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Old 11-06-2012, 04:16 PM   #1
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1977 31' Excella 500
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Down in the dumps! Leaking, bad valves?

Hey folks! Just picked up a 1977 Excella 500 a week ago and am going through the unit to familiarize myself with everything (and this is my first Airstream). I am now out camping and using the plumbing for the first time and noticed that there was a leak coming out of the dump connection this morning. I had not hooked up the hose yet so it was just leaking out of the cap that was there.

So, since I was at a campsite with a septic connection I decided to hook up. The grey and black valves appeared to be closed with the rods pushed all the way in so I fear that my valves may be leaking. Further, I think there is a leak in the black adapter for the hose hookup that was on the trailer. With all of this, my first experience with sewage and trying to hook up the hose probably couldn't have been worse.

I've spent a few hours reading different threads and it sounds like I may need to go down a few different roads here. Any advice and feedback would be appreciated.

(1) Some threads talked about doing several fills and flushes to see if that clears up problems, and also using one of the power flush devices to clean things out. I don't know how much use the trailer had before me and if it had been sitting around so maybe this is a good idea. Can't hurt, I guess.

(2) I also don't know if I am doing everything correctly, so I guess I can get some practice with this filling and flushing. Is there any place to really do this besides at campgrounds? I don't have the ability to do this at home unfortunately. An I have not been to a dedicated dump station yet so that is a mysterious subject to me at the moment. Can I spend time at a dump station mucking around with this and maybe doing power rinse?

(3) Confirming and fixing any leak with the black adapter ring for the hose seems to be a top priority as it will help in not spilling as much as I deal with this. I am going to try to buy a new adapter ASAP. Is there any refurb I can do besides cleaning this thing? Any lubrication of seals?

(4) I read some threads about the possibility of an additional valve being placed toward the hose to help out if the individual black/grey valves are problematic. Are there valves that twist lock onto the white pipe on the outside that can be had? Or am I looking at cutting into the pipe to add it there? Twist lock would be a fantastic quick fix so that it could only be used in case of emergency and then removed.

(5) Finally, I guess I may be looking at replacing or rebuilding the valves themselves. I have a mid-bath model. Sounds like cutting into the pan is the best method for accessing these, correct? They are not accessible from above and opening the floor?

At this point, I am trying to get an idea on how much my inexperience with dump valves may be at play here and if y'all think I should focus my efforts on power flushing and trying to work the valves a bit before I jump to cutting the belly and digging into the valves. I'm sure that I will do some of that but I'm kind of thinking I am going to end up towards the more drastic valve replacement.

Any and all advice and feedback would be appreciated!
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Old 11-06-2012, 04:34 PM   #2
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I'd check everything out before going on a camp out.

If the valves are bad, I'd just have an RV guy replace them. There's nothing special about Airstream plumbing. If you don't want to replace the valves, you can install an add on valve after the valves. Those twist on like a cap.
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Old 11-06-2012, 05:05 PM   #3
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Most of us have had some experience with dump valve problems.
Problem could be with the valve or with something sticking in the valve. Sometimes a little lubrication helps. I would try running water into the black tank and dumping it a couple of times. I would dump a couple of quarts of cooking oil into the dry tank and cycle the valve a few times to try to lubricate it.
In Florida there is a company called hydro flush that will come on site and pressure clean your tanks. Does a good job, but very expensive (about 200 bucks).
The leak from the adaptor ring to the hose is likely a bad or missing gasket or a worn ring that does not tighten enough when it twists. And the Tetford fittings on a Airstream are usually white, so you probably have 2 fittings to adapt it to the more modern Valtera fittings for the hose. Lots of people use them, but when I tried it it kept leaking and I went back to the Tetford fittings and a slip on hose with a clamp. Yes, there are third valves that can be installed where the cap is now. They come in the Valtera size so you will also have the leaky adaptor. They are an absolute pain on an Airstream and I would almost as soon unscrew the cap with the leak as fool with the 3 rd valve. I got one sitting on a shelf if anybody wants it.
The best way to access the valves is to cut a hole in the pan under the valves. That is the way Airstream at Jackison center does it. Airsteam also rebuilds the valves with a kit if they can rather than replacing them. Because the valves are glued to the tanks. The kits are about $15 each.
I had JC do the valves on one of my trailers. They charged $500 5 years ago. On my next trailer I called Camping World and they estimated $500. A year later in Fl when I was ready I called and they wanted 2 weeks and $1000 for the job. So I did it. Takes about an afternoon to cut the hole. Takes about an hour to take the valves apart and replace the seals. About 2 hours to screw a patch under the hole. Cost about 30 bucks.
You best bet might be to locate a RV dealer that will order the parts for the Airstream do the job for a price that you can live with. Check Outdoors Mart on line to find a pretty complete list of exterior plumbing parts and valves for the system so you can see what your are dealing with.
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Old 11-06-2012, 05:33 PM   #4
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While I do not own an older rig (so do not know the valve configuration, etc of your rig), I would try everything available to me before I started tearing things apart...that may not be necessary. I would do the flush and rinse and lubrication things first...and make sure you have the proper (and properly working) hose connections, etc. If the rig has sat unused for some time without any liquid in the holding tanks the valves may be dried out and not sealing well...lubricating them may solve the problem. And there there is the possibility of something caught in the valve that's keeping it from closing all the way...rinsing, soaking, flushing and lubricating will help with this as well.

