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It's All Connected
Our products are front and center in many coaches. Consequently, we’re often the first phone call when owners experience problems with their coach, even when the problem has nothing to do with our products. That’s fine with us. There will be times when we have to refer them to someone else, but we do our best to help when we can.
Sometimes we encounter problems that leave coach owners – and often the techs helping them – absolutely flummoxed. It becomes even more complicated when one problem turns into several problems all at the same time. But all of those seemingly unrelated problems often stem from one common source. I encountered such a case today.
The owner had been dry camping for a while and noticed that her stove wouldn’t turn on. She checked the usual suspects – breakers and GFI’s. Nothing wrong with those. She also noticed that her living room was getting pretty warm. She had set the temperature to a brisk 68 degrees, but in the desert heat, the rooftop unit definitely wasn’t keeping up. The temperature had drifted up past 80 degrees. The bedroom was nice and cool, though. It was when she noticed an error message on her Silverleaf control panel that she decided to give us a call.
Over the course of our conversation, we uncovered more problems. Not only were the air conditioners and the stove misbehaving, but the inverters weren’t switching to Standby, even though the generator was running. The batteries had dropped to just over twelve volts, which meant the inverters weren’t charging them. Also, the gray tank, which was about half full, was reading empty. With this many problems at once, I needed to separate them first; divide and conquer. We started by checking the settings at the control panel since a climate control problem could easily be caused by an incorrect setting. Nothing to see there. They were all correctly set. Next, we checked the diagnostic screen. No clues there either. So I decided to go with my gut.
Given the age of the coach, I had a hunch that the floor heat controller had failed. When this happens, they have a tendency to disrupt other unrelated heating and cooling functions. Sure enough, checking the network census showed a TM229 floor heat controller that had lost its mind and was masquerading as a TM220. Problem solved, right? Well . . . no. Not even close. The TM229 might explain why the air conditioners weren’t working, but it didn’t explain any of the other problems. And, as it turns out, unplugging the TM229, and thus removing any influence it might have had on the rest of the coach, proved that it actually had nothing to do with the cooling problem. We were no closer to solving this riddle. While a lesser tech would have given up at this point, a greater tech would have known exactly what the Comm Error message on the control panel meant. Fortunately, my perfectly balanced mediocrity meant that I had an interesting challenge before me that I would eventually unravel.
I decided to chase down the next obvious lead. The TM102 is solely responsible for reporting tank levels. Since the gray tank level was obviously incorrect, I decided to check other data reported by that same module. Sure enough, all of the transfer switch data was missing. The original transfer switch in this coach relied on the TM102 to translate the data into a usable format called RV-C. Checking the TM102 revealed that it was happy and healthy, so I turned my attention to the transfer switch itself. It had been replaced with a newer model with its own RV-C connection, which meant that the TM102 did not need to interpret. But the transfer switch had both the new communication line connected to the RV-C network and the old line going to the TM102. Odd. . . Checking the TM102 again, the extra cable was not plugged in at that end. Aha! That must be it! Well, it wasn’t, but I was on the right track.
I finally had enough insight to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Maybe the stove wasn’t the only appliance that had lost power. I asked the owner to check the other appliances. As I suspected, the refrigerator had also lost power. I had seen enough. And now the great Hercule Poirot was prepared to reveal the identity of the killer. Yes, the Comm Error on the touch panel meant that the transfer switch had lost communication, but it wasn’t a simple matter of missing data. The transfer switch had failed outright. It was no longer transferring power from the generator. This meant that the inverter had no incoming voltage for charging the batteries, hence the battery voltages were lower than expected. It also meant that there was no voltage to pass through to the house circuits, hence the stove and other appliances were inoperable. It ALSO ALSO meant that the air conditioners wouldn’t function normally because only one of them can be powered by the second inverter. This coach needed a new transfer switch. Mystery solved.
In the end, the failed floor heat controller and missing gray tank level were red herrings, no doubt orchestrated by some devious RV gremlins in an effort to mislead me. I suppose the point of this story is that sometimes the manifold problems that make us want to pull out our hair can be traced back to a single solution. Often, all it takes to reclaim our sanity is a good tech – or, in this case, a splendidly mediocre one. Either way, even if the issue turns out to be completely unrelated to our products, we’re glad to help.
Country Coach Conversions
Our history with Country Coach goes all the way back to 2000 with the SilverLeaf VMSII. The next year, the RVIA established RV-C, the data transmission protocol that is now an RV industry standard. Over the next few years, Country coach added more SilverLeaf components to their coaches, but retained the old data transmission protocol, J1708, through 2006 (except for the Affinity). Finally, in 2007, they switched to RV-C.
If all of the components on your Country Coach lasted forever, none of this would be noteworthy. Unfortunately, as one of our techs likes to put it, “puppies die.” Your inverter has a finite service life. If your Country Coach was made prior to that 2006/2007 dividing line, replacing that inverter can be a particularly prickly predicament (say that 3 times fast). You can’t just put an RV-C inverter in a J1708 coach. It won’t be able to communicate with the coach. So just find a J1708 inverter, right? Sure, if you can find one. Chances are, you won’t – not unless you happen to stumble across the one tech in Tumbleweed Gulch who just happens to have one on the shelf marked, “In Case of Apocalypse.” No, one way or another, you’re going to have to install a late model inverter, which means a few changes and upgrades elsewhere in your coach are going to be necessary.
The good news is that these changes are not terribly invasive. Aside from replacing two J1708 SilverLeaf modules with a single RV-C module, your control panels will need a software update, and a minor change to the wiring will be made. We have detailed documentation available to your technician, so this conversion should be a snap.
Once your Country Coach has been brought up-to-date with RV-C components, you may want to think about additional upgrades, like a newer SilverLeaf control panel. Have a look at our VMS and HMS products under the Products tab.
Help! My SilverLeaf screen is dead!
A dark screen can be a bit puzzling and scary to an owner. Without the SilverLeaf touch panel, many systems on the coach are difficult or impossible to access. Fortunately, this problem is typically pretty easily solved using a couple of spare automotive fuses.
Newmar coaches utilize a module called an LVDFET to prevent brownout conditions. Actually, there are two of these installed. Essentially, the power for most SilverLeaf equipment passes through one of these LVDFET modules and then passes on to the SilverLeaf devices. If the LVDFET module sees that the voltage is getting too low, it cuts power completely to the devices downstream. Occasionally, these LVDFET modules fail, and power is lost. Thus, your touch panel goes dark. The permanent solution is to replace the LVDFET. But if you’re on the road or camping and the nearest Newmar service center is more than a short drive away, immediately replacing it is not an option. So, how do you get power back in the meantime? Actually, it’s pretty simple. Better yet, you probably already have the parts needed to complete the task.
First, lets look at the difference between the two LVDFET boards. A smaller one, which has only one power protection circuit, is located in the same general area as the SilverLeaf TM-102. In Newmar long buses, this will be in the shore cord compartment. If you’re driving a New Aire, you’ll need to locate the electrical wall in the basement. This is the same wall where the house battery disconnect solenoid is mounted. This smaller LVDFET board only supplies power to the TM-102. In the event that this module loses power, there is a similar workaround for that, but for this article we’ll focus on the larger LVDFET board.
This larger board has two separate power protection circuits – one for the front of the coach and one for the rear. It is possible for only one circuit to fail. In this case, one of your touch panels would still be powered (assuming you have two panels in your coach). In Newmar long buses, this board will be located in passenger-side bay four between the frame rails. If you see a SilverLeaf TM-250 Load Manager or TM-229 Floor Heat Controller, you’re in the right area.
The LVDFET board has two power wires coming in and two going out – one to the front of the coach and one to the rear. All of the wires are terminated with spade connectors, which happen to be about the same size as the blade contacts on a standard automotive fuse. Because of this, we can simply connect an input wire to an output wire through the fuse!
Just pull the wires off of the LVDFET board and slide the female spade connector onto the blade contact of the fuse. The diagram to the right should make this procedure pretty clear.
The size of the fuse isn’t critical. These boards are not designed to prevent over-current conditions.
They are designed to prevent low-voltage conditions. So, if all you have in your toolbox is a twenty amp fuse, that will do just fine.
Once you’ve connected the wires as shown, you should have power back to your SilverLeaf equipment and be back on your feet. If not, give us a call. We’d be glad to help!