Filed under: Preparation & Readiness, RV Maintenance, RV Modifications, RV Repair, Safety on the Road, The Road Less Traveled, The RVs We Drive
WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN – IT IS GOOD TO HAVE FRIENDS AROUND
Somewhere between Little Rock, AR and Carrabelle, FL two cross members that support the frame rails on our fifth wheel broke.
Initially, I could not tell there was something wrong because the plastic belly panels covered the problem area making it impossible to notice the broken welds.
Our first indication that there was a problem occurred when we attempted to open the curbside living room slide and it would not extend. My inspection of the problem resulted in a major shock – the axles under the camper had moved at least 3” toward the left side and the drive rod for the slide-out had been bent by the tire. The tire was ruined and all six spring hangers had bent to approximately a 75 degree angle – they should be 90 degrees to the frame rails.
In case you haven’t caught on yet, this is a MAJOR problem that could easily result in many thousands of dollars for repairs and the loss of use of the camper for “who knows how long”. One thing for sure – we were not going to be able to pull it back to Virginia as it was.
Fortunately, a number of our friends that are members of the Cedar Creek RV Owner’s Club were also at the campground.
After sleeping on “the problem”, I came up with a solution that would temporarily align and brace the frame so that we could get back home. Of course, implementing the fix was beyond the capabilities of a lone person – I needed extra manpower.
I presented my idea to the men the next morning at breakfast. The response was, “Don’t worry, we have fixed worse problems on the road before – we will be glad to help”. I might add that these are some of the most fraternal and diversely talented men I have ever known – they are just great guys!
Part one of my plan required a device that would both pull and push the bent spring hangers and frame rails. Often referred to as a Porta-Power, Harbor Freight Tools in Tallahassee had a similar 10-ton hydraulic unit in stock. So, it was off to Tallahassee (50 miles away) to pick up the tool. Now, keep in mind that I am a “tool guy” anyway so buying this tool was not too upsetting.
The next morning we started getting things ready for the repairs. Before I could finish my coffee, the men in our club had arrived with every sort of block, jack, and tool imaginable. We jacked up the frame, set it on heavy wooden blocks, and removed the wheels. One of the men just happened to have a 1/2” drive electric impact wrench that was invaluable for getting the wheels off.
Several of the men flopped down on the ground and scooted under the trailer – seemingly unconcerned with the gravel underneath and the falling dirt overhead. Together we used the hydraulic push and pull-back tool to re-align all of the bent parts. Those unable to join us under the camper provided moral support and suggestions from topside – EVERYONE WAS INVOLVED.
Part two of my plan was to use 4” x 4” wooden timbers to replace the cross members. These required no welding and were bolted to the frame and reinforced by steel “L” brackets. Once the timbers were in place we put the wheels back on and dropped the trailer down on the ground. There was no opportunity to test drive the trailer as we were set-up and living in it. I was confident it was going to work safely and allow us to get back to Virginia, which it did without any further movement or issues.
Being a thousand miles from “home base” and having a major mechanical problem with your RV can be a nightmare – and an expensive one. But, I was lucky to have friends there with me that not only were willing to help, but anxious to do so.
Our gratitude to all that helped is tremendous. Thanks to all!
BTW – My analysis determined that the cross members broke because of improper welding. The welds were weak and literally came apart. Once broken, the avalanche of problems began.
The frame with the bad welding was built by Lippert – as are the majority of towable RV frames used today. My trailer was out of warranty, yet Cedar Creek volunteered to provide a new set of wheels and tires along with all the parts needed to put things back in order. The wooden timbers have been replaced with new steel and super strong welds. We are now better than new and ready to embark on our next RV adventure.