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RV Tech Q&A: November 2015

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Can’t Stop!

Q: We have a 2013 Ram 2500 diesel to pull our 2013 35-foot CrossRoads Cruiser, and I must say it tows great. The trouble is stopping. With the built-in brake controller set at 10, the strongest setting offered, we have about 40 percent stopping, and it’s not a quick response! There is no sync adjustment offered in the truck.

A shop has had all four wheels off the trailer and tested, and all are new and in perfect working condition. They checked the brakes with the breakaway switch and could not turn the wheels as they all lock up. The dealer checked the wiring in the truck, and all checked out. I’ve talked to the dealer, customer service and Curt trailer-hitch company, and have been told I cannot put an aftermarket brake controller in the truck because of the “module,” which cannot be disconnected.

RV-Clinic_InfoThis is the second fifth-wheel I’ve towed with this truck, and both have pushed the truck during stops. If I ever need to stop quickly, it won’t happen with the setup we now have. Do you have any suggestions, next to changing the brand of truck?

Bob Smith, Lambertville, Michigan

A: Some of the recent built-in brake controllers on Ram trucks don’t work quite right with a number of the RV setups. It sounds like full voltage to the brakes is not getting through the controller. You can use an aftermarket unit as a bypass from the factory system. Get your dealer to check it out and see if there’s a software update first.

There’s quite a discussion among the many RVers on the www.turbodieselregister.com website about this. Rob Kolean of MORryde stated: “We can install a cam module in order to enable the factory controller to work, or you can have an aftermarket controller hooked up. If an aftermarket controller is installed, you can choose to have the factory one still hooked up if you want. That is a good option that some have recently chosen to do. The Tekonsha Prodigy P3 controller is an excellent option because it has great capability. I do not believe that it is terribly expensive, and in my opinion, that is the way to go.” — Ken Freund

Dry-Weight Dilemma

Q: Is there a standard for dry weight within the RV industry? I recently questioned Jayco and was told the dry weight of their travel trailers does not include propane, battery or water in the freshwater tank. Now this may be a true dry weight, but who pulls a trailer without propane and no battery and no water in the freshwater tank? I would think that the dry weight should represent how much a trailer would weigh without the additional cargo added, such as food and supplies.

In my 30 years of towing trailers and driving motorhomes, I can never recall a time that I traveled without propane, a battery, or at least half a tank of freshwater in the tank.

Charles Jennings, Aberdeen, Maryland

A: Dry weight is essentially how much the trailers weigh when they come off the production line, and in my opinion, it should be used and quoted only internally by the manufacturer and perhaps the companies that transport the trailers to dealers. You can’t expect dry weight to include liquids, which of course is why it’s called “dry.” Owners really should not concern themselves with dry weight, as no trailer weighs that little once it is outfitted for use. In some cases, some options such as the air conditioner, awning and other accessories, even though they may be installed at the factory, are likewise not included in dry weight because they’re options.

The main numbers trailer owners should concern themselves with are gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), the number you should use when choosing a tow vehicle to ensure you have sufficient tow rating; hitch weight; gross axle weight rating GAWR), which is how much weight axles can carry; and cargo carrying capacity (CCC), the maximum allowable weight of all cargo, freshwater and full propane tanks.

Regulations adopted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2008 require specific RV weight labels. The CCC label for trailers was modified and is figure calculated by subtracting the unloaded vehicle weight (uvw) and propane weight from the GVWR. — K.F.

Infrared Temperature Gun

Q: We have a 32-foot Wildcat fifth-wheel from Forest River. I have read where those handheld infrared spot-temperature guns are good to use to check tires and wheel bearings each time you stop for gas on a long trip. My question is, how do I know what is too hot, or is it just the extreme difference between one of the four wheels?

Albinas Butler, Pointe-Claire, Quebec

A: Yes, you’re looking for a significant difference in one wheel hub and bearing or tire temperature compared to the others on the vehicle. First, make sure that the tires are properly inflated for the weight they’re carrying, then use the temperature gun to see what temperature the tires reach on an average trip. Generally, I find that if one tire is underinflated, a bearing is burning up or a brake is dragging, the temperature of these items will stand out in comparison to the others. After using a temperature gun for a while, you’ll start to see a pattern of what is normal and what is not. — K.F.

Sway Problem

Q: I pull a 30-foot Blackstone travel trailer from Outdoors RV (dry weight: 7,500 pounds) with a 2007 Toyota Tundra. I have weight-distributing bars and two friction sway-control bars. Sway becomes a problem only when I tow with the 70-gallon water tank full. My problem is trying to balance the weight, because the water tank is at the rear of the trailer. I have to really tighten the sway bars to eliminate sway, and there is only so much room in the front of the RV to add weight to counter the weight of water at the rear.

