Posted July 15, 2018
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Get TRUE tank readings with digital gauges
By Greg Illes
Shortly after buying my first motorhome (“Howie”), I discovered the ugly truth about the stock tank gauges. They’re horrible.
They have lousy resolution, and I could not tell within 1/4 tank (or worse) what the actual level was in the tank. With only three indicator lights, it was impossible to know for sure whether we had two more days, or five more days, before needing to refill.
But far worse was the obnoxious tendency of the black tank (and sometimes the gray) to get the sensors crudded up with unspeakable debris. When this happened, the lights would make no sense at all, ranging from full-when-empty indications to empty-when-full. Totally unreliable and useless.
With elaborate cleaning techniques, I managed to minimize the false-reading problem. But the lousy “accuracy” remained.
After a little bit of reading and studying, I bought a SeeLevel™ unit from Garnet Instruments. One of its many models was exactly right for my configuration of Fresh, Gray, Black and Propane tanks.
Installation was pretty much “no worries.” The instructions were clear, and the whole setup worked the first time. I had to get a little creative on the actual display panel, because my Itasca had the three-light panel integrated with the generator controls. But it wasn’t too difficult to cut/trim the old panel, which made room for the new one. (Each RV is going to be a little different.)
Fortunately, the SeeLevel products made use of the existing wiring, and it was not necessary to run wires through dark and inaccessible spaces. All that was needed was to locate good places to attach the sensors (they’re stick-on), and then move the existing wires from the factory probe points to the new sensors.
The gauge sensors work on an electronic-sensing strategy called “capacitance,” where the electronics “see” through the walls of the tanks to detect the inside level. No gunky probes and no readings affected by sticky sewage. The readouts are digital numbers, from 0–100%.
Although the sensors are self-adhesive, I used some duct tape as insurance. You can see one of the (now unused) original probes next to the new sensor.
The SeeLevel sensors come in fixed lengths, and they aren’t necessarily perfectly matched to tank dimensions. Also, the sensors provide a simple linear readout, so if the tank has an odd vertical shape (as mine do), one part of the range might move more quickly than another part of the range.
For the propane tank, there’s no change to the sensor – the gauge uses the existing sensor and simply displays percentage. However, since propane tanks only fill to 80% (or so), the propane reading, after calibration, can sometimes display more than 100% due to variations in fill technique.
Due to all these factors, the 0–100% readings might be a little off of perfect. But for me, it’s all a HUGE improvement over the standard three lights. And after a few uses, it’s easy to learn a little “mental calibration” on the exact relationship between number and true level.
For $200-$300, or more, plus labor, digital gauges might not be for everyone – but for me they’re indispensable for boondocking and overall peace of mind.
For more information, click on Garnet’s website regarding SeeLevel RV Holding Tank Monitors.
Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his excellent blog at www.divver-city.com/blog
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