Trailer Disc Brake Conversion – Electric Over Hydraulic Disc Brakes – WOW!

There are several types of braking systems available on bumper pull travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers today. Two of the most common are electric drum brakes, a less expensive system, and electric over hydraulic disc brakes which are a bit more costly. We recently converted our 36′ fifth wheel trailer’s braking system from factory installed electric drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. What an incredible improvement this upgrade has made in our stopping power and personal safety. The difference is like night and day!!

This page outlines our reasons behind doing this upgrade and the components we chose for our brake conversion. It also gives a pictorial overview of the installation process.

Trailer hydraulic disc brake and caliper installed on an RV wheel

The disc (or rotor) and caliper with red brake pads peeks out from inside our trailer wheel.

This is a long post. You can skip down to the different sections using the following links:

HOW TRAILER BRAKES WORK

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Electric drum trailer brakes and electric over hydraulic disc brakes function very differently.

To engage electric drum brakes in a trailer, when the driver depresses the brake pedal in the tow vehicle, an electrical signal is sent to the trailer’s brakes via a brake control unit in the truck. The brake control may be factory installed or it may be an external unit that is installed by the owner. The electrical signal engages an electromagnet on the trailer’s wheels that expands the brake shoes as the current gets stronger, creating friction on the wheel and slowing it down.

Brake Pedal -> Electrical Signal via Brake Control -> Trailer Brakes

To engage electric over hydraulic disc brakes on a trailer, when the driver depresses the brake pedal in the tow vehicle, an electrical signal is sent to a brake actuator unit in the trailer via the brake control unit in the truck. The brake actuator in the trailer then pumps hydraulic disc fluid through a line to the disc brake calipers on the trailer’s wheels. The build-up of fluid pressure actuates the brake calipers which, in turn, squeeze the brake pads against the disc, slowing the trailer down.

Brake Pedal -> Electrical Signal via Brake Control -> Brake Hydraulic Fluid Pumped by Brake Actuator -> Trailer Brakes

Drum brakes are an older technology. However, RV trailer manufacturers continue to install electric drum brakes to this day because it is far less expensive than installing electric over hydraulic disc brakes. The highest end full-time fifth wheel trailers are frequently offered with an option for electric over hydraulic disc brakes, but they are rarely provided as standard equipment.

Besides greatly increasing overall braking power, one of the biggest advantages of hydraulic brakes is that it is much easier to modulate the brakes for smoother stopping. In contrast, electric drum brakes on trailers can be very jerky, as the brakes are either ON or OFF. We often used to feel the trailer bump into the back of our truck as we stopped, hitting us with a jolt.

TRAILER ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKES versus CAR HYDRAULIC BRAKES

Cars are manufactured with hydraulic brakes, sometimes with disc brakes in the front and hydraulic drum brakes in the back. Many high end bicycles are even built with hydraulic disc brakes! Electric over hydraulic trailer disc brakes are slightly more complex than car hydraulic brakes, but they provide trailers with the same smooth stopping power that we enjoy in our cars.

The difference between the way hydraulic disc brakes on cars and electric over hydraulic disc brakes on trailers function is that there is no electrical signal involved in a car’s braking system. This is because the car is a single vehicle. No signal needs to be passed from one vehicle to another, as it does with a truck and trailer combo. The tricky part about a truck/trailer is that the brake pedal is in the front of the truck by the driver’s foot while the trailer’s brakes are way behind the driver at the back end of the trailer. Also, in a car, the hydraulic fluid is located under the hood in a master cylinder which performs the same function as the brake actuator that is located in the trailer.

Again, in a car, when the brake pedal is depressed, hydraulic fluid flows directly to the brakes to engage them. In a truck and trailer combo, an electrical signal has to be passed from the truck to the trailer to activate the hydraulic disc brakes in the trailer via the brake actuator.

ON THE ROAD COMPARISON OF TRAILER BRAKING SYSTEMS:
Electric Drum versus Electric Over Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Our fifth wheel trailer, a 36′ 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II, came with factory installed electric drum brakes. We towed it, with that braking system, behind our 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 truck for the first six years we owned it, for a total of about 40,000 miles. When we upgraded to electric over hydraulic disk brakes, we were stunned by what a massive improvement in braking power and safety that simple upgrade provided!

We have now towed our trailer over 1,200 miles since the brake system upgrade, traveling on interstate freeways, maneuvering around tight gas stations and campgrounds, and driving in gnarly stop-and-go-traffic in slick, rainy weather. All we can say is:

“We should have done this a long time ago — probably on Day 1!”

The differences we experienced between the electric drum brakes and the electric over hydraulic disc brakes can be summed up as follows:

DRIVING AND STOPPING COMPARISON

Electric Drum Brakes Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brakes
The truck felt like it was stopping the trailer The truck and trailer stop together evenly without one stopping the other
Braking was either ON or OFF, resulting in a jerky motion Braking is proportional to your speed and is very smooth
Had to mess with the brake control every time we changed between highway and gas station speeds Haven’t touched the brake control since the upgrade was installed
As brakes age, braking power decreases As brakes age, braking power does not change

 

MAINTENANCE COMPARISON

Electric Drum Brakes Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Have to remove wheel and brake hub to inspect brake pads
  • Easy to inspect disc pads without removing the wheels to see if they are worn (use a mirror if they are hard to see)
  • Periodically have to adjust the drums Never have to adjust the discs
    Have to have drums turned OR replace the drums and backing plate with magnet, shoes, springs and cables Easy to replace brake pads with standard GM brake pads from an auto parts store if rotors are okay
    Removing trailer tires to grease the wheel brearings

    Mark removes the trailer wheels to grease the wheel bearings.

     

    DECIDING TO UPGRADE THE TRAILER BRAKING SYSTEM

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    We decided to do this brake system upgrade after Mark inspected the condition of the electric drum brakes that had been factory installed on our fifth wheel when we bought it new seven years ago. He was greasing the trailer’s wheel bearings, and while he had one of the wheels disassembled, he inspected the brake assemby inside.

    Greased wheelbearings on a trailer

    Mark used a Zerk gun to grease the trailer’s wheel bearings.

    He was dismayed to find that both the magnet and the braking surface were basically shot. He completed the wheel bearing lube job, but after he got the wheels mounted back on the trailer, we weighed our options for the brakes.

    Inside a trailer brake drum

    The inside of the trailer wheel and electromagnet at the bottom.

    Electromagnet inside an RV trailer brake drum

    Lots of wear on the electromagnet that controls the electric drum braking mechanism.

    As mentioned above, besides providing inferior braking power all together, one of the disadvantages of electric drum brakes is that, as the brakes age, the braking power gets progressively worse. Not only does the braking surface wear down but the electromagnet gets worn as well.

    In recent months, Mark had been noticing that the trailer brakes were not working as well as when the trailer was new, although he was shocked to see just what poor shape they were in when he disassembled the wheels!

    It is possible to have trailer brake drums turned. “Turning” involves putting the brake drums on a lathe and grinding the surface down to get rid of ridges and make it smooth. However, while a car’s drum brakes can be turned at an auto parts store, trailer brakes need to be taken to a machine shop. This is because they have to be turned not only on the braking surface that the brake pads ride on, but on the electromagnet surface as well. One of the disadvantages of turning the drums, however, is that it makes the braking surfaces thinner and weaker.

    When we began investigating the cost of having the drums turned, we found that it would not be that much less than the cost of replacing the brakes all together which would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.

    An alternative to turning the drums or replacing the brake assemblies would be to upgrade the trailer’s entire braking system to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. This is an expensive endeavor, on the order of $3,200, but the more we thought about our personal safety on the road, the more it seemed like it was a wise choice to do the brake conversion.

