You never know what might break on an RV, and during our 2015 RV travels from Arizona to Nova Scotia and back, we faced four major repairs on our 8 year old fifth wheel trailer in four short months. Ouch.
The last breakdown — the failure of our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension — ended up being the most expensive repair of them all, because the entire trailer suspension had to be replaced. We were so miserable about the whole situation as it unfolded last fall in Phoenix, Arizona, that the last thing I wanted to do was to write about it on this blog.
So, the story has waited five months until now when our spirits are high and we’re camped near a stunning lake in the Canadian Rockies!
Repairs aside, this is why we RV!
2015 was a phenomenal year of travel for us, but it could have been a financial disaster.
That was the scary total cost of all our RV repairs in 2015. Yikes!!
Fortunately, our out of pocket cost was just $1,045, because we had an extended RV warranty for our trailer.
Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties
cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:
Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!
As reflected on our RV budget and expenses analysis page, our combined maintenance and repair costs on our truck and trailer averaged $106 per month for our full-time travels between May, 2007, and August, 2015.
Life was good back then. Maintenance was easy and the unexpected repairs were small and manageable. Anything that went wrong was something Mark could fix (he’s an extremely gifted mechanic).
But 2015 unfolded very differently than prior years. This was mostly due to our trailer now being eight years old and also because we spent a month spent driving the rough back roads of Nova Scotia.
We weren’t sure at first, but after 4 expensive repairs in 4 months in 2015, we now know the answer is YES!!!
So, how did this all transpire?
When we were in Nova Scotia, we bent a spindle on the rear axle of our trailer. We limped to Bangor, Maine, and got a new axle installed.
We had to replace a trailer axle after driving the rough back roads in Nova Scotia
Besides damaging a trailer axle while we were in Nova Scotia, we also sprang leaks in both our fresh water tank and in our big rear window. The underbelly compartment of our trailer was filling with water whenever we filled our fresh water tank, and our rear window was leaking water all over our living room carpet whenever it rained (and it rains a lot in the northeast). Ugh!
Sadly, large fresh water tanks are not a commodity item, because they come in all shapes and sizes.
So, rather than waiting for two months for a new fresh water tank to come to the repair shop in Maine, we decided to do both of these water-related repairs (as well as a bunch of other smaller repairs) in Chanute, Kansas, at NuWa Industries, the factory repair facility where our trailer was originally manufactured.
NuWa claimed to have a fresh water tank for our trailer model in stock (this proved not to be the case, but that is another story), and they had an appointment available in two months (and no sooner!).
We could live with the leaks and other small problems, so this gave us two months to get from Maine to Kansas. We moseyed west and enjoyed a fabulous stay in Maysville, Kentucky.
Unfortunately, within 24 hours of leaving there, our RV refrigerator died. Good grief — While en route from a trailer axle repair in Maine to a bunch of plumbing related repairs in Kansas, we had to get a new RV fridge somewhere near western Kentucky. Not many places stock 8 cubic foot Dometic RV refrigerators! We scrambled and got our RV refrigerator replaced outside Indianapolis.
We had to replace our RV refrigerator after 8 years (the typical lifespan for a fridge, we found out!)
Luckily, the refrigerator replacement at Camping World went really well.
Once we got to Chanute, Kansas for our new fresh water tank, window repair, toilet repair, faucet replacement and a few other things, our buggy had to stay in the shop for three days!!
We had to replace our fresh water tank and do many other plumbing and leak-related repairs.
We were not allowed to stay in our rig while it was in the shop in Kansas. Fortunately, the trailer warranty reimbursement for those three days of repairs included our two nights at a motel. Thank goodness for that warranty once again!
Back on the road after our plumbing and water leak repairs were completed in Kanses, we ventured onward to Phoenix, Arizona.
Sadly, our saga of trailer repairs was not over yet.
TRAILER SUSPENSION FAILURE
Since we had left Maine (where we had gotten our new trailer axle installed), we had watched with alarm as the two wheels on our trailer’s tandem axles had gotten progressively closer and closer together. The frame of our trailer, built by Lippert Components, had always had very narrow spacing between the two wheels.
When we had upgraded from the factory installed E-rated (10 ply) tires to the higher profile G-rated (14 ply) tires a few years prior, I could squeeze two fingers between the tires. After our trailer axle replacement and new tire purchase in Maine, I verified that this was still the case.
Spacing between the wheels is two finger widths.
However, by the time we got to Phoenix, I could barely get the tip of my pinky finger between them and I could not slide my whole pinky in.
My pinky finger can squeeze only partway in between the tires!
The spacing was down to less than 1/4 inch.
Sagging suspension made our wheels dangerously close together.
Something was very wrong.
We took the trailer to Straight Line Suspension in Mesa, Arizona, a repair shop that had a newly outfitted facility that does a lot of contract suspension maintenance work on fleets of school buses and commercial trucks.
After careful inspection, their consensus was that we needed to revamp the trailer’s suspension completely. Something was failing, and whether the culprit was the leaf springs, or the equalizer between the springs or the axles themselves, no one could determine exactly.
