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Ask Bob Livingston: A Personal Touch

Ask Bob Livingston: A Personal Touch

May 18, 2019

Livability enhancements and suspension upgrades are all part of RV ownership.

Like any residence, an RV starts life on the assembly line with a number of standard and optional features established for the model run. Almost all manufacturers offer options, and most dealers know how to order based on clientele and market demand. If you order a new RV, rather than buy one already on the dealer’s lot, you’ll have an opportunity to add a few optional items to the build list, but the real fun starts after delivery.

With few exceptions, enthusiasts love to personalize their RVs to suit their individual tastes and lifestyle. Think of an RV as an open palette to let your imagination run wild. As full-time RVers, my wife Lynne and I have customized our fifth wheel with a number of items that add convenience and perform more effectively. For one, we exchanged the stock water heater for a Truma AquaGo, which provides unlimited, instantaneous hot water. It’s a game changer for those who like to take long showers. As long as you have LP-gas and water, the hot water never stops.

Augmenting the AquaGo is an Ecocamel shower head. Not only does it conserve water and provide an invigorating stream, the soft water feature in the model we use reduces calcium and other minerals, enhancing the showering experience while making the cleanup easier.

Over the years, we’ve focused on galley and bathroom fixtures, the stove, lighting, flooring, entertainment, electronics and solar systems and added just enough art to make us feel at home. We’re officially out of space on the roof.

Of course, to maintain the proper weight, we have to shop judiciously when going to RV shows, street fairs and other places where fun items are on display. An annual purging helps us make room for new “things.” Every year, before we head out from our winter digs in Palm Springs, California, we go through every cabinet, inside and out, and pack up the deemed “unnecessary” items, giving away what we don’t need and putting the rest in storage. It’s a good feeling and keeps our inventory under control. Still, weighing your RV every year (fully loaded for a trip) is important. Doing so will verify that weight is truly under control, within gross vehicle and axle ratings, and safe for the road. It’s shocking how fast RVs can gain weight — owners too.

While it’s easy to concentrate on livability and gadgets, it’s also important to pay close attention to the RV’s underpinnings, especially if you have a trailer or fifth wheel. Stock suspensions are constantly “abused” by roads that are in disrepair. Weak points in trailer suspensions must be inspected annually, and even sooner when pulling a lot of miles during the year. Spring shackles can wear prematurely, leaving an elongated, and if ignored can lead to spring separation and collateral damage. Heavy-duty spring shackle kits, with Zerk grease fittings, can be retrofitted with little fanfare, and will last much longer.

Trailer wheel bearings must be inspected annually, or at 12,000 miles. Unfortunately, less-than-stellar quality bearings are the norm and they tend to wear prematurely. Replace bearings at the first sign of wear and only use grease formulated for bearing service when packing.

The vast majority of trailers have electric brakes, which should also be inspected annually or at 12,000 miles. A disc brake conversion is well worth the investment, especially for larger, heavier trailers. Disc brakes have much better stopping power, but the pads and rotors must be inspected annually. During my annual inspection I discovered that one pad (friction material) separated from the backing plate and ended up “lathing” the rotor to unsafe limits, creatinga big mess. Disappointedly, the brakes were inspected and deemed OK during tire replacement, which was only 4,000 miles before discovering the rotor damage. Interestingly, no noise was heard from the driver’s seat of the tow vehicle, and pads with squealers were used this time around.

The aforementioned roads can cause damage to any trailer over time. Aftermarket suspension upgrades are designed to mitigate this damage, which will protect your RV asset. For example, Roadmaster, a company known for its dinghy towing equipment, markets the Comfort Ride slipper-spring suspension for trailers. This set-up is a bolt-on replacement for stock springs and equalizers and will make a huge difference in ride quality and protection of the structure and belongings, inside and outside of the trailer. Comfort Ride-branded shock absorbers (with clever bolt-on brackets that align the shocks properly) can be added to the slipper-spring upgrade or installed independently. Beyond protecting the integrity of the trailer, the items stored in the cabinets will be much less disheveled after driving over rough roads, after installing the Comfort Ride components.

Motorhome owners can improve the ride with better shocks, sway bars, and a LiquidSpring rear suspension upgrade for gas-powered rigs. Fortunately, diesel pushers with air-ride suspensions fare better on rough roads, especially those with potholes.

Whether customizing and accessorizing for convenience, safety and/or ride comfort, it’s fun to add personal touches to any RV. Making sure your RV is ready for the roads, regardless of condition, is a good investment in peace of mind and trouble-free adventures.

 

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Bob Livingston recently retired as the group publisher and senior VP for GS Media and Events, publishers of Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines and their respective websites. Bob has written technical and lifestyle articles and books for 45 years, and penned the popular technical question and answer monthly column, Tech Topics, in Highways magazine, the 1.5-million-member Good Sam Club’s official publication, for more than 20 years.

He created and appeared on the weekly television show, RVtoday, and directed the programing and production during its five-year run on cable TV. Bob was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in 2014. He keeps his hand in the RV industry as a consultant to a number of companies working on product development and marketing projects. Bob and his wife, Lynne, live full time in their fifth wheel.


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