Spontaneous Combustion

It is a type of combustion which occurs by self-heating (increase in temperature due to exothermic internal reactions), followed by thermal runaway (self heating which rapidly accelerates to high temperatures) and finally, autoignition.

Can a motorhome experience spontaneous combustion?

Looks that way.

An owner of a 20-year old Newmar Dutch Star posted the remains of his coach after it had caught fire sometime during the evening on Mother’s Day.

Here is a photo of what a 2000 Newmar Dutch Star should look like:

The owner took this shot just as the liquid propane tank exploded:

Coaches do catch fire. And when they do, they are typically a complete write-off.

No cause for this particular fire has been identified. It started at the front of the coach.

Perhaps the Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS)?

Wheelingit had this post about an ATS that nearly caused a fire. Well worth the read especially if you are running an older coach.

It all started with an electrical burning smell which, as those of you who have ever experienced it know, is a rather distinctive odor. It’s a sign that something is seriously wrong with your electrical system. Either wires are loose or wires are bare, or wires that are not supposed to touch are touching, or the system is being overloaded, and/or something is melting/burning. Either way it’s one of the scariest things you can experience in an RV and it’s not something you want to mess with. Electrical fires TRAVEL and they travel FAST, and it doesn’t take long after one starts before your entire coach is a goner.

Coaches require frequent inspection and continuous maintenance. Especially as they age.

Your Fun Has Only Begun

Some free advice on what to expect when buying a motorcoach (this advice came on one of my social media feeds along with lots of people providing their own perspective):

  1. All are “crap”
  2. Lousy quality is forever
  3. Better be a decent handyman or it gets expensive real quick
  4. An older coach with low miles can be trouble
  5. A used coach usually has issues sorted out

As person after person listed their issues, one person made this observation:

You would think for the price of a bricks and sticks home, there would be better quality control.

To which another person replied:

Your fun has only begun.

A few other quotes:

We purchased a 2019 Dutch Star in June. It’s basically been in service a total of two solid months! We’ve used it only five nights. Does anyone think Newmar will extend the one year warranty since we’ve not had a chance to really test it out?

Er, no. Newmar does provide good customer support and, basically, you own the problem(s). After one year, plan on forgetting about any warranty help from your dealer. Probably best to forget about most Newmar dealers anyway. The factory is your best bet.

They are all garbage. The test is how they service and solve your problems. This is my third Newmar and they all have had many problems.

Sad but true.

This is the biggest piece of garbage on wheels we have ever owned!!!

I take it this person was not enjoying their customer experience.

Both Newmar and Tiffin also seem to subscribe to the QC by customer in MANY stories that I have heard.

Quality control by customer. Probably factored into the selling price of the coach.

And, finally, as I suspect you get the point by now, an excerpt from this editorial found at RV Travel:

ONE BIG DIFFERENCE TODAY is that RVing is suddenly very trendy. Millennials are standing in line to buy one. Most buy cheap ones that will fall apart in five to ten years, if not sooner. Truth be told, some of those entry-level RVs are seriously defective right off the sales lot but need significant work that can take weeks or months. The RV industry announced just this week that the average repair at an RV dealership takes 21 days. That’s just the average.

The overall dependability of new RVs has never been worse. In a reader poll we conducted in 2017, 22 percent of our readers rated the workmanship on their RVs as poor or terrible. That’s one out of five. If that same percentage held true for manufacturers of cars, TVs, bicycles or furniture, the companies would go bust.

The companies do not go bust. Except during severe economic downturns.

And, with the coronavirus and the stock market going kaboom, we might just see the RV industry facing a severe downturn with layoffs and cutbacks. Quality would likely go down.

Our experience with our coach has been mixed. Every time we start a drive, I pray that everything will work: slideouts, jacks, electrical, mechanical. Pretty much everything on the coach.

I never worry about my car not working.

I’ve spoken with other RVers that have the same apprehension: will the coach work this time?

Watch Those Wipers

I keep a list of things to check on the coach. Things like loose body panels, loose slideout motor mounting bolts, loose bolts pretty much everywhere around the coach. I’m adding a few more loose bolts to check.

The bolts that secure the windshield wipers.

I’ve posted before about the questionable design choices in Class A motorcoaches. In many cases, subsystems within coaches are needlessly complex due to poor design, poor systems integration and poor ergonomics.

A case in point is the lowly windshield wiper system.

Most drivers have figured out how to use the windshield wipers in a car. They are generally situated on a control arm below the steering wheel.

Here is an example:

A lot of functionality packed into a small control module but generally straightforward to use. There is a definite on and off mechanism, some form of intermittent speed control, and a pull to spray windshield wash. Some car makers are even thoughtful enough to include an automatic function that will control the wipers when the sensor detects rain.

