Issue 27 • February 2, 2020
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By Mike Sokol
Welcome to Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhog Day. I guess that means the stars are aligning for anyone who likes football or Bill Murray. That’s because you’ll not only be inundated with the Super Bowl game and a lot of Super Bowl television ads, but also many networks will be carrying the movie “Groundhog Day,” which is one of my favorite dark comedies of all time. Read why I like this movie so much in my Road Signs column at the bottom of this newsletter.
Also, we’re now halfway through a several-part series on troubleshooting short circuits in electrical systems. Why so many parts to this single topic? Well, that’s because finding shorts in the mass of wiring inside of a typical RV can be complicated and frustrating (read expensive). But fear not, since troubleshooting complex electrical problems is one of my skill-sets, and I’ve done it for five decades in hundreds of high-stress troubleshooting situations.
See below for a brief story on how I found a single short circuit within a few hours in a million-square-foot warehouse with dozens of production lines and hundreds of machines, all without shutting off the power in this 3-shift 24/7 operation. That’s when I began designing test gear and techniques that never existed before to solve problems that were typically fixed by spray-and-pray techniques. You can incorporate some of my advanced test procedures in your own RV repairs, so read more about them below.
And yes, I had a great time at the Boston RV & Camping Expo last week with Bob Zagami from NERVDA (New England RV Dealers Association). My Saturday seminar was SRO (Standing Room Only) and I answered dozens more questions for attendees while standing in the hallway for an hour after the seminar. So it appears that RV electricity is a really important topic to many of you and I’m continuing to expand my live seminars as well as plan more videos.
While I really do like writing and creating videos on electrical topics, I really love the challenge of teaching it live in seminars. I guess it’s because of all my time playing music on stage to a live audience. You can take the boy off the stage, but you can’t take the stage out of the boy, I guess.
Since I’ve been playing music on stage for literally 50 years (yes, I started playing gigs for money when I was 15 years old at the local Moose Club), there’s something really exciting about stepping in front of a mic for an audience. Just ask any musician you know about a favorite gig and you’ll see them light up to explain the event. I guess it’s in my DNA, as my dad is a great singer and my grandfather could pick up any instrument and play it within minutes. And, yes, they both liked playing to live audiences as well.
I also have a really interesting piece of camping gear coming this week that could change how you boondock without a generator. I’ll be doing a more formal review on it next month, but read about the basics of the CarGenerator™ below. This is one of those technologies that as soon as I saw it demonstrated at Alumapalooza® last year I literally chased down the guy who invented it and begged him for a sample to try. Read more about how the CarGenerator™ works below.
If you haven’t yet, be sure to join Mike’s Facebook group, RV Electricity. More than 5,500 members and counting …
And while you are there, check out RVtravel.com’s new group Budget RV Travel.
Troubleshooting Techniques: Divide and Conquer
How to divide huge electrical problems into smaller pieces
Back in the mid-’70s I had one of my first real jobs doing industrial power for a huge packaging plant. And no, I didn’t actually run the conduit and wiring – I supervised a team of electricians who did the physical labor that I drew out on blueprints.
So, of course, when anything went wrong I was expected to take an electrician or two with me to figure it out. And there was always time pressure because shutting down a packaging line meant dozens of workers doing nothing, with a loss of tens of thousands of dollars per hour that the line was down.
When it was brought to my attention by the plant manager that there was a short circuit in the monitoring circuit somewhere in one of the dozen packaging lines and the hundreds of machines that made them up in over a hundred thousand square feet, the problem of fixing it was handed to me by the head of engineering.
Read more HERE.
Email me at mike (at) noshockzone.org with your questions.
Watch Mike’s Video Shorts
- How to properly torque transfer switch screws HERE
- Voltage drop under load HERE
- Perform a hot-skin test with a NCVT HERE
- How to use a digital meter to check AC volts HERE
When is a generator not a generator?
I saw this cool gadget at last year’s Alumapalooza® Airstream Rally, and thought it was a great idea for campers who don’t want to drag around a portable generator – possibly for when the sun isn’t shining on their solar panels or they’re going on an occasional boondocking trip.
It’s called CarGenerator™, and it hooks up to your tow vehicle’s engine battery, allowing your vehicle alternator to provide 1,000 or 2,000 watts of pure sine wave power while idling. So no extra gas cans. No loud generator noise. And no lifting heavy generators out of the bed of the truck. One of these is being shipped to me as we speak for a review next month, but I’m giving my newsletter readers a sneak peek about what it is and how it works.
Read more HERE.
Do you have solar panels on your RV?
Last Month’s Survey Results:
What is your electrical knowledge level?
