Boondocker BRC4-60 Converter Not As Specified on Their Site

The Boondocker BRC4-60 converter I received from Best Converters looks very different from the one displayed on their web site and in their manual. Indeed, it looks exactly like a Powermax PPC 60 converter with a Boondocker sticker stuck on it in place of the Powermax one, but costs about $100 more than a new Powermax PPC 75 does (to be fair, that’s an eBay dealer, but one of long duration). Just what did I get for the $100? The blown-fuse LEDs mentioned in the manual don’t appear toIMG_20160315_152755 be on the PC board. It may be programmed for 4-stage charging instead of the 3-stage offered by Powermax with the PPC-75, and it may have slightly tweaked charging parameters, but I can’t tell.

I wrote to Best Converter, and I was told that they went to the metal frame and have to update their photo, and that I do have a 4-stage charger and the specifications are identical to the one on their site, including the higher boost voltage. No mention of the LEDs though. So I guess they have to update the manual to delete them.

Powermax manufactures the Boondocker converter exclusively for Best Converters.

The breakers in the photo don’t come with the unit. The unit comes with openings for 3 Homeline breakers to be installed by the user. Powermax’s design predates the neutral bar used on newer breakers, so when you buy the combination ACFI+GFI breakers required by NEC 2014 for all kitchen and bathroom circuits, be sure to get the ones with pigtails for the neutral wire.

 

 

 

Adding Nev-R-Adjust Brakes, Replacing the Hub, Drum, and Bearings

I decided to rebuild the brakes and bearings on my Trailmanor. I wanted nev-r-adjust brakes, and I had no idea of the state of the bearings and axle after I purchased the trailer.

On this trailer the hub and drum are a single piece, which I found out only after fruitlessly trying to dismount the drum from the hub.

I raised the trailer on the stabilizers until the tires cleared the ground. I used some axle stands under the frame for safety, but they were under the frame rather than the axle. Never support trailers by the axle.
The first step was to disconnect the two brake magnet wires (it’s electric rather than hydraulic like your car brakes), and remove the old hub, bearings, and brake. I wiped off all of the old grease, cleaned the axle with brake cleaner, removed the zerk fitting and cleaned it, sprayed brake cleaner inside of the ez-lube duct to remaining remove old grease from that, sprayed protectant oil on the axle, replaced the zerk fitting and wrapped the axle in plastic wrap so that it wouldn’t rust while I did the shop part of the job.
I got a new hub/drum from eTrailer.com. It might have been possible to have a machine shop cut the old brake drum for reuse, but this is complicated because electric brakes require that the flat drum face be cut as well because the magnet clamps to that face, not just the inside of the cylinder where the brake shoes will press. Folks on the Trailmanorowners forum said they’d never found a machinist who would cut the drum face for electric brakes, and a new drum turned out to be cheaper than the machine shop work would have been. Dexter (the manufacturer of the brakes and drum/hubs) has realized this. Their new drums aren’t as thick as the old ones, because they aren’t made to be cut.

Here’s the new nev-r-adjust brake mounted, with the wires reconnected, and with the clean axle. Before mounting the brake, I shot red lithium grease into the zerk of the clean axle, until clean grease flowed out of the ez-lube duct

The new nev-r-ajust brake and the clean axle
The new nev-r-ajust brake and the clean axle

In my shop, I packed the bearings with red lithium grease, and installed them and the seal in the hub, so that I’d only have to mount the hub/drum in the trailer storage yard. I wrapped the hub/drum in plastic to keep dust out of the bearings, and put down a dropcloth under the axle I was working on to keep any dropped parts out of the dirt. Here are some shots of the hub/drum with the bearings and seal installed.

