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NON-Improvements

updated 5 Jun 2016 - added numerous ones including mattress cover, tire pressure monitor, headboard pad, 3" memory foam topper, and others

Okay, what about the failures?
Not necessarily failures, but sometimes disappointments. We try what we think will be worthwhile for us. Some changes looked better than they turned out, are just changes and not, in our review, worthwhile. Sometimes the result is so poor as to be a failure. We do not try to invite failure or waste of time or money. Not everything works out and we're willing to admit it.

We're not saying these items are without value. They might be perfect for you. You may not experience the same result or you may not perceive the result as we did. We are reporting what we've tried and how we think it turned out for us. Draw your own conclusions.

Following is a brief listing, in no particular order, of some things we learned we could do without, and wouldn't mind having our money back:

Tires
Yep, we've had tires fail. We had no more than 30,000 miles on that set of tires. And one of them had a separated ply in the tread. We took those four tires off, put four more on. Darned if we didn't get about 30-35,000 miles on the next set and they wore out. Started showing their Nader strips, so we took them off and put on another set. These next were special though - they were Hercules tires. Said so right on the sidewall. One difference on these, they were our first set of ten ply rated tires on the trailer. Never did have a flat on that set, so I guess all that ply rating stuff must have repelled the puncturers.

None of the tires actually left us walking, none of the tires delaminated and tore open our trailer. We usually cruise at 58-60 mph. We rarely drive our trailer over 65mph, and then only for short bursts. None of the tires ever was run flat or even low, because we've monitored our tire pressure faithfully since we started. We weigh our trailer annually, so we know how we stand relative to the tires' ratings (way below the weight ratings for the tires.) The tires are rated at 2,830 pounds per tire, or 11,320 pounds total. Applying a 20% safety factor on our tires, our tires can safely handle 80 percent of 11,320 max load, or 9,056 pounds of load. Thats 2,000 pounds more than our trailer weighs. I like that safety margin. Luck probably helps too.


Mattress cover of Sunbrella® upholstery fabric
Originally Debbie sewed a mattress cover of "silver linen" Sunbrella fabric to cover our mattress. This matched the sofa cushions, looked really sleek, and didn't require keeping the bed linens made up. Just roll them up and let the nice mattress cover show.

We decided this year we hadn't rolled up our bedding in years, didn't need the mattress cover, and took it off. Just not needed or desirable if we're making the bed every day. And we do.

Headboard (crib) pad
At first, we enjoyed the insulation between Jim's hand and the cool interior wall. Jim sleeps with one arm over his head and the unpadded wall was sometimes too chilly. After we replaced the original mattress with our custom foam mattress, we realized we had room to tuck our extra pillows between the mattress and the trailer back wall. Don't need the otherwise attractive and very functional headboard pad anymore. It worked perfectly until we found a good alternative.


Three inch four pound memory foam mattress topper
This was surprisingly heavy when we hefted the box. Spread out atop the mattress it performed just as advertised for ten years. We could have investigated and predicted the lifespan. Instead, right at ten years, we found it had flattened out in the middle. It was great while it lasted. Ten years is good service for a mattress product and we enjoyed it. It made our very firm mattress very comfortable, but now we're trying the firmer surface awhile. Like the headboard pad, it's a good idea that we've dropped for now.


Terra cotta tile oven pizza stone
Our oven had hot spots from the gas burner's heat plate. A 12" terra cotta floor tile fit fairly well in the depression in the heat plate above the burner. But bouncing down the road, the brittle terra cotta tile cracked badly. While it was whole, it worked GREAT. Our oven cooked more evenly and held the temperature very smoothly. Even cracked it probably would have worked okay. But we visited another building supply store, bought a slate floor tile, and it's internal structure seems better suited to the ride.


LED light strips in galley and dinette
These did what they said they would - enough light with much less current draw than the two (galley) or three (dinette) xenon light bulbs. But they aren't attractive except in a very geeky way and the light is VERY white. We found a nice deal on some LED bulbs to replace the five xenon bulbs. The light color and brightness are both better than the LED strips, and the new LED bulbs fit in the recessed lights. Not a failure on the part of the LED strips, but again a better solution eventually prevailed.


