Ameri-Camp Family of Owners First posted Sep 19, 2009
Last update Apr 29, 2011

Helpful RV Tips

So far these tips have all been written by your webmaster, Frank Harrell, but please feel free to send any suggestions or tips you may have. We also welcome writeups and photos of custom modifications or repairs you have done to your RV.

Propane Detectors

Propane is a heavier than air gas so it settles to the lowest spot. Natural gas is lighter than air so it goes to the highest spot or escapes to the upper atmosphere.

In a 5th wheel, the propane detector should be placed just a few inches above the floor in the lowest area of the trailer. A central location about midway between your hot water heater, furnace and kitchen stove is the ideal place. If the furnace or hot water heater is a good distance from the kitchen stove, then a placement closer to the stove is better.

While leaks can occur from a furnace or hot water heater, it is more likely those leaks will be vented to the outside rather than inside the trailer, because of the way the devices are hooked up. Manufacturing codes require such appliances to have gas connections external to the RV just for that reason. The most likely source of a propane leak in a travel trailer or 5th wheel is the kitchen stove.

Propane is poisonous, but the most common accidents from leaking propane are fire or explosion. Therefore, we need as much advanced warning of leakages as possible.

The reason our trailers come with hard wired propane detectors is another code requirement. Too many people tend to let the batteries run down in their smoke detectors so the regulations require a hard wired initial installation for propane detectors. They also draw more power than smoke detectors so the batteries don't last as long as in smoke detectors.

How tall is your RV?

It is a good idea to do a little work and measure your RV. I like to have a card in my glove compartment or stuck to my dashboard with all the major measurements of my RV.

Don't let this happen to you! Windows Media

Measurements you should know
  • Maximum height of your RV while hooked to your tow vehicle (including air conditioner or satellite dish)
  • Width of the widest item, including such things as your awning supports
  • The width of any slide outs, I use the measurement the slide out sticks out from the side of my trailer
  • The total width of your vehicle with all side outs extended
  • The actual length of your RV, front to back
  • Total length of your RV including the tow vehicle or towed vehicles

Another thing I keep a 12 foot tape measure in one of my storage compartments to double check to make sure I am parked so the slid out will miss that tree or electrical hookup. Most of the time I can eye it, but if it appears to be really close I pull out the tape measure.

Online Connectivity

How can you stay connected to the Internet while traveling?
There are several systems available, and depending on your budget you should allow for as many options as possible. For example, most of the Cell Phone based packages only allow given amount of bandwidth a month before they either cut you off or start charging a great deal extra. So it is useful to be able to use the campground's Internet, when available, to save your bandwidth. So make sure your computer has a Wi-fi card in addition to any other options you chose. My setup is quite complicated and I intend on creating a page describing my system sometime soon.

Campground supplied Wi-Fi

More and more campgrounds are offering Wi-Fi Internet service. Most seem to be offering the service for free; however, much of the time the free service is frequently slow as it is being shared by many campers. Some campgrounds charge for the service and I have found that usually the charge service is faster than the free services, but that is not always the case. Most new notebook computers come with a Wi-Fi card and built-in cards tend to be a bit better than USB or PCMCIA cards, but again this depends on the computer and the manufacturer of the card.

A USB plug-in card, may be a better option for campers because you can use a USB extension cord to move the card away from the computer and place it high up in a window for better reception. Some USB cards come with short extension cords, some don't. Many RVs have metal frames that will block Wi-Fi signals, so placing the card in a window can greatly increase your signal strength. Try to determine which direction the campground's closest access point is from your RV and use a window on that side.

It is usually fairly easy to spot a Wi-Fi access point. These antennas come in two varieties. A vertical colum, usually a white pole about 5 to 6 feet long, but they can take on other appearances, or a square, flat device anywhere from 5 inches to 2 feet across. The pole antennas are usually mounted on the roof of a building or top of a pole, and usually will have some sort of small plastic box near the bottom. The square antennas are usually found on the sides of buildings. The pole type antenna is omni-directional which means they work from all directions. The flat antennas have a longer range, but will only pick up signals from in front. So if you see a flat antenna that is pointed 90 degrees or more away from you, then that antenna won't work for you unless it is very close. Some campgrounds have built their own system using standard consumer access points or routers like you might have at home. These are fine, but they don't usually have the range of the commercial antennas mentioned above. The consumer access points without an external antenna are usually only effective up to 300 feet away, where as the commercial systems can work well up to 2,000 feet, depending on how well the system is designed.

Many Wi-Fi cards come with their own connection software which may give you an indication of signal level from different access points. Choose the access point on the campgrounds' network with the strongest signal. It is important to understand that signal strength is not directly related to how fast your Internet connection will be. In most cases, a 3% signal will give you just as fast an Internet connection as a 90% signal. The strong signal will just be a bit more stable as radio conditions change around the campground, such as a big motor home parking between you and the access point.

