MORryde SRE 4000 Installation & Review – Smooth Trailer Towing

The MORryde SRE 4000 is a fabulous replacement for the standard equalizer used in most trailer leaf spring based suspension systems. We recently replaced our fifth wheel trailer’s equalizer with a MORryde SRE 4000, and what a difference this has made when we tow on bumpy roads!

MorRyde SRE 4000 Trailer Suspension Installation and Review

MorRyde SRE 4000 Trailer Suspension Installation and Review

We have had our 14,500 lb. 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer for over ten years, and during that time we have replaced the leaf springs, the shock absorbers and the equalizer with beefier components than the ones that were installed at the factory. We also cut the hangers off the frame and placed them at a slightly wider spacing when the tires threatened to touch each other due to a failure within the suspension system (blog post about all that here).

Our leaf springs are now Rockwell American leaf springs made in America from American steel. In addition to switching brands, we upgraded our leaf springs from the factory installed 7,000 lb leaf springs to 8,000 lb springs.

These wonderful upgrades meant we no longer had a problem with sagging leaf springs or a faulty suspension system, but the ride inside the trailer had become very harsh. It was now routine for us to find things in total disarray inside our trailer after towing it down even modestly bumpy roads.

MorRyde SRE 4000 installation and review-min

The MORryde SRE 4000 includes equalizer and wet bolts (heavy duty shackles) for each axle.

After arriving at a new campsite we’ve found our sconce lights dangling and we’ve had several light bulbs on our ceiling fan shatter all over the floor.

We keep some books in a cabinet in the far back of the trailer, above the rear window, and that cabinet was always a total disaster whenever we unhitched. Books and pamphlets and maps would be toppled all over each other.

In another rear cabinet in the trailer I keep a pocket flashlight and a chapstick, among other things, and darned if those two items didn’t always roll away and disappear under a pile of camera cleaning supplies every time we towed the trailer.

We had to be super careful opening our RV refrigerator door, because bunches of things would fall out onto the floor.

We have a few battery operated LED lights mounted under cabinets with Velcro, and they invariably would fall onto the counter tops. And from longstanding habit we tend to leave our place mats on our dining table, and they would always be on the floor when we arrived anywhere.

Mark’s tools down in the Man Cave? Oh my. We won’t even talk about that mess with all those tool boxes tipped over on their sides.

MorRyde SRE 4000 installation and review-min

Here’s another look at the components of this system: MORryde SRE 4000 and heavy duty shackles

We had resigned ourselves to fixing a disaster every time we parked and set up camp, but it sure was frustrating.

Then Mark started reading up on the MORryde SRE 4000. MORryde is well known among RVers for their patented IS (Independent Suspension) system which is an axle-less rubber based system that doesn’t involve leaf springs at all. These are standard on the upscale New Horizons fifth wheels, and they are a pricey but popular upgrade with many RVers who have replaced their factory installed leaf spring suspension with the MORrydes IS suspension on their fifth wheel trailers.

However, the MORryde SRE 4000 simply replaces the equalizer in a leaf spring suspension system and leaves the rest of the system intact, including the leaf springs, axles and shock absorbers. Rather than having a boomerang shaped piece of steel (an equalizer) that rocks back and forth between the two axles’ leaf springs, the MORryde SRE 4000 adds a rubber component that provides 4 inches of travel. So, not only does it rock back and forth, but it absorbs the bumps.

Replacement of trailer equalizer with Morryde SRE 4000-min

The MORryde SRE 4000 replaces the above equalizer and bolt assembly that sits between the hanger at the top and the two sets of leaf springs on either side.

We decided that this seemed like a really neat solution to our problem, so we headed over to Rucker Trailer Works in Mesa, Arizona, to have the MORryde SRE 4000 installed.

Rucker Trailer Works has worked on our trailer before. They aligned the frame and rehung the hangers to laser-point perfection after our initial suspension replacement at another shop. They have been in business for decades and they are true trailer experts. We would trust them with our trailer any day of the week and will eagerly return to them for any work we need in the future.

If we had known about them at the time, we would have gone to them for our electric over hydraulic disc brake conversion, and they also would have been our initial choice when we had our failing suspension replaced.

Rucker Trailer Works Mor-ryde SRE 4000 installation-min

Rucker Trailer Works in Mesa, Arizona, did a superior job.

We got set up in a bay and three mechanics quickly got to work.

Fifth wheel trailer ready for Morryde SRE 4000-min

We parked our buggy (a 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel) in one of the work bays.

Our new puppy, Buddy, wanted to be the Project Supervisor. But he had been caught sleeping on the job when we did our RV screen door upgrades a few weeks ago. So, he reluctantly went away to take a nap in the truck while the experts did the installation.

MORryde SRE 4000 review and installation-min

Our new puppy, Buddy, wanted to be the Supervisor but he napped in the truck instead.

The first step was to remove the wheels and jack the trailer up with floor jacks, placing the jacks under the frame.

Remove 5th wheel trailer wheels for MORryde SRE 4000 installation-min

First things first: jack up the trailer and remove the wheels.

Once the trailer wheels were off the ground, additional jacks were slid beneath the axles to support them. This was an important step because the project would involve disconnecting and reconnecting one of the points where the axles are attached to the trailer via the leaf springs.

There are five attachment points on each side of the trailer between the axles and the frame. Three of these attachment points are the hangers. The hangers connect the endpoints of the leaf springs: one at each of the two the outer endpoints and one in the middle supporting both leaf springs via the equalizer. The other two axle/frame attachment points are the two shock absorbers.

When the equalizer is removed, each leaf spring loses one attachment point to the frame. That is, each leaf spring ends up connected to the frame by only one hanger at one end while the other end is left dangling where the equalizer used to be. As each leaf spring drops, the shock absorbers could also be stretched open and possibly damaged. Also, it’s much easier to line up the bolt holes when installing the MORryde SRE 4000 if the axles are supported!

Therefore, jacks were positioned beneath the axles to hold the axles in place during the job.

This “after” pic shows the five connection points between the trailer frame and the axles.
The axles must be supported when the center attachment point is removed during this job.

Because we have electric over hydraulic disc brakes on our trailer (an upgrade we highly recommend to anyone with a large fifth wheel trailer), the disc brake calipers were removed and set aside with the hydraulic lines still intact and attached.

Fifth wheel trailer disc brake rotor and caliper-min

Because we upgraded our trailer to disc brakes, the brake calipers had to be removed temporarily.

Fifth wheel trailer disc brake with caliper removed-min

The disc brake calipers were set aside with the hydraulic line still attached & intact.

The equalizer was now at a crazy angle because the trailer was raised up on jacks.

Fifth wheel trailer equalizer replaced by Morryde SRE 4000-min

The old equalizer is cocked because the trailer is on jacks and the weight is off the wheels

The bolt holding the equalizer to the hanger was removed, and then the bolts holding the equalizer to the leaf springs were removed.

Remove 5th wheel trailer equalizer to install Mor-Ryde SRE4000-min

The bolt holding the equalizer to the hanger was removed.

Bolts removed from fifth wheel trailer equalizer to install MorRyde SRE4000-min

Next, the bolts holding the equalizer to the leaf springs needed to be removed.

These were not the original factory-installed bolts. They were wet bolts that we had had installed when our suspension was replaced a while back.

Wet bolts and equalizer from fifth wheel trailer-min

The old equalizer and bolt assemblies.

To our surprise, the mechanics discovered that the one of the equalizers was damaged. The top hole had started elongating and the brass bushing had broken. We were both astonished because we had towed our trailer only 7,500 miles since the equalizer had been installed. Our trailer weighs in at its GVWR and is not excessively heavy.

Damaged Dexter equalizer removed from fifth wheel trailer-min

One of the equalizers was already damaged after just 7,500 miles of towing.

Damaged Dexter equalizer removed from fifth wheel trailer suspension-min

The top hole had elongated and the bronze bushing had broken.

As we pondered how this damage could have happened, we remembered one particularly nasty road we had driven down this past year. It was a 3 mile long stretch of miserably rutted dirt road that took us 45 minutes to cover. At the end of it we noticed that the top equalizer bolt was hanging halfway out because the nut had worked its way off.

You can read about the details and see Mark’s incredibly ingenious solution to get us back on the road in this post: Trailer Suspension Nuts & Bolts – One Nut From Disaster!

Here’s a pic from that scary moment many miles from nowhere:

Bolt falling out of equalizer in fifth wheel trailer suspension-min

Last year, after driving for 45 minutes on the nastiest dirt road we’ve ever been on, Mark noticed the bolt holding the equalizer to trailer frame was working its way out. This may be what caused the damage to the equalizer that we saw during the MORryde SRE 4000 installation.

Past damage behind us, the next step was to hang the MORryde SRE 4000 on the leaf spring hanger.

MorRyde SRE 4000 installation on fifth wheel trailer frame hanger-min

The MORryde SRE 4000 was suspended by a bolt at the top.

Prior to tightening the bolt, the mechanic used a C-clamp to tighten the hanger arms and hold the MORryde SRE 4000 in place.

MorRyde SRE 4000 installation on fifth wheel trailer frame hanger-min

A C-clamp held the MORryde SRE 4000 in place

Then the C-clamp was removed and the MORryde SRE 4000 was centered between the leaf springs.

Position MorRyde SRE 4000 on fifth wheel trailer frame hanger with disc brake caliper removed-min

The MORryde SRE 4000 was bolted onto the hanger.

Fifth wheel trailer suspension with disc brakes and MorRyde SRE 4000-min

The MORryde SRE 4000 was suspended from the hanger.

MorRyde SRE 4000 and fifth wheel trailer leaf springs-min

Looking good.

The next step was to install the heavy duty shackles (or “wet bolts”) on either side of the MORryde SRE 4000, first bolting together one side and then the other.

Leaf springs attached to Mor-Ryde SRE 4000 on fifth wheel trailer suspension-min

A new wet bolt assembly attached the MORryde SRE 4000 to one leaf spring.

MorRyde SRE 4000 installed on fifth wheel trailer hanger and leaf spring suspension-min

Now it was fully bolted on to the hanger at the top and to both leaf springs on either side.

And that was it! Of course, the process had to be repeated on the other side of the trailer.

The mechanic held up the equalizer to show where it had been.

Comparing fifth wheel trailer equalizer and MorRyde SRE 4000-min

For comparison, here’s where the equalizer used to be.

The next step — after admiring how the MORryde SRE 4000 looked between the leaf springs — was to reattach the disc brake calipers, mount the wheels and lower the jacks until the trailer was standing on its own wheels once again.

MorRyde SRE 4000 installed on fifth wheel trailer leaf spring suspension-min

The disc brake calipers were reattached.

Reinstall wheels on fifth wheel trailer after MorRyde SRE4000 installation-min

The wheels were mounted back on.

Finished installation MorRyde SRE4000 equalizer-min

The jacks were removed and the trailer stood back up on its own wheels.

We crawled underneath to have a look at the new MORryde SRE 4000 from the insides of the wheels.

MOR-ryde SRE 4000 seen from beneath a fifth wheel trailer-min

View from under the trailer looking at the back side.

One of the things we were curious about was whether the MORryde SRE 4000 would raise or lower our trailer. We often travel on dirt roads and tow our trailer through washes, and we prefer it to be quite high off the ground. Even driving up or down a short ramp into or out of a gas station can cause havoc at the back end of the trailer. A few years ago when our trailer still stood at its original factory height, we left a deep 50′ long scrape in an insanely sloped parking lot in Boone, North Carolina.

We measured the trailer height off the ground both before and after the MORryde SRE 4000 installation and were pleased that it raised the trailer over an inch, from 28 5/8 inches to 29 7/8 inches. Woo hoo!

Trailer height before installation of MOR-ryde SRE 4000-min

BEFORE the installation the measurement was 28 5/8 inches.

Trailer height after installation of MOR-ryde SRE 4000-min

AFTER the installation the measurement was 29 7/8 inches, 1.25 inches higher.

We have towed our trailer a few hundred miles since the installation, and quite a few of those miles have been on both bumpy paved roads where we were going 35 mph or so and on miserably rutted dirt roads where we were going 10 mph or less.

The first thing we noticed is that we were chucking around a lot less in the cab of the truck. So often in the past it seemed like the tail was wagging the dog, so to speak, and the trailer’s bouncing was making the truck bounce too. We have a Demco Glide-Ride fifth wheel pin box, which reduces the fore-and-aft movement of the trailer, but we were still being thrown around in the truck by the motion of the trailer.

But it is the difference inside the trailer that is most remarkable. We have been truly astonished each time we’ve gone inside the trailer to find everything is still intact. The books on the back bookshelf miraculously stay put. I haven’t lost that chapstick or that flashlight since the day the MORryde SRE 4000 was installed. And today, when we drove several miles on one of the rockiest and pot-hole filled dirt roads we’ve been on in ages, I was stunned to see that the placemats were still on the table when we arrived and the LED lights were still happily hanging under the cabinets.

Buddy was also excited that the water in his water dish was all still inside the bowl and hadn’t spilled out all over the sink.

He was also excited when we visited the parts shop at Rucker Trailer Works and scoped out what they had on their shelf: Buddy Wheel Bearing Protectors!!

Bearing Buddy wheel bearing protector-min

Buddy didn’t get to supervise, but he found a product he really liked in the Rucker Trailer Works shop!

If you are tired of cleaning up the mess every time you set up camp, look into the MORryde SRE 4000. We were actually a little skeptical about how much this system would improve our ride, and we merely hoped for a little less turmoil in the trailer. But we are absolutely delighted that it truly smoothed out the ride, enough so that things in the bumpiest part of the trailer — the far rear end — now stay in place.

Also, this smoother ride will help our trailer and everything in it last a little longer. With less jiggling and outright bouncing going on, there will be less wear and tear on every component in the trailer from the walls to the windows and cabinets to all the appliances that were never intended to withstand endless jolts and shocks.

In addition, our more delicate belongings, from our camera gear to our laptops and external hard drives, along with everything else we’ve put into the trailer will be much happier and less prone to breakage with our new smooth ride.

For RVers visiting Arizona, Rucker Trailer Works is a great choice (website here). We were back on the road in less than two hours. MORryde also does installations at their facility in Indiana (website here), and we found out they do electric over hydraulic disc brake conversions there as well, so you can get two excellent upgrades done at once!

Buying the MORryde SRE 4000

The MORryde SRE 4000 can be purchased with or without a steel crossmember (“X-Factor Performance Crossmember”) that goes between the two leaf spring hangers to eliminate flex. Our trailer already had a crossmember that was welded onto the frame when our suspension was upgraded, so we got the unit that doesn’t include it. The difference in the part numbers is that the unit with the crossmember has an “X” at the end of the part number.

Also, you must measure the distance between the axles (the wheelbase) to determine whether you need the 33″ or the 35″ version of the product. We needed the 33″ version.

Lastly, the heavy duty shackle wet bolt kit is sold separately.

More Info:

Other blog posts about our fifth wheel trailer suspension:

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RV Screen Door Modifications & Upgrades

We have recently made two upgrades to our RV screen door. Combined with our annual screen door shrink-wrapping project (explained here), that makes for three easy DIY RV screen door modifications we’ve done. Who knew you could do so much to a silly screen door??

RV Screen Door Modifications and Upgrades

RV Screen Door Modifications and Upgrades

INSTALLING A GRAB RAIL ON AN RV SCREEN DOOR

Although we’ve been in and out of our RV door countless thousands of times over the last decade of traveling full-time, we had never installed one of those handy grab handles that crosses the door’s mid-section. Until this week!

Grabbing the screen door when it’s being whipped out of your hands by the wind is nearly impossible without one of these grab bars, and when we saw one of these handles on a friend’s fifth wheel trailer, we just had to have one.

Our screen door is 24″ wide (skinny by today’s standards) but these handles are variable in length. The instructions that came with the handle involved drawing templates and other complicated things, so Mark went with his instincts and got it mounted just fine. Here’s what he did:

First, after holding the handle up to the door at various heights to decide where to mount it, he drilled a hole in the RV screen door frame and then screwed one end of the handle into the door frame.

Drill hole in RV screen door to install the door handle-min

Drill a hole in the door frame to hold the handle in place.

Attach RV screen door handle to the screen door frame-min

Screw the handle to the door with just one screw at first.

Then he held the handle in place on the other side of the door frame and put a level on it to ensure it was level. Then he used a fine pointed Sharpie pen to mark the location on the door where the handle would be screwed in.

Position the RV screen door handle on the RV screen door frame-min

Position the other end of the handle so it is level and mark the door frame where the hole must be drilled.

The grab handle expands and contracts to fit the width of various RV screen doors, so he adjusted both ends of it to get it to the proper width and also have an equal amount of the aluminum center part extending into the two plastic ends (rather than having it shoved far into one plastic end and barely dangling in the other).

Once he had it positioned correctly, he marked the aluminum center part with a pencil mark at each end where the plastic ends would be permanently screwed in.

Expand RV screen door handle and mark the proper width on it with a pencil-min

Expand the handle and center the aluminum centerpiece between the ends. Then mark the aluminum with a pencil.

Expand RV screen door handle and mark the proper width on it with a pencil-min

The handle can be extended and retracted, so this step centers the aluminum between the ends and marks where the ends should be permanently positioned.

Then he unscrewed the one screw that was holding the handle to the door frame and removed the handle from the frame so he could screw in the two handle ends.

On the back of each plastic end of the handle there is a pre-drilled hole so the plastic ends can be screwed to the aluminum center piece.

Hole drilled in RV screen door handle-min

On the back of the handle each plastic end has a hole in it.

With the aluminum piece in the proper position according to the pencil marks he had made, he drilled a hole in the aluminum and then screwed the plastic end piece on. He did this at each end. Now the handle was fixed at the proper length to span the width of our door.

Installing an RV door screen handle-min

Drill the aluminum strip so the end cap can be screwed into it permanently.

Next, he drilled a hole in the door frame where he had made the mark with the fine pointed Sharpie.

Drill hole in RV screen door frame to support the RV screen door handle-min

Drill the hole in the frame where you put the Sharpie mark.

Then he screwed the handle to the door frame and then repeated the process for the lower hole on each side.

Screw the RV screen door handle into the RV screen door frame-min

Screw the handle onto the door frame.

Screw hole in RV screen door fram to install RV screen door handle-min

There are upper and lower holes in each endcap.

RV screen door handle screwed onto frame-min

Done!

We’re really happy with this new grab handle. It strengthens the flimsy door a bit and is great to grab onto when opening and closing the door!

RV screen door handle installed on RV screen door-min

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RV screen door with handle and plexiglass protector installed-min

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Goodies needed to install a grab handle on an RV screen door:

INSTALLING A PLEXIGLASS PROTECTOR ON AN RV SCREEN DOOR

The other mini-project we did recently on our RV screen door was to replace the lower shrink-wrap film with a sheet of 1/8″ plexiglass.

We recently acquired an adorable puppy, and all it took was one swipe of his paw at the door to rip the shrink-wrap film we’d had on there for months.

So Mark got a big sheet of 1/8″ clear plexiglass and cut it to fit the screen door.

Of course, Buddy insisted on supervising this project.

RV screen door handle installation supervisor-min

The back of this chair says “Supervisor.”

Mark used a straight edge and a utility razor blade to score the plexiglass. Then he bent it along the edge of a table to snap it.

Then he took short strips of industrial strength velcro tape and placed the hooked half on the plexiglass and the matching fuzzy half on the door frame so the hooks wouldn’t grab things as we go in and out of the door when we remove the plexiglass later.

RV screen door plexiglass protection-min

The lower half of the door has a clear plexiglass sheet mounted on the frame with velcro. You can see our patio reflected in it. Hey, where’s the Supervisor?!

Velcro attaches plexiglass sheet to RV screen door-min

Cut short strips of velcro and put the matching halves on the plexiglass and door frame.

The beauty of using velcro to mount the plexiglass on the door frame is that once the warm weather of summer rolls around we can remove it and let the cool breezes flow through the door. Or, perhaps we’ll just leave it up in case Buddy decides to paw at the screen. We can remove the shrink-wrap from the upper half of the door and enjoy the cool breezes up there and leave the plexiglass on the bottom to protect the screen from the mighty Watch Dog.

RV screen door with RV screen door handle and plexiglass installed-min

Ta Da! Our original shrink-wrap is still on the top half, the nifty grab handle is in the middle and the puppy-proof plexiglass is on the bottom half.

In hindsight, rather than shrink-wrapping an RV screen door for cold weather, another option would be to use plexiglass sheets and velcro. Certainly the installation each Fall would be a lot easier. Or, drill holes in the corners of the plexiglass and use sheet metal screws to attach it to the door. Every Spring and Fall the plexiglass could be screwed to or unscrewed from the door frame. However, the plexiglass sheets would have to be stored somewhere during the warm season…

Puppy chow our RV dog Buddy

When the project was finished the Supervisor reappeared.

Dog looks out the RV screen door-min

Buddy loves his new plexiglass window in the door!

Goodies needed to install a plexiglass protector on an RV screen door:

The details of our screen door shrink-wrapping are shown here:

How To Shrink-wrap An RV Screen Door

Goodies needed to shrink-wrap an RV Screen Door:

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Repacking and Inspecting Fifth Wheel Trailer Wheel Bearings

Repacking the wheel bearings is an important annual maintenance task for a fifth wheel trailer, especially one that is lived in full-time like ours. This is also a good time to inspect the bearings and brakes.

The first step is to jack up the trailer and remove the wheels.

Remove wheel from fifth wheel to grease wheel bearings-min

After jacking up the trailer, remove the wheels.

A few years ago we did a disk brake conversion on our fifth wheel trailer, upgrading from the factory installed electric drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disk brakes (you can read the details about what was involved in doing this phenomenal and highly recommended upgrade here). So, behind each of our wheels is the disk brake rotor and brake caliper.

Disc and rotor on fifth wheel trailer-min

Inspect the rotor and disc brake pads.

The first step for repacking the wheel bearings was to remove the brake caliper and inspect the brake pads and check out the braking surface on the rotor. All looked good. Then the brake caliper was moved out of the way.

Next, the grease cap and cotter pin were removed. Then the castle nut holding the bearings and the disk rotor in place was unscrewed. Gently pulling the rotor out about an inch and then pushing it back in released the outer bearing so it could be removed. Then the rotor was pulled off the axle spindle which revealed the inner bearing, allowing it to be slid off the axle spindle.

Remove castle nut and cotter pin from fifth wheel trailer hug to grease wheel bearings-min

Remove the cotter pin and castle nut, then the inner and outer wheel bearings and then pull the rotor off the axle spindle.

Greasy spindle on fifth wheel trailer axle-min

The axle spindle is full of grease.

Using shop towels, the grease was wiped off the axle spindle.

Clean spindle on fifth wheel trailer axle-min

Wipe the old grease off the axle spindle.

The inner and outer bearings, D-shaped spindle washer, castle nut and grease cap were then wiped clean of grease.

Inner and outer bearings fifth wheel trailer hub grease wheel bearings-min

Wipe off and inspect the outer and inner bearings, the D-shaped spindle washer, the castle nut and the grease cap.

It turned out that one of our wheel bearings was slightly scored, showing early signs of wear. We decided to replace it. Wheel bearings come in a bearing and race assembly, so the race would be replaced too.

Finding worn parts before they become a problem is one of the reasons that greasing the wheel bearings is an important annual task. Even if a trailer has EZ-Lube bearings, it is still important to remove the bearings periodically to inspect them so they can be replaced before they fail on the road.

Trailer wheel bearing damaged with scoring marks-min

One of our wheel bearings showed signs of wear — light scoring marks on each bearing.

First, the grease needed to be removed from the inside of the hub. It was scraped out and then wiped out with a shop towel.

Remove old grease from fifth wheel trailer disc brake hub-min

Remove the old grease from the rotor.

Greasing wheel bearings on fifth wheel trailer remove old grease-min

After scraping the grease out, wipe the area down with a shop cloth.

Remove old grease from fifth wheel trailer disc brake hub-min

Grease removed.

Then the old race was knocked out and the new race was set in place.

Knock out the old bearing race.

Knock out the old bearing race.

Put new wheel bearings into fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

Set the new race in place.

The race was lightly tapped in place to make sure it was square. Then, using a race setter, the race was tapped securely into place.

Tap in the wheel bearings into fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

Tap in the new race.

Press new wheel bearings into fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

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Next, the rotor with the greased inner bearing was mounted back on the spindle.

Place fifth wheel disk brake hub back onto axle spindle

Place the rotor back on the axle spindle.

Put new grease around wheel bearings on fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub

Newly greased bearings and spindle.

Then the castle nut was screwed on and hand-tightened.

Place greased castle nut in fifth wheel trailer disk brake rotor hub-min

Hand-tighten the castle nut.

Adjust greased castle nut in fifth wheel trailer disk brake rotor hub-min

Adjust the castle nut.

A new cotter pin was put in place and bent over to hold everything securely.

Place cotter pin in greased fifth wheel trailer disk brake rotor hub-min

Put a new cotter pin in place and bend it over.

Then the grease cap was screwed back on.

Screw in grease cap on fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

Screw in the grease cap.

Completed grease wheel bearing job on fifth wheel trailer disk brake hub-min

Presto. Three more wheels to go!

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RV Tech Tips – RV Upgrades – RV Maintenance Tips + Buying an RV!

This page contains links to all the articles we’ve written about our favorite RV tech tips and that describe the many RV upgrades and modifications we’ve done to our rig. In addition, there are articles full of important RV maintenance tips as well as suggestions for things to consider when choosing and buying an RV.

RV Tech Tips Upgrades for Motorhome and 5th Wheel Trailer owners - Maintain and upgrade your RV

From little RV maintenance tech tips to big RV upgrades, the article links are all on this page!

Ever since we began this website back in 2008 (after being on the road RVing full-time for a year), we have written lots of articles that are chock full of the many RV tech tips we’ve learned along the way.

Below you’ll find all the article links, grouped by subject, to make it easy for you to peruse our online library of RV tech tips, RV maintenance tips, modification ideas and RV upgrades.

For reference, you can see the various rigs we’ve owned, both for vacation purposes (before we started full-timing) and then for living in 24/7/365 once we took the plunge to go full-time.

CHOOSING and BUYING AN RV

RV MAINTENANCE, CLEANING and DRIVING

RV MODIFICATIONS and UPGRADES (except SOLAR and BATTERIES…see below)

SOLAR POWER UPGRADE – INTRO and OVERVIEW of SOLAR POWER SYSTEMS

SOLAR POWER UPGRADE – TUTORIAL SERIES

BATTERY UPGRADE – ALL ABOUT BATTERIES and BATTERY CHARGING

INVERTER UPGRADE – ALL ABOUT INVERTERS

CHOOSING and BUYING a TRUCK

  • Buying a Truck – Things to consider: Which Make & Model? Single Rear Wheel or Dually? Long Bed or Short Bed?
  • More on Choosing a Truck – With a link to the article Trailer Life Magazine asked us to write

TRUCK – MAINTENANCE and UPGRADES

REPAIRS and CRISES ON THE ROAD

Companion indexes of other RV Tips articles:

You can find this page again by clicking on the “Tech Tips” item in the menu.

Happy Reading!

RV Tech Tips for Motorhome and 5th Wheel Trailer owners - Maintain and upgrade your RV

RVing is easy and fun!

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What are the Most Important Features in a Full-time Fifth Wheel Trailer?!

What features are most important in a fifth wheel trailer you’ll be living in full-time? That’s a big and interesting question, and Trailer Life Magazine recently assigned me the very fun task of surveying the fifth wheels on the market today and selecting twelve models that would make a good home on the road.

The results of my review are featured as the cover story of the October 2017 edition of Trailer Life Magazine.

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017

Trailer Life Magazine, October, 2017. Article by Emily Fagan

As I mentioned in my blog post about what to look for in a full-time RV, whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome, choosing a rolling home is an incredibly personal decision. There is no ideal rig for all RVers. The most important thing is that you walk inside, look around, and say, “Ahhh, this is home!”

But you’ve also gotta look at the nuts and bolts underneath the rig, and that’s what this blog post is about.