PressurePro tire pressure monitor
Our first tire pressure monitor, the Pressure Pro was pretty adequate when we first purchased it in 2008. A couple of years later the Pressure Pro was becoming unreliable with frequent false alarms. We contacted Pressure Pro and they replaced the head-end (the part in the truck) at no cost. Nice service! Still, we had false alarms and trouble codes.

Another manufacturer came up with a nicer setup. Features include a more compact head-end that is cordless, replaceable batteries, and continuous display of the monitored tires. Debbie bought the new tire monitor last year for the trailer. Initially we moved the Pressure Pro to the truck's tires. We monitored all eight tires but on two different systems.

This year we had two flats on the truck's tires. Never in eleven years had our truck tires had a flat. In two weeks each of our truck's new tires had failures on the composite valve stems. The first time, the Pressure Pro alarmed quickly and accurately, advising us we were rapidly losing air in the back left tire. The second time we didn't get an alarm, but noticed instead the truck was handling strangely and realized a tire was flat. We now have all eight tires on the new tire pressure monitor, a more workable solution.


Battery operated wireless outdoor temp transmitter/receiver
For several years we used a two-piece outdoor temperature monitor from Sharper Image. It provided alarm clock function with indoor and outdoor temperatures. A couple of AA batteries in the clock and a couple of AA batteries in the transmitter outside kept it all going pretty well. We kept up with the batteries and with moving the outdoor transmitter before towing (most of the time.) It was a good solution for us, until we found a better one.

A couple of years ago we saw on Jack and Sherry White's trailer a very easy to read outdoor thermometer. It sticks on the outside glass, shows the temperature clearly with LCD characters, is compact, and is easy to place and relocate as desired. Even better, these are less than $10 at our local hardware stores and places like Tractor Supply.


Two extra house batteries
Before heading cross-country to join up with the famous Alaska Caravan (Airstream Club) we amped up our trailer's battery capacity. We sold our two 6v golf cart batteries, bought four new ones and cables and an additional battery box. We went from 230 amp hours of 12 volt power to 460 amp hours with these four batteries. This also increased our battery weight by another 130 pounds, not a small consideration. This worked almost flawlessly for four years, but a big increase in tongue weight.

We learned the extra batteries didn't necessarily translate to better performance overall. We could go twice as long without needing any recharge. But, we also would need good solar conditions for twice as long to recover. Two 125-watt solar panels are a fine match with two batteries. Four 115 amp hour batteries are begging for bigger solar panel capacity. After four years, we simplified and lightened up our trailer's front end. We removed the extra battery box, cables, watering system, and one pair of 6v batteries.

Incidentally, the Interstate Battery shop evaluated the four batteries to help us determine which were the best pair to keep. All four batteries, after four years constant service, were in excellent condition thanks to smooth charging and maintenance from the solar charging system.


In-line disposable water filter
Early on, we purchased an in-line disposable water filter for our trailer's fresh water supply. We would connect the hoses to the filter and the filter to the campground's hydrant, and the filter could trap sediments and debris before it entered our plumbing system from the campground's water distribution system. There are several downsides to these disposable water filters. One, they're disposable and add to the country's waste load in landfills. Two, they're disposable and so require recurring purchases. Three, these have limited capacity. The last limitation we learned when water stopped flowing into our trailer.

We switched instead to a GE-style replaceable media filter holder and a washable sediment cartridge. We wash the pleated filter quarterly, have really good flow, are trapping the sand and bugs, aren't contributing to landfills, and aren't repeatedly buying new filters. Disposable just didn't work well for us. Is it your best choice?


Very bright LED lights for vanity mirror:
We should have taken more notice of the copper cooling strips attached to these small light units. Why would the product designer think these lights need long strips of copper to cool them? Because they are too hot!!! These very bright three-LED light units for recessed fixtures were equivalent to 20w quartz-halogen lights. They were very expensive, $25 per unit. And they pooped out in only seventeen months. So much for "twenty times the life of incandescent lights!!!" The hotter they are, the harder they fail.

