Wednesday, February 11, 2009

RV repair story ahead... enter at own risk.

If you don't want to hear my pontificating, please move to the pictures of food below. That is, if anyone besides me is reading this.

For anyone who doesn't know how an RV electrical system works, here is the gist of it. You have a battery in the front of the coach for starting the engine and the general car-style dashboard gizmos. You have an alternative battery that runs the rear of the coach, though I have two because I like redundancy. Those batteries run the 12-volt cigarette lighter jacks for plugging 12-volt things into like TVs or iPod chargers and the lights in the back of the coach. When the engine is running, all the batteries are charged.

When one plugs into camp power, it is the same 120 volts you have running through your home. In an RV, the 120 is used to power standard home appliances that are built into the coach, like an air conditioner (a big one on the roof), a microwave, some outlets in the coach to plug your laptop or hair dryer into, AND a converter that drops the voltage to 12 volts (and rectifies the current to DC) to power all the things those two alternate batteries have been powering. And all the batteries are charged from the camp power instead of the car's alternator.

When you are boondocking (living off the grid), there is a petrol-powered generator built into the side of the RV that generates the 120 volts for you, if you need it. Trust me, you do. There are a whole lot of switching relays involved, too, that allow all this stuff to happen seamlessly.

So, when I am sitting here on me laptop and the lights start flickering off and on, I have about 4569 places to start looking for problems. As it turns out, it was a quiet night when I finally decided to deal with this. It has been going on for a while, now. Turns out, it only happens when I am plugged into camp or home power. Aha! That barely makes the situation any easier. Due to my sharp hearing, I discover that there is an arcing problem in my 30 amp main breaker. In this part of the system, the power is still at 120v and uses Siemens-standard residential circuit breakers. I pop the cover panel off and I can actually see bright blue arc flashes. Which is great... for welding, but no so great for your RV.

First thing to do is take the 30A breaker off and examine the damage. That is easier said than done, however. In the process of pulling the top of the breaker down to pop it off the the bus bar (the metal piece that it supplies power to or from), the entire bar breaks off of the TINY FUCKING ALUMINUM rivets that hold it to a piece of plastic. See diagram below for example!


Okay, the bar did not break off the rivets, SORRY. The rivets broke off of the piece of plastic (shown below) that also acts as the anchor for the circuit breakers. So now, what is there to do? Well, I say, go buy the replacement plastic bracket/bus bar assembly that just broke, swap it out, put the new 30A breaker in, pop the old breakers on, and voila!

FYI : the 30A main had to be replaced along with the bus bar because both had been pitted from arcing, which is a very HOT activity and damaged the shitty metal bar, which HAS to be totally smooth to allow the current to flow through the main breaker into the rest of the bar. ANY gap between the contacts in the breaker and the bar itself will cause... you guessed it, arcing, which is again good for welding or sparking an internal combustion engine but not good for RVs. So sanding the bar smooth was out, because it would never be smooth ENOUGH.


As my luck would have it, that piece of plastic does not come off and is not replaceable. It is a part of the entire converter/battery charger unit which is obviously not made anymore but CAN be replaced for about $500. So, my post from yesterday was not written accurately. This has not cost me $500.00 YET. But it probably will, because of my rash decision to extricate the rest of the plastic mounting piece with a rather large set of pliers. In my mind, if I take that out of the way, I can possibly fabricate a workaround to take its place.

In the meantime, I bought a residential 80A sub-panel, seen below, and removed the bus bar mounting from inside and have moved my breakers onto it and nestled it gently inside the cavity where the old mount used to be. The design of the original bracket was perfect for its purpose. I do not know how I am going to duplicate it, if I even can.


The real reason I am actually journalling about this is as a more detailed record of what work has been done to Althea since I purchased her. I guess I should add in the gennie tune-up and oil change, the re-wiring of the halogen fogs and the subsequent replacement of the insidious relay that fires off of the front right running lamp. An interesting workaround that one, but I can't take credit for it. Today I am getting the dashboard cigarette lighter outlet fixed and the grey water tank valve replaced.


So, this whole thing yesterday takes me about 4 hours or more of driving up and down Highway 101 from RV shop to electrical supplier to RV shop to auto parts stores, etc. I am hungry right about then, so I am trying to find Cafe Mundo, which I hear is THE vegetarian restaurant to check out whilst in town.

I drive about the historic Nye Beach district trying to find it. But I can't. So I head up to the 101 and go to Thai Elephant! I love Thai food and figure I am good to go. Well, the place had the standard Thai feel: Buddhas everywhere, pictures of the Thai king and queen (whom I believed are venerated by the populace), crazy gold fabrics, etc. But the essential element is missing: Thai PEOPLE! I only saw a honky server and no one else. I perused the menu and saw the standard fare, that being some curries, some stir fry and rice. So I got the eggplant and basil and rice. For $6.95 out the door, not a bad price. But the food suffered from NW Food Syndrome, which means they are catering to white Pac NWers who would fall over dead should they actually get some food with a little bit of ZING to it. I ordered 3 stars and was not impressed. The flavors also were rather dull.

I think they do not wish to insult the natives, these ethnic restauranteurs, by overwhelming our palettes, but in the name of all that is holy, THAT IS THE POINT of patronizing these establishments. We WANT something DIFFERENT. I can only eat so much damned potatoes and broccoli. American food SUCKS, yo! Steak and potatoes=bullshit! If you want to be a heifer with heart disease, sure, great... eat yer meat and carbs. Where's the CRAZINESS, MANG!? I want skull-splitting flavors that put me in an alternate reality. I want to see GOD in my SOUP! Next trip... SW USA, babies! You are all coming along to experience diarrhea on a whole new level!

So, here is when you walk in the door... an elephant orgy.


Then the meal shows up.

Then I see they have my favorite dessert for only a buck ninety-five! How WONDERFUL!


That was real exciting, I know. But it is pouring rain here, I am about to be blown into the bay, so why not sit here and ramble in case anyone gives a shit.

Is it just ME or does anyone else get a sort of high from eating hot peppers? I have noticed this in the last few years. I eat a few pretty hot pepperoncinis or a jally and I am like... WOOOO... stoned red, baby.

Now... off to the shower!

RV terms to know:
Coach - the motorhome itself. RV refers to anything from an ATV to a PWC to a Class-A tour bus.
Boondocking - living off the grid, camping in the boonies with no hookups or external amenities. Think... Nascar parking lot.
Toad - your vehicle you tow behind your coach for moving about town and off the main highways. Bumper sticker I saw on a towed Suzuki Sammy yesterday : I am loved, I am toad!

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