Black Tank Adventures

Keep RV Tanks Clean

Recently, I became concerned when I pulled the release handle on “The Folie a Deux’s” (my Winnebago Journey Motor home) black water tank and nothing happened. I mean zip. There should have been a gush of waste flowing out.

So I went back inside and dropped a green bio tablet in the tank guaranteed to dissolve waste material with enzymes and eat up the special RV toilet paper that is supposed to dissolve in water. I flushed a good amount of water down the tank.

The next morning I said a prayer and pulled the handle again. Nothing. I realized that I had made a terrible  mistake a day or two earlier prior to the first time I pulled the handle and nothing happened. I had the handle on both the gray water and black water tanks open. I knew not to leave the black water tank open because water flushed with the waste would just empty out leave a mound of sedimentary waste behind.

But, I thought, it was only for a day, or was it two? Never the less, I’m getting very anxious. I head to YouTube to see how people handle black water back ups. One guy punched a hole near the top of the waste water hose connection and ran a stiff wire, like a coat hanger wire, up through the pipes to dislodge any paper that may have accumulated.

I tried that. I ran the wire up through one elbow, through a short straight piece and up through another elbow into the black tank. I think I could feel something thick and disgustingly gooey at the end, but there was no release.

By now I’m getting very anxious. You can’t keep using the toilet without incurring even more dire consequences. I could just see me making the news with a horrific waste tank explosion that would quarantine the area and be uninhabitable for decades.

My helpful neighbor said he had a similar problem when his pipes froze. He used a hair dryer to unthaw it. I tried that; result – nothing.  I tried another green tablet and very warm water. But there was no effect.

I read about one couple that used a tank cleaner called Unique RV Digest-It for Marine and RV tanks. I could order it on line and get it in two days, but that would be too late. I needed it now.

I recently moved north to an area in Tennessee where it gets really cold compared to where I was in southern Alabama,  near the Florida line. Where I had rarely used the heat in my motor home,  I now have to go get the propane tank filled once a week, whereas prior to that my propane lasted about 8 months. For the first couple of months in Alabama I thought there was something wrong with my LP gas panel gauge. It always registered full.

This, however, would be my “Hail Mary” play. I decided that I had done all I could and that maybe when I headed out to get the propane tank filled, it would shake up the black tank and mix everything up to a nice liquid.

After I drove over to the propane company and filling up the propane tank I drove over to a local hardware store which was supposed to carry the Digest-It. They did, but not for marine/RV tanks.

Shake Things Up in Your RV Waste Tank

Back at the RV Park I hooked everything back up and pulled the black water tank handle with a lot of trepidation. I felt like doing a dance to God when the waste water exploded out like Niagara Falls.

Earlier in the day, I had contacted several RV repair shops. They all told me horrible consequences of the impacted tank, which really just had plenty of dollar signs behind it. None of them, however, worked on the tanks, unless they were empty. You’re on your own if you have tank trouble. I had visions of telling my wife that we were going to have to move into a motel until I could find an RV repair shop somewhere that would unclog the tank.

The point is, if you find your tank is clogged and you’ve tried a number of chemical methods and they didn’t work, and your release valve pulls in and out and nothing happens, try riding around with your motor home or RV trailer and see if the movement loosens the clog.

And the moral of this tale: ignore your tanks – especially your black tank – at your peril.

Instead of Using RV Dealerships for Repairs, Use Mobile Repair Service

If you’ve owned an RV trailer or Motor Home for a while, your knees probably knock together and you wipe away nervous sweat from your brow as you begin having visions of negative balances in your bank account when your vehicle needs repairs.

Fremont Street Experience
Me at Fremont Experience in Las Vegas.

 

 

Even if you have a warranty it still means days or weeks of waiting to get it repaired if you take it to an RV dealership. More and more people are living full time in a Recreational Vehicle or Motor Home than ever before.

According to a recent report from the RV Industry Association, “The surge of interest and sales in RVs was substantial in 2017. Shipments were up more than 17 percent in 2017 marking its eighth consecutive year of market growth.”

