Snowbird Safety Towing Checklist

The Freightliner Chassis Owners Club had an article in their Winter 2017 publication of RV Soul on the importance of having a towing checklist. They credit the list to Blue Ox, a company that specializes in products for motorhome owners to flat tow their vehicles.

Here is the list:

  • Inspect the tow bar, dolly or trailer for loose bolts and worn part – tighten or replace before hooking up. If you have bolts that are consistently coming loose, use Loctite® or put on a double nut to keep them tight.
  • Hook up on a flat, smooth surface.
  • If you have a coupler-style tow bar, check the fit of the coupler on the ball. Adjust if necessary.
  • Hook up the tow bar.
  • Set up the towed vehicle’s steering and transmission to tow.
  • Check your parking brake to ensure it is off and disengaged.
  • Latch the legs on a self-aligning tow bar.
  • Attach the safety cables. Cross the cables between the vehicles and wrap the cables around the tow bar legs to keep from dragging.
  • Attach the electrical cable and tow brake system connections.
  • Check the function of all lights on both vehicles.
  • Locate your spare key and lock the towed vehicle’s doors.
  • Drive with care and remember your vehicle will be about 25 feet longer while towing.
  • Each time you stop, make sure to check the tow bar, baseplate and safety cables to ensure they are still properly attached. Pay particular attention to the hitch clips and pins that secure your tow bar or drop hitch to the motorhome hitch. Many breakaways occur because a pin clip has been removed and the pin drops out, allowing the toad to be dragged on the safety cables. Check the tires of the towed vehicle to make sure they are not going flat. If you are using a dolly or trailer, check the wheels to make sure they are not hot to the touch. If the wheels are hot, it may indicate a brake or bearing problem.
  • Before you start each day, check the lights to make sure they are working properly.
  • Between trips, clean the tow bar and cables to keep them in good shape. Also, clean and lubricate the tow bar as recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions (usually by applying spray silicone lubricant).
  • Have a checklist. It’s just too easy to get distracted and forget something (like ignition position, emergency brake, breakaway hook-up, transmission in wrong position, etc.).
  • Make sure you have a second key to the tow vehicle. That way you can leave your rig parked and hooked up without having to worry about unlocked doors.
  • Check all the connections every time you fuel up or make a rest stop.
  • Never let yourself be interrupted when hooking up. Keep your mind on your work.

There were a few items that stood out for me. Making sure that we have a second key to the tow vehicle safely stowed. Checking hitch clips and pins. And having a thorough checklist.

I remember reading about Nina and Paul, the couple behind the popular Wheeling It blog, when they had their first RV accident in 2016: their tow car came loose while in transit. They avoided a potentially devastating accident although they did incur a fair amount of damage to their toad and some damage to the rear of their coach. One of the big lessons that they learned through the experience:

More Regular Checks On The Road: It’s possible we could have avoided all this by implementing more checks on the road. When we first hook-up we follow a pretty rigorous process where both of us double-check each others’ work (4x check), so we know without a doubt that the cotter pins were firmly on there when we started driving. But once we start driving we generally don’t check again. In this case we took a ferry (we were stopped for a while) and then had some bumpy driving thereafter and admittedly we did not double-check the tow connections after either of those events. I honestly have no idea if this would have helped (we really don’t know exactly when we lost the cotter pin), but I think that getting into the habit of walking around the rig and doing a double-check of tow connections whenever you are stopped (or things significantly change) is a good idea.

One thing I do think about when getting ready to travel is to treat every trip as a new trip and to be disciplined in running through our circle checks. Sometimes I just want to hop in and get started as quickly as possible. Easy to do in a car. Not safe to do in a large motorhome.

A Super Clean Windshield

The windshield must be clean.

And not just clean. Super clean.

Inside and out.

I always clean the windshield before we start a drive and I always clean the windshield when we set up at our site. There is nothing like a really clean windshield. No haze, no streaks and, for a few minutes into the drive at least, no bugs.

My approach is probably a bit different than most.

I use product from Griot’s Garage: Window Cleaner, Glass Cleaning Clay, Fine Glass Polish, Glass Sealant.

If the exterior windshield requires a major treatment I will clean the windshield, clay it, clean it again, polish it, clean it again and then apply sealant. A final buff and clean and the glass is all good to go. I will usually do a major treatment on the exterior windshield once the sealant is no longer repelling water.

Otherwise, it is regular cleaning of the exterior windshield with the glass cleaner.

The interior of the windshield uses an approach that I took from a ChrisFix video:

Works like magic.

He has another video on how he deals with the outside of the windshield. A bit different from my approach and it does yield a great result.

The RV Geeks use steel wool to clean their windshield. I’m not prepared to try that technique. Some mixed views on that approach in the auto detailing community. But here it is just in case you want to give it a try on a windshield you don’t like.

Washing Our Coach

Lorraine knows this better than anyone.

I like things neat and tidy.

Whenever we travel, whether it is in the car or in the coach, clean is good. Especially the windshield. But preferably the entire vehicle.

And I am also fussy — in case that wasn’t clear yet — about the products I use on the finish of either the car or the coach. I hate scratches and swirls in the finish. I want to keep the finish looking like new.

Relatively easy to do with a car.

Very difficult to do with a coach.

Unlike the picture above, not every place we take our coach has a resident detailing service.

But I have found something that I hope Lorraine might add to the Christmas list this year. Something that we can use to make the task of keeping our coach clean much easier.

