How To Replace the Sensors in RV Waste Tanks with Horst Miracle Probes

One of the top problems reported by RVers is waste tank monitors that just don’t work!

In theory, with a simple push of a button on your RV’s control panel, you can see just how full your tanks are so that you know for sure when they need to be dumped. The problem is that most monitoring systems installed by RV manufacturers are simply, excuse the expression, “crap.” After a couple of uses the monitors typically read “full” all the time, which means that you really have no idea how much capacity you have left.

THE CAUSE

Factory tank monitors rely on a series of metal sensors installed at different levels that extend inside the walls of the waste tanks. When wastewater reaches one of the sensors, it creates an electrical connection that sends a signal to the control panel inside the RV. Simple.

The problems begin when sludge begins to build up on the inside walls of the waste tank. In the black tank, that sludge is made of human waste and bits of toilet paper. In the gray tank it’s grease and soap scum from the sinks and shower. When the sludge gets thick enough, it too makes an electrical connection that tells your control panel the tank is full.

THE CURES

Cleaning

The first line of defense against this problem is to clean the inside of the waste tanks, and there are dozens of products that claim to help you do this. At any RV store you’ll find a variety of liquids and powders to pour down your drains that claim they’ll clean and maintain the inside of your tanks, as well as reducing tank odors. Some folks swear by a homemade mixture of water softener and detergent. Others have tried dumping bags of ice cubes into their tanks hoping that the ice will scrub them as you drive down the road. From my experience they all work a little, but none are great.

The only cleaning method I’ve found that really works on a black tank with a significant amount of built-up crud is to use a power sprayer inside of the tank. These sprayers can be built in (such as the Sani-Flush system), or you can buy a flexible wand (such as the Camco RV Flexible Swivel Stik) that you attach to a hose and insert into the black tank through your toilet. Not pleasant, but it does clean the tank and probes – at least until the next time the tank gets full.

Unfortunately, I have not found any product that thoroughly and reliably cleans the gunk from the walls of a dirty gray tank, and there is no way to physically insert a sprayer.

SeeLevel

One great way to assure accurate tank readings is to replace the entire factory system with a new “SeeLevel” monitoring system. The SeeLevel actually uses externally mounted sensors that somehow accurately sense the fluid level inside of the tanks. It seems like magic to me, but all of the reviews say that it works.

Unfortunately, installing a SeeLevel system on my RV (and I assume most others) is a very expensive and complicated proposition. In addition to attaching the external sensors (fairly easy), it involves replacing the electronic monitoring panel inside the RV, which means you’ll also have to replace the sensors on the freshwater tank, rewire the propane meter, and rewire the battery monitor.

Everything I’ve read suggests that this system works wonderfully, but to me the installation process seemed daunting and the price is a bit high—about $250-$300.

Horst Miracle Probes

Ultimately we decided to try a simpler solution: replace the factory-installed sensors in our tanks with Valterra Horst Miracle Probes. These come in two models, one for gray tanks, and the other for black tanks. In both cases, these Teflon-coated probes extend far into the tank, beyond any gunk encrusted on the walls. The black-tank probes also have a protective hood to shield them from floating debris such as tiny bits of toilet paper.

Black Tank Probes

Gray tank probes

Installation is easy and does not require you to run any new wires. In all cases, the first step is to drain your tanks! In many cases it’s then as simple as unscrewing the manufacture’s probes from the outside of the plastic holding tank, screwing the new Horst probes in, and transferring the wires from one to the other. In our case the old probes were not removable, so I had to drill new holes into the tanks, insert the Horst probes, and transfer the wires from one to the other.

Because we have an installed black-tank cleaning system, I initially replaced the probes only on our gray tank. The job took about an hour and would have taken less if I hadn’t been filming the entire process! The probes come in packs of four, and it turns out that our tanks have six probes each, so I had to buy two packages. The system worked so well that I went ahead and replaced the probes on our black tank as well.

Here’s the good news: You can use black tank probes in a gray tank, too. If you’ve got six probes on each tank, I suggest buying two packages of black-tank probes and one package of gray-tank probes, then using four gray and two black probes in your gray tank. It’ll cost you less than $100.

After several months and thousands of miles, we’ve had only one problem. Due to road vibration, several of the nuts that connect the wires to the probes had loosened, causing intermittent false readings. After retightening the nuts, I placed a bit of nail polish on the treads to stop this from happening again.

I highly recommend Horst Miracle Probes. For less than $100, we can now count on accurate readings of our tank levels, which is much more pleasant than simply waiting for the shower or toilet to back up!

