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.

What Does That Switch Do?

So many switches. You probably have a few hanging around your coach that you haven’t fully explored yet. Like us. Three years into our current coach and I am still learning about the various systems. Today we will take a look at some switches found on the Oasis Remote Operating Panel.

In our coach, this is what that panel looks like.

Looks like Oasis elected to remove one of the switches and they were too cheap to run a different plate. We can safely ignore the ENGINE PRE-HEAT switch. We don’t have that one.

But we do have two other switches: BURNER and AC HEAT.

The BURNER switch is a simple off-on toggle switch. The AC HEAT switch is a three-way toggle switch.

Here is what the Oasis manual has to say about these particular switches:

Activating the Burner (Primary) and AC Heat (Secondary) from the Remote Operating Panel

Activating the Burner (Primary Heat Source)

The burner switch on the Remote Operating Panel controls the ON/OFF of the diesel burner (primary heat source). When the burner switch is turned ON, the diesel portion of the OASIS Heating Module will turn ON after ten seconds. The Burner LED will turn ON when the diesel burner has been activated. The burner will continue to operate until the coolant in the OASIS Heating Module reaches the set operating temperature range. At this point, the diesel burner will turn OFF. If the OASIS Heating Module coolant should cool down below this temperature range, the burner will again commence firing and will continue until either the burner switch on the remote panel is turned OFF or the temperature range is again achieved. If the burner switch on the remote panel is turned OFF, the burner stops and the OASIS Heating Module enters a two minute cool down stage prior to completely shutting down.

Activating the AC Immersion Element(s) (Secondary Heat Source)

Place the AC power switch on the Remote Operating Panel to either the one element or the two element position. The AC Heat (green) LED will turn ON indicating the AC element(s) are energized and the coolant is being electrically heated. They will continue to operate until the coolant in the OASIS Heating Module reaches the set operating temperature range. At this point, the elements will turn OFF. If the OASIS Heating Module coolant should cool down below this temperature range, the AC elements will again be energized and will continue until either the AC switch on the remote panel is placed in the OFF position or the temperature range is again achieved. If the AC element switch on the remote panel is turned OFF, the AC elements are de-energized and the AC Heat (green) LED turns OFF.

Activating the Burner and AC immersion Element(s) Jointly

Turn the burner switch ON and place the AC power switch on the Remote Operating Panel to either the one element or the two element position. The Burner and AC Heat (green) LED’s will turn ON indicating the diesel burner and AC element(s) have been selected.

Oh, and one other pointer a bit later in their documentation:

Activating the Domestic Hot Water

As long as heat is available in the OASIS Heating Module, the Distribution Module will respond to a call for domestic hot water. Ensure that a heat source has been selected (i.e. Burner, AC, Engine). The production of the domestic hot water is continuous on the Burner operation and limited when using AC or Engine.

All clear?

It took me a bit of research to understand when you might use the BURNER versus the AC HEAT and, for that matter, when you would use both.

Here then is how we use these particular switches.

If we are connected to a 50 amp service in cold weather and we want to heat the coach using the Hydronic heat system then turning the BURNER switch ON and turning AC I & AC II switch ON is our best option. Diesel fuel packs a lot more punch over electricity in terms of making heat. The AC I & AC II will reduce the draw on diesel fuel.

If we are connected to a 50 amp service in a mild to warmer climate, then turning the BURNER switch OFF and using AC I & AC II is usually our best option. Sufficient to keep the domestic hot water hot for light duties (e.g., washing hands, doing dishes). When we want to ensure continuous hot water, say for a long shower, we can turn the BURNER switch ON a few minutes before the shower and turn it off after the shower is finished. Keeping the BURNER switch OFF means less noise for our neighbours. Whenever the BURNER switch is left ON the diesel burner will periodically run. It is surprisingly loud. Especially at night.

If we are connected to a 30 amp service then turning the BURNER switch ON and using AC I is usually our best option.

If we are paying for electricity then we have to calculate the tradeoff between burning diesel fuel for heat against the cost of using electricity. In warmer climates we are likely ahead to use electricity over diesel.

What Does That Button Do?

Buttons. Switches. Dials. Your coach has quite a few of them, seemingly placed everywhere and sometimes placed randomly. We have them on the front dash, hidden behind cabinet doors, on the walls of the coach, buried deep within the basement bays, and inside the engine and generator bays.