This is really interesting, as fully two-thirds of you (67%) know the basics of electricity but want to learn more, and 5% of my readers are trained RV technicians – whom I always welcome. Plus I have found through direct emails that I’m being watched (stalked?) by perhaps 15% of my readers who are a trained Electricians or Electrical Engineers. And there are 13% of you who claim to know nothing but want to learn more about hooking up to electrical power safely. So I really have my work cut out for me to cover the full spectrum of readers.
As you may have noticed, I started implementing the walking trail difficulty levels last year, and I hope it helps. So please, if you’re a complete newbie and see something like this Intermediate sign at the head of an article, don’t despair and think I’ve forgotten about you. No, I’m just writing for the 67% of readers who know the basics. So keep reading and you’ll get there.
And if you see an Advanced difficulty sign like this one, then realize I’m writing this for the 15% of my readers who already know and work around live electricity all the time, so please don’t go jumping into a live box without proper supervision and precautions.
But welcome, all of you, especially the newbies who know nothing about electricity at all. And everyone please keep reading and learning about all things electrical from me. I’m here to teach, after all… —Mike Sokol
Troubleshoot with an AC/DC clamp meter
You see me use a lot of AC/DC clamp meters while troubleshooting all kinds of RV electrical systems, both short circuits as well as why a battery is discharging too quickly. Here’s the one I use that has never let me down, a Southwire 21050T, which you can find at many Lowe’s Stores or on Amazon HERE.
Last Month’s RVtravel.com Posts
These articles are rated Moderate (or Advanced) to understand for most RVers.
• Finding short circuits in 12-volt systems, Part 2A.
• Troubleshooting short circuits – Part 1 of 3: The basics.
• Can I charge a battery at 80 amps from a 20-amp outlet?
• Do not shock thieves on purpose!
These articles are rated Easy to understand for beginners.
• Higher ground (for your pedestal). A reader is dismayed that in order to get a surge protector into place at the low-to-the-ground pedestal in an RV campground, he had to dig down about a foot at the base of the pedestal. Mike explains why these pedestals are still found in campgrounds, and an easy, and safe, workaround if you have to hook up to one.
• What’s that burned wiring smell? A reader noticed some heat and smell from the panel when running the A/C for long periods. He wonders if a loose neutral terminal screw for the main feed could cause the heat buildup.
• Don’t just drop in a Lithium battery. A reader asks Mike if he can simply swap in a Lithium battery to replace the current lead-acid batteries, or does he need to change out the charger/inverter as well. Hmmm. Do you know?
• Space heaters and the hair of the dog (that bit you). RVtravel.com editor Chuck Woodbury sent a picture to Mike of what he found when he took a space heater apart after smelling burning hair.
The best book on RV electricity, hands down!
Mike Sokol is America’s leading expert on RV electricity. He has taken his 50+ years of experience to write this book about RV electricity that nearly anyone can understand. Covers the basics of Voltage, Amperage, Wattage and Grounding, with additional chapters on RV Hot-Skin testing, GFCI operation, portable generator hookups and troubleshooting RV electrical systems. This should be essential reading for all RVers. Learn more or order.
Camco Store at Amazon.com
There isn’t much you need for your RV that Camco doesn’t have. If you think we’re kidding, then click through to the Camco store on Amazon where you’ll find some of their best-selling products — all for your RV or for you to make your RVing better. Click here and you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store.
A day of Groundhogs and Super Bowls
Now, I’m not a real big sports fan. But I was invited to supervise the very first surround-sound broadcast of a Super Bowl game back in the early 2000s. Would have been fun, but no budget was forthcoming so it didn’t happen. But every time I see a Super Bowl game I imagine how much fun (read challenge) it would have been to be the first to do that event in 5.1 Surround Sound.
But today’s Road Signs isn’t about the Super Bowl at all. Nope, it’s about a simultaneous event happening today (Feb. 2, 2020) in Punxsutawney, PA, called Groundhog Day. And more specifically it’s about the rather dark movie comedy “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray as an obnoxious news reporter who gets stuck in an endless loop of living the same day over and over again, which seems like many years of repetition to him, but to everyone else it’s a brand-new day (just the same day) restarting at 6:00 a.m.
Read more HERE.
Let’s play safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
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Editor: Mike Sokol. RVtravel.com publisher: Chuck Woodbury. Managing editor: Diane McGovern.
Everything in this newsletter is true to the best of our knowledge. But we may occasionally get something wrong. So always double check with your own technician, electrician or other professional first before undertaking projects that could involve danger if not done properly. Tips and/or comments in this newsletter are those of the authors and may not reflect the views of RVtravel.com..
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