Wednesday, January 28, 2015

RV packrat

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
Have you ever heard of rats that are afraid of light? My husband seems to enjoy turning our RV into a light show. He started with some Christmas lights this year and now is on to stringing the rig with ribbons of LED lights. When I complained about not being able to see the night sky because of light pollution emanating from our motorhome, he said it was necessary to keep pack rats from climbing up into our engine compartment at night and building nests, chewing wires and pulling out insulation. I’m all for saving our engine from long-tailed vermin, but I don’t think we need to turn a dark, quiet campground into Times Square. Am I being unreasonable? I can’t help that I’m turned off by lights. I prefer the night sky.
--Shedding lights in Why

Dear Why:
Working out the kinks in a relationship is an ongoing challenge. Something new is always popping up, and you have to deal with it. In most cases you can find some common ground. I would try to find that happy medium in this case.

 As for the pack rats, that is a very real threat. A couple lights under the rig at night in pack rat territory would be cheap insurance. They can cause expensive damage if they choose to move in with you. However, you would not need a light show. The LED strips are a great idea. They do not draw much juice and put out plenty of light.

If you are in Why, Arizona, you might want to consider a small string of lights to run at night. You could wait until you both retire for the night and fire them up. Not so many that might annoy the neighbors, but just enough to annoy the pack rats. A couple cheap solar yard lights will also do the trick. Let the sun charge them all day, and throw them under the rig at night.

If you are moving on a regular basis, it will most likely not be a problem. Staying put for a while might find your rig very inviting for several critters. If you end up going with the Broadway look, my suggestion would be to consider the neighbors.

 --Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tiring RV

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We bought a used motorhome knowing we would have to do some updating on it. I am fairly handy, and figured I could do most of the work myself. My biggest error was not calculating the price of new tires. Not ever having a vehicle that required truck-like tires, I had no idea they would be so expensive compared to car tires.

It has made me a bit obsessive, according to my wife. I guess I am just trying to cut my losses as much as possible. I have been comparing prices with dealers, reading RV forums for hints on different brands, trolling for sales, and even thinking about seeing a psychic who might steer me (no pun intended) to a great deal on tires.

The rig has Goodyear G670/70R19.5 F rated tires that I think are factory installed. They are 10 years old and I hate to start on a maiden voyage with these tired tire treads.  I hope you can adjust my thinking so I don't feel so bad about emptying the bank account, or perhaps you have an uncle in the tire business. I would appreciate any help with tires or an attitude adjustment.
--Rubbernecking tire stores in Trenton

Dear Rubbernecking:
You are thinking correctly about a tire change. Ten years would be plenty on those treads, but not excessive. Dealers will tell you tires are like milk, they spoil. Most people only hear the first part of the advice and think tires will fall apart at 5 or 6 years. If cared for properly, inspected often, they can last much longer with proper alignment and rotation.

If you buy new tires now, you can depreciate the cost over the next several years. Reading RV forums is a great idea, but you will find so many opinions about tires it will make your head spin. It's like asking for an opinion on who the best NFL team is. What you might want to concentrate on is warranty and accessibility. If you travel far and wide, buy a tire with a good warranty and a good network of dealers.

Find a shop that not only sells tires, but does alignment work. If you find a shop that is equipped to work on trucks and RVs you will find a much more experienced crew.  Plan on spending five-hundred bucks a tire. You should be able to find a dealer that will get you out the door for that - tax, labor and the whole nine yards.  It is alright to be compulsive/obsessive.

It is also fair to hit the tire manufacturer/dealer over the head with the spoiled milk theory. If tires become obsolete with age, you want the newest tires they can get their hands on. Those that say nothing, will end up with whatever comes off the shelf. You won't usually end up with tires that were made last week, but you don't have to take tires that are a year old already. Let them sell those to someone else. They may have to order a set from a distributor, but they can find newer date-stamped tires with a simple phone call and have them on the next delivery truck.

Sorry, I don't have an uncle in the tire business. But if you talk to enough dealers you will find an average price for tire replacement in your area. Use online review sites to see what others have experienced with a dealer you may want to use. Online references can also help you discover whether the brand warranty is any good. See what others have experienced when they have had to scream, "Warranty!"
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Editor's note: A great place for all types of tire information, including what, where and when to buy, is the RV Tire Safety blog, from RV tire expert Roger Marble. Click here to go to that blog

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

RV buying--Shop 'til you drop

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have a dilemma that I am sure many people would love to have. We want to buy some type of RV and travel. The problem is, we have no clue what we want, need or should desire. We have gone from putting down a payment on a 32 ft. motorhome to seriously considering a 17 ft. travel trailer. We change our minds every day. Money is not the issue, even though some people might think we are cheap. It is not a problem of what my husband wants vs. what I want. We are both hopelessly confused. Please offer some counsel.
—Dealing and not wheeling in West Virginia

Dear Virginia:
There is a big difference between being cheap and being frugal. You are doing exactly what most people should do. Shop ’til you drop. So many people get over-excited with all the bells and whistles and buy the first thing they step into. Everyone has to find their own path. Having the financial wherewithal to pull the trigger on whatever you decide makes the decision making a bit easier. That said, RVs are an investment in a lifestyle, not the best ledger column if you are looking for appreciation on return monetarily.

