Tuesday, October 27, 2015

RV smoke signals

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We were recently at a commercial RV park in Arizona with terrible Wi-Fi reception. We specifically chose this park because it advertised Wi-Fi. We paid for a week before we realized the Wi-Fi was only available if you sat on the bench outside the office.

My husband spent a hundred dollars on some crazy device that was supposed to reach out and grab the signal. It worked to some degree, but I would rather have the hundred bucks than mediocre Wi-Fi.

The park had many permanent residents with a separate internet service. Near the end of our stay a guy came over to talk to my husband. He was trying to figure out if we were getting on their internet and if we had their password. My husband was trying to help him with the password that was given to us by the park office and told him about the receiver thingy he had bought. As the conversation continued my husband finally figured out the guy knew more than he did about this techie stuff. He was actually one of the residents on the separate service and thought we were stealing their Wi-Fi.

I thought it a bit rude for him to come over and pretend he needed help. We can hardly spell Wi-Fi let alone hack into someone else’s signal. I’m sure I had smoke coming out my ears when I realized what was going on, but I held my tongue.

When we left we felt like people had probably been watching us suspiciously for days and treating us like criminals, when we were actually the ones who paid for a service we never received.

I don’t really have a question, I just wanted to let off steam.
--Smoke Signals in Sedona

 Dear Smokey:
Many parks have discovered that Wi-Fi is very important to customers. Putting in an adequate system to cover a park and supply the data is not cheap, but many parks are investing in better coverage. There is no such thing as a “free lunch.” You will often pay more for this service, cable or any other amenity.

Like your husband and many other readers I have tried several signal boosting, long-range adapters such as those produced by Alfa Networks. They work to some degree, but often the park is putting out a weak signal and it is only meant for guests to use at the clubhouse or near the office.

It can be frustrating for those who share a connection with others. If someone is streaming video it can throttle everyone else. Your guy should be looking at members of his own group. I assume they have their network password protected, so someone in his group must be giving it out.

You might want to call ahead or ask more specific questions when you reach a park, before you reach for your wallet. Some parks will use language like, “Wi-Fi Available.” Sometimes that means you can buy short-term service from a nearby provider. Sometimes that means you have to be parked next to the office pointing SE, up on one wheel and hold your computer over your head next to the slideout window.

A Long-Range USB Adapter will only let you see a signal and sometimes tell you its strength. It will not let you access data if it is protected, as most are.

Those little "receiver thingy’s” are great in certain situations, but you can’t count on them all the time.

I met a guy who hooked one up to a Pringles can. It wasn’t working so I told him to try two soup cans and tie them together with a long string. He just gave me the stink eye.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jesse James RV Repair Service

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I know you have covered breaking down on the road in the past. I read your advice carefully. I always wondered how we would fare if we had to deal with a major problem during our several months away from home. At home we are familiar with area service people, or have enough friends for recommendations. On the road it is not so easy.

Now we see, with Amazon’s recent lawsuits, that people can be paid to give online reviews.

We recently had engine problems. We asked people in the park and the management who they would recommend, checked online reviews for those we could, and we still got ripped off.
--So low in Show Low

Dear So low:
Life’s a crapshoot, and an adventure. You can do all the preparation in the world, but sooner or later you have to throw the dice.

I can answer with a personal experience. Just recently our Saturn transmission decided to start shifting with a clunk. Sounded like a sledge hammer hitting a rail spike. We were staying at an SKP Park on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. I could drive it carefully if I stayed in second. When we returned to the park I asked management and a few permanent residents for a recommendation. I went online and read many reviews. My first thought was to find someone local.

I also Googled my problem on several online forums. I made a list of several shops in a 50-mile radius and started interviewing. That’s right, they were going to go to work for me. I wanted someone nice, polite, competent and honest.

Everyone I talked to seemed to fit the bill. They were all nice, polite, seemed competent and all had the same diagnosis.

From my online studies it sounded like the transmission valve body needed replacing. Everyone I talked to seemed to agree. I finally made a couple choices and decided to haul the car to the transmission shops with the motorhome. I picked two places about 40 miles away in close proximity to each other. If I didn’t like the first one I could move on for a second opinion.

The first guy was really nice. Took the car in immediately, ran the electronic codes, test drove the car and told me I needed to have the whole transmission rebuilt. He had so many code errors my car should have died three years ago. For just under three thousand bucks he could have me back on the road in about a week.

That’s when it hit me. Railroad employees always used to say that Jesse James was nice and always polite, but he still took all their money.

I paid them $52 for their advice and moved on. When I was leaving the guy said, “Reverse doesn’t work very well.” I said, “That’s okay, I’m not coming back.”

By the time I hauled the car to the next place it was four o’clock in the afternoon. I was hoping they could at least take a look at it before they closed. It was at a business called Tranco Transmissions in Port Angeles, Washington. It looked very clean and organized. In fact, I think you could eat off the floor.