    THE COMPONENT PARTS OF AN ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKE SYSTEM

    There are three components involved in the installation of electric over hydraulic disc brakes:

    • Brake Control in the truck
    • Brake Actuator in the trailer
    • Hydraulic Disc Brakes on the trailer wheels

    In between these components there is both wiring and high pressure line:

    • The Brake Control must be wired into the truck (late model trucks have factory-installed brake controls).
    • The Brake Actuator must be wired into the 7-pin connector on the trailer that the truck plugs into.
    • High pressure lines must be installed between the Brake Actuator and the Disc Brake assembly on each wheel

    Our first job was to determine which components to install. Reading many reviews and talking at length with each manufacturer and visiting several booths at the Quartzsite Arizona RV Show, we chose:

    Kodiak Hydraulic Disc Brakes

    The heart of the electric over hydraulic disc brake system is the disc brake assembly itself, and Kodiak makes superior quality brakes.

    Kodiak has been making disc brake assemblies for over twenty years and is very highly regarded. Kodiak originated as a parts manufacturer for boat trailers, and their brakes are extremely popular in the boat trailer market.

    Kodiak dIsc brake rotor and caliper assembly for RV electric over hydraulic disc brakes

    Kodiak disc brake assembly
    Rotor and caliper installed on the axle.

    Since many boaters launch their boats in the ocean, Kodiak hydraulic disc brake assemblies are offered with dacromet coating and stainless steel options so they can withstand the continuous and highly corrosive drenching they get when boaters launch their boats on and off their trailers in salt water.

    Kodiak disc brakes are also very popular in the horse trailer industry, especially on the largest, heaviest horse trailers that carry multiple horses and have living quarters as well.

    To see the parts included in a Kodiak disc brake assembly, click here.

    Hydrastar Brake Actuator

    The brake actuator is the key middleman in the trailer braking system, and the Hydrastar Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brake Actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions has an excellent reputation as being extremely durable and rugged, even when mounted on the tongue of a travel trailer.

    The role this unit plays is vital, as it is the part of the system that receives the electrical signal coming from the brake control in the truck and, in turn, pumps the hydraulic fluid out to the disc brakes on the trailer’s wheels.

    Hydrastar electric over hydraulic disc brake actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions

    Hydrastar electric over hydraulic disc brake actuator.

    Like Kodiak, the the Hydrastar electric over hydraulic brake actuator is engineered for the salt water boat trailer market where water and corrosion are everyday challenges. The Hydrastar brake actuator is sealed extraordinarily well so it can be mounted on the tongue of a travel trailer. The whole circuit board is covered in epoxy and can function perfectly well when submerged under water. One of their most popular trade show demonstrations is to show the Hydrastar brake actuator working while suspended inside an aquarium full of water.

    Prodigy P3 Brake Control

    We have had an older generation Prodigy brake control in our truck since we purchased our first 27′ 2007 Fleetwood Lynx Travel Trailer, however, it does not work with electric over hydraulic disc brakes. We were delighted to find that there is a much better Prodigy brake control on the market now.

    Prodigy P3 Brake Controller

    Tekonsha Prodigy P3 Brake Control

    The Prodigy P3 is portable and has been designed for people who use many different tow vehicles to tow many different trailers. Not only can it be moved from truck to truck easily, it can memorize its programmed settings for different trailers. It can even be programmed for one trailer that has different characteristics at different times, for instance, a 7-horse trailer that may be loaded with 7 horses or may be empty.

    Best of all, we could swap out the old Prodigy for the new P3 easily because the new unit used the same wiring harness as the old one.

     

    INSTALLING ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKES ON A TRAILER

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    Mark was confident he could do the upgrade himself. However, he was not sure he wanted to tackle running the high pressure hydraulic lines. He did that kind of work when we installed the engine-driven ocean water desalination system on our sailboat, and it was challenging getting the lines cut and getting the fittings installed on the cut line. He decided he would prefer to have professionals install this system, and we did a search to find a company that has done hundreds of trailer brake system upgrades.

    Trailer brake upgrade at Zanetti Trailer Repair

    Our buggy gets set up in a repair bay at Zanetti Trailer.

    Zanetti Trailer Repair is located just west of Fort Worth, Texas, in the town of Weatherford, and they do this kind of brake conversion frequently. Considered a horse trailer guru, Pete Zanetti started the company in 1980, and it is still a family operated business.

    Texas doesn’t have the best winter weather, and when we arrived after driving through the remnants of a horrific ice storm, our trailer was covered with a thick layer of road grime, but our gleaming new parts were ready and waiting.

    Electric over hydraulic disc brake upgrade parts

    The disc brakes, brake actuator and brake control are ready to be installed on our trailer.

    A team of three mechanics jumped on the job. To our amazement, within three hours they had completed the entire installation!

    Below is a summary of the steps they took to do the brake system upgrade.

    First, after jacking up the trailer, the wheels were removed.

    Removing wheels from a 5th wheel trailer

    Our buggy’s wheels are removed once again.

    Wheels removed from fifth wheel trailer RV

    Right down to the axles and spindles.

    Then the backing plates for the disc brakes were installed on the axles.

    Disc brake backing plate on a trailer axle and spindle

    The disc brake backing plate is mounted on the axle.

    On a table to the side, the four sets of brake assemblies and bearings were laid out, ready to be greased and put together.

    Hydraulic disc brake components- calipers, rotors and bearings

    The four rotors and calipers will be put together in assembly-line fashion.

    Here’s a closeup of the brake calipers with the red brake pads inside. The red brake pads will need to be replaced when the indented brake surface material wears away.

    Kodiak disc brake caliper with brake shoes

    The Kodiak disc brake caliper.

    Kodiak trailer disc brake caliper with brake shoes

    The brake pads are red, and when worn down to the indent, they will need replacing.

    The wheel bearings and seals were laid out, ready to be inserted in the brake rotor.

    Wheel bearings for Kodiak trailer disc brakes

    New wheel bearings ready to be lubed up and installed.

    Mark had just finished greasing the old wheel bearings on our trailer using a zerk gun. What a surprise it was to see a huge trash barrel filled with wheel bearing grease!

    Barrel of wheel bearing grease

    A Barrel O’ Grease — wow!
    They used an extremely sticky grease.

    The rotors were greased and then the new bearings were pressed in.

    Greasing the rotor on RV hydraulic disc brakes

    Greasing the inside of the rotor.

    Pressing the wheel bearings into the rotor on trailer disc brakes

    Pressing grease into a wheel bearing.

    Then the brake rotors were installed on the axles, and the brake calipers were installed on the rotors.

    Trailer disc brake rotors installed

    The brake rotors are installed on the axles. A brake caliper waits its turn on the ground.

    Kodiak dIsc brake rotor and caliper assembly for RV electric over hydraulic disc brakes

    Kodiak disc brake assembly with rotor and caliper mounted on the trailer’s axle.

    Outside (in the rain!) the old brake hubs had been discarded.

    Old trailer electric drum brakes in the trash heap

    We won’t need these any more!

    Meanwhile, the installers got busy installing the Hydrastar brake actuator in the trailer and wiring it to the fifth wheel pin box. To test the installation, they used a special electronic unit to simulate a person pressing on the brake pedal in the truck.

    Installing the Hydrastar brake actuator on a fifth wheel trailer

    Wiring the Hydrastar brake actuator into the
    fifth wheel pin box.

    Then they unrolled and straightened the stainless steel brake line tubing…

    Measuring and cutting electrical wire for trailer disc brake actuator installation

    Unrolling and straightening the stainless steel brake line tubing.

    … and ran the electrical wires from the pin box into the fifth wheel basement

    Wiring in electrical cable for disc brake actuator in a 5th wheel trailer RV

    Feeding the electrical wire through to the fifth wheel basement.

    The Hydrastar brake actuator unit found a home just inside one of the basement side access doors.

    Hydrastar disc brake actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions

    Hydrastar disc brake actuator installed in the fifth wheel basement.

    Hydrastar hydraulic trailer disc brake actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions

    The Hydrastar disc brake actuator is close to a side hatch for easy access.

    On the underside of the trailer and along the trailer axles, they did a superior job of dressing the hydraulic brake line and connections.

    Hydraulic brake line dressed on bottom of RV

    Looking up at the bottom of the trailer, the hydraulic lines run underneath the trailer, neatly dressed.

    And then they bled the brake lines.

    Bleeding the hydraulic brakes on an RV

    Bleeding the hydraulic brakes. A special box simulated a person depressing the brake pedal in the truck.

    Then it was time to put the Prodigy P3 Brake Control into the truck. This is a portable unit that comes with a carrying pouch. We have only one truck, so we won’t be carrying the brake control from one truck to another. Mark later found the little pouch was perfect for his pocket camera!

    Prodigy P3 Brake Control from Tekonsha

    The Prodigy P3 Brake Control is a nifty portable unit that can be moved
    from one tow vehicle to another.

    The brake control is on the lower right side of the dashboard under the steering wheel.

    Prodigy P3 Brake Control installed on a Dodge RAM 3500_

    Prodigy P3 Brake Control mounted below our Dodge RAM 3500 dashboard

    We were astonished that all this had taken just under three hours, and the installers were almost finished. Wrapping up the job, the wheels were mounted back on the trailer and the trailer was taken off the jacks.

    Replacing the wheels on a fifth wheel trailer

    The wheels get mounted back on the trailer axles.

    The new disc brakes looked very spiffy peeking through our dirty wheels!

    Dirty Wheels and new electric over hydraulic trailer disc brakes

    Oh gosh — sure wish we’d cleaned those wheels before this installation!
    But the brand new disc and caliper look great in there…

    It was time to hitch up the trailer and hit the road with our new brakes. I loved the little painted stone outside the office door.

    Zanetti Trailer - We'll Fix Your Wagon

    Zanetti Trailer’s motto is “We’ll Fix Your Wagon” !!

     

    SUMMARY

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    Mark was blown away when we got the trailer out on the highway. On the Prodigy P3 Brake Control, he experimented with a few settings and settled on a boost of “B2” and 8.5 volts. As we eased onto the highway, he commented, “It feels like I’m driving a car!”

    During the next three weeks we made our way from central Texas to the Florida coast, driving in all kinds of conditions, from remote back roads, to many miles on the I-10 Interstate freeway. We sat for hours in massive stop-and-go traffic jams around big cities, and Mark coped with tricky driving situations on small downtown city roads with lots of stop lights.

    In the past, if a traffic light turned yellow at the wrong moment as we approached, we just had to keep going and cross our fingers that it wouldn’t turn red while we were crossing the intersection, because we just couldn’t stop the trailer in such a short distance. No more!! On many occasions, as we came to an intersection, the light turned yellow on our approach, and Mark was able to stop the truck and trailer in time in a nicely controlled manner.

    In Fort Worth, TX, and again around Baton Rouge, LA, we found ourselves in amazingly congested traffic. Mark was able to relax in the heat of the battle, completely confident that he could stop the trailer in a very short distance if need be.

    Fifth wheel trailer RV in Florida at sunset

    Sometimes the best improvements are not something you can see on the surface!

    When we got into Sarasota, Florida, we came across some astonishingly aggressive drivers. One driver cut us off with just an inch to spare, instantly coming to a complete stop directly in front of us. It was a heart stopping moment that all RVers dread. Mark slammed on the brakes with a force I have never seen him use, either in a car or in our truck pulling our home.

    All the tires of the truck and trailer squealed as we came to a shockingly abrupt stop, leaving lots of rubber on the road behind us. We were both stunned that the trailer stopped in such a short distance. There is no doubt that if we had had our old electric drum brakes, we would have rear-ended the car in front of us and had a really bad — and possibly life threatening — accident.

    Believe me, the irony that we had just replaced our brakes, and had jokingly said we needed to test just how good they were, was not lost on us. But we never would have lurched our house like that just to see if the brakes worked!!

    This brake conversion is an upgrade that Mark dreamed of doing for ages, ever since our RVing mentors Bob and Donna Lea had told us about how differently their electric over hydraulic disc brakes performed on their 33′ fifth wheel compared to the electric drum brakes they’d had on other trailers.

    In the end, it was totally painless and very easy to do, and looking back, we realize we should have just bitten the bullet the first year we owned our trailer and gotten it done right away.

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    Edge Evolution CS Tuner Review – Peak Truck Performance!

    The engines in most cars and trucks are computer driven these days, but the installation of an engine tuner puts the driver in the driver’s seat instead. An engine tuner, or programmer, gives the driver the ability to fine tune the engine’s efficiency and performance by manipulating the computer’s input parameters to suit the driving task at hand.

    Since 2007, we have lived year-round in a 14,100 lb, 36′ 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer. For eight years, the truck we used to tow this big trailer was a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel Long Bed truck. Half of our miles driven, we towed the trailer. The other half, we drove it around town with nothing in tow and a few hundred pounds of cargo the bed of the truck. Once in a while we threw in an off-road adventure just for fun.

    2007 Dodge RAM 3500

    Our 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 single rear wheel truck

    When the truck had 85,000 miles on it, we installed an Edge Diesel Evolution CS tuner, and what a world of difference that made to our driving experience, not only when we were towing but also when we were driving the truck around without the trailer attached.

    In a nutshell, it has:

    • Increased our truck’s power
    • Improved our gas mileage
    • Given us a readout for the transmission temperature.

    And it was an easy installation to boot.

    We also installed an optional companion product, the Edge EAS Exhaust Gas Temp sensor which gives us another piece of crucial temperature data when we are towing under heavy load. This is not a mandatory installation.

    We couldn’t be more pleased with these upgrades!

    Big Bend Texas Bound

    Our truck with our fifth wheel trailer attached.

    This is a long post, and you can skip down the page to the following sections:

    1. Why Install an Engine Tuner?
    2. Edge Evolution CS Tuner – Tested and Validated
    3. Installing the Edge Tuner
    4. More POWER Driving in the Rocky Mountains
    5. More TEMP DATA Towing in the Rockies
    6. Better MPG – Fuel Efficiency Improvements, Towing and Not Towing
    7. Additional Exhaust Gas Temperature Sensor Installation
    8. Other features of the Edge Evolution CS tuner

    1. Why Install an Engine Tuner?

    We first became interested in the idea of installing the Edge Evolution CS tuner when Mark saw an article in the October 2014 issue of Diesel Power Magazine (“Tested, Proven, Validated — Edge’s DPF-On Tuner Walks the Walk”). This article discusses the improvements the tuner had made on our exact model truck (well, a 2009 rather than a 2007, but with everything else virtually the same, including the mileage!).

    The Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner works on Ford, GM/Chevy and Dodge RAM.

    Edge Evolution CS Tuner mounted on the dashboard of a Dodge RAM 3500 truck

    The Edge Tuner is mounted on the windshield, low enough not to restrict visibility but still easy to see.

    Why install a tuner? It lets the driver fine tune the engine performance and boost power when needed

    The beauty of the Edge programmer is that it doesn’t change anything in the engine permanently. It simply gives the driver the ability to fine tune the engine for its specific job at the moment, whether that is towing a big trailer, carrying a heavy load in the bed, racing off-road, or driving around town.

    Light duty diesel trucks (i.e., Ford 250/350, Chevy 2500/3500 and Dodge RAM 2500/3500) are built for many uses, from towing heavy horse and RV trailers, to off-road racing, to driving across town and across country carrying big loads.

