Time To Go

Whenever a guest tells me that it is time to go, I always worry about having the discussion. If you own a motorhome, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Flight attendants have a similar routine, carefully explaining to their passengers how to secure themselves in a seat almost as if no one has ever used a seatbelt before. Is it really necessary to demonstrate how to operate a seat belt? Airplane seatbelts operate differently from car seatbelts. In the event of an aircraft accident, post-accident studies have shown that passengers will often try to release their seatbelt as if they were in a car, by reaching for a non-existent release button. Hence the pre-flight walkthrough.

We have to do something similar in our coach.

You can’t just go when it is time to go. You need a pre-flight walkthrough.

Why?

Because RV toilets are not like other toilets. They are different.

And, since they are RV toilets, well, they will develop issues like most other equipment in a coach. Someone told me that it is due to the MTBOSM (Mean Time Between Oh Crap Moments — or something like that). MTBOSM fully applies to the latest issue in our coach.

Yesterday, someone found that it was time to go. After the time to go had passed and went, the RV toilet would not flush.

The main difference between an RV toilet and a residential toilet is the electronic flush. There is a button that needs to be pressed to activate the flush. There is no flush handle. If the button is pressed for too long then it will change how the toilet flushes. Even finding the flush button on the panel can be challenging. The RV industry likes to create panels for operating toilets that no reasonable human being would understand without an instruction guide.

Take a look at the panel in our coach:

What on earth is up with that design?

An instruction guide? Of course.

In the Dometic operating manual, which you can download here, they do not tell you how to flush the toilet. I mean, why would you? The panel is self-explanatory.

Nonetheless, we provide an overview on how to operate the toilets in our coach any time we have a guest that needs to go. Even then, there are often issues with the process.

In this case, the toilet would not flush.

I tried to resolve the issue by pressing the flush button again. All that did was add more water to the bowl.

The problem required a different approach.

Our toilets are macerating toilets. That design is also different from a residential toilet. That design means you have to be very careful about what goes down the hatch, as it were. Even using too much toilet paper may create an issue.

The toilet would not flush yesterday because there was a clog due to the volume of toilet paper.

If you search google about how to deal with an RV toilet that will not flush, you will find a wide spectrum of potential solutions including the removal of the toilet to gain access to the macerator pump.

Fortunately, we were able to dislodge the clog — I won’t go into detail here — without removing the toilet. This restored the functionality of the toilet.

Just one of those MTBOSMs that can happen in a coach.

Resetting the Magnum Inverter

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. After spending five hours to resolve a problem that only required the press of a button.

Such is the state of the technology within our coaches. Documentation is either missing or incomplete. And that was the case in dealing with our inverter issue.

After the “AC Overload” issue happened, I immediately referenced the manual that came with the Magnum inverter. Nothing to be found there on an AC Overload. I called Magnum. They were closed and they would not be open for another 4 hours.

I consulted my good friend, Google. There were so many people that had run into issues with their inverter. Although I did not find a specific reference to our situation, a consistent theme around resetting the inverter as a potential solution emerged.

I consulted the manual again. Here is what it said:

4.4 Performing an Inverter Reset
Certain faults require that the inverter be reset. To perform an inverter reset (also known as a soft reset), press and hold the Power ON/OFF button (see Figure 4-1) for approximately fifteen (15) seconds until the Charging/Inverting Status LED comes on and flashes rapidly. Once the rapid flashing has begun, release the Power ON/OFF button. The Status LED will go off after the button is released.

“Certain faults”? They might be certain but they are not documented in the manual. Perhaps our AC Overload was one of those certain faults? I decided to perform the inverter reset.

Our Magnum inverter is located in the basement of our coach. It is mounted, upside down, between the main support rails of the chassis, in one of our slide out bays. The only way to get in there is to empty out the contents of the slide out and go in, back down, and attempt to work in a highly constricted area. I could barely get my hand into this area of the inverter. Newmar: why oh why did you put the inverter in this location?

It turns out that the reset process may require another button to be pressed. I did not find that out until 5 hours later. It cost me roughly $200 USD to learn that lesson.

I had little recourse but to bring in a mobile RV technician.

He followed all the same steps that I had already performed.

His conclusion? A bad inverter.

My suggestion? Let’s get Magnum on the line and make sure that we haven’t missed anything.

