By Mark Nemeth #45776, Escapees Technical Advisor
Water Hose Odor
Q. My travel trailer’s water hose has a strong plastic smell and taste. It is coming from the hose, not the supply line or the internal RV plumbing. How can I clean the inside of the hose, and what is the best way to store it?
A. First, make sure your hose is designed specifically for potable water use; these hoses are usually white with a blue stripe. Standard garden hoses will flavor your water. An old hose may start to impart a plastic odor after a few years of use. I don’t know of any proper way to clean the inside of the hose, so I suggest replacing it with a new potable water hose. I store mine drained, with the ends connected, and always run water through it prior to hooking it up to the RV.
Q. The distress of most older-trailer owners is having inaccurate black- and gray-water tank sensors. I’ve tried multiple tank-flushing remedies, such as detergent mixed with ice and other suggestions, but nothing seems to help. What can I do to guarantee restoring reliable sensors?
A. All RVs come equipped with a monitor system to tell you how much deposit is in your tanks. These systems haven’t changed significantly in the last 30 years, and most still rely on interior physical conductive probes. Below is a simplified diagram of how it works.
Generally, this system works sufficiently for the fresh- and gray-water tanks, but not so well for the black-water tank. Most often, after a year or two, the sensors in the black-water tank stop working. This is due to the probes becoming gunked with solids, which interferes with the accuracy of the monitor.
There are a variety of expensive tank-cleaning concoctions on RV store shelves and just as many home-brew solutions. Some work better than others, but the only permanent fix is to invest in a replacement tank monitoring system. There are a few systems on the market, and they work without probes inside the tank. Several popular systems use capacitance to sense the tank level and simply require a couple of sensors be placed on the outside of the tank body. My black-water tank monitor never worked, even with repeated cleaning, so I ignored it. When I began having problems with the gray-water tank monitor, I decided it was time for a better solution. I purchased and installed a system called Acu-gage. It is amazingly accurate and linear and has worked flawlessly. I’ve installed this system on every RV I’ve owned. Once it’s set up, it works, regardless of how much yucky build-up collects inside the tank. The Acu-gage system is now called the I-series, and can be purchased from www.tankedge.com.
Another option is the SeeLevel system, available from www.rvgauge.com. I have not personally installed this system, but I have friends who are quite happy with it.
Both systems require installation, but if you have average tool skills and can read a wiring diagram, it’s not difficult to install. In most cases, you can reuse the existing tank monitor wiring and mount the new panel near the original one.
Q. Is it okay to engage my trailer breakaway switch by pulling out the breakaway key to lock my trailer brakes while parked in a campground with a nonlevel site? Will this action damage the magnet in my electric brakes if I leave it that way for several days? Also, will it cause my battery to drain quickly and affect my ability to dry-camp for longer periods?
A. It is not a good idea for several reasons. First, the trailer brakes are not designed to be powered constantly, so the magnets may overheat and fail, leaving you with no brakes for the trip home. Also, it is best not to pull out that emergency breakaway lanyard except for an occasional test. When the pin is pulled out, the switch contacts inside the housing are left exposed to the weather. This may cause the switch to become dirty or corroded and prevent it from working if you ever need it to. And, yes, it will drain your house batteries, as that’s from where the power is drawn. An inexpensive set of plastic wheel chocks that are lightweight and easy to stow will do the job.
Q. My RV is a 1999, 28-foot bumper-pull Starcraft with a 14-foot slide, that has been permanently parked. The furnace will not come on. I had an RV repairman check it, and his solution was to add a second thermostat to run the furnace. Then, he said there was no gas in the tank. However, that did not fix the issue. The gas depleted rather quickly, going through a seven-and-one-half-gallon tank in a few weeks for the water heater that is only used on weekends. Is it possible the gas lines need replacing?
A. Your furnace problem could be any number of things. Does the furnace blower run when you adjust the new thermostat for heat? If not, then you may have a 12-V power problem, a problem with the thermostat or a faulty control board. If the blower runs, but the furnace doesn’t light, it could be the gas supply, the furnace control board or one of the interlocks or switches inside the furnace. The best way to figure it out is to have a technician pull the furnace and bench test it. If it works okay on the bench, you know the problem is in the wiring or gas supply. If it fails on the bench, it’s easy to troubleshoot it.
If you think you may have a propane leak, immediately shut off the propane supply at the tank(s) and have a qualified propane technician do a pressure test of the system. Most propane suppliers can do this for you. It is extremely dangerous to have an undiagnosed leak, so do this right away, even if you don’t smell propane. If the pressure test shows you have a leak, examine all fittings and piping until the leak is found. Soapy water in a small spray bottle is a good way to find a leak. It’s usually a fitting.
Q. I have a Thetford manual-flush, side-handle toilet that occasionally leaks where the water line enters at the back. The leaks usually occur when shifting on the seat. Sometimes, shutting the water off for a while or reaching under and pushing the toilet around is a temporary fix, but I am still unable to determine why it is leaking. Would it be acceptable to change out the water supply PEX line to add an inline cutoff and flex reinforced toilet supply as you would with a house toilet? I suspect the line may be a fraction of an inch too short.
A. The pipe may be too short; however, before discussing ways to fix that issue, take a look at the fitting where the water line attaches to the toilet. That connector usually has a rubber washer in it, and if it is torn or has hardened, it can cause an intermittent leak. You can find replacement washers at most stores that sell RV parts.
If the washer isn’t the culprit, I suggest replacing a section of the existing line with a new piece of PEX tubing, a coupler fitting and a new fitting for the toilet connection. You can find the pipe and fittings at most home improvement stores. (Visit www.lowes.com and search “PEX compression fittings.”) These fittings simply slip onto the pipe and require no tools to install. They are also removable, so if you make a mistake cutting the pipe, the fittings are still usable. You can also add an inline shutoff valve. It’s hard to find a residential toilet water-supply valve that will connect to PEX pipe, so it’s best to stay with standard PEX fittings.