    The on-board computer of every model truck is programmed at the factory to be able to do each of these things pretty well. However, it is impossible to program the computer to operate the engine at peak performance in all conditions. To make things worse, the truck manufacturers don’t provide the driver with a way to optimize the engine’s performance or to monitor some of the data the computer has already gathered.

    Much of the truck computer’s capabilities and data remain inaccessible to the driver.

    This is where the Edge tuner comes in, because it allows the driver to fine tune the engine for the immediate job at hand.

    The idea behind the Edge tuner is to put the programming power into the hands of the driver, and to provide gauges for monitoring much of the data that the engine’s sensors detect. The Edge tuner can program the truck’s computer to maximize towing power or maximize non-towing fuel efficiency, depending on the kind of driving you are doing that day. It can also set the truck’s computer back to the stock factory settings, which is important if the truck is going into the shop for repair.

    Because nothing mechanical is modified or tampered with, this means that nothing whatsoever is lost by installing the Edge tuner, but a whole lot is gained.

    Why install a tuner? It gives the driver more detailed engine & transmission temperature data

    We were intrigued by the Edge tuner because the installation appeared to be very easy, and the results were absolutely terrific. We tow our big fifth wheel trailer over huge, nasty mountain passes in the western states on a regular basis in the summertime, often tackling 10% and 15% grades on secondary roads. A little more towing power would be awesome!

    What’s more, the tuner displays temperature data that the truck’s computer already has but that the truck manufacturer doesn’t display on the dashboard gauges. All this data is readily available via the OBD-II port (“On Board Diagnostic”) under the dashboard, you just have to plug into it. This is what the Edge programmer does — it is totally “plug-and-play.”

    Edge Evolution CS Tuner programmer for diesel trucks

    In this image, the tuner is set up to display three different types of temperature data:
    Engine Coolant Temp (left), Exhaust Gas Temp (middle bar), Transmission Fluid Temp (right).
    From the factory, most trucks display ONLY the Engine Coolant Temperature.

    So, the Edge tuner would allow us to monitor the transmission temperature as we drove over mountain passes. This is vital data that is not accessible with our standard engine temp gauges.

    Installing a companion product, the Edge Products EAS Exhaust Gas Temp sensor would let us monitor the exhaust gas temperature as well. Data from this optional sensor is shown in the middle gauge in the above image.

    Having this extra information would allow us take action if something other than the engine coolant temperature overheated. It would also keep us better in touch with what was going on in the engine, in the event that the engine coolant temp was within an acceptable range but some other part of the truck’s propulsion were overheating. That scenario doesn’t seem possible, but read on…

    You see, the factory installed engine coolant temp gauge in the truck cab tells only part of the story!

    Why install a tuner? It improves the truck’s Fuel Efficiency (MPG)

    We’ve always wished for a little better fuel mileage, both towing and when we are driving around town without our house attached. The tuner’s Level 2 programming mode promised improved fuel efficiency in non-towing conditions.

    As it turned out, the tuner has increased our truck’s fuel efficiency in all situations.

    What about the truck’s warranty?

    A tuner (or “programmer”) does not permanently modify the truck’s computer or engine. There are “chips” on the market that make a permanent modification, but tuners and programmers don’t fall into that category.

    We have called a few Dodge dealerships, and they have all assured us that if we had a truck that was in warranty (ours is not), they would service the truck even if it had an Edge tuner installed in it. Their recommendation to us was to reset the Edge tuner to “Stock” and then unplug it from the OBD-II port under the dashboard before bringing it in for service so they could properly analyze the engine (they use OBD-II port for their diagnostics).

    The dealerships did say that if they found service was needed because of the presence of the Edge tuner (for instance, the tuner failed and shorted something out), they wouldn’t warranty that work, but they said the Edge tuner itself would not void any warranties.

     

     

    2. Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner – Tested and Validated!

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    It’s easy enough for manufacturers to offer a bunch of sales hype and fake claims about a product like this, but the aspect of the magazine article that really got our attention was that the folks at Diesel Power did a controlled experiment to measure both the horsepower and torque that this tuner generates. First, they put a stock 2009 Dodge RAM 3500 on a dynamometer and took horsepower and torque measurements. Then they installed the Edge tuner on the same truck, put it back on the dynomometer, and did the measurements a second time.

    With the Edge tuner set to its lowest setting (Evolution Level 1), the results were:

    Stock (no tuner) With Edge Tuner
    Horsepower: 321 @ 2,900 rpm 362 @ 2,900 rpm
    Torque: 605 ft-lb @ 2,350 rpm 711 ft-lb @ 2,300 rpm
    Peak Exhaust Gas Temp: 1,266 degrees 1,200 degrees

    So, they saw a jump of 41 hp, 106 ft-lb torque and a drop in peak exhaust gas temperatures. Wow!!

    The Edge Tuner suddenly became a “must have” for us.

    3. Installing the Edge Evolution CS Tuner

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    The installation took a total of 90 minutes, from opening the box, to sitting down and reading the manual, to getting the unit installed in the truck. Very easy. In fact, it was so darned quick that Mark had completely finished the installation before I got my camera out to get pics of the unit going in.

    Edge Products Diesel Evolution Programmer Package Contents

    Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner Package Contents

    The package contents include:

    • The user manual
    • The display unit
    • A windshield mounting bracket
    • Two wire/plug assemblies
    • Tie wraps

    You just mount the display unit on the windshield with the suction cup mounting bracket, plug the unit to the OBD-II port, use the tie wraps to dress it all up, and you’re done. So I guess I didn’t miss much!

     

    4. More POWER!! Driving in the Rocky Mountains

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    15 mph grade in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

    The switchbacks are 180 degree
    hairpin turns

    When we installed the Edge tuner on our truck, we just happened to be staying at the base of one of the biggest mountain passes we have ever traversed with our truck and trailer, the Million Dollar Highway that runs through the Colorado Rocky Mountains between Ouray, Silverton and Durango, on US Route 550.

    This hair-raising, 70 mile stretch of road winds through dozens of 10 mph, 15 mph and 20 mph hairpin turns, going up and down grades that the Colorado Department of Transportation rates at “7% or more,” with some folks claiming a few are in the 9% range.

    To add a little excitement to the drive, this is a fairly narrow two lane road with steep, unprotected drop-offs.

    The views are divine, but it can be a white knuckle ride. The drive begins in Ouray at an altitude of 7,800′ and then climbs and descends over three major passes:

    After finishing the Edge tuner installation, we took the truck up and down the first part of this road between Ouray and Red Mountain Pass about a dozen times. Mark set the tuner to Evolution Level 1, and he felt the difference in performance immediately.

    He hit the gas pedal on a steep incline and his eyebrows shot up as he said to me, “This feels like a race truck!”

    Steep 10 mph switchback on Red Mountain Pass on Route 550 the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton Colorado

    Steep 10 mph grades climbing Red Mountain Pass

     

    5. More TEMP DATA!! Towing in the Rockies

    Return to top

    Once he was comfortably familiar with the road and the mountain passes, and once we were ready to leave Ouray, we hitched the trailer to the truck and drove the entire Million Dollar Highway — Route 550 — over those three mountain passes from Ouray through Silverton to Durango.

    20 mph grade on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado's Rock Mountains

    20 mph switchback ahead.

    Mark was impressed that the truck had plenty of power at all times and made it up and over the passes without straining. He kept the engine torque in its power band of 2,200 to 2,600 rpm, and he never had to depress the gas pedal all the way to the floor to maintain a safe speed.

    You can set up the Edge tuner display to show whatever data interests you most.