As a full time RVer living in a motor home, I run into people all the time who are living full time in their RVs. The lucky ones were smart enough to have worked somewhere for 30 years, got a good pension and are able to move about the country seeing the sites. But not every one had so much foresight.

Other full time RVers work in construction and they move with the job. They may stay a few weeks at a campground or several months, depending on the length of time of the construction job.

My experience with taking my Motor Home into a dealership for repair work has not been a good one. If you only use your RV for a few weeks out of the year, then you can afford to wait a few weeks to a month or more for your service. But if you’re living in it full time, it means staying in a hotel, removing most of your perishables, clothes, electronics you may need and other items while you wait for the dealership to repair your home.

The longest I waited was two weeks for a repair, and that was a rush job. We stayed in a hotel the whole time. So on top of the high cost of repairs you have a hotel bill to deal with.

However, if you’re lucky enough to have a knowledgeable mobile RV repair facility in your area, you can avoid many of these problems.

I recently had to have my basement air conditioning/heating system repaired. I had tried to get it worked on near the beginning of the year, but no one would work on it – no dealership in the area and not the one mobile RV business I called.

The reason: it’s a basement air conditioning/heating unit. Manufacturers quit making them for awhile in favor of using roof top air conditioning units. Parts are hard to get . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.

My AC was not working at peak efficiency, but I didn’t know why. It only cooled a little. I went to YouTube to see how others handled basement AC repairs and found very little information. I’m not technical and I’ve had more than one occasion where I dived into a project, just trying to wing it and wound up in a deeper problem.

I ended up moving away to an area farther south. One day I noticed a mobile RV truck repairing someone’s 5th wheel. I went over and asked if they worked on basement air conditioning systems.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when the technician said, ‘We work on everything.”

“Basement air condition systems?” I said in disbelief.

He said he did. He didn’t work on as many as he used to, but it would be no problem to work on mine. And it could be done right in the park where I was staying. (Picture the clouds parting, the sun beaming through and the Hallelujah Chorus being sung by Angels in the background.)

Just to give you a little prior information, about two months before meeting the technician, who by the way was from Lacey’s RV Services and Parts out of Westville, FL., my AC unit was only half working. I woke up about 4 in the morning to an ozone smell in the air, an electrical burning odor. I could hear something mechanical underneath trying to cycle on and off.

Immediately I turned off the AC unit. I didn’t know what to do. One RV repair shop I had called earlier, and which I had used for repairs before, suggested I get rid of the basement unit and install two roof top AC/heating units.

What I did instead was to buy a window AC unit and stick it in a sliding window – kind of difficult since the units are made for windows that raise up and down. I couldn’t plug it into the motor home because it kept tripping the circuit breakers. The park owner suggested I just plug it into his power pole where I hooked up the shore power.

I didn’t really look at the power pole before but there were two three-prong receptacles there. Problem solved.

When the first cold snap hit and I couldn’t use my basement heating unit, I called Lacey’s and they would send someone out the next day. Two technicians arrived. They opened the access for, pulled off a panel, and immediately saw that the circuit board had some melted wires and burned relays.

It looked like a bowl of spaghetti with all the wires, but I could see exactly what he was talking about. This was on a Friday. They said the parts would probably come in on Monday and they would come back out. I wasn’t available to see them until Wednesday.

This time one of them came alone, installed the new circuit board and relays. It took about an hour and this guy pulled out wires and put in new ones, all the time giving a running commentary about Winnebago having their own wiring system and that you couldn’t go by the color of the wires.

He was pulling them out and putting new ones back in like a mad scientist working on a positronic brain he had just invented. Afterward, he stuck on a new wiring diagram on the panel over the old diagram, so any new technician could see what he had done.

The AC and heat now work perfectly. I was happy with the cost and it was the least pricey of my repairs thus far and well worth the cost.

