Sunday, February 17, 2019

GETTING SATELLITE TV IN YOUR RV

Why have satellite TV in your RV?  If you are out for a short trip with family or friends, you may not want TV in your RV at all, but if you are looking for evening entertainment, are solo, or are on an extended trip, a good TV connection can enhance your RV experience.  The means by which you can watch satellite TV in your RV are increasing.  We will outline a few ways.  

First, the disclaimers.  The two authors of this piece represent two ends of the spectrum.  One has a residential Dish account using a 3 head dish and the Hopper 3 in his RV.  The other has a Hopper 3 at home and a 211z receiver with a roof satellite dish in his RV.  There may be other possibilities that we miss, and our experience is based on Dish Network as the provider.  We have no information about using DirectTV.

THE COMPONENTS
To get satellite TV in your RV, you need a receiver, a satellite dish, a TV, and good coax connections between them.  You need a Dish account that is compatible with your receiver.  More importantly, there are compatibility issues between certain dishes and receivers.

COMPATIBILITY
One way to get satellite TV in your RV is to have a satellite dish compatible with your home receiver.  You may need a tripod, a satellite location meter, and a means of connecting the dish to your receiver.  Then, you could disconnect your receiver in your house, sit it on a shelf in the RV, set up and align the dish, connect the coax cable from the dish, plug into 120v power, and connect from the receiver to the TV.  With that setup, you would have virtually the same TV capabilities and programming that you have at home.  BUT - it requires a compatible dish.  

Today, the hottest new DVR is the Hopper 3.  It requires a residential account rather than an account targeted at the more mobile RV world.  To get full function, it requires a 3 head Hopper 3 dish.

DISHES
So, a key element is planning so your account and your equipment will be compatible.  Here is a link to a guide to some antennas and their system compatibility.

DVR’s and RECEIVERS
The difference between these two is a DVR can record, while a receiver needs an external hard drive to record.  The following link shows which receivers are compatible with an external hard drive.
The link below shows what receivers are available.
One caution - If we understand things right, the Joey receivers are for multiple TV’s in one home.  They take their signal from the main DVR in the home, not from a satellite dish.  Thus, in our RV world, they are only useful in a multi-TV RV, as they will not work if not near the main DVR.

RESIDENTIAL TYPE SYSTEMS
The highest end of this type of system is built around a Hopper 3 DVR.  It can record up to 16 channels, and hundreds of hours of HD media.  It uses a 3 head dish.  On a tripod, it must be manually aligned either by using a very expensive meter, or by doing an approximate alignment, then having one person to tweak the dish alignment while another monitors the signal strength inside the RV.  Some models can mount on an RV roof and align automatically.  The dish and receiver tie into three satellites - 110, 119 and 129.  Conventional barrel connectors for the coax cable won’t work.  You need high frequency cable connections.  But, if you have all that, you have a system equal to any home system.

A mid-range residential type system would be based on an older DVR such as the 612, 622 or 722.  It would use a 2 head dish and standard barrel connectors, and would connect to two satellites with one setup.  This setup would allow recording two channels at once, and the receiver could hold hundreds of hours of SD media, and somewhat less of HD media.  The dish would be on a tripod, you would use a meter to align the dish, and a coax cable to connect the outside of the RV.

Simpler systems might use a receiver such as the older 211k or 211z receivers or the newer Wally receivers.  These use a single head dish, either roof mounted, a single head dish on a tripod, or a tailgater.  These dishes may be either manually aligned or self-aligning.  They are limited to receiving a single satellite and a single channel at one time.  If you want to record a program with these receivers, you need to add an external hard drive to your system.  There is a moderate one time setup cost to do this.

With any of these, you can use the same DVR or receiver in the rig as in your home, as long as the dish is the same at each location.  Simply unplug from one location and plug in at the other.