    On the CS model (which we installed), there are two large analog displays with accompanying digital readouts and a smaller digital display in between them.

    The CTS model (which is slightly more expensive) has three analog displays with accompanying digital readouts.

    Mark had set up our tuner to show the Engine Coolant Temp (ECT) and the Transmission Fluid Temp (TFT) on the two large semi-circular analog gauges to the left and right.

    The ECT is a measure of the antifreeze temperature in the radiator, and is the “engine temperature” reading that is given in an analog gauge on the truck’s dashboard. It is also the temperature that most manufacturer’s use to indicate that the engine has overheated, usually displaying a big red light on the dash.

    Fifth wheel trailer in the Colorado Rocky mountains_

    Despite the hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs, semi-tractor trailers and RVs traverse this highway all the time.

    The TFT is a measure of the transmission fluid temp, and it is not a value that is tied into any of the dashboard instrumentation on most trucks.

    In general, both the ECT and TFT temps should be kept below 225 degrees, although newer trucks can run slightly hotter than older trucks.

    The digital readouts on the Edge tuner display unit are big numbers that are easy for both the driver (and passenger) to read.

    Getting into the Red Zone

    What a shock it was to begin our first big ascent on Red Mountain Pass and to see that while the Engine Coolant Temp was in the normal range, according to both the factory-installed in-dash gauge and the Edge tuner (which showed 215 degrees), the Transmission Fluid Temp went into the red zone, climbing past the safe zone of 225 degrees up to 237 degrees.

    The ascent was almost over when we hit this max, and both temps quickly dropped back down as we descended towards Silverton. The ECT cooled down to 198 degrees and the TFT cooled way down to 163 degrees.

    On the next ascent, Molas Pass, (10,970′), the Engine Coolant Temp climbed back up to 215 degrees (still in the safe zone) while the Transmission Fluid Temp topped out at 244 degrees.

    Edge Diesel Evolution CS Tuner showing high transmission fluid temperature

    The truck’s temp gauge (and Edge ECT data) said we were not overheating, but
    that’s just the antifreeze. The transmission fluid temp (right) was 19 degrees too high.

    In the next valley, the temps dropped back down again, and on the last ascent, Coal Bank Pass (10,640′), the temps climbed again, but this time the Transmission Fluid Temp stayed below 235 degrees.

    Insights

    We were both amazed that the truck never overheated, according to the dashboard Engine Temp gauge, but in fact, the transmission had exceeded its limits by as much as 19 degrees, or 8%. We never would have known that without the Edge tuner, and it made us wonder just how hot the transmission fluid would be in the event that the engine coolant temp actually went into red alert.

    If the transmission stays over 225 degrees for too many minutes, the transmission fluid breaks down permanently, and the transmission can be irreparably damaged.

    10 mph grade on steep Red Mountain Pass switchback on Route 550 the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

    Steep grade ahead — prepare for a 10 mph turn

    You can set up alerts in the Edge tuner display so that buzzers sound and/or the display flashes when any of the data being monitored exceeds its maximum. However, by default, the alert system is turned off. This makes sense, as it could be annoying to have a buzzer going when you are already nervously looking for a way to safely pull over to let the engine cool.

    For anyone installing the Edge tuner, just keep the magic number 225 in mind, and you will easily see when you have exceeded that value on the tuner’s display, as the numbers are nice and large. There is also a “red zone” on the analog display, but we found it was so faint that we did not notice it until we studied our photos of the gauge afterwards!

     

    6. Better MPG – Fuel Efficiency Improvements

    Return to top

    When we tow, we set the Edge tuner to Level 1.
    When we are not towing, we set the Edge tuner to Level 2.

    Increased MPG – Towing – Improves by 2 MPG!

    Before we installed the Edge tuner, we typically got somewhere between 9.7 and 10.5 mpg while towing for long distances, according to the electronic gauge in the truck. This gauge has its limitations, because it is somehow averaging the most recent miles driven, but I have not been able to find exactly how the average is calculated or how many miles back it goes — is it the most recent 100 miles? 500? 1,000?

    Measuring the MPG from one full tank of diesel to the next is a more accurate method, but it is still fallible because one tank may be filled slightly more than another, and if the tank of gas includes both towing and non-towing miles, then the numbers are thrown off.

    So, I can’t offer scientifically collected numbers here, but I can say that after we installed the Edge tuner, the gauge in our truck now typically shows numbers between 11.7 and 12.5 when we are towing consistently for distances of 250 miles or more.

    In essence, the truck is saving 2 miles per gallon while producing more power. Very impressive!

    Increased MPG – Not Towing – Improves by 3 MPG!

    Our truck always used to get somewhere in the 16-18 MPG range when we weren’t towing, better on highways and less in town.

    Now, if we travel 100 miles or more without the trailer, we see an MPG in the 19-21 range. That is an improvement of 3 MPG!

    What a shock it was the first time we drove 130 highway miles at 65 mph and saw 21.6 MPG on our truck’s mileage gauge!!

    Return on Investment

    If this fuel savings alone were used to justify the cost of a new Edge Evolution tuner, how many miles would we have to drive for the unit to pay for itself?

    If we assume the tuner costs ~$450 and diesel costs ~$3/gallon (both rough but reasonable estimates given prices in the last year), and we assume a conservative savings of 2 MPG, whether towing or not, and we tow for half the total miles driven, we will have saved approximately $450 in fuel once we have driven about 15,500 miles.

    Of course, the tuner does a lot more than save a little fuel…

     

    7. Additional Exhaust Gas Temperature Sensor Installation

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    A month after installing the Edge Evolution CS tuner, Mark installed a companion product, the Expandable Accessory System (EAS – product #98603) Exhaust Gas Temperature sensor. This product measures the temperature of the exhaust gases in the exhaust manifold, giving the driver yet more insight — beyond just the antifreeze temp and the transmission fluid temp — into how hot the engine is running.

    This was an optional installation, but after seeing the value of knowing the transmission fluid temperature, we wanted to be able to monitor our exhaust gas temperature readings as well.

    This installation was quite a bit more complicated than the Edge programmer, as the probe had to be inserted into the exhaust manifold. This required drilling a hole in the exhaust manifold, tapping the hole, screwing the probe into the newly tapped hole, and running the wires through the engine firewall back to the Edge Evolution tuner where they plugged into the back of the display unit.

    The hardest part of this installation was drilling and tapping the hole, in part because the exhaust manifold is not super easy access to with a large drill, and in part because the metal of the exhuast manifold is very thick and hard.

    The instructions in the manual called for:

    The most important thing is that the tap handle be big and solid to give you lots of leverage, because the solid cast iron on the exhaust manifold is very thick and very hard. This will make the difference between an easy installation and a miserably hard one.

    As always, Mark got the project underway before I got my camera going, so I don’t have a “before” photo. However, the “after” photo below shows what you’re gunning for and what stands in the way between you and the exhaust manifold.

    Edge Products Evolution Programmer Installed on a 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 truck

    Completed installation with only the braided stainless cable for the probe showing.

    First, unscrew the bolt holding the two black tubes in place so they can be pushed aside.

    Remove the bracket for access to the exhaust manifold

    Remove the bolt to free up the tubes that are blocking the exhaust manifold

    The probe will be inserted here.

    Location for inserting the Edge Products EAS Exhaust gas temperature probe in the exhaust manifold

    Location for the Edge Products EAS Exhaust gas temp probe in the exhaust manifold

    Space is tight, so a 90 degree right angle drill is necessary. Drill a pilot hole first. Then drill the real hole for the probe.

    In order to avoid getting metal filings in the wrong places, grease the drill bit first. Drill a little, then wipe the drill bit down, re-grease it, and drill a little further. Do this for both the pilot hole and the real hole.

    Use a 90 degree right angle drill

    Use a 90 degree right angle drill

    Hole drilled in the exhaust manifold

    Hole drilled in exhaust manifold

    Now the hole is ready to be tapped. Grease or oil the tapping tool well, and work it in and out a quarter turn at a time. As before, after a few turns, back it all the way out and wipe off the metal filings, and re-grease it.

    As mentioned above, a small tap handle will not give you enough leverage for the thick, hard cast iron of the exhaust manifold.

    Preparing to tap the hole in the exhaust manifold

    An undersized tap handle will make the job very difficult. Get a big, sturdy one!

    Once the hole is drilled and tapped, the probe can be screwed in. Grease the probe’s threads with <strong>Permatex Anti-Seize Lubricant first. Then, a cable connecting the probe to the Edge tuner is run from the exhaust manifold back through the engine firewall between the engine and the cab, and on up to the tuner.

    Edge Products EAS exhaust temperature probe screwed into the exhaust manifold

    Edge Products EAS exhaust temperature probe screws into the exhaust manifold

    Wires run through the engine firewall between the engine compartment and the truck cab

    Wires run through the engine firewall between the engine compartment and the truck cab

     

    Mark opted to put the display for the exhaust gas temperatures in the middle display area between the Engine Coolant Temp and the Transmission Fluid Temp. Of course, you can choose to display any data in any of the three display areas, and Mark experimented a little before settling on ECT on the left, EGT in the middle and TFT on the right.

    Edge Evolution CS Tuner programmer for diesel trucks

    Engine Coolant (left), Exhaust Gas (middle bar), Transmission Fluid (right)

    The more expensive Edge Evolution CTS tuner has three large displays with both analog and digital readouts rather than the two large displays and one small one on the Edge Evolution CS tuner.

    Results

    We installed the Exhaust Gas Temperature probe after we had done all of our mountain driving for the season, so we have yet to test it in the mountains. The “overtemp” magic number for the EGT is 1350. Typical temps we have seen driving around town are in the mid-900’s, and climbing a long 5% grade while towing our fifth wheel, we’ve seen the mid-1100’s. However, these have just been the long, gradual grades of Arizona and not the steep switchbacks typical of Rocky Mountain passes.

    We will report our findings about the exhaust gas temperature readings once we have taken our RV over a big mountain pass!

     

    8. Other Features of the Edge Tuner

    Return to top

    The Edge tuner has a ton of other things it can do, because it essentially opens up the truck’s computer so the driver can access the data and temporarily modify the input parameters for the current driving conditions. (Obviosuly, you must be parked to mess with the menus on the tuner.)

    Our only interest in the tuner has been the improved power while towing, improved fuel economy while not towing and the additional temperature data that is made available when towing over big mountain passes.

    Maintenance and Diagnostic Trouble Codes

    There is a Maintenance Manager mode where you can establish a reminder system for standard maintenance items like changing the transmission fluid, checking the trans case fluid level, inspecting the brake pads, lubing the tie rod ends and rotating the tires. Simply get it started with your current odometer reading, and the reminders will alert you at your chosen intervals.

    If you are really concerned about fuel economy, there is a Mileage Coach that can show you how to vary your foot’s pressure on the gas pedal to maximize fuel economy as you drive. You can also find out the fuel cost per mile of a particular trip if you enter the price of the fuel you buy!

    In addition, the Edge tuner can reveal the Diagnostic Trouble Codes that are present when the truck’s Check Engine light goes on. Most codes can be looked up on the internet, so this might save some head scratching before heading off to a mechanic to get the problem looked at.

    For racers

    We have used only Levels 1 and 2 (for towing and around town driving), however there are two more levels beyond that for increased power performance, if you find your truck on the starting line of a racecourse. These modes adjust the fuel injection and timing to be more aggressive. In addition, the CTS model can be interfaced to a backup camera and it can also monitor the pitch, roll and G-forces!! For those with racing in mind who find themselves at a drag strip, there are also 0 to 60 mph performance tests and quarter mile tests, and the record highest values of these tests are maintained.

    Studying the Data

    You can also connect the Edge tuner to a computer using the USB port. You can retrieve all the data from the Edge programmer into an Excel-readable .csv file. using the downloadable Windows software called MyStyle (instructions given in the manual).

    For us, however, we are content with just the basics!

    Product info:

    For fun:

    After 20,000 very happy miles with this engine tuner, we replaced our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 with a 2016 Ram 3500 dually. A detailed description of our buying process and options on the new truck can be found here: Which Are the BEST Ram 3500 Options for Towing a 14K lb. 5th Wheel Trailer? A fun story is that rocker Alice Cooper Sold Us Our Truck! For those that are curious, we put a fabulous “puck” based B&W Fifth Wheel Hitch in the bed of our new truck, and we’re getting another Edge tuner!

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    2007 36′ Hitchhiker 5th Wheel Trailer for Full-Time RV Living

    In May, 2008 we went to Chanute, Kansas, to do a factory tour of the NuWa Hitchhiker 5th wheel manufacturing plant. We were so impressed that we bought a new fifth wheel trailer right then and there. This 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG fifth wheel trailer was the third RV we had owned and was our second full-time RV home.

    Ever since that time, other than a nearly four year cruise of Mexico on our sailboat from 2010-2013, during which time we alternated between cruising and RVing, this fifth wheel trailer has been our only home.

    Fifth wheel RV at sunset with full moon

    It is a 36′ long fifth wheel with an open floorplan that includes three slides and offers 360 square feet of living space. It was designed and built with full-timing in mind, so it is more rugged and better insulated than almost any other brand on the market.

    RV Flooplan for NuWa Hitchhiker LS II 34.5 RLTG Fifth wheel (5th wheel)

    The floorplan is open and spacious.

    For us, the two recliners and the desk were the major reasons for our move from our smaller travel trailer into this bigger fifth wheel, as those features make life infinitely more comfortable. We swapped the position of the sofa and recliners, and put one of the four chairs at the desk and the other in storage so there are just two chairs at the dinette table.

    The specs for our 5th wheel are:

    • 70 gallons of fresh water
    • 78 gallons of grey water
    • 50 gallons of black water
    • Dry weight 10,556 lbs
    • GVWR 13,995 lbs (which we reached with the cabinets only 1/3 full)
    • 15,000 BTU air conditioner
    • 40,000 BTU furnace
    • 8′ Dometic fridge

    The upgrades we did on it are:

    Before we bought this 5th wheel trailer in 2008, we already owned a 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 long bed single rear wheel truck which we had purchased brand new the summer before. It works a lot harder pulling this trailer than it did the Lynx travel trailer, which was our previous full-time RV, however we could still get up and down the big mountains out pretty well..

    We used to get 8.5-10.5 mpg while towing, but since we installed an Edge Tuner on our diesel engine in October 2014, we now get 10.5 to 13 mph while towing.

    To learn more about the upgrades we have done on our truck and trailer, visit these pages:

    2007 NuWa Hitchhiker 34.5 RLT 5th wheel RV trailer

    The dining room table and chairs and the sofa are in the big slide-out on the curb side.

    RV - 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II 34.5 RLTG fifth wheel (5th wheel)

    We love the big picture windows along the side and back of the trailer – they let in light and give us views!

    RV living room in 36' Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer

    Most modern trailers have short (60″ or 66″) sofas. This one has a 74″ sofa, long enough for Mark to stretch out on.

    RV Living room area of 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker 34.5 RLT fifth wheel

    The recliners are very relaxing. We found we weren’t as comfy without them in our old trailer.

    RV Kitchen 36' 5th wheel trailer by NuWa Hitchhiker

    The kitchen is open and easy to work in.

    5th wheel RV Kitchen NuWa Hitchhiker 36' fifth wheel

    A big window and expansive counter tops.