The drum-hub inside
The drum-hub inside
The drum-hub outside
The drum-hub outside

The way the brake works is interesting. 12 volts from the brake controller to the brake magnet energizes the magnet, and the magnet grips the face of the brake drum. This does not apply the brakes. As the wheel turns forward, the magnet is moved by the drum and pushes on a lever that causes the brake shoes to be applied to the inside of the drum cylinder. The wheel has to roll forward a foot or so for this to happen. It doesn’t work in reverse. Trailer brakes are only for supplementing the tow vehicle brakes and tires in stopping the heavier load of the trailer, and for helping to keep the trailer from jack-knifing.

The brake magnet
The brake magnet

Reinforcing the Center Latch Mounting

I had a problem with the center latch on one side of my Trailmanor. It had come loose during transport before I received it. Because it was loose and the weight of the shell was moving it around, it tore the holes out of the bar it attaches to, and I had the choice of reinforcing the bar, or replacing it entirely. This is my first try at a reinforcement, using 1/16 thick 2 inch wide bar stock.

The latch reinforcement
The latch reinforcement

It works, but I will probably drill one that’s neater. I used a fiber saw to cut this piece out of a longer bar, and then drilled it in a drill press.

I think that next time I’ll try to install the latch between the original part and the reinforcing bar, rather than on top of the reinforcing bar. If it’s on top, the latch does not center properly on the bar it captures, and I had to push the shell a bit to get the latch to catch properly.

There’s a dangerous part here. The 4 large bolts hold the torsion bar that helps to raise the shell. You must only remove those bolts when the shell is raised, and this may even be risky then. It worked for me, once so far, without any problem. If you remove the bolts when the shell is lowered, there will be a lot of force on the torsion bar, and it may tear its way out suddenly, and parts may go flying. The force could hurt you badly and you will find it difficult to raise the shell in order to put things back together.
If you’re in doubt about whether you can handle the safety issues, have your RV repair shop handle this.

Replacing the Stabilizers

My trailer was missing one of the stabilizers. I wanted to replace all four with the kind of stabilizer that uses a hex bolt head to fit the crank, rather than the older “hook and eye” style, so that it would be easier to use an electric drill to raise and lower them. I also wanted to mount the new stabilizers so that they weren’t parallel to each other, and thus would not sway as badly as the current, parallel ones.

The old stabilizers were rusted, but still worked.

The old stabilizers were rusty but still worked.
The old stabilizers were rusty but still worked.

The new ones have hex heads to connect the crank, can lift 4500 pounds each, more than the weight of the trailer, and the weight is distributed across four of them. Despite the warning not to use the stabilizer as a tire jack (do they mean without mounting it?), they can easily lift the trailer off of the wheels.

Jack
The new stabilizers had hex heads for their cranks.
There’s  a hex socket available for battery-powered electric drills that makes it very easy to raise and lower this stabilizer.

Hex socket for battery-powered electric drills.
Hex socket for battery-powered electric drills.

I use a Ryobi battery-powered electric drill that has a 12 volt DC charger. I can use it in the tow vehicle or on solar power.

Ryobi 12V charger for car use.
Ryobi 12V charger for car use.

I also have a 120 volt AC charger in my shop to get the batteries ready before a trip.

I deliberately installed my stabilizers “crooked” so that they won’t be parallel to each other. When they are parallel, the trailer sways more in the lengthwise direction when the stabilizers are down. I was able to reuse some of the original holes in the trailer frame, and had to drill others.

The stabilizer is installed "crooked" so that it won't be parallel to any of the other three.
The stabilizer is installed “crooked” so that it won’t be parallel to any of the other three stabilizers.

Raising the stabilizer holds it in place while I install the self-tapping bolts. It comes with at least 4 self-tapping bolts per stabilizer.

Raising the stabilizer holds it in place while I install the self-tapping bolts.
Raising the stabilizer holds it in place while I install the self-tapping bolts.

These new stabilizers work well, don’t sway, are over-rated for the weight they carry, and are fast and easy to raise and lower. They were convenient while I later replaced the old brakes with self-adjusting ones, and replaced the hub, drum, bearings, and seals.