Sewer issues are troublesome and usually not pleasant. I would start with the simplest ideas and progress to more radical solutions if easier solutions have failed. If you have a good, trustworthy RV repair place to lean on, sewer issues might be better deferred to them, depending on how complicated things get.

We have had to deal with a valve that would not close all the way, therefore would not hold tight...it turns out that with rinsing and flushing we finally dislodged a clump of toilet paper that had gotten caught in the valve.

Good luck! Keep the faith and do what you can to avoid spills ... the whole sewer thing is sometimes a trial by fire situation for new RVers, but once you have it under control and know how your system works, you'll think nothing of it.
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Old 11-06-2012, 05:53 PM   #5
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I have a 3rd valve although not ideal it does the job. I have a center bath and it looks like a royal pain to remove the valves. I think the rear bath units are easier to get to the valves. More than likely your valves are shot considering the age of the trailer. I just open the third valve and then the black water valve and when it stops I open the gray water valve. Close all three and your done.

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Old 11-06-2012, 05:54 PM   #6
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TBRich is Right

Don't panic, and don't start ripping out and replacing valves.
Take a deep breath... No, no, not while you are next to the leaky valve.
Dump valves are simply "gate" valves.
Each valve, "main" and "auxiliary" has a blade, or gate, that slides horizontally back and forth in its slots.
A Perfectly good valve can leak when it has toilet paper or dried poo in the slot that keeps the blade from seating.
It could also be that the connecting rod is out of adjustment.
Find out if you have a "Valterra" or a "Thetford" valve.
Buy yourself a nice new sewer hose adapter elbow (Valterra or Thetford) so that you have a nice new gasket.
Install elbow and hose on the dump fitting and run the hose into a suitable sewer access or dump station,
And then just run a continuous stream of water through the toilet and then the shower as you manipulate the valves open and closed.
See if you can clean out the valve before you do anything drastic.
Welcome.
P.S. I have two Airstreams older than yours, and the dump valves were never shot. So don't assume the worst.
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Old 11-06-2012, 05:55 PM   #7
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As others have said, run lots of water thru the valves, maybe something got stuck. I think you would be better to test everything before going to a campground, can be embarrassing if things don't go right. Everybody is watching! LOL. Welcome to the forum.
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Old 11-06-2012, 06:36 PM   #8
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You can certainly spend a little time at a dump station on an "off" day or time. I wouldn't try to do anything long winded when there's a line. People tend to get a little testy. I agree with all of the above - run water through and lube things up before you decide to start ripping. Some people have used water softener or conditioner or even fabric softner to get things lubricated and clean. Your valve handle may not be seating well either so lube that too and make sure it slides smoothly. Since you don't have a real good idea on how long it's been since your trailer was used, you should clean things really well and test systems out thoroughly even if you're not using them right now (like a furnace or air conditioner). That way you're prepped if you need to use things AND you know how they work. It's no fun to wake up at 2AM and need the furnace and it won't light. Been there. Not fun.
Good luck and welcome!

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Old 11-06-2012, 06:47 PM   #9
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1977 31' Excella 500
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Thanks to all for the encouraging words! I do think that I've calmed down a little since earlier. I was freaking out with the spill and fear of getting in trouble with the rangers. I went into town and picked up a new adapter ring and put that on. So far it seems promising bit have not yet run a lot through as many have suggested here. I'll do that later or in the morning before packing up.

I also took a longer look underneath and there is already a patch panel screwed in so that is kind of good news -- reading other threads, many said access was the most difficult part of all this. Without opening or up, it does look like at least one valve may have been replaced as the slide rod is at an off angle than what I think was factory.

Unfortunately, I think that I see a wet area and slow drip from the panel so I do think cracking it open for an inspection is in the near future. While I am a bit optimistic about working the valves and doing some flushing to get them working better, the wet spot makes me think it might not be that simple.

Thanks again for all the feedback and advice!
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Old 11-06-2012, 06:51 PM   #10
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Always remember, a day spent at the dump station with your Airstream is better than any day at work.
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Old 11-10-2012, 11:09 AM   #11
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Just be thankful the valves aren't this bad......
Everything was fine until... [VIDEO]

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Old 11-10-2012, 03:29 PM   #12
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Funny!!
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Old 11-10-2012, 04:14 PM   #13
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1977 31' Excella 500
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hehe great video!

Quick update - I ended up getting a clear valterra extension to add after the new thetford/valterra converter ring. Then, I got an add-on valterra valve to hold things back. I wanted the clear on there so I could better see what is going on while troubleshooting things with the hose attached.

Camping World also had a back flush device with a valve and clear segment like this, I believe it was made by valterra. I thought about that one but instead opted for separate components for bit more flexibility.

For now, while on the move, I'll probably just keep the twist-on valve attached. That should allow me to get to the next hose hook-up spot without having a little sludge behind the cap rush out at me. I don't think the all-in-one backflush device/valve would have been suitable for this.

I'm camped for about a week right now so may "mess" around with it a bit more to see if I can get it working better.
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