RV Tech Q&A: August 2018

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Audio-Video Upgrade


We have a 2016 31-foot Cruiser RV MPG travel trailer. Although we love our trailer and camping, we also like listening to music and watching movies. The problem is, the audio and video unit leave a lot to be desired, as does the remote. We have had trouble playing DVDs, and the audio sounds like an old eight-track.

The current unit is made by Furrion. Do you know of a better unit that has multiple zones, good sound quality and plays Blu-ray discs? Oh, and won’t break the bank either.

Greg Dearth | Herald, California

Furrion sells some pretty nice products, Greg, and I would suspect it’s more than just the head unit that’s a problem. As for your question about replacements, an internet search or a visit to your local car-stereo shop will reveal many different options available, particularly in the auto-stereo arena. It can perform a system analysis to determine where the problem originates, looking for a miswired system, miswired speakers or amplifier, poorly installed speakers, and so on. It could also just be that the Furrion unit is not up to your desired quality standards.

Give the car-stereo shop an opportunity to check the system (the RV dealer may not have an audio specialist on staff), and you can come away with something that sounds
a lot sweeter.

Note: This article from our sister publication, MotorHome Magazine, and this video from our YouTube Channel, TrailerLifeDIY might also be helpful.


Slideout Adjustments


In April of 2015, I bought a new 2015 39-foot Keystone Montana with four slideouts. The bedroom slide is operated by a cable system, and there have been no problems with it. But there is a problem with the other three slides that use hydraulic mechanisms.

After the trailer is closed up and in storage for three to four weeks, the three slides that use the hydraulic ram system work their way out about 3 inches at the bottom. There’s also about a ½-inch gap at the top of the slides. I don’t keep the battery in the trailer while it is in storage. When I put the battery in and close the slides, they appear to close completely.

This has been a problem since I bought the trailer, and we have not made any attempts to get it fixed yet. The trailer has a new battery, and I keep it on a maintenance charger when it is out of the trailer.

Rick Fauser | St. Charles, Missouri

We inquired a couple of times with Keystone’s tech personnel, and they didn’t respond with any suggestions, so we’ll take a shot at this, Rick.

First, don’t let your dealer tell you this is normal, because it’s not. Your RV slideout mechanisms use an LCI-brand-manufactured system with hydraulic rams plumbed into a central valve and pump setup. It’s probable that the bypass valve is stuck slightly open, which would allow for a gradual leak-down of the hydraulic pressure that keeps the slideouts in place.

The weight balance and the leverage applied by the slideout room in a stowed position can also cause some movement over time due to the leaking valve. When stowed, the slideout room is supported by the underfloor mechanism and the outer flange that abuts the exterior wall. The inside of the slideout more or less hangs there, unless there are rollers for support, and that weight can cause the lower part of the room to leverage outward because the upper edge is against the wall while the room weight is “prying down,” so to speak.

Until your local Keystone dealer with a qualified slideout-system mechanic can take a run at it, a temporary fix might be to use some sort of support such as wooden wedges under the front edges of the slideouts. Place them near the ends where the slideout floor is strongest near the vertical walls.


Saggy Fifth-Wheel Roof


We have a 2017 Montana High Country 310RE that is still under the first-year warranty. We recently took the fifth-wheel to our dealer with multiple things to fix, including air-conditioner problems. When they checked, they found a 1½-inch sag in the roof surrounding the air conditioner. They say they have never seen this before and that it is a defect. The manufacturer, however, states this is an acceptable “industry standard.”

We are very concerned that this could worsen and lead to leaking or more significant roof problems. What is your opinion of this issue?

Peggy L. Soneson | Orrington, Maine

If you have a section of roof on your trailer that’s a full inch and a half lower than the surrounding area, no, it’s not supposed to be that way, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The fact that it’s in the area of the air conditioner, with its extra weight on the roof, is telling.

If your trailer has a ceiling that’s flat side to side, as opposed to arched, you can also use a string line or straightedge to easily check the roof sag inside the trailer in the area in question. The string line or straightedge provides a definite illustration that something is sagging.

Your trailer uses what Keystone calls “residential roof rafters,” which usually means they’re wood framed to provide an arch to the rooftop and for overall strength. Any such structure
can fail, however, and this needs to be addressed by the dealer while the trailer is under warranty. It’s also possible that a big bruiser of a service guy climbed on the roof, and it simply was damaged by the weight.

To gain access to the roof opening, the dealer can remove the air-conditioner shroud and bolts inside the trailer, or the externally mounted unit. That will allow some inspection of the roof rafters or trusses in that area. With a failed rafter or two, a proper repair is going to be expensive and fairly involved because it requires disassembly of the roof and possibly some ceiling structure to access and repair the rafters. It’s a big job best left to the professionals.


Breakaway-Switch Brake Failure


We purchased a Grand Design Reflection in October 2016 and tow it with a 2011 Chevy Silverado Duramax. In 2017 we were towing the fifth-wheel, which had less than 500 miles on it, and I got a message on the display to check the truck’s brake. Traffic was heavy, but I noticed a sign for a parking area a mile away. We pulled in and saw that the cable to the fifth-wheel’s emergency brake had wrapped around the hitch and pulled the plunger. I cut the wires to release the brakes and checked the wheels, which were very hot.