Some of these buttons, switches and dials remained a mystery to me for years. Over the next week or so, I will unravel a few of those mysteries. Some were relatively straightforward to decipher. Others not readily apparent. Consistent with the RV industry code of conduct, most were undocumented or left to the owner to figure out.

Today, we will start with an easy one. Ready?

What is HYDRN HTR FAN HI OFF LOW?

That is the label found on one of our many dashboard rocker switches.

For years, this rocker switch was never touched. I knew it was there. But I never knew why it existed.

We have three sources of heat for our coach. We have heat pumps mounted on the roof, we have heated flooring and we have hydronic heat. The heat pumps and the floor heat operate with electricity. The hydronic heat consists of loops placed throughout the coach. These loops contain a fluid that gets heated by the Oasis boiler using diesel fuel. And fans behind the loops blow air into the cabin. The air passes through the heated loops and distributes the heat. I thought that all of the fans operated automatically. One fan does not.

The heat pumps and the floor heat would never warm the front entrance of the coach. But the hydronic heat will if a fan gets turned on.

The HYDRN HTR FAN HI OFF LOW rocker switch controls the hydronic heater fan located under the front dash. The hydronic heat would need to be selected on our Dometic thermostat and then the rocker switch can be used to turn the fan on or off.

The hydronic heat source is not identified as HYDRN or HYDRONIC on the Dometic thermostat. That would make things too easy for an RV owner. Rather it is labelled on the Dometic thermostat as “FURN” presumably short for “FURNACE”.

Note the letter “R” looks more like the letter “P” with a dangling right leg. Gotta love the obsolete technology that Dometic is using to control the interior climate of our coach.

They could install thermostats like this one but the RV industry is so slow to innovate and embrace current technology.

HYDRN HTR FAN HI OFF LOW demystified.

Another button to be demystified tomorrow.

Lessons Learned From Buying An RV

Almost three years ago now. That was when we picked up our brand new, 2016 Newmar Dutch Star 4002. We had ordered the coach in October of 2015. It went through the production line sometime in March of 2016 and then Newmar delivered it to the dealer on or about April 25th. The dealer had to do the PDI work on the coach. We had to get our commercial driver’s license. And finally, on June 2, 2016, we came out to pick up our new home.

With three years under our belt, we can make a few observations about what we learned from buying an RV. I’ll give you a few of the harder lessons that we learned through the process. And, if you are in the market for an RV, watch the video at the end of the post. We learned a few of those lessons for the first time ourselves.

Don’t buy new. Unless you really, really want to.

To which I might add, don’t buy new using Canadian dollars, or, if you can, wait until the value of the Canadian dollar improves. A new coach, although a wonderful thing, is not a practical financial decision. Actually, the whole RV lifestyle is not very practical when you are running a new diesel pusher.

A new coach is an asset that will plummet dramatically after the first year. And the second. And the third. After four or five years it might level off a bit. A new coach will have all sorts of issues that might take longer than the ridiculously short warranty period of one year to shakedown. After three years with the coach, we think we have most of the initial shakedown issues resolved.

A far better approach is to find a gently used and well maintained model. Sure, it might be a few years older but you will likely be able to purchase “higher” in the model range by taking advantage of the steep depreciation curve and you might well enjoy a coach that has had most of the initial bugs worked out.

Things won’t work.

It seems counterintuitive when you spend a lot of money on a coach that things in your motorhome either don’t work or stop working soon after you take it off the lot. Something will always be going wrong with a coach. Always. You can count on it. The sooner you come to terms with this truth, the sooner you can relax and enjoy the experience of trying to resolve the things that no longer work.

This is especially true when you buy a new coach.

We are always running into people who are upset with their new purchase. They may have spent upwards of a million dollars or more on their coach only to find that they have numerous issues. In one case, we spoke with a couple that had purchased a brand new motorcoach and they had over 75 items that were either broken or not working. They were livid, visibly stressed out and thoroughly disappointed with their purchase.

There is no J.D. Power equivalent to guide you through the dark side of the RV industry. Certain manufacturers stand out largely due to word of mouth and not due to any formal data gathering methodologies.

“You must choose. But choose wisely, for as the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” — the Grail Knight, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

We are still very happy with Newmar. It has been a great choice for us.

