RV 110 VOLT AC TROUBLESHOOTING July 25 2016, 0 Comments

This is an introductory guide to RV 110 volt troubleshooting

First and foremost safety precautions should always be exercised when working with electricity, particularly 110 VAC because it can not only cause serious injury but it can also kill so 110 volt troubleshotting should not be attempted by the inexperienced. For those who are not experienced with electricity its as simple as getting help. Most likely you have a friend or acquaintance who would be glad to show you the "do's" and "don'ts" of AC troubleshotting or you could take a course at a local community college or vocational school. Do not attempt this till you do one or the other.Anyone with the desire can learn these things so you are not doomed to taking your RV to a service center every time a problem rears its head.


The tool you'll need in AC troubleshotting is a decent multimeter or VOM (volt ohm meter). A RMS meter really isn't necessary unless you need accurate readings from a non-sine wave AC power source such as an inverter.

OK, let's get started!

STEP ONE: Check for "good" voltage at the source, where ever you're plugged into. 110-120 volts is normal

The above is a typical 30 amp plug. The round hole at top is ground, with hot and neutral on the bottom where you would place your VOM probes.

This is a 50 amp plug. Again ground is on top, the left and right slots are 110 Volt hot legs(50 amp is actually 220 volts) and common is the lower leg. Here take your reading from common to each 110 volt leg.

STEP TWO: Check for voltage at the main breaker box in the RV.


  • Exercise caution here because its "live" when you're doing this


  • Look for obvious problems such as loose or burnt wires. If wires are secure and in place take a reading between the hot(black) wire and neutral (white) wire. Reading should be about the same as at the power source.
  • (Note: If there is an inverter in the coach you may have an isolated neutral, isolated that is from the regular neutral bus bar so if you run across this it is normal.)


  • No voltage at breaker box.

  •  This means there is an "open" or break in the circuit somewhere between shore plug in and the breaker box




  • Shore line plug in Check the condition of your power cord plug and the receptacle you're plugging into. Are the blades and the receptacle clean and in good condition? If not don't be surprised if you experience any type of power problem.



  • Inspect your power cord - both ends and in between>Sometimes problems are obvious...and sometimes not so obvious. It could be a break or partial break near the plug as this is a high stress area. (Intermittent electrical problems can be caused by a partial break near the plug depending upon how the cord might be twisted or turned. If you suspect your cord spend some time changing the position of the cord and see if there is a pattern of continuity and not continuity.)



  • ATS (Automatic Transfer Switch)


    If the coach has a generator there is a switch somewhere, automatic or manual, depending upon the age of the coach which regulates which power source is being used. (You sure don't want BOTH at the same time). If you have power from one source (generator or shore power) and not the other your problem in probably right here. Depending upon your expertise you may want to stop here. They're not always easy to get to or to diagnose.

REMINDER: Older coaches equipped with a generator may need the power cord plugged into an outlet usually located in the power cord storage area. Also if you have no power from the generator be sure the breakers at the generator are turned "on".




    An inverter can cause an open Having power in some areas and not others is a tip off it could be the inverter


STEP THREE: Check for voltage out of main breaker box.


      Check all breakers - switch them off and on a number of times to insure they're working. Next check for output voltage on the load side. (This is the black wire coming off of each single breaker going to its respective load.)


If the breaker panel is marked and you're experiencing a power problem in one specific area you already know which breaker to check. If not you'll have to figure it out through the process of elimination.

If you have power into the breaker it is unlikely you have no power out. (ie. all the breakers being bad.)

REMINDER If you have power in and no power out be sure MAIN BREAKER is on and operating correctly.



    No voltage at the load side of a particular breaker.



Here is a typical 30 amp breaker box to help illustrate what we're discussing. On the left is the incoming ground (green) wire going to the ground bus bar. Also note the incoming neutral(large white wire) going to the neutral bus bar along with other neutral load wires attached. Looking carefully you will note the hot incoming(large black wire) looping down and up to the left most breaker.(main breaker) The other three breakers comprise the three separate 110 circuits in this RV. Incoming voltage reading would be taken at the neutral bus bar and at the bottom of the main breaker. To test other breaker operations reading would be taken at the bottom where the load wires are attached and the neutral bus bar. 