After stopping at an RV dealership for a new breakaway switch, we made it home. We took the fifth-wheel to the dealer, who informed us that the brakes and drums had to be replaced and that the bearings had to be repacked. We were also informed that the warranty did not cover the issue.

I understand that the cable getting tangled was not part of the warranty, but the fifth-wheel never pulled back on the tow vehicle when the brakes were applied, and the only indication of trouble was the dash indicator.

When I called Grand Design and asked why my claim was denied, I was told that the fifth-wheel was acting as intended. I asked if the brakes should have locked or at least slowed down my vehicle, and they said no. Locking the brakes down could have caused a rollover.
Most people I know who have had this happen said the brakes locked. If this had happened to me, I would have stopped immediately. I am interested to hear your opinion on the matter.

Vernon Wesley | Ontario, New York

The breakaway switch is nothing more than an on-off switch that routes the trailer’s full battery voltage directly to the trailer brakes. Normally, with well-adjusted brakes in good working order, this would indeed cause the brakes to grab solid or at least provide strong resistance that you would have felt in the truck. If the brakes grab and lock the wheels, it does not mean there will automatically be a trailer rollover, but it’s a situation where you need to pull over and stop as soon as possible so you don’t grind down flat spots on all your tires, among other trailer reactions.

Two things could be at play here. One, the manufacturer may not have properly wired the breakaway switch to the trailer brakes, and, two the brakes weren’t adjusted properly during the pre-delivery inspection at the dealership. In theory, the 12-volt DC charge line from your tow rig would provide enough power to apply the brakes, even if the trailer batteries were low.

To test the system, park your truck and trailer in a safe and wide-open spot such as the far side of a large parking lot. Roll the combo ahead and fully apply the trailer brakes using the manual emergency lever on the brake controller, and this will verify that the trailer brakes are working. Now, pull the breakaway switch pin and try moving the rig again. If you don’t feel a similar level of braking resistance or the tires don’t lock up completely, there’s something amiss. The brakes should be checked and adjusted.

If you are uncomfortable with these steps, have your dealer perform the inspection to get the breakaway-switch setup operating properly and safely.


Trailer Push-Pull


Regarding February’s “Truck Push-Pull” letter, I think the answer you gave Glenn Lygrisse is not correct because there is help for the problem, and it is called Airtabs (www.airtab.com). I put them on our fifth-wheel, and they took the sway out and help keep the rear of the trailer clean.

Frank Terry | Baker City, Oregon

Our answer to the question about the push-pull effect of passing commercial traffic was complete and accurate, Frank. A fifth-wheel trailer experiences significantly less effect of the passing commercial truck traffic than does a travel trailer.

We’ve heard about Airtabs from a number of readers, but they are an add-on device designed for airflow management and not a mechanical cure for the push-pull condition. We would be remiss in suggesting those devices are a solution that reduces the push-pull effect on a trailer, but we would certainly be happy to hear from more of our readers with experience with that product.


Double Towing


In our travels in Colorado and other western states, it is not uncommon to see people double towing a fifth-wheel and another trailer with anything from a boat to an off-highway vehicle. We tow a Heartland Oakmont with a 2016 F-350 diesel and would like to bring our ATVs with us. What would the ramifications of towing a small 1,500-pound trailer be on the fifth-wheel?

Jeff Bell | Berthoud, Colorado

The highway rules for double towing vary from state to state and are not covered nationwide by any one federal DOT law, Jeff, so you’d need to check the laws in each state in which you plan to travel. Other than that (and the fact that you won’t be able to back the combo unless you’re extremely skilled), adding a smaller trailer will produce pretty much the effects that you may expect, such as slightly slower acceleration and hill climbs due to the extra weight, a bit less fuel economy and perhaps longer braking distances.

On that last count, it would be prudent to have some type of brakes on the second trailer, even if that trailer’s weight does not require brakes in your state. Otherwise, it’s going to be quite a payload to be stopping with just the truck and trailer brakes when everything is loaded. Surge brakes would be the easiest setup, but electric would work better. You’ll also need to have a qualified shop install a hitch receiver on the trailer frame (if it is not so equipped already) and a wiring receptacle, to safely attach the extra trailer to your fifth-wheel. Also, verify that the trailer’s frame is designed to handle the additional weight, and that adding a hitch receiver and towing tandem will not void the warranty, if applicable.
Last, but certainly not least, make sure the tow vehicle’s tow rating or gross combined weight rating (gvwr) will not be exceeded by the addition of the second trailer.

See Related Story:
RV Clinic FAQ:
Top 20 Tech Questions

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2 COMMENTS

  1. In regards to your Bob Livingston’s article, “Bumpy Road Equalizer,” on the SumoSprings Rebel: Near the end of the article, you talk about concrete roads with expansion strips. I have a Cougar X Lite 5th wheel and had the issue that you described. I installed a Trailer Saver hitch along with a Morryde pin box, and it eliminated at least 50% of the problem, maybe more. This is not a cheap option, but I think the money was well spent. I sometimes forget that the trailer is back there.

  2. A comment on double towing. Find out the total combined vehicle length allowable for each state or province (Canada) as it varies; an extended length permit may be required. Also in Canada, to double tow you need to upgrade your driver’s licence to a class A or A restricted (no air brakes).

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