Sunday, September 16, 2018

2017 Jayco Hummingbird 17RB Review By A Handyman

Note, this is a used RV and some features may or may not apply to the model you're considering. The list price is about $25,000 new, but a good used example can go for less than half that amount. This one came with the usual wear and tear and received a bit more on the trip we took with it. This trailer does have electric brakes, so a brake controller is necessary for safe and legal operation. Although this came with all of the locks keyed alike, corrosion necessitated the replacement of one of them. This trailer came with a new battery, a cord, a drawbar and a package of black water treatment from the last owner (how nice). The batteries to all three remotes were dead on arrival, and the black water tank still had some surprises (yummy). We also ended up having to temporarily bypass a clearance light that shorted out before it cut short our vacation.

I would recommend using Aqua Chem in the black water tank over the orange, lavender, or other scented packets that do little in my experience to break down the waste or deal with the odor. Our bathroom ended up smelling pretty bad after a day of using the wrong treatment. The correct use of the facilities would have also helped; this is not a fault of the camper or equipment. Nothing earth shattering here, but being prepared is part of planning any vacation, and camping requires a lot of preparation and patience. RV toilet paper is the only TP you should use here and note that less is more and more will close the passageway from the toilet to the tank.

The nomenclature 17RB means 17 feet for the coach and a rear bathroom. The entire trailer is 19 feet 9 inches long and weighs about 3000 pounds dry weight. The hummingbird is the smallest model in the jayco lineup (the 10RK or rear kitchen is the smallest submodel). It comes with a single 20 pound propane tank, a propane/110V refrigerator, a microwave/convection oven, 6 gallon water heater that uses electric or propane, a full bathroom, air conditioning (a godsend this last week) vent fan, two burner stove, a sink as well as a radio/DVD/Bluetooth/CD player with inside and outside speakers and a TV installed. A TV can also be installed outside as well. This camper also has a slideout for the kitchen and a power awning with LED lights you can change the color. The 2016 models only came with blue lights, but this was a change for 2017.  The appeal of this model was that it was feature packed like the bigger models in a more manageable package. I've had no issue towing or parking this beast. It tows very well, but can be jumpy on southern Michigan's moonscape of moribund motorways, especially I-69, where it would be a slight exaggeration to say there is an expansion joint every five feet. Once we were north, it was very smooth towing.

Setup at the site was the usual and nothing remarkable for any travel trailer. The built in jacks required some effort to get down and the jack to the trailer tongue was equally tiresome. My advice is to use a 3/4 socket and driver for the jacks and upgrading to a power unit for the tongue. The awning and slideout were easy to use with minimal noise. The A/C was slightly noisy but very efficient. The refrigerator keeps its cool. but does take a few hours to get that way. We didn't attempt to tow with it on to avoid fire hazards, but some have complained about the operation when towing. My advice is to use a cooler or plug the unit in and then disconnect for the trip. It keep our stuff cold for three plus hours. The electrical is clear and well laid out, but the manual seems to be clueless on almost everything. This was very apparent when my wife tripped the GFCI with her inane hairdryer. It took me a good 15 minutes to track down the problem and deal with it.

The vent fan is very puzzling and a chore to operate. I would have stuck with something less complicated such as a manual operation of the door and a simple on and off and reversal of the fan motor. The light switch also has to be in the on position for this to operate at all. Another PITA is the entry/screen door. Rather than use a knob that requires ONE hand, this one makes you use TWO HANDS to close the infernal thing. I understand this is an industry standard, but being able to close the door quickly is important when camping in areas inundated with mosquitoes and flies. With some practice and coordination, I was able to close the door one handed with relative ease. My wife still struggles to close the door from the inside.

The TV, radio/DVD are pretty simple and straightforward to operate as is the light setup outside. This whole trailer is very well lit with a light in the basement storage areas. The aft has enough room for a few blocks, while there is more in the fore compartment. There is plenty of nooks and crannies to store camping supplies, food, the remotes and your devices. There are also plenty of places to plug them all in. One minor gripe is the lack of a net on the fore side of the camper next to the bed as well as a usb port and outlet to plug in a phone. This seems like it would help the person sleeping forward from disturbing his or her partner, but it's so minor and easy to fix.

In such an RV, space is at a premium, but the size of the bathroom rivals some $100,000 houses. It's pretty big on this model, but the shower is a bit on the small side and meant for occasional use during the trip, if at all. Better off going to the shower room or using the outside shower if you can secure some privacy first. Both sinks are very functional with residential grade faucets, with cold and hot running water  The toilet is a standard RV fare that requires some patience and forethought to use. Using the black water flush on the outside of the coach is in my opinion a waste of time. Better to use a standard hose with a handle at the dump station and clean from the toilet itself. Otherwise the result could be a nasty surprise at home trying to flush out a black water tank with a drain pan and a garden hose (gross).