DISH OUTDOORS
With a growing number of RV’ers wanting to make use of Dish Network programming while on the road, Dish set up a type of account called Dish Outdoors.  It is not for the Hopper 3.  Rather, it uses a simple receiver such as the 211 or the Wally in your RV.  It uses a single head dish, which can be a roof mount, a dish on a tripod, or a tailgater.  It can also use the Dish SK-1000 roof mounted triple head dish.  If your dish is on a tripod, you will have to manually align it.  Some roof mounts and some tailgaters are self-aligning.  Single head dishes can make use of one satellite at a time, but can switch the alignment from one satellite to another, as needed.  This setup is often a low cost option added to a permanent residential setup, such as one with a Hopper 3 dish and receiver.

Just as you can only receive one channel at a time, your ability to record is limited.  The 211 and the Wally can record using an external hard drive.  The biggest advantage of these setups and the Outdoors account is that when you are home, you can put the RV account on hold, and when traveling and the Outdoors account is active, it may cost as little as $7 per month extra on your existing home Dish account.  That makes it a great package for someone who is in their RV for weekends and a few longer trips every year.

TRAVELING
If your Dish account includes local broadcast stations, those are transmitted via a spot beam from the satellite.  The reception area for that spot beam forms an oval on the earth’s surface with an east-west reception range that is less than the north-south reception range.  For example, if you are in Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico, your broadcast stations will be from Albuquerque.  In Newport, Oregon, they will come from Portland.  If you are in the Grand Teton or Yellowstone area, they will come from Idaho Falls.  When you travel to a new area outside the oval that covers your home, if you want to receive local broadcast channels, you need to change your Point-Of-Service address.  

For Dish Outdoors accounts, Dish offers an app called MyDish.  It allows you to change your Point-Of-Service address yourself.  If you have a residential account, you must call Dish tech support and have their personnel change your Point-Of-Service address.  Once a change is entered, in about 20 to 30 minutes of use, your receiver will be reconfigured for the new broadcast channels, and you can watch them. 

If you are traveling and moving frequently, there is no need to change the Point-Of-Service address every night.  Most channels will work without that.  You only need that if you want to watch local broadcast channels.

SOME OTHER THOUGHTS
If you use a tripod, the web site TV4RV.com has some nice tripods, more functional for the RV lifestyle than a conventional home tripod, as well as some other stuff for helping with satellite setup.  Whatever tripod you use, either tie or stake it down, or hang a substantial weight (a rock, a 5 gallon jug of water, etc.), from the center of the tripod, near to the ground.  This is to reduce the chance of the tripod blowing over in a storm or wind.  It does not prevent a moose from knocking it over…

Satellite meters range from the very simple and relatively inexpensive to the professional units.  A simple one will tell you if you are receiving a satellite signal, but cannot discriminate between satellites.  It cannot tell you if you are connected to 105, 110, 118, 119, etc, or if you are connected to a Dish or a HughesNet or a DirectTV satellite.  It just tells you if it sees a signal.  The pro models will allow you to identify the satellite to which you are connecting.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to each decision you make.  A roof dish is the easiest to set up when you get to a campsite.  There is no need to go outside, possibly in rain, and there is no need to connect or disconnect coax cables.  Get your rig level, raise and point the dish, check the signal and tweak the alignment, and you are done.  The trade off as compared to a dish on tripod or a tailgater is if your campsite has a tree in the way, you may get no satellite, because your dish location is fixed.  A tailgater setup is the next easiest because they are self-aligning.  You do have to go outside to connect or disconnect the coax, but that is offset by the ability to place the tailgater to see past a tree of other structure.  A single head LNB on a tripod gives flexibility of location, but will only connect you to a single satellite without realigning it.  A residential setup with a dual or triple head dish and compatible receiver is the hardest to set up, demands a tripod, but gives you the best service.

TROUBLESHOOTING
Possible causes of poor or no signal include:
Equipment incompatibility
Trees or buildings in the way
Heavy storm clouds
A poor coax connection
A poor dish alignment
A problem with the receiver, or
A problem with the LNB, the part on the end of the dish arm that receives the signal.

Keep it as simple as possible.  
A) If you have been watching TV and you lose the signal, most likely, either something is blocking the dish or the dish has been moved.  Look for storm clouds, then check the dish alignment.
B) If you just relocated and you now are getting no signal with the new setup: 
> If you are using a tripod and meter, check the signal with the meter at the dish.  If no good, either (most likely) you are not aligned properly or (unlikely) you may have a bad LNB.  Tweak the alignment until you get a signal.  
> If you read a good signal at the dish, check at the receiver end of the coax with the meter.  If you have a signal at the dish but not at the receiver the coax connections have a problem. 
> If you have a signal on the meter at the coax connection to the receiver, reboot the receiver by unplugging it, waiting 10 seconds, then plugging it in again.  
> If you are using a roof dish or a tailgater, follow most of those steps if you have a satellite meter.  Re-do the alignment if you don’t have a meter.  
> Use a multimeter and check for 13.8 to 20 volts at the dish end of the coax cabling.  If the receiver is working and the cable is connected, that voltage should be there.  No voltage there means either a problem with the coax or a problem with the receiver.
C) If the setup has worked in the past but is not now working, the incompatibility issue does not apply.  Once you have done all the above tests that you can do, and have ruled out compatibility issues, a problem with the coax, or as far as you can tell, a problem with the receiver, go to the LNB with a multimeter in hand, remove the coax connection from the LNB, and with the receiver on, check the voltage in the coax.  It should be 13.8 to 20 volts.  It then sounds like you might have a bad LNB.


If all the above fails to establish a connection, call Dish tech support before you order any components.  The receiver may need to be re-authorized, a setting might have been lost, or the receiver may be failing.  Either way, they can help you diagnose beyond the above tests.  Our experience has been that the Dish tech support people have been highly motivated to serve their customers.  Our calls to tech support have been unfailingly positive and helpful.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Replacing The Air Conditioner

Our 11-year-old AC, went toes up. I ordered a new one from Lazy Daze, about the same cost as any other source I could find and I knew it would be the right one. The newer units use a digital thermostat. Vince said it was required so I ordered that also.

Removal of the old unit is straight forward. It's all done from the inside. Four bolts hold it to the roof.

Installation was easy for me. Our strong son-in-law came over with his two young lads. We put a long ladder on the side of the RV. I put a sheet of plywood on the ladder and the ac on top of it. We tied a stout rope to the ac. That made it easy to pull the 90-pound ac up the ladder. He then dropped the new unit in the old hole. 





There is very little tolerance to get the bolts aligned between the inside frame and the bolt holes. I tried to do it myself but I found if I needed to move the ac right an 1/4 inch I would overshoot by 1/4 inch. I got my grandson back on the roof to adjust the unit while I got bolts in the holes.

The install manual says the bolts should be tightened to 50 pounds. I know of no way to measure tightness on an uncompressed" sponge", the sealing gasket. So I tightened until I could see the gasket compressed about a 1/4 of an inch.

The electric junction box needed to be moved higher to accommodate the new style frame.

Wiring was no problem. Lazy Daze uses 14-3 copper wire. Dometic uses 14 gauge stranded wire. Stranded to solid wire can come loose, I made sure the stranded wire was long enough to wrap around the copper three times, put on wire nuts and taped them so they will not vibrate loose. 

Connect the two 12 volt wires that were removed from the old unit to the wires on the new unit. Connect the "phone" connector that leads the thermostat to one of the two female connectors on the new unit. It may make a difference which one needs to be connected. If so, I guessed right. 

Now connect the new thermostat. After you do a system reset, the system should work. The reset only requires thermostat be in the Off position, then holding the Mode and Zone buttons while pressing the On button.

If you had the older style analog thermostat that fit flush with the wall you will now have to make a larger hole to accommodate the new thermostat and two of the old screw holes will not be covered. The new style has a "bump" on one side of the backer plate that prevents flush mounting unless you make a hole to fit the bump into. I found I would have to cut into stringers on each side to do that. No way was I going to attempt that. So, I put some wood shims on the backer plate to balance it with the bump and screwed it in place. Yes, I can look sideways and see the screws, not professional, but it's the best I could come up with.

Caveat - The opening LD makes is dead on just enough to accommodate the new frame. There was no such frame on our old unit. A 1/16 of an inch less and I would have had to enlarge the opening.  That said, I moved both the "phone" wire and 12-volt power wires out of the way of the forward bolts to prevent chaffing or worse from the bolts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Towing Set Up

I have been pulling toad vehicles since the early 90’s with 4 different motorhomes during that time. There has been a lot of trial/error with tow bars, base plates, electrical, and gravel protection also. I am currently at the point that I am completely satisfied with my current towing configuration. I realize that what works for me may not be what others need, but here is what I have done.


