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Tech Topics - January/February 2017

by Paul and Kerri Elders

Let’s take a look at some simple ways to keep tabs on your suspension system, learn a bit about catalytic converters, and explore some sensible tips on how to handle a tire emergency.  Ready? Let’s get going!

Suspension System:  The service life of your RV’s suspension and its component parts is influenced by many factors, including how many miles you’ve driven, road conditions, extreme weather exposures, and your own driving habits. If you’re a hardy traveler, it’s a good idea to have your RV’s suspension system inspected annually.  A basic suspension inspection should include a check of air bags (if applicable), struts, shock absorbers, and springs.  Shock absorbers are located underneath the RV, near the airbags (if so equipped). Shocks are placed up front, in the rear, or in many cases on larger RV’s, on both the front and the rear of the undercarriage. Diesel coaches with eight airbags generally include eight shocks.  Gas coaches may only have four shocks, two in the front and two in the rear, simply because gas engines weigh less than their diesel cousins and require less shock restraint.  If shocks or struts require replacement, always replace them in pairs to maintain your vehicle’s proper handling characteristics.

Generally speaking, the easiest way to know if you have a suspension issue (beyond visual inspection) is by simply paying attention to changes in the handling characteristics of your RV.  Stay in tune with your vehicle while driving and observe things like the amount of tension you feel in the steering wheel and the general “road feel” of the vehicle.  Watch for warning signs of potential problems such as loose steering, shimmying or vibrating at certain speeds, unusual harshness in bumps, unusual sounds, or a sensation of pulling to one side while driving on a straight road. It’s also a great practice to keep track of tire mileage and have tires rotated on your RV’s recommended schedule; see your Owner’s Manual for details.

Whenever you notice significant changes in your RV’s handling, or if your RV is ever involved in an accident or has been driven off-road, it’s a good idea to to have the chassis thoroughly inspected by a qualified mechanic.

Catalytic Converters:  The US government mandated a move to equip exhaust systems on gasoline-burning vehicles with catalytic converters to help reduce air pollution. Catalytic converters are installed in the exhaust line between the exhaust manifold and the muffler on conventional gas-powered vehicles.  When a gas engine burns fuel, combustion produces some byproducts (like hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides) that can be harmful to the environment.  The catalytic converter uses chemicals that act as a catalyst (a substance that causes a reaction between other chemicals without being affected itself), transforming these pollutants into relatively harmless substances like carbon dioxide and water that can be safely released into the environment through the tail pipe.  Most vehicles manufactured after 1996 are equipped with emissions sensors that notify you if your catalytic converter isn’t working properly. Unfortunately, your vehicle will also fail its annual inspection if the catalytic converter fails and it can’t pass the emissions test.  When necessary, catalytic converter replacement is best addressed by a qualified mechanic.

Handling a Blowout:  Let’s face it:  your tires aren’t the most glamorous accessory on your RV, but good tires are the foundation of a good trip. They’re literally “where the rubber hits the road” and are an important part of ensuring your safety on the road.  Inspect them often, checking to make sure they’re free of debris, properly inflated, have adequate tread depth, and show no signs of dry rot or crazing on the sidewalls.

If you don’t take good care of your tires, you might have to deal with every traveler’s dread: a blowout.  Although blown out tires can be caused by a puncture, they’re usually the result of progressive damage to a tire caused by over-inflation, overloading, or excessive aging or wear on a tire.

So, how should you handle a blowout while driving your motorhome on the freeway?  Your first “panic” reaction would probably be to slam on the brakes, but that’s actually the wrong thing to do.  The proper response is to just keep your cool.  Keep a firm grasp on the steering wheel and briefly and gently accelerate to maintain your speed, then gradually ease off the accelerator, keeping your momentum controlled, staying in the same lane you were traveling in before the blowout.  As you gently ease off the accelerator, gradually make your way to the far right lane while signaling your intentions.

Now turn on your hazard lights so that traffic around you is well aware that something is wrong.  Allow the RV to lose its momentum (without applying the brakes) while you’re in the far right lane, until your speed is reduced to about 10 miles per hour.  Then, carefully and deliberately move off the roadway (preferably onto a paved shoulder), gently brake, and call for help.  No panic, no problem.

Keep your eyes on the horizon; happy travels, trailblazers!

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