked somewhere, we’d look around to see if the owner was anywhere nearby. If so, we’d walk up and ask him about his truck.

Did he like it? What did he tow with it? How long had he had it? Was it his first dually? Did he have trouble maneuvering in tight quarters? Had he towed that same trailer with a single rear wheel truck? How did they compare?

Diesel dually Ram 3500 pickup

We asked lots of people how their dually performed compared to a one ton single rear wheel long bed truck towing the same heavy trailer.

To our astonishment, although we searched for two years for a person who had towed the same large fifth wheel trailer with both a dually and a single rear wheel truck, and we talked to dozens of dually truck owners who had towed all kinds of trailers, we found only one who had towed the same fifth wheel trailer with both styles of truck.

This guy was a rancher with several big cattle and horse trailers as well as a 40′ toy hauler fifth wheel. He’d been towing comparable trailers with single rear wheel long bed trucks for over twenty years. Three years ago he’d switched to a dually, and he said the difference for his toy hauler was night and day. He’d never go back.

Another fellow told us the ranch he worked on had both single rear wheel and dually trucks and that the duallies were used exclusively for the big trailers because they were better tow vehicles.

Fender flare 2016 Ram 3500 dually pickup truck

We LOVED the new, sleek styling on the Ram duallies.
Our biggest questions: is the wide dually fender flare a pain? How does it do at toll booths and drive-through windows?

This was very convincing, but an interesting side tid-bit we learned is that many folks go either dually or single rear wheel when they buy their first diesel truck for a big trailer, and they stick with that type of truck when they replace it. Guys love their trucks, so we heard few complaints, but when folks raved about how their single rear wheel or dually was the ultimate towing machine and that they’d never switch, when pressed for details, we found they didn’t have first-hand experience using the two different types of trucks to tow the same large trailer.

For those looking to conduct their own research, in addition to talking with ranchers and horse owners, one of the best sources of information we found was the trailer transport drivers who drive their own personal trucks to tow both large RV and horse trailers from the manufacturers to the dealerships where they are sold..

 

TEST DRIVES and CHOOSING A TRUCK BRAND

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Our questions would have all been answered in a heartbeat if we could have hitched our trailer onto a dually sitting in a truck dealership lot and towed it up a mountain and on a few back roads. However, that wasn’t possible.

Perhaps in the future, because of the fantastic new hitch puck systems that can be factory installed in pickups these days, dealerships will decide to keep one of the nifty B&W OEM fifth wheel hitches on hand for prospective customers to do just that (if they can sort out the liability and insurance issues).

Ultimately, we held out on the dually versus single rear wheel decision until the very end, but we knew inside that if we did buy a new truck it would probably be a dually. So every test drive we did was with a dually truck.

We took all three brands of pickups out on over 200 miles of test drives at 25 or so dealerships.

Ram 3500 dually pickup diesel

Going for test drives is lots of fun and is the best way to learn the product

Dealing with Slick Salesmen

A reader wrote me recently to say he was intimidated by the sales tactics at car dealerships, so he was reluctant to do many test drives or much dealership research. That is a real shame, because the only way to learn about trucks is to spend time with them, test drive them, sit in them, crawl underneath, study what’s under the hood, read the marketing literature, and hound the salesmen with questions.

After all, the salesmen are there to teach you what you need to know about the product, and if they don’t sell you a truck today, they are helping another salesman (or themselves) sell you a truck tomorrow. What goes around comes around, and any good salesman understands that. You can easily deflect the high pressure sales tactics by saying, “We are starting our search and just want to do a test drive today. We won’t be ready to buy for a few months.”

Where to Do a Test Drive? Where to Buy?

The best places to find knowledgeable diesel truck salesmen and buy big diesel trucks, especially duallies, is in cattle ranching country. As we scoured dealerships from San Diego to Maine and from Sarasota to the Tetons, we found urban areas generally have few big trucks on the lot and the salesmen know very little about diesel trucks. Cattle ranchers, horse owners and big commercial farmers know their trucks, and so do the salesmen they work with.

Dually Ram 3500 truck and 5th wheel trailer camping

The most knowledgeable truck salesmen are in places where people need and use big trucks — a lot!

Our first test drives were focused on the turning radius and maneuverability of a dually truck as compared to the single rear wheel truck we knew so well. It was hard to tell, but the turning radius seemed to be the same or better (and we now feel the 2016 Ram dually definitely turns tighter) than our old 2007 single rear wheel Ram.