Above is a typical 50 amp breaker.(There was no inverter in this coach) Note the 2 incoming hot legs (large RED and BLACK wires) going to the two main breakers for this coach. Also note the neutral bus bar in the foreground with the ground bus bar immediately behind it. The incoming ground wire is difficult to differentiate but it is on the left with the 2 incoming hot wires. Here again VOLTAGE READINGS are taken between neutral and hot. 


  • incoming voltage- at the bottom of the two main breakers(on the far left)

  • outgoing voltage- at the bottom of any of the other breakers which is "load side" for the rest of the 110 circuits.


 all power (shore cord and inverter)

 Check for continuity through the breaker.

Disconnect black wire from the load side of breaker.

Check for continuity through the breaker.

Go to hot bus bar (if so equipped) and check for continuity from there to the load side of breaker (where you disconnected the black load wire.)

No continuity...replace breaker.


Voltage out of circuit breaker and yet no operation at the load (appliance, outlet, etc)


    This means there is an "open" or break in between the breaker and the load. Next step is to check all junction boxes in the circuit. (This would be at the air conditioner, water heater, if equipped for AC, junction box under slide for AC outlets, etc, etc.



Check for loose wires, burnt wires, or burnt wire insulation.

Remove wire nuts, separate wires and check for voltage between black (hot) wire and neutral (white) wire.

No voltage then there is an open between here and breaker box. Anytime you're in a junction box suspected of an "open" pull wire nuts and retighten and wrap with electrical tape. Could be another junction box, a pinched, broken or pierced wire somewhere in between. If you trace it to this point you may want to refer this headache to an RV technician.

My Favorite Camping Spot July 20 2016, 0 Comments

We all love to camp for different reasons; the great outdoors, the food, or a crackling fire but the location is always one of the reasons we all pack up the car or RV and go camping. For Tough Tops 10 years in business we posed the question for our sweepstakes “Where is your favorite camping spot?”


I starting thinking about this and realized this is a tough question! First, I feel a lot of the places I camped I have long forgot the names and not sure some of them really had names at all….many were just pull offs in a National Forest or in the mountains. One I remember driving 20 miles on a dirt road until we came to a high cliff overlooking the desert valley floor into Sedona, AZ…..Such a beautiful place!


I do want to share two places which stand out to me, one place I camped for the first time just last summer and one which I remember from growing up.


Signal Mountain Campground  //  Grand Teton National Park

We came here many times growing up for family vacations. The Tetons have always held a special place for me and the thought of them puts a smile on my face.

Right in the park, Signal Mountain is on a mountain with sites carved out within the trees. There are little dirt trails taking you to Jackson Lake and an amazing view of the Tetons. Depending on the water level you can scurry down the side and get to the water, as kids we would go down and skip rocks.


And with all the National Park campgrounds I’ve stayed at and love are the amphitheater programs. As the sun sets, add some layers of clothes, make the hot chocolate, grab the lantern and head to the bonfire and learn some cool stuff from the park rangers.


To learn more




Gold Bluffs Beach Campground  //  Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park 

First off this one is tents only as you need to drive on a somewhat bumpy, dirt/gravel road for 6 miles to get there, but if you can its worth it!


Hence the name, this campsite is at the beach, you look one way to a cliff of beautiful red wood trees and the the other to the Pacific Ocean. There is something about hearing the waves as you lay in your tent and taking a beach walk first thing in the morning. 


I feel there is one other great perk about this campsite, its near Fern Canyon. And again hence the name is a beautiful canyon covered in ferns that lead you our of a huge growth forest to the ocean. You can take the hike from the name road (6 miles or so if I remember) or drive the bumpy road and get direct access. So this is a popular place during the day, but being about 2 miles away, getting up early and heading over you have the chance to have the place almost to yourself, which is the way to go for sure.