In the past, I have used Blue Ox (B/O) tow bars on the motorhome and B/O base plates on the toad.  The tow bar was very hard to disengage in a binding situation (I now understand that has been corrected), and I didn’t like the rubber boot on the arms. However, I really like the B/O base plate with the removable connecting pins that keep the rest of the base plate mostly hidden behind the toad grill. I now use the Roadmaster aluminum Sterling tow bar with B/0 adaptors Roadmaster provides (as an $ option) that attach the Sterling arms to the B/0 connecting pins. The safety cables for the Sterling have a molded steel ball at one end that fits into a grove in (provided) steel ‘L’ brackets that are supposed to attach to the toad bumper bracket. That wasn’t possible on my toad so I attached the brackets to the underside of the LD’s hitch receiver by the holes where the tow cables are normally attached. I used two 3/8” grade 8 bolts for this. To prevent the cables from slipping up out of the groves I attached a bolt & flat washer in the grove as a stopper. (see photo) The standard hooks on the other end of the cables attach to the  B/0 base plate. 



 I stow the Sterling tow bar to the right looping the right cable up around the LD ladder bracket and attaching the hook back to the cable. I then attach the left cable hook to the right cable which secures everything. (see photo) 


I use a seven pin truck style electrical socket on both the LD and the toad. Reason for this is that I have the SMI Stay-In-Play Duo auxiliary toad braking system in my toad that requires back up 12DC power from the LD engine. The Cherokee also requires an additional wiring harness to keep a computerized steering stabilizer active while the engine is off and it being toad. This too requires an external power supply from the LD. 

To address this power issue, I ran a 10ga. wire from the LD engine battery (30amp fused) to the pin designated for electric trailer brakes in the 7-pin socket on the LD bumper. Also, a 10ga wire from the toad mounted 7-pin socket to the toad battery (30amp fused also).  I got a 6’ umbilical cable with a molded 7-pin plug from Tractor Supply and attached another 7-pin plug at the other end. The cable has 10ga wires designated for the trailer brake power and ground. Smaller gauge wires are there for the brake/tail lights. While parked at an interstate rest stop for a short break, someone stole our umbilical cable. Fortunately, I found a Tractor Supply for a replacement. It just took a little while to attach the second 7-pin plug on the other end of the cable. I now secure the cable to the LD hitch with quick links (tightened with thread lock) to a galvanized solid eye bolt on the hitch plate. (see photo)


Now to address toad rock & gravel protection. Years ago I used a grass skirt across the rear motorhome bumper but this didn’t really help. Mud flaps also gave little protection. I then tried a solid Rock Guard at the rear bumper but actually made the toad scratches worse.  Early last year we got a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk for a toad, and I really wanted to avoid what scratches our CRV toads (2) had received in the past. I decided to get a Roadmaster Tow Defender fabric tow bar cover. It unrolls and lays on top of the tow bar attaching at the top of the B/0 connector. This makes it very easy to roll back up and store at the rear of the LD. After 7000+ towing miles later, NO scratches on the front of the Cherokee above the hitch level. It is very easy to roll up and stow on the motorhome hitch area. 
Because the 1” square tubing hit the LD rear bumper on a tight turn, I shortened the tube ends 4” which solved that problem. As you can see in the photo, I mounted a separate (non-wired) 7-pin socket to the top of the Tow Defender hitch mount to stow the toad end of the umbilical cable when not in use. (see photo)  The coiled break-away cable lays on top of the Tow Defender when in use and is easily stowed when not in use. 


Since the Jeep is heavier than the stated LD hitch mount I have replaced all the LD’s grade 5 bolts with grade 8 bolts, washers & nuts. This includes the six bolts attaching the ‘C’ channel rear frame extensions to the main Ford frame. All bolts have lock washers, red thread lock and tightened with an air impact wrench. After this last two summer’s trips, one to the Rockies and the other to Newfoundland, all hitch components are still very secure.  The Cherokee has posed no problems towing under all conditions of travel. 