The convection/microwave takes some figuring out to use, but is very capable and also frees up space under the cooktop for more storage. The cooktop, as in days of old still requires a lighter ignite. It's at least more reliable than an automatic pilot, but is a bit out of place on such a high tech camper. There is also a gas grill connection on the outside we didn't utilize at the right rear of the coach, but it's far more convenient to pack a camping stove you can park anywhere on the site.  I've you're stuck on the inside, the slideout (which is mandatory to slide out to use) provides more utility and functionality to the inside. There is not enough room for two people to pass through the hall unless they are unusually small.  This camper sleeps three or four if they don't mind close quarters. This is a necessary compromise if you have something smaller than a 3/4 ton truck to pull a travel trailer with.

Towing this beast with a minivan  such as a Honda Odyssey or mid sized suv such as a Chevy Traverse is more than possible, but I would upgrade to a weight distributing set up as well as adding a sway control to the rig. These will make it a lot more manageable on rough roads and crosswinds. The narrow profile makes using towing mirrors unnecessary, but check your locals laws. Even with the aerodynamics, expect your gas mileage to drop significantly if you use the aforementioned sized tow vehicles. Anything smaller would probably not be a good idea to use for this camper; stick with a Scamp or pop up.

In short, the Hummingbird is screwed together pretty well. It lacks some refinement found in the Rpod and some innovations found in other brands. Jayco sticks with tried and true while adding all the modern conveniences and features found in their larger siblings. As with any camper of this size, space is limited, but things are efficiently laid out. Those wanting more sleep space will want FD (Front dining) or BH (Bunk House) models as these sleep more people than the RB (Rear bath) RK (rear kitchen), MRB or MBS models. The latter two only sleep two and M stand for murphy bed. 

If bathroom space is something you want, and you want to sleep three people, the 17 RB is worth a look. Either way, I would buy this used and get an inspection before buying. These cost about $25,000 USD new and sell for half that after a year or two. Reliability isn't guaranteed and even new RVs are going to require impromptu repairs.  I would recommend at least a 1/2 or 3/4 ton truck to tow this more easily. A minivan or mid-sized SUV can tow it, but a truck is a whole lot better if you can swing it. Maranatha!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

2015 Ford Transit Connect, A Small Van With Focus.

This is concerning the current generation, 2014 to 2018 of compact cargo vans in North America. The 2019 TC is shedding the double grille in favor of Ford's Aston Martin looking piehole and adding a diesel engine to the mix. Other than that, few changes are coming or needed. As a technician who drove a diesel van for almost a year, I can't vouch for the ease of starting and running these.  The van I drove was a Ford E250 that belched smoke, wouldn't start and drove like a wheelbarrow full of rocks, Ahem! I would stick with the gasoline model myself. Fortunately, Ford has done the right thing and modernized their vans for the working man.

The first Transit Connect imported into the United States was a big box on wheels. It was reasonably quiet and refined with a four cylinder engine and more than enough power and torque to carry ladders and light bulbs. It was also well thought out and easy getting in and out of.

The current TC builds on this with an even more modern, even sporty styling reflective of the focus platform this vehicle uses. The current engine choices are a 1.6L Ecoboost or 2.5L Duratec four cylinder. The van has has the 2.5L, which is the engine this writer would strongly recommend for durability. Turbos require more frequent oil changes and should be idled before shutting the engine off to prevent the oil from coking up inside. Considering the crammed engine compartments on today's vehicles, adding more accountraments isn't going to help with that. All examples have a six speed automatic transmission. You can expect 20 to 24 miles to the gallon in mixed driving with the van loaded. Most of the the time owner operators will load these with shelves, tools and parts.

Getting into and out of this almost requires a step down to get in, but the roof is very high which gives you plenty of room without tucking your chin into your breastbone. The ride is very car-like and because of its small size is VERY easy to park and maneuver. A backup camera should be mandatory if there are no back windows. The ride on Michigan's moonscape of roads is choppy. However, nothing short of a hovercraft is going to have a smooth ride here.  Other than that, cabin noise is minimal save what you load it with.

The dashboard is typical Ford fare: busy, convoluted but most of the instruments are easy to read, with the exception of taller drivers not being able to see the shift indicator on the dash due to the silly protrusion over the gauge cluster. The letters on the shift lever are confusing and don't line up well with the lever itself, so they aren't much help. Forward visibility is good, and sides are a bit tricky as with any cargo van. Rear visibility is poor to non-existent. Seats are comfortable with decent thigh and back support.  Vinyl seats are a good idea.

The cab has plenty of pockets, and an overhead storage bin to keep things organized. This is something the American style vans will never have. All these have are pockets in the doors that allow everything to get wet. There's a glove box and a bin in the console as well. The cupholders are car style in the console.

This model has barn style doors in the rear, which is recommended for any van you use for work. You can also lock them into position for windy days or if you're parked on an incline.

These are available with or without the driver's side sliding door, which is recommended for more ease of use. The extended high roof version is also recommended because most service techs will load more than they think they will. With some careful planning, the room will be more than adequate for parts and tools. Whether you're repairing furnaces, air conditioners or appliances, these vans will work well. If you're installing HVAC, a plumber or electrician, you may want to stick with a Ford Transit, Ram Promaster, or a box truck. The truth is most can keep an adequate amount of supplies in this as you can a larger van, provided both are organized and things are not scattered all over the floor. The bonus with this one is that you don't have to climb inside to reach tools or parts and can get to them much quicker. This is without having to worry about a load floor, much less step up into it.

If you're looking for a small, efficient cargo van. The Ford Transit Connect is a good choice.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Amana ADB1000AWW1 Dishwasher Door Leak Fix

For reference, please see this diagram,

As with any repairs, I am not responsible for the quality or lack thereof concerning your work. There will always be omissions and oversights as this is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Personal injury, death, and property damage are always possible when working with any machine. Perform this and any other repair at your own risk.

The Amana ADB1000AWW1 is a marvel of yesterday's engineering that still works to this day.  It uses a timer, level switch, a Rube Goldberg contraption that rivals today's electronic wizardry required to dispense the soap and rinse aid.  Unlike the offerings of today with touch screens and enough blinking lights to invoke seizures in susceptible individuals, this one has done the job without complaint for 5 years. This writer has fed countless loads of dirty dishes into its awaiting maw only to com out cleaner and dryer than any Energy Star rated machine made today. All we've done is use the right soap and kept the rinse aid topped off along with an occasional cleaning. 

Yesterday, after a brisk day of fixing and installing appliances; such is my happy fate Mrs. Grace alerted me to a problem with this simplistic piece of American engineering. It was leaking water through the door from the left side of the console and finding its way to the floor. My philosophy is NEVER TO CHANGE PARTS without a proper diagnosis. Since I paid less than $200 for this machine, it wasn't going to be work putting a whole lot into. 

Initially, I opened the inner door and looked inside the console. You will need a Torx 15 or 20 to remove the screws. SHUT OFF POWER TO THE MACHINE or you will make a mess if the door closes.  This dishwasher's vent allows hot air and water vapor to escape from the console, especially during drying. There are no moving parts as this is made to deflect water back into the tub. This area was filled with slime, which was allowing the water to condense and drip from the console. I removed the vent screen from the inner door.  A thorough rinsing removed the slime removed the slime, blecch! 

The dishwasher goes back together in the order it came apart, paying attention to the drip cover that needs to go back in to cover the dispenser mechanism inside the door.  Take your time and don't break the console, as these are half the cost of the machine when it was new.  Run the dishwasher and check for leaks; congratulating yourself that you're not contributing to the electronic overlords that are watching our every move through our appliances. Maranatha! 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

2018 Dodge Grand Caravan SE, Review From A Working Man

Obviously, unlike many of my reviews of vehicles and whatnot, this is a new vehicle with less than 800 miles on the odometer. However, the design hasn't changed much since 2008, with a refresh in 2011 that includes a spoiler, LED tail lights, revised dash, rounded headlights and a new crosshair grille. The looks are dated, but it still manages to look a lot better than many competitors.  Also "new" for 2011 is the 3.6 liter VVT port fuel injected Pentastar V-6 that replaces 3 engine choices.  It manages to provide more economy and power than any of them, with more stress on the latter. This van is white in color with black seats, carpet, and pewter colored door trim and headliner.

Because this is an SE model; a.k.a. the poverty package, there are no options on this van. Fortunately, it does have manual three zone climate control, AM/FM with a touch screen and a hard drive you can upload photos, DVDs and CDs to. It also plays DVDs but disables the picture if the van isn't in park. There is no Bluetooth or voice command even though there are buttons for same.  It also has a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio and cruise control. A display with mpg, outside temperature, miles to empty, trips 1 and 2, as well as the digital speed (a bit redundant) and the odometer. The gauges are red, white and black and remind of the old school performance ones of the 1960's. They are very well lit and easy to read as are the rest of the instruments, which are pretty easy to use. This van also comes with power heated mirrors. A trailer hitch and wiring was installed by the dealer. The wheels are 17 inch steel with plastic bolt on covers shod with Kuhmo Solus all season tires. These offer low road noise and rolling resistance.

