Bus Maintenance and Best Friends

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Georgia cotton everywhere!

After leaving Asheville we headed southwest for Georgia. Wendy wrote up our adventures on the Silver Comet Trail in the previous post. From Rockmart, GA we had a short (20 mile) drive to visit our good friends Howard and Ellen Best.

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Max, Ellen and Howard.

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Max is very cute, as you can see. He’s friendly, loves pets, climbs ladders and catches squirrels, rabbits and leaves.

Howard has been my bus guru since we met in 2009 and what a wealth of knowledge and wisdom he has to share! He loves to share his knowledge of the RV lifestyle and he knows buses as well.  When I have a particularly vexing problem, I call Howard. He’s always got a suggestion and he’s always right! Well, I had a short list of ‘issues’ that needed attention on the bus and since we were in the vicinity, we arranged a visit.

Howard and Ellen live in their bus 24/7 year round. When they aren’t on the road, they park at their new bus barn in Georgia near their children and grand-children. Howard is always juggling several project besides helping his son in his trucking business, but I knew he’d put that aside to give me a hand. He’s a gem.

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Our parking spot at Howards place.

I’d noticed that whenever I try to plug the bus into a GFI outlet for a little power, the GFI would trip. Now that alone is not a major problem, but presents a nuisance if we’re parked at a friends house or in a park protected by GFI outlets. Up to this point, I’d worked around the issue by wiring in a standard receptacle or finding an unprotected outlet or just doing without. I knew, however, that sooner or later I’d regret not correcting the problem and most RV park owners would not appreciate me taking their electrical pedestal apart. Besides the future embarrassment and/or  inconvenience, tripping GFI outlets also pointed to potentially more dangerous problems with the bus wiring. So I resolved to find it and fix it. I just didn’t know how to chase it down, so when I described the problem to Howard, of course, he knew exactly what we needed to do.

It only took us two and a half days to find the problem!

Without getting too deep into the gnarly details of RV wiring, I suspected from postings I’d made on the bus forums that I had either a neutral-ground bonding problem or a ground fault or both inside the bus wiring. RV’s AC wiring code handles the neutral and grounds a little differently than your standard brick and mortar home. It’s important that it be done correctly so you don’t accidentally electrocute yourself or someone else by inadvertently making the chassis and shell of the bus ‘hot’!

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Howard and I run down those pesky grounds and neutrals.

The first thing to do was to check the incoming shore power wiring to be sure the neutral and ground were properly installed – and it appeared that they were. The next step was to test the neutral and ground on each electrical circuit in the bus. Through a tedious process of elimination, we finally found one circuit that seemed to be the culprit! I had a small Makita air compressor in the engine compartment that I use to air up the bus. It was plugged into a GFI outlet. So, we unplugged the air compressor and voila! the GFI did not trip!  Hurray we fixed it! Sorry, not so fast.

I had the inverter turned off, but as soon as I tried to turn it on, the GFI tripped. So we turned our attention to the inverter – assuming that the ground problem must be there. In the process of examining the wiring into and out of the inverter, Howard discovered a bad connection in my transfer switch and purposely yanked the offending wire out. He said ‘you have to fix it now’!

That required a trip to the hardware store and pushed the project into the third day. We got that corrected, but it seemed that the inverter was still causing the GFI to trip. We could find no obvious wiring problem, so Howard told me to call Tech Support for the inverter. After explaining the problem, the tech suggested that we simply try a different GFI outlet! If it still tripped, then the inverter was defective and would need to be serviced. I really didn’t want to go there, but we didn’t think there was anything wrong with the GFI – it was brand new and never used! Well, we gave it a try anyway and IT HELD!

Conclusion: There was noting wrong with my bus wiring. Yea! Somewhere in the air compressor wiring, the ground and neutral must be connected. Simply unplugging it removed that ground fault from the system. The new, never used GFI outlet was defective. So simple, but so much time to find!

Next up was the Aqua Hot. This problem turned out to be a self-inflicted wound – or so I must assume. The AH burns diesel fuel to heat water. It’s a great addition to an RV as you have an endless supply of hot water, you can heat the bus in cold weather and it will also warm the engine coolant on those early mornings when you need that cold, two-stroke diesel to fire up. It works best on diesel fuel, but it will also work on electric.

Now, I’m always making ‘improvements’ to stuff in the bus. So back in the spring I decided I needed an hour meter on the AH so I could keep track of how much diesel it uses. So I did my research and went to work. I just needed to add a couple of small wires to the existing AH wiring harness, run them up to the kitchen and connect up my new hour meter. Simple. NOT! After I got through with that little project the AH didn’t work anymore. Somehow I broke it! Darn, I hate it when that happens. Assuming it must have something to do with the new wires, I took the new wires out and the AH started working again. I decided to postpone that little project for a future date.

