House Calls with the RV Doctor
By Gary Bunzer
Dear RV Doctor:
I have a question about RV toilets. The one in our older motorhome seems to work fine, but I’m wondering whether the valve is closing properly. My neighbor says that the toilet should hold water in the bottom bowl to make a seal to prevent odors. All the water leaks out of mine and into the holding tank. I cannot find anything that may be preventing it from closing completely. Is this a do-it-yourself repair, or do I need a professional?
La Crosse, Wisconsin
RV Doctor: Harv, indeed, there should be some water left in the bowl after every flush. Without the water seal, odors from the holding tank can and will enter the coach. There are a few possible reasons for the water to leak out. First, check to be sure that the bolts that secure the toilet to the flange are not too tight, thereby distorting the base of the toilet. If the toilet is mounted on top of carpeting, trimming the carpet so the base rests solidly on the floor is best. If the base is too tight, the flushing mechanism will become warped or racked and not close fully.
But the most common cause is simply that paper and waste have accumulated inside the slide valve mechanism on Thetford’s Aqua Magic units. On an older SeaLand toilet, the typical cause is a worn seal or a clamp ring that is too loose. Yours is likely to be one of these two brands. If you have an Aqua Magic, fashion an L-shaped hook out of a coat hanger or a bent screwdriver that will reach into the groove to scrape out the residue. Better yet, you can purchase a tool from Thetford just for this task. This is preferable since the wire hanger or screwdriver could do damage to the rubber seal. Turn off the water supply, depress the flushing pedal, and carefully remove any debris jammed into the groove just below the rubber seal. Take special care not to damage that seal. In severe cases, the toilet will have to be disassembled and the flushing mechanism taken completely apart, then cleaned, lubed, and reassembled. To rectify the situation on the SeaLand toilet, simply tighten the clamp ring. In some cases, a complete seal kit may have to be installed if water still continues to seep past the seal and into the holding tank.
Also, on a SeaLand toilet, minerals may accumulate on the bottom side of the rubber ball seal and allow leak-through. To determine whether this might be the problem, put on a rubber glove, open the valve with the foot pedal, and carefully feel the underside of the rubber ball seal. Any roughness is evidence of a mineral build-up. Remove the minerals by using a SeaLand Ball Seal Cleaning Kit (part #385-310-805) or any other mineral dissolver that will not harm rubber, such as Bar Keepers Friend.
Dear RV Doctor:
Why does my slideout room keep moving even when I release the switch? Last year it worked fine; now when I release the switch, I hear a motor spinning and the room keeps moving. Is there trouble with the solenoid switch on the motor?
RV Doctor: John, with such a plethora of slideout mechanisms found today, it depends on the actual design of the slide mechanism. But if the problem is not evident with every slideout on the motorhome, chances are an individual stop mechanism is out of adjustment. I doubt it would be the activating solenoid, since the room does indeed slide in and out. Rather, it sounds more like a micro switch is out of position for that particular room. (Keep in mind that this is just an educated guess made without knowing the actual make and model of the slide assembly.) If the manufacturer provided troubleshooting literature, there are some adjustments that can be performed by the RVer. If you have doubts about tackling this yourself, or if you do not have thorough troubleshooting documentation, contact the manufacturer of the slide mechanism (not the coach maker) and ask for a referral. They should have a list of dealers and service facilities familiar with their products. Once you find a service facility in your geographic area, I would call ahead to be sure that the shop employs technicians experienced with that make of slideout.
Dear RV Doctor:
We have had this problem with two different motorhomes. Our patio awning latch has been ineffective in a strong side wind, and the awning has unwound and flipped while we are driving! It actually broke the vent cover on top of the motorhome. We need a way to anchor the awning and secure it instead of using duct tape. Recently while in a very strong side wind, our awning came loose, and when we pulled over to secure it, there were two other motorhomes pulled over, and the owners were fixing their awnings, too. Any suggestions?
RV Doctor: Shirley, so sorry to hear of your awning loss. It can indeed be quite disconcerting to have an awning unroll as you are driving down the road. In addition to properly securing the awning lock mechanism, standard on many brands, I also recommend a product called Awning Cinch Straps, available from Coil n’ Wrap (www.coilnwrap.com/awning/awningcinch.htm). One of these little straps on each awning arm should prevent this from happening a third time! And because they’re so inexpensive, you might even want to order an extra set to hand out to that next unfortunate RVer you chat with alongside the roadway.
In a very strong wind, even this may not completely solve the problem, especially if the roller tube lock is worn or damaged. Check the integrity of the lock occasionally by trying to extend the awning without releasing the lock. If you are able to pull the awning out even a few inches, the roller tube lock is worn and should be replaced.
On The Level
Dear RV Doctor:
I have a type A motorhome and I often find it challenging to level my coach in some campsites. Is it really that important that the unit is level? I know it was important for the older refrigerators, but with the new ones is it still critical? Also, if it does cause damage running off-level, is it less critical if I am running the refrigerator on electric as opposed to gas?
RV Doctor: James, from the point where liquid is first produced in the condenser section of the cooling unit until the liquid reaches the boiler section, gravity is employed. Since liquids cannot flow uphill, it’s important to run the refrigerator only while level. The crucial section is the low temperature evaporator located within the freezer compartment. To the refrigerator, it matters not how level the galley countertop is, or the dinette table, or the outside corners of the RV. If it does not correspond with the low temperature evaporator coils located in the freezer compartment, all leveling efforts will be for naught.
If the refrigerator is operated while severely out of level — 3 degrees or more in any direction — for a few hours or more, circulation of the cooling unit will cease and damage may occur. Leveling is important during any operational mode (12 volts DC, 120 volts AC, or LP) while the RV is stationary. While driving or physically moving down the road, there is enough jostling and movement to keep the liquids safely flowing through the system. It is only crucial when the vehicle is not in motion. True, today’s absorption refrigerators are more forgiving than their predecessors; still, all RVers should make every effort to completely level the refrigerator. To risk any operation out of level could be an expensive wager indeed.
Using a small bull’s-eye-type level, place it in the refrigerator and ensure that at least one-half of the bubble is within the smaller black ring, and the refrigerator will be level within 1-1/2 degrees, which is acceptable.