RV Tips and Tricks

Tech Topics - May 2017

by Paul and Kerri Elders

This month, we’ll look at some quick and easy tips for keeping your RV’s engine cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  We’ll also explore hitch maintenance and learn a bit about the importance of emergency trailer braking systems.   Let’s go!

Hitch Maintenance:    If you tow a trailer, your tow vehicle’s hitch is the lifeline between the tower and the towed, and it should be meticulously maintained.  Luckily, hitch maintenance is fairly simple and straightforward.  For bumper tow vehicles, be sure to inspect the ball clamp on your tow vehicle before each use and check to see that the trailer’s coupler latching mechanism is operating properly before each hookup.  Lubricate as needed. It’s also a good idea to thoroughly inspect all fasteners for tightness at least every 2,000 miles of operation.

If you pull a fifth wheel or gooseneck, clean and lubricate your fifth wheel or gooseneck ball and receiver before and after each trip.  It’s also a good idea to grease the load-bearing surfaces with lithium grease every 2,000 miles.  Not only does this make the hitch operate more smoothly, but it significantly reduces wear and improves turning performance.

An aftermarket Teflon disk for fifth wheels is a popular option with many RVers because of its low maintenance requirements.  It reduces friction without grease, making for less maintenance and a cleaner truck bed.  On all fifth wheel systems, be sure to periodically inspect the kingpin latch plate, pin-box plate, saddle, and latch bolt for proper operation, looking for signs of excessive wear or any damage; tighten the platform mounting bolts as needed.  Grease the pivot points between the rails and hitch with lithium grease every 2000 miles or so.

Emergency Trailer Breakaway Systems:   Trailers that require brakes must be equipped with an emergency breakaway braking system. If the trailer separates from the tow vehicle for any reason while being towed, the emergency breakaway system will automatically engage the trailer’s brakes, bringing the trailer to a safe stop.  Hydraulic and electric emergency breakaway systems are engineered specifically for your trailer’s brake type.

With a hydraulic surge brake system, a cable or chain is connected to the tow vehicle.  If the trailer should break away during towing, this mechanical connecting linkage activates the master cylinder, immediately engaging the trailer brakes.  If your trailer has electric brakes, the breakaway system is comprised of a breakaway switch with a pull pin and a cable attached to your tow vehicle; a separate battery is usually required for the trailer itself, to power the breakaway system in an emergency.  If the trailer disconnects from the tow vehicle during highway travel, the trailer’s emergency battery backup system will provide electrical power to the brakes, slowing the trailer to a safe stop.

Regardless of the type of breakaway system your trailier has, it’s important to USE it. ALWAYS connect your breakaway cable or chain to your tow vehicle each and every time you hook up your trailer, no matter how short a trip you anticipate taking. And always use safety chains on bumper towed trailers, because Grandma was right:  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Keeping Your Cool:  Antifreeze/coolant (usually a formulation based on propylene glycol) is an essential chemical that serves a valuable purpose all year long.  By making water a more efficient conductor of heat, antifreeze/coolant (hereinafter “coolant”) allows the engine to run cooler in the summertime.  In the wintertime, this very same chemical protects the engine block from freezing.   Depending on the brand and formulation, coolant also often contains anti-corrosive agents that work to help prevent rusting and corrosion within the coolant system.

Coolant should never be added to a hot or running engine and you should NEVER check a radiator when the engine is hot.  Only add coolant when the engine is off and the engine has cooled.  The coolant reservoir is usually an opaque plastic tank with a “fill” line on the side, found in the engine compartment.  If you can’t locate the reservoir, check your owner’s manual; it’s possible that older models may not have a reservoir, in which case coolant is poured directly into the radiator.  Dilute the coolant as recommended on its label.  Some formulations require a 50/50 dilution with water; others are “pre-mixed” so that no additional water is needed.

Conventional coolant is both very toxic and sweet-tasting; always keep it out of the reach of children and pets.  If you ever have a spill, wipe it up completely and rinse the area thoroughly with fresh water.  Safely dispose of all rags used to clean the area, again keeping them out of reach of children and pets.

Since conventional coolant deteriorates with age, it should be drained, flushed, and replaced every other year.  Long-life coolant should be replaced about every five years.  Although you can do it yourself, flushing and replacing coolant is a job best performed by a professional mechanic.  Used coolant is considered a hazardous chemical and must be disposed of properly; automotive service centers have the facilities to do this.    Happy trails!

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