Flash forward to a rather cool night in the Virginia hills. We were boondocked and needed some heat. I fired up the trusty AH and went to bed. In the morning I discovered the AH had shut itself down?! So I just flipped it back on and – nada. No AH, no heat, no hot water, no flame, no nothing. So I told Wendy the AH was down and added that to my growing list of chores.

A few days go by and I’ve got time to take a look at the AH. I’ve got my troubleshooting flowchart on the ipad. So I start pulling it apart and testing circuits. According to the flowchart, if it fails a certain circuit test, the control module has failed. Great! Somehow I’ve blown the control box (relays, circuit board, etc.). New ones are $800 #%@*&^#! I find a reman online for half that and place my order. When the box arrives, I pull the AH apart, plug in the new control box and … nothing! It doesn’t work either!

Now, we are moving every few days, so shipping and receiving is complicated to say the least. Nevertheless, I persevere and decide to  return the reman to Nebraska and my old control box to another AH expert in San Diego for testing. Imagine my surprise when I receive emails from both: there’s nothing wrong with either control box – they work just fine for us!

Flash forward again to Howards garage in GA. I decide to tackle the AH once again. I have the reman control box back in my hands so I pull the AH apart, plug in the reman controller and start at the beginning of the flowchart. Still nothing.

Now I do what I should have done a long time back. What did I mess with when I was installing the hour meter. Well I knew I had to have popped a few wire terminals out of their plastic plug connector to install those new wires. Maybe one of those is loose? Sure enough, not only is one loose, I’ve replaced one wire in the wrong position in the plastic plug! So, I fix that loose connection, move the terminal to the correct location the AH starts working. STUPID!

Now I’m thinking – hey, I bet I could get that hour meter working now…

Next project: Howard tells me I need to make some changes to our patio awning so it is more robust in the wind and rain. I’m sold on that idea since we lost an awning to rain back in June (see Storms). We’re headed for south Texas and Howard tells me the wind never stops down there.

Howard has done this a dozen times and he knows exactly what we need to do. One of the critical weak points in an RV awning are the friction clamps on the upper arms that hold the awning roller tube out away from the RV. As the wind blows and the awning rocks up and down, these clamps slip. That allows slack to develop in the awning fabric and eventually it starts behaving like a big horizontal sail. The more slack, the more it billows and pulls and slips. Another weak point are the bottom braces. These braces are adjustable and held in place by a small metal pin that protrudes into a series of holes in the bracket. The problem here is that with enough slack in the fabric the arms start shaking and the pin can work loose. The arm can suddenly collapse and allow even more slack in the fabric! Enough slack and that horizontal sail will just fold the whole assembly up onto the top of the bus. That’s not good as it usually breaks things.

The solution is to pin those upper arms and lower brackets so they can’t move. The upper arms are fairly simple as they are usually deployed to the same length. We simply determined how much extra material we had in the telescoping portion of the arm, made some measurements and drilled a 1/4″ hole through the arm above the friction clamp. A 2″ steel safety pin inserted through the hole ensures that arm will never slip.

The lower arms are a little more complicated because their length needs to be adjustable according to the angle or height desired for the awning. The other critically important aspect is to be sure that one end of the awning is always lower than the other. Keeping the awning slanted sufficiently from one end to the other will ensure that rain will run off the lower end rather than accumulating in the center of the awning – like a big bath tub! That was the mistake we made and I hate making the same mistake twice. After all, there are so many other mistakes to make, why repeat yourself? Life is an adventure.

The idea is to drill just a few holes through the lower brackets to allow a 1/4″ safety pin to be inserted. You don’t want to drill too many holes since you will usually keep the awning at a certain pitch. You just need enough holes to allow you to raise or lower the awning and slant it to one side or the other depending on the layout of your campsite. We decided to go with four holes on each brace: A high setting and a low setting with slant options. Once the holes are drilled, we pitched the awning and set the slant. I couldn’t find 1/4″ x 4″ steel pins at Lowes or HD, so I plan to do some research online.

Well, there you have it! Three little projects completed. One self-inflicted wound healed, the bus is even better prepared for boondocking and we have an awning that should stand up to that southern Texas wind.

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Howard directs us out of the compound.

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I’m just really glad to know you!

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2 comments on “Bus Maintenance and Best Friends

  1. When we went through BIG T. noticed how strong that wind was .. Very surprised made our little Jeep jump around. etc. love to both. Cherie

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