Have you tried any other solutions to the tank monitoring problem on your RV? We’d sure like to hear about them. Please share your questions and experiences in the comments below.

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2 Don’t Miss Things To Do in New Orleans

We finally made it to New Orleans!

Last year we planned to stop at the Big Easy on our way from Florida to Texas, but our plans were foiled by freezing weather and closed interstates. By the time the roads opened (and after we’d spent three shivering days in Theodore, Alabama) we had to bypass NOLA and hightail it to Texas for a church meeting.

But this year things worked out great! We pulled into beautiful Bayou Signet State Park and headed out to explore.

Now, if you’ve been following us for long, you know that we are not “party animals,” so hitting all of the bars on Bourbon Street wasn’t even a remote interest. But, as we discovered, New Orleans has SO much more to offer.

Our first day was spent on a “French Quarter Stroll” with Two Chicks Walking Tours. At $24.99 each, it was well worth the investment of time and money as we were introduced to the history, architecture, culture, and cuisine of the city at a leisurely pace with an expert guide. Tours like this, whether on foot or by trolley, are a great way to get acclimated to any new city, and this one was a blast! Our guide was full of great recommendations and fascinating stories.

The next day we decided to visit the National World War II Museum. This is an extraordinary museum that walks you through the events leading up to the war, the various theaters of battle, and the aftermath—using films, dioramas, and personal accounts from the men and women who lived through this awful chapter of history. World War II may not be what comes to mind when you think of New Orleans, but this museum should be high on your list of MUST VISIT destinations when you are in the area.

Come to New Orleans expecting great food, music on every other street corner, beautiful sights, and an all-around good time. There’s so much more than Mardi Gras! “Let the good times roll!”

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The least and most expensive RVs at the Tampa RV Supershow. A $2.7 million RV.

How much money would you spend for a brand-new RV? Here are the least and the most expensive we found at the Tampa RV show. Now, if we could just work up a down payment!

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Weird and Wonderful Florida – Part 2

In the “real Florida” we take you to an eccentric artist’s castle, kayaking on an alligator infested river, and eating Greek in the sponge capital of the world. And, along the way we manage to find oranges and BBQ. Opa!

Do you have any suggestions for our next trip to Florida? Please let us know in the comments below!

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How to Restore Faded RV Decals

You might think that those beautiful motorhomes you see driving down the road have a full paint job, just like your car or truck. But if the dominant color on a motorhome is white, off-white, or gray, chances are the white is plain fiberglass, and the graphics (swoops and swirls) are vinyl decals (not paint).

Vinyl is cheaper than paint. And in the RV world, particularly with older rigs, “full paint” is a luxury for higher end coaches.

The problem with decals is that while they look nice at first, they don’t tend to age well. The UV rays of the sun often cause them to crack and fade. Well-intended attempts to make them shiny by applying wax actually cause them to deteriorate more quickly. Wax can also leave gray streaks and splotches. Many cleaning products will cause them to peel.

Our problem was that our 2004 Fleetwood Southwind looked pretty good but had UGLY FADED decals that made the entire vehicle look kind of shabby. So, I went to the Internet for advice on how to clean them. I was told to use:

  • Mineral oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • WD-40
  • Toothpaste
  • Alcohol
  • 303 UV Treatment and Sealer
  • Rejuvenate Plastic Restorer
  • Various other brands of cleaners and wax, and even
  • Peanut Butter!

I tried some of these decal treatments (but not peanut butter) on small, inconspicuous spots. But none of them cleaned the decals very well, and the ones that worked didn’t look good for long. The best of the bunch was Rejuvenate, but even that didn’t look very good.

The solution, it turns out, is both cheap and easy!

Necessary Tools:

  • Green-backed scrub sponge. I used Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scrub Sponges that we bought at Costco (but available almost anywhere)
  • Water
  • Rejuvenate Restorer Wipes. I used eight wipes for two coats of sealer.

Step 1 – Saturate the sponge with water.

Step 2 – Scrub small sections of the faded decals with the green side of the sponge using medium pressure. I found that this worked best when I kept the sponge really wet, and I wasn’t shy about using lots of pressure to clean the dirtiest areas.

Step 3 – After completing a section, squeeze out the sponge and use the soft side of the sponge to rinse and wipe away the loosened dirt and oxidation.

Step 4 – Repeat on other sections of your decals and allow them to dry.