As for general maneuverability, Mark didn’t notice a whole lot of difference driving a dually versus our single wheel truck. Frankly, owning a long bed diesel truck period means you have to park in the back 40 and walk long distances anyway, so we soon realized that dealing with a dually in parking lots would be no different.

We did one round of comparative test drives on the uphill entrance ramp to an interstate in Baker City, Oregon. We visited each truck dealership in town, and when we did our test drives, we floored each dually truck on the incline to see how powerful it felt. The 2015 Chevy won by a long shot, against the Ford and Dodge 2015 models, but did not feel as powerful as our single rear wheel ’07 Dodge Ram (at that point our truck had the K&N Cold Air Intake and Timbrens but did not have the Edge Evolution Diesel tuner).

Fifth wheel trailer and Ram 3500 diesel dually truck at campground

Our trailer snuggles up to its new companion, a 2016 Ram 3500 dually

Deciding Factor – The Cummins Engine

In the end, the deciding factor for us for choosing a brand was the Cummins engine. This was true when we were researching our ’07 single rear wheel truck and again when researching the 2013-2016 duallies. Lots of people wish they could buy a pickup with both the Cummins engine and an Allison transmission in one brand of truck, a combo that is on many commercial trucks. But that’s not possible.

For us, the simplicity of the inline 6 cylinder Cummins engine (as compared to the more complex V8 engines in the Chevy and Ford) along with the longer stroke (inherently higher torque) makes a lot of sense. Inline engines are used commercially in big rigs and tractors, and the 6.7 liter Cummins engine has a long and solid track record, not just in Ram trucks but in many commercial applications as well. The Cummins quality control and manufacturing seem to be top notch.

Here is a fantastic video showing a Cummins engine being built:

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HORSEPOWER, TORQUE, TOWING and PAYLOAD CAPACITY OF THE 2016 DODGE RAM DUALLY

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Amazingly, with each passing year, the payload and towing capacity of each brand of truck jumps higher. From the time we started test driving duallies in 2013 until we placed our order for our new 2016 Ram 3500, the horsepower and torque across all three brands increased, and the towing and payload capacities climbed too.

Built with the right options, the 2016 Ram 3500 diesel truck has an eye-popping, 385 horsepower and 900 ft-lbs. of torque with a GCWR of 39,100 lbs. It can tow a trailer weighing 31,210 lbs. and has a max payload of 6,720 lbs.

This is absolutely astonishing, and neither the Chevy nor the Ford trucks match that torque right now.

Accurate comparisons between brands are challenging within the same model classes, however, because there are different standards for making measurements. Ram Trucks uses the SAE J2807 standards, while other manufacturers don’t. Also, we were able to locate Ford’s towing and payload capacity charts online (see the links at the bottom of the page), but did not locate a similar chart for GM.

Some of the head-to-head tests between the brands that are posted online are also a little misleading, because, for instance, a Ram 3500 is pitted against a Ford F450. Even though both of those models are Class 3 trucks (10,001 to 14,000 lbs GVWR), one would expect the Ram 3500 to compete head to head with the Ford F350, not the Ford F450.

Ram 3500 dually truck_

Best in Show

Here are the towing and payload capacities of the many models of Dodge Ram trucks:

2016 Towing and Payload Capacities of Ram Trucks

The one we ordered is on the last line of the second section on the fifth page. Search for this text: “CREW CAB LONG BOX, 4X4, DRW

AISIN TRANSMISSION

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As mentioned above, the Ram trucks are sold with two options for the transmission. After our troubles with the old 68RFE transmission in our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500, we wanted the new and better one, the AISIN AS69RC. In the Ram Trucks marketing literature, the 6.7 liter Cummins engine is paired with the AISIN AS69RC transmission to make their “High Output Engine” because it delivers max torque at the low end for heavy towing situations. This combo became available in 2013.

RV boondocking fifth wheel trailer Quartzsite Arizona

“High Output” engines on Ram Trucks pair the Cummins 6.7 liter engine with the Aisin AS69RC transmission

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REAR AXLE GEAR RATIO

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The rear axle gearing on a pickup determines the GCWR for the truck (the maximum safe weight of truck and trailer hitched together and fully loaded) and the maximum weight trailer that the truck can tow safely. It also makes a huge difference in how the truck drives, both while towing and not towing.

Rear axle gear ratios are given as a ratio, for example “4.10” which means 4.10:1 or “3.73” which means 3.73:1. The ratio refers to the number of teeth on the axle ring gear as compared to the number of teeth on the driveshaft’s pinion gear. With a 4.10 rear end, the driveshaft has to turn 4.1 times in order to rotate the rear wheels one revolution. With a 3.73 rear end, the driveshaft must turn 3.73 times to rotate the rear wheels one revolution. So, with a 4.10 rear axle ratio the driveshaft’s pinion gear is spinning more quickly at a given speed than with a 3.73 rear axle ratio.

“Easier” Gears vs. “Harder” Gears

If you think of riding a bike, when you have the bike in a “hard” gear, it takes a lot of leg strength to turn the wheels, but one pedal stroke will cover a lot of distance. For example, going uphill in a “hard” gear would be especially hard. Your legs are turning really slowly and straining and you’re wishing you could put it in an “easier” gear! But when you descend in that same gear, you can hit high speeds easily. Back to trucks, this is like having the driveshaft turn a little to make the wheels turn a lot as it does with the 3.42 or 3.73 rear axle gear ratios found on Dodge Rams.

However, when the bike is in an “easy” gear, just a small amount of leg strength will turn the wheels, but one pedal stroke doesn’t get you very far. For example, going uphill isn’t so bad — you can inch up slowly — but once you began descending you’re spun out because your legs can’t pedal fast enough to hit super fast top speeds. In the truck world, this is like having the driveshaft turn a lot to make the wheels turn a little as it does with the 4.10 rear axle gear ratio.

Long bed pickup Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

Wide Load!! The highest tow ratings are achieved with a high rear axle gear ratio (like 4.10)

Towing Heavy Loads vs. Driving Fast on the Highway

So, on a truck, the higher ratio (4.10) is ideal for towing heavy loads. It takes more turns of the driveshaft to rotate the rear wheels of the truck, so the engine revs higher, putting it in the power band for RPMs, and the heavy load gets moved. But the top end speed and fuel economy get sacrificed a bit.

With a lower gear ratio (3.73 or 3.42) it takes fewer turns of the driveshaft to rotate the rear wheels of the truck. When the truck is zipping along at highway speeds, the gears are turning a little more slowly (lower RPMs) than they would with a 4.10 rear end, which saves on fuel efficiency and makes the fastest attainable speed a little higher.

The highest tow ratings are achieved with a 4.10 rear end, so the heaviest trailers will be best if towed by a truck with a 4.10 rear axle gear ratio. However, if most of your towing is with lighter weight trailers, and your driving will be primarily on interstates, and your personal preference is to drive fast, a 3.73 or 3.42 rear axle gear ratio may make more sense.

Our ’07 Dodge had a 3.73 rear end. The problem was that at the speeds we tended to drive — 55-65 — the engine would lug. Mark manually changed gears a lot to try to keep the RPMs up, but he found it fatiguing to have to monitor the gears so closely and to change gears all the time.

We also don’t drive on interstates very often, and when we do, we’re the grannies of the road, moseying along in the right lane.

Sunset over a 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually diesel truck

We take life, and the open road, fairly slowly, so a 3.73 rear end, which is awesome a 75 mph,
was not the right choice for us.

4.10 vs. 3.73 – RPMs at Different Speeds

We wanted a 4.10 rear end on our new truck, but we wanted to be 100% sure this would truly make the kind of difference we expected. So, on one Ram dually test drive we drove a stretch of highway in our ’07 Dodge at various speeds between 45 and 65 mph, noting the RPMs in a notebook, and then we took a 2015 Ram 3500 dually with a 4.10 rear end out on the same road at the same speeds. The salesman raised an eyebrow in surprise when we marched into the dealership and announced we wanted to do a test drive at various speeds to note the engine RPMs, but he went along with the idea!

On that test drive we found the 4.10 rear end shifts out of lower gears sooner than the 3.73 rear end, and generally keeps the engine RPMs about 100-200 RPMs higher at each speed. Our new truck bears out those findings.

So, how can you tell if a truck on the dealer lot has a 4.10 rear end without peering at the window sticker? Check underneath the back end of the truck. The differential is the big round casing that hangs between the rear wheels. On trucks with a 4.10 rear end, the differential has a series of vertical cooling fins on it. These help keep it cool since the gears spin faster and it is designed for heavier towing loads, both of which make it heat up.

Cooling fins on 4.10 differential for 4.10 rear axle gear ratio

Looking under the rear end of the truck, the differential has cooling fins if the rear axle ratio is a 4.10

BEEFED UP FRAME

Besides the more powerful engine tuning and transmission, Ram has improved the truck frame on the dually considerable. Every aspect of the frame is more sturdy than it used to be, making the truck not only powerful enough to pull heavier loads but strong enough to withstand the multitude of forces as it hauls the load up a mountain.

Beefed up suspension Ram 3500 dually truck

Peering under the front end of the truck, the frame has been strengthened for heavy towing

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FOUR WHEEL DRIVE (4×4)

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We learned with our ’04 Toyota Tundra truck towing our 7,000 lb. 27′ travel trailer that four wheel drive is a necessity for us in our RV lifestyle. In our first weeks of full-timing, a small, wet grassy incline prohibited us from camping in a campground in Texas, because our truck kept slipping and couldn’t tow the trailer up over the short rise! From that moment on, we’ve felt that a four wheel drive is mandatory if you are going to tow a big trailer.

Also, while descending a really gnarly, skinny, twisty, single lane road on a mountain in Utah, with grades of 10% or more in places, we discovered that the safest way to drive DOWN a very steep descent is to put the truck in four wheel drive LOW gear, and creep down the mountain at 5-10 mph using the exhaust brake. This tactic was a lifesaver for us on that mountain with our ’07 Dodge truck and fifth wheel trailer. Without it, we would still be living at the summit of that mountain!

The following link has more tips for driving a big RV in the mountains

2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' 5th wheel RV at campsite

4×4 low gear allowed us to creep down off a mountain summit and find new campsites elsewhere!

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PUCK SYSTEM FOR MOUNTING A FIFTH WHEEL OR GOOSENECK HITCH

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The new Dodge Ram and Ford Super Duty trucks have a really fantastic option for a factory installed puck system in the bed of the truck where you can mount either a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. During our truck search, GM did not have that option on their trucks.

This option has five holes in the bed of the pickup, one in the center for a gooseneck hitch and four outer ones to hold a fifth wheel hitch. The idea behind this mounting system is that rather than drilling holes in your brand new truck bed to install hitch rails to support a fifth wheel hitch — the method that was always used until this new system was devised — you can buy a hitch designed for these puck mounts and simply drop it in.

Gooseneck - Fifth Wheel Towing Prep Puck System

Looking towards the tailgate, there’s a gooseneck puck in the middle and four pucks in a square
to mount a fifth wheel hitch. The bed is totally flat without the hitch in it.

If you want to use the bed of your truck for hauling, and you won’t be towing your fifth wheel, you can easily remove the fifth wheel hitch temporarily and have the entire bed of the truck available to you. Not only is it a snap to remove the hitch, but the bed of the truck will be flat and obstacle free because there won’t be any hitch rails installed in it.

Installing a B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch

The B&W Companion Fifth Wheel Hitch is easily installed and removed (facing the front of the truck)

Another huge benefit is that installing the hitch is an easy do-it-yourself job. We have a detailed pictorial step-by-step guide showing how to install a B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch here (it took just one hour from start to finish!):

Installation Guide for B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch – Step-by-Step Pictorial

To see the specs, pricing and details about this hitch, visit these links:

EXHAUST BRAKE

Our 2007 Dodge Ram came with an exhaust brake built into the turbo. Mark LOVED this brake and used it all the time, both towing and not towing. The only thing that bugged him about it was that coming down mountains with our trailer hitched on, he often had to shift gears manually and feather the gas pedal to keep the truck going the speed he wanted.

The 2016 Ram trucks have an improved exhaust brake that has two modes: max braking power and constant speed braking. We definitely wanted that option!

BACKUP CAMERAS

Dodge Ram trucks have two backup cameras, one that aims at the bed of the truck (for hitching and unhitching) and one that aims behind the truck (for backing up). Beginning in 2016, both of these cameras could be set to display their image on the main touch screen display (in the 2015 model, one camera would display in the rear view mirror while the other would display on the touch screen display).

2016 Ram 3500 dually diesel truck with fifth wheel trailer RV camping

It’s nice to have a backup camera when backing the truck in next to the trailer!

AUTO-LEVEL SUSPENSION

An option on the 2016 Ram trucks is to have four leaf springs with computer controlled air bags to provide for auto-leveling of the rear suspension. This is instead of the standard six leaf springs without air bags that have a fixed height suspension.

Without the air bags — the standard configuration — the “rake” of the truck’s rear end is four inches, meaning that the rear end of the truck is raised four inches higher than the front to compensate for the weight of the trailer which will push it down when it’s hitched up. For a shorter person, this is quite high, and I was astonished how much higher the tailgate of a 2016 Ram truck sits than our old ’07 truck did.

With the air bags, the rear end is raked only one inch, making the whole back end of the truck much easier to access for those of us who aren’t that tall. In addition, there is an “Alt Ride Height” button that can be used to lower the back of the truck one more inch. Hurray for short people!

When the trailer is hitched onto the truck, pushing the truck down, the on-board compressor kicks on and pumps air into the air bags, raising the back end of the truck until it achieves its normal one inch rake. If you prefer to drive with the truck level, the “Alt Ride Height” button can be pressed to lower the back end one inch.

When we did our test drives, we found that the duallies with the auto-level suspension had a slightly smoother ride when not towing than the ordinary leaf spring only models did. This has proven true with our new truck too.

VENTED and HEATED LEATHER SEATS and STEERING WHEEL plus OTHER GOODIES

As we test drove different trim levels of trucks, we decided that if we were going to buy a new truck, we’d go all out and get the many little conveniences and options that are a “splurge” but that make using the truck a pleasure.

Interior leather seats Ram 3500 truck

Let’s go for a ride!

Heated and vented leather seats with power seat adjustments and lumbar support, a side step to make it easier to get in and out of the truck, independent climate control for driver and passenger, a CD player, OWL on/off-rad tires, the fancy electronics console with the big touch screen display and GPS nav system and power adjustable pedals were all on our list.

Most of these options are bundled into the Laramie model of the Ram 3500 trucks.

Interior cockpit and dashboar Ram 3500 truck

The Laramie comes with a beautiful interior that includes all the fancy stuff.

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THE OPTIONS LIST FOR OUR 2016 DODGE RAM 3500 TRUCK:

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  • Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 3500 Long Bed
  • Dual Rear Wheels
  • AISIN AS69RC Transmission
  • 4.10 Rear Axle Ratio
  • 5th Wheel / Gooseneck Towing Prep
  • Auto-level rear suspension
  • Diesel Exhaust Brake
  • Cargo and Backup Cameras
  • LT235/80R17E OWL On/Off-Road Tires
  • Tubular side steps
  • Power adjustable pedals
  • CD player
  • Top level Nav/GPS Display with voice activation and climate control
  • Tan colored Heated/Vented Leather Seats and Steering Wheel

The Tow and Payload Ratings for the 2016 Ram 3500 dually with the above options as compared to our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel are the following:

Rating 2016 Dually 2007 SRW Trailer
UVW 8,319 7,147
GVWR 14,000 10,100
GCWR 39,100 21,000 lbs.
Payload 5,565 2,953 2,850
Max Trailer Weight 30,200 13,700 14,100

Even though the make and model of these two trucks is the same, separated by just nine years, these numbers show that they are two radically different trucks!

After doing so many test drives, studying all the material and thinking about this truck for two years, there was no way we would give up any of the options we wanted, especially the ones that made the tow ratings and payload rating so high. But we never found a dealership that ordered this exact truck for their lot. Time and again, Mark would find a truck that was close, but there would be some things missing and other things we didn’t want.

So we decided to order the exact truck we wanted and wait 8 weeks for it to be built.

We had a ball ordering this truck through Airpark Dodge in Scottsdale, Arizona, where a marketing connection with Alice Cooper made one of Mark’s lifelong dreams come true. See our really fun blog post:

Alice Cooper Sells Us a New Truck!

Once the truck arrived, we installed our very cool new hitch in less than an hour:

Installation Guide for B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch – Step-by-Step Pictorial

A significant difference between our 2007 Dodge Ram truck and our new 2016 Ram dually is that the new truck requires occasional refilling of the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluide) tank. Here are some tips we’ve discovered about DEF since we purchased our new truck:

How to Put DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) in a Truck and Which Brand is Cheapest!

How to Change the Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

We installed an Edge Juice with Attitude CTS2 Programmer on this truck and Mark loves it. We haven’t yet written a review, but we did review the Edge Evolution CS Programmer we installed on our 2007 Dodge Ram HERE.

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Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall

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