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Filed under: RV Repair, Safety on the Road

Frame failure and homelessness…

September 20, 2011 by · 10 Comments 

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Approx. 2 years ago, our family went from owning our own house to being houseless - we sold our sticks and bricks and bought a toy hauler to call home while we travel the country.  In the past few weeks, we have gone from being houseless but with a home (our toy hauler), to being homeless.  Our 5th wheel has suffered frame failure.  And it’s not just our frame that is experiencing failure, I believe that there is a failure of the RV community to realize that this is a problem that happens to 5th wheels all too commonly (and a few other rvs too!). 

So, are you sitting down?  Because I’m writing you a book here about our experience… 

We had never heard of frame failure before having to deal with it ourselves - after all, something like that couldn’t happen to our beastly rig –  these hunks of wood and metal are designed to withstand the rigors of use and the tumult of being hauled down the highway at 60 miles per hour.  Aren’t they?  I’m beginning to wonder.  The more that I research frame failure, the more I’m beginning to wonder if the manufacturers don’t just want us to use our rvs as driveway ornaments, at least long enough to get past the one year warranty.  And now that I think about it, why is the frame warranty only for ONE year on most rvs???  As the backbone of the rv, shouldn’t they be built hefty enough that the manufacturers would feel confident enough in the quality of their product to offer a more appropriate warranty??? 

For the record, our 5th wheel was an EnduraMax 40Max -  a 40 foot toy hauler built by Gulf Stream on top of a Lippert frame.  For some of you, that will tell the whole story.  If not, and you are a bit intrigued, you may want to head over to the rv.net forum and do a search on ‘lippert frames’ or ‘frame cracks’ or ‘frame failure’; it’s quite enlightening – sometimes amusing – often maddening - with the threads usually ending up being closed as the comments come to blows over the issue of blame…  As for our EnduraMax, we actually chose this toy hauler because we thought that it was a ‘higher end’ trailer (at least as much as was in our budget), which we hoped would mean fewer problems in the long run. 

We were happy with our 5er, for the most part – it had a few issues, as I think all rvs do. But a few weeks ago, when we were hitching up to leave a campground, my hubby noticed that the 5th wheel was sitting a little lower on the truck than it used to - there seemed to be less clearance between the 5th wheel and the truck bed.  It seemed solid, and we were nowhere near any sort of dealership or repair shop, so we drove home stopping a few times to check on it; it really didn’t seem structural or dangerous.  When we arrived back home, he took the cover off the underside of the 5er around the pin.  And found a mess.  Each of the 4 corners was cracked, and there was also a 3 to 4 inch crack in the tube steel just to the right front of the pin.  The frame had completely separated from the walls of the upstairs of the 5th wheel, and the floor was flexing with the weight of the 5er.   The cracks themselves really didn’t look so bad until he placed the trailer back on the truck – the weight of the trailer forced the cracks and tears in the tube metal to open up as the floor of the master bedroom was raised on the hitch and the rest of the 5er was settling with the weight of itself.

crack in front passenger-side corner fo frame

crack in front passsenger-side corner of frame

  Wow!  Made him wonder what else was happening, so Vaughn (hubby) pulled off all the panels that cover the bottom of the length of the trailer and found a crossbeam that had become separated on both sides; it was located between the first and second axle of the toy hauler – right where the weight distribution would change.   If you are unfamiliar with toy haulers, they carry all their weight between the pin and the first axle – the kitchen, bath, all water/waste tanks, propane, slides…

At this point, we really didn’t know what to do - this was obviously out of our league, so we called Gulf Stream.  We had discovered online that this certainly wasn’t the first time one of their trailers had experienced frame failure.  Surely they could help us.  After talking with John Bruhn at Gulf Stream both over the phone and through emails, sending pics of all the problem areas as he asked us to, we got an email back saying (basically) ‘try ___ shop, they should be qualified to fix your trailer’.  

crack in rear drivers-side frame

crack in rear drivers-side frame

During this time, we were also working with an area welder who works on a lot of big trailers – everything from large horse trailers to rvs to lowboys and reefers.  The welder was kind enough to come out and look at the trailer.  What he had to say certainly wasn’t very encouraging – the gist of it being that he could fix it but without some redesigning (an engineered fix) it would just happen again – in his opinion the frame was underbuilt for the size and weight of the trailer they built upon it.   After talking with the welder, we wrote back Mr. Bruhn and told him (nicely) that we thought that Gulf Stream should take care of the fix since we felt that frame was inadequate for the trailer.  That was over 2 weeks ago, and our repeated emails and telephone calls have gone unanswered.  Not a peep.  I even emailed Randy Baskerville, Jerry Sell, and Steve Jacobs, all executives at G.S. and Phil Sarvari, the Exec. V.P.  Not even a single ‘we’ll look into it’ courtesy brush-off email have we received in reply.

We were also trying to get Lippert, the frame manufacturer to work with us.  Same deal there.  ‘Send us pics and we’ll see what we can do’.  Sent off the pics, and once we mentioned that we felt they should help us fix it, we were left hanging with a dial tone.  We asked them for engineered fixes for the frame (this happens enough they should have them – unless there is no fix that really works!?!) and the welder has also tried to talk with them about the best way to repair the frame.  Again, not a sound back.

What is with the Ignore Button when it comes to customer service these days???

The welder did say that we could pull it to his shop without danger, so we hitched up after 2 weeks of trying to work with Gulf Stream and Lippert.  We pulled it into town and stopped for a second opinion at the largest rv dealership in the area.  They have an extensive (for around here anyway) repair shop, and we wanted them to look at it since the welder was planning on having them remove and replace the nose cap and do the interior repair (remember that flexing floor? – loosened the front wall, sheered the screws holding the nightstands, and who knows what else…).  They took one look at the frame around the pin and said that it would be impossible to permanently repair it (which is how we felt after talking with the welder some more and why we wanted a second opinion).  In fact, they had never seen anything like it and ran all their guys out to take a look…  The best they could suggest was that maybe the manufacturer could fix it back at the factory, but they would certainly have to pull of sidewalls and then we would have delaminating issues on top of everything else (oh, and it would have to be hauled back there on a semi trailer – cha-ching!).

The past month, with the whole frame failure fiasco, has been quite a ride.  We now find that our toy hauler is unfixable – and undrivable (at least not safely).  What we thought was taking it in for a 2 week repair job has turned into a permanent parting.   It is currently in a storage lot at the dealership and we are staying with family.

My purpose in sharing all this is because the public deserves to be informed. We wish that we had known about this before we bought our trailer.  Would it have influenced our decision?  I can’t say for sure, but it very well might have influenced us to go with a manufacturer that uses a different frame maker, and had we looked into Gulf Stream’s customer service reputation a little more thoroughly, that may have convinced us to go with a different rig also.   We had never heard of frame failure – we just always figured that the manufacturers would have at least safety in mind when building these big beasts.  And certainly they would stand by their product, right? 

We feel that being informed is the best way to protect ourselves and others from having to deal with issues like this.  Our toy hauler still looks great from the outside.  We would never have known there was a problem except for the clearance difference - until it came apart doing 60 on the interstate…and then it would affect a lot more than our traveling accommodations!  Would the people following us have been able to dodge the 40 feet of 5th wheel laying across several lanes of traffic? Our sidewalls have no cracks to alert us to the lurking disaster, the pin box is secure and one would never guess it is shoving the floor up in the bedroom from the outside; as for the loosening of the front wall, I attributed it to my leaning against it while I blogged in bed :). (diet time? LOL!)  Too often we figure if we can’t see a problem, then all is good.  But, with what we are going through, it makes us wonder how many other rvs out there are experiencing the same issue but just haven’t realized it yet.  We wonder if it could have been fixed by reinforcement before it got so bad.   Taking off the panel around the pin and along the bottom of your rig to check frame corners and welds isn’t generally considered routine maintenance, but maybe it should be.  Just something to ponder…

That is how we have found ourselves homeless; our 2008 toy hauler has been condemned to the salvage yard.  And while I realize that our rv is out of warranty, this isn’t just a failed furnace or a water leak or a slide needing adjustment. 

I find myself torn; I’m not big on gov. regulations, but if the rv manufacturers won’t hold themselves up to a certain level of safety standards, maybe someone needs to step in and do it for them.  Would it really add a large cost onto each rv to have frames engineered to stand up to the size and weight of the trailer that they are building on it?  Would it really add that much cost if the welds were thorough instead of sloppy?  Would it add that much cost if the rvs were built to withstand being hauled/driven down the road instead of with the intent of decorating the driveway?  And wouldn’t that minor additional cost to get a safe and solid structure be worth it in the long run?  What do you think???

Comments

10 Responses to “Frame failure and homelessness…”
  1. Professor95 says:

    Dana,

    First, let me express how sorry I am that this has happened to you. I’ve been there and done that.

    We owned a 2005 Prowler Regal TT (34′) with a Lippert frame. The cross members collapsed like paper and the frame bent sideways at the axles. The verdict? Inadequate cross bracing and a $4,000 frame realignment with 3 new tubular cross braces added. Amazingly, my insurance company paid for it since it happened when we swerved to avoid hitting another vehicle.

    The next trailer is a 2009 Cedar Creek. It also had (has) a Lippert frame, slides and axles. First problem was the Lippert made springs collapsed at 8 months. CC replaced them with springs from a different vendor – no charge. When replacing them they noticed significant cracks in the welds around the spring hangers. They were fixed. Lippert did nothing, CC did everything and supposedly charged it back to Lippert..

    Read my blog http://blog.woodalls.com/2010/08/doing-the-right-thing-it-takes-chacter-and-integrity/ from 2010. The Lippert components were the items of failure. Again, CC came to my rescue, not Lippert. CC fixed the damage and replaced the axles with Dexter and then supposedly charged it back to Lippert once again.

    Lippert is, IMHO, a big company that introduces components at a lower price to the manufacturer’s of many TTs and 5ers. Then, Lippert finds the cheapest way to reduce costs by going to unskilled labor for assembly (in China) and metals that do not survive the actual test. RV manufacturer’s are overwhelmed with the problems. Unfortunately, if your warranty is like mine, the manufacture of the RV does not warranty the frame – it is up to Lippert to honor the warranty. If it were not for Forest River/Cedar Creek stepping in and putting pressure on Lippert I would be out about $14,000 on the last debacle with the broken axle spindle.

    Some say Lippert “may” be improving overall quality – but that does you no good. BTW – my frame warranty was 2 years. The main line RV manufacturers (Keystone, Forest River, Thor, etc) need to reassess the decision to use Lippert components and demand higher quality and no-hassle warranty claims. My experience is Lippert will do anything possible to deny a claim and blame the problem – no matter what – on the RV owner.

    So – Just like Dr. Oz and his arsenic laden apple juice name identification show,, Dr. Agee is doing the same by calling out Lippert.

    In your case, I hope Gulf Stream steps up to the plate and fights for Lippert to do the right thing.

  2. ABrose says:

    Scary – your experience really makes me wonder whether how many RV manufacturers care more about their profits than they do about the safety and satisfaction of their customers.
    When we decided to replace our 1999 Triple E Commander motor home, which by the way, was very well constructed and gave us 10 years of relatively problem free RVing, the first place we went for information was the RV Consumer Group (rvgroup@rv.org). They have information on the reliability, safety and value of most of the RVs manufactured in North America, available on CD at a nominal cost. It is shocking to see the number of motor homes that have a wheel base too short for their length and/or have inadequate carrying capacity. There is also a trailer/fifth wheel rating guide, and again, a surprising number of units have a poor rating because of stability issues, poor construction or low carrying capacity.
    For anyone looking at purchasing a new or used unit, the cost of these RV Rating CDs is worth every penny as are the RV books available through the RV Consumer Group.

  3. Bob L says:

    Watch out for the axles on a crossroads crusier 30 footer 5er. lost the left rear hub/tire assembly and took 6+ weeks to get it out of the shop and then 2 months later lost the same again ( the axle was replaced in Birmingham, Alabama (Colonial RV off of I65) and then traded it off at 9 months of age to CW in Robertsdale, Alabama. This was a problem child and stayed at RV world/ Camping World in Knoxville, Tn. more than home. I HOPE/PRAY that I never need to go back there again. Lack of supervision by ADULTS and lack customer service in sales and shop.

    Next on agenda is the tires on my new Keystone Cougar 326mks. ST235/80R16 Power King date code 4108 have lost 3 of the 5 in 7,000 miles and YES I keep them inflated to 80psi, and had them balanced. 2 with knots found before they blew and one seperated.

  4. Keith Berg says:

    Disgusting!!! It doesn’t matter what you manufacture, you should do better than that! And stand behind your product.

  5. Bill Guy says:

    I cant believe with all the adds out there for lawyers going after all the defective medical devices that there isn’t a group of them willing to make some big bucks taking on the RV manufacturers. Until it gets too expensive for them they will continue to foist poorly built short warrenty crap off onto the public. An RV is often folk’s whole retirement investment. Businesses like Lippert and the manufacturers who use them should be hounded out of exitance and have their bones picked by consumer suits.

  6. Being new to full time Camping, I am concerned. We are in a TT that is too small for a full time situation and will be trading up. I plan on reading everything I can before purchasing our next TT . And will stay away from manufactures that use the Lippert frame. And I will avoid Gulf stream and their No Customer Service. I am also on several home schooling on the road, family on the road type online groups. I plan on making a link to your story…I hate that you went through this and I don’t want to see anyone else have to endue what you and your family have.

  7. Gary McCartney says:

    Hi Folks, We have a couple of horror stories to add about Lippert Frames..My first encounter was pulling out after a weekend campout with my family at the lake, we have a 2003 Terry Regal Ax6, nice rig(we thought) Has 4 slides and an extensive living room area at the front of the rig with 2 large slides over the front..Just getting ready to pull out on to a very winding country road when I look back and the entire fram under the pin box is bent on about a 15 -20 degree angle…Broken completely
    It was all I could do to get it back to the parking lot at lake..Called insurance explained4 weeks later they were able to find a 60′ flat bed truck to tow my rig

    I had to help the driver load trailer on low boy started takiing of wheels, the springs and axles,had to drop it to the frame to clear overpasses..$13,000 later I get it back beautiful job…

    Next..everytime we goon a trip I blew 1 or 2 brand new tires, I am diligent about air pressure..We are driving on freeway through Los Angeles when I look back and tire are rubbing each other Hagers had sheared of the frame.. Called mobil welder Great Guy came out welded hangers back on back on the road..20 miles down the freeway I can’t control the rig going across 2-3 lanes of traffic cross members between frame by axle completely gone..Damn near killed us…Welder came back next day with steel and plates and completely rewelded cross braces and frame

    On the road again..Pulled into RV park for the night, getting ready to leave an am flushing out my tanks..Don’t know how they did not fall out the bottom of rig..Tied them up and prayed we were going to make it home…Not done yet folks rolling in my Living room slide last week and it just about fell out on floor took furniture apart frame bellow slides are cracked and broken…Gets better..Coming back from San Diego Last week tanks break lose again….No not done yet..I am lowering landing gear and notice that the drivers side skins are just torn up and cracked…You got it front of frame broke again….

    Sort of me burning this piece of crap to the ground I am not sure that I want to take the chance of towing it again…. THe close call that my wife and I had in L.A. was very scary, I tow my rig with a custom built Freightliner converted FLD 120 I do beleive if not for that we would have been killed in L.A.

    I filled a complaint with DOT about a year ago did not get any response..None from Fleetwood or Lippert either…I would hate to be the cause of a major accident and deaths of some unsuspecting motorists..I realize this a very long letter but it just a fore warning of problems to come…If anyone out there has gotten any satisfaction from the manufacture Please post the info…I am seriously considering contacting a lawyer about the whole affair

  8. dana t. says:

    Thanks for the support everyone!
    And thank you for sharing your stories too! Makes ours seem pretty minimal – and we are so thankful that ours didn’t involve an accident, or was dangerous!
    Gary – that is incredible – you sure have pluck to keep going!!! :) I am so glad that you came through all that safely – I can only imagine how tramatic your experience in L.A. must have been! Thank goodness you had such a hefty tow vehicle! We would like to upgrade from our dually to a Freightliner t.v., but we shall have to see… maybe some day :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Very scary reading-especially since my wife and I are at this moment preparing to sell OUR home and go FULL-time RVing as well! How can you possibly avoid a situation like that when the problem lies in the inherently flawed design of ALL fifth wheels?

  10. there is no accountability or customer service in this country anymore…it is all about profits

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