RV Propane Furnace Repair – Suburban Model SF-30

We have a 5th wheel trailer that has a propane furnace in it. Usually when you turn it on, if the thermostat is up, the fan comes on right away and then about 30 seconds later the propane comes on and is ignited and then lots of heat flows from the vents.

About 3 weeks ago the furnace suddenly stopped working. The only thing that happened when it was turned on (with thermostat up) was a clicking sound from the furnace.

First, I took off the grille and furnace front cover and I could easily spin the fan by poking in a long stick, so I knew the fan motor wasn’t seized. I removed the furnace (not a particularly easy task as it appears when the trailer was built, they did not have it in mind that someone might ever want to remove the furnace). Then I was able to check and found that the furnace was getting 12 volts (and ground) as required and also that the thermostat and related wiring were working as they should, so the problem was definitely inside the furnace.

I hooked the furnace up to a 12-volt battery so I could do some trouble shooting. Luckily there is a wiring diagram glued to the furnace and the controls are pretty simple, so it didn’t take too long to isolate the problem to the control board (it was getting all the correct inputs – power, ground, signal from thermostat, connection to sail switch (to sense when the fan is spinning) and over-temp switch, and the outputs to the fan motor, propane valve and spark ignitor were all connected. I could fake that the fan was working by moving the sail switch by hand and everything else worked as it should, plus when I put power to the fan output wire the fan spun just fine. It turned out the fan relay was clicking when it should but no power was getting to the fan.

Suburban SF-30 RV Furnace on work bench
Suburban SF-30 control board

I ordered a new control board from an RV place (about $140 CDN) but then as I was looking at the board I noticed that one of the 4 connectors where the relay pins were soldered to the circuit board looked weird, there was a dark ring around the pin. I re-soldered the pin to the circuit board trace and tested the furnace and it worked perfectly. Luckily, I was able to cancel the order for the new control board.

Source of the problem was this bad solder joint. (although this photo was after I fixed it – I know it doesn’t look pretty but it has been 2 weeks and the heater is still working perfectly)

It has now been 2 weeks since the repair was made and the furnace reinstalled in the trailer and so far, it is working perfectly. I find repairing this sort of thing to be very rewarding. Not just as I saved money avoiding having an RV technician make a house call, or purchasing a new furnace or new control board but also as I like to get as much life out of things as I can… sort of my way of fighting back against our ‘disposable’ society.

Now we just need to get the “right to repair” laws in place in Canada so companies like John Deere and Apple don’t intentionally make it impossible for consumers to do their own repairs.

Note: Youtube made this job far easier than it would have been otherwise as I found a video of a guy completely disassembling a Suburban SF-30 furnace so I knew all the parts of the system, where they were and what they did. I also saw a video of a guy troubleshooting a similar issue on the SF-30.

PS – next thing to fix is the 2004 Golf (2 litre gas engine) which has an intermittent miss, super obvious immediately after starting and then intermittently (seemingly randomly) when under load. Unfortunately that is unlikely to be as easy to sort out as this furnace was.

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Westy Trip – summer 2020

We had thought about a trip to Yellowstone but with COVID we changed our plans to explore parts of Southern BC. The girls hadn’t really seen anywhere east of Chilliwack so this was a perfect opportunity to check out some of the great scenery BC has to offer.

This was our approximate route (Google wouldn’t show our ‘short-cut’ from Kimberly to Gray Creek/Nelson so I had to draw that part in myself.) We explored a number of side roads too.

We took about 2 weeks to cover the route so that gave time to explore a bit and travel at a relaxed pace and it was fun to show the girls where I lived many years ago (Lillooet) and many other places.

Duffey Lake (between Pemberton and Lillooet) – scenic as usual and the weather was perfect.

We took a ‘side road’ (Blowdown FSR) just after Duffey Lake and then hiked up to Blowdown Lake. It was beautiful although it was a bad year for bugs.

On the way up Blowdown Forest Service Road
Older daughter cooling down in Blowdown Lake

I had only been to Blowdown Lake once before and that was a ski trip so this was my first time to see the water there. It is picturesque.

Visited with some friends in Lillooet I hadn’t seen in about 30 years so that was fun, and then eastward to Kamloops and Shuswap country.