They brought me right in, and let me watch them as they plugged the code reader into my car.

Surprise! There were no error codes.

They said that 95% of the time it is just the valve body gone bad. They could order one (out of state) and have it there by the next morning. With the hour they had before closing they could have the old one off and ready for the new one in the morning. I would be “Back on the Road Again” for $752.

I pulled the trigger, “Let’s do it.” Went out for Chinese dinner, spent a quiet, beautiful night in Olympic National Park and the car was ready for pickup by nine o’clock the next morning.

My old Saturn is now purring like a tomcat in a creamery.

It pays to be a little suspect. Stories do not always have a happy ending, but if you go through the motions, control your emotions and dial out all the commotions, you have a better chance than being treated like lambs to the slaughter.

Chalk your recent adventure up to experience and move on.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, October 12, 2015

More power to the RV relationship

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We agree with you and love our solar power setup. However, we are seldom hooked to the grid. On occasion we will get too many overcast days to keep our batteries topped off. When that happens it takes us a long time to recoup even if we plug in.

My husband wants to spend over three hundred dollars for a 35 amp golf cart battery charger. He says it will enable him to quickly recharge our 4--6volt golf cart batteries when we use the generator or plug into the grid. This situation only occurs a couple times a year as we are usually in a sunny clime.

The disagreement is this: I think we should invest those 300+ dollars into more solar panels or more battery storage. My husband is a great guy and knows a lot more than I do about these things. I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all.

Am I missing something, or am I a common sense genius?
--Powerplay in Pahrump

Dear PP:
Don’t pooh-pooh your ideas just because you might be stepping on your husbands expertise.You are getting the “love of power” confused with the “power of love.” The great thing of having a partnership relationship is input.

This question involves many different decisions-- budget, investment, solution and agreement to mention a few. I can’t make the decision for you. You both are on the right track.

A cheap, 10 amp car battery charger is not going to do you much good when your battery bank drops significantly. Most RV converters act as a trickle charger. The fact that you say it takes a long time to recoup suggests your converter fits this category.

In defense of your common sense idea, I would have to agree. If I were going to invest the money, I would rather have panels that were paying me back year-round, than a charger getting me out of trouble a couple times a year. However, adding panels and batteries can be challenging if you do not have the space.

If the two of you decide that the charger is a better option you do not necessarily have to buy new. Using Craigslist in the different locals you travel into will most likely score one that is used in good condition.

I just did a quick Ebay search and saw two at just over a hundred bucks.

If you only deal with this low battery problem a couple times a year, it tells me there is no abuse of power in your household. I think the same can be said for your relationship.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Strapped for RV space

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband and I have a lot of toys. We travel full-time hauling bikes, kayaks, diving gear, golf clubs, tennis rackets, backpacking gear, and now a drone. We look like the Clampett’s going down the road with stuff tied and clamped everywhere.

It doesn’t bother my husband, but I would like to have something a bit more organized. I think we should buy a big motorhome with basement storage, but he likes the unit we have. He argues we have everything figured out with this one. He solved all the storage problems with bungees, and he knows where everything is. I call it his “pile file.”

He now wants one of those fold up boats you tie to the side of the the motorhome. I have been fighting that because every time we put the slides out we would have to dock the boat somewhere else.

I need help Doc, and I need it fast. He is on the computer right now looking at bungees in bulk.
 --Stretched in Stratford

Dear Stretched:
Let me begin with a bumper sticker I saw that said, “He who dies with the most toys WINS!”

It sounds like you two have lots of interests, an active, healthy lifestyle, and a storage problem.

Since you backpack, I’m sure you’ve seen people on the trail with a pack full of gear, and more strapped and tied to the outside that just will not stuff inside. That would be you on steroids. Many people make this work, but the advantages of organizing it all inside under cover are many.

Anything that will fit in, or under cover, will benefit from protection against the elements. That said, basement storage will come with the cost and hassle of switching rigs to gain that organized space. If you pull a toad, you might want to consider something larger with storage capacity, if you haven’t already.

Some people prefer to rent equipment when they visit an area, but that rarely works out for spontaneous activity. It puts you on the rental company’s schedule and geographical location.

You should consider the safety issues involved in tying equipment to every bracket you can attach to on your rig. I have seen rigs going down the road with equipment tied to the roof ladder that made me back way off. Many of these ladders are simply screwed to the frame and not engineered to carry a heavy load.

Bungees can, and often do, fail. How many do you see on the road as you travel?

Weight distribution is also an important safety factor. Some people think they can save on tire wear by strapping a Harley on the rear bumper to keep the front tires off the ground.

Many people start out their RV adventure with a rig that fits their needs at the time. Soon they discover it is too big or too small. Others find they don’t have all the amenities they would like, or it has too darn many.

Your situation is no different. Maybe you should look into a Toy Hauler fifth-wheel. They come with their own garage.

 --Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink