This isn't a situation we can afford to neglect: In a recent five-year period, over 400 people died every year from accidental, non-fire related CO poisoning in the U.S. Sadly, that's not surprising, when you consider that you can't see CO, nor smell it. Victims are often overcome at night, safely or so they thought tucked away in their beds. The only way to know whether your RV is safe from CO is with a working CO detector. Do you have one? Does it work?">

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Using Your RV : RV care and upkeep

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Maintain and test your carbon monoxide detector
Russ and Tina DeMaris

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Lightheaded? Confused? Have a headache? All unpleasant enough things to have, but also all symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Most people know that given enough "CO" you can go beyond those unpleasant symptoms to one really nasty one death.

This isn't a situation we can afford to neglect: In a recent five-year period, over 400 people died every year from accidental, non-fire related CO poisoning in the U.S. Sadly, that's not surprising, when you consider that you can't see CO, nor smell it. Victims are often overcome at night, safely or so they thought tucked away in their beds. The only way to know whether your RV is safe from CO is with a working CO detector.

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The RV industry manufacturing association requires CO detectors in motorhomes and travel trailers. However, some older trailers rolled off the assembly lines before that requirement came into effect, so some may not have them. Even if you have a CO detector in your unit, do you know if it's working? Batteries die over time, and CO detectors actually have a useful working life; after that, it's time to replace them.

How can you test and maintain your detector? You'll find a "test" button on your detector; when you push it you should hear the alarm signal. It's a good test to perform with everyone around who uses the RV, so they all know what the alarm sounds like. The test button will confirm the battery (or connection to the 12-volt system if it has one) is working. This DOES NOT confirm that your detector will actually alarm in the presence of CO.

To check the alarm to make sure it really works, you'll need to go a little deeper. We recommend a detector with a digital display that indicates the level of CO. Light a cigarette or an incense stick and move it back and forth within a few inches of the detector. The display should indicate the presence of CO, although at low levels, the alarm probably won't sound that's to prevent nuisance alarms when cooking. Still, you should a definite indication that CO has been detected.

To ensure that your detector will "sound off" in the event that a dangerous level of the gas is present, use an aerosol CO detector tester. It's actually carbon monoxide in a spray can. In the kit you'll find a bag that mounts around your detector. You put a puff of the CO from the can into the bag, and your detector should go off, LOUDLY. One such product is available online through Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Carbon-Monoxide-Detector-Tester-aerosol/dp/B007SUDNYU/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1367437328&sr=8-10&keywords=carbon+monoxide+detector+tester).

What about detector working life? Manufacturer's all have their own ideas as to how long their detectors are "good for." Typically five to seven years seems to be the rule. However, if you use the aerosol test kit, you'll know for certain if your unit is still working or not some say their detectors last longer than expected. But don't take it for granted: If you don't have the test kit, replace your detector when recommended. Some outfits build a timer into their detectors that alerts you when it's time to change out the unit.

If you are replacing your unit, there is a big difference between a "residential" CO unit, and those designed and approved for use in RVs. Home-based CO detectors are in a controlled environment, not subject to temperature extremes, nor bounced around and rattled with road vibrations. RV detectors have to meet specific standards for both of these situations. As a result, you'll find prices for RV approved detectors are pretty steep. However, a bit of shopping around reveals that you can get an RV-approved detector for about $30 on the Internet much less than the typical street price of $60 or more.

Follow instructions from the manufacturer when installing your new unit. Typically you'll want to keep the alarm close to sleeping areas, but far enough away from units (like stove tops) that produce theoretically safe levels of CO.

Whatever you do, don't ever ignore your CO detector if it alerts, thinking it's a false alarm. Sad to say, some have done just that to their injury.



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