Lillooet from part way up the trail to Red Rock. (used to be a good trail for mountain biking, now seems to have been taken over by dirt bikers and quads)
Dry country as we got closer to Kamloops

We spent a couple of days at Scotch Creek on Shuswap Lake. I had run my buddy’s parasailing business there for one summer many years ago so it was fun to be back there again. Our second night in Scotch Creek we got a spot in the provincial campsite with no reservation (who’d ‘a thought… long weekend, middle of summer)

The beach at Scotch Creek Provincial campsite on Shuswap Lake.

Revelstoke was fun although tougher to find a campsite. We ended up staying on the side of Hwy 23 the first night and then found a spot at Martha Creek Provincial campsite the next night. Revelstoke sure is scenic and we enjoyed a trip up the ski hill and riding down their ‘Pipe Coaster’.

Revelstoke Ski Hill
Our youngest caused a bit of a traffic jam on the Pipe Coaster… (mom and big sis behind her)

Then the scenic drive from Revelstoke to Golden – so impressive!

Between Revelstoke and Golden
Looking down to Golden from near the paragliding launch spot on Mount Seven.

We decided to go to Banff so that necessitated crossing the border to Alberta.

It was overcast and raining when we got to Lake Louise but in some ways that was a blessing as if it had been a nice day we likely wouldn’t have been able to drive to Moraine Lake and I was really hoping the girls would get a chance to see that. (even with the less-than-stellar weather we had to wait until there was space in the Moraine Lake parking lot before they would let you start the drive in from Lake Louise)

Moraine Lake – impressive even with the fog and drizzle!
Getting close to Banff, and sun coming back too.

The drive from Banff to Kimberly was nice. We camped near Canal Flats and checked out downtown Kimberly the next morning. I asked about the Gray Creek Pass route to Nelson at the tourist-info place and was told it was as in as good a shape as it had ever been so we decided to go that way rather than the highway.

The start of the Gray Creek Pass road, a bit west of Kimberley.
Getting closer to home, good old Osoyoos. I spent many enjoyable summer days here as a teenager as it was our ‘usual’ summer holiday destination for quite a few years.
We camped in the Haynes Point overflow site (the side of the road out to the main campsite). It was so windy I couldn’t pop the top until the wind died down at about 2 a.m.
Lots of whitecaps on the lake – younger daughter checking out the water.
Really getting close to home now – Mount Baker and the Black Buttes. Spent many fun filled days at Baker ski area years ago and stood on the summit with my brother on the May long weekend in 1985.

Overall it was a great trip and I am so glad we got away when we did as the whole COVID situation hasn’t gotten any better in the last few months. I wonder what the summer of 2021 will bring… hopefully happy travels.

Note: in a comment below, Peter asked about the ‘Black Buttes’ which are the 2 rocky “sub-peaks” to the right of the summit of Baker in the photo above. Peter: here are 2 better photos of the Black Buttes from the ski-touring trip up Baker.

The Black Buttes on Baker as seen from our campsite the evening before attempting the summit (summit of Baker itself is off to the right in this photo). (please excuse reflection of Christmas lights – it is a photo of a photo)
The upper Black Butte as seen from above on our way back down after reaching the summit of Baker. The lower Black Butte, and pretty much everything else, had been swallowed by clouds. We went from skiing down in intense sun to slowly and very carefully following our tracks from the way up so as to avoid skiing into a crevasse in the dense fog.
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New Vehicle – Kubota L4400 Tractor

Last fall I bought a new (to me) vehicle: a Kubota L4400 tractor. I knew it was going to be a very useful tool but I didn’t realize just how useful.

So far I have used it for tasks for such as:

  • Moving a small building
  • Digging ditches
  • Clearing dense brush
  • Moving dirt to make a place to put a building
  • Spreading a load of gravel
  • Erecting the frame for a small building
  • Clearing snow from the driveway
  • Digging holes for planting trees
  • Raking rocks from a newly landscaped area
  • Moving misc stuff around the property (including moving a big trailer)

Honourable mention in the useful vehicle category has to go to my 1992 F250 as without it, getting the Kubota home wouldn’t have been so easy (thank you Rod for lending me your trailer).


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Westy Trip (summer 2019) Pemberton

In late July last summer we went on a short trip up the Sea to Sky corridor to the Pemberton area. In nice weather the trip from Horseshoe Bay up to Pemberton is truly spectacular.

The viewpoint to the Tantalus Range (just north of Squamish) is always worth a stop.


Just past Whistler we stopped on the shores of Green Lake to take in the views of runs on Blackcomb and Whistler . We saw two Harbour Air float planes take off while we were checking out the views of the surrounding peaks (Whistler and Blackcomb of course, plus Wedge, Weart, Mt Currie and others).


We stopped at Nairn Falls (just south of Pemberton) for that nice little hike into the falls which was enjoyable, saw a jet boat taking tourists up the river to the base of the falls too. Interesting how many of the no smoking signs in Canada now include a marijuana leaf on them.



While in Pemberton we decided to take a drive up the Mount McKenzie Forest Service Road which yielded great views of the Pemberton Valley and surrounding peaks.


We even got to see a couple of Paragliders launch from the very spot I launched from on my one and only paragliding flight many years ago (my flight ended well, I just wanted to try it once). It was cool for the kids to see that.


We ventured further up the Mt McKenzie FSR  to the upper paraglider launch point which has a spectacular view of Mount Currie and south to Black Tusk, as well as over to the mountains across the valley to the west.



Next time we are back in this area we plan to continue eastward across the Duffey Lake road to Lillooet where I lived for 3 years in what seems almost like another lifetime ago. It’ll be fun to show the kids some of the places where I used to have fun up there.


Posted in Syncro Stuff, Westy Stuff | 5 Comments

Studebaker M16 Starter Issues

A while back I had to move the M-16 farm truck. I hadn’t started it for about 4 months but it is usually pretty good about firing up even after sitting for extended periods. I keep a trickle charger on the battery so wasn’t worried about cranking power.

When I tried to turn over the motor nothing happened. I checked with a volt meter on the battery while attempting to crank and could see big voltage drop when the starter was trying to turn so I knew the solenoid and related wiring were OK. It appeared the starter was seized.

I pulled the starter, and happily, like almost everything else on this truck, that was easy to do. At first I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t turn but eventually noticed a small bit of metal wedged between the rotor and armature.



That little bit of metal on the right is what was jammed between the armature and rotor.

I had to disassemble the starter to get the metal bit out but once that was done it turned freely. I took the opportunity to clean the commutator bars and brushes. Not having a metal lathe I used my drill press and some emery cloth. It wasn’t ideal but got the job done.


I then undercut the commutator bars with and old broken pancake flipper that was about the perfect width and shape (I knew it would come in handy at some point).


The commutator was so dirty to begin with I was surprised the starter worked at all. Now it cranks over nicely but I still have to boost it with a 12 volt battery when starting it for the first time in a while (the truck has a 6 volt battery).

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Studebaker M16 – brake updates

I finally got around to dealing with the front brake wheel cylinders on the M16. Turned out they were too pitted to just hone out and unfortunately new wheel cylinders are no longer available.

Luckily I found a local guy who did a great job of sleeving the cylinders: Jim at Bristol Motors on Vancouver Island. He used bronze and went the extra mile to clean everything up, polish the pistons, chase all threads and powder coat the outside of the wheel cylinders. He does top notch work (a true craftsman) and when I picked up the wheel cylinders I even got a tour of his shop and the many cool projects he was working on (old luxury cars, sports cars, vintage trucks etc.)

The front brakes on the M-16 went together nicely (everything is so simple on that truck) although the wheels and tires are heavy and a bit of a bear to lift onto the hubs/wheel studs (at least compared to any other vehicle I have ever worked on).  I would have loved to take the time to sand blast and paint the backing plates but as is often the case lately, time didn’t permit that.

I noticed that whomever last installed the inner seal for the front wheel bearings appears to not have had the appropriate tool. I usually just use a socket from my ¾” drive set for such things but this person did a bit of a hack job, or so it looks to me.

I still haven’t had a look at the rear brakes but it is on my list to pull the rear wheels and check the rear brakes. The previous owner had the shoes relined but if the front was any indication the rear wheel cylinders may be shot too. The only other brake work planned is that I bought a power brake booster with a new master cylinder so I would like to replace the old master cylinder with those as soon as time permits. I suspect I’ll have to install a vacuum reservoir/canister at that time too.

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First Westy Trip of the Season

As usual at this time of year the outdoor school our eldest attends had their year-end camping trip, this time to the Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island. Parents are welcome to attend so, as we have always done, we joined the trip.


The Walbran Valley is right next to the Carmanah Valley, which was the location of BC’s ‘War in the Woods’ which ended up in the creation of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park in the early 1990s. Currently parts of the Walbran Valley are slated for logging and another ‘War in the Woods’ maybe be ramping up as various groups in favour of saving the beautiful valley from clear cuts are working towards that end. (see https://www.wildernesscommittee.org/walbran for details)

It really is beautiful there and Walbran Falls is stunning, a truly incredible place to be.