The touch screen is very intuitive and requires little instruction to get it working. This writer has never used one before and this is far more simplistic than using a tablet. There is also a USB and accessory port to work around that whole Bluetooth thing. This is nice because the SE plus would have been more expensive. Unlike the SE plus, the SE's middle seats roll out instead of folding into the floor. There is a copious amount amount of storage in the floor as a result though. The back seats do fold flat. One note are the panels that cover the framework on these seatbacks are very flimsy. A cargo mat or 4x8 sheet of plywood is a good investment to cover these panels to prevent breakage when the seats are folded down. The rear seats are on the small side, but not much smaller than contemporary minivans. It does seat seven people, though this writer hasn't tried it yet. Cargo capacity is generous even with the middle seat installed. There is a conversation mirror to keep an eye on the rear passengers.

With all the seats up, there is a trunk space with hooks for grocery bags. Unlike other vans such as the long gone Ford Windstar, these are small, low and not very usable in practice. There is also a storage cubby back there and twisting two locks and removing the cover reveals a tire pump with sealant installed. This pump works very well on the bike tires I've had to pump up. Using the sealer renders the pump unserviceable after that. A new one is $75 online. My advice is to use this in a dire emergency only. Since these vans don't come with a spare tire, although perversely the winch is there, you might want to invest in a tire plug kit to save your pump. These are a helluva lot cheaper than buying a spare tire and tools and take very little time to use. They will also get you to a service station a lot easier than the tire sealant.

Doors and liftgate are easy to use, although shorter people will have a time trying to manipulate the liftgate. It goes up fast! The sliding doors may be challenging for children to close if you park on an incline. Power sliding doors would have been nice, and a power closing liftgate would have been better. Getting in the van is made a challenge for taller drivers because of the lower roofline. Going in head first as well as pulling the seat up a little closer seems to help with not scrubbing your head on the doorway. Shorter passengers will appreciate the grab handles getting in and out. Running boards are not a bad idea either. Windows open and close easily with express up and down. Unlike vans of old, the middle windows roll down and both rear vent window open with a switch.

The seats are very plush for a late 2010's vehicle. Front seats have generous thigh and back support. Plastics on the doors are soft touch, but the dash is very hard. Some faux wood trim is on the front door and dash that gives the interior a slightly upscale feel for what should be a down market vehicle. Rear seats are more than adequate in room and function. Seat belts in the front are adjustable, rear seat belts are in the frame, not the seats. This means a careless passenger can send a belt flinging into the door trim (ouch).  There are a decent amount of cup holders and storage bins, as well as places for juice boxes. The driver's side also sports an umbrella holder, and there are two glove compartments. One can carry a tablet. To power up all those devices, there are three power ports, and the one USB on the radio. An inverter would be a good addition to these ports and a wireless charger even better.

Driving position is one of the better ones this writer has experienced, save the Ford Windstar or Escape. There is lots of room for your legs and a decent amount of headroom. Controls are easy to manipulate, but the HVAC controls are on the small side. Radio controls are also on the back of the spokes of the steering wheel. Again, the instruments are clear and easy to read. On the road, noise is about average/low, but on Michigan's mottled moonscape of moribund motorways, you have to expect some bumps. Allegedly, the Sienna, Sedona  and Odyssey as well as the GC's kin, the Chrysler Pacifica are quieter, but these are a much more expensive story. You could line the inside of this van with sound absorbing material and still have enough money for a handful of those godaweful Caribbean cruises and bail money.

Engine sounds are on a par with the 1989 Chrysler New Yorker and any other V6 of the Chrysler pedigree, but the 3.6 Pentastar is a quicker, quieter and slightly less thirsty version. Even with variable valve timing and eco mode engaged, expect 15-18 miles to the gallon in the city and 19-24 on the highway. This is not a vehicle to buy for great fuel economy, but it does save gas if you combine your trips. Since you can carry more in this than a car or small SUV, you can save money on multiple trips if your life including hauling materials. It's also much cheaper and far less ungainly than a pickup truck. Unlike a pickup truck, there are more options in hauling passengers and cargo with a minivan, but I digress.