Whatever fifth wheel you buy, there is no need to break the bank. Obviously, higher quality trailers cost a lot more than lower quality trailers do, but life on the road is a thrill no matter what kind of rig you live in, and if you can’t afford the top of the line, you’ll still have just as much fun as those who can.

Also, sometimes going with a used trailer, especially at the outset, beats buying new. There are lots of used fifth wheels of all ages for sale all over the country.

We have met a couple and a single fellow living full-time in older fifth wheel trailers that cost them less than $5,000. They were very happy with their rolling homes and were thrilled to have the freedom of a life on the road.

Likewise, we met a couple who had lived in a popup tent trailer for four years, a couple who had lived in a tiny half-ton pickup camper for two years and we met a young pair of mountain bikers who had just moved out of their tent home of the last 18 months and into a 17′ travel trailer a few weeks before we camped near them.

If you can’t afford the latest and greatest, it is still very possible to be a full-time RVer and live a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget!

However, my Trailer Life assignment was to look over the many brand new fifth wheels on the market, find twelve models that spoke to me, and highlight some of the things that I think are important when shopping for an RV that will be lived in 24/7/365.

You can read the article here: Full-timing Fifth Wheel Trailers in Trailer Life Magazine

For reference, we have pics and specs and a description of the fifth wheel trailer we live in at this link.

LEARN BY DOING

If you haven’t done much RVing yet and you are planning to move out of your current home and set off on a life of adventure on the road, the best way to figure out what features you need and want in your full-time fifth wheel is to get some practice RVing first.

I can’t state strongly enough the value of buying a cheap little RV and going and having some fun on weekends and vacations before jumping into the full-time RV lifestyle. This is especially true if you’ve got a year or more to go before you will actually start full-timing.

Nothing is better than hands-on experience, and you can use the little rig as a trade-in on your full-time RV. The minimal amount of depreciation is a great investment in your own personal education in the RV lifestyle! Here is a blog post about that.

So what DO you look for in an RV when you are replacing your sticks-and-bricks house? After all, the the most important factor is no longer Location, Location Location! Different folks look for different things, but here’s what we look for whenever we check out a new fifth wheel at a dealership (which we do frequently!).

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017-min

A survey of fifth wheels for full-timing by Emily Fagan
Trailer Life Magazine Cover – October 2017

CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY

The first thing we look at is the trailer’s Cargo Carrying Capacity. This is the amount of weight the trailer is designed to carry safely and legally. Trailer manufacturers are required to post a sticker on the exterior of the front end of the trailer on the driver’s side that indicates what the CCC is.

Surprisingly, there is a lot of confusion about exactly how the CCC is calculated and whether or not the fresh water or the propane in the tanks is considered cargo or part of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW). The official definition, according to certain RV standards groups and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is:

CCC = GVWR – (UVW + propane weight)

That is, the Cargo Carrying Capacity is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating less the sum of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight and the propane weight.

However, it is much more common for manufacturers to calculate CCC as simply the GVWR less UVW and not count the propane weight as part of the equation. This is also known as the NCC (Net Carrying Capacity).

NCC = GVWR – UVW

The propane weight is only 40, 60 or 80 lbs, depending on whether the two propane tanks are 20 lb., 30 lb., or 40 lb. tanks, so it is not that important whether it is included in the calculation of CCC or not, and it is easy to see why the terms CCC and NCC are often confused and used interchangeably.

In addition to stating the CCC on a sticker on the trailer, the manufacturers are also required to have a sticker indicating how much the fresh water in the trailer weighs when the fresh water tanks are full. One gallon of water weighs about 8.35 lbs. or 3.785 kg.

Fresh water is officially considered to be cargo, so if the trailer is towed with its tanks full, then the CCC available for everything else (food, clothes, tools, barbecue, bikes etc.) is reduced by the weight of the fresh water weight as stated on the sticker.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

This detailed sticker shows the weight of the fresh water tanks when full (830 lbs in the fresh water tanks and 100 lbs in the hot water tank) PLUS it shows the weight of the Black and Gray waste tanks (1,569 lbs.) AND it shows the cargo carrying capacity of the trailer with water tanks both full (1,372 lbs) and empty (2,302 lbs).

If the trailer doesn’t have the official CCC stated on a sticker, it’s usually possible to find the GVWR and UVW values on a spec sheet and simply subtract UVW from GVWR. This simple calculation of GVWR – UVW is the easiest way to compare the carrying capacity from one trailer to the next, so that is what we like to go by when we are making a direct comparison.

So how much should the Cargo Carrying Capacity be for a fifth wheel trailer that’s used as a full-time home? In our experience, the nearly 3,500 lbs. of CCC on our trailer is barely enough. Because we boondock all the time, we travel with our fresh water tank and hot water tank full and our gray and black tanks empty so we can stay a maximum length of time at our next destination.

Other folks may find they can get away with less, but to us, if you are shopping for a big trailer to live in full-time, a CCC of less than 3,000 lbs. is going to be insufficient in the long run. If you are shopping for a fifth wheel toy hauler, then you’ll need 3,500 lbs. for your stuff plus more for the weight of your toy(s).

Interestingly, the manufacturers often provide a lot more storage space in their fifth wheel trailers than the CCC of their trailer can reasonably support. Our cabinets and shelves aren’t even full, and we are still at the maximum limit for CCC in our trailer.

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

A much simpler sticker on another trailer shows a Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.
By implication this does not include any water weights because all liquids in the tanks are cargo.

So, just because a trailer you are looking at has voluminous shelving, a big pantry, and two huge closets, you won’t necessarily be able to fill all that space and still remain at or below the CCC of the trailer.

Another surprise is that smaller trailers frequently have larger carrying capacities. This can be seen in a single product line when a manufacturer uses the same frame for several models. The smallest and lightest model built on that frame will obviously have more carrying capacity than the largest and heaviest one.

We also saw it in dramatic fashion when we compared a tear drop trailer and a toy hauler on a dealership lot once (blog post here).

One caveat to keep in mind if you overload your trailer is that you risk being found liable if you are in an accident with a fatality and it is discovered your rig was over its weight limit. This is true both if the truck is too small for the trailer and/or if the trailer itself is loaded beyond its capacity.

FOUNDATION – FRAME, AXLES, TIRES. SUSPENSION, LANDING JACKS & BRAKES

The foundation underlying a fifth wheel trailer consists of the frame, axles, tires, suspension, landing jacks and brakes, and although this is not the glamorous part of the trailer, it is arguably the most important.

It is possible to upgrade some of these components to improve the overall unofficial GVWR and CCC of a trailer and to improve its stopping power as well. The axles, tires and suspension can all be replaced with beefier parts, and if the trailer has electric drum brakes, these can be upgraded to electric over hydraulic disc brakes (described in detail here).

RVers are encouraged to weigh their rigs on a regular basis to ensure that they are staying within the official GVWR for their unit. We weigh ours every year or two. Escapees offers the very thorough SmartWeigh program at several of their RV parks across the country, and we describe our experience with that program at this link: “Making Weight” With Your RV.

Weighing a fifth wheel trailer with Escapees SmartWeigh program

Weighing a fifth wheel trailer with the Escapees SmartWeigh program

It is important to note, however, that just because you’ve got bigger axles, better rated tires and beefier suspension, you won’t “officially” have a new GVWR. The trailer will support its payload better, but in the case of a horrific accident, if the GVWR value is referenced and your trailer is somehow found to have been over that weight, you may be considered liable.

Frame

The next thing we look at in a trailer is the frame and axles. Almost all trailers are assembled on frames built by Lippert Components. A few manufacturers build their own frames in-house.

Axles

Most fifth wheels are also built on Lippert axles. The highest end fifth wheels are built with axles made by Dexter. They advertise the fact and consider it to be a premium feature. In some cases Dexter axles are an option, and some buyers simply replace their axles after making their purchase.

Both of our Lippert axles have failed. The first time was in Nova Scotia. We could tell because our tires began wearing very strangely and very very fast. We limped to Maine to have the rear axle replaced with another Lippert axle.

New RV axle installed on fifth wheel trailer-min

We replaced one of our trailer axles in Bangor Maine.

Fortunately, our extended RV warranty saved the day financially, but the time lost and overall frustration of having a big failure on the road was not fun. (Blog post about that experience here).

The second time was when our front axle failed in Arizona, and again, the tell-tale sign was bizarre tire wear on the trailer tires. This time we decided to replace both axles with the Dexter brand. Unfortunately, our extended RV warranty did not bail us out on this occasion, but the $3,000 expense of having both axles replaced and correctly aligned with Dexter axles was well worth it, as our tires have been wearing very evenly ever since.

Suspension

In addition to axle failures, our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension failed upon our approach to Arizona from New Mexico. We had the entire suspension overhauled, and fortunately our extended trailer warranty covered the repair (blog post about that experience here). This experience made us realize just how important the suspension is on a trailer.

New fifth wheel trailer suspension installation-min

We replaced our failed fifth wheel suspension system in Arizona.

Most fifth wheel trailers come with a conventional leaf spring and gas shock suspension system. However, some fifth wheels come with an axle-less rubber suspension system from Mor/Ryde. Many people love and swear by the soft ride of this suspension. Over time, however the rubber does wear out and needs to be replaced (as do conventional shocks).

Tires

The weight rating on the tires is an important aspect of the overall GVWR rating of a trailer, and upgrading the tires is an easy way to boost the GVWR and increase the CCC. Of course, the legal rating for the trailer will always depend on how the trailer was built at the factory, but by upgrading the tires you can quickly give the trailer much needed support if you are approaching the limit.

