Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cold Cats in Texas

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
As this Arctic Vortex reached way down here to South Texas, and grabbed ahold with its icy hand, we had a hard time getting propane when we needed it the most. Not because of supply and demand like other parts of the country, we just couldn’t find a gas attendant that wanted to come out of their warm office and fill a small motorhome tank. They made all kinds of excuses. I stopped four times in one morning between Bay City, Texas and Corpus Christi. The one that put me over the edge was the Ace Hardware in Rockport, Tx. I finally had two people show up to fill me. They looked like they might freeze to death. It was hovering dangerously around 38 degrees. When I stepped out of the motorhome I was asked if I had any pets. Since our cat was waving at them from the dash, I said yes. The woman said I had to have all people and pets out of the vehicle before I could be filled with propane. I’ve been at this RVing for a lot of years and I have never heard that one before. I wasn’t about to bring out two nervous cats and take a chance of them getting away. I told them to keep their gas, which was music to their ears. I hardly got the words out of my mouth before they were back in the warmth of the store. Am I the only one who has ever heard of this rule? Should I be more understanding of the cold weather challenged? I thought it was pretty obvious that they didn’t want to stand in the cold and fill me.
--Frosted in Fulton

Dear Frosty:
That is a new one on me. I have been filling for 50 years and have never heard that one before. Let’s start with some common sense, propane fill rules that may or may not be regulation. If you fill ten times in ten different places you will have ten different experiences. It is best to have your own safety rules with you. It is not uncommon to have a propane attendant that has no idea how the equipment works. Your first clue is when they don’t know where to attach the filler hose. Many don’t know the 80 percent rule and have no clue there is a reason for it. Most tanks are manufactured with some type of overfill float, but don’t assume an attendant cannot overfill your tank. Even if I stop at an actual propane dealer, I still watch the whole procedure and make sure they are doing it properly. At a gas station outside of Glacier National Park I had a guy overfill my tank years ago. As the sun rose and things started heating up the propane expanded and it sounded like someone was firing a shotgun in the cab. I suggest you shut off all gas appliances, all passengers exit the vehicle, shut off the main valve at the tank, and watch the attendant like a hawk. Now, as for your recent situation. I called the business you mentioned and at first they were sticking to the pet story. When I asked where I could find this regulation, they started backing water. Wait though, there is more to this story than meets the cat’s eye. I then called the Texas National Propane Gas Association. I was told that Texas does require pets to be removed before filling. I asked about house plants, but she wasn’t sure. You will probably never have this happen again in a hundred years, but this particular business seems to be on top of things. I will give them credit for following the rules set forth and assume they follow all other procedures. Probably not a bad place to fill up, but hide the cat first. My Irish grandmother always said, “A little white lie is always better than a big fight.”
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

RV train wreck

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My wife bought me a new GPS for Christmas. It was an expensive, big rig model. It is supposed to have all the latest information to keep me from driving our 40 ft. motorhome and toad into areas that are too narrow, too low, etc... Now I am more frustrated than ever. Not only are we out the money for this “special” device, but it is no more accurate than the cheap one I used prior. Besides that, it just sent me down a dead end street in New Orleans and I left the top hand rail of my ladder on a low tree branch. My wife says I may not be cut out for RV travel, or that we need to downsize. I love this big rig, but I find myself nervous as a cat under a rocking chair when I get this train on the wrong track. Am I just a novice, nervous Nelly? Will it get better once I get a few more miles under my belt? Should I start looking for a smaller rig?
--Train Wreck in Treme'

Dear Train Wreck:
Your concerns are fairly normal. Let’s start out with using a GPS. If this can solve your problem it will be a lot cheaper than taking a bath on trading down. A GPS can be a valuable tool if used properly. Nothing is foolproof. My suggestion on using high-tech navigation is to use everything available. Even after updating my GPS I consider it only 70% accurate. Study your proposed route using other programs that are free. Google maps and free GPS apps give varied formats. You can also use Google Earth to fly into congested areas and get a visual idea of what you will run into. Don’t fall blindly in love with the voice on your GPS and take it’s directions as gospel. If that doesn’t work out for you, perhaps downsizing will. There is a huge difference in maneuvering a 30 ft. rig vs. a 40 ft. It may be worth your while to take a driving course if you haven’t already. Many dealers offer that option to new owners. If you have never driven a vehicle of that size you will discover there is a learning curve. A few driving tips that you could glean from an instructor or fellow campers will make you much more proficient. You will also learn that one size does not fit all (campgrounds). The larger you get, the more restricted you become no matter how sharp your driving skills. Dolly Parton’s dad always tried to convince her that you can’t put 20 pounds of mud in a 5 pound sack. Same can be said for trying to put a 40 ft. motorhome in a 24 ft. space. Everyone has their own comfort level. Find yours so you can enjoy your travels and not have to deal with a case of nerves every time you get behind the wheel. 
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, January 13, 2014