Mike Coachman 12/2018

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Straightening The Coach Door

Bent Doors 

There are two types of “bend” that I know of.  In the first case, when you close the door, looking at the door from the outside, there will be a gap either at the top left or the bottom left.  If you put a straight edge on the latch side, the door side seems to be straight.  I will refer to this type as a twisted door.

In the second case, there may be a gap at the top, the bottom, or both.  Checking the edge with a straight edge, there will be a section of the door edge that is not straight.  I will refer to this type as a bent door.

There is a third case of a door gap.  If your door has a gap at the top, the middle and the bottom, all about the same, and the door edge is straight, you have a latch that needs adjustment.  This article is not targeted at that condition.

Twisted doors
With the door closed, measure the amount of opening at the top or bottom.  Get a block of wood that is about 1.5 times that thickness and tape it to the corner of the door opposite the gap. 


In other words, if the gap is at the top left corner, put the block on the bottom left corner.  Position the block along the vertical edge.  See Figure 1, showing a ½ x ¾ block, an appropriate starting size and placement for a door with a ½” gap at the top.

Figure 1

It should be narrow enough to fit in the space where the door meets the frame, and a few inches long. Working from a ladder, place a 2x4 against the face of the door to distribute the pressure (you don’t want to change the twist into a bend), then push the part of the door where there was a gap toward the door frame until it touches.  Open the door, remove the block and check to see if the twist is gone.  If not, repeat with more block thickness. Continue repeating until the twist is gone.

If your gap is at the bottom, either reverse the block placement and pushing instructions, or place your RV upside down…  ;-)

Bent doors
OK, so the wind blew your door and it slammed.  Now it is bent and no longer makes good contact when you close it.  How can you fix it?  Here is what I would do.

First, you need more information about the bend.  Is it a sharp bend at one point, or a gentle bowing or warping spread along a section of the door?  To determine the answer, you need to identify the start and end points of the bend as well as the amount or depth of the bend.

Figure 2

In Figure 2 above, I show a (pretend) door with a large bend that extends the entire length of the “door”, I show the clamps I would use, and some straight pieces of wood that will play the part of 2x4’s.

Identifying the bend
Using a straight edge (you can use a metal yardstick, a 4-foot level, or a piece of string with a few helpers, stretching the string from one surface point to another), you start at the top of the door.  Slide the straight edge down, maintaining contact at the top of the door.  When you begin to see a gap midway along the straight edge, you are at the start of the bend.  Mark that point.  Repeat that, starting at the bottom and moving up, to locate the bottom end of the bend.  Mark that point.  Now, span the bend from start to end with the straight edge and measure the deflection at its maximum.  Mark that point, and write down the amount of deflection.  Divide that deflection by 4 and use the result as your deflection increment.

Figure 3

Figure 3 shows the bend on my pretend door.  It extends almost the entire length of the door and is fairly uniform.

Planning how to straighten the bend
You need pieces of 2x4, and clamps, the more the better.  Cut at least 4 pieces of 2x4, 3 1/2” long, to act as spacer blocks.  Cut one uniform, knot-free 2x4 to the length of the bend.  It will go on the outside of the bend to spread pressure evenly.  Cut a second uniform, knot-free 2x4 8” longer than the bend, and attach a block to each end, with glue or tape.  Do not use nails or screws.  You might scratch the surface.  

Figure 4

Why uniform and knot-free?  You want the 2x4’s to apply even pressure throughout the bend.  If a 2x4 has a weak spot, it won’t do that.

Straightening the bend
Using two clamps, place the 2x4 with blocks against the inside of the bend with the upper block above the start of the bend and the lower block below the end of the bend, and with the blocks facing the door so there is a cavity between the bend and the 2x4.  See Figure 5.

Figure 5

Place the shorter 2x4 centered on the outside of the bend and put a clamp snugly in the center.  Add other clamps evenly distributed to the remainder of the 2x4, so the loading will be uniformly distributed.  Begin tightening the clamps, a bit at a time, so that smooth, even pressure is applied to the bend.  Track your progress with the straight edge.  Once the door seems to be straight, go a little past that point, overcorrecting the bend by the deflection increment calculated above.  At this point, it should look sort of like Figure 6 below.