We found a dealer for the same brand of bright LEDs and they honored the product's warranty. Gave us a replacement set at no cost. We're good to go again, and think perhaps they've figured out and corrected the heat sink issue that caused early failure on the first set. A year in, it's looking good.


Rooftop TV antennas:
Our rooftop televsion antennas just never worked. Not having RVed before, and not really being TV watchers, we didn't catch this for years. Then we wanted to watch things some friends were watching. Cablevision is pretty neat sometimes, and usually works great. What do you do without cablevision when your TV antenna doesn't work? Put the TV away, or try a new TV antenna. We took down the Winegard batwing and installed a Jensen omnidirectional. No better at all and, oddly, the folks in an RV fifteen feet away could receive 30 stations when we picked up 4 -- with our former "new" omni-directional antenna.

Finally we bought a "Jack RV Antenna" from Camping World. It mounts easily on the existing antenna's parallel tubes, and can use the existing coax cable connections. Fifteen minutes to install the new antenna, another fifteen to install the antenna's new power supply inside the trailer, and let's see if this will work. Bingo! We get as many TV stations as the other RVers do.


Black tank chemicals:
We see no use for them on our holding tank system after over ten years and at least 3,300 nights in this travel trailer. Other people doubtless have different experiences. Here's ours: So many years now (all of them) we've gone without using chemicals except for the first two weekends, in Summer 2004. Honestly, if we had bad smells entering our camper from our black tank we would reconsider. The toilet bowl has a good seal and the holding tank is vented to the atmosphere as should be in all RVs.

We sometimes rinse our black tank with the factory-installed tornado rinser when we dump the tank. We are not interested in paying extra to support the chemical industry, nor pushing chemicals into the waste treatment systems, nor sitting on chemicalized cauldrons. We have had no valve or tank problems, no handling chemicals, no added cost, and contribute less pollution.


Cheap sewer hose:
We bought an inexpensive red sewer hose, then another inexpensive brown one. They didn't connect well together and the end fittings were awkward. To extend the hose I had to unthread the plastic end fitting and replace it with a coupling piece to which each hose would screw onto. It was messy, didn't store well, and punctured easily. We don't need the leaks or the hassle. Spend a little more, avoid the cheapest sets.


Refrigerator interior fan:
This looked like a good idea. Heat rises, so doesn't cold air settle to the bottom? In theory the answer is yes. In our refrigerator we have a lot of food. We open the door to take things out or put things in a few (or more) times daily, disturbing the air. The little fan, at $15 plus batteries, can accomlish almost nothing in our fridge -- there are too many obstacles on each shelf for the fan to push the air anywhere. As Jim O'Brien at The Right Gear bicycle shop in Concord, NC, used to say, "this is a solution looking for a problem." We dumped this little $15 accessory.


Reese® hitch:
You have to believe this is a good product, they're everywhere. The dealer installed one on our first Airstream. The dealer provided us with an entry-level model hitch with lifting chains for the weight distributing bars and a separate friction-type sway control. We tired of counting which link to connect and prying the lifting chains and messing with the dirty friction sway control bar. The Reese® name is popular for good reason -- I'm sure they must sell excellent products. The dealer-installed first hitch was an entry-level product in their line. There are better ones out there. We switched brands. (see


Tekonsha® Voyager® brake controller:
Much the same argument as the hitch, above. The problem is the less expensive model of Tekonsha (same manufacturer as the Prodigy) brake controller simply is not in the same performance class as the Prodigy. Every single trip with the Voyager required we recalibrate the controller for proper brake control. During any trip, changing conditions would sometimes require fiddling with the controller settings.

Tekonsha makes fantastic brake controllers. We are very pleased with our Tekonsha Prodigy® brake controller. We installed it five years ago and have not adjusted it since. We haven't needed to. The price difference between brake controllers is miniscule, perhaps no more than $35 between the Voyager and the Prodigy. Why would you want anything less for something upon which so much depends?


