The Never-Bored RVers’ Journal: A Quick Solution for a Desperate Dilemma

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At 1:28am while parked in an isolated national park campground, the 12-volt smoke alarm sounded. Seven-plus hours later, I accidentally discovered and in two seconds solved the problem.

Starting this tale of desperation with the symptoms, we were hooked up to 30-amp shore power. Our battery output reading had been indicating about 13.7 for our entire seven weeks on the road, but two weeks earlier I changed on-board inverters hooking up the new inverter to the slave battery.

When the buzzer screamed at us that night, the read-out had slipped to 9.4 and disappeared entirely, and the battery charge panel indicator that came with our RV was showing black – below green for the first time, below yellow, below red. Our good batteries were dead.

With a flashlight, I checked the batteries immediately, and although I saw nothing wrong, I disconnected the inverter cables. I knew that couldn’t have been the problem because I hadn’t turned on the inverter since I tested it when it was installed.

It was a very long night, with visions of not being able to manually bring in the slide. I had never faced this problem, but I remembered the instructions received when we bought the rig eight years earlier. “Cut a square in the bottom plastic material to insert the crank under the slide.”

On the other hand, I was confident that wouldn’t be needed since we had 30-amp power flowing in. But then, nothing made much sense at this point.

As the sun rose at about 6am, I was up trying the toggle to bring in the slide. A click, but nothing else.

I checked the batteries again now that I had sunlight. They looked good and were filled to the recommended level with distilled water.

Next, with box cutter in hand, I cut a square under the slide to reveal … nothing. There was no place to put the crank. Somewhere around this time, a very helpful neighbor who knew nothing more than I did came by to render aid, which caused more problems, when he aggravated my wife with his inane suggestions.

Our location was 47 miles from the nearest hamlet. We had no cell phone reception and no Internet. Summing up the next couple of hours quickly, I’ll explain that I used the national park’s phone to try to call the manufacturer, but since our Bigfoot is Canadian-made, the support line was blocked. I sent an email that did go through, but I didn’t want to wait around for an answer.

The park’s maintenance team came by to see what they could do, but they couldn’t come up with any ideas that I hadn’t tried. They wished us luck.

By 9am, the sun was beating down with the temperature in the mid-90s and climbing, which didn’t make the situation any more tolerable.

What were the choices at this point? Wait for a reply from the factory, which might not happen for a day or two. Camp until the batteries recharged, which hadn’t happened in over nine hours. Call RV road service to get someone to fetch us, which meant loading the trailer on a flatbed with the slide out and taking it to a repair place, which could have been hundreds of miles away. Or plans 4 and 5: pray and cry.

On the verge of calling for the road service truck as perspiration rolled down my chest and back in triple-digit temperatures, I decided to retrace my steps by not only checking the batteries, but by disconnecting and removing them – no easy task since Bigfoot sets them behind the propane tanks – and hooking them up again. (Neurotic is doing the same things over again expecting different results. This was a step beyond that.)

I flung open the right-side panel hiding the tanks and batteries. I started to turn the big wingnut that keeps the tanks in place. I looked over to the opposite side of the compartment, where I saw something out of place. A quarter-inch of the plastic breakaway switch pin was showing.

I didn’t remember ever seeing it look like that in the many years we traveled in that trailer, forgetting that it had pulled out years earlier when the cable was snared by the tongue jack stopping the trailer wheels from rotating.

I touched the pin. It snapped into its round housing. Lights went on. A hum came from the refrigerator. The slide purred. We hooked up and got the heck out of there in 10 minutes, stopping only to report to the park staff and thank them for their support.

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For those of you who don’t remember from your 30-minute “Everything You Need to Know About Your New Travel Trailer” instruction tour, the breakaway switch, also known as the quick disconnect, is a pin that, if the trailer separates from the tow vehicle, it jumps out of its housing, immediately applying the brakes and turning off all 12-volt power. Handy to have, but not something you think about every time you hit the road.

A simple click. A sigh of relief bigger than me. And we were on our way.

As a follow-up, I did receive a return email from Bigfoot a few minutes after sending my plea, ready to help and explaining where the manual crank should be inserted – nowhere near where the dealership’s technician had told me.

From the Never-Bored RVers. See you on down the road.

About the Author: Barry Zander spent a decade as a newspaper reporter and editor, was president of an advertising/PR agency, and was in marketing before retiring in 2006. That was when Monique suggested selling their home and buying an RV to travel North America. After five years full-timing, they bought a cabin in the mountains of Southern California, the base for continuing travels. You can read more of Barry’s adventures on his blog, On Top of the World.

Discussion
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14 Responses to “The Never-Bored RVers’ Journal: A Quick Solution for a Desperate Dilemma”
  1. Br

    RV Make: Jayco, RV Model: Eagle 10 sport, RV Year: 1995

    Need help on our pop up camper corners 1 and 2 cables broke and need help fixing it

    Reply
  2. Allen

    RV Make: Columbus, RV Year: 2014

    We could not move 5th wheel from campsite. The same kill switch had become dislodged, not visual to four trouble shooters, and all kinds of evil thoughts.

    Reply
  3. Bill Watson

    You are so lucky you noticed that breakaway switch. It is something that no one would think to look at, even a seasoned RV tech. I’m sure it made for some tense moments but a great feeling of accomplishment when you solved the problem and an interesting story for the rest of us.

    Reply
  4. Dee

    RV Make: Coachman, RV Model: Catalina 1/5 wheel, RV Year: 1995

    Where is my manual crank located on my camper for the slide out.?

    Reply
  5. David Scott

    RV Make: Coachmen, RV Model: Freedom Express 231RBDS, RV Year: 2015

    My question is concerning tire pressure. I have been told so many different stories on correct amount of pressure. Tire says 35psi max pressure, but have told to not to put max psi cause in hot summertime pressure expands. What is correct pressure? Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Bob

    RV Make: Keystone, RV Model: Montana, RV Year: 2001

    Is it as simple as disconnecting and reconnecting the breakaway switch?

    Reply
  7. Linda

    RV Make: Dutchmen, RV Model: Express, RV Year: 2005

    Please if you can help! The bottom of the slide out on my motorhome is dragging the carpet and bending the wood. It should go up a bit normally to clear the carpet of the slide out. It as my dinette and fridge on the slide out.I have done as instructed in the manual. It has a safety feature where you have to put on your parking brakes, turn a key, then push the button. Any ideas why this could be happening?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Linda. To provide more specific information we need the make, model, and year of your RV. However, there could be several issues that cause your slide room to drag the carpet and bed the wood, starting with a misaligned slide room. Typically there are adjustment on the outside of the rig underneath the slide to move it up/down, and side to side. Over time the mechanisms can sag slightly or even loosen and the out of alignment causes the room to drag. It could also be a slide bar under the room has developed a snag or worn to the point it is down to the metal trim rather than the plastic slide or roller and is catching the carpet and bunching it up. Worn or broken rollers can do this also. And one more issue could be the floor has buckled slightly where the wood meets the carpet. As your rig goes down the road in uneven road conditions, the chassis can twist which causes the flooring to twist and plank wood flooring can buckle and pop created an uneven surface and the slide room can not slide smoothly. You have done everything correct in the operation of the slide, it just needs to go to a qualified technician to check these issues.
      Thanks
      Dave-RVRC

      Reply
  8. Mary

    RV Make: COACHMEN, RV Model: CONCORD, RV Year: 2013

    INSTALLATION OF AN INVERTER. TRYING TO HAVE MY 3000 W RUN MY AIR CONDITIONING.

    Reply
    • Mary

      RV Make: COACHMEN, RV Model: CONCORD, RV Year: 2013, Brand: SOLAR INSTALLATION, Model Number: DOMETIC PENQUIN

      I have installed 2 sets of 200 w panels the main one has 4 golf cart batteries in series the panels are in parallel going to a hxengy 60 amp charge controller and a Aims 3000w inverter I have install a easy start which takes 14 amps to start the dometic air conditioner.
      can I hook it up to a separate breaker and run it straight from the inverter to the air conditioner and have my other two panels run the rest of the coach?

      Reply
      • Customer Service

        Hello Mary,

        Sorry for the delay in my response, it took some time to get a technician from Aims with the holidays. I talked with them and not knowing exactly which model you are referring to, they did recommend the pure sine model which does have direct connects so you can run the Air Conditioner through a separate breaker and directly to the inverter. However, what the real test will be is the size of your batteries and the condition? 6-volt batteries connected in series then parallel do not double/quadruple the amp hours. Two 6-volt group 24 batteries connected in series will only give you the same amp hours as one group 24 12-volt battery! The advantage of a 6-volt battery is the amount of cycles typically available which means years of longevity vs hours of use. Add the effects of sulfation due to improper charging and you may not be satisfied with the amount of time you can run your roof air off the batteries/inverter. I would recommend contacting Battery Minder and speaking with their technician about the product tied into your solar panels to condition the batteries and prolong the life.

        Thanks
        David RVRC Video Membership

        Reply
  9. jeffrey scott deese, sr.

    RV Make: Highland Ridge open Range, RV Model: 216RBS, RV Year: 2016

    When staying in the rv through winter, it seems that there should be some good ideas out there concerning under skirting the RV to aid in keeping it warm and preventing pipes from freezing. I am new at this RV life

    Reply