I estimate I am pulling around 8,900 pounds fully loaded, which the Tundra handles surprisingly well. When pulling without water it handles very well. Any suggestions?

Tim Dawson, Boise, Idaho

A: Having that much water weight, about 580 pounds, at the rear of the trailer is a prescription for sway, and unless the builder compensated for the weight with other component placement, it could be a dubious design decision on the part of the manufacturer. Sloshing makes it worse than other types of cargo, too. I suggest you reconsider how much water you really need and carry less, if possible. It could be a hassle to fill up at the destination, but keeping 20 or so gallons on board is enough to flush the toilet, wash your hands and the like during travel.

Using the proper weight-distributing hitch spring-bar adjustment is just part of the sway-reduction picture. If the trailer sits higher at the front than the back in travel mode, that could also cause sway. Consider lowering the hitch head height a hole or two on the mount, if that’s the case. I’ve made this adjustment on several longer travel trailers in the past, and it can help. — K.F.

Freeway Hop

Q: I have a 4,500-pound double-axle 23-foot hybrid travel trailer. I tow it with a 1997 Dodge Ram 1500 shortbed Club Cab with the Timbren suspension system on the rear axle. When on certain sections of pavement, the truck and trailer rhythmically bounce at speeds from 45 mph and up. I think this is called porpoising. I’m using the factory-installed hitch, as I didn’t think a weight-distributing hitch was needed for a lighter trailer. Any suggestions? 

Brengarsky, via email

A: What you’re describing really isn’t porpoising; that is more commonly caused over large bumps in the road that cause the hitch weight to push down on the tow vehicle, forcing the nose up. This motion can repeat itself several times like a porpoise going in and out of the water.

Your problem is what many other RVers experience: certain roads, particularly ones made from concrete, have sections (known as expansion joints) that shift from the weight of heavy trucks. Unfortunately, this rhythmic bouncing creates a harmonic reaction in some vehicles more than others, partly because the wheelbase is a length that matches the frequency.

WD bars may or may not make a difference. You might consider installing shock absorbers, as most travel trailers don’t have them. There are also complete aftermarket solutions like the Joy Rider suspension system (available at Camping World) that can really help control bounce.

Making sure you have the correct tire pressure for the weight you’re carrying can also make a difference. Weigh the trailer loaded and ready for travel to determine its true weight, then consult the tire manufacturer’s weight/loading tables (or ask at the tire dealer) to see what the pressure should be. You might find it’s not necessary to run maximum tire pressure. — K.F.

Jacked Up

Q: We have a Forest River Rockwood 2704WS travel trailer. I have had two blowouts on the passenger-side rear wheel, both from bits picked up from the side of the road. What is the best way to jack the tire up on this model? It has independent suspension on the wheels, which means, as you jack it up, the wheel stays on the ground. I tried putting a jack under the suspension arm, but it is very close to the wheel, and that requires a lot of effort and lying under the trailer to jack it up. Is there an easier way to do this?

Marius Strydom, New Zealand

A: Some carry a small ramp and drive the good tire up on it when the adjacent tire goes flat. Of course, you have to break loose the lug nuts before driving it up. Another way I’ve seen is to wrap a heavy tie-down strap around the axle just inboard of the brake and then tie it to a frame member or other convenient point above the axle. Then when the frame is jacked up, the wheel will come up too. In a pinch, your trailer owner’s manual, or the dealer you bought the trailer from, should also be able to answer the question with the official company procedure. — K.F.

Light-Fixture Stain

Q: I have a 2012 Jayco Eagle 313RKS that has a white stain directly under the large outside light on the side of the camper. The stain looks to be coming from the putty tape that seals under the light. There are no other stains on the side of the camper, so it is not coming from the roof. At the advice of the dealer, I have tried water, waxes, polishes and streak remover, and it will not come off. I figure the decal under the light is a lost cause to try to clean, but I know there has to be a way to get this off the gelcoat on the side. Do you have any suggestions?

Steve Alliss, via email

A: Putty tape can degrade and cause stains over the years, but it usually takes a far older RV than yours to show such effects. The putty sealant used on the light is the same as was used for most of the trailer’s other items that need an external seal, so it’s surprising that you have stains in only one place.

Other chemicals could possibly break down the old adhesive, including Goo Gone and denatured alcohol. These products may soften the adhesive enough so that it can be scraped off with a plastic putty knife without harming the finish. There are also adhesive removers on the market, but I would contact the manufacturer to make sure the product in question is safe for use on gelcoat fiberglass.

