Unobtrusive, yet Conspicuous

I wanted to increase the night visibility of my RV when it’s parked. It’s white, but not reflective and thus doesn’t really attract a driver’s attention.

3M and others make “Conspicuity” tape which contains retro-reflectors. You see it on school buses, and trucks wider than 80″ or weighing more than 10,000 pounds are required to mark their trailers with 2″ wide conspicuity tape. This has resulted in a reduction in rear-end collisions. So, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have it on your RV.

The problem is that the versions usually used are ugly. They’re alternating white and red, or yellow. So they aren’t just reflective at night, they’re obtrusive during the day.

But you can get white conspicuity tape. This is the best of both worlds: unobtrusive during the day, reflective at night. Your RV won’t look like a school bus or a 10-wheeler.

3M’s product is the best quality, incorporating glass corner reflectors with a claimed brightness of four times that of their competitors. But it’s pricey: about a dollar per foot. On eBay I found an acceptable no-name white conspicuity tape that claimed to meet DOT C2 standards at $45 for a 2″ by 150′ tape, including shipping. This is enough to treat the typical RV.

I applied mine to the plastic corners of my Trailmanor (which were yellowing and needed something to brighten them up anyway), to the lifting rods (in their horizontal, closed position) the bumper, and to the top edge of the trailer.

I drove my car around the trailer at night to test the reflection. It really stands out now! But during the day you would probably not notice the white tape at all.

I’ll try to get some night photos and upload them to this post.

Trailer Valet

The Trailer Valet, mounted.
The Trailer Valet, mounted.

I picked up a Trailer Valet to help me with fine positioning of my trailer.  It works like a trailer jack and can move your trailer better than a trailer dolly would, because it uses gear reduction to achieve movement that you would not have the strength for with a dolly.

Instead of painstakingly backing up your tow vehicle until the ball and tongue match, you can just get your tow vehicle close, and then use the Trailer Valet to position the tongue over the ball.

The Trailer Valet, unmounted.
The Trailer Valet, unmounted.

 

It works pretty well on level and close-to-level ground. I have a grade, and I found that if I release the brake without holding the crank, that the crank can spin. No trouble if I grab the crank before releasing the brake.  A steep grade would defeat it.

Unfortunately, on the second use, after I wrote this article, the handle of the Trailer Valet has broken. It’s a casting, and the rectangular part where the handle connects to a shaft on the Trailer Valet has split along one of the edges. The manufacturer sent out a replacement via priority mail as soon as they received my email about it. I’ll report if that one holds up.

The Trailer Valet mounts to rectangular frames only. It won’t work on a tubular frame. It is likely to interfere with weight-distributing hitches, and I am going to have to position mine carefully once I get the WDH, for both to work at the same time.

I remove mine once I’m done moving the trailer, but there is also the option to invert it and leave it on the frame while driving.  Many purchasers have commented that the Trailer Valet parts rust, so it’s better to store it out of the weather when not in use.

This is a useful gadget, and I can recommend it with reservations:

  • I had a part break too soon. Although the manufacturer replaced it quickly, if I had needed to move my trailer in a hurry out of the spot the Trailer Valet helped me get it into, I would have had to improvise some sort of crank.
  • It’s not able to conquer more than a mild grade, and it won’t handle a tongue weight over 550 lbs.

If you can live with those limitations, it will allow you to do things that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I maneuvered my trailer into a place my tow vehicle would not have fit.

The manufacturer is taking pre-orders for a new version that uses a motor rather than a crank.

Shipping Your RV – Avoiding the Scammers

I recently shipped my RV from Texas to California. Because the RV I bought was insurance-totalled (for cosmetic-only hailstorm damage on the roof) and went for 1/3 the price that model usually sells for, I wasn’t looking to pay a large fraction of its value to ship it.

In looking for a transport company, I tried about 5 professional-looking transport companies that advertised with big, well-made web sites, and I tried uShip, an auction site for shipping services.

Of the companies I contacted that weren’t on uShip, 4 out of 5 tried to scam me. Most of them sent quotes that seemingly had good prices, but when I looked closer, all of them were for different destinations than I had asked for. Rather than Berkeley, the quotes were to ship my trailer to Bakersfield, or to Los Angeles. If I even had a tow vehicle (I’m about to buy one), it would have been 12 hours of driving and an overnight stay to drive out there, pick up the trailer and drive back home, with no doubt hidden charges to ransom it from the scammers if they didn’t just steal it.

One last company might have been honest, but had a high-pressure sales person and a quote of about 2.5 times what I eventually paid.

