Battery Disconnect Switch

There is one switch in our coach that glows red all of the time. As far as I know, this switch has never been used. Probably because the ominous glare of the red light is so frightening, particularly at night.

Not hard to miss when you open the command panel. A piercing red light beside a switch with the label BATTERY DISCONNECT.

Newmar seems to overlook even the most basic industrial design practices. Newmar elected to use a momentary rocker switch for the battery disconnect. Looking at the switch, the operator will not be able to determine whether the battery disconnect is ON or OFF. The switch stays in the middle position. And what is the purpose of the red light? If the red light is on, does that mean the BATTERY DISCONNECT switch is on? Or is it off?

And why would I need to use the battery disconnect switch?

I have 65 manuals for our coach all digitized in Evernote for easy access and reference. There is but one mention of the Battery Disconnect switch. And this is what it says:

Battery Disconnect Panel

The battery disconnect panel for house batteries is located above or near the entrance door. There are two switches on the panel. The top switch is used to measure the battery voltage. The lower switch is used to disconnect the battery when the unit is stored for any period of time. Pressing downward disconnects the coach batteries, not the chassis batteries. This is done to prevent the coach batteries from being drained during storage. It disconnects all of the 12 volt circuitry from the batteries, with the exception of the LP detector. When taking the unit out of storage, press upward to re-connect the batteries. This will make the 12 volt system ready for use.

Depending on the chassis of the coach, diesel pusher motorhomes may be equipped with a second disconnect switch strictly for the chassis batteries. If equipped, this “Master Kill Switch” may be located in the rear engine compartment. This switch disconnects all power to the coach so that it cannot be started. It is used to prevent accidental ignition when the engine is being serviced.

“There are two switches on the panel.”

There is only one switch for the battery disconnect panel.

“Pressing downward disconnects the coach batteries, not the chassis batteries. This is done to prevent the coach batteries from being drained during storage.”

This is the intended function of the battery disconnect switch. It disconnects the house batteries if you are storing your coach for longer periods of time and when your coach will not be connected to any form of shore power in storage. Pressing down will disconnect the batteries (OFF) and pressing up will re-connect the batteries (ON).

“It disconnects all 12 volt circuitry from the batteries, with the exception of the LP detector.”

We have an all electric coach and we do not have a liquid propane detector. And there is some debate on the forums as to whether some devices still draw power from the house batteries even when the battery disconnect is activated (e.g., smoke detectors).

We have stored our coach for several months over the years. I made sure that we had power to the coach in storage and I would go in and check the water level of the batteries on a regular basis.

A battery disconnect is a simple and safe way to disconnect the house batteries. No need to get out to the battery bay and remove battery leads. It is used when storing the coach without a source of power. It could be helpful for certain types of electrical work although I would prefer to leave that decision in the hands of a knowledgeable electrician.

Top Snowbird Tips and News

Canada’s one-stop resource for snowbirds: snowbirdadvisor.ca. The promise of free and useful information built on a platform for advertising travel-related services targeted at wealthier retired Canadians.

Difficult to get a precise number, although some estimates suggest that over one million Canadian seniors go south to the United States for at least a month or longer. Many will stay three to six months.

Canadians represent the largest international tourist group for the state of Florida. And Canadians are the number one group of international buyers of real estate in Florida. More than half a million Canadians own property in Florida.

Canadians pay cash for U.S. real estate. Very few take out loans.

Canadian snowbirds represent an attractive market for a number of services: insurance, real estate, tax and legal, and destination marketing.

I am a member of the snowbirdadvisor.ca website and I receive regular updates from them. They had recently published an article on an introduction to the RV lifestyle for snowbirds.

The Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association has noticed that retirees are choosing RVs over rental or ownership options when wintering in the United States. There has been a big surge over the past decade in the sale of RVs to the mature market. Over 60% of all Canadian RV buyers are first time buyers.

We were first time buyers. We bought our coach three years ago. Many of our Canadian RV friends did the same as they neared retirement.

The article suggests the following reasons for choosing the RV lifestyle in retirement:

  • Freedom to travel to different destinations each year, or multiple destinations in a single season
  • Ability to leave and return whenever you want
  • Flexibility of schedules and planning
  • Very relaxed lifestyle
  • Your home away from home and your own things are with you all the way
  • Affordability – compared with airline trips, hotels, rentals and vacation home ownership
  • Enjoy the outdoor and camping lifestyle, but with all the comforts of home
  • You can use your RV for summer trips too – or as a cottage

I’d challenge the affordability reason. Yes, if you spend a few thousand on an old travel trailer and boondock for free, your costs will be quite low. For most, the RV lifestyle is just as costly when compared to airline trips, hotels, rentals and vacation home ownership. You have to buy the RV, insure it, fuel it, service it, store it, park it and, when all is said and done, it would be far less costly to rent a condo south for the winter.