Most Class A coaches ignore the automotive approach. The windshield controls are typically embedded in the steering wheel.

Like this one on our coach:

There is an OFF button but how do you turn the windshield wipers on? See that embedded section marked HI/LO? Give that one a try.

It will engage the windshield wipers. There is a trick. Stopping the blades to rest at the bottom of the windshield. Aside from the fact that the windshield wipers do a very poor job of clearing the rain, they will often not return to the bottom of the windshield. You have to time the pressing of the OFF button just so. Perhaps the blades will rest at the bottom of the windshield. Perhaps they will stop in the middle of the windshield. You just never know where they might land when you press the OFF button.

I’m not sure how these coach builders get away with delivering such a poor system.

An added feature of this system is that the wiper arms can break (photo from an owner of a Dutch Star):

The wiper arms are steel and the part that bolts to the motor post is steel but the insert that the arm tightens against is aluminum. The nut that holds it together can come loose and when that happens, the arm will rotate around the insert and the arm might snap off, or, you could get lucky and the arm will wrap itself around some part of your coach.

From this thread on the iRV2 forum I found out that the arms have a torque specification and I have now added this to my list of things to check. Here is an excerpt from that thread posted by an owner of a 2017 Dutch Star:

The passenger side wiper arm came loose while driving in the rain last week (and parked itself around the windshield pillar around the mirror).

I talked to both Newmar and Diesel Equipment about the problem and proper torque seemed to be the consensus. I got a diagram from Newmar Customer Service with the proper torque settings for the bolts. You can also get this from Diesel Equipment if you have the “kit” number for your particular wipers. It is on the wiper motor.

The torque for ours is 65 ft-lbs, which was hard to do with a normal socket wrench on the side of the road, but easy with long torque wrench. Both of mine were loose, so this is just another thing to add to the periodic maintenance check list.

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.

The Job Jar

There is always something. A truth in the world of the Motorcoach owner. Ongoing maintenance and resolving outstanding issues are an integral part of the ownership experience and, if you don’t set your expectations accordingly, then the lifestyle is going to be frustrating.

After completing a journey of several thousand kilometres from Canada to Florida, I expected to have a list. And I do.

Oasis heating system. I’m really not very happy with ITR. They delivered a heating system which included defective pumps and, rather than do the right thing and recall the faulty pumps, they let their customers experience pump failures and then they make them pay an inflated price to replace them. I’ve replaced two of the three pumps. And, predictably, when we needed heat, the third pump failed. I will replace that pump at my leisure sometime over the next few months. We won’t need furnace heat while we are in Florida. Here is one of many threads about the faulty pumps from ITR.

Blue Ox tow bar. Tow bars, at least the one we own, require regular servicing and inspection. When hooking up our coach, I noticed that the coating on one of the arms was flaking and exposing bare metal. The arms were also very stiff in terms of movement. Time for lubrication and a careful examination to ensure that there are no cracks or fractures in the product. RV Geeks shows you how to lubricate the tow bar:

Tank levels. We never cared for the system that Newmar installed on our coach. Tank levels are shown in one-third increments. Not particularly accurate. Less so now. Despite careful maintenance of our tanks, the sensors for the gray and black tanks have malfunctioned. On our list is a replacement of the factory system with the SeeLevel system. Their sensors are externally mounted and the SeeLevel product is far more accurate than the factory system.

In-dash radio. Simply put, I find the Clarion in-dash radio awful. Terrible ergonomics combined with poor sound quality. I won’t use the radio’s navigation system. Time to replace this device.

Tire pressure gauge. I had been using a trucker gauge but it was really off when setting the tire pressure. For example, when checking the tire pressure on our toad, I had measured 33 PSI on the gauge. Our tire pressure monitors, in-vehicle and through the coach’s onboard TPMS, showed 40 PSI. I’ve already crossed this one off the list. I purchased a high-end precision digital tire gauge: Longacre 52-53028 Tire Gauge Digital 0-125PSI. Despite the expense, I have a weird sense of calm knowing that the tire inflation levels are precise.

Air compressor. We have a Porter and Cable air compressor. It is a big beast. Heavy. Loud. And very slow to inflate. Time to replace this one.

Sewer hose. We bought a new one and now it is time to get another new one. They don’t last and Lorraine really doesn’t like the design of the current one. I have been debating getting a SaniCon system.

Network upgrade. I have been using two network environments within the coach. One for the 2.4G and cellular (Winegard). One for 5G (Ubiquiti). Time to consolidate to a single system. I ordered this system from Livinlite. Arrives next week.

Bike carriers. We have a couple of bikes that we need to carry as we travel. Time to get a hitch and bike rack for the toad.

Update checklists. I have comprehensive checklists for operating the coach. Over the past 10,000 or so miles, there are a few revisions that I need to make to the checklists.

There is always something.