Our buggy goes into the repair shop for a new suspension.
And this is where we were glad not just to have any old extended warranty contract on our trailer but to have one purchased through Wholesale Warranties.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING AN ALLY
Unlike most RV warranty brokers, Wholesale Warranties is heavily invested in the relationship between their clients and the warranty providers they represent. They want to be sure that their customers’ claims are properly handled by the warranty companies. So, they are more than happy to get involved in their clients’ claims to facilitate and make sure there are no misunderstandings.
This level of commitment to their products and belief in them is truly astonishing. And it makes all the difference in the world.
When the service provider (Straight Line Suspension) first called our warranty provider (Portfolio Protection), the warranty company was understandably reluctant to cover the repair without knowing the root cause of the failure. They pressed the shop to determine which specific part had caused the failure. Was it the shocks? The leaf springs? The axles? They wanted to replace only the component(s) that failed and nothing more. That makes sense!
However, the suspension experts had no idea which part had failed, and they said there was no easy way to figure that out. So, we called Wholesale Warranties and had a long conversation with John Wise. We described to him the gradual failure we had witnessed and the difficulty of pin-pointing exactly which component(s) had failed and in what order the failure(s) had occurred.
I emailed him photos of our wheel spacing both before and after the failure. Thank goodness I take so many photos and had both “before” and “after” photos to send him!
He then called our warranty company, Portfolio Protection, and reviewed the photos with them. He explained that the suspension mechanics were not sure exactly what had caused the failure but that the suspension was not functioning properly and needed to be replaced.
In the end, Portfolio Protection agreed to replace the springs, equalizers and shocks and also to correct the insufficient spacing between the leaf spring hangers, placing them further apart so that even if some components failed or sagged in the future, there would no risk that the wheels would touch.
If it weren’t for Wholesale Warranties coming to our aid to act as a liaison and facilitator and to help explain our breakdown in a way that the warranty provider could understand, this vital repair would not have been covered.
Of course, the role of Wholesale Warranties is strictly as a facilitator. They can’t force the provider to reimburse a repair that is not covered by the contract. We have called Wholesale Warranties for liaison assistance several times now, and they have been very up front when our repair was outside the limits of our contract.
However, being able to call them and describe the problem and get their input is extremely helpful. This is particularly true in cases like our trailer axle repair where both our RV insurance plan AND our RV warranty contract could be used to pay for the repair, but one was financially preferable to the other due to differing deductibles and different kinds of coverage.
FIFTH WHEEL TRAILER SUSPENSION REPLACEMENT
The first step in our trailer suspension replacement was to jack up the trailer and remove the two axles. We had just done a fabulous trailer disc brake conversion eight months earlier, and this was the THIRD time the hydraulic lines had been tampered with due to removing the axles or the belly pan from the frame. How frustrating!
The trailer axles are removed from the trailer.
Once the axles were off the trailer, the next step was to remove the leaf spring hangers.
The hangers must be cut off the frame.
The sparks flew like mad as each of the six hangers was cut off the frame using a torch.
Sparks fly as the old trailer leaf spring hangers are cut off
The mechanics wanted to ensure the new springs were strong enough, so they chose 8,000 lb. American made springs from Rockwell American, even though we had just 7,000 lb. axles and only 11,250 lbs. sitting on the pair of axles (as of our most recent RV weighing by the Escapees Smartweigh program).
New 8000 lb American made leaf springs from Rockwell American
They pointed out to us the difference between Chinese made springs and American made springs. Chinese steel is notorious for being inferior to American steel, and the overall fabrication quality of the springs, especially at the eye, was not as good.
The eye of the American made leaf springs looks clean and well made.
Not so much for the Chinese made leaf springs
Our trailer’s original Chinese springs had come with nylon bushings inside the eye, but they had been upgraded to brass bushings. When the old springs were removed from the trailer, we saw the brass bushings inside were worn out. The curvature of the spring from the eye was also flat, an indication that the spring itself was worn out.
Worn out bushings and the spring is flat — no curvature left!
(compare to above pics!)
The mechanics fabricated a new leaf spring hanger system that had three hangers welded onto a bar. These hangers would space the axles further apart than they originally had been.
New custom trailer leaf spring hangers
The bar was then welded onto the underside of the trailer frame.
The new trailer leaf spring hanger bar is positioned so it can be welded onto the frame.
After welding on the new hanger bar, new equalizers were bolted onto each center hangers.
Then the leaf springs were bolted onto the outer hangers.
Springs and equalizers in place — all set to reinstall the axles.
The axles were installed using new U-bolts. The mechanics also made a brace to span the width of the trailer between the two hanger bars to add some rigidity to the suspension system.
A brace running across the width of the trailer makes the system stronger and more sturdy.
Then they welded new shock mounts on the frame and installed new Monroe Gas-Magnum RV shock absorbers.
The final result — our wheels were a fist’s width apart!!
The trailer axles are spaced a lot better now.