Tire ratings vary on most fifth wheels between E-rated (10 ply) tires for lighter trailer to G-rated (14-ply) for the heavier ones. Some of the heaviest trailers have H-rated (16-ply) tires but those require wheels that can handle higher air pressure.

Check the tire ratings on a prospective full-time fifth wheel as well as the axle brand and axle weight ratings. If they are already big and beefy, you will save yourself needing to upgrade them later. On the other hand, if you love the trailer but those things are a little skimpy, budget in an upgrade when you contemplate the purchase price and its impact on your bank account.

We upgraded the E-rated (10-ply) tires that came on our trailer with G-rated (14-ply) tires. When we swapped axle brands, we stayed with the 7,000 lb. axle rating because we had upgraded our trailer’s electric hub brakes to electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and the bigger 8,000 lb. axles required different brakes.

Brakes

Most fifth wheel trailers come with electric drum brakes. The stopping power is so-so. More expensive brands of fifth wheels offer electric over hydraulic disk brakes as an option. You can also replace the electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes at a later date.

We upgraded our electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and what a massive difference in stopping power! The upgrade costs about $3,000 or so, but we felt it was worth every penny. Our blog post about that upgrade is here.

Fifth wheel electric over hydraulic disk brake conversion-min

We upgraded our standard electric trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes in Texas

If you think you might upgrade the entire under carriage of your trailer — axles, brakes and tires — because you are at the outer limit of its CCC, you might consider going to the next size axle. We did our upgrades piece-meal as things broke or ore out, but if we’d done it all at once we might have gone with 8,000 lb. axles and corresponding brakes.

Landing Jacks

Conventional electric landing jacks on the front of the trailer are less expensive than hydraulic self-leveling jacks, and they are more commonly found on the more affordable brands of fifth wheel trailers. Hydraulic leveling jacks appear on higher end fifth wheels as standard features or as an option.

We have been happy with our electric landing jacks over the years, and even though we did have to replace them at one time, it was a relatively easy DIY job that Mark was able to do while boondocking in the desert!

Operating the electric landing jacks on a fifth wheel trailer-min

Without a hydraulic leveling system, on extremely unlevel ground we put blocks under the landing legs.

The disadvantage of electric landing jacks is that the side-to-side leveling of the trailer has to be done by sliding something under the wheels to prop up one side of the trailer, and sometimes we have to prop up the front end of the trailer too. We carry 5′ x 1′ x 1″ strips of a sliced up heavy duty rubber mat for this purpose. We used to carry 5′ long 1×8 pine boards. Lots of folks carry the plastic leveling platforms.

Hydraulic leveling jacks can do most or all of the leveling without the need for anything being placed under the tires. Just hit the button and watch the trailer level itself. In the most off-level situations it may still be necessary to prop up one side of the trailer with something under the wheels.

Leveling boards under a fifth wheel trailer-min

Usually all we need is one or two mats under our wheels. In rare cases we have to stack higher!

Another great benefit of hydraulic leveling jacks is that if you need to jack up one side of the trailer to work on the tires, wheels or suspension, you can use the hydraulic leveling jacks instead of a portable jack placed under an axle. It’s safer and easier.

The only disadvantage of hydraulic leveling jacks is simply that they are complex and might fail. Occasionally (though extremely rarely) the legs have been known to fall down while the trailer is being towed. Of course, technology improves with every year, so these kinds of problems are less and less common.

“FOUR SEASON” – INSULATION and R-FACTORS

Lots of trailers are billed as “Four Season,” but in reality, you can’t compare living in an elevated box with 2″ to 3.5″ walls with living in a house that stands on a foundation and whose thick walls are built with layers of drywall, Tyvek, plywood and siding.

That being said, “Four Season” coaches are generally better insulated than others. Just don’t expect to be totally warm and cozy and free of condensation when there’s a blizzard and temps stay below 0 F for a few days!

Fifth wheel trailer RV in snow blizzard-min

We have experienced several blizzards in our trailer,
but RVs are not really made to be “four season” the way that houses are.

RV Insulation

Some folks have toughed it out in an RV through real winters in the northern states, but the majority of full-time RVers spend their winters in mild climates where overnight temps in the teens are a rare and cold exception. We have tips for keeping a rig warm during the winter months and keeping it cool during the summer months in these blog posts:

Winter RVing tips – Staying Warm!

More Winter RVing tips – How to heat an RV in Winter Weather

Installing a vent-free propane heater in an RV

Summer RVing tips – How to Beat the Heat and Stay Cool When It’s HOT!

There are various ways to insulate an RV and there are pros and cons to the different types of insulation that RV manufacturers use.

Some higher end fifth wheels are built with conventional wooden studs and fiberglass insulation as this may provide greater insulation.

Wooden studs are less apt to conduct warm air to the outside than aluminum framing is. On a cold winter morning it is easy to see where the aluminum framing is on an RV if you go outside because you can see the outline of the aluminum framing on the trailer wall.

RV windows dripping with condensation in winter-min

Condensation forms inside our windows on a particularly moist and freezing winter day.

However, fiberglass insulation has been known to fall down off the studs over the years, leaving the tops of the walls uninsulated. Usually, the front and end cap and the areas between the roof trusses are all insulated with fiberglass insulation as well.

Most fifth wheels are insulated with styrofoam, and the styrofoam used varies in quality. The use of “blue board” polystyrene styrofoam made by Dow Chemical was one of the big selling points in the NuWa Hitchhiker brand of fifth wheels like ours (NuWa no longer builds trailers). We’ve also heard this product referred to as “Blue Dow” foam.

When we did a factory tour at NuWa before we bought our trailer, we were told that the folks there had tested the strength of the blue board by driving a truck over a piece that was suspended by its two sides, and it didn’t break. We were also each handed a piece and challenged to break it. We couldn’t.

Interestingly, it may be this very strong styrofoam in the walls that kept a Hitchhiker fifth wheel intact recently when it rolled over at 60 mph on the interstate (blog post about that here).

Besides providing strength to the fifth wheel frame, Dow blue board foam has a very high R-factor.

A few high end fifth wheels are built with this kind of insulation nowadays. Most, however, are built with a weaker and less insulating kind of styrofoam.

R-Factors

When looking at the insulation R-factors that are advertised by the RV manufacturers for the walls and roof of a fifth wheel, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that the number may be for the most heavily insulated part of the wall or roof. RV windows, doors and roof hatch vents have very low R-factors for insulation, and that is where most of the heat is lost.

How much heat is lost through RV windows? Just look at what percentage of a fifth wheel wall is actually windows!

Also, some fifth wheel slide-outs are built with thinner walls and less insulated roofs than the main body of the fifth wheel. Ours is. Again, what percentage of the fifth wheel’s walls and roof are part of the main structure and what percentage are slide-outs?

EXTERIOR WALL and ROOF MATERIAL and MAINTENANCE

Exterior Walls

Fifth wheel trailers are built with various materials as the exterior surface of the walls and roof. Lower end trailers have an exterior fiberglass finish of filon. This is what was on our first full-time travel trailer. It doesn’t shine and is a little harder to keep looking spiffy.

Waxing a fifth wheel trailer front cap-min

Maintenance, like washing and waxing the massive exterior of a big RV, is just part of the lifestyle.

The next level up is a fiberglass gelcoat exterior. This is shiny and can be maintained to a glossy finish by waxing the trailer twice a year. Unfortunately, the pretty swirly stickers that give fifth wheel trailers their colorful look will begin peeling off after about 4-5 years.

The highest level finish for a fifth wheel trailer is automotive paint. This is an extremely durable finish and the swirling paint patterns will never peel off. It is also very expensive (figure on about $10k) and is found only on the highest end fifth wheel trailers.

Roofs

Most fifth wheel roofs are “rubber” roofs. These usually come with a ten year warranty, and they are pretty much ready for replacement at the end of ten years! Fiberglass roofs are more durable. If you are going to install solar panels on the roof, you may need to be a little more careful with a fiberglass roof to be sure you don’t crack it when you drill into it.

Rubber roofs can be made of EPDM or TPO. As EPDM roofs begin to age, they start shedding a lot of dust, and every time it rains this creates streaks down the sides of the trailer. Cleaning the roof often helps reduce the streaking, but it’s very hard to eliminate the problem all together once the roof begins to deteriorate a few years into its lifespan. TPO roofs do not have this problem.

CAMPING STYLE

Other than these basic structural features, the rest of the decision is pure fun fluff stuff. The most important thing to ponder when you’re shopping for your new rolling home is how you anticipate living and traveling in it. What is your camping style? That is, how do you want to camp and where will you travel?

Roads are bigger and straighter in the western states than in the eastern states, so bigger rigs are easier to travel in out west.

Many privately owned RV parks accommodate “big rigs” across the whole country. However if you are more into “camping” in natural settings, the sizes of campsites in government run campgrounds vary a lot.

Boondocking in an RV-min

Some RVers love boondocking. Others don’t.
Knowing your own personal camping style helps a lot when it comes to buying a full-time rig.

States Park campsites are often quite large and frequently come with hookups, but they can be pricey too and there are rarely discounts for seniors or for long stays. Campsites in the National Parks and National Forests are often very small, often have no hookups, and may therefore be slightly cheaper, especially for holders of the Federal Lands Senior Pass.

Holding Tank Capacities

So, will you be dry camping a lot or will you get hookups most of the time? This makes a difference in what kinds of holding tank capacities you’ll need.

If you’ll be getting hookups most of the time, then there is no need for big holding tanks. However, if you’ll be dry camping a lot, then big holding tanks will mean you can stay put a little longer before you have to go to an RV dump station .