We called them and when we finally got Magnum support on the call, they told us about a second button on the unit. This one, an AC Input Circuit Breaker, marked number 16 in the manual:

When I had first reset the inverter, I had seen this knob sticking out on the other side of the unit. The markings were similar, CB INPUT 30A. It never crossed my mind that I needed to press that button. There is nothing documented in the manual about this circuit breaker. There is nothing to indicate that it needs be reset.

If I had pressed this button, it would have restored the functionality of our inverter immediately.

There are some steps to troubleshoot the inverter problem that I haven’t covered. They involve using a voltmeter to confirm DC power to the inverter and to confirm AC power from the circuit breaker box down to the inverter. I also reset the main controller by unplugging and replugging that component.

When the inverter sensed an AC overload, it somehow lost its way and it needed a reboot including a reset of the 30 Amp circuit breaker. Turns out that there are two circuit breakers for this system. One in the main fuse box and one on the inverter.

To resolve our issue required two button presses. One to reset the AC Input Circuit Breaker on the unit and the other to reset the inverter.

What was the root cause of the issue? I do not know. What created the AC overload issue to occur was the simultaneous use of a Microwave, kettle and toaster being run off the same 15 Amp circuit. That action should only have tripped a circuit breaker. I have no idea why or how it wound up causing an AC overload issue on the inverter.

If something like this happens to you, check with Magnum first. Your inverter may be fine.

Our inverter was fine and everything is now operating as before.

We won’t be running the microwave oven with the kettle and the toaster at the same time on the same circuit in the future.

I will be happy not to see an AC Overload issue again.

Overloaded!

Will this story have a happy ending? I’m not sure. Last night, Lorraine had too many devices active in the kitchen of our coach. A microwave, a kettle and a toaster. Whatever device she turned on last cut AC power to the coach.

No problem. A circuit breaker must have tripped. I’ll go and reset it.

All the circuits were fine. Odd. I went over to the Magnum inverter and it had a red light with the warning “AC Overload” on the display.

Okay. I haven’t seen that before. I cleared the warning light by turning the inverter off and then on again. Still no power though.  I reset the GFCI plug in the kitchen.

Power restored.

But the Magnum inverter was no longer charging our house batteries. Turning the charger on had no effect. We were inverting only. And that meant we were running our AC off the house batteries.

That is not good. We can only do that for a limited period of time.

It was late last night when this happened and I waited until this morning to deal with the issue.

I called Newmar and they walked me through a process to restore the Magnum inverter: reset all GFCI plugs, turn off pedestal power, turn off inverter, engage the battery disconnect. Wait two minutes and reverse the process.

No joy. We could invert — using our house batteries to produce AC power — but we could not charge.

Newmar suggested running the generator.

No joy.

Newmar suggested resetting the inverter.

I emptied out our slideout tray. Laying prone on the tray, I had Lorraine slide me into the underbelly of our coach. For whatever reason, the inverter is located between the rails of the basement of the coach. Very difficult to reach and not very easy to get in and reset the unit.

I reset it by depressing the power button for 10-15 seconds.

No joy.

As I write this post the house batteries are at 11.8V and soon we will be really stuck. The inverter will cut off at around 11.2V and then we will have no refrigerator, no air conditioning, no oven and, possibly the most serious issue, no Internet.

We have a mobile tech coming out this morning. His service call will cost several hundred dollars. If the inverter is bad, that will cost us about two thousand dollars (CAD). Amazon has them in stock and I can get delivery tomorrow plus another few hundred to install.

Sigh. There is always something with a motorcoach.

The lesson of this story: do not run multiple appliances at one time. Plug one too many into your coach and you may fry your inverter and it might cost you a few thousand dollars to repair.

The service tech has another option that he will try before we go down the path of replacing the inverter.

We’ll know in a few hours if that option will work.

Network Redesign

Why is the Internet so bad? A question that I am asked many, many times in our travels. Yes, there are many parks where the underlying WiFi is indeed awful. But a number of parks have invested significantly in improving their WiFi service and yet it doesn’t seem to make much difference for many users.

Getting the best possible Internet does begin with the basics: a good external antenna, a good router and a wee bit of technical knowledge.

I had been running two systems in our coach: a Winegard ConnecT 2.0 and a Ubiquiti AirCube and NanoStation Loco M5. The Winegard provided cellular and 2.4 GHz data. The Ubiquiti provided 5 GHz data. Between the two systems, we were able to keep well connected to the Internet wherever we travelled.