Figure 6

Release the clamps except for the two on the blocks, and check the door alignment.  If you need further straightening, repeat, but increase the deflection increment either a little or a lot, depending on how much correction you achieved.  I can’t tell you how much this should be.  Use your judgment, but multiple tries, increasing a little at a time, are much better than a big overcorrection that bends the door the other way.  When the door is straight, remove the clamps on the blocks.  You’re done.

A few caveats - 
1) A 2x4 on its side is kind of springy.  Over a long span, it might bend enough to close the gap between the 2x4 and the door.  If that happens, remove the setup and add a second block to each end of the 2x4.  You may also want to use the 2x4 on its edge rather than on its side.  It is much stiffer that way, and the protruding blocks are a good resting point for the straight edge when gauging progress.  The 2x4 on the outside of the bend should always be on its flat side.  You WANT that springiness to distribute the loading.

2) Do not let the span extend beyond the area of the bend.  Those parts are currently straight, and you do not want to change that.

3) Don’t crank down one clamp much harder than the others.  I can fix a bend.  I can’t fix a crimp.

4) Try to minimize clamping adjacent to the window.  You are better off with a slight bow along the window and larger corrections above and below the window than with a straight door and a cracked window.  That option is gone if the entire span of the bend is within the window area.  In that case, cut your deflection increment in half.

5) Once you have removed the bend in a bent door, there is a fair chance that you have created a twisted door.  That’s ok.  Twisted doors are easier to fix.

Special cases
The bend may be short and close to the latch.  This is more challenging.  You do not want to clamp at the latch.  You want to be above or below it.  You use as short a setup as you can get away with, and position the blocks, first with the upper block edge at the upper edge of the latch, and do your clamping below the latch.  Check the result.  Then move the setup so the lower block is at the lower edge of the latch and clamp above the latch.  Check the result, then repeat as needed.  Don’t be surprised if one side of the latch becomes straight while the other side still has a bend.

If the bend is very short, almost a crimp or angle rather than a curve, the basic technique is the same, but apply straightening pressure with a single clamp located at the bend point.  Stop and check when it is straight without overcorrecting.  Apply a deflection increment, part thereof, only if the first attempt, with no deflection increment, was unsuccessful.

A few cautions - 
1) Slow, careful and gentle are the keywords on this.  You want the finished product to be straight, not bent the other way.  To achieve that, you need to go a little bit beyond straight, to account for the springiness in the door frame, but don’t go too far.  

2)  A very long bend is actually the hardest to fix, because some parts may straighten before others.  When checking your progress on a long bend, don’t just check the amount of correction at the maximum deflection point.  Use the straight edge to see if a portion that was bent is now straight.  If so, shorten your setup so you are just dealing with a bent area.  Imagine a 6-foot bend, and the middle goes straight, leaving a 2’ bend at one end and a 3’ bend at the other.  Deal with them as if they are brand new short bends.

Ken F - 11/2018

A Practical Demo





A few screw clamps would have made it easier, but I don't have any of them.  So, the more clamps you use, the less each clamp needs to do.  Plus, multiple clamps spread out the load, avoiding creating a sharp bend at a single point.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Suspension

The E450 has many suspension and steering parts that wear with age and contribute to poor handling and ride issues. I believe a lot of aftermarket suspension 'improvements' are installed when there is an underlying issue with worn suspension parts or an out of alignment front end.

LDs, fresh from the Mothership have Ford's generic alignment. Most rigs need to be fully loaded and then driven a couple thousand miles before the final alignment. Before alignment, you need to have the rig weighted first and the tires adjusted, using the tire Manufacturer's recommended pressure, for the weight of each axle.  This is a great time to make sure neither axle is overloaded. Try to get each wheel weight individually, to make sure the load is evenly split from side to side. Overloading one side can cause handling issues.
There is a tire pressure/weight chart in your LD Owner's Manual. 

The springs and other parts need to seat in before aligning if not,  this can affect the camber and toe-in settings. Both change as the front ride height changes.
 