Cellular service sometimes called "Air Cards"

With this option, you purchase an "air card" from your cellular phone company, which plugs into your computer and connects you to the Internet through a special data account with your cell phone company. (Note: the term "air card" is a registered trademark of Sierra Wireless who manufactures the vast majority of the devices used for this service. There are other manufactures, but most people will know what you are speaking of if you use the term air card.)

This method can give you a lot of options, but can be extremely confusing trying to figure out which service to pick. This is the only option that can allow you to surf the Internet while driving along (with one exception mentioned under Satellite Internet below). The various providers keep the consumer guessing as to what the various packages or services actually do so it is difficult to determine which service you should subscribe to. It is very important to try to understand the packages because, at this writing, you must sign up for a minimum of 2 years of service. Picking the wrong service provider can create massive headaches over the course of your contract. For example, for some carriers, if you aren't in their service area, you get no service. Some providers offer roaming through other areas which can get very expensive very quickly. As of this writing, Verizon has the widest coverage compared to ATT or Sprint.

Another point to consider now, is service version. The current latest technology is called G3 which just means Generation Three of the technology used to transmit data. Those who are not youngsters will remember the "Bag Phones" or heavy bulky cellular phone sets that had to be installed in your truck or car. That was Generation One. The portable, fits in your pocket, phones most of us now carry used G2 service and most will also work through G3 technologies. G4 is on the horizon, but only Sprint claims to have G4 even though it will be several years before G4 standards are agreed upon and set. (I think Sprint is using tricky wording to make it sound like they are ahead of everyone else)

What all this means is G2 service will only work about as fast as a dial up connection. G3, when working at its best, will give you the range of a low end DSL connection.

I currently have accounts with both ATT and Verizon and I have found the Verizon coverage is much better and the connection speeds are generally much better. (This is especially true with Verizon's recent acquisition of Altel) However that may change over the next few years as ATT upgrades their equipment. I don't have experience with Sprint, but their coverage map currently shows most of the US as roaming. Because you are going to have to subscribe to two years of service, make sure you lookup your carrier's current coverage map to see which gives the most coverage for the areas you expect to be traveling in.

Satellite Internet

This is certainly an option for the traveler, but is fairly expensive or complicated to set up. You can also only use it when camped as it won't work while moving (there are a few systems which allow satellite connection while in motion, but they are extreamly expensive). However satellite service is the only service that will work from anywhere in the US as long as you have a clear view of the sky in the direction of the satellite. You have to purchase or lease the equipment and when you set up the dish it must be pointed exactly right to function.

There are currently two satellite Internet providers, that offer service to the average traveler Hughes and Skyblue. There are several companies that offer rather expensive automatic pointing and aiming systems for the RVer. The only one that I have looked at in any depth is Mobil Sat. I've e-mailed them asking for price information but so far have not gotten a useful response from them.


It is important to know that, as I type this, we are on the verge of a whole new revolution in wireless communication. The freeing up of the old analogue TV channel spectrum (old channels 2 through 6, currently scheduled for June 2009) will open up a very wide bandwidth for moble communications, some of which will be used for high speed Internet connectivity. Exactly what form that will take has yet to be disclosed by the people bidding on the frequency leases. We as consumers can only sit back and wait to see what comes along.

Plumbing Leaks

Many trailers use the popular "Speedfit" connections these days.

The design is sound, however, problems can arise from poor or careless installation practices.

The most common cause of leaks is pipe that is cut too short and doesn't quite reach far enough into and past the O ring of the coupling.

As your trailer travels, things shift, stretch, compress and vibrate. If a pipe is not pushed far enough into the coupling, the pipe can work its way loose over time. The O rings in these couplings grab the end of the pipe, after the pipe has passed through the teeth which hold the pipe in place. Therefore it is possible for the pipe to come out of the O ring without coming out of the coupler. The rubber O ring is what actually keeps the water in.

The second most common cause are pipe ends that are cut poorly, with ragged edges or burs that are not properly cleaned off before inserting the pipe into the couplings. This can damage the O ring in the coupling as it is inserted.

Another cause of leaks, but not as common, is pipe that comes out of a coupling at an angle, or a pipe that bends just as it comes out of the coupling. This can cause the O ring to be compressed more on one side than the other, causing slow leaks.

With this kind of system having so many joints, sometimes it is difficult to find exactly which joint is leaking. One fairly easy way to narrow it down is to mop up any water then use a paper towel to wipe around each coupling near the problem point. Keep wiping until you find the one that is making the towel wet.

If you find a leaking coupling, first try pushing the pipe into each end and see if it moves. That might solve the problem. If the joint continues to leak, you may need to replace the coupling, or part of the pipe to make it longer. This is fairly easy to do if you are young and have lots of dexterity to get into tight spots. Older folks, and those with arthritis like me will have more trouble. I usually have to call a plumber. If you call a handyman, they can usually fix the problem but most won't have the parts as these pipes are not as common in home plumbing. It would be a good idea to pick up a few replacements from your RV parts store before making an appointment with a plumber. I find calling the local handyman is usually cheaper than having a simple joint leak fixed by an RV dealer, and they make house calls.

Here are some good reference pages on Speedfit piping, how they work, how to install and fix them.