Failing all of this, I’d say your best bet would be to have a professional detail shop do a buff-and-polish job. They can do so without damaging the gelcoat. When finished, you should also replace the putty sealant, just in case it’s gone bad somehow. Unscrew the light fixture, scrape the old putty away, reinstall the fixture with new putty, trim the excess, and you’re done. — Jeff Johnston

Refrigerator Too Cold

Q: We have a Forest River Wildcat 28-foot fifth-wheel trailer with a Dometic RM2652 refrigerator. While parked in Nevada last winter, the refrigerator part worked too well, actually freezing some things (slushy beer!). The only temperature control is a small plastic piece that slides up and down on one of the cooling fins. The owner’s manual is no help, as there isn’t anything regarding temperature control. The only time we have trouble is when its running on electricity.

Mike Wendt, Irma, Wisconsin

A: That plastic tab fastened to the cooling fin is the thermistor that regulates the unit’s interior temperature. If the thermistor were bad, the refrigerator would shift into high gear all the time. Use an ohmmeter to test the thermistor, and if you see an open circuit, it’s probably defective and needs to be replaced. The cord and connectors could likewise be damaged or corroded, so those are worth checking as well. If the thermistor checks out OK, move it to the center of the fin, or try a different spot on the cooling unit, like a different fin, and that should change the unit’s desired cooling setting. — J.J.

Axle Lube Maintenance

In the September RV Clinic, we ran a letter titled “Greaseable Hubs” that has drawn a lot of reader response. There is clearly a good deal of misinformation out there about the proper maintenance of these types of hubs, as the following letters indicate. — J.J.

Gerald Everts wrote to you about greasing trailer axles with grease Zerks. Clearly, he had overgreased his bearings, but you supplied some bad information, too. I think you are confusing Dexter E-Z Lube axles with Bearing Buddy wheel-bearing protectors.

Bearing Buddy was manufactured and sold for use on boat trailers to keep a positive pressure using grease in the hub assembly and seals to keep water from entering the bearings. This is accomplished with a spring-loaded follower plate.

Dexter E-Z Lube axles were specifically designed for the RV industry to simplify axle maintenance. They work on an entirely different concept. The only way grease could get into the brake area is via defective seals. In normal use, excess grease is expelled thorough the outside of the cap near the grease Zerk fitting and is simply wiped away before the rubber plug is reinstalled.

Dexter recommends lubing this type of axle once a year or every 12,000 miles. The proper procedure is to jack up the wheel and grease it while rotating it, and then remove the excess grease from around the end of the hub cap and reinsert the rubber cap.

I have an RV trailer with the E-Z Lube feature and a boat trailer with the Bearing Buddy, so I have experience with both.

Richard Van Dyke, McMinnville, Oregon

 And Another:

I read Gerald Everts’ comments with interest. We upgraded to a 2014 Forest River Wildcat in June 2014, and one of the must-have items on our list was E-Z Lube axles. Our old trailer, a 2004 Wilderness, was the first trailer we’d had with E-Z Lube axles, and the maintenance directions were similar to what  Gerald wrote: Periodically remove the rubber cap, pump grease in until it comes out from the outer ring of the bearing, and every 12,000 miles pump grease in until you see the new grease coming out. Kind of messy, but a procedure I’ve also been doing since we purchased our new trailer, as it has the grease fitting under the chrome and rubber caps.

When I checked the maintenance procedure for our new trailer, which also has E-Z Lube axles, there is no mention of the bearings being E-Z Lube, just the old bearing lube procedures (remove, clean, inspect, repack bearings and reassemble) every 12,000 miles.

Larry O’Shaughnessy, Fallon, Nevada

Jeff Johnston replies: Both the Dexter E-Z Lube and Bearing Buddy products are designed by their manufacturers to improve bearing reliability and life-span when used on trailers that are frequently immersed in water, boat trailers being the obvious example. The use or need for such bearings on an RV trailer is strictly optional, although they also work on RVs.

The information we stated in our answer to Gerald Everts’ letter came directly from the technical department at Dexter Axle, so we believe it’s accurate. As Dexter told us, E-Z Lube axles were designed for the marine industry, so their use on RVs is a secondary market to their original design. Dexter says you do not need to add grease to its E-Z Lube hubs as long as you follow its recommended annual inspection and maintenance schedule.