The article raised a number of questions. These are my thoughts on those questions.

What types of RVs are most popular for snowbirds?

Travel trailers. They represent the largest number of RV shipments in the industry. Fifth wheels would be the most popular for Canadian snowbirds. We see a significantly lower number of Canadian Class A motorhomes in our travels.

Should you rent an RV before you buy?

No. You should research carefully and thoroughly before you buy. We spent considerable time looking at all of the options, manufacturers, and floor plans. Even then we did not buy the perfect coach. They don’t make one yet.

Should you buy a new or used RV?

Used. The depreciation hit is so significant for Canadians that it is really unwise to buy new. We bought new and we have learned a rather expensive lesson. Next time we will buy used.

How much does an RV cost in Canada?

More than it should. Our government insists on impoverishing its citizens through its policies on taxation and devaluing the Canadian dollar. Roughly 90 percent of all RVs sold in Canada are made in the United States. We pay a premium due to our devalued currency and, of course, we pay taxes on the total purchase cost. The cost of an RV might vary between a few thousand for something quite basic to a few million for a luxury Class A. The question isn’t how much an RV might cost. The question is how much are you prepared to spend on an RV?

What are the other costs associated with the RV lifestyle?

More than you might think. As part of our research we looked into all of the following costs: fuel, park fees, RV insurance, travel insurance, currency exchange, maintenance, storage, extended warranty, coach improvements and accessories, roadside assistance, RV clubs and memberships, entertainment (satellite TV and satellite radio), Internet (cellular and WiFi), tow vehicle and accessories (tow bar, supplementary braking system), license fees, toll fees. Those incremental costs can really add up.

Do you need a special driver’s license for an RV?

Possibly. Rules vary by province and by class of RV. In Ontario, the laws governing license class are based primarily on weight. Our coach exceeds 11,000 kgs and we are required to hold a commercial driver’s license. Our coach has an air brake system and we are required to have a special endorsement for the air brake system on our license.

What are the most popular RV winter destinations?

Snowbirds on the eastern side of Canada tend to go to Florida. Snowbirds on the western side of Canada tend to go to California and Arizona. Last winter we travelled both sides. This winter we will stay in Florida.

We love the RV lifestyle and we wouldn’t change our decision embrace the RV lifestyle. Retirement is freedom and we are loving our time in retirement and living out of our RV.

Your Door Is Ajar

The classic Dad joke: when is a door not a door? When it is a jar.

I know. Let it all out. The groaning and the moaning. All set? Feel better? Okay, let’s continue.

Today’s button is not really a button. It is a door handle. Simple enough. You can open and close the door. Lock and unlock the door. And there is also a deadbolt lock for the door.

That assumes, of course, that the door that Newmar installed works like a door.

It doesn’t.

Many Newmar owners have found themselves locked inside their own coaches unable to get the door to open. It happened to us a few years back. Another wonderful feature of these doors on some models? They can open. On their own. Unexpectedly. Like our awnings. This can bring a bit of excitement to those long, boring drives on the Interstate. “Sorry dear, it appears as though the dog has just jumped out the open door.”

Our door seems to prefer being locked. Even when we want to get out.

We had to learn the hard way that there is a specific protocol that must be used to avoid being trapped within our coach.

Curious to know the magic trick?

First the door handle.

The top latch is the deadbolt. As far as I know, it doesn’t seem to play a role in keeping us trapped inside our coach. The big handle is, of course, the door handle. It suggests that raising the handle will let you out of the coach. And it does most of the time.

Except for when it doesn’t.

The red latch underneath the door handle is the door lock. Sometimes the coach will automatically lock the door when it is begins moving. Not sure if it does that all the time. For example, at a fuel stop, I might pull the coach forward and unlock the door for Lorraine to enter — she usually goes back to pay the fuel bill as I clear the pump area. Sometimes it stays unlocked after she steps back in the coach and we start moving again.

But this one thing I do know. Never, ever attempt to open the door without unlocking it first. If you fail to unlock the door before exiting the coach it may cause the locking mechanism to get jammed which will prevent the door from opening.

This happened to us at a truck stop a few years ago. We pulled in to fuel the vehicle and Lorraine opened the door, assuming that regardless of the state of the door lock, it would just open. If the door was locked, it would unlock and open by raising the door handle. No need to push the red latch up.

Except it didn’t.

The door would not open.

We could not get out.

When this happened, we were really quite stunned. How could we be trapped inside our vehicle? What if there had been a fire at the back of the coach and we needed to get out of the front entrance door in a hurry?

This really poor door design means that if you pull up on the door handle when the door is in the locked position, the locking mechanism could get jammed and you will be stuck, unable to exit the door.

I suspect part of the problem is related to getting an airtight seal for the door. To do so you really have to slam the heck out of these doors. Ask any Newmar owner with a bit of experience. They know that these doors need slamming when driving the coach.

