House Calls with the RV Doctor
By Gary Bunzer
Dear RV Doctor:
We just purchased a clean 1971 RV and have discovered a leaking plastic toilet. The toilet leaks from the top back when the “flush pedal” is in operation. If the toilet’s not flushing, there’s no leak. Any suggestions?
Sewell, New Jersey
RV Doctor: Joanne, the symptoms you’ve indicated point to a faulty vacuum breaker assembly in the upper reaches of the toilet. Considering the age of your motorhome, I’m guessing the toilet is probably a Thetford Aqua Magic or an earlier version of that model. Repair parts are still readily available at any well-stocked RV parts store.
The toilet will have to be removed from the coach for the repair, but the actual parts replacement is relatively easy if you are handy with common hand tools. I would recommend replacing all the seals in the toilet also, since you will have the toilet out of the RV during the repair anyway. Again, the seals and the vacuum breaker assembly are fairly easy to replace, albeit a little messy (I always wear latex surgical gloves when working on any waste system component). Each kit will come with definitive instructions.
After obtaining the correct parts, begin by turning off the water supply (water pump and city water) to the toilet and bleed the pressure by flushing the toilet one last time. Remove the water inlet line at the rear of the toilet; it’s usually best to plug or cap that line while the toilet is removed.
The toilet is held to the floor flange by two closet bolts positioned at about 11 o’clock and 5 o’clock when facing the toilet as installed. To gain access to the front (5 o’clock) bolt, depress the foot pedal(s); you’ll be able to get an open-end wrench in there fairly easily, but a ratchet actually works better if you have one. An offset ratchet works the best. The back bolt can be accessed by reaching behind the toilet or by removing a knockout plug located under the seat at about the 11 o’clock position. A socket extension and universal joint will most likely be needed if approached in this manner. Once you remove the two closet bolt nuts, simply lift the toilet up and over the bolts and take it outside. Place the toilet upside down on a workbench with the rear of the toilet facing out. You’ll now be able to see all the innards inside the toilet casing.
Read and follow the replacement instructions as written for the vacuum breaker and the seals. Reinstall the toilet in the coach by reversing the above steps. Connect the water line, apply water pressure, and check for leaks. Not a pleasant task for sure, but one easily accomplished by the handy do-it-yourselfer.
Tankless Hot Water
Dear RV Doctor:
I have noticed an absence of information on “tankless” or “on demand” hot water systems. Since these units are small, economical, and relatively inexpensive, why hasn’t the motorhome industry gone to this technology?
Marshall Davenport, F202263
RV Doctor: Marshall, not so much with motorhomes, but LP-gas-fired, tankless water heaters are proving to be a viable alternative on other types of RVs today. Years ago Norcold produced an instantaneous water heater call the Vaillant. It was used predominantly in the 1960s and through the early boom years of the 1970s. That model died with the advent of direct-spark-ignition water heaters still popular today. In today’s market, one accepted design of instantaneous tankless heater is produced by Precision Temp. The RV-500 model fits into the same space as the current 10-gallon units do now. They are included as factory equipment on some fifth-wheel trailers and available as an option on many other towables. Though I have not personally tested the RV-500, I’ve studied the product, and published reports indicate that hot water begins to flow within three seconds of turning on the faucet.
Users with whom I have spoken are quite happy with economics of the tankless models. They reportedly provide about 200 more gallons of hot water for every tankful of LP gas consumed, and with a lower stack temperature. They weigh about one-fourth of what the typical 10-gallon unit weighs when filled with water. For winterizing purposes, they require only about one pint of RV antifreeze. Will they ever become popular on motorhomes? That remains to be seen, but certainly, tankless water heaters have found their place in the RVing realm.
Soggy Panels, Mitered Mattress
Dear RV Doctor:
I have a 1992 Jamboree that has some interior damage from water leaks. I believe I have stopped the leaking but would like to find out how to replace interior ceiling and wall panels damaged by the water. I am also looking for a replacement mattress that has a diagonal cut on the corner.
Silver Spring, Maryland
RV Doctor: Ray, damaged interior paneling can be removed and replaced in some instances, but more often than not, it may be best to simply install new paneling over the existing panels if the structural members inside the wall are still viable. Cabinets, partition walls, and other components make complete removal difficult. Oftentimes, the paneling is installed before the cabinets are placed, making it necessary to completely gut the interior in order to fully remove the older panels. Old paneling may be cut, with a razor knife, close to cabinetry for removal, but then it is necessary to install additional support members inside the walls to attach new panels. It’s much easier to simply glue new panels over the old if you are sure you have stopped the leak. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any instructional materials in any media available for this type of repair.
As far as the infamous corner-cut mattress is concerned, it’s extremely hard to find any two RV makers using the exact same size. They all differ in some aspect, even across varying models of the same brand. Thankfully, a solution to this dilemma exists. The Perfect Fit mattress, which is offered by Handcraft Mattress Company (800-241-7751; www.hmcwest.com), can be custom-built to any style or size mattress for any coach. All the company needs are the dimensions for your application, and this family-owned-and-operated business will have your mattress ready in two or three weeks, typically. The company, which happens to have locations on each side of the United States to help facilitate the quick turnaround time, will send you a brochure with all the pertinent ordering instructions. In addition to corner-cut applications, HMC is also the source for short queens, rounded corners, and any other oddball sizes you can imagine. I can still envision the weird shape of the cab-over mattress in an old pickup camper I had many years ago.
Dear RV Doctor:
I have a Coleman roof air conditioner on our motorhome. What wattage does it take to start and run the air conditioner?
John Du Bois
RV Doctor: John, roof air conditioners must be wired to a dedicated 20-amp circuit. At 120 volts AC, 20 amps equates to 2,400 watts. The starting current needed will vary, but it could be close to 17 or 18 amps or higher depending on the condition of the compressor and where in the cycle it actually starts. Running current should stay at about 13 to 14 amps. Obviously, these are estimated figures for a properly charged unit in good operating condition.