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Old 09-21-2016, 01:31 AM   #1
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Converter failure in the middle of a big trip - advice needed

Hi Everyone!

I'm two weeks into a very long trip with my wife and cat in our new 27FB Flying Cloud. I've been meaning to post about our adventures and experiences so far, but unfortunately my first post is about an electrical problem that suddenly happened and threatens to ruin our trip.

I'd be so grateful for any advice anyone has on this.

I would have just immediately brought it into a dealer for servicing but all dealers in about a 1000 mile radius seem to be booked for many weeks out. We are far from home now and living in the AS, so this is a long time to be living with a malfunctioning electrical system. I have some concerns that depending on what went wrong there might be a fire hazard, so in addition to the loss of functionality I have a larger concern about safety.

The AS is under warranty which obviously is awesome, but I'm concerned that if I try to fix this myself I might void the warranty. Dealers I spoke to on the phone advised me that I could void it, and when I spoke to Airstream tech support they advised me against trying to fix it myself. However, I'm not convinced this would void the warranty - but I don't want to risk that if there is a possibility.

Ok, here are the details on the problem:

After towing for about 400 miles yesterday, I checked the voltage level of the batteries after I had connected to shore power. I was doing this to see if it read 13.6 volts indicating the batteries were charging. Instead, it read 12.5 volts.

I realized this was abnormal and decided to keep an eye on it. I am connected to 50A shore power and was able to run both air conditioners, the outlets work, etc, so I know the shore power is actually connected.

By this morning the voltage was reading 11.9 volts, so I was sure the batteries were not charging. I did some experiments to try and understand what was happening. I discovered that when I switched the battery disconnect to the store position it cut all power to the AS, including the air conditioners, refrigerator and outlets. This is abnormal - usually switching to the store position doesn't affect power to the circuits drawing from the shore connection.

It seemed likely, maybe obvious that this is due to a problem with the converter. I checked the 30A fuse that is next to the battery box and it looked healthy. To eliminate the possibility that this fuse was bad, I tried putting in a new fuse but it didn't help.

My wife and I inspected the other fuses and checked the circuit breakers on the main electric panel, and everything looked normal. It doesn't seem likely to me anyway that they would be the culprit.

So, it seems most likely our converter fried itself somehow.

I'm worried that even unscrewing the main electric panel to take a look at the converter might void the warranty. Does this seem like a risk?

If voiding the warranty isn't a concern, does anyone think I should attempt to replace the converter myself? I've read some other threads on this and it seems like it is doable. But I'm a little bit scared of doing this as I'm worried I might just make things worse if I don't know entirely what I'm doing...

Also, what does everyone think about the possible risk of an electrical fire in case something is shorting out and getting very hot? I'm planning on cutting the shore power and switching the battery disconnect to store tonight before I go to sleep, just to be on the safe side. There should be no chance of fire if there is no electric.

What could have caused this? It seems unlikely to me that a brand new converter would fail without some external factor? One thing I am worried about is that our cat found her way into the hidden areas under the couch and fridge where the furnace ductwork and some wiring is. She likes to scratch and destroy things so... This was a little sketchy. My wife installed a fence barrier to keep her out of there now, but she was under there for quite some time. I visually inspected for damage but didn't see anything obvious.

We're actually quite stressed out about this as we don't want this to ruin or end our trip. I don't have a practical way at the moment to recharge the batteries, and I'm not totally sure what unexpected things might stop working when the batteries go dead. I'm aware that this will shorten the life of the batteries, but my bigger concern is that we will end up in a rough living situation with various things not working. We are planning on being connected to shore power so in theory this might not be a problem though. We bought some cheap metal clasp lamps at Lowes to plug into the AC outlets, which we are using for light to spare the batteries.

Interestingly, we kind of like the lighting effect in the AS using these metal clasp lamps attached to the bottoms of the cupboards!

My wife and I would be so grateful for any thoughts anyone might have on this. And, I promise that my next post will be on some more exciting and fun part of our new adventures!

Cheers,
YB
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Old 09-21-2016, 01:49 AM   #2
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A couple of other notes:

I know that I can trickle charge the batteries using my tow vehicle, but this is impractical right now for a variety of (probably obvious) reasons while we are parked in a campground.

I'm wondering if there is a good way to charge the batteries using a generator connected via DC? But, this also is not practical as they do not allow generators in the place where we are parked - but we could move somewhere else if needed.

The above doesn't matter at all if there is a big safety concern regarding a chance of an electrical fire if something is shorting out and getting very hot.
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Old 09-21-2016, 02:03 AM   #3
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Here's a photo of our rig in the light of a beautiful New Mexico sunset, from last week.
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Old 09-21-2016, 02:27 AM   #4
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Also, I apologize for my lack of knowledge about these matters. I'm still a newbie with AS stuff and was just starting to get my feet wet when this happened. I'm semi competent with wiring and electrical stuff but I'm afraid I know just enough to get myself into trouble
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Old 09-21-2016, 03:53 AM   #5
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Re: Converter failure

A few questions and suggestions:
  • Where are you located? -- I may be able to locate a dealer near you.

  • Did you check the water level in your batteries? -- It's possible that your batteries have boiled dry, or level is low.

  • If you are certain that your cat did not damage wiring, connect to shore power and switch battery disconnect to USE position.