Step 5 – When the RV is dry, apply Rejuvenate to the clean decals. I found that I needed two wipes per side of our 37-foot Southwind, and put on two coats (a total of eight wipes). The Rejuvenate added a bit of shine, and will, I hope, help protect the decals from further damage.

Please understand that this process will clean the decals, but it won’t fix cracks or any other physical deterioration. But as you can see, the before and after pictures are pretty dramatic.

All in all, this job took me two days, and a total of about three hours. I could have done it in one day except that it was very hot. I got tired of scrubbing (and sweating), and I also didn’t want to apply Rejuvenate to the decals in full, hot sun. The total cost was less than $30.

If you try this, please leave a comment to let us know how it works for you. And if you have a have another method, we’re eager to hear about that, too!

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Oranges & Alligators in Florida in an RV!

The best parts of Florida are far from the House of the Mouse! After some really BAD orange juice, we and the dogs explore the beach and jungle at Hanna Park in Jacksonville, Florida, visit the Everglades at Everglades National Park, see the Royal Lipizzan Stallions, and enjoy Christmas at Peace River Thousand Trails.

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Savannah Smiles!

A spooky graveyard. A revolutionary war fort. A war memorial shipped from Canada. And more good food! All of that and more in this new episode of Miles and Smiles.

 

Our New Store!

Do you like the t-shirts you see us wearing in some of our videos? Now you can have one too! Check out the new store on our website to proudly declare “Life’s a journey… Make every mile count!”

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THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: AN ACCIDENT AND ADVICE

It was a rainy, sleety day in late November when we bundled ourselves up and buckled in our three dogs and cat into “Windy” (our new nickname for the RV). This year, we told ourselves, would be different. We’d reset our expectations about the weather – yes, it gets cold in the winter, even down south. We’d fine-tuned our plans for travel, with shorter drives, longer stays, and better planning ahead for overnight stops. With prayers that this year the pets would stay healthy, the roads would be safe, and Windy would run smoothly, we began our journey south.

Would you believe that someone hit us before we’d even left New Jersey? Yep. Imagine you’re following behind a 37-foot motorhome that’s towing a Jeep. That makes us about 50 feet long! Now imagine that it’s raining, the motorhome has its right turn signal on, and it’s starting to merge into the lane for a toll-booth – the same toll-booth you want to use. Do you: a) Stay behind the 13-ton vehicle and wait patiently for your turn; b) Pull out and try to pass on the left or choose a different toll lane; or c) Hit the gas pedal and try to pass the RV on the right so as to get ahead of it before it completes the merge it’s already begun?

Well, he almost made it. (He chose C, in case you were wondering.) Fortunately, the damage to Windy was minor – just a couple of scrapes where he left some of his red paint on our green right-front fender. His car got the worst of it on his passenger-side door, but it was already a junker that he planned to get rid of. Neither of us was interested in filing insurance claims, so we exchanged basic information, took photos just to be safe, and continued on our way.

We were able to clean most of this off with a green scrubbing pad!

Not more than ten minutes later, another driver attempted the same thing! He could have slammed into the concrete barrier in his lane, but he was lucky enough to be going so fast that he managed to squeeze by in front of us. So much for day one.

Our first night of travel was also our first experience of staying overnight in a parking lot. Thank you, Cracker Barrel, for providing designated RV parking spots and a safe place to park for the night – and for a great excuse to eat dinner and breakfast at your restaurant. (We also tried out our first Walmart parking lot a few days later. Both these businesses usually allow free overnight parking for RVers.)

We’d been to Colonial Williamsburg before, so this time we visited the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and enjoyed the Christmas Festival of Lights. We also toured the Frampton Plantation House/Lowcountry Visitor Center and Museum in the Low Country of South Carolina. It’s a tiny museum but helped us get a better sense of how cotton and slavery shaped the southern economy before the Civil War. For you RVers who are Thousand Trails members, we recommend Thousand Trails Williamsburg as well as “The Oaks at Point South,” nice parks and conveniently located. Just don’t get your hopes up for the “cappuccino” advertised on the gas station’s sign near the Oaks.

In the category of “learning from our mistakes,” watch our video about what not to do if there’s no hot water, and how to fix it. Thank you, “The RV Geeks,” for helping us (meaning Jeff) figuring out what was wrong and how to fix it!

We invite you to watch our videos and travel with us down south and then westward to some incredibly beautiful, and sometimes harsh, places across the United States of America. Bon voyage and buen viaje.