My point is, mobile RV repair services can be a life saver if you need immediate repairs. Just make sure you find out if they can repair your problem, how much they charge for a service call and how much per hour.

Okay, so next time maybe I’ll tell you how I discovered the cause of my new hot water heater not working. And, no, it wasn’t the circuit breakers.

Grab This RV Check List To Guide You in Purchasing An RV or Motorhome

San Francisco Bay in the background.

Okay, by now you’ve read through my sad tale of buying my Winnebago Journey Motor home and, hopefully, you’ve stopped laughing and wondering how someone could be so daft.

I’ve made up a form that I wish I had when looking for an RV.  Print it out and keep it in your glove box of you car. Keep in mind, I wasn’t going to buy a motor home. My wife and I were just looking.

 

Here’s the link:  RVCheckListForm

 

What Fresh RV Hell is Next?

My wonderful Winnie.

My First and Maybe Only Motorhome Purchase

When people with RVs do an on-line search they’re usually looking for some wonderful place to go visit and camp, or for some place to go for repairs. After I bought my first RV – a used motor home – I ended up doing a lot of searching for repair places.

This blog entry is about my experiences in buying an RV. When buying an RV, whether new or used, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. So you’re unaware of what questions to ask.

The Internet is full of people warning others not to buy a motor home or trailer. I even saw one from an attorney who said that most people spend about two years, off and on, with their new vehicle in the shop getting repairs. I can believe it – now.

I used to classify RV trailers and motor homes separately, but for the purpose of this article I’ve lumped them both Trailer and motor homes together, which I think most people do anyway.

Nearly a year ago I bought a 2003 Winnebago Journey 36-foot, diesel pusher. For those who don’t know, a diesel pusher means the motor home has a diesel engine located in the rear of the coach and it “pushes” the vehicle along the highway.

The motor had a little less than 80,000 miles on it. Being a former long-haul truck driver I knew that was nearly new for a diesel engine, which can go up to 500,000 miles before they have to be rebuilt. I don’t think too many motor homes go anywhere near that many miles.

It would have to be driven constantly. This one was on a Freightliner Workhorse chassis. They put me in two new house batteries, a full tank of diesel and a full tank of propane.

I bought the Winnie from Camping World of Las Vegas, NV. I’m not saying they were crooked, but I’m sure I had “Sucker” written on my forehead when my wife and I walked through the doors.

I’ll cut to the chase before this entry turns into a book. We bought the first motor home they showed us. It had just been traded in and they needed to clean it up. We looked it over, and mostly liked what we saw. It took some time, but it was soon ours.

It had tow bars with it when I signed for it, but when I went back later they were gone. Earlier I had asked the salesman if one of his mechanics could take it off and I would stow it under the coach.  I couldn’t use it now, but maybe later.

When I asked about the missing tow bars I was told,  “The previous owner came back for it.”

Huh? Okay. Camping World was kind enough to let us keep the motor home on the lot for a little over a month while we prepared to leave Las Vegas and head back East.

During a walk-through examination we pointed out some things we would like fixed: broken lamp, missing knobs, broken headlights, problems that were obvious.

The Ride Home in Our New/Old RV Motor Home  – Voyage of Discovery

We drove it back to Tennessee and it turned really cold compared to Las Vegas. I kept the Winnie at a relative’s house while we were job shopping. It was about three months before my wife found a job and we were going to head to the new location and live full time in our motor home.

The main reason we bought the motor home was my wife frequently changed jobs – same work, different company, and we often stayed longer than we should have because breaking a lease in an apartment complex can cost thousands of dollars.

I’m not kidding. When we broke our lease in Las Vegas we had to pay $3,000. Otherwise, we would have had some bill collector hounding us to our graves over the money.

But with a motor home,  there’s no lease, no advance notice needed. Just leave.

Up to this point we had been living with relatives in Tennessee but I had been going over to the motor home daily to start it up and run the generator.

It was during this time that I noticed that the house batteries were not charging and I had discovered on the way back East that the turn signals, which had worked briefly, did not work, nor did the flashers.