You have a favorite camping stop you would like to share? Post to Tough Tops Facebook page HERE or email me HERE….and get all the detail will be entered to win a few prizes, one being a $150 gift card! If you don’t have a favorite spot, its summer and the perfect time to go out and find one!!


Happy RVing…and camping

BUSTER BARS - A GREAT SUMMER TREAT July 09 2016, 0 Comments



1 Package of Oreo Cookies

1 Stick Butter

1/2 Gallon Vanilla Ice Cream

1 Can or Jar of Hot Fudge Sauce

1 Can Salted Peanuts

1 (9oz.) Container Cool Whip



Crush Oreo cookies and mix with butter. Add layer of crusted mixture in 9x13’’ pan. Spread vanilla ice cream on crust and freeze until firm. Poor fudge sauce over ice cream, then spread layer of peanuts and layer of Cool Whip. Sprinkle rest of Oreo mixture on top and return to freezer.


Take out 10 minutes before serving….ENJOY!!

RVing Green July 07 2016, 0 Comments

 Going on a camping trip is a lot of fun, and a great way to get out of town and into nature and spend time with friends and family. Many RVer’s today go camping in their RV, which is more comfortable and convenient than tent camping. But if you’re concerned about the environment, you can do green camping in an RV. While tent camping definitely has a much smaller impact on the environment than RV camping, there are some easy ways to have a green RV adventure.


  • Going solar. If you can add solar panels to the roof of your RV, you can use renewable energy for almost all of your electrical items. This is a much greener option than gas powered generators, which are noisy, pollute, and nonrenewable.


  • If you can’t go solar, or want a backup system, convert your onboard gas generator to green RV propane kits. Kits can be purchased in almost any RV parts store. Propane is cleaner burning and emits less CO. If your generator is diesel, use bio-diesel fuel instead.


  • Don’t use plastics if it’s avoidable. Instead of plastic dinnerware, purchase a green camping dinnerware setfor your RV. If you must use disposable plates and bowls, go with paper. 


  • Install a propane catalytic heater. Most RV furnaces use both propane and electricity to work. Catalytic heaters use no electricity, which will save you battery life and reduce your electrical use. Turn the water heater off when you don’t plan on using it. Most RV water heaters can heat the water up in a half hour, so just flip it on when you need it.


  • Instead of heavy chemicals, use the GEO method for your holding tanks. The GEO method is a simple combination of biodegradable laundry detergent and water softener, which is friendly to both septic tanks and the environment. Follow this link with Nina and Paul for the complete method


  • Replace your light bulbs with LED lights. They use a lot less energy and last a lot longer than regular bulbs. Contact Mark with M4 with questions

These are just some basic green RV tips that you can do yourself at home. Older RVs are heavy, use a lot of gas, and aren’t very green, but implementing some, or all, of these tips will take you that much closer to green camping. Also, many RV manufacturers have recognized the interest in green camping and are coming out with new designs to make their RVs greener.

Water June 27 2016, 0 Comments

Usually when we need water, its easy to get it, right? Walk over to the facet and drink what you need, use it to take a shower, or wash your dishes…As a traveler that luxury is gone! All the water we consume or use we need to find, and maybe this is easy for some, but as a new traveler, its something thats always on my mind.

Campsites do a pretty good job, if you stay at an RV park an have hookups you can refill your water tank and have water for showers and such. Even more remote camping, or sometimes free camping will have well water to use for dishes or maybe a hippy shower!!

Drinking water is a different story, yes there are some campsites with fresh drinking water. Whenever I find drinking water anywhere I fill my (2) 40oz. stainless steel caniters, and if I find drinking water at a site I fill up more!

As a eco-minded person I will not buy individual waters in plastic….And to be honest have not found a good solution for drinking water. I don't go to the store often, But I will buy 2-3 big jugs of water, and try and re-use them later…But I do have many I'm storing, and needing to be recycled so there must be a better solution, right?

