Not Enough Muscle In Those Arms

This broken trailing arm caused our RV breakdown.

You’d expect that a manufacturer of RVs would carefully think out the design and fabrication of the components used to build products, whether that be anything from a pop-up camper to a Class A Motorhome. A quick Google search is all it takes to find what others have experienced – RV breakdown because of poor design, improper manufacturing processes, and/or faulty equipment. Buyer beware, problems arise where you least expect them.

As you may or may not know, we own a 2004  38′ Holiday Rambler (built by Monaco) Ambassador. It’s a diesel pusher with very low miles and was in excellent shape, hence the reason we purchased it. We had it inspected and up until now the only maintenance costs had been…replacement of an illuminated switch; replacement of toilet seals and gaskets; new wiper blades, oil and filter change, windshield chips repaired, and the repair of a damaged (hail) roof vent cover — all minor expenditures. Recently we had to replace all six of the tires, which were the original tires that came on the rig. Replacing them was a major expenditure, but expected.

What wasn’t expected was an RV breakdown and the cost to replace both rear axle trailing arms after one failed. It cracked…no make that broke, into two pieces. This put us in a situation we definitely didn’t expect…but given the seriousness of this mechanical failure, it could have been a lot worse…even fatal. Though we are not exactly sure when the trailing arm started its process of breaking, we do know what started to call our attention that something was wrong.

As we traveled between campgrounds a strange noise could be heard. At first we associated it to the pavement we were driving on, as we were new to this area and the noise wasn’t constant. It didn’t change by speed, but did by the roughness of the roadway, so we disregarded it as road noise. That all changed during the next leg of our journey. Again, the noise was intermittent at first, but it became more constant and louder. A stop at a wayside revealed no problems that we could see, so we continued on, but at a slower pace.

wheelpositioncomparison

First indication something was amiss, the rear wheel wasn’t centered in the wheel well as it normally is…see insert for normal position.

It didn’t improve and seemed to be getting worse, so we stopped yet again at another wayside. This time it was obvious something was wrong. The right rear corner of the rig was leaning and there was a hissing sound emitting from the wheel well. It wasn’t a tire or the suspension airbag, but the ride height valve that controls the air bag. Okay, that’s an easy repair…sometimes contamination in the airline will find its way and get stuck inside the valve causing it to stick. A call to our roadside assistance insurance (Coach-Net) had a technician on site within an hour on a Sunday. (I won’t go into the details of this technician —  he wasn’t much help and that experience will be in another post. What I will say is that I found the real cause of the problem after determining it wasn’t the airbag or the ride height valve.)

trialarmcracking

Crack in the left rear axle trailing arm. At first it was only partially cracked, by the time we made it to the campground it was completely cracked through.

I found that the trailing arm had a crack and the arm was drooping, unable to support the weight of the rig. While we sat there waiting for Monday to arrive and businesses to reopen that could be of assistance, I searched the Internet for solutions. A forum message board had a thread about a recall on Monaco-built units about the time ours was built. Though ours wasn’t a part of that recall, the information led me to learn more about design issues with the trailing arms. I even called a company that produces replacement arms and they actually answered the phone on a Sunday! The person I spoke with was very helpful and said they had the parts I would need in stock or I could opt to source them from a dealer in Florida who also had them in stock.

Monday rolls around after a sleepless night in the wayside, and the first thing I do is to start calling RV dealers looking for one close by who can do the repair. For this type of RV breakdown, I was referred to a truck repair shop, as this project was too heavy of a task for most RV dealers to handle. The shop didn’t have the facilities for us to stay on their premises; they recommended the nearby Fredericksburg, VA KOA. So we drove very slowly (25 mph) the nine or so miles to the campground and started the process of ordering the necessary parts while discussing the repair itself with the repair shop. It took some time to get the parts ordered (holiday weekend) and shipped from Indiana. I opted to go to the OEM manufacturer, mostly for time reasons, as the price for the replacement parts was nearly the same. The shorter distance helped save on the freight costs…500 pounds isn’t something you can send UPS Ground.

It took about two weeks before repairs could begin. The parts arrived on a Thursday, but we couldn’t get it into the shop for service until the following Monday. The repair shop would not commit to an appointment until the parts were on hand and their schedule was already full. With a scheduled appointment agreed to on Friday evening I gave the rig another look see underneath. Our plan was to again carefully drive slowly (25 mph) the six or so miles to the repair shop however, the crack was now obviously worse than before. The wheel was no longer centered in the wheel well, so we decided to call our roadside assistance insurer again to request that it be towed to the shop from the campground.

rubybeingtowed

Our Ruby being towed to the shop. It was a gut wrenching experience to watch as we followed behind…every bump and dip had her moaning and groaning…and us as well.

The tension continues to mount. Thinking ahead on Saturday, we started the process to get the tow scheduled for first thing Monday morning. There were a couple glitches in this idea; it was sound, but the policy of the insurer was that they needed to confirm for themselves that we did, in fact, have an appointment…problem was the shop is closed on weekends. Everything had to wait until Monday again! This delayed our arrival at the shop in part because transporting the motorhome was a concern. It was too tall to be flat-bedded to the shop, so the only and least favorable option was to conventionally tow it. The owners manual recommended the use of rear wheel dollies if the drive axle was compromised…but no such dollies existed. So our rolling home was towed and that was something to see as we followed behind.

Whew! It made it to the shop in one piece and with us adding a few hundred more gray hairs to our collection.

comparearms

Comparison of the old under engineered trailing arm with the new beefier ones.

Once in the service bay and up on jacks…the trailing arm fell apart completely. It was a miracle we made it there at all without more major damage. The shop was very cooperative to our needs and put two technicians on the task of replacing the trailing arms. Others also occasionally lent a hand to help where needed. It took more than 13 hours to complete, but we were once again back on the road after spending one night in a nearby hotel. This was an expensive repair. In round numbers, including parts, shipping, labor and the costs of campground site fees and hotel…it’s somewhere around $5000.00.

brokenarm

We’d like to thank everyone at the KOA who were supportive and understanding of our situation, both staff and fellow guests alike, and Monaco for shipping the replacement parts to us quickly. Mostly though, a real BIG THANKS goes to Tony and the crew at Liberty Equipment Repair, Inc. – ( 10879 Houser Drive, Fredericksburg, VA 22408 ) for their hard work to get us fixed and back on the road quickly as they could!

We’re back on the road and everything is once again fine. It was probably a good thing this happened when and where it did. The roads in the northeast have to be some of the worst we’ve encountered in the more than twenty states we’ve driven across.

 

 

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Gerald Voigt

Gerald’s interests are wide and varied. His work career started in the United States Air Force and since then has worked in logistics management, retail & service management as well as manufacturing. He’s an author, photographer, pilot, radio show host and marketing consultant who enjoys RVing which allows him greater freedom to explore, meet new acquaintances and serve his clients.

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