Our fresh water tanks and hot water heater are 70 gallons combined, our two gray water tanks are 78 gallons combined, and our black tank is 50 gallons. This has worked well for us dry camping every night for the better part of ten years.

We do carry 25 gallons of fresh water in the back of our truck in jerry jugs, but we don’t often need to use that water since we typically stay in places for less than two weeks before moving on, which is about how long our holding tanks last.

One nice feature if you are going to boondock a lot is to have an easy way to refill the fresh water tanks. We have a gravity fed fresh water intake that we can fill from a fresh water hose or from our jerry jugs.

Refilling RV fresh water tanks-min

We have a gravity based fresh water intake on the side of our trailer.
Unfortunately, it is rather high up (and it doesn’t need to be!).

The handy thing about this is that with our trailer the ratio of fresh water capacity to gray and black capacity means that we run out of fresh water before we fill up the gray or black water tanks. Being able to top off the fresh water lets us camp in one spot a little longer before we have to pack it up to go to an RV dump station.

“SOLAR READY” and SOLAR POWER

If you are going to be dry camping a lot, you may want to consider installing a solar power system, and there are a few things to keep in mind about that as you shop for a full-time fifth wheel.

We have a ton of info about solar power on this website. An index of links to our many articles is here:

Solar Power for RVs and Boats

Solar power doesn’t have to be a big, expensive and difficult thing to add to an RV (here’s an article summarizing several types of RV solar power systems).

A portable solar power suitcase that includes a pair of solar panels and a solar charge controller and cables to connect to the batteries all in one package is a nifty way to have solar power available without installing a permanent system on the roof and in the RV basement.

Simply set up the panels on the ground and connect them to the trailer batteries whenever you need to charge the batteries up. The “suitcase” feature makes it easy to stow the system when not in use.

However, most folks who live in their RV full-time and also boondock frequently prefer to install solar panels on the roof permanently and install a solar charge controller near the batteries and install a big pure sine wave inverter too.

Solar panels on a fifth wheel roof-min

Full-time RVers who dry camp a lot usually end up installing solar panels on the roof.

If this is in the back of your mind, you might get excited when you see a fifth wheel (or other RV) advertised as “solar ready.” Unfortunately, in many cases this is a very misleading term. A solar power system that will let you live without electric hookups for days on end will be at least 200 watts and more likely 500 watts or more. The cabling necessary to carry the currents these panels produce is generally 8 or 10 gauge wire.

If a rig is billed as “solar ready,” find out how many watts the prospective solar system could support and check out the size of the cable that goes to the roof. “Solar ready” may simply mean that a skinny cable has been run from the batteries to the roof to support a 50 watt panel. This is great if the batteries are fully charged and you are leaving the rig in storage outdoors for a few months. However, it is not sufficient to live on comfortably.

Also, if you plan to install a full-timer solar power system, check the battery compartment. How many batteries are there? What size are they (Group 24? Group 27?)? How many batteries can you add in the compartment?

Fifth wheel battery compartment-min

We had the battery compartment customized to support four golf-cart sized batteries.

A good sized battery bank for boondocking for long periods is four 6-volt golf cart sized batteries (Group GC2). If the battery box in the fifth wheel you are looking at can’t hold that many batteries, think about where else you might put them and whether there is ample support (they are heavy) and venting (wet cell batteries need to be vented).

Of course, a basement compartment can be beefed up with a piece of angle iron welded onto the frame and/or vents and conduit going to the battery boxes.

We have a series of articles explaining how RV batteries work, how to charge them, different battery types on the market and more at this link:

RV Battery Charging Systems

ACCESS TO SYSTEMS THAT MIGHT NEED REPAIR

While you are crawling around the basements of prospective new rolling homes, try to find all the major components that might fail and might need to be replaced.

If you are a DIY RVer, this is critically important. However, even if you are going to hire out the repair jobs to various RV shops around the country, their jobs will be much easier and cheaper if the systems are easy to access.

Easy access water pump under sink of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

It isn’t “pretty” but it sure is nice to have easy access when it’s time to replace the water pump!
Mark replaced it so fast he’d finished the job before I got pics of his work!

For instance, see if you can find the water pump, hot water heater, power converter, inverter (if there is one), etc.

We once met a fellow with a beautiful brand new travel trailer, and Mark spent an hour with the guy trying to find the power converter. It was hidden behind a fixed wall somewhere and they never did find it!

CREATURE COMFORTS and LIVABILITY

When you give up the luxuries of hearth and home in a stick-built house to wander around the country in an RV, you want to be comfortable. Even though you may be just fine with “roughing it” when you go camping on week-long vacations, it is different when you don’t have a “real” home to go home to.

For us, the move up from our vacation-purposed popup tent trailer to our full-time 27′ travel trailer was such a big step that the travel trailer looked truly luxurious. It had a sofa, dinette and bed in the living area, all of which were good places for relaxing. It seemed just dandy. However, after spending many long hours in it during our first winter, we realized that we wished we had true recliners to relax in. That simple desire is what spurred us to hunt for (and find) our fifth wheel trailer!

Beds

If you have been sleeping in a king size bed at home, switching to a queen bed on the road may be a big challenge. It was for us! It’s a shock to find out the love of your life has so many arms and legs!

Beds in RVs are often slightly smaller in one dimension or another than their residential counterparts, and those lost inches do count. For your reference, here are the standard residential bed sizes, width by length, in inches:

Queen: 60″ x 80″
King: 76″ x 80″

Here are some of the sizes that we’ve seen in fifth wheel trailers, width by length:

Queen: 60″ x 74.5″ (shorter than residential)
King: 70″ x 80″ or 72″ x 80″ (narrower than residential)

We have never seen a full width king size bed in a fifth wheel trailer except in a custom design. This is something to keep in mind if you think you might upgrade your trailer’s factory installed king mattress sometime down the road. Will the new residential king mattress, which is wider than the old mattress that came with the rig, fit on the platform without being squished?

Floorplan and Functionality with Slide-outs Closed

One of the things that we tend to think about when we stand in a beautiful, spacious fifth wheel trailer on a dealership lot is how functional the rig will be when all the slide-outs are closed. Some folks never go in their trailers without opening the slide-outs, but we do it all the time at rest stops and at the grocery store.

Ask the salesman to close the slide-outs on your prospective new full-time fifth wheel and find out which things in the kitchen, living room and bedroom you can no longer access.

NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer Flooplan-min

The open floorplan of our ’07 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel trailer.

Can you get into the fridge for a beer? Can you access the pantry for goodies to make a sandwich? Can you microwave something or boil water in a teapot on the stove? Can you wash the dishes after lunch? Can you use the bathroom? Can you get into the bed? Can you sit on a chair in the living room or at your dinette?

These may sound like goofy questions, but when you live in an RV full-time it is surprising how often you may want to use the rig without having to open the slide-outs.

If you roll a shopping cart loaded with groceries up to your front door at the supermarket, can you put them all away without opening the slide-outs? If you visit a friend and park your rig in front of their house for a few days, can you access your clothes and bed so you don’t have to stay in their spare bedroom?

Fresh bread baked in an RV oven-min

We can bake bread when the slides are closed.
Not crucial, but it’s nice to have access to the entire kitchen.

We are fortunate with our fifth wheel’s floorplan because we can access almost everything without opening any of the slide-outs. The only things we can’t get to are the two recliners in the back of the rig and our dresser drawers (opening the bedroom slide 6 inches is enough to get into those drawers). We have actually lived in our trailer with the slide-outs closed for several weeks at a time. It’s skinny, but it’s doable.

Unfortunately, the super popular island kitchen floorplan designs generally don’t allow for full use of the kitchen when the slide-outs are closed. However, there are loads of open floorplan designs that were popular a decade ago, like ours, that the RV designers may eventually revive. After all, there are only so many possible floorplans for a fifth wheel trailer!

Residential Refrigerator vs. RV Fridge

RV refrigerators that run on both 120 volt AC power and propane gas are being replaced in many fifth wheel trailers with residential refrigerators that run exclusively on 120 volt AC power. With some fifth wheel brands you can order the rig with either type of refrigerator. In other cases you can only order it one way and you would need to do the replacement yourself after you’ve bought the rig.

RV refrigerators are wonderful because you can dry camp in your RV for months or years on end and have refrigerated food the whole time. All you need to do is keep the propane tanks filled. Our 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator uses about 30 lbs (or 7 gallons) of propane every three weeks.

RV refrigerators have a few negatives, however.

One downside to RV refrigerators is that they are not self-defrosting. You need to defrost them. After decades of living with a frost-free refrigerator, it is a shock to go back to the olden days (if you were around then) of having to defrost the RV fridge every month or so.

However, my amazing hubby Mark has perfected the art of defrosting and he can now pull it off in about 20 minutes. So, it’s not that bad a chore if you stay on top of it (and if you have a wonderful partner who is willing to do it for you!). See the blog post about quickie fridge defrosting here.

Defrosting an RV refrigerator-min

Mark has simplified the refrigerator defrosting process so much it takes him only 20 minutes. Lucky me!

Another disadvantage is that they don’t modulate the temperature in the fridge with much precision and they aren’t particularly well insulated or energy efficient. We keep a small thermometer in the fridge so we have a feeling for what’s going on. The temp inside varies greatly depending on whether the wall behind the fridge is in the sun or shade and whether the temp inside our rig is 40 degrees, as it is on some winter mornings, or 90 degrees as it is on some summer afternoons.