The Bearing Buddy is different in configuration and use, and the manufacturer has a specific recommendation for maintenance, as stated on its website: “We don’t recommend inspecting your bearings more frequently than once every five years, provided you properly maintain the grease level in the hubs and your bearings and seals are in new condition when you install the genuine Bearing Buddy.”

Larry’s E-Z Lube information that dates back to his 2004 instructions has apparently been changed by the manufacturer, which happens with components now and then. Both products have a Zerk fitting in the hub, and for maintenance-oriented do-it-yourselfers, it’s hard to resist giving them a squirt of grease now and then. However, it’s good to observe the manufacturers’ maintenance recommendations regarding this hardware.

If in doubt, the bottom line is that nothing can replace the reliability and peace of mind that comes from annual disassembly and inspection of your bearings. It’s cheap insurance against bearing failure and all that it entails out on the road.

End-Cap Oxidizing

Q: I have a 2014 35-foot Premier travel trailer by Keystone. The front cap is oxidizing. Is this a problem others are experiencing, and what can I do about it?

Lewis Blackstone, Augusta, Georgia

Q: We have a 2013 26-foot Keystone Outback Super-Lite. The entire front, which appears to be plastic, is dark brown and has faded so badly that it looks a lot older than it is. It had started at the top and has slowly moved down. The fading is chalky in appearance. What can we do to bring back the shine? Washing and waxing does not help. Would this be something that is covered under the warranty?

John and Shannon Rafferty, Pine City, New York

Q: We purchased a 2013 Keystone High Country Montana fifth-wheel. We have found that the front cap and the rear of the unit are becoming discolored rapidly, and we have tried several different waxes, to no avail. We find that whatever material they have used seems to be porous, and it is creeping down the cap so it looks like white streaks.

We have seen and spoken to other High Country owners who are experiencing the same problem.

Terri and Jim Faubert-Calverley, Geraldton, Ontario

A: First, John and Shannon, your Keystone dealer is the place to learn about any potential warranty coverage. This type of detail may also be covered in your owner’s manual or the paperwork that came with the trailer when you bought it.

The gelcoat fiberglass finish on those end caps is very durable, so it’s unusual for it to fade and appear streaked and aged on trailers as new as 2013 and 2014 models. It can become dull or fade as it weathers, which is a natural process, but not usually this fast.

Keystone’s owner’s manual includes detailed instructions about care and maintenance of a gelcoat finish. Here’s a quote from that manual that seems pertinent:

“Polishing compound (fine abrasive) or rubbing compound (coarser abrasive) is recommended for use on fiberglass RVs to remove scratches, stains or a severely weathered surface. Polishing or rubbing compound can be applied by hand or by mechanical means, such as an electrical or pneumatic buffer. After the scratched, stained or weathered surface has been removed, it should be waxed to enhance the gloss and color while providing a seal to retard staining or new soil accumulation.”

 And Another:

“Discoloration of the gelcoated fiberglass surface may occur if regular washing and waxing have been neglected. Discolored areas are very shallow in depth and, in fact, are on the surface. They can be removed by gently wet-sanding only the affected areas with 600-grit “wet or dry” sandpaper to remove the blemishes. Always sand in one direction, using plenty of water. After sanding, dry the areas and ensure all the discoloration has been removed. If not, repeat the process. Once all discoloration has been removed, the affected surface area will need to be buffed. Buffing, using an electric or pneumatically operated buffer at low speed (1,750 rpm to 2,250 rpm) will restore the luster to the sanded surface. Use a soft wool pad and apply a generous amount of rubbing compound using a circular motion. When the buffing has been completed, wash off the rubbing compound with clean water. Dry the surface. Wax your RV with a high-grade automotive wax.“

If you’ve tried the compound and buffing route and still don’t have the results you want, it may be time to visit a body shop familiar with work on fiberglass surfaces. Use of an aggressive buffing compound, and applying it too heavily with a powered buffer can damage the surface and finish, so a skilled touch is helpful with this. If all else fails, you may need to have the cap painted.

If questions linger about the age of the RV versus the reasonably projected lifespan of the end-cap finish, and any costs associated with repairing that finish, you may need to take that up with your selling dealer. — J.J.

Trailer Life Tech Team

KEN FREUND: Ken is a former ASE Certified Master Technician, service manager and shop owner who has authored numerous books on automotive repair.

JEFF JOHNSTON: Jeff served as technical director of Trailer Life for 20 years and has been an RV enthusiast, mechanic and writer since he could hold a wrench.

qRV Clinic from November 2015 Trailer Life

Jeff JohnstonKen FreundRV ClinicRV Questions and AnswersTrailer Life RV Clinic

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