As the rig ages and the springs slowly collapse, the toe-in and steering wheel centering will change and needs to be reset, possibly along with the camber.
Both camber and caster adjustments are made by changing the alignment adjustment bushings. They are not a big deal to change and any decent alignment shop should be very familiar with them.

For our 2003 E450, Ford specifies a caster setting of 4 degrees on the left and 4-1/2 on the right-hand side, plus or minus 2.75 degrees, with a 1/2 degree maximum split or the difference between them.

When new, our LD was Factory set to 3-1/2 degrees on both sides and was prone to wander. I soon reset it to 4-1/2 degrees, reducing the wander significantly. 
Several years later, I set it to 5 and 5-1/2 degrees and saw even better results. Maintaining the extra 1/2 degree offset to the passenger side seems to eliminate any pulling to one side or the other.

If, during an alignment, the caster is found to have changed from an earlier alignment, suspect worn ball joints.

Beyond the alignment, there are several rubber bushings that cause handling problems.

Shock bushings, especially on the front shocks very often are blown out. This is particularly an issue on Bilstein or any other aftermarket shock, primarily due to the inaccessibility of the driver's side upper shock bushing. These bushings are often not tightened enough, allowing the bushing to move and wear out. The rear shocks also have the same type of bushing and need to be check periodically for tightness. 

Loose top shock bushings, front or rear, can cause very poor handling and sway problems.
Shock bushings | Flickr

Both the front and rear Factory sway bars have rubber bushings that can be badly worn by 50,000 miles. Replacing them with inexpensive polyurethane bushings will remove the play in the worn bushing and will provide a performance upgrade, due to their greater resistance to flexing, compared to the soft Factory rubber bushings.
Low buck suspension improvements for higher mileage LDs
 
The Twin-I-Beam suspension has four bushings that allow the two radius arms to move up and down. The rear radius arm bushings are prone to wear in higher mileage E450.
Radius arm Bushings | Flickr

Wheel bearings wear and loosen with miles of use and can cause steering looseness and tracking problems. They should be check regularly for proper tightness and either cleaned and repacked with grease or replaced when the front brakes are serviced.
 
With higher mileage or poor maintenance, ball joints wear out, allowing uncontrolled movement of the front wheels.  This can cause a multitude of ailments including drifting to one side, pulling to one side when braking and overall looseness in the steering. 

New LDs, have grease (zerk) fittings installed in both the upper and lower ball joints and lube them every time the engine oil is changed. Doing this allowed our LD's ball joints to survive 112,000 miles before being replaced.

Besides the ball joints, the tie-rod ends and pitman arm can wear as well as the steering box, producing steering looseness.

A good alignment tech should check all of the above items for wear, there is no way to accurately align the suspension with worn suspension parts or loose wheel bearings.

While usually not causing handling problems, the steering stabilizer can wear and allow more action in the steering wheel. Our Factory stabilizer was bad at 50,000 miles, the Monroe HD replacement lasted about 40,000 miles.  Our LD now has a Bilstein HD stabilizer, we will see if it stays intact any longer. 

Taking care of the possible issues above allows our 2003 to drive and handle as well as it did when new.

With Bilsteins, upgraded polyurethane sway bar bushings and a proper alignment, I have never seen a need for bigger sway bars, steering centering devices or a rear track bar. YMMV

Replacing the front and rear sway bar bushings with the listed polyurethane bushing kits is an inexpensive performance upgrade for even a new LD.  On our LD, both the front and rear sway bar bushing were visibly distorted. On the front, if you can see any space around where the sway bar passes through the I-Beams, it's worn. 

The rear sway bar bushings are easy to replace, once the LD is lifted high enough to allow access. Unbolt each bracket, one at a time, and replace the bushing before moving on to the next.

The front sway bar requires removing the sway bar so the bushings in the I-Beams can be punched out and replaced. It's a little more complicated and requires two workers or the use of jack stands to hold the front bar in position.
Changing both the front and rear sway bar bushings was a Saturday morning project.

I definitely felt a change in handling and sway control after installing the new bushings, which wasn't surprising considering the stock bushings were worn and replaced with much better polyurethane bushings
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwade/sets/72157695887017230/

Larry Wade