This door slamming technique triggers a secondary latching mechanism which holds the door tight to the frame. And that same latching mechanism can prevent you from getting out. The lock can get stuck in this locking mechanism forcing you to use some brute force methods to get the door to open again.

We spent about an hour on the phone with Newmar that day trying to figure out how to get out of our coach. At one point they even asked us to jump out the emergency door in the back.

No thanks. Getting in and out way back there would be a pretty big jump. No extended ladder for the rear exit was provided for our model year. That feature came in subsequent years.

Ultimately we called a couple of guys over from another fuel lane and with much pushing, shoving and pulling from both sides of the door it finally worked its way open.

The complete story from when it happened back in 2016 can be found here.

Seems a bit funny now. Didn’t seem that way back then.

How to use this door from the inside? Always unlock it BEFORE you open it.

The door does stay put once we are in transit. Only our awnings open unexpectedly now and then although hopefully that particular issue has been fixed now.

The joys of owning a motorcoach.

What Is That Little Red Switch?

I see this question come up frequently on the Newmar Facebook groups and on the Newmar Owner’s Forum on iRV2: what is that little red switch?

I have been posting a bit of a series on the various buttons, switches and controls on our Newmar coach, focused primarily on the more mysterious controls. Some are easy, some are complicated, some are just odd.

Today? An easy one. Mysterious yes, but an easy control.

Here is the little red switch at the very left of our front dashboard:

Newmar often ignores best practice automotive design principles. The switch is not labelled leaving the operator to guess at its purpose. No letters to hint at its function. No symbol to convey its purpose. But the choice of the colour red is an interesting one.

If you press the switch up, presuming the coach is running, the switch lights up. It becomes a brighter red switch.

Red is generally a colour that indicates to the operator that something is wrong. Or that you should stop doing whatever it is you are doing, like aimlessly pressing this particular switch.

If the red light indicates that something has been activated, you won’t know what that something might be as nothing appears to happen. Except, of course, that you made the red switch light up.

Perhaps using this symbol on or underneath the switch might have been helpful:

The defrost symbol is widely used in the automotive industry. Pressing such a switch will activate a defrost.

The little red switch in our coach? It is a defrost switch. The colour red must imply heat and its position beside the mirror controls, also unlabelled, could help the owner to recall its function in the future.

That switch activates the mirror heat.

Another mystery switch resolved.

What A Dump?

Today’s switch can be a bit of a head scratcher. It is labelled TAG DUMP. On our coach it has three options: AUTO, DISABLE, MANUAL.

Most Newmar owners leave this switch in the AUTO position because, like me, they find this switch confusing. To make it even more confusing, the way the switch is described in the Freightliner Chassis Manual is not consistent with the way the switch is labelled in the coach.

Here is the Freightliner rendering of the TAG DUMP switch:

This is what the switch looks like in our coach:

Two different switches. Freightliner describes the operation of the switch this way:

The tag-axle suspension dump switch is operated by a three-position, dash-mounted rocker switch. See Fig. 3.11. The manual TAG DUMP mode is activated by pressing the top of the rocker switch. The AUTO DUMP mode is activated automatically during reverse gear applications when the rocker switch is placed in the middle (level) position. When you depress the bottom of the rocker switch, the tag-axle suspension dump switch is placed in the OFF (down) position, and the TAG DUMP mode is inactive.

Unfortunately, that description does not match the switch that Newmar installed in the coach. When using the Newmar switch the middle position should disable the tag-axle suspension dump and depressing the bottom of the rocker switch should place the tag-axle suspension dump into manual mode.

What is this tag-axle suspension dump in the first place? On our coach we have three axles: steer, drive and tag. The additional axle, the tag axle, provides an increase in the gross vehicle weight rating. The TAG DUMP switch allows an operator to exhaust the air bags on the tag axle which, under certain conditions, may improve manueverability.

In AUTO mode, the tag axle air bags will automatically deflate when in reverse and when the speed of the vehicle is less than 8 mph. There may be certain situations where you might want to manually deflate the tag axle air bags. I have yet to run into such a situation. I always leave ours in AUTO.

There are numerous threads about the TAG DUMP switch on iRV2. This comment from one of the threads probably sums it up best:

This is an issue that has been discussed in this forum before because the description in the Freightliner manual does not agree with the way Newmar has installed it. The Newmar switch does not agree with the Freightliner description as the Newmar switch has 3 positions and the Freightliner only has 2 positions. In my experience none of the above descriptions are correct. The tag will always dump in reverse no matter what position the switch is in. The “off” position does nothing as this is not supported by Freightliner. “Manual” is a toggle switch. Press it once and the tag will always dump when your forward speed drops below 8mph. Press it again and it does not dump going forward.

A group of us had a long discussion with the instructor at Camp Freightliner about this issue and he was baffled that Newmar coaches had a different switch to what Freightliner had supplied. Just play with it and see how yours functions.