Not much innovation.

Despite being only three years old, most of the systems in our coach seem to be stuck in a pre-technological age. Part of this seems to be a desire to force upgrades. The newer models offer an incentive to trade. Look! We finally introduced a built-in tire pressure management system! Look! We finally introduced a 360 camera view! Look! We finally introduced collision avoidance! Trade in your obsolete coach and get all of these exciting new features!

Except that there are numerous gaps in how a coach could be improved. Even with the new models.

For example, the electrical systems are not integrated. They are not “smart”. They do not talk to each other. I can’t use a single panel or my smartphone to control things from one location like my motorized shades or my awnings or my door locks or my heating and cooling. Each one of those systems are independently controlled with their own independent remote controls strewn throughout the coach either on a wall or in a cabinet.

Sure, there are some coaches that offer integrated systems. They tend to cost a lot more money.

The cost of a tablet? A few hundred dollars. The cost of opening up the APIs for software control of the electrical systems? Nominal. But the RV industry is very slow to innovate.

The things that you might take for granted in the operation of a car are oddly absent in most coaches. Like setting the cruise control and incrementing the speed up or down a notch. Nope. Can’t do that. Or like setting a memory for the mirrors and seat adjustments. Nope. Can’t do that either. How about integrating things like supplementary braking systems? Nope.

Expensive to operate.

Coaches are not like cars. Repeat that until it hits home. Coaches are not like cars. Servicing a coach is far more expensive than servicing a car. At one level, this is common sense. Larger engines require more oil. Larger frames require more lubrication. Larger machines require more fuel.

And then this remarkable insight: you have a house on wheels. All of the maintenance costs that you would typically associate with a house? Yes. You have to include those costs with a coach. Everything from satellite systems, hot water systems, air conditioning systems, household appliances and plumbing. All of those items require maintenance.

It is relatively easy to research the cost to operate a car. We have an SUV. The cost to operate is, on average, $12,000 per year. That includes costs for fuel, insurance, parking, service, depreciation, tires.

We have a Newmar Dutch Star. The cost to operate? The dealer won’t tell you. The manufacturer won’t tell you. The RV industry won’t tell you.

You will find out once you start operating your coach.

The trucking industry pegs the cost of operating a truck at about $1.70 per mile.

I think that might be cheap compared to operating a motorcoach.

The floor plan is everything. Almost.

If you are going to be spending a lot of time in your coach, think very carefully about the floor plan. We knew that we had to have a floor plan with two bathrooms and a king bed.

What do we wish we knew when we placed our order? That adequate storage is a really big deal. Can you live out of a 40-foot coach? Yes, absolutely. Can you live out of a 35-foot coach? Some people do. Would a 45-foot coach provide more room? It sure would.

Love your floor plan.

And make sure you have enough storage.

Buying a new coach in Canada is not easy.

The dealers are few and far between. The ability to negotiate price is limited. The devalued Canadian currency makes the purchase far more expensive than it should be.

The person selling you that coach has likely never lived the RV lifestyle. They probably do not even own a coach. You may well know more about the model than the person selling it to you. There will be limited help in terms of learning how to use the various systems.

In a way, you will be on your own when you buy your coach. The dealer will not be there to hold your hand as you learn how to operate a pretty complex system.

It really helps to have a technical and a mechanical mindset. Dealers in Canada often struggle with service. Too many coaches, too few service bays. The sooner you learn how to troubleshoot your own problems, the better. Sometimes you need help though. And often the best source of help is within the RV community and sometimes with the original vendor of the system that might be causing you grief. For the really major issues, there is always the factory and the chassis manufacturer.

We love the RV lifestyle and we are having an awesome time in our coach. We have made so many wonderful friends on the road and we so enjoy having our home with us wherever we travel. These are lessons that we have learned along the way. More lessons to learn in the future.

This video offers a light-hearted and insightful perspective on RV sales.

A Tale Of Two Currencies

Watch those fees. When spending money in another country, merchants, banks and credit cards all conspire to take their pound of flesh. Even if it doesn’t look that way.

This is true for anyone travelling to a different country. You may be spending more than you expect. In some cases, a lot more.

I’ll share with you how we deal with just two currencies, the US dollar (USD) and the Canadian dollar (CAD). Keep in mind that it can be much worse when travelling through Europe.