Unbalanced Toad

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband is an idiot savant, minus the savant part. We are towing a small sedan behind our motorhome. The car started acting strange. It developed a wobble at slow speeds. At first we thought it was the roads we were driving on, but it turns out to be an issue with the car. My husband hates to deal with businesses on the road he is not familiar with. He studies any problem for hours before he acts. In this case he finally decided we had a tire issue. He went and had two new tires put on and the tire dealer told him he also had a bent wheel. The dealer didn’t sell wheels, so we just ended up with two new tires we probably didn’t need and still have a wobble. Now he is back studying the problem again. I figure by the time he has it figured out we will have invested in two more tires, a wheel and maybe still have a wobble. I think we should figure out what the problem really is, then spend the money to fix it. He thinks we should study the problem some more. How do I convince him we are doing this all bass-ackwards?
--Unbalanced in Biloxi

Dear Bil:
You make this sound much easier than it is. I think you are lucky to have a husband that likes to study the problem. It is hard to do business on the road. I like to think that most people are basically honest, but often they are studying the problem too, using your money. The problem you describe is not an easy one to determine sometimes. Your wobble could be caused from a mechanical problem such as a bearing, tie-rod, or any number of front-end alignment parts. It could be a tire with belt separation, or out of round. If a tire dealer thinks you have a bent rim, let’s hope that is all it is. Most bone yards will sell you a used wheel with a money-back guarantee if the tire service finds it too is bent. If your tires have a lot of miles on them, replacing them is a good start and great insurance that they are not going to cause you more issues if they fail while being towed. I think your husband deserves more credit than you give him. He has studied the problem, he has sought out a professional opinion, he has made the first purchase attempt at fixing the problem, and he has discovered possible additional causes. Often the problem can be multiple issues. I would not wait long to get to the bottom of the problem. Towing a vehicle with issues is just asking for trouble. I would suggest second and third opinions with brake and alignment services and additional tire professionals. Unless you have an automotive Ouija board, I would suggest you give your husband a bit more respect and credit. He doesn’t sound like he is just throwing money at the problem, but going at it in a practical way.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

RV jump or swim

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
First let me thank all your wonderful readers for the vacuum cleaner suggestions. After reading that column we found an unused, still in the box, Shark Pet Perfect Cordless Vac at a thrift store for eight bucks. I figured for that price how could I go wrong? It is scary how much that little thing picks up out of the carpet even after we steam cleaned last fall before putting the motorhome in storage. We keep taking turns using it, then popping it open to see how much dirt, hair and dust we've collected. So, now "I" have a question. We are in Texas and it is cold enough that you wouldn’t want to stick your tongue on a metal pole. Our forced air, propane furnace is running 24/7. When we get up in the morning the windows are solid condensation. I’m afraid we are going to start to grow gills, and mildew if we don't control it. I know this is a physics problem more than a mental one, but if you can help us with this I will sleep much better at night. I have been having this recurring dream that mildew is building up on my body like barnacles on a ship.
--Dewdrops in Del Rio

Dear Dewdrops:
If you are talking about your forced air furnace, that is not your problem. It is vented to the outside. If you are talking about a catalytic heater that isn't vented, that can put a lot of moisture into your rig. You do not say whether you have an electic hook-up or not. If you do, go out and buy yourself an electric space heater. Propane from heat and cooking are only part of your problem. You would also have to stop showering and breathing. I would suggest you use your range hood fan when cooking and bathroom vent when showering. When it gets cold, all this moisture condenses out to cooler surfaces like your windows. If not dealt with, it can eventually lead to mold, water stains, mildew and even ruin equipment. This hopefully is a temporary problem for you. Once the Polar Vortex passes and the Tahiti Vortex comes through, you can open your windows again. When this is an ongoing problem you might want to try a small dehumidifier. Some of the small 12v models are a joke, so read a lot of reviews before you open your wallet. For short term, and tight space areas you can also try products like Damp Rid. One summer in Alaska we had mildew invade our Airstream. We had to attack it with bleach and head for Arizona for a winter of dry heat to cure the the black cancer taking over our silver trailer. Bottom line, control your breathing and pay attention to venting.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink