TruckHacks - Popup How-to
Please note that this is still a work in progress.
This page exists because while I've found numerous and oftentimes excellent resources for various aspects of Pop-Ups (PU), I never found a one-stop-shop that had really good information covering all the aspects. My intention is to provide that resource at a detailed enough level that people have a very good understanding, but not so much detail as to scare off anyone. In cases where I know of an excellent resource to get your uber-geek on, I'll provide it in the relevant sections below.
I bought my first PU, a 2007 Forest River Flagstaff 228 in 2007. I chose to buy a PU over a travel trailer, 5th wheel or RV because I still wanted to maintain some semblance of the "camping experience". I've been an avid camper all my life ranging from backpacking into the wilderness with my dad and building our own shelter and catching our food, to tent camping with more creature comforts, to now with many creature comforts in our PU. As with everything I do or buy, I jump in head first and learn everything about it. Then I mod it! ;-)
With a PU, there are two kinds of camping you can do. One is to camp at an RV grounds or campgrounds with power and water hookups. Sometimes the RV campgrounds even have cable TV and Wi-Fi internet access. The other is what's called dry camping. This means your PU will need to be a self-contained system. In a totally dry camp, it'll need to manage your water, food, electrical, and heating and cooling needs. It won't manage all those things itself, so that's why this page exists. You should walk away from here knowing what you can expect from your PU and what things you can do to maximize efficiency for all the various systems.
Let's start by familiarizing you with the various pieces and parts that make up a PU. The photos are from my Flagstaff 228, but you'll have nearly identical or similar systems in yours.
- Behind this door is the hot water heater. It has a pilot light you'll need to light when you get on-site.
- The refrigerator burner, heater elements and power connections sit behind here.
- The exterior shower head so you can get cleaned up without tracking junk into the PU to take a shower. Also good if you just need to rinse something off really quick.
- Drain for the sink. You'll probably want to buy a hose that screws onto this or at least some kind of spout so the water / soap doesn't run down the side of the PU. Please use a bucket to collect your soapy water and dispose of it properly.
- This is where you'll screw your white freshwater hose up when you have an on-site hookup for water. Make sure you use a water pressure regulator. Buy one if you don't have one.
- Heater exhaust vent. This can get very hot, make sure it's clear of debris and nobody or nothing is leaning up against it.
- 30A electric extension cord. Open this hatch and pull out the extension cord to plug into a site that provides power.
- Freshwater tank fill. Use a white freshwater hose to fill the 20 gallon freshwater tank here.
- Cable TV (CATV) hookup for when your camp site offers it and you have a TV to watch it on.
- Awning / Canopy support brackets
- Rail to attach counter table and propane grill
- Propane hose for grill
- Exterior 12v light
- Door latch. Make sure you use this if you're leaving the door open for any reason.
- Toilet cassette containing blackwater
- 120v AC receptacles
- Greywater drainage
- 17lb propane tank cylinder
- Battery box
Well, we've got a ton of ground to cover, so let's start easy with something like water and move into the harder stuff like electrical and towing.
There are three types of water:
- Freshwater (or whitewater) - This is what you drink, shower and typically wash dishes with.
- Greywater - Wastewater from washing dishes and showering.
- Blackwater - If it involves a toilet this is the nasty stuff.
First things first. This is your shower, dish washing, teeth brushing, and potentially your drinking water. As such you want to take utmost care with this water source. Using a standard garden hose to connect the PU to the water source is a yucky idea. As kids we drank from water hoses, but you'll probably remember that nasty, bitter taste. There are specially made hoses (normally white in color) that you use for and only for your freshwater needs. These hoses are made from materials that don't add any unwanted flavors. You never use your white hose for any other purpose like washing your car, or god forbid, draining greywater or blackwater. Keep this white hose clean and in good condition. I'd even suggest buying caps for this hose to make sure some little critter doesn't take up residence in it while your PU is stored away off season.
You have a couple of options for freshwater in a PU. The first is at a site that provides a water connection. This is typically your standard water faucet like you'd have outside your house. There's one critical thing you need to remember about using on-site water, and that is that not all sites have regulated pressure. If you hook your PU up to an unregulated pressure source you can damage your PU considerably by blowing lines causing water leaks inside the PU, damaging the water pump and/or hot water heater.
You can buy a water pressure regulator from just about any RV parts store for under $10 USD. Two things to look for in a pressure regulator are that it keeps the pressure below 45PSI and that it has a screen filter to block any debris. I typically connect the regulator to the water source, then the white water hose between the regulator and the PU on "5" in Fig. 1 above.
One suggestion is that you purchase a two valve (splitter) to hook directly to the water spigot and put the regulator on one of the two connections for the PU. This allows you to have an extra spigot available outside to rinse things off with.
Your second option is the 20 gallon freshwater storage tank built into the PU. I'll say this right up front, 20 gallons is not a whole lot of water. You'd be surprised that a couple loads of dishes and a shower could run you close to dry. If all you've got is the on-board freshwater tank, you'll want to play it conservative.
There are some people who say you shouldn't tow your PU with a full freshwater tank, and there are others who will tell you it's no biggie. I've done both depending on whether I am certain that I can fill my freshwater tank near my camp site. If I'm planning on going to a RV campground where I know there will be freshwater hookups or dry camping but I'm definite I can fill my tank close to the campground, then I won't fill the freshwater tank. If I'm dry camping and I know there isn't going to be a way for me to fill the tank later, then I fill it before leaving the house.
The main reason people say don't fill it at the house is the weight of the water. Water weighs 8.35 pounds per gallon, so that's an additional 167 pounds you're towing in a 20 gallon tank. That doesn't seem like a lot, but if you don't have a decent tow vehicle with sufficient towing capacity, then this might just be enough to put you in an unsafe towing condition. If you're going to fill it, you should fill it to the top to help mitigate sloshing. 150+ pounds moving around on you might change your tow dynamics just enough to be unsafe if you don't have a sufficient tow vehicle.
No matter which situation you're camping in, it's always a good idea to bring a case of bottled water with you for drinking, cooking, and brushing your teeth.
One other note about freshwater. Your PU might come equipped with a water filtration system. Take a look around under your sink / stove area. If it didn't come pre-installed, they're very simple to install yourself, or even put in-line between your water source and the PU.
Most PUs don't have a greywater storage tank, so that means all your greywater drains straight out from your PU onto the ground. I shouldn't have to tell you that this is bad. Greywater usually has soap in it and just letting it run onto the ground can kill grass and plants. Please use a bucket or hoses to properly dispose of this water. The shower greywater comes out of "8" in Fig. 2 which is below the PUP frame. The sink greywater comes out of "4" in Fig. 1 which is smack dab in the middle of the side of the PUP. You'll definitely want to get some sort of spout or hose so it doesn't just run down the side of the PUP.
If you notice your sink or shower backing up with water, you probably forgot to uncap the drain. Basically it's a straight pipe from the sink and shower drains to these outside drains. They'll hold some water in the pipe but it'll eventually back up into the sink or shower if you forget to uncap them on the outside.
What can I say. You used the toilet and now you've got blackwater. As disagreeable as this subject is, it's one of those things you might have to deal with so we'll cover it. Typically, we only use ours for going pee, but if the situation was dire enough (like some hot spicy Mexican food screaming to be free) then whether the wife likes it or not, I'm going to be as comfortable as possible in my misery. Hanging over a tree stump with the screaming meanies just isn't gonna do it for me! It is so nice to wake up in the middle of the night when it's 50 degrees outside and be able to take care of business without putting on a coat and shoes, finding some TP to take with you, grabbing a flashlight, stumbling around in the dark and all the other assorted hazards of trying to make it to the designated tree stump or portapotty in the wee dark hours of the morning.
If you've got a toilet, you've got a blackwater holding tank, and it's most likely a Thetford cassette type thing. The nice thing about the cassette is you can take it inside a portapotty, or even a normal toilet and dump it in there. It's surprisingly well sealed and engineered, so while I still recommend wearing latex/rubber gloves it's actually a fairly non-messy process. Rinsing it out after dumping it is a different story. No matter how hard you try to avoid it when your spraying something down with a hose there's always some droplet of water that splatters off whatever you're washing and hits you right in the corner of your mouth. Bletch.... ;-) Honestly though, it is a surprisingly simple and easy thing to dump and clean.
We'll get back to toilets in a later section.
You have two types of electrical available to you in a PU depending on whether you're at a RV site with 120v AC hookups (shore power) or dry camping off your battery.
Here's a list of things that run off AC or DC
- Air Conditioning
- Electric heated mattresses
- Potentially your fridge if running off AC
- Anything else plugged into the 120v AC outlets inside or outside the PU
- Interior lights (fixed and movable bunk lights)
- Exterior light
- Create-A-Breeze fan
- Forced air fan on furnace (not the furnace itself as that’s propane)
- Water pump
- Fridge (if run off battery, bad idea during dry camping)
- Propane sensor alarm
- Electric lift
AC (or shore) Power
When you plug into 120v AC it gets split inside the PU where 120AC is routed to your standard three pronged AC outlets and also routed to the converter which converts 120v AC to 12v DC. The converter also charges your battery and is the fusebox for various items inside your PU.
20A vs. 30A, plug types, conversion plugs/cables
When I talk about DC power most of what I'm going to cover centers around running off the battery. If you're running off shore power then your converter is making DC for you and you don't have to be concerned with power consumption. It's when you're dry camping that a whole lot of factors come into play in order for you to not run out of power before your trip is over, or worst case, damaging your battery.
As you are most likely aware, batteries store a finite amount of energy. When that energy is gone you better have a backup plan. 40-50 degree weather while you're sleeping under a sheet and and blanket with no power to run the forced air furnace is not a fun night.
So let's start with learning about batteries and we'll go from there. In the RV world you want a different kind of battery than you would have in a vehicle. Vehicle batteries are made for cranking (as in getting the motor started) but aren't designed for long term power draws such as when your battery is dead the next morning because you left the interior light on. Batteries used in RVs are called deep-cycle which means it was designed to be discharged fairly deeply and then recharged to full capacity. They're made to be able to do this over and over for many years. When you're talking about deep-cycle batteries, the measure you're going to be most concerned with is called Amp hours (Ah). The higher this number is, the longer you can run on the battery before having to recharge it. Within the deep-cycle battery world they are separated into sub-categories. Below is a general chart for reference on typical classifications.
|Group 24 (Grp24)||70-85||12|
|Group 27 (Grp27)||86-105||12|
|Group 31 (Grp31)||95-125||12|
|Golf Cart||180-220||6 (per battery, connect in series for 12v)|
Typically a PU will come from the dealer with a Grp24 battery as it's the cheapest for them to install. It's also the least capable deep-cycle battery you can get. So what does the Ah rating mean to you? Well, it can be calculated in different ways, but the formula is 'X' number of hours x Amp draw. For instance, the Grp24 that came with my PU is an Interstate Megatron SRM24 which can run for 16.4 hours at 5Amps (5A). You'll usually see Ah listed for a battery as 16.4@5, or 4.6@15 (4.6 hours at 15A), or 2.3@25 (2.3 hours at 25A). The numbers might be a little different (hence why I said it can be calculated in different ways) but they tell you what kind of life you can get out of the battery before a recharge. My battery is 16.4@5 which means it's an 82Ah battery. So with this knowledge under our belt, let's run through some examples.
My PU came with three interior lights using a #921 bulb which draws 1.4A each. I also have an exterior light which draws 1.4A, and I have a bunk fan/light where the bulb is a #912 which draws 1A. For the sake of this explanation, let's just say all five of these lights draw 1A. If I left all five of these lights on (which would draw a total of 5A together) and ran nothing else whatsoever off the battery, the manufacturer claims I should be able to run continuously for 16.4 hours (remember the 16.4@5).
Now, there's a couple things to remember here. The first is that like all manufacturer stated capabilities, they're always based on completely optimal conditions. i.e. the perfect battery operating temperature, a perfectly charged battery that doesn't have any sulfation or stratification etc. Oftentimes, you're not going to be doing your camping under optimal conditions. The second thing to remember is that the 16.4 hours at 5A is stating a complete discharge of the battery. You should never do this. It's recommended that you never discharge more than 80% of your total capacity and that you should avoid discharging more than 60% of total capacity in order to maximize your battery life. Remember the battery type, it's a deep-cycle not a total-discharge-cycle battery.
Now, the 5A calculation is a good one for PUs. During normal use you'll probably be around 5A on average at any given moment provided you aren't using 12v appliances like a coffee maker, vacuum, toaster oven, blender etc.
One thing you'll want to do is look at the manuals for your 12v consuming items and find out what the Amperage draw is (I've put together a chart below showing specific makes and models and their power consumption). Add them up in what you would consider typical use and that should give you a rough idea of where you stand. Let's do another example.
I am going dry camping for three days and two nights. I plan on having my PU set up by 12pm on Friday and having it torn down by 12pm Sunday. That's a total of 48 hours I'll potentially need my PU to be self sustaining.
I know I'll be using the 12v water pump for the sink and shower, and that I'll be using one of the interior lights for about 30 minutes when I put my daughter to bed at 8pm, and using the bunk light for about another 30 minutes to read before going to sleep. Friday night is expected to have temperatures in the mid to high 40s so I'm going to need to run the furnace intermittently throughout the night, but Saturday night is expected to be in the high 60s so I shouldn't need it. The propane sensor alarm will be running all the time, and there is a good chance that we'll turn on the bunk fan to take a one hour nap Saturday afternoon. I'm also going to turn the exterior light on each night at 8pm and turn it off at 6am the next morning. Let's break that down into a chart showing us the relevant info we'll need to know (the time will be for the entire 48 hour period):
|Item||Amp Draw||Time Used||Total Ah Used|
|Water Pump||7A||30 min||3.5Ah (only 30 mins used not 1 hour)|
|Interior Light||1.4A||60 min||1.4Ah|
|Bunk Light||1A||60 min||1.0Ah|
|LP Sensor||0.046A||48 hours||2.2Ah|
|Bunk Fan||0.3A||60 min||0.3Ah|
|Exterior Light||1.4A||20 hours||28Ah|
So let me digress from the example a bit to explain how I came up with these numbers. The water pump only comes on after about 10 seconds of running the water. If I turn off the water at that 10 second period (i.e. right after the pump comes on) the pump will stay on for about five more seconds to build the pressure back up. Let's say we fill the sink to wash dishes twice and it takes about two minutes to fill the sink (which we have to do twice each time, once to wash, and once to rinse). So we've got about eight minutes of water pump time. Then my wife and I each take a five minute shower on Saturday which is now 18 minutes total water pump time. Then another misc 5 minutes of hand washing, teeth brushing etc. which is 23 now mins. I then rounded off to 30 mins to give me some fudge factor.
The furnace fan I figured would come on about every 15 minutes. If we went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 6am then there are 10 hours (600 minutes) we'd have the furnace on while we slept. If it comes on every 15 minutes, then that means it would come on 40 times in that 8pm - 6am window. I multiplied that by two minutes that the furnace fan would actually be on which is 80 minutes total.
The interior lights were calculated as 30 min per night for two nights, and the bunk fan for one hour on Saturday afternoon.
If my battery is an 82Ah battery and we used 48.6Ah of it's life, then we've got 33.4Ah left. That means we're at 40.73% capacity left. We pushed it pretty close. The lowest we'd want to go is 40% of remaining capacity to give our battery a long life camping with us. With exception to leaving the exterior light on at nights, I don't think this example is too far outside the realm of reality.
Now, the above illustrates what's typical for me (except for the exterior light). I don't completely scrooge on power, but I do conserve. If you didn't have the nice thick blanket we had in the above scenario you might turn the furnace up which means it came on more frequently and for longer periods or had two cold nights instead of just Friday night. You might also take two showers each during the trip and the kids get one. You might forget to turn off the exterior light during the day, you might fall asleep and forget to turn off the bunk light. You might be going out for a three day weekend and get there Thursday at 12pm instead of Friday. The point is, all of this adds up. Some of you might have really been paying attention and noticed I didn't account for the power lift to open the PU. Mainly because I didn't know the Amp draw offhand and that we'd only be using it for about three minutes total anyways (plus there is the manual override to do it by hand crank if you didn't have enough juice left over to bring the PU down.)
At any rate, you can see how a Grp24 is barely sufficient for real dry camping. Many people who primarily dry camp end up moving to Grp31 (means getting a bigger battery box as they are bigger and heavier), or the real hardcore go for the dual 6v golf cart batteries connected in series (giving them 12v). Even if you doubled the life (Ah) of the best Grp24 battery you'd only still do as good as the worst golf cart batteries. Additionally golf cart batteries are serious deep-cycle. They'll usually last a couple more years than a factory Grp24 will.
So, you're stuck with a Grp24 and you want to do something to conserve your battery power. Well, you could do like I did and replace the 1.4A hogging #921 interior bulbs with 36 White LED arrays (it's as simple as replacing the #921 bulb). They're $15 USD each and I bought one for each of the three interior lights. They're not individually as bright as the #921 bulb and give off a slightly bluish light, but the power savings are enormous. A #921 bulb is 1.4A, and a 36 LED array is only 123mA. That means it would take eleven of the LED arrays to almost equal the power consumption of just one #921 bulb, or I could run one LED array for eleven hours to equal the power consumption of a #921 bulb running for just one hour. I've got three interior lights with #921 bulbs. That's 4.2A altogether, which would be the equivalent of 34 LED arrays. This is a huge savings in power folks. Below are some images showing the 36 LED array installed in one of my light fixtures. The magazine shot is to illustrate that you can easily read while sitting at the dinette provided you don't mind the bluish tinted light.
Here's some great resources to help you master this tricky topic.
I learned a great deal from The 12volt Side of Life (part 1) and there is a part 2 if you want to learn about solar recharging. This is also where I borrowed some information on battery classifications.
If you need to know how many Amps a bulb is going to eat, check out 1000bulbs.com and bring up the bulb number. You can also buy them from here, but I haven't needed replacements yet. Just FYI, on general bulb info below I link to the spec sheets on 1000bulbs.com just because they're the best place I've found that gives you all the info on tons of different bulb types.
Here's a neat idea I learned from someone else. If you have the 1/4" jacks on your light fixtures to run bunk lights / fans, you can whack off the probes from a multimeter and resolder them to a 1/4" phono plug which you can then plug into your light fixture to test battery voltages. the multimeter cost me $3 USD from Harbor Freight during one of their sales and the 1/4" phono plug (I went with a good quality one from a music store) was $5 USD. All in all, an $8 USD battery monitor.
Below is a table containing information on Amp draws for specific makes and models of equipment you'll typically find in PUs. If you have additional information on other models please send them along and I'll add them.
UPDATE: Better yet... Use the DC Configurator I wrote. It's a real-time, interactive calculator. Tell it how big your battery is in Ah, then start choosing equipment and put in how long you'll use it for. It'll do the rest for you. It's even got a cool little meter.
|Create-A-Breeze Fan||Fan-Tastic Vent||8000 CAB||3A(Hi) / 2.29A(Med) / 1.86A(Lo)|
|LP Sensor / Alarm||CCI Controls||7770||0.046A (46mA)|
|2.9cu ft Fridge||Dometic||RM2193||9.4A (when run off battery)|
|Camper Power Lift Winch||Powerwinch||P55000||?|
|Combo Bunk Light / Fan||Command Electronics||001-103||1A (lamp) / .3A (fan hi) / .12A (fan lo)|
|36 LED Array||SuperLumination||HighFlux 5mm||0.123A (123mA)|
Now you know how to discharge your battery, how do you charge and properly maintain one? This is a fairly complex subject too but let's see if we can break it down.
First off, some safety information. Batteries can be extremely dangerous and you must take precautions to protect yourself. Lead Acid batteries contain sulfuric acid which is strong enough to cause blindness and severe chemical burns. If you're opening or charging a battery you should wear eye protection, adequate clothing, have good ventilation and wear gloves. Take off any jewelery and don't smoke.
Let's get some terms out of the way:
- Electrolyte - The medium (usually liquid or gel) that conducts ions between the anode (+) and cathode (-).
- Float Charge - Similar to a trickle or maintenance charge. This happens when the battery has been fully charged and the float charge just ensures it stays fully charged over long periods of non-use.
- Flooded - Refers to a battery that has a mixture of distilled water and sulfuric acid as the electrolyte. These usually have caps that you can open to add distilled water if needed. Some flooded batteries are sealed as "maintenance-free", but I'd recommend sticking with the one with caps.
- Sulfation - The growth of lead sulfate crystals usually caused by long storage at low charge levels or when the electrolyte is too low exposing the plates to air. Sulfation prevents current flow in the battery. The good news is that this can be reversed provided the battery is not too badly sulfated.
The easiest way to charge your battery is to make do with what you already have in your PU.... The converter. If you are plugged into shore power (AC), the converter will automatically charge the battery. This means when you get home, you can put a 30A to 15A converter plug (you may have gotten one with your PU) on the 30A cable and plug it right into a wall socket.
I don't know if it's true or not, and I'm only relating it because I've read it in a few places around the internet. Some people have said that the converter is not the greatest battery charger, and that it can ultimately shorten the life of your battery due to two reasons. One is that it is limited on voltage output so it can not reach the necessary voltages to fully charge the battery. This means that if it's your sole means of charging, you'll consistently undercharge it and shorten the battery life. The second is that the float voltage (I'll explain this in a minute) is too high and boils off the electrolyte (mix of distilled water and sulfuric acid in flooded batteries). If the electrodes are exposed above the electrolyte for too long, they'll sulfate.
A better way to charge and maintain your battery is to purchase something like a BatteryMINDer Plus (model 12117). This is a three-stage charging system that you leave connected and running on your battery the entire time you're not using the PU. You don't even have to take the battery out of the PU to use it either. The first stage is to charge your battery to full charge. The second stage is the maintenance / float charge which keeps the battery fully charged. It's a smart charging cycle that only applies the right amount of current needed. The third stage is the desulfation cycle which uses high frequency pulses to actually reverse sulfation on your battery provided it's not too far gone. It's a very simple automated system to set up and it's worry and maintenance free. I bought mine from Pacific Battery for $47.50 and free shipping.
So what's the big deal with leveling a PU anyway you might ask? I never had to worry about it with my tent. As long as we didn't keep waking up in the bottom left corner of our tent each morning we called it good. Well, there are a few good reasons that leveling is important.
The first is that you want to avoid twisting up the frame of the PU and binding so much that you burn out the electric lift winch, or are unable to lower the PU due to binding. Leveling is also pretty important if you have slide-outs. You could potentially damage them if the majority of the weight is not evenly distributed across the entire slide-out support structure.
Secondly, if you have a refrigerator, then leveling is pretty crucial. RV refrigerators which have no moving parts, are a lot different than the one in your home. They work on the absorption principle which basically means that in the absence of heat, there is cold. An RV fridge contains a few odd chemicals like ammonia, hydrogen, water, and sodium chromate which all play a part in cooling down the fridge. One key part to the whole process is gravity which helps move these chemicals around in the system.
Essentially what happens is that the liquid ammonia and water are heated via propane burner, or electric heating element, to a point where the ammonia boils into a gas. The ammonia gas then travels upwards to the condenser where it dissipates heat via coils and fins and turns back into a liquid, which then travels down (gravity) to mix with hydrogen. When the hydrogen and ammonia liquid mix, the ammonia evaporates which produces cold temperatures. The hydrogen and ammonia are separated and the ammonia goes back down into the boiler with the water to start the process over again.
The coils and tubing to move the chemicals around are sloped to allow gravity to do the work of moving stuff around. If you're not level things can pool up and damage your fridge. So how exact do you need to be level? The most common answer I've received is +/-2 degrees from completely level. That's about half a bubble on a bubble level indicator.
One note I'd like to throw in is that people sometimes confuse the stabilizers with levelers. On each of the four corners is a stabilizer and it does only what it's name suggests, stabilize. They weren't designed to take the load of the PU, especially in the sense of lifting a wheel off the ground.
There are many different types of leveling systems out there from scissor jack type systems to blocks that are stackable like LEGO (tm) blocks. So far I haven't had to use any type of leveling system but I'd bet if you were dry camping out in the boonies, they'd probably be a necessity.
One way you can level from front and rear is to use the hitch wheel to lift or lower the front end. Side to side leveling would require one of the above mentioned leveling systems.
Typically, PU fridges fall into two categories. two-way or three-way. A two-way fridge means it can be run off AC or propane, and a three-way can run off those two as well as DC. In order to get your fridge up and running, you'll need to select one of the two / three possibilities of power sources. It is very important to remember to only select one power source. You could severely damage your fridge by enabling more than one.
First you need to decide how you want to power your fridge. The only real two choices I would suggest are AC or propane. As you read in the previous DC Power section, running the fridge off DC would suck your battery dry in a heartbeat as it can pull up to 9.4A. A little later I'll discuss when you might want to use the DC option.
In the middle image to the right is the control panel for my fridge. At the top left (red button) is the piezo-electric button to light the propane burner if you're using propane as your power source. Below that (grey knob with high, med, low) is the propane flow control. To use propane as your source, you push in the flow control knob and turn it to high. While the knob is still pushed in you depress the red piezo-electric button about four or five times in rapid succession. To determine whether it lit, you'll need to move the little circular plate covering the burner view window. In the top picture to the right, under the silver canister looking piece on the right side is a square box. The burner view window is on that square box. It can be really hard to see if the flame is lit in bright sunlight, so look carefully (see bottom picture to right).
Looking again at the middle picture to the right, the green on / off switch will select AC as your power source. Obviously, you'll need to be plugged into shore power to use this option. The red on / off switch to the right of the green one is for 12v DC as the power source. Don't use this unless you're desperate because you will suck your battery dry in no time. The only caveat to this is one I'll discuss in a few more paragraphs.
One important thing to remember is that PU fridges take a long time to cool down. When I say a long time, I'm talking ten or so hours. In order to get a head start on cooling down the fridge, you should plug your PU into AC power and flip the green switch to on at least 10 hours prior to leaving on your trip. Additionally, I'd suggest purchasing a fridge fan to circulate the air inside the fridge to speed up the cooling process. In my fridge, it has cut down the cooling time by nearly 45% and cost anywhere from about $10 USD to $30 USD. You can also throw something frozen in during the cooldown process to further speed it up (like those sealed refreezable ice blocks).
Once you're on your trip, it's recommended to leave the fan running inside the fridge to continue circulating the cold air inside. For this to happen efficiently, you need to make sure you leave adequate spacing around items in the fridge. If you pack it to the brim, there won't be any way for the fan to help circulate the air.
Another thing I recommend purchasing is a fridge temperature monitor for about $20 USD. Food spoils above 40 degrees F and if your fridge approaches dangerous temperatures it'll sound an alarm to warn you.
So how do you keep your fridge cool during the five hour drive to your camping destination? Well, this is the only caveat to using the DC option and is pretty much the only real reason it exists in the first place. If you have a seven pin tow plug to connect your PU to the tow vehicle, then one of those pins provides 12v DC from the battery on the tow vehicle to the PU. This will allow you to keep your fridge cool without draining the battery in the PU. Notice I said battery in the TV, not the alternator. If you stop off for dinner someplace and have the fridge set to the DC option. You run the chance of draining your TV battery. If you stop for a period of time, I'd suggest switching from DC to propane so you won't come out to a TV that won't start.
I've always used the DC power option under tow, but I have had conversations with people who use the propane option while under tow (usually the two-way fridge owners who don't have a DC option). I can't speak to the safety issues surrounding this, but it doesn't seem like such a great idea to me for a couple reasons. One is that if you look back at Fig. 1 "5" you'll notice it's a vented cover and you know from the bottom picture of the three above and to the right that the propane burner view window is a little metal flap. It seems to me that it would be too easy for the burner flame to blow out while driving down the highway. The best case scenario is that your fridge gets warm, maybe spoiling some food. The worst case is you now have what effectively has become a propane leak. I'd hate to think what could happen if you pulled over at a rest stop and someone got too close with a cigarette or other open flame. The second reason is that while the same wind that blew out the burner flame would also move air around in that compartment, it might be possible that the inside of the PU starts filling with propane gas. Even if it was just a little gas, your LP detector would probably start going nuts. Now, as I said, this would be worst case scenario. Most newer PU setups have a flame-out detector which will shut off the gas if the pilot flame goes out. So, your worst case in this scenario is maybe some semi-spoiled food.
Tires (and proper trailer loading)
This is yet another area where it's kind of grey. You'd like to think that your PU came from the factory with tires that are not only sufficient but offer a little fudge room. Sadly, I've read too many stories of people who've experienced severe tire failures on their way to or from their maiden voyage camping trip. If these were perfectly good new tires as the manufacturer states, then they were overinflated, underinflated, or overloaded. Underinflation and overinflation are good candidates, but overloading isn't so far fetched to believe either. As an example, let's go through my setup.
I have a 2007 Forest River Flagstaff 228 with the following characteristics:
- 2975 Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) which is the max it can weigh full of gear, water, propane etc.
- 1845 Dry weight - This is what the PU weighs completely empty. No battery, no propane tank, no water, no gear, nothing. The PU can't weigh any less unless you start removing factory installed parts and pieces.
- Carlisle ST175/80R13s with a weight rating of 1360 per tire or 2720 total for both.
So let's just do some simple math. If my GVWR is 2975 and my tires can take 2720 max, then I'm already over the tire limit by 255 pounds. Ok, ok, ok.. Will I really load my PU to the GVWR? No. Will someone else? Maybe.... Someone who doesn't know better might. Secondly, some of that weight is what's called tongue weight. That's weight that is part of the PU but is supported by your hitch on the tow vehicle and is typically 10% to 15% of the total weight of the PU. So my blatant attempt at misinformation and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) has been quashed. Or has it? Let's continue.
Below is a table detailing various things and their weights.
|PU Dry weight||1,845|
|Fresh water (20 gallon tank at 8.35lbs a gallon)||167|
|Water heater (if you have a hot water heater there is water in here. Six gallons at 8.35lbs a gallon)||50|
|Propane (std sized full tank at 4.22lb a gallon of LP)||72|
|Battery (Grp24 Interstate)||46|
|Large cooler with food and drinks||75|
|All the bedding (pillows, blankets, sheets for two beds)||30|
|Pots, pans, cutlery, dishes, spatulas, tongs, etc.||10|
|Suitcase with clothes for two adults, two kids, three days and two nights||40|
Assuming you are an uber packer who can pack things so that the weight is split exactly 50/50 on each tire, here's what we have so far. My tires can sustain 2,720 lbs total between the two, from which we subtract 2,375lbs (the wet weight of the PU and my gear) which gives us 345 lbs of reserve. That's 172.5 lbs per tire left. I weigh more than 175 lbs. If I sit on the toilet over the curbside, will it blow the tire? Ok, you got me... More FUD. We're still not done. We need to subtract the recommended tongue weight of 12%. You do this by loading more things towards the front until the weight over the hitch is 10% - 15% (I usually go for 12%) of the total weight of the PU. Go ahead and repack. I'll wait.....
Ok, so let's subtract the 12% (285 lbs) from the 2,375 lbs and we get 2,090 lbs. Let's subtract that from the max tire weight of 2,720 lbs and we get 630 lbs or 315 lbs of reserve per tire. I don't weigh that much so my toilet sitting, tire blowing days are over!
Well, it looks like we have plenty of reserve capacity left on our tires. But, the problem is that we aren't uber packers and we'll probably load things a bit unevenly. Add to that where some people bring a spare battery and a spare propane tank for the four day dry camp, maybe thow a couple of bikes on a bike rack up top, and it's surprising how quickly things add up.
A buddy of mine has a 2006 Forest River Flagstaff 229 which has a dry weight of 2,019 lbs (174 lbs more than mine) which if we did the math would be:
2499 lbs (wet weight with gear etc. minus the 50 lbs hot water tank because he doesn't have one, and adding the extra 174 lbs of his dry weight) and subtract 12% tongue weight (300 lbs), we get 2,199 lbs. We subtract that from the tire max of 2720 lbs and we get 521 lbs, or 260.5 lbs per tire. That's still a pretty good reserve capacity.
So you've read the same horror stories I have about spectacular tire failures causing all sorts of carnage to the PU and tow vehicle. So what's that all about? Well, if you listen to the manufacturers they usually state the tires were underinflated causing premature failure. If you listen to the people who experienced the failures they say it's a manufacturing defect and that they have always put the proper tire pressure in their tires. I think it's somewhere in between.
So what is the proper tire inflation? That's a good question for which I don't know that I have a good answer for. There's the recommended tire pressure listed per the manufacturer of your PU which would seem to be a safe bet, but the people who experienced the tire failures are saying that's what they inflated to, and the manufacturers are saying it was underinflated per analysis of the tire itself. Who to believe? Take a look below in the Misc Tips and Tricks section for one tool to help you determine proper tire inflation.
Another thing you need to look at is the maximum speed rating of your PU tires. If they're only rated for 60MPH and you consistently do 70 or 75, then you'll overheat the tires and could end up blowing them.
Now, this seems like a good spot to move on into towing.
If I had to pick the one question I end up answering the most, it's about towing, and for good reason. It's seems confusing as all get out. You've got GVWR, GCVWR, GAWR, dry weight, wet weight, curb weight, payload weight, towing capacity, blah, blah, blah. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that you've got to add, subtract and beat the numbers into a bloody pulp with a heavy stick to get the right answer. I always like to say it that way because then everyone thinks I'm a genius when I give them the answer. It's really not quite so bad. ;-)
Ok, let's get the definitions out of the way. I'm going to give you a little space in each definition to write down the numbers that pertain to your setup.
- ________ TVGVWR (Tow Vehicle Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) which is the max your tow vehicle can weigh.
- ________ TVCW (Tow Vehicle Curb Weight) which is how much your tow vehicle weighs completely unloaded (generally assumes a driver at about 150 lbs and we'll say 1/8th a tank of gas).
- ________ TVLW (Tow Vehicle Loaded Weight) which is how much your tow vehicle will weigh with all the people, gas, and gear (loaded in the tow vehicle, not the PU). You'll need to guestimate how much stuff you'll be putting in the tow vehicle and add that to TVCW).
- ________ PUGVWR (PopUp Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) which is the max your PopUp can weigh.
- ________ PUCW (PopUp Curb Weight) which is how much your PU is completely unloaded
- ________ PULW (PopUp Loaded Weight) which is a typical amount of gear you'd load to go camping, so add 600lbs to PUCW.
- ________ GCVWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating) which is how much the tow vehicle and the PU can weigh together. You'll find this in the tow vehicle manual or inside of the driver's door.
- ________ MTR (Max Tow Rating) which is the maximum your tow vehicle is designed to tow.
- ________ TVGAWR (Tow Vehicle Gross Axle Weight Rating) which is the max payload you can place on an axle. For your tow vehicle you'll have front and rear. If you're not using a weight distributing hitch (discuss that later), then we're only concerned with the rear.
- ________ PUGAWR (PopUp Gross Axle Weight Rating) which is how much your PU axle can hold. I think it's safe to assume we've all got just one axle on our PUs.
Ok, so we've got all these numbers. So let's go through and figure out what we've got. Note for brevity sake, I've shortened tow vehicle to TV and when I say "STOP" that means you might as well not continue because you've already exceeded the safe towing limit.
- If your PUCW exceeds your MTR, STOP.
- If your PULW exceeds your MTR, STOP.
- If your PUCW + TVCW exceeds your GCVWR, STOP.
- If your PULW + TVCW exceeds your GCVWR, STOP.
- If your PULW + TVLW exceeds your GCVWR, STOP.
If you stopped on 1, 2, or 3, you're going to need a bigger tow vehicle, or a lighter PU. There isn't a whole lot you can do cheaply to make your current vehicle capable of towing heavier loads. I'll get to why in just a moment.
If you stopped on 4, you might be able to adjust some weight around such as taking some things out of the PU and sticking them in your TV. Make sure you readjust your TVLW and run through the list again.
If you stopped on 5, You're gonna have to leave some stuff at home. Might I suggest the kids? ;-) If you're over by quite a bit, there might not be much hope though.
If you didn't have to stop, then you've passed the major portion of the litmus test. At this point, your tow vehicle is sufficient to tow your PU. Obviously, the bigger the difference between your numbers and what you were testing to make sure you didn't exceed, the better.
See, that wasn't so hard was it? Ok. So why did I ask you to collect the other items too you ask? Well, the above isn't the whole enchelada so to speak. There are a number of other factors which can affect your towing capability. Admittedly, chances are at this point that you're going to be good to go, but it never hurts to double check.
Here's a real world example of where you might miss something critical and be over your safe towing capabilities.
A 2007 Dodge Power Wagon (PW) Quad-Cab (QC) Short-Bed (SB) has a GCVWR of 20,000, a GVWR of 8510, and a max tow of 10,750. For the sake of argument, let's say you max out your GVWR of 8510. If we subtract that from the GCVWR of 20,000 we get 11,490 which is more than our max tow of 10,750. So far so good. Let's say we have a 3,000 lb popup we're wanting to pull. No problem, that's way under our max tow of 10,750, but the (we'll go real conservative) 10% tongue weight has now added 300 pounds on our tow vehicle which now exceeds its GVWR. We're nowhere near our GCVWR or tow capacity but we're definitely in trouble on our GVWR.
Now, the curb weight of this truck is 6,070 and that subtracted from our GVWR is 2,440lbs. In the popup world of camping I think it's relatively safe to say it's an unrealistic scenario that we're going to be able to get that much weight into the tow vehicle. Usually where you see people get into trouble with this is when they're landscaping and they've loaded the bed with gravel and are pulling a trailer with flagstone or such.
The point is that your average joe in a family of four dragging a boat and loading their camping gear in the bed of the truck might be mislead by the 10K tow rating because they don't realize that everything you put into the tow vehicle can impact your towing capacity. The advertised tow capacity is nice to know but definitely doesn't stand by itself. You need to realize that the advertised max tow rating is based on one person in the vehicle, minimal fuel, base model vechicle (i.e. not the 20" rims, A/C, auto transmission, 4x4 etc.), and having a tow package. I'll explain what a tow package is here in a minute. But here's some other things to think about.
If you haven't gotten up near your GVWR, then you normally don't have to worry about your GAWR, but it's good to have those numbers handy for when you go weigh your setup at a weigh station. We'll get into that in a little bit too.
Here's a link to a nice Excel spreadsheet calculator which helps you figure this all out. You just need to plug in some numbers and it does the math for you.
I think it goes without mentioning that you should always keep your tow vehicle maintained, stuff like brakes, fluid levels etc. If your tow vehicle is getting on up in the years, you'll probably want to check on the springs and shocks. If they're tired, you can get some pretty nasty sway problems not to mention bad absorbtion of shock which adding tongue weight is only going to exacerbate.
Another thing you'll want to look at is your tow vehicle tire ratings. If you've still got your stock wheels, then you're within whatever specs your manufacturer stated. If however, you've put new meats on your tow vehicle which were the cheapest tires Wally World had to offer, you might be in for a surprise. Tires have a whole world of classifications all their own which cover max speed, max temperature, max weight etc. When replacing tires on any vehicle you should always replace them with tires that meet or exceed the ones that came from the factory.
Now, I'm going to attempt to explain what a tow package means. Unfortunately, all I can give you are maybes here because it's not an industry standard set of things. Typically though, the minimum items that comprise a tow package are as follows:
- A hitch
- A four pin wiring harness for trailer blinkers and brake lights.
- A class III or better hitch
- A seven pin wiring harness for trailer blinkers, running lights, brake lights, reverse light.
- A transmission radiator (keeps the transmission from burning up)
- Wiring for a brake controller
I think this definition would meet with most people's approval for a good definition of a tow package. Now, you can take this further which would typically define a tow package on a pickup truck:
- Same items as above except a class IV hitch
- A tow/haul selector for better shift points
- Heavy duty springs, shocks, and/or lift bags
- Power steering radiator
So what have we learned from all this? Well, for one, these are at best close estimates. To really know for sure you need to take your tow vehicle and PU with it's normal compliment of people, food, and gear that you'd have going on a camping trip and hit a weigh station. Your best bet is to hit on at a decent sized truck stop when they aren't busy. It's usually pretty cheap to get some basic weighs like GCVWR, PULW, TVLW, and tongue weight.
Add lousy pics showing how to do this.
Miscellaneous Tips and Tricks
- Before you go trying to light your hot water heater or fridge, go inside the PU after you've turned on the propane and try lighting one of the burners on the stove. It's much easier to light and see the flame. This will tell you right off whether your propane delivery system is working.
- How do you tell how much propane you have left in the tank. Well, there's a few methods:
- If you have one of the stick on temperature sensitive ones, you'll need to pour hot (not necessarily boiling) water over the gauge and tank around the gauge. Since propane is cold, you should get a good reading with this method.
- If you've bought one of the gauges that go between the hose and the tank, you might be disappointed to learn they don't work all that well from what I've read. They're based on pressure and it isn't until the last few dregs of propane are left that the pressure drops. That doesn't help you at 2am when it's 40 degrees outside. Secondly, the pressure varies with temperature so unless you have a really nice one that can take that variance into account, you'll get bum readings.
- Typically, the propane tanks that come with PUs are the 17 lbs (empty) type. You can weigh the tank full and then sort of guestimate levels based on weight. The problem with this is that not only do you have to carry a scale around with you, but you'll have to unmount the tank from the PU when you're camping and leave it sitting on the scale.
- Buy one of those small suction cup mounted sponge holders and mount it someplace relatively out of the way inside the sink.
- Buy pump handsoap and dishwashing liquid. You can typically push the pump down and turn it a bit to get it to lock so that it won't leak when you store it after the trip.
Tire Wear and Proper Inflation
- Take a piece of chalk and draw a few lines around the tire from the inside tread to the outside tread. Make sure you go over a bit onto the sidewalls on both sides. Drive for a few miles and pull over to check where the chalk marks have worn off. If they've worn completely off the tread and not the sidewall, then you've got nice even tread wear on a properly inflated tire. If the chalk on the sidewall wore off, then you're most likey underinflated, and if the chalk only wore off in the center area of the tread, then you're overinflated.
Shower and Toilet
- Skid marks in the toilet? Keep a squirt bottle filled with water handy.
Stuff still to cover.
Toilet Shower (hot water heater)
Offroad lighting behind the grill
The holy grail of Power Wagon Mods!
Pics and Video of Power Wagons Wheeling
VHT Nite Shades Cab Light Blackout Mod.
Added new gallery "Power Wagon Flexin' 3".
Added new gallery "Power Wagon Flexin' 1".
Added new gallery "Monster Truckin' 2".
Added new project "Ghetto Contractor Rack".
Added new project "Installing Cab Lighting".
Read about the attempted theft of my buddy's truck and how it was thwarted by a Ravelco security system.