Future plans for the Grand Caravan are unclear at this point as FIAT tries to decide which end is up. Dodge has always been a workingman's brand first and a performance one second, which is why they have no problem selling these vans. They are a respite from the overpriced, overfeatured vehicles out there. They've still managed to remain relevant in a world that reveres SUV's and mega pickup trucks because of their economy and relative simplicity. While it may not pass the small overlap test, this vehicle scored "good" in all others. This is something many contemporaries have great difficulty passing and makes this writer question the need for such extremes. If it were so relevant, why wasn't this implemented 20 years ago as small overlap crashes happened before then. I saw one that tore a 1986 Camaro in half, killing the back seat passengers. Again, I digress.

Unlike the American full sized vans, which are very uncomfortable to enter, exit and drive, harder to maneuver, have limited space for their size; the American minivan excels in both form and function. It supplanted the station wagon because they were more efficient with both fuel and space, which is something an SUV or crossover fails to do to this day without being a massive hulk.

The only improvements this writer would suggest to FCA are to offer a reasonably refined four cylinder (not the tigershark or multiair engines as these are total garbage) WITH a six or eight speed transmission. Not everyone needs 300 horsepower and this writer could do fine with half that number. The roof needs to be two inches higher and the U-Connect needs to have Bluetooth on all models for safety's sake. The tire pump is great, but a spare tire could almost fit under the hood with a little redesign, much like the FIAT Ritmo/Strada. I'm sure this is a car you'd like to forget, but I remember the good things about this product too. The Grand Caravan is a marque that is over 30 years old and for many years other manufacturers struggled for second place with markedly inferior fare. Kia, Honda, and Toyota have outglitzed the GC, but they also cost considerably more. The Pacifica, which decently priced is still too much vehicle for those who need or desire basic transportation.

If basic transportation with a dignified amount of creature comforts is what you desire, The Grand Caravan is a bargain; you cannot even buy a Cruze or Malibu for the price.They will far more cramped as well. This is one I would strongly consider.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Considering my options

Going to give this another go. 

2008-2012 Ford Escape Stereo Swap.

It's been a small eternity since I've been on here. Between work and catching up on a few projects there has been precious little time to write on this blog. As you probably know, I'm a do it yourselfer to the extreme. I don't cut hair, do surgeries or restore teeth, but I do work on car audio from time to time. As you may also know, I'm STILL driving a 2010 Ford Escape that has needed very little work. These cars are based on the Ford Mondeo/ Contour/ Fusion and share many of the underpinnings and all drivetrains. The Escape is also called the Maverick in some parts of the world. It's a pretty basic and reasonably fun car to drive. The 240 h.p. engine in mine is almost too powerful for a 3500 vehicle and fuel economy around 18 m.p.g., even with a six speed transmission. The all wheel drive, ABS and traction control mean it's VERY surefooted on sub par roads. One thing I have never been impressed with on this vehicle is the infotainment system. SYNC is a pain in the ass to get the voice commands to work properly and using the buttons on the dash means parking the car due to their extraneous complexity. Even the climate controls are busy, but I digress.
With this and every other model, Ford has done their level best to integrate, (more like metastasize) their abominable radios into every facet of the cabin. This makes them discouraging and sometimes expensive to remove and install an aftermarket unit. When the head unit in mine finally called it quits, I was left with four options.

One was to leave the old unit in place, use my phone and a bluetooth speaker for music. This was probably the most awkward and mean loosing some seat space. Another was to buy a new unit from the Ford dealer at $350 plus installation. Thirdly was having an installer put in something comparable and spending over $500 for the stereo, parts and labor. The fourth option is to do this myself as cheaply and professionally as possible. When I get done, there will be no SYNC or steering wheel controls. The display at the top of the dash will also have to be disabled.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2008-2012 Ford Escape Front Seat and Door Panel Top Fix.

A VERY common problem with Ford Escapes and probably Mercury Mariners with darker interior trim is that they fade when exposed to too much direct sunlight. My front seat cushions were faded, spotted and looked bad. Other than a small hole on the driver 's side (which is another fix for another day) the fabric was in good shape. Yes, I could spend $40 to $50 on seat covers for this beast. The problems are they need to be compatible with the airbags. Even if I replaced the seats, the car would need to go to the dealer to re-calibrate the weight sensor on the passenger side seat.

Another issue is that the tops of the door panels fade and fade bad and this is across the board, unless you keep your ride in a garage. Used panels will have the same defect and new ones will probably run a few hundred bucks apiece. They aren't too hard to remove, but why replace when you can refinish them, and the seats for about six bucks and a little bit of your time (and your will need some skill and LOTS of patience . You will need a can of black bumper paint (or spray paint that's the color of your trim) that's low gloss as possible. Satin sheen works best for both jobs.