    RV Desk slide-out in 36' 5th wheel trailer by NuWa Hitchhiker

    The desk was a nice addition and gets the mess off the kitchen table!

    RV bedroom slidout fifth wheel trailer

    The queen bed has a window for each occupant — a nice feature if you want a light breeze on you at night.

    Fifth wheel bedroom slideout NuWa Hitchhiker 5th wheel RV

    The dresser and wide closet allow enough space for all our clothes for all seasons.

    Unfortunately, the economic downturn in 2008 shook up the RV industry right to its core, and many excellent manufacturers of full-time quality RVs went out of business. NuWa ceased building fifth wheel trailers in 2014. Their outstanding RV service center in Chanute, Kansas, is still in operation, however. Their manufacturing plant has been replaced with an RV dealership called Kansas RV Center.

    Ram 3500 dually diesel truck and 14,100 lb. fifth wheel trailer

    Dodge Ram 3500 Dually Long Bed Truck to tow our 36′ NuWa Hitchhiker 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer

    As for towing this trailer, after towing it over 50,000 miles with our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel Long Bed truck, in December, 2015, we replaced that truck with a much more powerful 2016 Ram 3500 Dually Long Bed. The difference in power is staggering. We have a very detail post explaining the differences between these two trucks and why our new truck is so superior here:

    Dodge Ram 3500 Dually Truck – Best Truck for RV Fifth Wheel Trailer Towing

    We had a blast buying this truck when we found out that our dealership had a marketing relationship with Alice Cooper, one of Mark’s rock star idols since his teenage days:

    Alice Cooper Sells Us a New Truck

    We decided to add some really awesome bling to this truck by outfitting it with a new B&W Companion Fifth Wheel Hitch. This hitch is unique because it takes advantage of the Dodge Ram fifth wheel hitch in-bed puck system. It took just one hour to install this hitch, and we have a step-by-step pictorial installation guide with instructions for how to install it:

    B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch – Installation Guide with Step-by-Step Instructions

    Dodge Ram 3500 Dually Truck towing a 36' NuWa Hitchhiker Fifth Wheel Trailer RV

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    2005 Fleetwood Colonial Popup Camper

    Our first trailer: a Fleetwood Colonial Popup tent trailer with our Toyota Tundra pickup We loved our first RV - a Fleetwood Colonial popup tent trailer (folding tent trailer)

    Closer view of the buggy itself.

    Our little popup trailer was the ideal starter RV. We put our buggy's name on the license plate of our popup tent trailer.

    We got a license plate with the buggy's name on it.

    Here's a photo of the Floorplan of the Fleetwood Colonial popup tent trailer (folding tent trailer)

    Luvnest Floorplan

    2005 Fleetwood Colonial Popup

    We used our popup for three years of vacation travel from 2004-2007, and we named it the Luvnest because it was so darned

    cute and so much fun.  Whenever we spent time in it, even just a weekend in a local campground, we fell in love all over again.

    We took it out whenever possible.  In the first two years we spent 157 nights in it.

    We bought it after a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah) in a tent.  The rain was relentless.  While we drove around looking

    for warm coffee shops and cozy places for lunch and dinner we noticed that all the people in RVs at the campground were

    happily playing board games and reading, snug inside their trailers.  All the tenters packed up and left.  When we got home we

    went shopping for a popup.

    The 2005 Fleetwood Colonial Folding Tent Trailer is 12' long

    end-to-end, including the hitch.  It has a 10' x 8' box containing

    the dinette, sink, cupboards and some nice shelving and gives

    150 square feet of living space.  There is a King bed at the

    hitch end and a Double bed at the other end, We had a

    furnace and outside shower which both came in very handy.

    We never camped anywhere that required air conditioning, but

    we often had chilly nights and ran the furnace.  When we got

    hookups we would use a Holmes ceramic space heater

    instead, as heating the trailer with the furnace used a lot of

    battery power.

    It had 26 gallons of fresh water (including the 6 gallon hot

    water tank).  There was no holding tank and no toilet.  We

    kept two small sets of Rubbermaid drawers in the trailer.

    One set contained our toiletries and the other had all those

    miscellaneous things you need like scissors, string, tape,

    stapler, pens and pencils, pads, sewing kit, etc.

    We pulled the popup with a 2004 Toyota Tundra pickup truck

    (4.7 liter engine).  It was a perfect combination for towing.  The

    trailer was easily within the truck's capabilities and there was

    plenty of storage under the cap of the pickup for all the things

    that wouldn't fit in the trailer.

    We purchased a bike rack for the roof, as this particular

    model did not include a roof rack.  It was a little awkward to

    get the bikes on the roof, because the rack system required

    strapping the bikes down in addition to using Bike Tites to

    clamp the fork to the roof, but it gave us more room in the

    truck.

    The beauty of a popup is that it is light and easy to tow, can fit

    in almost any campsite at any campground and can be

    parked in the garage.  Most have a king bed.  The

    disadvantage is that the canvas sides don't provide any

    insulation and you can't easily overnight in a Walmart or eat

    lunch at the dinette while stopped at a rest area.

    A popup offers a fantastic introduction to RVing.  We learned all about the basic RV systems: batteries, gas fridge, gas hot water

    heater, furnace, etc., with the popup.  We also learned how to conserve water with our showers and how to conserve battery

    use.  We did not have solar, but we could spend about a week in this rig without charging the batteries.  We often used candles

    at night to extend our stay.  The furnace was very effective but used a lot of battery power.  I nicknamed it the Fire Breathing

    Dragon, because it was quite loud and would make the buggy so hot I'd have to unzip the canvas near my nose to get some

    fresh air!  We found that if we were staying several days in a place where temperatures got into the 30's at night we were

    happier with hookups so we could run our electric heater all night long.  The lowest temperature we ever camped in was 28

    degrees in Moab, Utah, in March.  We like to be warm and we don't camp in humid areas, so we have never had a need for air

    conditioning in any of our rigs -- except when we were east of central Texas.

    Long-term travel in a popup can be done, but it is the exception.  We met a couple in their mid-sixties that has full-timed in a

    Fleetwood Niagra popup for four years.  They had a bumper sticker, "Life is better outdoors," and they were grinning ear to ear.

    We also met a couple in their twenties that was spending six months in their Fleetwood Santa Fe touring the country and

    peforming music in local bars as they searched for a community they liked enough to settle in.

    It was hard to give up our first Luvnest when we purchased our Lynx travel trailer.  However, our good friends Rich and Mary are

    now the proud owners of this rig, and we have had a ball camping with them, seeing our old Luvnest in a nearby campsite.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    2007 Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 27′ Travel Trailer

    We lived fulltime in our Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270 FQS travel trailer, a good RV for fulltiming! The 27' Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS is a great RV for the fulltime RV lifestyle, even though it's a travel trailer A 27' travel trailer, the Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270 FQS, has enough space for a part-time RV lifestyle but not enough for fulltiming

    This layout is great for two people but is limited for

    entertaining.

    The Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS has an open floorplan that we liked for our fulltime RV lifestyle The 27' Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS travel trailer RV has an open floorplan -- good for fulltime RVers like us

    The sofa and dinette are in a big slide

    We opened the jackknife sofa all the time in our 27' Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS when we were living in that RV fulltime

    The "jackknife" sofa easily folds out into a double bed. 

    The dinette also folds down into a child-size bed.

    We used the TV a lot in our Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270 FQS travel trailer when we lived in that RV fulltime

    The TV can be turned to face the bed or the sofa.  There

    is a cigarette lighter on the wall that we used for our

    inverter so we could watch TV and DVDs while

    drycamping.

    The kitchen in our 27' Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS travel trailer was a little small for our fulltime RV lifestyle

    This little kitchen produced many great meals.