In New Mexico and Arizona I have seen water filling stations that are in parking lots and such…and I think many grocery stores and re-fill stations, I just have not come across many. My grand plan is to stock up when I have the chance on food and buy mostly everything I need at famers markets,  to avoid grocery stores visits! So, Im sorta rolling the dice that I will come across drinking water as I go along. For all those experienced travelers please comment and get in on the discussion….I would love to hear your solutions.

And while on the subject of water its tough not to and least touch on the water shortage issue. If you travel West, especially California you still see the effects of a current drought they are in. Lakes are low and look sad, signs along the highways encouraging water conservation. I was up in the Truckee/Tahoe area campsite and they have the showers closed 2 days per week to help with the issue (of course they were closed the day I really needed a shower!!) 

Some interesting facts to put things in perspective….

More than 44% of California is in “exceptional” drought — the worst level of drought.

The drought forced California farmers to fallow 500,000 acres of land in 2014. that was 2 years ago….could not find the numbers for 2015…and then there is this…California grows 43 percent of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables and more than 90 percent of its almonds, grapes, and broccoli. Its easy to see how the CA water shortage effects us all!!

So, in my first month of traveling water has been an important topic and something on my mind….water are like quarters for a college student who need to do laundry….water is like gold!!….and when you enjoy being outside hiking with your doggy I really start to realize how much water I and my dog consumes on a summer day. I think it’s a good exercise to have to find all the water you use and appreciate its value….if you don't understand the water shortage or just how important water is to your daily life and heath, just go travel for a month!!!


rick oberreuter is the graphic designer and marketing director for Tough Tops, he just started traveling full time....this post is from his blog.....

Thinking about going solar? June 19 2016, 0 Comments

Are you thinking about adding a solar system in your RV or motorhome?

Here are 5 simple things to get you thinking…

1. Budget - It seems things always begin and end with money…. but if you set a budget for yourself it will help you decided where to put that money. 

2. Wattage - Its tough to figure out how many watts you will need, that might take some research, depends on the number of people, and it your wanting to keep the same lifestyle as if you were at home. Think about ways to save on energy….solar powered lights along with LED lights, an inverter the plugs into lighter to charge computer and devices…maybe even a french press to replace your coffee maker. Usually it's about a dollar a watt.

3. Type of batteries - there are many types to choose from, I’m no expert, We went with hight quality solar batteries….here is a link the might help


4. Where will the panels go? - Solar is all about efficiency….and RVing is all about using your space wisely….having panels on the ground allow you to move them around and point toward the sun, but you need to store them somewhere. If you mount them on your roof, they will be stored and out of the way…and will be changing whenever the sun is out….even while your on the road!


5. Controller  - In my option the most important part of your system. Hence the name, it controls the energy coming in from the panels and keeps your batteries properly fed and safe for the long term.


There is a lot to think about, not to mention all the wiring you will need as well. But when done right it makes for an amazing way to travel….and being self-efficient is great for the environment.

Differences between 15oz. and 18oz. fabrics June 08 2016, 1 Comment

 We receive a number of phone calls from our customers confused on the differences between our Premium 15oz. fabric and our 18oz. fabric so I will try to answer those questions.

Our 15oz. Premium laminate fabric has been with us from day one. Laminates are two pieces of fabric glued together. Its tremendous tensile strength is obvious by the close up photo comparing it to the most popular original fabric manufacturer (OEM).



More points of adhesion means it stays together better. Admittedly OEM  laminate fabrics have a bad reputation precisely because they use light inferior fabric that is known to delaminate. This is also why they are hemmed on the  edges. From the ground they look great but they just don’t  last long.  

After ten years experience with our premium 15 oz fabric in the field we simply do not have delaminating issues. The same is true for our 18 oz fabric, BUT for a very different reason.    Technically it is classified as a “coated” fabric because the production process is totally different. It is one piece…period! Not two pieces glued together.

 Literally its impossible to delaminate. Being 18oz. it obviously is heavier BUT surprisingly it is less expensive due to its simpler production process.