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Our Ten Favorite Things for the RV

Now that we’ve been RVing for a while, we thought it would be fun to make a list of our ten favorite things that make RV living easier. It was hard to narrow the list down, and Jeff actually ended up adding three “Bonus” items in his list! We’ve included more details about each item below.

Are any of these on your list of favorite things? Is there something you love that we missed? Please let us know in the comments.

Tooletries Silicone Organizers

We struggled with how to best describe these on our video. What it basically comes down to is that these are not sticky, but they cling to smooth surfaces such as glass and mirrors using what the company calls “silicone grip technology” (whatever that is). And they really do stay on if you follow their instructions, but they also peel right off and leave no residue behind. With our small bathroom and kitchen counters, getting everything that we can off the counters is a win. You can find them on Amazon, sold separately or in sets, at https://amzn.to/2Jhrqjj

AT&T Netgear Nighthawk MR1100 Mobile Hotspot

We don’t actually have this model, having purchased a “Netgear Unite Explore” before the Nighthawk was released. And since it works very well, we won’t be replacing the Unite Explore anytime soon. So why are we recommending the Nighthawk? Because that’s the current top recommendation from our friends Chris and Cherie at www.rvmobileinternet.com. No matter what your mobile internet needs are, we wouldn’t consider buying anything without consulting their website first! They not only know the best gear; they are also always up-to-date on the best data plans from every cellular network. We trust their advice so much that we’ve actually subscribed to their premier service – and it’s been worth every penny. https://amzn.to/2Jjq6MJ

Verizon Wireless Jetpack 8800L 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot

This is Verizon’s latest and greatest hotspot, and the difference between this and our old 6600L is like night and day. We like that we can use this with the same Mimo antenna that works with our AT&T hotspot when we are in an area with weak signals. It also broadcasts a strong WiFi signal that we can access from anywhere in the RV, or even outside at the picnic table. Since we already have an ongoing subscription for our AT&T service, we just prepay a month at a time for our Verizon service, only when we need it. Sweet! https://amzn.to/2V6tD38

Netgear 6000450 Mimo Antenna

Once again, this was recommended to us by www.rvmobileinternet.com. It’s an inexpensive way to enhance the cellular signal compared to the internal antennas in the hotspots. Yes, it works! https://amzn.to/2JhGhKm

E-Cloth General Purpose Cloth – Durable Premium Microfiber for Chemical-Free Cleaning

What? We’d pay $19.99 for rags? You bet! We’ve purchased similar products for less money at stores, but these just work better. No need to use an additional disinfectant or soap, or paper towels to dry off afterwards. They’re machine washable. With all the mirrors we have in our RV (9), including the kitchen backsplash, we give these quite a workout, and we’ve never been disappointed. We also use them to wipe down counters and our dinette table. We have them in different colors so we know which cloth to use for different tasks. https://amzn.to/2Wo46UC

SensorPush G1 WiFi Gateway and Sensors

The safety of our pets is one of our top priorities, and an RV that gets overheated in the sun can be deadly. But we also have to leave the “fuzzy faces” behind from time to time when we go out to explore, go to church, or enjoy a good restaurant. That’s why we bought the SensorPush system for our RV. Basically, a sensor is constantly reading the temperature and humidity in the coach and broadcasting that information to the Gateway. The gateway is connected to our WiFi network, and it sends us alerts whenever the temperature goes above or below limits that we choose. So, if it’s a hot day, the power goes off in the RV park, and the coach starts overheating because the air conditioners stopped, we will get an alert on our phones so that we can do whatever is needed to rescue our pets. But there is a weak link in this chain. Our Wifi hotspots have battery backup, but the SensorPush Gateway only runs on AC! So, we needed one more gadget to keep the SensorPush working even when the power isn’t.

SensorPush Gateway https://amzn.to/2UKqZQF

                       Sensor https://amzn.to/2UPTAns

BESTEK 300W Silent Power Inverter

This small inverter plugs into the “cigarette lighter” (I’m showing my age here, I know) or 12v power outlets, which run off our RV batteries. We plug our SensorPush Gateway into this invertor, which constantly converts DC power from our batteries into AC power for the gateway. Problem solved!   https://amzn.to/2DDNl0d

Squish 41093 Sink Stopper/Strainer Stopper/Strainer

One of the weird realities of RV life is the ongoing concern about one’s septic system. Surprisingly, the gray waste tank (that collects all waste water except the toilet) often smells worse than the black tank (toilet)! The reason is the food particles and other detritus that so often goes down the drain. The traditional metal stopper didn’t work all that well, so we tried several others and chose the Squish. This strainer/stopper does an admirable job of both plugging the drain to fill the sink and straining out the food particles when emptying it. And the stopper has a suction cup so you can stick it on the side of the sink for storage. We’re not saying that now the gray tank smells like a rose, but this sure does help!  https://amzn.to/2Lt5kNh