Let’s look at credit cards. I use two. An American Express card and a MasterCard. I pay a steep membership fee for the American Express card. As a retired bank executive, I am provided a MasterCard without any fees.

American Express makes the following statement in their cardholder agreement concerning foreign exchange:

All foreign currency charges have been converted into Canadian dollars on the date we processed the charge. Non-U.S. dollar charges have been converted through U.S. dollars, by converting the charge amount into U.S. dollars and then by converting that U.S. dollar amount into Canadian dollars. U.S. dollar charges have been converted directly into Canadian dollars. Unless a specific rate was required by law, the American Express treasury system has used conversion rates based on interbank rates (selected from customary industry sources) from the business day prior to the processing date, increased by a single conversion commission of 2.5%. Any charges converted by third parties prior to being submitted to us have been at rates selected by them.

Two important notes here. The first, American Express applies a single conversion commission of 2.5%. The second, third parties can select a conversion rate. And that rate will not be the interbank rate. For example, a U.S. tourist may purchase an item at a Canadian retailer and that retailer may well post a conversion rate that is much less favourable than the interbank rate.

Most U.S. retailers will not accept Canadian currency. Canadians will either charge their purchases on their credit card or use American currency that they purchased at a bank or at a currency exchange storefront.

What will I see on my American Express statement when I make a charge in U.S. currency?

Only one entry: an exchange rate conversion. There will not be any breakdown of that conversion showing their commission charge nor their markup on the interbank rate. More on that in a moment.

What about my MasterCard?

Well, as a savvy Canadian Snowbird, I carry a U.S. MasterCard. All transactions are conducted in USD and I settle my balance with USD. The way I do that is by moving CAD from one of my Canadian accounts into a Canadian USD account. I then pay my U.S. MasterCard with funds drawn from my Canadian USD account. Because I am a retired bank executive, I receive a favourable rate to convert from CAD to USD.

Here is the difference taken from two transactions last week.

I transferred CAD to my USD account to pay my U.S. MasterCard. My conversion cost: 1.3335 and no handling charges.

On the same day, I had a small USD charge hit my American Express account. My conversion cost: 1.37091. Removing the 2.5% conversion commission, I paid 1.34591 or an additional 1.2% on the foreign exchange over my transfer of CAD to USD. A total premium of 3.7% for this specific example.

Even for those cards that waive the single conversion commission, usually between 2-3%, you may still be paying more than you might expect for the currency conversion. Or, if you happen to have a currency which is trading at a premium, you may not be getting the best value from your currency.

For us, it really pays to watch how we spend our CAD when in the United States.

Here are a few examples based on the interbank rate as I write this post.

$1,000 USD would cost me $1,335.14 CAD if I could get the interbank exchange rate. To get the interbank exchange rate, I would need to buy a minimum of $5 million USD. The interbank exchange rate changes moment to moment.

$1,000 USD would cost me $1,363,50 CAD if I purchased USD from a retailer like a Canadian bank. The retail rate can vary but in effect it is a spread added to the interbank rate to account for market movement between when a client transaction is completed and when a set of of small amounts can be aggregated and traded on the interbank market. Like the interbank exchange rate, this quote changes moment to moment.

$1,000 USD will cost me $1,370.40 CAD if I were to charge it on my American Express. Yikes. That is another $35 CAD added to the interbank exchange rate.

Foreign exchange costs can really add up. And, to make things even more challenging, the rate that you pay may not be the rate in effect of the date of the transaction.

In our case, if we pay the U.S. MasterCard at the end of the month, the cost of the currency is the rate on the day that we moved the money from our CAD account to our USD account. That rate could be better, or worse, than the rate of the purchase date.

Look at how much movement occurred in the past 30 days:

Aside from peering into my crystal ball to find the date for the best price of CAD, there is absolutely no way for us to optimize our foreign exchange costs based on market prices. Too much volatility in currency.

All we can do is understand our opportunities to manage the conversion costs. Based on our living expenses for six months in the United States, currency conversion fees can really add up.

Before retirement, we spent at most a few weeks at a time in the United States. The delta in currency fees back then wasn’t all that material.

As Canadian Snowbirds, well, it is expensive enough taking such a hit on the value of our loonie in the first place. To wind up paying an extra 3 to 5 percent on needless currency exchange fees over a six-month stay is unwise.