Now, let’s try to tackle some of your doubts and needs. A lot of the decision making comes down to comfort. Comfort in driving, parking and maneuvering. Comfort in living space, entertaining and storage. Comfort in amenities. That can include everything from a bigger shower to satellite TV with 400 channels of bad programming. Not knowing what to expect and how you will travel leaves many options a dart-throw guess. That is the reason many people end up with two or more rigs before they figure out the perfect fit.

Here are a few things you may not have figured into your buying decision so far: As last week's column stated, “weather happens.” Often you are forced inside your rig for days when the weather turns sour. Don’t buy something that will make you feel claustrophobic. One of the great things about RV travel is all the fantastic people you will meet. If you want to invite them over for drinks, dinner or cards, will you have a comfortable space to accommodate entertaining. Most RVs are engineered to offer all the basic needs of a living space. They are “tiny houses.” If you study enough floor plans you will begin to notice that they are all trying to accomplish the same thing. As you get longer and add slides, those spaces just give you more room in each compartment—bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining, living. As you get shorter and slideless, those compartments get smaller and often blended. This gives you the option to sleep in the dining room and cook in the bathroom.

Do you want to drive a puller or a tower (toad) when you reach a destination? Have you figured out where to store the kayaks, ATVs, motorcycles, mountain bikes, fishing boat? Do you have a power plant and frame hefty enough to haul whatever load you plan to tote around? Do you have enough floor plan space to accommodate a business, hobby, craft or pet?

Let me start to finish with advice I give everyone that ponders your questions. Talk to at least a dozen RVers, with a dozen different rigs. It will be the best investment in time you can make. You will get so much more honesty about pros and cons from individuals than you will from commission-starved RV salespeople. Walk around campgrounds. You will see everything under the sun and find a lot of jovial people more than willing to tell you more than you probably want to hear. Take it all with a grain of salt. Glean from it the nuggets of information you may not have considered, and make your final decision.

At that point, you could also rent one of the finalists in your RV beauty contest and try it out for a week. Even though RV rentals are not cheap, it could save you a lot of time and money if a hands-on experience convinces you to make a different choice.

Remember, your final decision, may not be your final decision. On that note, you might want to consider starting out with a used unit. That way someone else has already taken the big investment hit, while you discover your actual needs. If you go used, from an individual or a dealer, make sure everything on the unit is fired up and in working order. It can be very expensive if you get down the road and find mechanical issues. This answer sounds long-winded, but it is just a few of the things to consider.
—Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

RV ice shanty

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We headed for the warm sunny south the first part of November. We arrived in Florida and it was freezing. Since this is our first year traveling, we were a bit disillusioned. The only place on the map that looked warm was Arizona and Southern California. We made a hard right on I-10 and headed west. By the time we reached Deming, NM it was snowing. We have had the weather app out, scouring it for a warm place. None to be found unless we head for Southern Mexico. Is this what RV winter travel is all about? We could stay home wrapped in our blizzard blanket a lot cheaper than chasing the sun all over the country. Are we asking too much? Did we miscalculate? Should we sell this motorhome with a cracked frozen water pipe and look for a tent to rent in the Virgin Islands?
—Rolling Ice Shanty in Ajo

Dear Ajo:
You did miscalculate a bit. I think Mark Twain put it best, “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” My advice would be to slow down. I know gas is cheap right now, but as you have discovered, the jet stream can move faster than your motorhome. Stay south and let the warm weather find you. Don’t drive thousands of miles looking for it. You can expect bouts of cold weather all over the south during the winter months.

I understand why you had the misconception of warm sunny weather. You never see an advertisement of RVer’s huddled inside their rigs trying to stay warm. More often you see them basking in the sun enjoying outdoor activity in shirt sleeves. The cold reality is “weather happens.” When it does you have to deal with it, usually for short periods of time.

Sorry to hear about your broken pipe. My suggestion would be to study your rig’s plumbing and figure out what must be done during long nights of below freezing temps. Running your furnace heat through the duct system is better than just using an electric space heater in the coach. It helps to keep the basement storage area warm and protect it from freeze damage. If you have exposed holding tanks and pipes, consider heat tape. A light bulb in the plumbing compartment can often prevent a disaster by contributing just enough heat to keep things from freezing up.

When you are feeling cold and despondent, turn on the weather channel and watch people commuting to work on the Dan Ryan in Chicago at 10 below. It will make you feel warm all over.
—Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink