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Author Topic: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming  (Read 2250 times)

Lunar Firefly

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Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« on: December 30, 2017, 04:57:12 PM »
Hello!

I'm completely new to this and a lot of learning has come from research into fixing things, and advice from RV goods retailers.

We got a 1990 Fleetwood Southwind 28ft RV that I'll be living in.  Having no knowledge of RVs, we went by what we could find to determine if this seemed worthwhile, but as of yesterday we've learned it wasn't.  We think the hot water heater is bad as the water has been ice cold despite it being on for a while, and the pilot light keeps going out then relighting a bit later, out, rinse, repeat.

After plugging in the 'shore' power, we realized the system wasn't getting any juice.  I took a no contact voltage pen to the line from the electrical box into the RV and it was hot.  Checked the wires in the box it connected to, which also read active.  But when I got to the power converter under the fridge, not maybe six feet from the power cable, there was nothing.  We managed to fire up the generator and realized there's nothing coming in from that either.

We checked EVERYWHERE for a switch to see if it was dead, or stuck, and couldn't find it.  My friend also looked, and he was able to get into areas I couldn't and even he wasn't able to locate anything.  He's familiar with RVs, but he's as baffled as we are on what the deal is.

I'm suppose to be moving into it Sunday as our lease here is up (my friend is going his own way).

Right now we're running a line in from the power box via extension cord and surge protector just to get the converter going, and power some basics up.  Fridge is working on an external power cord as well for the moment.

Does anyone have ANY ideas where the switch could be, or to determine if there might be something else going on?

Water pump, heater, stove, and the like all work as they work off propane.

If it helps, the layout (as I understand this can change where things are) from the back to front - bedroom, full size bed positioned so the head and foot sit against the sides of the RV.  Cabinets on either side of the head of the bed (drivers side) with another closer to the front in the bedroom, on the passenger side.  Next is the bathroom on the drivers side; small toilet next to the sink against the side of the RV, and a shower with mini bath further up in the RV right up against the side of the sink.  Next is the fridge, and couch/bed which extends up to the drivers seat.

Passenger side has two storage closets and drawers, then stove, sink and counter space before coming to the stairwell to the door.  After the stairwell is a chair, and a table before the passenger seat.

Optional table hole in front of the couch.

I'm still familiarizing myself with all the external compartments but right around where the power plug feeds in, is the water line, water pump, external shower hookup, and sewage compartment.  Further up on the drivers side is the hot water heater, and refrigerator, then the propane tank.

Passenger side on the far back is the generator, storage, heater, entry door, and then more storage.

And of course all the various cupboards inside the coach.

I hope this isn't too much information.  Please let me know if there's anything more you need.

Thanks a bunch for all your help!

Lou Schneider

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2017, 05:55:10 PM »
Hi, and welcome to The RV Forum!

The electrical path into your RV is the shore power cord, to the automatic transfer switch, then to the 120 volt distribution panel (the circuit breakers).

One breaker on the 120 volt panel feeds the outlet the 12 volt converter is plugged into.  The converter supplies 12 volts DC to run your lights and charge the batteries, and 12 volts won't show up on a no contact tester.

The first thing I'd check is to make sure all of the 120 volt circuit breakers are turned on and not tripped.   One of the breakers is the Main Breaker, the inlet to the panel.  Turn it all the way off and then back on, since sometimes breakers can trip without noticeably moving the handle away from the "on" position.

Does this restore 120 volt power to things like the microwave and TV?  If not, repeat the process for the rest of the circuit breakers.

If this doesn't solve the problem, the next suspect is the automatic changeover switch.  That's the box the shore power cord and the line from the generator go into.  There aren't any controls or switches for it, it's supposed to automatically select whether to send the generator or shore power to the circuit breaker panel.   If it's not doing this, it needs repair or replacement.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2017, 06:03:28 PM by Lou Schneider »

Rene T

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2017, 06:32:34 PM »
Same here. Welcome to the forum.
As far as the water heater, can you get the name and model number. Do you know if it's suppose to run off 110 Volt AC as well as propane?  If it's just propane, check the burner tube to make sure spiders haven't gotten in there and built a nest. If that blocks the air flow, the unit will not continue to burn properly and will possibly shut down.

You have a battery somewhere and you need to check the voltage with a volt meter. If it's a wet cell battery, check the cells to make sure they are full.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2017, 01:25:33 AM by Rene T »
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Lunar Firefly

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2017, 01:18:20 AM »
Hey thanks for replying so quickly!

Lou -

Alright so the switch, and the converter are two different things?  The converter is a black box, rectangular, which sits flat in the cubby beneath the fridge.  It's right beside the fuses, and the circuit breakers.  When my friend used a multimeter on the breakers, he wasn't detecting any power.  If the switch is bad, would it prevent power from reaching the converter and breakers even from the generator?

When the cable was first plugged in, the breakers inside the RV hadn't been turned off.  That's something I later learned was important, so I tried to do it the right way, and have since then flipped the breakers several times to troubleshoot it.  We also tried firing up the generator hoping that doing so might unstick the switch if it got stuck due to not properly hooking the shore power up.

The automatic switch is the thing we've been struggling to locate.  The generator, and the shore power cable wires all go into metal boxes with wires that go inside the RV.  My friend checked underneath the RV as well to see if it might have been hidden under there, but we've had no luck with it.  If we could find the switch itself, I think we'll be able to fix the problem.  But it's finding it that we're stumped on.

Thanks for your feedback!  I'll try flipping the switches a few more times.  It took several tries with the hot water heater to get it lit, and burning so maybe the power will start working if I keep at it a bit more.

Rene -

We checked both batteries with a multimeter.  The main battery for the engine was 12.06, but the battery for the coach was dwindling at a pitiful .16.  We have since fired up the RV, and they have both charged very well.  We may still need to replace them.  They never reached 'good/green' on the panel inside the RV (the little lights that tell you the water tank fullness, or the propane level, etc. etc).  We also found what was leaching power off the coach battery.  An old antenna signal booster the previous owners had hidden behind the VHS player.  It has since been turned off.

I'll check the heater when we go out there tomorrow, and make sure it's clear of spider webs.  That's a very good point.  Considering how many had turned the storage compartments under the RV into homes, it really wouldn't surprise me if there were a cluster in the hot water heater.

Thanks for the advice!

And thank you both for the welcome!  I'll post an update while out there tomorrow, and give you the requested data.

Rene T

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2017, 01:33:48 AM »
When the cable was first plugged in, the breakers inside the RV hadn't been turned off.  That's something I later learned was important, so I tried to do it the right way, and have since then flipped the breakers several times to troubleshoot it.  We also tried firing up the generator hoping that doing so might unstick the switch if it got stuck due to not properly hooking the shore power up.

That's not true at all. No need to shut all the breakers off inside the RV. A good habit to get into is before plugging in the shore power cable to the pedestal, shut the breaker off at the pedestal. Then plug in the cable and then turn on that breaker.  By doing it this way, it prevents any arching at the plug from taking place and eventually burning the tips off the plug. Envision everything that runs off 110 Volt AC in the RV is turned on and then you go and plug in. It will create quite a spark attempting to make contact.  Hope I didn't loose you. If I did, tell me.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2017, 01:36:59 AM by Rene T »
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Lunar Firefly

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2017, 02:58:59 AM »
That's not true at all. No need to shut all the breakers off inside the RV. A good habit to get into is before plugging in the shore power cable to the pedestal, shut the breaker off at the pedestal. Then plug in the cable and then turn on that breaker.  By doing it this way, it prevents any arching at the plug from taking place and eventually burning the tips off the plug. Envision everything that runs off 110 Volt AC in the RV is turned on and then you go and plug in. It will create quite a spark attempting to make contact.  Hope I didn't loose you. If I did, tell me.

Nope didn't lose me at all :)

That makes total sense.  I don't believe anything except maybe the lights, were running at the time it was plugged in.  Maybe the fridge.  But yes I do believe the breakers were flipped off at the box before plugging it in.

Thanks for the clarification.

kdbgoat

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2017, 05:42:54 AM »
I'm not familiar at all with the OP's motorhome, but do they even have an ATS? Their shore power cord may plug into a receptacle that's fed by their generator, and that receptacle is generally located where the shore power cord is stored for travel.
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Thunderhawk

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2017, 08:41:47 AM »
(Quote) Alright so the switch, and the converter are two different things?  The converter is a black box, rectangular, which sits flat in the cubby beneath the fridge.  It's right beside the fuses, and the circuit breakers.  When my friend used a multimeter on the breakers, he wasn't detecting any power.  If the switch is bad, would it prevent power from reaching the converter and breakers even from the generator?(Quote)

If it does Have a ATS it may be Behind Power Dist Box Have you pulled it out of wall and checked cubby hole where dist box goes 

RedandSilver

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2017, 10:07:20 AM »
Quote
We checked both batteries with a multimeter.  The main battery for the engine was 12.06, but the battery for the coach was dwindling at a pitiful .16.  We have since fired up the RV, and they have both charged very well.  We may still need to replace them.  They never reached 'good/green' on the panel inside the RV (the little lights that tell you the water tank fullness, or the propane level, etc. etc).

Did I read that right .16 Volts?  Batteries that low will likely never return to useful service.
You didn't say if you checked the Water level in the batteries.  A hydrometer which measures electrolyte level is going to tell you
the condition more then a volt meter - although if .16v is what it read - that again means there likely shot.  Many batteries also have
a date on them and 7-8 years is about what most can expect with proper maintenance never letting the liquid levels get low enough so plates
are exposed.   

Also can you clarify what you have?
One chassis battery (which is 12Volts) and one house battery which would also be 12 volt if only one or could be 6volts each
if 2 batteries are used for the house side. Which do you have? And is there a date on them?
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sc4668

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2017, 01:06:49 PM »
I do not believe a 1990 had an automatic transfer switch. I had a 1998 Winnebago and had to manually unplug the shore power and plug in the generator power. See if you have a receptacle in the power compartment.

Lunar Firefly

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2017, 04:05:36 PM »
I'm not familiar at all with the OP's motorhome, but do they even have an ATS? Their shore power cord may plug into a receptacle that's fed by their generator, and that receptacle is generally located where the shore power cord is stored for travel.

There's no plugs.  The wires all go into gray, metal boxes about 4 x 4 inches with sliding flip doors.  When opened they expose crimped (twist caps?) wires; black, white and green, and they're connected to the same colored wires which feed into the wall inside the box.  There's no mechanisms of any sort that I can see that look anything like ATS or manual.

The manual also says the RV is an ATS.

If it does Have a ATS it may be Behind Power Dist Box Have you pulled it out of wall and checked cubby hole where dist box goes 

We've checked all over the cubby hole where the converted sits, and where the shore power cable feeds into the RV and have had no luck finding anything.

Did I read that right .16 Volts?  Batteries that low will likely never return to useful service.
You didn't say if you checked the Water level in the batteries.  A hydrometer which measures electrolyte level is going to tell you
the condition more then a volt meter - although if .16v is what it read - that again means there likely shot.  Many batteries also have
a date on them and 7-8 years is about what most can expect with proper maintenance never letting the liquid levels get low enough so plates
are exposed.   

Also can you clarify what you have?
One chassis battery (which is 12Volts) and one house battery which would also be 12 volt if only one or could be 6volts each
if 2 batteries are used for the house side. Which do you have? And is there a date on them?

Yeah it's way deep in there and I'm not the tallest of people so the only way to do that is to get someone to lift them out and check them.  I do have a hydrometer that could be used.  In any case, you're probably right about them never recovering.  They're only about 2-3 yrs old.  Like... 5/15 I think was the date on them.

Both are 12v.  One feeds power to the engine ONLY and the other to the 'housing'.  We got lights off the house battery (coach?) but not the generator, or the power cable.

Here's some images of the batteries and the generator if that helps at all --

I had to link these in as they're apparently too big.  Want to make sure you guys can read them.

https://imgur.com/a/xF8aB

I woke up sick so getting out there will be later, or tomorrow.

Thanks everyone for your help!

Gary RV_Wizard

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #11 on: January 01, 2018, 10:16:48 AM »
Some RV electrical education will help you diagnose what is wrong and why you are being told certain things, but please forgive me if I'm telling you somethings you already know. Also, this forum Library article may help:  http://www.rvforum.net/joomla/index.php/electrical-systems-primer-spare-64

The generator is simply an alternate source for 120v shore power. It doesn't separately power anything - both shore and genset power cords come together and feed 120v power into the load center (breaker panel).  The ATS selects one or the other because it is not allowable to have both feeding power to the RV at the same time.   The box where the two sets of wires enter and one set exits is the ATS.  It is entirely possible for a wire to come loose in there, or for part of the mechanism to fail.

The 120v breakers only feed power directly to a couple of things, e.g. air conditioner, some wall outlets, a microwave if you have one, and the electric operation modes of the fridge and maybe the water heater (but your water heater may be lp gas only).  Most everything else runs off 12v power, either fully or partially. Lighting is 12v, not shore/genset power.  12v power also has two sources, either the house battery or the 12v power converter. It is allowed for multiple 12v sources to be active at the same time, so the battery and converter power output are usually just hooked together into one common system.   The 12v power converter "converts" 120v shore/genset power to 12v DC power, hence it's name.  So, you don't get lights and such directly from shore power - you get it from the converter and battery together.  If you have no lights when connected to shore power, it's because 120v shore power is not reaching the converter AND the house battery is not connected either. TWO problems, not just one.

The batteries in your photos look good but there is no telling how functional they are (internally) from the looks. They are what is called Marine/RV batteries, which typically have a useful life of about 3 years but can easily have their life shortened by deep discharging, over-charging, and high temperatures. They also need to have the electrolyte in the cells topped up with distilled water occasionally. This article should help with that: https://www.wikihow.com/Check-Car-Battery-Water-Levels

There is probably a switch that disconnects the house battery from the wiring, used when storing the RV for longer periods. If it is off, you get no battery power. If no battery, and no power coming from the converter, you have no 12v and no lighting unless the engine is running.
Gary
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Lunar Firefly

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #12 on: January 01, 2018, 03:43:37 PM »
Hmm I think I understand, Gary.
Which leads back to my original thought that the switch was bad.  But we haven't been able to locate it to troubleshoot it.  I'll try to check behind the breakers again.

Thanks for the thorough explanation.  That was very helpful.

Lunar Firefly

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2018, 09:40:49 AM »
Alright so still no luck finding that ATS though I have a sneaky suspicion after poking around on google and forums more, than it may be hiding behind the fuse box.  Also found mold around the vents when I dissembled the vent to pull out the screen and put those pillow-like pads in there to keep them insulated.  And one of the tables got pulled from the wall revealing mold in there, too as the screws were rusted, and there was mold clinging to them as well as on the wall where the table sat against it.  Been trying to clean everything up, but it's taking a lot more work than expected.

I have a random question.

The lever on the side of the barrel chair isn't working, and I found the cable that goes to it is no longer attached to anything under the chair, but I need to swivel the chair to face the table.  Is there a way to do that without the latch working?  Like underneath the chair, can I push or pull something to release the part that keeps it in place, so the chair can be turned?
Hopefully that makes sense.

Also does anyone else have any issues with fickle cell signal in your RV?  Is there an inexpensive way to remedy that?

I'll post more updates and probably questions too.

Thanks everyone for all your help so far!

Len2

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2018, 08:09:13 PM »
As to the barrel chair:

Without a picture I can't say for sure, but I am guessing that the cable attaches to a spring loaded pin in the pedestal and would normally pull the pin down to allow the chair to swivel. There probably is no way to pull the pin down without the cable being attached.
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Lunar Firefly

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #15 on: January 16, 2018, 11:31:10 AM »
Thanks, Len2.

I just tried to swivel the front passenger seat, and everything moves EXCEPT the swivel.  I tried all the way forward, all the way back, back of chair fully up.. But when I tried to lower or raise the seat, I didn't see a switch for it despite the manual saying it could be.  Only a switch to move the seat forward and back, and to raise or lower the back of the seat and of course the swivel switch.

The swivel switch feels loose, but when I checked the cable it seems to be attached to the base.

Am I doing something wrong?

Len2

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #16 on: January 17, 2018, 09:21:12 PM »
Is there anyway you might be able to post some pictures of the chair and the controls? I think I misunderstood the type of chair before. Is this the passenger's captains chair? I hope to get to our MH in the next few days and I will look at how it operates. I know the swivel operates with a lever and sometimes I have to play with it to make it swivel. It seems to work hard and I am afraid if I pull to hard it will break, but I have always got it to swivel by keeping pressure on the lever and attempting to swivel.
Len and Nancy
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Len2

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #17 on: January 20, 2018, 10:37:02 PM »
Lunar Firefly,
I looked at the passenger's captains chair in our MH today. It has a pull-up lever on the side for swivel. The cable from the lever on the side goes to another, spring- loaded, lever underneath the seat. I could reach under the seat and pull that lever and swivel the chair. Not sure if yours is the same. I have attached 2 pictures, one of the side of the chair showing the release lever and one of the spring-loaded lever. Hope it helps.
Len and Nancy
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2013 Ford CMax

SargeW

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #18 on: January 21, 2018, 01:49:57 PM »
What about the opposite side of the chair? They will often put release levers on the opposite side as to not have too many controls/switches wires in one place.
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Lunar Firefly

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #19 on: January 22, 2018, 08:36:15 PM »
Hey Len,

Thanks for that.  It looks basically the same, but still not turning.  I've read that it may be stiff?  Or hard to move if it's been a long time?  The passenger seat was my backup plan if I couldn't get the other to rotate.

It was actually the barrel chair that sits behind the passenger seat that I was having issues with originally.  The switch broke off, but I found the lever underneath and was able to swivel it.  Still a bit difficult to turn.

I think I may just remove the seats and couch all together to open up space, and put in a desk and some chairs that can be bunjeed against the wall when we move the RV.  The owner of the RV wants to keep the passenger seat in storage if I remove it for space as I'm living in here full time.

SargeW,

The opposite side of the passenger seat only has the lever to raise, or lower the back of the chair.  I checked all around it and didn't see, or feel any other levers.

On an unrelated note -

We found the ATS, and it does need replacing.  Can anyone suggest a good ATS to get?  The RV is a 1990 Fleetwood Southwind if that matters any.

Thanks again for your help!

Lunar Firefly

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #20 on: January 27, 2018, 06:22:42 PM »
I'm so confused.

So I'm trying to get a new ATS, but all the ones I see call for inverters.

Right now, we have a 30amp ATS with a 50amp CONverter, not inverter.

Why is the ATS only 30amp if it has a 50amp converter and why do most ATS use inverters and not converters?

Any help would be really great.  Thanks.

Lou Schneider

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Re: Newly bought RV for Fulltiming
« Reply #21 on: January 27, 2018, 07:34:00 PM »
ATS switches select between two 120 volt sources, and send one or the other of them into the RV.  If it's built into an inverter, it switches between an external 120 volt source and the inverter and sends one or the other into the RV. 

The reason you see more inverter based transfer switches is in commercial use, electronic equipment is usually fed the cleaner power from the inverter and battery while a charger keeps the battery topped up. This way momentary surges and interruptions in the power won't affect the feed to the equipment.   If the UPS fails, the transfer switch places the equipment directly on utility power so it keeps operating until the UPS can be repaired.

In your case, you want the ATS to select either shore power or the generator, and send one or the into the RV.

Here's one example of a Line-Generator ATS, you can find more by doing a Google search using that term:

Parallax Power ATS 301 Line Generator Switch

The confusion between a 30 amp ATS and a 50 amp converter is there's a 10:1 ratio between amps at 12 volts vs. amps at 120 volts.   A 12 volt, 50 amp converter will only draw up to 5 amps from a 120 volt line, plus a little extra for conversion losses.

A 30 amp ATS refers to the 30 amp shore power cord and plug feeding the RV.  It has 3 conductors, one each hot, neutral and ground.

50 amp RVs have a 4 conductor cord and plug.  They have two hot leads, neutral and ground.  The two hot leads are each 50 amp circuits so you can draw up to 100 amps at 120 volts from the pedestal.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2018, 07:46:50 PM by Lou Schneider »