View Full Version : Made it to Garrison, MN!

08-20-2008, 06:52 PM
We had a relatively uneventful trip, driving nearly straight thru from Denver. Only after arriving did I break 2 windows and crunch our bikes while trying to wriggle the beast between the trees at my folks' lake property. Still have to remove & replace the windows, but we treated ourselves to new hybrid recumbent bikes. Very nice. No more tingly hands after riding.

Before leaving, I had an electrician work on the brake lights. He never did find the original switch & ended up installing a new air pressure switch on the brake pedal and new led lights. He also put in a humungous starter battery, which was fortunate because my ammeter ran slightly negative the whole trip & in the end we could not use the headlights & finished the trip in daylight.

I installed a new 160 amp alternator, but the ammeter still registers negative amps at fast idle, especially when I turn on the headlights. I measured the volts at the alternator with the motor off & I see 12 volts, so the voltage from the battery is getting to the alternator but the charge from the alternator is not getting to the battery. Haven't gotten any further solving that one.

I'm plagued with electrical issues. My electric water heater quit after 3 days & is behind a maze of plumbing, so haven't dug into that yet. I have only 20 amps total, so I doubt I can continue using a 110 v tank heater anyway & may buy and install a propane tankless heater. Not sure where I'll put it. Is there any reason why I can't install a small circulating pump and a small 2.0 gph tankless heater & use my electric water heater tank to store hot water if/when the tankless is inadequate? This one is ventless which makes installation easier.


Question: If I install an Xantrex 3-stage charger/inverter I bought on eBay, will that replace the converter? I understand that currently the coach and the house battery gets its 12 volts off the converter when I'm on shore power (and the house battery is probably being overcharged as a result). Will the house simply run off the house battery when on shore power after I install the inverter/charger?

Being here, living in the Newell, enables us to care for my aging parents. We're going to bust my mother out of extended care where she's very unhappy on her birthday this weekend.


08-20-2008, 09:06 PM
Ted, looks like you have several issues. With a new alternator you should be pumping out lots of current to the battery when the engine is at or above fast idle. Headlights on at idle is tough on a battery that is already noticeably depleted but as soon as the rpm's come up, the ammeter should show a net charge going to the batteries. If this is not happening you have either 1) a bad alternator/voltage regulator (even if it is new), 2) bad batteries, 3) bad cables, 4) a bad diode or switching unit that controls charging of the chassis batteries, or 5) a bad ground. Are the house batteries recharging while you are driving? If so, then the alternator/voltage regulator are probably OK and I would start focusing on the other areas.

If your electric heater is like mine, and it may not be, it is a marine electric heater and the electric element could be burned out. Replacing the element is somewhat of a pain but not nearly as bad as replacing the tank. Be sure and check the breaker to see that it isn't tripped and measure the voltage at the tank from the incoming 120 volt line to be sure you don't have a large voltage drop.

The use of an electric water heater on 20 amps is a problem since about 50% of you available power is being used by the water heater when it is on. A tankless propane water heater isn't a bad idea BUT the one you are looking at is likely not sufficient by itself to meet your hot water needs. I base this comment on the fact that they need a minimum of 55 degree water coming in (which you won't have during the winter) and that the output is only 5 liters per minute with a 25 degree C temperature rise. That is a pretty low flow rate meaning pretty pitiful showers (either low flow or low temperature).

There are more powerful tankless propane water heaters that you might check out. You will need to have those vented to the outside though. I would not want an unvented propane heater in a bay. You might take a look at something like the Takagi tankless water heater (http://www.plumbingsupply.com/takagi_tankless_water_heaters.html#comparison) that is rated at 3 gpm with a 77 degree F temperature rise. A unit that is made to fit in place of a 10 gallon propane water heater (which would not be the best configuration for you) is the Precision Temp RV-500. This site (http://www.tanklesswaterheatersdirect.com) has several different models to choose from. Storing hot water in your existing tank will not work with a tankless heater. The hot water that goes into the electric water heater will cool without power to the electic water heater and then you will have to overcome the 10-20 gallons of 'cool' or 'cold' hot water with the output from the tankless heater. You might be able to plumb the system the other way around and run the output from the existing water heater into the tankless heater so under 'normal' conditions the cold water just passes through the electric heater but if you need more hot water or the incoming water temperature was low, you could run the electric heater for 15 minutes or so to heat the water that would be coming into the tankless heater thus improving the temperature rise from the tankless heater.

Finally, your question regarding the Xantrex 3-stage charger/inverter is answered yes. It will replace the converter although if you have the space I would suggest leaving the existing converter/charger in place and just unplugging it. Without the converter, 12 volt needs will be met from the batteries and/or the charger portion of the Xantrex. I have been very pleased with the charger/inverter solution on my coach since I installed a 2kw ProSine inverter with a built-in 3-stage 105 amp charger.

Richard and Rhonda
08-20-2008, 11:38 PM

Glad you guys made it. As usual Michael gave some great advice.

On a slightly more generic approach to the chassis voltage issue. If you don't have a good voltmeter with current measuring capability, then get one. You will use it often as long as you own a bus. Start at the alternator with the engine at high idle. You should have about 13.7 volts or so. Now work your way physically along the wiring. Make yourself a sketch of what you find. At every junction measure the voltage. When you see a big drop you are staring at your problem. Work the wiring until you get all the way back to the chassis batteries.

As stated before, the chassis charging circuit is much more complex than on a car. Primarily because you are supposed to have the ability to charge the house batteries automatically while the alternator is alternating, but the house batteries use an isolation device so that when you drain them you don't drain the chassis batteries and leave yourself stranded.

And let us know your progress, we love sticking our noses in other people's coach issues.

Richard and Rhonda
08-20-2008, 11:42 PM
One more thing. Were you running the genny the whole time? When I do that, and that's all the time in Texas, to run the house AC, it will cause the ammeter to appear to be draining the chassis batts. That's because when the charger first goes into action it charges at greater than 14 volts. Since the alterator is regulated at 13.7, the current is actually running backwards through the ammeter, BUT the battery is getting it's charge. Freaked me out the first time it happened.

Oh yeah, you've checked the belt tension on the alternator?

12-24-2008, 04:32 PM
Thanks to all who responded to my posts.

We're now in Wabash, IN visiting BJ's folks for Christmas. We enjoyed living in the Newell for the summer but moved into the cabin when the advancing MN weather brought 10 below zero temps. In Nov I was suddenly "surplused" by QWEST, so at 20 below I lit a charcoal fire under the engine, fired up the beast, and we drove to Wabash.

Picked up a brand new tow dolly in Mpls & within 12 hours of driving the right tire apparently blew. We drove on it awhile, and by the time I did a walkaround the fender was missing and the wheel was ground down to the size of the hub. Left it by the side of the road & drove both vehicles the rest of the way.

Newell is running well, but defrost & dash heat are inadequate for cold weather, so I'm running with 2 electric heaters on the dash & another on the floor. After 2 electricians, I'm still fighting the charging problem. isolation is now totally messed up. Guess I just need to start over.

Latch on the side door broke & we held it shut with bungees most of the way. Took the assembly out & it had a Ford logo on it! Called Newell & they had one in stock--not bad for a '76! But they wanted $166 for it, so i searched eBay & found one for $12.95. It's from a '71 Mustang.

BJ's brother-in-law has a heated shop with room for the Newell, so we're going to stay here & finish painting the stripes & try to solve some of the ongoing challenges. We found a 2000 Holliday Rambler in perfect condition in town for $31,000. We were sorely tempted, but in the end decided it just didn't feel like home.

God willing, January will find us in FL.