And yes, I checked fuses, found a blown one and replaced it. The fuse promptly blew again. Same with the flasher relay; it blew after replacement.

You can tell with this next statement how naive, no, really stupid, I was when I said to my wife that we would stop off in Knoxville and get the home repaired on the way south to her new job.

I’m sure many of you are laughing and gasping for air. I wanted to avoid Camping World, so I went to a competitor. Turns out all their mechanics were in Indiana taking some training. But they recommended Camping World.

So with a heavy heart I went to Camping World and told them what I wanted repaired. They said it would be about a week before they could look at it, and that was rushing it.

Two weeks later and $2,300 poorer, I picked up the Winnie, and we were on our way. They had put in a new alternator to charge up the house batteries, but the turn signals still didn’t work.

At this point it occurred to me that Camping World of Las Vegas may have known about the alternator not charging and it was cheaper to stick into two new batteries than put in a new alternator, and let me discover that the batteries weren’t being charged.

Concerning the lack of turn signal repair, Camping World of Knoxville said the turn signal assembly on the steering column needed to be replaced and the supplier was not sure when they could get it to Knoxville. We were already a week late for my wife’s job, so they gave me the part number and name of the item. I could order it later and have it installed. We were on our way.

Of course, it was pouring rain when I picked it up and I was in a hurry to get the heck out of Dodge, or Knoxville.

You can guess what happened next. I get about 10 minutes down the road and the drivers’ side windshield wiper quits working. In a cold, soaking rain reminiscent of the kind of rainfall I’m certain Noah experienced, I got out to look at the wipers and saw that the passenger side had the motor and my side was connected by an arm, much like a pantograph.

The base of the arm had come out of the socket. I popped it back in and shaking off water like a dog, we headed out again. The arm promptly came out again. I just left it. It doesn’t rain much in Nevada and I never checked the wipers during a walk through. But, boy, it rains in Tennessee.

More Exciting Motorhome Discoveries

About 500 miles later I discovered the Powerline Management System did not work anymore. It worked before I put it in the shop. But now it doesn’t work.

When we took our first shower, the handle had been turned off so hard I thought I was going to break it trying to turn it on. Turns out all the faucets leaked – no matter how hard you turned them off.

The air conditioner, which worked okay in the mild – winter time – climate of Las Vegas was no match for the summer heat in the Deep South.

Later, the motor home hot water quit working. That was probably my fault for not winterizing the Winnie when it sat in the cold. But it was an unusual cold for Tennessee.

I took it to get repaired at a RV repair shop not too far from where we had settled at a nice state park. Two weeks later, and $1,700 poorer, but a new hot water tank richer and working wipers, I went back to the campground.

The engine oil had been bothering me since I first checked it and didn’t like what I saw.  I didn’t check it when I bought it and apparently they did not service it before I bought it.

But I was hesitant to take it to an RV Camper dealership to service the motor. It was black and thick like some kind of primordial ooze. However, I didn’t want to sit two weeks in a motel while someone got around to working on it.

I found out I could take it to Freightliner and they would change the oil and service the generator – in – the – same – day! How glorious!

In preparation the oil changed I ordered the turn signal assembly ahead of time – $150 bucks – and when I went to get the oil changed I told them the problem with the turn signals and the solution and asked if a mechanic could change out the assembly. No problem.

I was there when Freightliner opened and I was there until the end of the day. Shortly before closing I was told attaching the new assembly did not help. Turn signals still did not work. The problem was probably caused by a short in one of the marker lights. Did I want them to find the short? What do you think?

Camping World strikes again with a faulty diagnosis of my turn signal problem.

A little over $1,000 later I was back on the road – in 1 day! And my turn signals worked, as did the flashers! Yay!

I’ve had other problems, some of which were caused by my ignorance and some though some weird twist of fate, which I’ll detail in later blog posts.

But in my next post I will relate what new RVers should look for when shopping for their first RV. Never fear, it’ll be short and sweet.