    I have a 2005 19' Bambi, so this suggestion may not be accurate for your model: I don't think the converter charges the batteries when the battery disconnect switch is in the STORE position. Also, I think this switch works on 12 VDC; so if your batteries are discharged, the relay for this switch may not work if shore power is disconnected and 120 VAC is not provided to the converter.

    Note: When checking the circuit breakers, they must be "armed" by pushing the switch firmly past the OFF position, before turning them back on. If a breaker has been tripped, and the switch is just moved to center OFF position, the circuit breaker may not be reset (armed).

    I suspect that if you leave the USE/STORE switch in the USE position overnight, you'll see that the batteries are charging by tomorrow. However, if they are severely discharged, it may take a couple of days to bring them to a full charge. In any case, I would go ahead and connect to shore power. At least, the 120 VAC outlets will work (including air conditioner); and you should have 12 VDC available, supplied by the converter, even though your batteries may be discharged.

  • If your batteries do not seem to be charging after 12-24 hours, I recommend that they be removed and taken to an auto parts store (AutoZone, Pep Boys, NAPA, etc.) for a quick charge and FREE load test, which will determine if they are good or bad.

    I suspect that you may have a battery problem, and there is probably nothing wrong with your converter. This is a common problem with new Airstreams, as the are often damaged on the dealer's lot. If not connected to shore power, the batteries go dead from "phantom drains" (propane detector, subwoofer and other items that stay on even though everything appears to be OFF); and then they sit dead until someone buys the trailer. Or, if connected to shore power 24/7, the batteries boil dry. Both of these conditions result in damaged batteries straight off the lot. Some new owners have gotten free replacements under warranty; but, in any case, you may need new batteries.

Please post what happens after you try the above. By then, others may have other suggestions. At least, this should get your batteries started charging.

Good luck!
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Old 09-21-2016, 04:52 AM   #6
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You could just buy a $35 110 volt 10 amp battery charger from Walmart (or similar) and back charge the batteries by plugging in through the 12 volt cigarette lighter outlets in the coach. It worked for me, until I could get home to really fix the problem.
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Old 09-21-2016, 05:12 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dwightdi View Post
You could just buy a $35 110 volt 10 amp battery charger from Walmart (or similar) and back charge the batteries by plugging in through the 12 volt cigarette lighter outlets in the coach. It worked for me, until I could get home to really fix the problem.
We have a winner!
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Old 09-21-2016, 06:14 AM   #8
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Batterys would be my guess, the charger idea is a good one.
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Old 09-21-2016, 08:05 AM   #9
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Have you measured the voltage coming off the battery posts on the converter? My converter failed and when plugged into shore power there was low voltage coming off the posts so the batteries never charged. I also found the power lead from the 7 pin connector was directly connected to my hydraulic brake actuator, (I have a Classic with disc brakes) which is not your issue.The previous owner probably did this. I purchased a battery charger when I discovered this while camping. Going through this exercise a couple of times the battery voltage got down into the 11v range. Later at home I pulled the batteries and charged them then tested with a hydrometer. 2 cells in one battery were low. I used an old 6amp Sears charger that can boost the voltage to 15+ volts to try to condition them. With the covers off I charged that battery at 15v for several hours and the cells recovered. My battery capacity is probably less now but the batteries are workable. I also wired the 7 pin power lead and brake actuator lead to connect to the positive battery bus. I ended up replacing the converter with a PD4655 3 stage, something you should consider doing anyway. I'll be replacing the batteries in a couple of months with 2 6v Lifelines.

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Old 09-21-2016, 08:09 AM   #10
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Agree with above.
Take the batteries to an auto parts store and have them tested. Replace if they're bad. If they pass, buy a battery charger to use till you can get the converter fixed/replaced.
Don't let this ruin your trip!
Good luck
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Old 09-21-2016, 08:22 AM   #11
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The fact that, when on shore power, turning the battery switch to store cuts all power (including AC) to the Airstream tells you it is a converter issue, not a battery issue. Get the trickle charger to keep you batteries going for now, and pressure the nearest dealer to order and replace your converter. Best of luck! Joe
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Old 09-21-2016, 10:29 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by jayseejay View Post
The fact that, when on shore power, turning the battery switch to store cuts all power (including AC) to the Airstream tells you it is a converter issue, not a battery issue. Get the trickle charger to keep you batteries going for now, and pressure the nearest dealer to order and replace your converter. Best of luck! Joe

More likely a transfer switch problem.


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Old 09-21-2016, 11:17 AM   #13
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Find a Camping World.
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Old 09-21-2016, 11:25 AM   #14
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YodaBuddha, it looks like you are camped at Leasburg Dam State Park, about 15 miles north of Las Cruces.

Contact info for the closest RV dealer with a service department appears below. However, I don't think they are an Airstream dealer:

Holiday World RV
1285 Avenida de Mesilla
Las Cruces, NM
575-523-0715 / 800-388-5995

RV Sales and Parts
Monday thru Friday: 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Saturday: 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM

RV Service
Monday thru Friday: 8:30 AM - 6:00 PM

If you on the move, there is an Airstream dealer in Tucson (Lazy Days) and a former dealer that still services Airstreams (Oasis RV). Also, there's an Airstream dealer in Albuquerque.

Both Albuquerque and Tucson have Camping World stores, which may also be able to help. (Note: The Tucson Camping World is on the same property as Lazy Days and a KOA.)

Let me know if you need contact info on the RV service centers in Tucson or Albuquerque.
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