Adding a Master Fuse to the Battery Post

I am installing solar panels and a larger battery so that we can boondock without a utility hookup and still run our electrical devices. The first step was to install a master fuse at the battery post, before any wires. This is an 80 Ampere fuse that would handle a short close to the battery.  A cut-off switch and a small fuse panel near the battery will be installed next.

IMG_20151024_121140
This is the battery before the fuse holder is installed.
IMG_20151024_121232
Here’s the fuse holder. It will install directly onto the battery post, and provides a second post which is protected by the fuse. This is manufactured by Blue Sea Systems.

 

 

Here's the 80 Ampere fuse.
Here’s the 80 Ampere fuse.
Another view of the fuse. You can see how it mounts on the post.
Another view of the fuse. You can see how it mounts on the post.
The fuse is mounted on the post. The post is isolated, so all power flowing through it comes through the fuse.
The fuse is mounted on the post. The post is isolated, so all power flowing through it comes through the fuse.
The fuse is mounted on the battery post.
The fuse holder is mounted on the battery post.
Here's the mounted fuse, and the much smaller inline fuse we're replacing. A 1/0 gauge wire will go from the fuse holder to a master cut-off switch, and from there to a fuse panel which feeds to the power converter, the emergency brake, and the solar charger.
Here’s the mounted fuse, and the much smaller inline fuse we’re replacing. A 1/0 gauge wire will go from the fuse holder to a master cut-off switch, and from there to a fuse panel which feeds to the power converter, the emergency brake, and the solar charger.

 

Preventing Rodent Entry

EEEEEWWWW! Read online discussions of RV owners and you’ll find that every RV owner will, unfortunately, have to deal with the issue of rodent entry into their camper. So, it was time to close all of the little holes that had developed in the Trailmanor. I found three places where rodents had definitely entered, and a few possibles. The main one was around the wheel well, behind the bathroom sink. There were also signs of entry around a wire tube under the couch, and the plastic vent panel behind the refrigerator had plastic mesh gnawed out in a corner.  The 12-year-old expanding foam, where Trailmanor had applied it, had turned to powder in some places.

I removed the cover panels in front of the tires, removed the old silicone caulking around the outside of the wheel wells, and replaced the caulking, using an entire caulking-gun tube for each wheel well. Following that, I filled the gaps on the inside with the “Rodent Block” version of “Great Stuff expanding foam”.

Mice can get into incredibly small openings. If they can fit their skull through a space, sans fur, the rest of their bodies will fit. They don’t have collar bones.

These are some of the trouble spots that I sealed.

IMG_20151025_164437 IMG_20151025_164532 IMG_20151025_164512 IMG_20151025_164405 IMG_20151025_164342

Nest Protect 2nd Generation

I put a 2nd-generation Nest Protect in the Trailmanor in place of the ancient detector without a battery I found there. Valerie (my wife) is hard-of-hearing, and can’t determine which of my many electronic devices the beep is coming from when smoke detectors start emitting the low-battery chirp. She handles the Nest, which has a clear voice report, much better. And it does carbon monoxide, not just smoke, so it will back up the CO functionality of our LP/CO sensor.

Nest has WiFi functionality, and in theory can notify the user’s cell phone if there’s an alarm. There is an access point in the trailer repeating a WiFi client that goes on top of the trailer, but of course we won’t always be connected to the internet.

The only question I have is how the Nest will handle it if the closed trailmanor gets really hot. Time will tell.

protect_main_final

Indoor LED conversion

I got 10 48-LED panels for $18 on eBay, complete with the sockets to plug them into the bayonet lamp sockets on the Trailmanor’s indoor lights and the door light. They work great. They are backed with double-sided tape so mounted inside the lights with no problem. No more big drain on the battery when using the lights.

The only indoor light not yet converted is the bathroom fluorescent, which isn’t working too well – it wants more voltage to go full-on than it should. I will strip the tubes and electronics except for the switch out of that, and will wire about three 48-LED panels inside of it.

Now, to do the running lights and tail lights. Those might be more expensive, but should not be bad.

 

LEDs

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.