Enkay Rock Tamer mudflaps
Not so much a failure, just a change for us. Two years ago we switched to DuraFlaps (14" wide, no drilling required, and with a weight at the bottom) on the truck's rear wheel wells. They seem to cover the rear tires better than the Rock Tamers and are far lighter weight. Since the Rock Tamers mount on the hitch drawbar they alter how we stow the hitchhead when we unhitch -- without the Rock Tamers we can neatly stow the hitchhead under the coupling, much more compact and out of the way. The Rock Tamers by Enkay are wonderfully made, do a fine job, look great, but they aren't for us.


Cheap steel barbecue grills:
We retired two cheap steel gas grills in our first two years, but not before consuming and disposing of dozens of one pound propane cans. Finally we found a used Olympian 4000, a very nice cast aluminum grill with iron vaporizing plates and heavy duty racks. It cooks far better than any grill we've used, has already outlasted them both and will probably last another ten or twenty years if Jim doesn't back the truck over it. We also switched to a $50 refillable Worthington portable one gallon propane bottle. Reduces environmental waste, doesn't leak, and is far less expensive than one pound cans after we pay back the initial cost.


Through-glass 2 meter amateur radio antenna:
Just don't buy through-glass antennas for CB or VHF/UHF radios. They work but are the worst compromise and will not provide you good performance. Then there are the potential problems regarding adhesion to glass. Was it an installation error Jim made, or old adhesive on the product, or the perfect alignment of several factors leading to the failure?

We'll never know just what we did wrong, but we installed two through-glass antennas in one afternoon. Four days later we hit the road on a 100 mile trip, towing our trailer. The 2 meter amateur radio antenna blew off or was knocked off the driver's side rear window somewhere between Punta Gorda and Sarasota FL. We're returned to using the magnetic mount 2 meter antenna on the truck's roof. We could drill and install an NMO mount through the truck's roof -- the ultimate mounting method most always used in the commercial world.


Through-glass CB radio antenna:
The mag-mount CB antenna hit the garage door header, scraped parking deck lights and beams, and makes more difficult washing the truck's roof. Unlike the 2 meter radio antenna, the CB antenna stayed stuck on the glass. It does not work well, though. We returned to using the magnetic mount CB antenna on the truck's roof and ultimately installed NMO permanent mounts for CB and 2 meter antennas.

A good antenna on a metal roof with NMO mount is far more effective at radiating signal power than a through-glass antenna. It is not filtered by the glass, it is taller, and it has more metal, and has a ground plane. And superior to the mag-mounts, the permanent mounts have no exposed cable messing up your paint, no magnet scratching your roof, and they will not become missiles in a wreck.


Footstool, large homemade and too heavy:
Jim made a large storage footstool and we covered it with fabrics matching our Airstream's sofa. Looked great, sat well, stored lots inside. But it weighed too much and required too much floorspace. Saw a small one in a store, 18" lightweight cube, grey color a good match. The large footstool was just too large and too heavy.


OEM Sony® radio:
This wasn't a failure, but technological obsolescence. Our radio was originally installed in the trailer in October 2004. It was pretty cool then, with flashing display, equalizer functions, great AM/FM reception, good power, a remote control, subwoofer outputs, and a very good cd player. It couldn't play some newer formats and lacked input capability for iPod or other MP3 players. It didn't fail. It was great. It just couldn't do what we wanted. (A good package, though, because it's chassis mounting allows slide-in replacement with a newer model of the same radio. VoilĂ , we have iPod input jack on the front now.)


Portable small battery-powered light in bathroom:
We added a stick-on $5 light on the wall above the toilet and turned it on by touching the lens. We fed it occasionally depending upon usage with rechargeable AA batteries. It produced enough light for toileting but not for showering. And it seems like it needed fresh batteries every week. Turned out to be just a little more work than it was worth.


That's a pretty short list of disappointments. We'll continue to watch for what has turned out differently than we thought. We'll let you know if anything changes. If you are interested in our experience with, selection of, or sources for any of these accessories just ask us and we'll be glad to share with you anything we can.

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