You may recall from previous posts that we've had some issues with our brakes and suspension:
1. Failed wheel bearing seals caused grease to leak all over the drum brakes, fouling them and greatly reducing their effectiveness. The manufacturer sent out a mobile tech to replace them in Rapid City, SD. We found the problem in the Badlands of SD... and got it fixed in Rapid City.
2. Two of the replaced brakes/seals have now failed AGAIN and we've decided to limp along until we got this work done. By the time we got to MorRyde they discovered a third was fouled as well. 7 failed seals in 9 months and less than 10k miles. Yikes!
3. Despite being underweight, we broke a leaf spring on the highway between Houston and Galveston. The other springs were mostly flattened and had to be replaced while we were in Galveston.
...and it turns out we're not alone. Google "Lippert leaking seals" sometime. Lippert Components (Lci) makes the axle, brake and suspension assemblies for our camper, made by Grand Design (as well as the frame, leveling system, and much more) as well as for many other brands of campers. Grand Design isn't the only RV manufacturer having these problems with Lippert components, but Grand Design has options, they could be using the more highly rated Dexter or MorRyde components or could have specified more heavy-duty components from Lci. In any event, I do find it funny that Lci released this video showing their improved manufacturing methods after acknowledging that 1/10 of 1% of end users are experiencing the failed grease seal issue. If their math is per-camper, that makes us 1 in 1,000,000 as that's 1 in 1000 twice since we've had the problem twice now. If they're figuring this is per-brake assembly, then we're 1 in 1,000 to the 7th power or 1x10^21. If we were to write that out it's 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 that's One in one Sextillion. Either way you look at it, though, their math doesn't work out.
Yeah, I don't buy it...
So rather than continue to deal with these problems and the potential safety issues associated with having repeatedly failing brakes and suspension, we decided to have the whole shooting match replaced. Opting for Independent Suspension (no leaf springs!), Disc Brakes (no drums to foul!) and new wheels (higher weight rating!) and tires (ours were trashed thanks to poor axle alignment!)
A note on wheels. We could have easily just replaced the worn tires and used the same wheels, but the 6-bolt wheels that came stock with our camper would now be the weakest link in "the stuff that keeps our camper safely on the road". And since our tires needed replacing anyhow, we decided to upgrade. On the advice of this blog post and a number of others, I decided to go with 8-bolt 17.5" aluminum wheels and 215/75 tires. This gave us the benefit of increased weight ratings (4800lbs per wheel/tire, up from 3600) while keeping the outside diameter of the tire to within 1/4" of the original 16" wheels and tires. For tires we chose the Sailun S637 as they seem to have the highest rating for the price. The Goodyears Endurance or G614s are also highly rated, but twice the cost.
Look Ma! No Wheels!
The benefits of hydraulic disc brakes are many. They do not require constant adjustment, they are easier to service and most importantly, they do a better job of stopping your trailer. I've seen tests demonstrating that aftermarket disc brakes can stop your trailer in half the distance possible with drum brakes. MorRyde installs Kodiak brake assemblies with Carlisle Hydrastar hydraulic actuators. I could have had this done at any shop or even done the work myself for the cost of parts, but since MorRyde was doing the suspension anyhow, it made sense to have them do it while everything was apart.
Shiny New Brakes!
Hydraulic Brake Actuator
Lastly, the suspension. We had other good options here. MorRyde and others make aftermarket shackles and springs that we could use to replace the existing suspension and it would likely last quite a bit longer than what we had. The trouble is that it would not really improve the ride. We have plans to RV around places like Nova Scotia, the Alaska Highway and such where an improved ride over long distances would give our entire camper greatly improved longevity due to less jolting around. Once we decided that pretty much all of the options we're considering for our long-term living situation include the use of this camper in one manner or another, the decision was made for us. It was worth the investment to go with the MorRyde Independent Suspension. It's unique rubber block shear springs in combination with pneumatic shocks mean a much smoother ride. Each installation is customized to the weight distribution and geometry of the specific camper, so the installation must be done at MorRyde's facility on Elkhart Indiana. We wound up getting their 7k lb system, but with beefier springs tuned to being heavier on the drivers side.
Close-up of Suspension and brakes
Weight-wise, now, our frame is now the weak link. We do not plan to load our camper any heavier than we had with the exception of an eventual installation of Lithium batteries and solar panels, but when we do that, we'll probably ditch our generator, so some of the weight will balance out. We should, knock on wood, never have to worry about brakes or suspension again and in the process, we've likely improved the overall useful life of our camper. It was expensive, but a win-win, I think.
The installation itself took about two days, bleeding over into the third day because of our late arrival thanks to tire issues on the way there. Their staff explained everything and let us watch as much of the process as we wanted. They have some 50amp service spots (no water) where we could have stayed the night before or the night after and they would allow us to stay in the camper in the shop while it was being worked on, but they work three shifts, so it would have been fairly noisy and we decided to spring for a hotel both nights. They order free lunch for you and your family each day, have a nice waiting area and everyone was courteous and professional. Overall I can't emphasize enough what a great experience having the work done was. These guys clearly know what they're doing.
Since we've had the work done, we've notices a drastic change in the way the camper handles.The brakes do, indeed, stop the camper much more quickly. Ironically this can lead to things falling over in the camper if we're not careful (coffee maker, knife block, etc). So I have to be careful with braking now so as to not stop TOO quickly unless a panic stop is warranted. We've also noted that some things are shifting in the camper that never did before. Watching the camper move behind us it's clear that there is a lot less 'jolting' going on, but quite a bit more 'sway'. That's the nature of the independent suspension and not necessarily a bad thing. Lastly, the new tires are to be inflated to 125psi, much higher than old our tires which were 80psi. Our compressor, the Viair 400P-RV (which we love, this thing is awesome!), can reach that as it is rated to 150psi, though the dial shows us in the red at 125psi. Whew!
Overall, we love it and we're glad we did it, but only time will tell if it's truly as trouble-free as we hope. The experiences we've read of other folks who've had the same work done indicates we should do well, though.
One thing. The camper looks kind of weird with no axles...
Brake Parts: $2000
Suspension Parts: $1900
Total w/ tax, shop fees and such: $7700