SUSPENSION REPAIR COST BREAKDOWN
Here are the costs for the suspension replacement and our out of pocket costs as a result of our extended trailer warranty:
|Out of Pocket (deductible):
Unfortunately, in the world of repairs, sometimes fixing one thing breaks another.
After our trailer suspension replacement was completed, we towed our trailer out into the parking lot and went inside to get organized to leave for our next destination.
As always, we were not connected to electrical hookups, so we turned on our new Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter that we had installed as part of our overall RV electrical system overhaul so we could generate 120 volt AC power from our batteries and run our microwave and computers.
Instantly an alarm went off.
We flew to turn off the inverter and then began troubleshooting segments of our AC wiring to try to figure out the problem.
Suddenly, we heard a huge loud POP. And that was the end of the inverter.
Good heavenly days.
Luckily, the inverter was still under its manufacturer’s warranty. Exeltech is phenomenal about caring for their equipment out in the field. They provide inverters to NASA and their equipment is on both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station. They take great pride in their equipment and have an excellent warranty repair process.
Mark undid the really nice inverter installation job he’d done for our Exeltech, boxed it up, and shipped it to Exeltech’s Ft. Worth, Texas, facility.
Geez… Our beautiful inverter (the suspended black box) had been working flawlessly!
(To keep the inverter cool and well clear of the batteries, yet still close, it is securely suspended above)
In the meantime, we spent a day troubleshooting our wiring to try to understand what had gone wrong. It wasn’t clear to us how the trailer suspension replacement might have impacted our trailer wiring, and the mechanics were certain that the two were unrelated.
After many hours of crawling under the trailer, and removing the belly pan section by section, and running our fingers along the frame and shining a flashlight into the unreachable depths, we found a spot where the AC trunk line was resting on the frame.
Well, it wasn’t exactly resting any more. The heat from the cutting and welding torches had melted the cable’s insulation onto the frame!
Mark carefully incised the casing, separated the hot and neutral lines, re-wrapped them in new insulation and affixed the cable firmly to the underside of the plywood flooring well away from the frame.
How had this happened?
Sadly, Straight Line Suspension did not check the frame sufficiently in the areas where they would be welding before they started torching the hangers off of it and welding on the new hanger system. Of course, this is a difficult thing to do because a plastic corrugated sheeting covers the entire underbelly of the trailer, protecting the tanks and wiring from road grime.
In order to inspect the frame before taking a torch to it, this corrugated sheeting must be removed, and any wiring in the area where the welding will take place must be located to ensure that it is not touching the frame.
RV manufacturers should enclose all wiring in conduit, or at least tack it to the underside of the plywood flooring, rather running it along the I-beams. However, that was not the case in our trailer. The wiring was tacked up to the flooring in some places, but there were extensive gaps that sagged, and this one portion sagged enough to be touching the frame right where the cutting and welding took place.
We live off the grid in our RV on solar power, so our inverter is our sole source of AC power. Losing it was a huge inconvenience!
While we waited for ten days or so for our inverter to make it to Ft. Worth, undergo diagnosis and repair then be shipped back to Phoenix, Mark installed our old Exeltech XP 1100 inverter in its place. Thank goodness we hung onto it after our upgrade from the 1100 watt to the 2000 watt version of the inverter!!
Straight Line Suspension paid for the expedited shipping and insurance for our inverter, and eventually, the happy day came when our inverter arrived and Mark got it put back in place.
For folks who want to get work done on their trailer in the Arizona area, we had our trailer suspension further upgraded with a MORryde SRE 4000 equalizer that was installed by the excellent mechanics at Rucker Trailer Works in Mesa, Arizona. Their workmanship was top notch and the MORryde has made a huge difference. Read our blog post about that installation here.
The Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter has been repaired and is ready to be reinstalled.
Needless to say, this was an ordeal that was not fun to live through and one that I waited a long time to write about. However, it is an amazing illustration of just how valuable an RV warranty can be, especially if you get one from a broker that stands behind their customers during the claims process. It’s also an important reminder that if someone is going to take a torch to your RV frame, they should check the nearby wiring first!
We weren’t sure just how worthwhile an RV Warranty would be when we got ours, but 2015 would have been an extremely expensive year for us without it. It’s bad enough to be stuck on the side of the road. But having to pay through the nose for the nasty surprise of a major repair makes the ordeal even worse.
What’s worse than being dead on the side of the road? Knowing it’s gonna cost ya!
Wholesale Warranties loves our repair stories, and they have offered our readers a $50 discount on their RV warranty (for a trailer or motorhome) if you mention our website, Roads Less Traveled, when you set it up. The discount will come off the quoted price at the time of purchase (remind them before you sign if you don’t see it — it’s not automated!!). Here is the link to get a quote for a warranty on your particular RV:
Wholesale Warranties Quote Page
Or you can call them at (800) 939-2806 and ask for our contact, Missi Junior, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Articles Related to Finances in the RV Lifestyle:
Our Personal Case History of RV Warranty Repairs:
More blog posts about our fifth wheel trailer suspension:
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