If you’re a customer debating on which way to go hopefully this will help. Our color choices are more expansive with our Premium fabric and currently our 18 oz fabric is available in white and sand, but shortly we will be adding more color selections. Watch our website or give us call for more information. By nature our Premium 15 oz fabric is stiffer (remember it is 2 pieces glued together) which is a positive because slide out awnings by design can turn into a wind tunnel depending on the force and direction of the wind. If you’re an experienced RV’er you may have had a beating slide out awning keep you from getting a good nights sleep.    For this reason very often we will suggest going with this fabric.   


On the other hand our 18 oz coated fabric handles the wind just fine, but it is not as rigid. The deciding factor for us at Tough Top Awnings is the size and depth of your slide out. The less weight you have the less  stress you have on your roller tube and spring mechanism.  Our suggestion is whenever you go over 12’ wide(or long/ however you look at it) and over 34” deep, fabric weight must be considered. For example 18oz. fabric would be fine on bedroom slide of 90” X  42” but not on a living room slide of 144” x 40”. Looking at it a different way 18oz. fabric would be fine on an  175” X  18” slide out. 


Remember, Consider both length and depth and if you still not sure please call Tyler at 360-980-0537.


Learn more and see our buying checklist here:




RV Tips May 09 2016, 0 Comments


Some RV tips to help you if you are a RV newbie or have been a RVer for awhile.

  • Place a carpet sample at the base and one at the top of your entry steps, which will help keep dirt and moisture out of your rig.
  • Have a list to remind yourself of what you need to do for setting up and leaving.
  • Have disposable rubber gloves to use during sewer hookups and dumping.
  • Use a portable space heater at night instead of using all that propane.
  • Travel in the morning or late afternoon when hot – it is easier on your RV.
  • Use biodegradable toilet paper.
  • Always check your headlights, turn signals and brake light before starting out.
  • Place a spring-loaded shower bar inside your shower to hang wet towels.
  • Re-package boxed foods in zip lock bags to save space on your pantry shelves.
  • Put a pizza stone (inexpensive kind) under rack of propane oven to help distribute heat more evenly.
  • Use an insurance company that deals with RV’s, not houses.
  • Install an under-cabinet coffee maker to give you more counter space.
  • How about an under-the-counter spice rack? Get one with adjustable shelves to hold different sizes of spices.
  • Try mothballs for ants, spiders and other insects.
  • Use surge protectors for power spikes.
  • Check carbon monoxide detectors regularly.
  • Remember to lower your TV antenna or satellite dish before taking off.
  • Save money by buying things out of season, like antifreeze.
  • Use something between dishes to prevent chipping or breaking. Try plastic foam sleeves, rubber matting or bubble wrap.
  • Use bottled water on the road. You don’t know what the water is like where you stay.
  • Check vents for cracking.
  • Check brakes and tires regularly.
  • Do a basic safely check of your LP system regularly.
  • For drain cleaner try: ½-cup baking soda to ½-cup white vinegar. After a few minutes put a kettle of hot water down drain.
  • For general surfaces and glass cleaner try: ¼-cup vinegar, ½ cup rubbing alcohol and 2 cups distilled water. Put in spray bottle.

Buying an older model, used RV May 02 2016, 0 Comments

Its been years since I bought an RV.   Its also been years since I wrote my ebook “An RV Tech’s Checklist for Buying a new or used RV” (click to learn more and buy ebook). This spring our son Rick, a freelance designer and web designer / marketer for Tough Tops told us he wanted a change in his life and he wanted to hit the road.

It’s January, Rick lives in Boulder Colorado and its not the time of year to RV shopping. Myself and my wife are in Mesa Arizona, and it was not winter here at all. In fact people are buying and selling RV’s like crazy.   And why not?   It feels like summer, the snowbirds are in town, if you’re a seller this is the time to sell, and if you’re a buyer this is the time to buy. Rick starts looking on craigslist daily and lets me know of any RV’s he finds attractive for me to follow up with… and I start my research and looking as well.

