Bernadette and the Art of RV Repair

2013-09-14

We shall call her "Bernadette".


Our 2010 Heartland Sundance 3300RLB fifth-wheel trailer has had a name for a while; we have been letting it sink-in. Her name is Bernadette. This name came as a suggestion from a trusted friend. It is a little old-fashioned, but implies a tough and complicated lady. I think it fits.

For the record, Jane ratified the name Bernadette.

We have been on the road with Bernadette in tow for a bit less than a month. To illustrate her richness of complexity, I will enumerate the various repairs I have performed on, under, and in Ms. Bernadette. These are roughly ordered from least heroic to most heroic.

Squeaky door repair

All three of Bernadette's doors squeak to some degree. With both tight spaces and small children, squeaky doors provide an amplified nuisance. I have a bottle of "Tri-Flow", which I obtained at the same time I bought my Specialized Rock Hopper (which was later stolen) in college. I prefer the Tri-Flow to WD-40 because it has a tidy applicator tip and does not smell like petroleum.

Refrigerator drip tray repair

Bernadette's refrigerator is somewhat primitive. Its cooling fins are directly inside the main refrigerator compartment. These fins accumulate lots of ice and water. There is a poorly placed tray that catches this water and flows it through a tube to outside the RV. The repair was to affix the tray to the back wall of the fridge with super glue.

30A fuse replacement

My first attempt at parking Bernadette was in West Valley City, Utah on one of those scorching 100 degree summer days. After 20 minutes of backing her into the parking space, it was time to lower the landing gear, but nothing happened. A quick service call clued me into the 30A fuse that sits in-line to the landing gear motor. Fortunately I had done my homework and already had a kit of spare fuses.

Exterior lens repairs

The hail only caused minor damage to Bernadette. Which is to say that three lens for various exterior lights were knocked off. I was able to easily find replacement lenses at an RV parts store. One of the three lens also has a non-functioning bulb, so I still need to address that.

Stove igniter repair

At some point the igniter knob on the stove failed to work. We used matches to light the stove for several days. In the act of cleaning the stove top, I discovered a disconnected wire between the igniter knob and the propane outlets. Putting 2 + 2 together, I plugged that wire back in. VoilĂ , igniter functions once more. Two pats on the back for that one.

Vanity caulking

Like everything else in Bernadette, the vanity in the bathroom is constructed of very light weight materials. I.e. particle board with laminate decoration. Enough water gets splashed at the sink to cause some puddling. Noting that the counter was not well caulked to the wall, I was nervous about water damage. I cleaned out the old silicone caulk remnants and applied a big-ass bead of bright white silicone.

Roof vent cover replacement

RV roof vents covers are made of a special plastic that upon exposure to the sun for ten days becomes sufficiently brittle that a branch, rock, or willful sneeze will shatter it. Without these vent covers, rain falls straight into beds and commodes. Replacement of these vent covers requires the following steps:

  1. Climb onto the roof and carefully analyze the hinge of the existing vent covers. Remember well for step #2.
  2. Go to an RV parts store and carefully choose the replacement vent cover type that matches the hinge from your RV.
  3. Open your wallet and shake about 3x more cash out than you think you ought to.
  4. Disassemble the vent assembly from inside the RV. There are nine screws and three discrete components to track.
  5. Back on the roof, remove old cover and affix new cover.
  6. Throw old cover to the ground. Relish the distinct sound of cheap plastic shattering into hundreds of pieces.
  7. Back inside, reassemble those three discrete components and nine screws.

Under body repair

The under body of Bernadette is a giant, continuous corrugated plastic sheet. It is affixed directly to the steel frame with self-threading screws and large washers. At some point about ten of these fasteners fell off leaving the under body sheet hanging flaccid in several locations. I was able to find matching self-threading screws and washers at the hardware store and replace all but one missing fastener. The non-replaced fastener location was stripped; I have not yet made an extra effort to fix this one. Perhaps a larger screw could work...

Keys

Bernadette only came with one set of keys. For obvious reasons, a second set is nice to have. My first attempt at key duplicates was at Bear Lake. Both keys failed. The second attempt was in Custer. They recognized that their blanks were insufficient and sent me away empty handed. The third try was in Rapid City where one of two keys works. I still have one spare to make. Hopefully I will have better luck with that now that we are east of the Mississippi.

Water heater anode replacement

RV water heaters typically have an anode. This is a long piece of metal in the form of a bolt that sits in the water heater's tank. The anode's lot in life is to corrode so that the tank walls do not. Bernadette's anode was visibly corroded on its exterior, so I figured the interior had to be worse. I was correct. It took a large amount of elbow grease, Lime Away, and a special wire brush to clean out the threads the anode screws into. There is very slow leak now that even additional cleaning and Teflon tape did not remedy. I am drawing the will to do more cleaning of the anode threads.

Wasp nest removal from furnace flue

We have remained relatively far north and September is waning. This meant that we finally had need for Bernadette's furnace. Our first night with the furnace active, the carbon monoxide alarm went off. After a small panic, we opened all the windows and doubled-down on blankets to get through the cold night. The next morning I set about to learn why our furnace was trying to murder us in our sleep. Apparently two wasp nests obstructing the exhaust flue can interrupt the furnace's combustion cycle. A flashlight and a chop stick were sufficient to dislodge the nests and bring the CO level to zero.

Tire inflation

For those of you with cars, you may question whether "tire inflation" should show up as a full-fledged maintenance item. On my first trip to the Flying J with Bernadette, I learned that one dollar in quarters and five minutes of squatting, squeezing, and pressing would net five PSI in one tire. In my most recent attempt, I learned that some air compressors simply cannot push air into these tires. So after four attempts, I have only been able to get each tire to 8 PSI from the target 80.


There remain several repairs on my TODO list.

  • Brake repair - one of the trailer's drum brakes occasionally locks-up. This one will require a professional.
  • Roof caulking - some minor cracking in the existing caulk warrants touch-up.
  • Bug removal - turns out Bernadette is not aerodynamically sound; insects beware. This bug removal will require solvent.
  • Stove light bulb replacement - its dark under the stove hood.
  • Remove Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade from the DVD player - this disc came with Bernadette and may explain her Sean Connery fetish.
Posted 2013-09-14 by Pete Grayson in misc.
repair