I already have the tools I need to wash the coach. The big challenge is how to dry the coach. Particularly if it is outside in the sun.

David Bott of Outside Our Bubble fame, put together this video on how to keep a motorhome clean using the CR Spotless water system.

The products are available in Canada through one of my favourite online detailing retailers, autoobsessed, right here.

CR Spotless offers a couple of packages specifically for motorhomes including this luxury package:

Don’t panic Lorraine. There is a basic version for about $500.

Air Conditioner Drainage Problem

If you are having trouble with the runoff from your air conditioner spilling over the top of your Dutch Star, then this might help.

Ever since we purchased our Dutch Star, we have had an issue with the front air conditioner. It would spill water on each side of the front cap. On the driver’s side, the runoff from the air conditioner would drip over the windows and leave nasty water marks that were really difficult to remove. On the passenger side, the runoff from the air conditioner would drip down both sides of the door and leave really nasty water marks on the finish.

Whenever it rained, water would run down from the roof on the front cap and, yes, you guessed it, leave nasty water marks.

I had read that it was important to keep the roof of the coach clean to prevent streaking. After sealing the roof in July, the front windshield stayed clean after a rainfall. But it did not make sense to me that the runoff from the air conditioner would spill over the rain gutter on top of the coach. Surely there must be a drain?

When the folks from Superior Coach Detailing did the wash and wax, they told me that they would remove debris from the drain gutters on top of the coach and that should allow the runoff to drain properly.

Well, there was a bit more to the problem than cleaning out the drain gutters.

It turns out that the Dutch Star has four drains from the gutters on top of the coach. On our model, two of them are located on each side of the front cap and two of them come down on the passenger side of the rear cap.

This is what the drain looks like:

It consists of a drain tube that is roughly an inch or so in diameter. That drain tube terminates with a pinched rubber hose which you can see in the picture above. I guess they pinch that part of the drain to prevent critters from crawling up the drain pipe.

For whatever reason, my front drains were not only pinched but they were put at a right angle and inserted into the overhang of the bottom of the front cap. So, much like crimping a garden hose, nothing was draining out of the tubes. The drain tube would gradually fill up, the rain gutter would gradually fill up, and the runoff from the air conditioner would spill out over the sides of the coach leaving nasty water marks.

I crawled under the front cap and straightened out the down tubes. A significant amount of water was then released immediately. Perhaps I should not have been as close to the down tube when that happened. The water did not taste very good at all.

And now? No runoff from the air conditioner spilling out over the top of the coach. The runoff drains through the down tubes as it should.

I’ve been told to check the drains at the top of the coach for any debris that might interfere with channeling the water from the roof to the ground. That makes sense.

And I’ve been told to check the pinched rubber hose to ensure that water is flowing freely through the down tube. And that makes sense.

Some people will even use an air compressor to blow out the drain pipe to clear any potential blockages. I would be very careful with that procedure and use very low air pressure as the drain tubes do not look that robust.

And, of course, none of this will be found in any manual for the coach. Thankfully there are forums like iRV2 to find some insight.

Girard Awning Stuck?

Your Girard awnings won’t extend? They won’t retract? Are they stuck hanging outside your coach?

That happened to us a few days ago. And the solution for our coach was not something that you will find in a manual.

I was doing some outside work on our 2016 Newmar Dutch Star 4002. It is equipped with the Girard Nova Awnings.

Everything looked fine.

I went inside the coach and pressed the “IN” button to retract the awnings.

The awnings began to retract and, about halfway through the process, they stopped. They were stuck.

The awnings were partially deployed. They would not go in. They would not go out.

What could be wrong?

I did the usual: read through the manual, jumped on the Girard website, searched Google. And, after a few hours of floundering, I gave up and called the service manager at our dealer.

He knew exactly what to do.

Inside one of our bays are two Girard control devices. Our service manager called them “turtles”.

They look like this:

These two are working normally because the two indicator lights at the upper left are on. Not sure why the Girard engineers chose red LEDs as the normal condition light indicator. Wouldn’t a green LED indicator make more sense?

When our awnings became stuck, both those lights were off.

If you follow where they are plugged in, you will find something interesting marked on the outlet:

Well, look at that! They are plugged into a GFCI protected circuit.

Important to note: they are not plugged into a GFCI outlet. The plug is tied to a GFCI outlet. There is no reset button at this plug. We had to go hunting for the GFCI  outlets elsewhere in the coach.

Our service manager asked us to reset two GFCI outlets. One in our kitchen galley and one in our small washroom mid-coach.

He suspected that there was some kind of voltage issue that caused the GFCI circuits to trip. One of the awnings was tied to the GFCI outlet in the kitchen, the other was tied to the GFCI outlet in the small washroom.

Finding said GFCI outlets is a bit of a trick.

In our case, the GFCI outlet in the kitchen was directly underneath one of the top row of cabinets.

You can make out the two buttons in the middle of the GFCI outlet. It takes a bit more work to press reset than I expected. There is quite a bit of travel and you have to really press down.

The reset button for our outlets is in the top position. The other button is a test button. If you press that one, the outlet may not reset.

In the small bathroom, the GFCI outlet was located inside our medicine cabinet.

We tested both of those outlets to make sure they were working before heading back down to the bay which holds the two Girard “turtles”. The indicator lights on the Girard controllers were back on.

Pressing the “IN” button retracted the Girard awnings. Success.

Filed under “Not in the manual” and “The things they don’t tell you about maintaining your coach”.