Over to uShip, where there was a mix of honest hard working small operators, and shysters. The shysters immediately tried to bypass the uShip auction process by asking what my budget was. I always answered “It’s an auction, please make a bid”, and then when they persisted said “Sorry, I don’t want to do business that way”. Another shyster had figured out how to bypass uShip’s phone-number filter and pass his direct phone number to me in his bid as a combination of words and numbers, in violation of uShip’s terms. One of the other bidders reported him to uShip.

Some of the transporters listed DOT licenses and MC numbers, and some didn’t. One of the ones that did not list a DOT license had over 150 positive feedbacks from satisfied customers, while none of the ones who listed DOT license numbers appeared to have done 1/10 so much business on uShip. So, while some of the folks with DOT licenses claimed the others weren’t legitimate, there seem to be some small operators who might not have all of the necessary paperwork but are running credible businesses, and the ones with the right paperwork usually had insufficient feedback to tell you if they were honest or not.

A number of the transport bidders claimed to have uShip’s CARGO insurance, but I had already read uShip’s fine print and determined that uShip’s insurance explicitly excluded trailers.

I’ve recently been scammed by RelayRides “Premium Insurance”, a pricey-but-worthless extra-cost option which turns out to be secondary coverage only – meaning that you are on the hook for everything, it all goes on your personal auto insurance, and they don’t even pay the deductible. I’m pursuing RelayRides with an attorney. So, I was already primed to disbelieve claims that a shipping vendors insurance was worth anything before I put my shipment on uShip.

And that is one lesson that stood out from this process: don’t believe people who say your shipment is insured without reading the actual terms of the insurance, and you won’t get to read those until after you contract them, if then.

I finally did find a honest transporter who was deadheading in my direction, and thus offered an excellent price, expecting only to recover his gas costs.  He delivered my trailer without damage, communicated well, and was very helpful. I’ll recommend him in a separate article, I don’t want to mix his good name with all of the talk of bad guys on this page.

I got to talk with the transporter that I hired after he delivered my trailer. He had been involved in making nets for the fishing industry before the BP oil spill, and was displaced from that business due to the continuing health risks. He says there is still stuff you don’t want to touch on the bottom, not so much the oil as the chemicals used to disperse it, and it’s going to get all over those nets, and all over you if you work with them. So, he’s driving for a living now.

He’s the sort of guy you will probably meet on uShip, at least if you do a little work to filter the good eggs from the bad and if you don’t pay top dollar. Honest, caring, maybe somewhat down on his luck, supporting a family, not making a ton of money and giving an honest day’s work for every dollar. These guys sleep on a mattress in the back of their pick-up truck, and shower at truck stops.

I did my best to treat him well and sent him away with a nice tip, which he didn’t expect or ask for.

Lightweight Body Filler

RageBondo, or body-filler, comes in a lightweight version these days. It is filled with glass spheres that are themselves filled with trapped air. This bucket is 3 liters (0.8 U.S. gallons) and the shipping weight is 8 pounds. My estimate is that I might fill all of my existing dents on both roof halves with 3 liters.

The question becomes: does an additional 8 pounds, plus the weight of paint, on a Trailmanor roof section add so much weight that it’s not going to lift well, even with adjustment of the torsion bars? At least one of my roof halves has lots of range in the torsion bars, we’ll see what I can persuade the other to do.

The Challenge

16I’ve purchased an insurance-totalled 2004 Trailmanor 3023 at a “you can afford to mess it up” price. It belonged to someone in Indiana. It must have been well-kept before it got those hail dents on the roof, which seem to be cosmetic rather than structural, and spent close to a year on an auction lot. It looks pretty good and seems to be ready to use. Obviously there are some issues:

  • I’ve got to buy a tow vehicle! Probably a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4×4 with factory class-4 tow package.
  • Not every insurance company likes to insure recovered salvage. But I spoke with the underwriter (not the sales person) at my local California AAA, which has been my auto insurer since 1990, and they will insure it.
  • I will need to get it to a DMV or CHP office to inspect it before it can be registered. They are mostly making sure the lights work.
  • One of the roof halves might be at the end of its torsion bar adjustment range. It’s not difficult to lift as it is, but if I can’t get any more range, that half might not be able to tolerate any body work and it will stay a “dented darling”.
  • There are some fabric tears and some dirt to clean up.
  • The wardrobe is missing.
  • The clock is missing (we won’t need it).
  • The fabric curtains need replacement.
  • The shower curtain needs replacement.

I am more than competent at electrical wiring, and am handy in general. Sometimes it seems like I own every tool known to man. I’m pretty confident that this will be fun and usable for my family, even if I can’t do anything about those hail dents in the roof.