In “Minimize Resistance, Maximize Fuel Economy, Part II” post, we discussed the importance of checking your trailer’s alignment. We recently had a customer come in who took this advice to heart, and decided to have his double-axle fifth wheel trailer checked out. Indeed, it was out of alignment, but that was only a small part of the story.
Because the owner towed the trailer with an F-350 4WD, he had had the axles flipped previously, and during the process, the technicians had apparently neglected to re-install the shocks. I say “apparently” because there were upper shock mounts on the frame, but not on the leaf spring perches, which leads me to believe the trailer had shocks at one time.
This trailer is comparatively high-mileage-it sees about 15,000 miles a year. All those miles near maximum load capacity without shocks had taken a toll on the trailer. The shackle mounts and hardware showed serious signs of wear; the serrations on the bolts were almost worn off, and the mounting holes were egg-shaped (see photo).
Even more of a concern was that the steel wheels showed signs of serious cracking (see photo). The last time the owner had the tires replaced, he elected to use a heavier-rated tire. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that a heavier rated tire can take more inflation pressure, so you should always make sure that your rims can handle it. Exceeding the rim’s recommended pressure can cause damage and outright failure.
To solve these issues, as well as make for a safer, better handling trailer, we installed new shackle hardware and replaced the cheap plastic bushings with greaseable bronze bushings. While the suspension was apart, we also installed a Trailair Center Point air suspension, which simply bolts in place where the original spring equalizer used to be. In my opinion, this Trailair system is one of the most cost-effective air suspension systems you can have installed. It improves the handling, cornering, even the braking, because the air suspension does a better job of keeping the tires on the pavement. We added a fill valve and a pressure gauge to the side of the coach so it is easy to monitor the pressure in the bags (see photo). You could also add an on-board compressor to keep them inflated, if desired. We then bolted new shock mounts the spring perches, and installed new shock absorbers. Finally, we installed a Fifth Airborne air hitch, which further reduces ride harshness and “chucking”.
The tires were fairly new and in relatively good condition, but obviously, the rims required replacement. As I have mentioned before, I’m a big fan of reducing unsprung weight and rotational mass. The heavier a part is, the harder it is to make it change direction, and that has a negative affect on the ride/handling of any vehicle. So instead of using steel wheels again, we went with Alcoa one-piece forged aluminum wheels, which are several pounds lighter than the stock wheels. They not only look a lot better, but these forged aluminum wheels are much stronger. Note that I stressed “forged”. There are a lot of inexpensive cast aluminum wheels on the market, but they are nowhere near as strong.
When the trailer was put back together, we inflated the Trailair bags and let them sit overnight. I always recommend letting a new air suspension sit overnight before you hit the road, just in case there are any leaks. In our case, one of the push lock connectors had a tiny leak in it, and it lost several pounds of pressure overnight. Because air bags contain such a small volume of air, a small leak can empty the bag in no time.
After the small leak was fixed, we aligned the trailer off of the king pin, so everything is set in reference to that. Now the trailer tows straighter and cleaner with reduced aerodynamic drag and improved tire life.
We also made several improvements to the tow vehicle, but we’ll talk about that on the next post. See you then!
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Thank you for your information; I’ll be looking forward to seeing the posts you promise!
Thank you again for your responses. I will answer them in the order they appear. Dan B: Prices for parts and labor can vary depending on the parts required, type of trailer, etc. We need to know what type of trailer you have, and what you are using it for to make a valid recommendation. Please give us a call at 800 245 8309 and we’ll be happy to discuss with you.
Fred: Some people may think plastic bushings are a benefit because they don’t require maintenance, but we’re kind of old fashioned in that we still like a metal bushing that can be greased. We find that if it’s done regularly, it lasts much longer. We recommend Lubrication Engineers #3752, which is a severe duty, high-impact, high water resistant grease that doesn’t pound out or wash out. As far as suspension upgrades are concerned, yes, it is possible to add shock absorbers to almost any trailer, including yours. And the CenterPoint air bag system will work on your trailer as well. In fact, we recommend shock asborbers any time the Trailair system is installed, because you always want to dampen spring movement to control the axle/wheel/tire assy. Adding shocks provides longer tire life, as well as improved braking and reduced wear and tear on the rest of the suspension system.
Eric: Welcome to the RVing community. As you may have already guessed, the issue of weight and loading is very involved and can be somewhat complex. There are a number of places you can weigh your trailer, including trash dumps, rental yards, truck stops, etc. Just find one that isn’t too busy, and tell the operator what you want to do. Most of these scales are platform type scales that can only give you overall weight of the trailer, which will at least tell you if you are overloaded or not. It is important to remember that any time you weigh the trailer, it should be loaded for travel, in other words, with water, propane and all your usual supplies on board. Weigh the trailer with the trailer on the scale and hitched to the truck, but the truck off the scale to determine the load on the axles and tires. Disconnect the trailer from the truck to determine the trailer’s gross weight. This is the most basic method to weigh the vehicle, but it will not tell you weight from side-to-side, or individual wheel weights. Personally, I recommend individual wheel weights, because this gives you the most accurate measurement. Specialty alignment shops like ours, as well as shops that build race cars often have scales designed for this purpose. Obviously, there is a lot more to discuss than what we have room for here, so I am going to write a post specifically about weight and loading in the near future, which may even have several parts.
I too have a question. I’m a total RV Virgin… I’ve had my trailer out 2x: 1 was 30 miles from home, the other 200.
I’ve seen several recommendations here and in other locations to get my trailer weighed.
My question is: Where? How? It seems to me if I just drove out to the interstate and to the nearest weigh station, they could do it, but they’re always so busy… and frankly, I don’t want to slow down the truckers. Their life is hard enough.
And, I suspect there’s more to getting weighed than pulling the trailer on to a scale.
I’d love some advice on the “how tos” of getting weighed!
Very good “this hit home” article. Except for the owner borderling on the weight capacity and possibly installing tires with a higher pressure, it looks like the owner’s problems were the responsibility of both the manufacturer and the technicians that flipped the axles.
My fifth wheel’s shackle bushings were nylon which, as in this story, were the manufacturer’s way of cutting costs. Well, their cost-cutting cost me a bunch to have the worn bushings, bolts and the worn and broken shackles replaced. The new bushings were bronze with grease fittings, as in your case.
The manufacturer would not give me warranty even though the camper was within the warranty period because they claimed it was normal wear and tear.
My camper did not come with shock absorbers, even though others models by this manufacturer do have shocks.
My question is, is it possible to have shock absorbers and the Tailair Center Point installed on my fifth wheel camper? It is a 2005 Keystone Laredo Model 29R 32 foot dual axle with one slide.
Your advice would be very welcome.
please show parts cost and labor costs..knowing each repair would be different…would give me a idea…thanks