We have over 30 devices in our coach that connect to the Internet and we routinely use several hundred Gigabytes of data a month. The Internet is very important to our lifestyle.

I can live with speeds as low as 7-10 Mbps but prefer to get as much speed and reliability as possible.

I had been planning the redesign of our network in the coach for a few months. Last week, I received all of the new equipment. The equipment will replace the Winegard and Ubiquiti platforms.

One network platform to rule them all.

The router is a Pepwave Max BR1 Mk II. The Pepwave is an advanced mobile router that provides cellular data and WiFi connectivity. The antenna is a Poynting 5-in-1 rooftop antenna. It will receive cellular, 2.4 and 5 GHz signals. I purchased these items from MobileMustHave Mobile Lifestyle Solutions.

In our coach, we have two cabinets for AV equipment. This is our front cabinet:

The cabinet from top to bottom:

Winegard satellite dish interface, Sony Blu-Ray player, Logitech Harmony Remote Hub (for our universal remote), Wally satellite dish receiver (we use Dish TV), video splitters for the two front LEDs, Pioneer AV receiver and an Apple TV.

I will have to rearrange the front cabinet to install the Pepwave router, a Sonos booster for our Sonos speaker systems and a network switch.

I have the Pepwave out in the coach right now along with one of the switches. I have to wait for the installer to come in and mount the rooftop antenna before I redo the front cabinet. Here is that equipment:

When we built the coach, I had Newmar run an Ethernet cable from the front AV cabinet to the rear AV cabinet located in our bedroom.

I have completed all of the new wiring in that rear cabinet. It looks like this:

There are three components in the rear cabinet: an Apple TV, a Playstation PS4 and a Synergy DS916 with 16 Terabytes of storage. There is also an IR extender to control the components in the cabinet with a Logitech Harmony universal remote. You can make out the eye of the IR extender at the top left side of the photo — it is the small black box with a green light.

All of the components are hardwired to a network switch. That switch will be connected to another switch in the forward AV cabinet and that switch which will be connected to the Pepwave.

The forward cabinet network switch will be hardwired to another Apple TV, a Sonos booster, our Wally satellite receiver, and our Pioneer receiver.

The rest of the devices in the coach will connect to the Pepwave over WiFi.

And the Pepwave will get data from at least three sources: WiFi as Wan over 2.4 GHz, WiFi as Wan over 5 GHz and cellular data.

I haven’t settled on a cellular provider as yet largely because we are currently achieving high-speed Internet on the existing WiFi source and I am not in a rush to implement the cellular portion of the new network.

I have done an initial systems test. I wired everything together to test all of the components. And everything worked as expected. Once the antenna has been installed, I will go to work on rewiring and reinstalling the components in the front AV cabinet.

I have the new router programmed to my liking and I am very impressed with the Pepwave router. I have decommissioned the Ubiquiti network and I will decommission the Winegard within another two weeks or so.

Even though I am waiting on the antenna to be installed, I have been using the new router with the paddle antennas.

Seems to be doing well so far.

5th Wheel Or Class A?

It was always Class A. Whenever we talked about our plans to live in an RV during the early part of our retirement, it was always focused on a Class A motorhome. We did look at a few travel trailers, like the Airstream, and a few fifth wheels, but never considered them seriously.

Downsizing does take place within the RV community. More of it than what I thought would be the case. And switching also takes place within the RV community. People switching between the various classes of motorhomes, 5th wheels and travel trailers.

One couple we follow online, Dave and Diane, recently made the switch from a large Class A motorhome to a premium 5th wheel. Dave has a lengthy post describing, quite fairly in my opinion, the pros and cons between the two:

As those of you that follow our blog know, after over 6 years full-timing in 2 different Class A motorhomes we decided to switch to a New Horizon 5th wheel.

With that in mind I started thinking about how many times I see people asking on different forums “which is better for the full-time lifestyle, a Class A or 5th wheel” and how many times the people answering that question have only owned and actually lived in one or the other and can’t possible give a well-rounded answer.

When we are at the Florida RV Supershow in January, I plan to spend more time looking at the various 5th wheel manufacturers.

Would we ever want to live full-time in a 5th wheel or a travel trailer for that matter?

It just doesn’t have the same appeal as a Class A motorhome.

However, if we see a radical shift in the pricing and availability of fossil fuel, we might not have a choice in the not too distant future. I have yet to see any Class A motorhome companies planning, or even discussing, their transition to a greener energy source.