We went on a short hike to the Castle Giant, a massive old cedar tree and it was nice to walk among the old growth.

On the way in, we saw some helicopter logging going on just before arriving at Walbran River. The helicopter, a Sikorsky S-64, was massive and the landing was right on the road. The road was clear when we passed but others in our camping group had to wait about 10 minutes while the freshly dropped logs were moved.


Westy ran nicely for the trip but one of our fellow campers got a flat on the way home and her spare wouldn’t work due to the fact it needed different lug nuts she didn’t have (first flat tire in a new-to-her vehicle) so as we didn’t want her to have to spend the night on the side of a logging road by herself (she had sent her kids home in other cars by the time we got there) our little group (me and 2 kids) decided to camp with her on the side of the logging road until the tow truck arrived.


The tow truck arrived at 3:24 a.m.! By 4 a.m. he had the truck with the flat tire loaded on his flat-deck and was off down the logging road with the trucks owner. The first empty logging truck going up came by at about 3:50 a.m. and it got progressively noisier after that with the peak of uphill traffic (empty logging trucks and crew pick-ups) coming shortly after 5 a.m.  They all just drove on by with the exception of 2 pickups whose driver’s felt the need to lay on the horn for a while when driving by the westy (maybe thinking westys equate with the enemy in the ‘War in the Woods’?). Anyhow, luckily the kids sleep through the entire thing until I got them up at 7 a.m. to pack up and get ready to head back down and home. By that time there were full logging trucks going down as well as empty ones coming up and as I didn’t want to round a corner to face the grille of an empty logging truck heading straight for me at speed, I waited for the next one going down and followed fairly close behind. Luckily it had rained pretty hard that night  so there was virtually no dust even right behind the loaded truck. I ended up with an escort down and once we reached the bigger 2 lane road down by Cowichan Lake the logging truck I had been following pulled over and waved me past.  I gave him a big ‘thank you’ wave and off we went towards pavement (another 15k or so).IMG_0591 (1)

The Walbran Valley is a beautiful place that definitely merits another visit when we have time to do more hiking.


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Syncro Vanagon Speedometer Drive Gear Replacement

As usual at this time of year I start thinking about getting the westy trip-worthy. One of the items was getting the speedo and odometer working again.

The van has been without a speedometer and odometer for the last year. I got by using the miles-per-hour gauge on the ScanGauge2. (As I have a Bostig Zetec in my vanagon I can connect the ScanGauge to the OBD port.)


I had diagnosed the issue to be a problem with the speedo drive gear in the front differential: when I spun the speedo cable from the differential end the speedometer moved and when the front wheels were turning the speedo output on the side of the differential was stationary unless I gave it a bit of a twist manually, in which case it would turn about ¾ of a turn and stop again. Seemed like a few teeth were worn off the drive pinion gear.

There is a great thread at https://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=482112 so I read that before attempting the job of replacing the drive gear. It was very helpful.  I then prepared for the task by getting an inexpensive set of roll-pin punches and purchasing a new speedo drive pinion gear from T3 Technique in the states. (previously this was only available from the UK.)


There is an aluminum ‘sleeve’ held into the side of the front differential housing by a roll pin and as mentioned on that thesamba thread if you ‘extend’ your punch with a socket drive extension (I used an 10”, ½” drive extension and a 10 mm socket which fit perfectly over my roll-pin punch) it is a good set-up to drive the roll pin out.

roll-pin punch

roll-pin punch2

Once the roll pin was out I used a similar method to the one described on thesamba to remove the aluminum sleeve from the diff housing (but used an old nut and part of a ball bearing as a spacer).


Exactly as I suspected, a few teeth were worn off the plastic pinion gear.


Next step was to make sure the new bronze gear from T3 had the same number of teeth as the old plastic one (they both have 19 teeth – well the plastic one maybe had 16 ½  left but started life with 19)


I then removed the old plastic gear with a hacksaw, cleaned the shaft and new gear with brake-clean, coated the knurls on the shaft with loc-tite 680 and pressed the shaft into the new gear.



According to the loc-tite website, 680 takes 24 hours to cure so I’ll put everything back together tomorrow. Looks like that should be an easy task. What I was most worried about on this job was the roll pin being stuck and possibly damaging the diff case like happened to one of the fellows on thesamba thread.

UPDATE: everything went together nicely and I now have a functional speedometer and odometer. The speedometer is a bit jumpy at low speeds though (below maybe 25 kmph). If I would have had a 10mm reamer I would have reamed out the housing the speedo pinion gear shaft fits into as there was a little resistance to turning there. I may still do that in the future, now I know this all comes apart fairly easily.