Our fridge is usually on level 4 or 5 (the coldest two settings) because we like our beer to be ice cold. However I do sometimes find my yogurt has frozen a bit on the edges.

RV refrigerators also have a shelf life. It is about 8 years!

We found that out the hard way when our RV refrigerator died and we had to get it replaced. Luckily the replacement was straight forward and was covered by our extended RV warranty (blog post about it here).

New RV refrigerator is fork lifter through the trailer window-min

Our new RV refrigerator is slid through our dining room window on a fork lift.

The biggest surprise when we got our RV fridge replaced was we found out the warranty companies expect those fridges to last only 8 years. Of course, they figure that into the cost of the warranty, as they should. So, even though we were shocked that ours died, our warranty company wasn’t surprised at all.

Perhaps the most damning thing about RV refrigerators is that they run on propane and they have been known to catch fire and torch entire RVs. A burning RV burns to the ground in seconds because of the propane tanks and manufacturing materials. There was a rash of RV refrigerator first about a decade or so ago which is part of what pushed the industry towards building RVs with residential electric refrigerators instead.

However, RV life isn’t totally rosy with residential refrigerators either, especially if you want to boondock or dry camp for extended periods of time.

While a residential refrigerator may be a highly efficient Energy Star appliance, it may not have a solid locking mechanism to keep the doors closed in transit or rails to keep the food on the shelves while in transit (check on that). And it will require a lot of power to run while the rig is not plugged into a power pedestal.

A 12 to 14 cubic foot residential refrigerator requires a little over 300 kwh per year to run. This is about 0.8 kwh per day, or, very roughly, about 80 amp-hours per day.

In the winter months when the sun rides low in the sky and is up for a short period of time, an RV will need about 400 to 500 watts of solar panels and 450 amp-hours of batteries just to run the refrigerator. This is about what it takes to run everything else in the RV! An 18 to 22 cubic foot refrigerator will require even more.

This is not to say that it is impossible to install a big enough solar power system to run a residential refrigerator — we’ve had readers contact us to say that they have done it and they’re loving it! — but the expense and weight of the batteries and of the solar panels is something to consider before signing on the dotted line for that beautiful new fifth wheel trailer with its residential fridge.

Also, even if boondocking is not your style, be sure that the battery bank and the inverter that support the residential refrigerator when not hooked up to electrical power are sufficiently big enough to keep the fridge running as you drive. We have heard of 1,500 watt inverters just not making the grade with a big residential fridge (2,000 watts was needed). Or, just turn the fridge off and keep it closed until you get where you are going. Of course, residential refrigerators are not designed to be turned on and off frequently.

Lastly, the fabulous thing about a big, shiny, 22 cubic foot stainless steel residential refrigerator is that it can hold a ton of food. There will be no more turf wars between the beer and the veggies (gosh, would we ever love that!).

However, all that food weighs a lot, and big fridges often become storage places for old containers of food you’ll never eat. If you are buying a full-time fifth wheel that is skinny on its Cargo Carrying Capacity, then a huge refrigerator that can hold lots of food may push you into possession wars between food, tools and clothes in the closet.

On the bright side, a residential refrigerator is much less prone to failure than an RV fridge, and in the rare event that you have to replace one, it could easily cost thousands less than an RV fridge.

I Like the Fifth Wheel But I Don’t Really Like That Couch!

While it’s ideal to find a rig that has furniture you totally love, a fifth wheel trailer is just a box — floor, walls and ceiling — and any residential furniture can be put in that box. We have replaced both our dinette chairs and our recliners in the course of living in our fifth wheel all these years, and last week we replaced the couch!

Storage benches in RV dinette add comfort and storage space-min

The old chairs were elegant, but these cushy benches are much more comfortable.
Plus they give us more storage space!

Here are blog posts about some of the changes we’ve made to our furnishings:

Add Storage and Seating Capacity at your RV Dinette!

Can You Sell Old Stuff on Craigslist in the RV Lifestyle? Replacing our Recliners!

We also replaced our mattress with a fancy Simmons Beautyrest mattress.

RV DEPRECIATION

After all this discussion of what to look for in a fifth wheel trailer for full-time living, it is important to remember that the brand new fifth wheel you buy today will be worth about half of what you paid for it ten years from now. If it is well maintained it might be worth a smidge more. If it isn’t, it may be worth less.

What’s worse, the fact that it was lived in full-time rather than kept in a garage and never touched will turn many prospective buyers away or make them hit you up with a low offer.

RV Depreciation over time

Hmmm…. An RV’s value declines with time.

On the flip side, going RVing full-time is a dream, and it’s hard and maybe even unfair to put a price on your dreams.

If you have the funds and you can spend a lot on a rapidly depreciating fifth wheel trailer without crippling your finances later in life, definitely go for it.

What could be better than casting off on a dreamy new lifestyle in a dreamy new RV?

No matter what you buy, negotiate hard. You are in the driver’s seat — until you are in the driver’s seat! Many mass-market manufacturers anticipate selling for about 70% of MSRP. Others are closer to 80%.

If you go custom, well, you’re be paying for the very finest of the finest. So, the focus will be on getting exactly what you want rather than haggling over the price. With a custom rig you get what you ask for… so be knowledgeable and smart about what you ask for!

If you aren’t sure of you future finances, and you aren’t sure if you’ll like the full-time RV lifestyle, and/or you aren’t sure if you’d prefer a fifth wheel or a Class A motorhome as your house on wheels, consider getting a cheaper model or a used trailer to start.

We understand this dilemma well. We would LOVE to have a new trailer now. After all, ours is ten years old and shows a lot of wear. But…

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL?

The rig you live in is just part of the equation of putting together that champagne lifestyle of full-time RV travel. The real reason most folks run away in an RV is because they want to get out and see something of this continent, get to know the different regions of our country and of our neighbors’ countries, and knock a few travel destinations off their bucket list.

Appalachian Mountains RV Trip Coast to Coast Magazine Summer 2017-min

Our cover photo for our Coast to Coast magazine article about the Appalachian Mountains
Summer 2017 issue

The options of places to visit are limitless, and we’ve got 10 years worth of travel tales on this website that tell the stories of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been since 2007.

I’ve also written a lot of articles for Trailer Life Magazine showcasing different parts of the country that make for an enjoyable RV destination.

Georgia On Their Minds Trailer Life Magazine September 2017-min

The Antebellum Trail in Georgia is a terrific RV route for folks heading north/south through Georgia.
Trailer Life Magazine – September 2017. Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

A few of these feature articles have turned up in Trailer Life over the past few months and can be read at these links: Georgia on Their Minds, The Quaint Side of Canada, and Downeast Maine. Images of the first two pages of each article are below.

I also have a bi-monthly column on the back page of Trailer Life that showcases a beautiful photo of a gorgeous spot along with a few words about what makes that place special. My most recent columns have focused on: The Rocky Mountain Beach Town of McCall Idaho and a Forest on Fire – Fall Colors in Colorado.

Trailer Life Magazine is a monthly national magazine and it offers not only mouth-watering photos and stories of places to take your trailer, but it also devotes a lot of pages to technical issues that trailer owners face.

Nova Scotia RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine July 2017-min

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is tops on many RVers’ lists
Trailer Life Magazine – July 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

The technical editorial staff at Trailer Life is both very knowledgeable and very meticulous about ensuring what they discuss and review is accurate.

I have written a lot of technical articles for Trailer Life, from discussing RV roof maintenance to RV dump station tips to an article about the 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and one about the new puck based OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches.

Downeast Maine RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine June 2017-min

Downeast Maine is a hidden jewel north and east of famous Acadia National Park
Trailer Life Magazine – June 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

I have always been amazed at the extensive review process and discussion process that each of these technical article has undergone. Every little minute detail is reviewed for accuracy, sometimes spawning some lively debates.

There are a gazillion RV blogs out there that make for super fun reading and research and learning, but there is something to be said for a magazine that has been in print for over 75 years. Some people on the team have been with the magazine nearly half that time!

Trailer Life is hard to find on newsstands these days. New Camping World members receive a few issues as part of their membership (or they can get Motorhome Magazine if driveable RVs are more to their liking). If you get an annual subscription at the link below, you’ll see the article I’m working on about “first-timer” fifth wheels when it comes out!

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

Have you been shopping for a full-timing fifth wheel? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Boondocking in an RV-min

There are loads of fifth wheels on the market that would make a fine full-time home. Enjoy the search!

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Dirty Little Secrets from the RV Dump Station – RV Dumping Tips + Composting Toilets

When Trailer Life Magazine asked me to write a 2,000 word feature article about RV sanitation systems, including step-by-step RV dumping procedures, overall RV dump station etiquette and tips for emptying the RV holding tanks, all I could think of were two words:

Don’t Spill !!

Once Mark and I put our heads together, though, Continue reading

Trailer Suspension Nuts & Bolts – RV Blues on Rough Roads!

Lots of full-time RVers with big rigs are very sensible and stick to traveling on paved roads. But we like to get off the beaten path, and sometimes that puts us on crazy, rough and rugged dirt roads.

On our recent trip to Bisti Badlands in northwestern New Mexico, a 45 minute drive down three miles of extremely washboarded, nasty dirt road wreaked havoc with our trailer’s suspension.

Equalizer bolt walks out of fifth wheel suspension

Hmmm…. That center bolt on the equalizer doesn’t look right!

As we were hitching up to leave, Mark did his usual walk around our trailer to make sure nothing was about to fall off and that everything was secure. To his shock, he noticed that the long bolt that goes through the equalizer on our trailer’s leaf spring suspension system had walked almost all the way out!