    The 27' Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS is a smart floorplan that worked well for our fulltime RV lifestyle

    Lynx Floorplan

    solar panel installation (Kyocera 130 watt) on our 27' Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS travel trailer, our fulltime RV

    Mark installs the solar panel on the roof of the trailer.

    This gives us all the electricity we need without having

    to hook up.

    Solar panel installation (130 watt Kyocera) on our 27' Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS travel trailer, the RV we lived in fulltime

    Getting psyched to start drilling holes in the roof.  Mark

    was naturally quite worried about this part of the

    installation.

    solar panel installation (Kyocera 130 watt) on our 27' travel trailer, a Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS, our fulltime RV

    Westport-Union State Park Campground in California

    about 150 miles north of San Francisco was a nice

    place to do this installation.

    Kyocera 130 watt solar panel on the roof of our RV, a 27' Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS travel trailer, our fulltime RV home

    Finished product, situated between a roof hatch and the

    folded down TV antenna.

    2007 Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS

    We purchased our Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer as a fulltime RV,

    and we lived in it from May, 2007 to May, 2008.  We bought it with

    the idea of "Go cheap, go small, go now."  We wanted to use our

    existing truck ('04 Toyota Tundra), and this trailer was the largest

    size that our truck could handle (theoretically).  We wanted a travel

    trailer so we could have a cap on the truck and keep our bikes out

    of the elements.  What appealed to us about the Lynx was its very

    spacious interior for its length.  It had an open and airy feeling

    inside, and had a lot of storage space.  It was the ideal introduction

    to larger sized RVs.

    The 2007 Fleetwood Prowler Lynx 270FQS is a 29'

    travel trailer from end to end, including the hitch, and

    is 27' x 8' inside with a 3' x 14' slideout, providing 240

    square feet of living space.  It weighs 5,500 lbs dry

    and has a GVWR of 7,300 lbs.  It was billed as "half-

    ton towable" but we had trouble towing it through the

    mountains with our 2004 4.7 liter Toyota Tundra.  We

    towed it for about 4,000 miles with that truck and

    then replaced the truck with a Dodge Ram 3500

    diesel.  The trailer holds 40 gallons of fresh water, 40

    gallons of grey and 40 gallons of black.  It has a

    15,000 BTU air conditioner and 35,000 BTU furnace.

    There is a single slide that is 3' x 14' which contains the dinette and

    sofa.  The queen bed on this model was a short queen (74.5" x 60"),

    but Mark modified it to be a full quuen (80"x60").  The bed lifts up to

    a huge storage area underneath that can be accessed by hatch

    doors on both sides of the trailer.  It has a 6 cubic foot refrigerator,

    kitchen sink, range, microwave and pantry.  The bathroom has a

    shower, toilet and sink.

    We used an Equalizer hitch with a 12,000 lb rating.  The hitch broke

    twice.  Fortunately we were not hurt either time.  The first time the

    welds cracked all around the hitch head.  The second time one of the

    two bolts holding the hitch together sheered off when we came down

    a driveway leaving a bank parking lot.  Equalizer was very good and

    replaced the hitch head when the welds broke.  We replaced the hitch

    bolts with #8 rather than #5 bolts (only a few bucks) just a few miles

    from where we noticed the one had sheered off.  We got 9-10 mpg

    while towing with the Tundra and 11-12 mpg while towing with the Dodge.

    This trailer was an ideal starter for fulltime RVing.  In it we learned about

    solar power, inverters and boondocking, and it taught us about the things

    that were vital and the things that were unimportant in a fulltime rig.  In the

    end we realized the Tundra was not strong enough to tow the Lynx and we

    upgraded to a long bed, single rear wheel Dodge Ram 3500 one ton.  It was

    more truck than the Lynx needed, but we purchased it knowing that one day

    we might get a fifth wheel.

    By starting with the little Lynx we got on the road sooner rather than later,

    and we had time to research alternative big rigs at leisure.  As we traveled

    we quizzed everyone we met in a larger trailer to find out what they liked

    and didn't like about it.

    We visited dealerships in towns from Oregon to Florida and slowly educated

    ourselves about the brands, makes and models of the larger rigs.

    There is no way that we could have done that kind of research when

    we were working.  We finally  decided the Lynx was too small during

    the long cold winter nights, and being a lightly built "half-ton towable"

    trailer, it was a little fragile for the long term.  We also discovered that

    it was very awkward to get into the storage space in the back of the

    truck and we decided the bikes didn't really have to be stored out of

    the elements.

    Our solar setup on this rig was one Kyocera 130 watt solar panel

    mounted permanently to the roof (not able to be tilted towards the

    sun), and a Morningstar Sunsaver charge controller connected initially

    to two 12 volt Nautilus Group 24 batteries.  We upgraded the batteries

    to two 6 volt Energizer batteries from Sam's Club after six months.

    The first pair of batteries had 140 amp-hours of capacity and the

    second pair had 220 amp-hours of capacity.  The solar charging

    setup provided about 25-50 amp-hours of battery charging capacity

    per day, which meant that we could use about that much battery

    power in the trailer each day without running the batteries down.

    We had an 800 watt inverter connected directly to the batteries and we

    ran a power strip style extension cord from its AC receptacle through

    the storage area under the bed and into the trailer.  We had to go

    outside to open the storage hatch to turn on this inverter, so we used it

    only when we wanted to run the vacuum cleaner (which draws 300-400

    watts).

    Inside the trailer there was a cigarette-lighter style DC connector for

    the antenna boost system on the wall next to the TV shelf.  We kept a

    tiny Radio Shack 150 watt inverter on the shelf and turned it on

    whenever we wanted to charge the computer, the razor, the camera

    batteries or the toothbrush, or whenever we wanted to watch TV or

    DVDs.  This little inverter's fan quit once, but Mark lubed it up with

    WD-40 and it ran daily for 3-6 hours each day for the year that we

    lived in this trailer.  It is amazing that a tiny $60 gadget could give us the ability to run all the AC appliances that we wanted to run

    (except the vacuum).  We had never used a microwave much in our house, so we didn't bother getting an inverter large enough

    to support the microwave (950 watts).  So we used the microwave as a breadbox.

    We drycamped 83% of the time that first year -- 305 nights.  The solar

    setup was more than adequate for the entire year except for the cold

    winter months, December - February.  Until that time we never paid

    much attention to our electrical use.  The four LEDs that showed the

    status of the batteries generally had all four LEDs lit whenever we

    checket it.  During the winter months the days were short, so the

    panel did not have much time to get its charging done; the sun rode

    low in the sky, so the panel did not sit at a great angle to the sun; and

    the nights were long, so we sat around for hours while it was dark

    outside, running the lights and the battery-draining furnace.  To

    compensate, we used oil lamps for light at night and we wore a lot of

    layers.  This is okay for a "roughing it" vacation, but it wore on our

    spirits after a while.  It was clear by the end of the winter that we

    needed more solar and battery capacity, a non-battery-draining

    heating system, and more seating options in the trailer!

    In the end it was hard to let the little Lynx go.  John and Carl at the dealership where we traded it in were very patient as we

    continually sang its praises and wondered aloud whether the new huge fifth wheel would measure up.  The Lynx had everything

    we needed, and if we had been traveling just 6-9 months a year we never would have given it up.  However, when your only

    home is your trailer, little things like comfortable furniture, space to lie down on the floor and stretch, and general ruggedness

    become important.  I'm not 100% sure, but I think the fellow that bought the Lynx from the dealership was a man who had just lost

    his home -- a 1980's vintage Holiday Rambler travel trailer -- to a tornado that had flattened his town of Pricher Oklahoma.  If that

    is the case, then I know the Lynx is very much appreciated by its new owner.