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M16 (old Studebaker farm truck)– big trip to the mainland

In the last 10 days I got the “new” intake and exhaust manifolds installed, the gas tank cleaned out and an inspection of the dragging right front brake completed.


New manifolds from Ted as old exhaust manifold had a large crack.


Generally this truck is super easy to work on but those big old wheels/tires are not light!


Time for either front wheel cylinder kits or possibly new wheel cylinders. I didn’t have time to deal with that before this trip but it is on the list for ‘soon’. 


Previous owner had had the tank cleaned and painted by a radiator shop which was great except that whoever put the tank back together used so much silicone sealant on the sending unit mount that all kinds of little pieces of dried silicone were loose in the tank and kept intermittently clogging the tank outlet.

All that work ended up happening in short order as I was preparing to use the M-16 to go pick up 38 bales of straw that will end up in the walls of a new structure we are building (slip-straw walls – a mix of straw and clay, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSApSrd8VwY if you are interested in how slip straw walls work).


I wanted to take the M-16 as it could easily hold all the straw in one load whereas if I took my F250 I would have needed to make 2 trips, possibly more, and the ferry costs over $100 per round trip.


Empty on the trip to the mainland for straw


38 bales of straw fit no problem


Straw all tarped-up for the ferry ride. BC Ferries considers straw or hay to be dangerous goods due to the potential for fire so the load had to be well tarped and I had to fill out the dangerous goods paperwork.


Safely home, rearranging the load so it will fit into the carport/tent.

The old Studebaker ran as smoothly as I could have hoped for although travelling at maybe 50 km/h (30 MPH) it takes a while to get anywhere. Only one person honked at me for driving slowly and ironically that was very close to a sign  requesting people to respect slow moving farm vehicles.


Also, it seems some fumes from the engine or gas tank are making their way into the cab so I ended up getting a headache by the time I was finished the about 60 miles of driving today. I did get pretty good at shifting without grinding the gears though (it doesn’t have synchromesh in any gears – transmission is aptly name a ‘crashbox’). Those fumes will have to be dealt with prior to any future long trips.

Oh, and regarding the sticking brakes: the pedal wasn’t returning when I took my foot off and after investigating many things it turned out to be sticky linkage. My M16 originally had power assisted brakes so the linkage is much more complicated than on my parts truck which had no power assist. Anyhow, after lubricating the linkage it was better but still not good so I added an extra return spring and it works nicely now.

Here is a photo of the structure which will have slip-straw wall insulation. (from a few months ago, it has a roof on it now). The clay for the slip straw was sourced locally: we just dug it out of the ground.



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Bikes on Westy and Wasser Stopper

We got over to Pachena Bay on the west coast of Vancouver Island for a few days last week. It is a gorgeous place and the campsite is great: clean, friendly staff, etc.


I finally got the “how to store 4 bikes efficiently” question sorted out: I found a 3rd bike attachment for the Paul Chen rack and put the 3 full size bikes there and our 6 year old’s bike can go on the roof pretty easily. I made a bracket to hold the small bike in the luggage rack so it can go up or come down quickly plus I can pop the top with it up there (last year with a big bike up there I couldn’t pop the top without bringing down the bike – quite inconvenient).


I added a wood support to the Paul Chen bike rack as I was a bit worried it might break off with 3 bikes on there when I hit big pot holes at speed on logging roads.

It drizzled a bit while we were at Pachena Bay so I had occasion to use the “Wasser Stopper” westy tent cover for the first time. It seemed to be quite effective.


Update to previous posts:

  • I need to space the skid plate down so it doesn’t interfere with the HCHC oil pan when the engine is torquing but haven’t had a chance to deal with that yet.
  • I had a shop install the new PS pump (which was a bit of a painful experience on it’s own) and unfortunately the new pump is as noisy as the old one.

One last thing: the Dometic fridge usually works well for us but this trip it experienced a problem I had never seen before. I tested the fridge on propane 2 times just before the trip and all was fine. Then when we arrived at our destination it would not light on propane. The orange light that usually flashes until the fridge lights and then goes steady once the propane is burning would just go on continuously immediately without the igniter ever clicking a single time (and of course the propane not burning). I tried numerous times over the first two days and then on the third day it finally lit up normally – starting to think a truckfridge or something like that might be the way to go… always something. 🙂

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