The challenge? He’s on a limited budget for this project and finding something inexpensive that will work for him. Being an old RV tech I have my doubts we are going to find something he can live in!

I quickly learned I was in for a surprise. Some sellers knew very little about their RV’s, in their defense they may not have used it in a while. Others were short term owners which is very scary! Still others…I could understand why they didn’t use them as they were in bad shape.   Some were selling the RV for someone else and at times it was difficult to get any accurate information on the RV.   Some had no power in them, no water to check the plumbing system, or LP gas to check appliances.   I was going crazy!   We quickly learned any older RV that was decent and was priced right… SOLD…AND THEY SOLD FAST!

My first guideline in my book in buying a used motorhome is “do not fall in love with the “house” or living area part of the RV until the chasis is checked out.   If there are issues with the chassis, you’re not “going” anywhere.   My advice has always been to learn as much about its history as possible (which I was having difficulty doing) and have it checked out by a mechanic.  How long have you owned the RV, how did you use it, is mileage accurate, what is maintenance history, etc. Also I like to get fluid (engine and tranny) samples. This tells you a lot!!!  

Obviously this was not going to be possible because lower priced used RV’s were selling fast.   Our search was, much like anything else, the longer you do it the better you get at it.   Once we had a “hot “ lead we jumped on it.   One day we finally got lucky or at least we were hoping it was luck! The owner had just listed his RV on Craigslist, he was not a long term owner but he knew some of this history on it. It was very clean for its age, low mileage, he had power in it so I could see the appliances were working.   I took it on a test drive and it seemed to be ok.   We had to make a decision as other prospective buyers were on their way and his phone was ringing as we were talking with him. We bought the RV!!

So with fingers crossed we took it home.   First we had a muffler installed, next we took it to a truck mechanic who checked things out.   Brakes were good, (we’re happy about that), shocks, hoses, and engine wiring were original, so those were replaced and freon was added to the chassis A/C.  

A few weeks later Rick arrived in Mesa to meet his 27’ class C RV.  While he’s visualizing himself living in it we went to work installing a solar system as he wants to be totally self sufficient. (We’ll report on that project in a few weeks).   He and I learned a lot.   I checked out all the appliances and other systems and they responded remarkable well. The old Norcold refrigerator will blow away anything there that their manufacturing today…his beer will be cold!

Now Rick and his RV are back in Colorado, Mother Nature christened both Rick and the RV as they encountered storms of wind, rain, hail, and snow on his way back home.  Mechanically things went well.   One night out he encountered extreme winds outside Santa Fe which did some damage on one side of a rear panel…but this is to be expected on an older RV.

So…to date this has been his experience.   There still may be a chassis A/C issue but he will have to take things as they go.   Rick will be blogging on his new endeavor and we all have our fingers crossed that all goes well. More to come….

Spring Cleaning Tips for Slide Toppers March 17 2016, 0 Comments

It’s that time of year to get ready for the's also our favorite time of year

Time to clean any dust and debris from the tops of the slide outs. While the slide is in make sure to clean the areas of the slide out that go out. It is a very over looked area that picks up everything from dust to pine needles to toys. Take it from Tyler. He has pulled everything from toy motorcycles to hair brushes to a customer’s wallet that he thought he let at a truck stop.

After a thorough cleaning make sure it is completely dry!

Then comes time to condition the seals. This is easy enough with a little
baby powder or
talcum powder

…on the seal prevents the seal from grabbing as the slide deploys and pull the seal off and turning a camping trip into a costly and time consuming fix to replace your seal.

For the outside of the slide follow this great video from the for applying the powder to the exterior of the seals without having to remove the slide toppers.


 This is also a good time to make sure your slide toppers are looking good and the hardware in secure. As a slide topper is the only movable part attached to the exterior of the coach and with all moving parts things can become loss. Check the screws! Everything from the tension bars to the anti-bellow devices.

This will save the head ache down the road!

 Happy RVing