Outland Firebowl 883 Mega Outdoor Propane Gas Fire Pit

Camping and campfires go hand-in-hand. There’s just nothing like being outside, sitting around the fire, toasting S’mores, and singing old scouting songs. Well, maybe not the singing. Right up front we want to agree that nothing beats a real wood campfire. But it takes some dedication to purchase wood if available (usually $5-$7 for a small stack at the campground or a store) and then build a roaring fire and keep it going. We’ve also discovered that, for a variety of reasons, many campgrounds do not permit wood fires at campsites. Our Firebowl takes two minutes to set up, starts in an instant, and creates a beautiful fire that’s suitable for S’mores and warming your hands on a cold night of camping. And when you decide that it’s time to go inside, you just turn it off! No pouring water on the logs and stirring wet ashes. Wood campfires are still the best, but this pulls a close second for both ease and safety. https://amzn.to/2V22nrs

UNICOOK Heavy Duty Ceramic Pizza Grilling Stone

We are surprised by how many RVers never use their RV’s propane oven for anything other than storage. Sure, they’re small, but you can bake lots of good things in a small oven! The biggest problem that we encountered is that the small size also makes the temperature in the oven difficult to regulate. A pizza stone (it must be stone or ceramic) placed on or near the bottom of the oven acts as a heat-sink, absorbing heat when the burner is on and holding heat when the burner turns itself off and on, thus keeping the oven temperature within a much narrower range. By the way, this will of course work in your oven at home as well! Now Kathy can make all kinds of baked goodies without burning them! https://amzn.to/2POgwCN

Quake Hold Museum Putty

There are so many small things in an RV that you don’t want to have to put away every time you go out on the road: clocks, flower pots, hotspots, tissue boxes, etc. Just a small ball of this sticky putty will hold your favorite things in place, even on the roughest roads. https://amzn.to/2DHVH7k

Tire Shades and Nano Shades

We found out about these great products at an RV rally and ordered the Nano Shade on the spot. Magne Shade makes a variety of shades to cover your windshield, windows, and tires when parked. These are intended for the outside of your RV. The indoor Nano Shade mounted on the driver’s side window keeps the sun out of the driver’s eyes at certain times of day. Even though these are kind of see-through, we trimmed the lower part of the shade for safety so that it doesn’t hinder his view of the rearview mirrors. Easy to put on, easy to pull off, it does the job. We love the ease with which our tire shades go on and off (so much easier than the traditional covers), and we no longer delay putting them on to protect the sidewalls of our tires from the damaging UV rays of the sun when setting up camp. RV tires are expensive, and they tend to dry out before they wear out. Having a blowout in a 11-ton motorhome can be downright deadly. These covers help extend the life of our tires and attract the curiosity and compliments of other campers. Made by Hunckler Fabrication LLC, they can only be purchased direct from the manufacturer. https://magneshade.com/products/

Bins and Shelves

Bins and shelves are the secret to staying organized in an RV. We’ve bought storage bins in a wide variety of shapes, styles, and sizes. Dollar stores are usually the cheapest by far, although some are better stocked than others. We make sure we can return any that don’t fit well or aren’t needed after all. Under the bed we had a very specific height we couldn’t exceed, so we wrote down the dimensions and finally found the right size at Walmart. But most of the time, it comes down to just moving containers and shelves around until finding the best arrangement—and then rearranging them if need be so that the things we use the most are easily accessible. We use plastic bins for food, clothes, shoes, silverware, kitchen tools, medications, charger cords, and so on. And sturdy portable shelves can effectively double your storage space in large cabinets. In our outside storage, we have larger bins to keep tools and other supplies organized. It’s all about maximizing limited space, minimizing clutter, and staying organized in our small house on wheels.

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LOST! In Cape Henlopen State Park

In this first episode of season 2, we visit beautiful Lewes, Delaware, “The first town in the first state,” and explore the historic waterfront, charming downtown, and neighboring Cape Henlopen State Park. In the park we somehow managed to get lost among the dunes. And a gastronomic surprise: Great Creole food at Po’ Boys in Milton, Delaware! This is the first episode of Season 2 as we travel the country in our Fleetwood, Southwind RV.

Click to Play

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