Fifth wheel suspension Equalizer bolt unscrews itself on rough road

Yikes!

Holy Smokes! Our 14,000 lb. 36′ fifth wheel trailer was about to lose the bolt holding this vital piece of gear together!

We were miles from nowhere, and I immediately began scenario building in my head to plan various ways we might get out of this mess.

While I theorized, Mark calmly set about getting out his tools and tackling the problem right there in the dirt. His first task was to raise the trailer up so he could get the bolt properly aligned horizontally and tap it back into place with a hammer.

So, out came the 12 ton bottle jack.

Raise fifth wheel trailer with bottle jack for suspension repair

First things first:
Raise the wheels totally off the ground with our 12 ton bottle jack.

He needed to raise the trailer up quite high to relieve all the pressure on that bolt, so he took a piece of wood we sometimes use under the fifth wheel landing legs and put it under the bottle jack to raise it higher. Then he took a second block of wood and put it on top of the bottle jack to span the c-channel tube that runs the width of the trailer.

Pumping away on the bottle jack, he finally got the wheels entirely off the ground and began tapping the bolt through the two sides of the hanger with a small hammer.

Hammer fifth wheel equalizer bolt pack in place in suspension repair

With the pressure off, Mark taps the bolt back into place.

It took a little finagling to get the bolt to line up and go through the second hole on the back side of the hanger.

Fifth wheel equalizer bolt holds suspension together

At first, the bolt didn’t want to go through the second hole on the axle hanger.

But he was able to get it aligned and he got it to go through.

Equalizer bolt in position for fifth wheel suspension hanger assembly

All the way through. Yay!

The bigger problem, though, was figuring out what had happened to the nut that had been holding this bolt in place. It was nowhere to be found and undoubtedly was somewhere out on that nasty 3 mile dirt road.

So, now what?

Mark is a really amazing mechanic, and he keeps a magic container of potential spare parts in his Man Cave in the basement of our trailer. This magical container is a lot like the carpet bag that Mary Poppins carried.

Remember how Mary Poppins pulled all kinds of surprising things out of that bag, to the sheer delight and amazement of Jane and Michael Banks? Among other things, she pulled out a hat rack, a potted plant and a full-size standing lamp while Michael searched under the table to try to figure how she did it.

Well, that’s just the way Mark’s magic box of spare parts tricks works. When he needs a special little gizmo to make things right again, he fishes around in the box and finds just the thing while I scratch my head wondering how such a little container could always produce exactly what he needs.

A few months back we’d replaced the tires on our fifth wheel trailer and decided to replace the original lug nuts with locking lug nuts. A few of the original lug nuts also had cosmetic cracks on them which didn’t look attractive, so the new locking lug nuts were much nicer all around. Mark had decided to put a few of the old lug nuts in his magic box of tricks.

5th wheel trailer wheel lug nuts

A few months back we had replaced all the lug nuts on our trailer wheels.

So, as he fished around for an appropriately sized nut, lo and behold, it turned out those lug nuts were the exact diameter he needed!

Fifth wheel trailer lug nut_

This old lug nut is exactly the right diameter for our wayward bolt!

The thread pitch on the lug nut was not quite right, but the threads on the bolt had been damaged anyway as it walked itself out of the hanger.

While I held the bolt in place with a wrench on one side, Mark ratcheted the lug nut on the other side. He was able to jam the nut on the bolt and re-groove the bolt’s threads enough to make a super tight connection.

In no time we were back up and running and towing our fifth wheel trailer back down that crazy 3 mile road to the paved highway to go see other new and exciting destinations.

As I mentioned in my post about Bisti Badlands, it’s okay for a passenger car or van, but I would leave a bigger RV in Farmington and drive the tow vehicle or toad to Bisti instead!

Ratcheting 5th wheel equalizer suspension bolt in place

With some force, we secure the lug nut on the bolt. What a terrific temporary fix!

Who would’ve ever thunk that a rough road could loosen the nut on a big fifth wheel trailer’s suspension and walk the bolt that holds the equalizer in position almost all the way out?!

And who would’ve ever thunk that a lug nut from the trailer’s wheels would give us such a great temporary fix to get us back on the road?!

Other blog posts about our fifth wheel trailer suspension:

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Royal Flush! – A Surprise RV Toilet Replacement…Under Warranty :-)

Our fifth wheel trailer is 10 years old now, and we’ve been living in it full-time for most of those years. Our RV toilet has been with us every step of the way, although over the last few years it has struggled to hold water in the bowl.

Last week, out of the blue, Mark put his foot on the pedal to flush the toilet, heard a loud snap, and then the toilet flapper valve refused to budge. It was completely broken and unable to open and flush properly. Ugh!!

Luckily, the toilet bowl couldn’t hold water any more either, so it was kinda able to flush, just in a dribbling sort of way!

RV Toilet Replacement under an Extended RV Warranty

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So, our delightful plans to go play in the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado were dashed, and we drove off over the horizon in pursuit of a replacement RV toilet.

Broken RV toilet can't hold water in the toilet bowl

The toilet flushing mechanism broke, and pressing the pedal no longer opened
the flush valve in the toilet bowl. Fluids dribbled out quickly anyway… Not good!

After some calling around, we found a shop that had our exact Thetford toilet in stock, and when we arrived, there it was on the display rack!

New RV toilet at the RV repair shop

What luck! There is an identical toilet on the display rack.

We have an RV Extended Warranty with Wholesale Warranties that has been a huge help in dealing with the many surprise financial blows we’ve faced as our trailer has aged and various components have quit working.

We first got our warranty in October of 2014, and by Christmas of the following year it had paid for itself several times over as we faced one major repair after another, all in a row.

Unlike vehicle insurance, which protects vehicle owners against accidents, an extended RV warranty protects against failures of the systems in the RV that aren’t caused by a mishap.

Installing new RV toilet in tiny RV toilet room in fifth wheel trailer

There wasn’t a whole lot of space to work in our little toilet room!

We learned from our last RV toilet repair job that replacing broken parts in an RV toilet is often more expensive than simply swapping out the toilet all together.

So we weren’t surprised when the service manager said he wanted to replace our toilet rather than troubleshooting the problem and disassembling and reassembling the toilet to replace the broken part. He called our RV warranty company and explained that the toilet couldn’t flush and that the flushing mechanism was broken.

The warranty company agreed to cover the toilet replacement in full.

To get started, the RV technician removed the shield around the base of the toilet and then unscrewed the two large bolts that hold the RV toilet to the floor.

Remove RV toilet base shield in fifth wheel trailer

The first step to removing the toilet is to remove the shield from around the base.

Two bolts hold an RV toilet to the floor of a fifth wheel trailer

Two bolts — one on either side of the base — hold the RV toilet to the floor.

Then he detached the fresh water line from the toilet and pulled the toilet off of the hole in the floor that goes to the black tank underneath.

Old RV toilet removed from hole to black sewage wastewater tank

The toilet is removed from its position over the sewer drain hole that goes to the black wastewater holding tank.

Next, he detached the hose clamps holding the rinse spray wand’s flexible hose onto the toilet

Removing broken RV toilet before installing new RV toilet

The hose clamp for the fresh water rinse sprayer is removed.

After pulling out the toilet, all that was left in the little toilet room was the hole in the floor that goes to the black wastewater holding tank, the blue fresh water line that fills the bowl and flushes the toilet, and the fresh water spray wand with its flexible hose (this was an option on our old toilet and didn’t come with the new toilet, so we kept the old spray wand).

Empty RV toilet room in 5th wheel trailer

After the toilet is removed, all that remains is the black water sewer hole, the blue fresh water flush pipe and the flexible fresh water sprayer hose.

Then it was out with the old — and in with the new!

Removing broken RV toilet from fifth wheel trailer

Out with the old toilet…

Installing new RV toilet in a fifth wheel trailer

…In with the new toilet!

To install the new RV toilet, the process was repeated in reverse. First the toilet was positioned over the black tank hole, then the fresh water line and the fresh water spray wand were reattached, and finally the RV toilet was bolted to the floor.

Since the spray wand is an option, the toilet ships with the barbed hose fitting it slides onto sealed shut. So, before sliding the hose onto the barbed hose fitting, the end of the fitting had to be clipped off.

Back of new Thetford RV toilet with optional spray wand

In order to attach the rinse sprayer, the hose connection must be clipped to open it up.

Optional sprayer nozzle on RV toilet installation

Sprayer and fresh water flush lines attached.

And then the installation was finished and our sparkling new RV toilet was all ready for its first Royal Flush!

The whole procedure took an hour from start to finish. When we settled up with the service manager, the final bill was the following:

FINAL BILL FOR REPLACING OUR RV TOILET:

Parts – New RV toilet (porcelain bowl) $297.59
Labor – One hour $105.00
Tax $11.61
Total Cost $414.20

RV EXTENDED WARRANTY PAYMENT BREAKDOWN:

Warranty Coverage (amount we saved) $314.20
Out of Pocket Cost (our deductible) $100.00
Total Payment $414.20
New RV toilet installation in fifth wheel trailer

A nice sparkling brand new toilet. Yay!

This brings our total repairs and savings with our Trailer Extended Warranty to the following:

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 $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

If you are curious what an extended RV warranty would cost for your rig, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Call our contact, Missi Junior at (800) 939-2806 or email her at missi@wholesalewarranties.com and mention that you heard about them from our website, Roads Less Traveled. Or go to this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

The $50 discount comes off of the quoted price at the time of purchase — just be sure to ask!

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The Full Case History of our RV Extended Warranty:

Other Plumbing and Black Tank Articles!

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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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